SINGLE OF THE DAY Jesse Jo Stark MYSTERY

jesse jo stark
Jesse Jo Stark
MYSTERY

Remember Jesse Jo Stark’s single DEADLY DOLL from last year which we loved? Well, with the haunting lilt of Marianne Faithful still in our subconscious her latest slice of Gothic-Americana similarly captured my attention an hour ago and just like those heady teenage nights when I was locked in my bedroom; and with Mrs Magpie out of the house, I can’t take it off the office turntable!
Born in LA with a penchant for Horror B-Movies and Elvira, Jesse Jo Stark has bizarrely managed to evoke memories of Nouvelle Vague and Marilyn Monroe albums in my collection and of course images of Bettie Paige and the sexy starlet of so many Hammer Films, the delightful Fanella Fielding who sadly passed in September this year.

I’m loving it!

Released 1st November 2018

 

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Ethan Hanna WELCOME TO THE BATLANDS

ETHAN HANNA 1

Ethan Hanna
WELCOME TO THE BATLANDS
Tin Man Heart

The Sad and Lonely Heart of a Saturday Night in the Dark End Of Town.

I’m not sure if there’s any basis in fact but is it possible that Singer-Songwriter is the third largest profession in Northern Ireland? It certainly feels that way judging by the amount of albums, singles and EPs I seem to receive on a weekly basis.
Bizarrely; apart from those ‘finger in the ear’ traditional Folk ones which are quickly dispensed with; the standard is always remarkably high, and this debut album from Ethan Hanna is a perfect example of working hard at your craft before putting anything on disc.
The album opens with the sound of the sea pounding a beach, followed by some intense guitar playing before a gruff voice enters the cinematic fray on the almost Irish Gothic Bikes & Cars. This is Dark Irish-Americana from the gut and owes more to Sean Rowe or my most recent favourites Curse of Lono than the homage to Bruce you’d first guess from the title.
Hanna ‘rocks it up’ on the next song Perfect; which is actually about his imperfections and sung in his now distinctive world weary, rough around the edges and gruff vocal manner, while the bass and drums trade punches to the jaw behind him.
The ‘apprenticeship’ I alluded to earlier shines through from start to finish; as I guess Hanna has actually managed to recreate the sounds he hears in his head on the enigmatic Proud and darkly beautiful Bad Dreams; which is quite some achievement when his very personal stories slowly unravel.
This isn’t an ‘easy listen’ by any stretch of the imagination; but if you have the imagination that Ethan Hanna has you will love the heart crunching Shadow City and Late August Wonder, with its deliberate ‘nod’ to Bruce even sounds like Ethan was fighting back the tears as it ended.
I receive far too many albums from singer-songwriters who try too hard to ‘be someone else;’ but Ethan Hanna proudly treads his very own path here; caring not a jot for commercial success; as the tragically beautiful Fire and the ethereal Now You’re In New York which is …….. Basically, just tragic!
Choosing a Favourite Song on an album like this is a thankless task; as individual each song will touch me in different ways whenever I hear them depending on how sad I’m feeling (you will never play this when you are in a happy mood btw); but today I’m going for Passenger seat; which finally takes young Mr Hanna into the Tom Waits territory that has been threatened since track #1; and our new friend from Lisburn, Northern Ireland says more about the fragility of love in under two minutes than most songwriters twice or thrice his age can say in a lifetime.
A Classic of its genre perhaps?
Is it the water in Nor’n Iron? The education system? Nothing on the telly? Or perhaps genetics; but yet again we have found ourselves another clever, imaginative and introspective singer-songwriter that deserves your full attention.

Released 5th October 2018
https://www.facebook.com/EthanHannaOfficial

 

Tony Joe White BAD MOUTHIN’

tony joe white

Tony Joe White
BAD MOUTHIN’
Yep Roc

Haunting and Magical Songs of the South.

Thankfully I’ve had this album on and off the office stereo and car radio for the last 6 weeks or so; because I’m in a rush to write the review today and……..Tony Joe White music isn’t for ‘rushing’ to? Is it?
Even the dark tale of a stormy relationship which opens the record. Bad Mouthin’ is done at a country stroll pace; with White pouring his heart out; but not having the energy or will to leave the woman who keeps Bad Mouthin’ him (or her if Lucinda ever records this). Sheer, absolute quality!
Only the words ‘raw and basic’ can describe the sound and indeed atmosphere that White creates across Bad Mouthin’ as he predominantly just records with his voice, Fender Telecaster and a wheezy harmonica; making the richly observational Cool Town Woman, Rich Woman Blues and Stockholm Blues all sound like a ghost is singing them in a haunted house somewhere in the Everglades.
For a legendary songwriter in his own rite; Tony Joe White has some amazing songs to cover too; with his rendition of Baby Please Don’t Go being so sparse I swear you can hear him take a breath before wheezing into his harmonica and on Boom Boom he makes a sexy song sound incredibly seedy and even sleazier than I’d ever imagine it could sound.
There’s a silver thread of loss and sorrow in just about every track; with the Lightnin’ Hopkins Awful Dreams and White’s own Cool Town Woman being absolutely spine tingling as well as raising the hair on the back of my neck.
Even the most uptempo song here, Charley Patton’s deeply personal Dirt Road Blues barely gets beyond Country Shuffle mode, with the drummer tapping away like a heart fit to burst on a song that captures the magic of White’s Southern swampland home.
Selecting a ‘Favourite Track’ has fallen between two fantastic tracks; I’m an Elvis fan at heart, but the dry and dusty manner White delivers Heartbreak Hotel takes the song onto a level I could never have dreamed of, but I’m probably erring on the side of Bad Dreams, which is something I’ve personally suffered from for years and the almost spooky arrangement coupled to White’s mumbled singing style and razor sharp guitar playing capture the horrors that these things can create quite perfectly.
I’ve been aware of Tony Joe White since I was a kid but only came to his albums about 10 years ago via a compilation; and after buying and loving the last four I think I can safely say this is the album that Tony Joe White has wanted to make for a mighty long time…….and you can share it too.

Released September 28th 2018
http://www.tonyjoewhite.com/

Curse Of Lono AS I FELL

curse of lono as i fell

Curse Of Lono
AS I FELL
Submarine Cat Records

An Enigmatic Mix of Film Noir Americana, Indie-Rock, Psychedelia and Romantic Poetry

Oh Dear Lord, do I have a problem with this album.
You know what it was like when you you used to have a favourite band that no one else knew about; until their latest single got played on the radio and suddenly all of your school chums wanted in on the action, without acknowledging all of those lonely hours you put in poring over their lyrics on the first album sleeve ?
Well; that’s how I feel about Curse of Lono who are suddenly on the cusp of over night stardom (after spending decades in various guises traipsing up and down the highways and byways for little or no financial reward or acclaim.)
As regular readers will know, we fell in love with their cinematic and atmospheric mix of Americana, Gothic, Indie-rock, Psychedelia and romantic bedsit poetry (truth be told!) two years ago with the release of their debut EP which turned our world upside down.
Thankfully not a lot has changed since 2016 with their distinctive ‘sound’ perhaps being ever so slightly ‘bigger’ and ‘tighter’ and ‘more muscular’ than I expected on opening song Valentine; but that could just be the way Maestro Oli Bayton has mixed the drums and Charis Anderson’s threatening bass on this spooky and moody song about raging jealousy.
By Curse of Lono standards second track Way To Mars is positively jaunty; until you listen carefully and Felix Bechtolsheimer’s articulate prose are as dark and engrossing as anything that has come before.
As the handsome singer and songwriter, it’s all too easy to just talk about Felix in any review of their music; but the spine of Curse of Lono is very much the stoic bass playing of Charis Anderson (think John Entwhistle guesting with Cowboy Junkies) and the highly-developed power of drummer Neil Findlay; with guitarist extraordinaire Joe Hazell and the thinking man’s Brian Eno Dani Ruiz Hernandez on keyboards providing exceptional and occasionally Olympian flashes of genius on their respective instruments.
But, first and foremost it’s the songs and the way the band construct them that I love. Weirdly, both the title track AS I FELL and Kathleen reminded me of the beautifully fractured prose of 19th Century poets Thomas Hardy and Percy Bysshe Shelley which I fell in love with in the long haired days of my teenage years; yet The Affair could easily be the title music for a modern Film Noir Detective that wears a trench coat and Fedora and the bittersweet Blackout Fever sounds like U2 covering an out take from the first Roxy Music album!
Confused? You won’t be, as Curse of Lono have many influences in their work but positively don’t sound like anyone else I’ve ever heard; and I’ve heard a lot in the last 50 years.
Where to go to for a ‘Favourite Song’? Bloody Hell!
Bechtolsheimer has previously written deeply personal songs about his well documented Heroin addiction in the past; but nothing I’ve heard surpasses the raw and edgy beauty of And It Shows which finds a whole new level of darkness; albeit with some light at the end of a very long tunnel.
Tell Me About Your Love starts with a murmur and slowly builds to menacing close with Hazell excelling with his playing at the dirty end of the fretboard. Then on the deeply personal Leuven, the singer mines the pits of his soul to tell a tale originally passed down from his Grandfather about the surviving a train crash in 1954. The attention to detail is staggering and if the words don’t get you, the sweeping and swooping string section most certainly will drive you to tears.
But; one song captured my attention last year when they played it in concert and the love song, I’d Start a War For You with it’s Pink Floydian meets Ry Cooder undertones is something of a Masterpiece; which everyone concerned can be extremely proud of.
Like the finest whiskies, wines; and even beers these days this album and the songs therein are influenced by many and various other bands and songs everyone has encountered over the years; with many leaving a mark or a shadow; but Curse of Lono have created a very singularly distinctive ‘grown up’ sound all of their very own and more power to them for sticking with it; rather than going for the easy buck playing in soulless covers bands as so many others are forced to do.
Any or all success that this album brings to the quintet is well deserved, and I for one will be truly ecstatic for them; even if it means me having to sit at the back of a huge Arena every five years in London or Birmingham, rather than hanging out with them in the bar like we did at the Cluny!

Released 18th August 2018
https://www.curseoflonoband.com/

 

The Orphan Brigade – HEART OF THE CAVE

orphan brigade e

The Orphan Brigade
HEART OF THE CAVE
At The Helm Records

Beauteous Collection of Mystical and Mysterious Songs and Stories.

A month or so back a friend of Ben Glover’s sent me a download of this album and I only got to play the first 3 or 4 songs before moving on to more pressing reviews.
Two weeks afterwards I was sitting in the living room reading and listening to my iPhone on shuffle when a track called The Birds Are Silent came on. I sort of recognised the voice so was looking at the track listing when the Postman knocked on the door with a pile of packets (CDs) for me. The first one I opened was……this actual album. Serendipity?
So now it behoves me to tell you why the fates were making me listen, love and review Heart Of The Cave.
Baring in mind the amount of people involved with The Orphan Brigade the end result isn’t like anything I’ve ever heard from any of them before, although it’s actually their second release…..and that’s a good thing; as I like musicians to occasionally challenge themselves and take risks.
The opening track Pile of Bones has an almost Native American music about before seamlessly sliding into a Celtic melody behind some luscious harmonies on a mystical introduction to the story.
Town of 100 Churches follows, and alongside the next song Osimo (Come to life) are more what I was expecting and beautifully paint a verbal picture of the town that the ‘theme/concept’ is based around…….a town in the Italian hills with more than its fair share of history and mystery.
That central theme makes the songs flow beautifully as the stories individually unfold revealing narratives about Secret Societies (V.I.T.R.I.O.L), death (the dark and monastic Meet Me In The Shadows) and of course redemption (Pain is Gone).
The Heart Of The Cave is very much the type of record that you need to take time over; and the investment is well worth it, with echoes of Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and Quentin Tarantino at times.
But, as always there all always individual songs that shine above all others; and here that first song that caught my attention The Birds Are Silent is obliquely as brittle and beautiful as it is haunting, while Flying Joe is almost ‘up-tempo’ by comparison, it still manages to be quite Gothic too.
Then of course; there is the song that to all intents and purposes, wraps up the story……There’s a Fire That Never Goes Out. In itself it’s a singularly claustrophobic melodrama, but by the time you get to it, it brings the story to a quite magnificent conclusion, and is then followed by Donna Sacra which brings everything to a heart-aching close.
The Orphan Brigade revolves around songwriters Ben Glover, Neilson Hubbard and Joshua Britt but is also a collective bringing in the talents of household names like Gretchen Peters, Will Kimbrough and Barry Walsh as well as numerous others, without whom I’m sure this magnificent idea would never have come to life in the way it has.

Released September 29th 2017
http://www.theorphanbrigade.com/home

Valparaiso – Rising Tides (feat. Phoebe Killdeer & Howe Gelb)

VALPARAISIO

Valparaiso
Rising Tides (feat. Phoebe Killdeer & Howe Gelb)

While I’d not heard of the band Jack The Ripper; anything that incorporates Howe Gelb and Phoebe Killdeer from Nouvelle Vague is always going to catch my attention…..and quite rightly so if this amazing song and video is anything to go by.

Here’s what they have to say about themselves…..
“The Chilean seaport Valparaiso has been a distant, yet mystic point for travellers and sailors. The French musical collective Valparaiso symbolizes a harbor that welcomes artists who stay for a while, leave and may come back. Though, the travelling and no-border mentalities unite Valparaiso and their manifold guests.

It is the artist’s passion for the iconic photographer Sergio Lorrain’s raw imagery, as well as Joris Ivens and Chris Maker’s film about Valparaiso that led to the name’s choice of Valparaiso. At the same time, this marked the overall aesthetics of the project, which also leads to a particular visual note in the many short-films, photos and stage-design.

Hervé and Thierry Mazurel, musicians and co-founders of the French cult act Jack The Ripper are at the origin of Valparaiso. Stable members are also Matthieu Texier (guitars), Thomas Belhom (drums) and Adrien Rodrigue (violin and vibraphones), all indie-rock scene experienced musicians.

Just before Jack the Ripper’s 4th album recording session, a surprising split from their iconic singer left the band without a frontman. Out of the ashes of Jack the Ripper, they marked a milestone with The Fitzcarraldo Sessions, an experimental predecessor to Valparaiso (among them Stuart Staples of Tindersticks, Joey Burns of Calexico, Blaine Reininger of Tuxedomoon, Craig Walker of Archive). The album We hear Voices immediately gained rave reviews in France.

While the music on “Broken Homeland” was composed by Valparaiso, the guests were invited through creative and organic networking and finally coincidences. The lyrics and vocals were written in total liberty by each singer and recorded together in Bristol, where it was all unified and consolidated by John Parish. Today, their first album Broken Homeland resemble a photo-book that documents the collective.”

ALBUM RELEASED 22ND SEPTEMBER 2017

Hannah Aldridge – GOLD RUSH

Hannah Aldridge

Hannah Aldridge
GOLD RUSH
Rootsy Music.

Gutsy, Passionate and Honest Contemporary Southern Rock.

We loved Hannah Aldridge’s debut album Razor Wire way back in 2014 so got ‘super-excited’ to receive her follow up earlier this week (a bit too close to the release date for comfort; but…hey ho!).
WOAH! My ears were immediately pinned back with the intensity of opening track Aftermath, as Hannah channels her inner Joni and Bonnie on a steamy Rocker of the Southern variety.
That ‘feeling’ carries on through the darkly sensual Dark Haired Woman which follows and probably most songs here; but most noticeably on Lace and I Know Too Much.
I’ve deliberately not listened to Razor Wire while reviewing this beauty, as I want this fresh and feisty album to stand on its own merits; and it most certainly does with Alt. Country rockers like Shouldn’t Hurt So Bad and No Heart Left Behind being the type of punchy songs we associate with Lucinda and Chrissie Hinde; but Hannah Aldridge’s lavishly textured voice and full-blooded way with words takes her into a league very much of her own; with comparisons being futile.
A couple of other songs stand out for very different reasons; the almost Gothic ballad Living On Lonely, featuring Ryan Beaver on harmonies and Sadler Vaden’s spooky guitar parts sent a tingle down my spine the first time I heard it; and then when I discovered that it was a co-write with RMHQ favourite Andrew Combs it took on a whole new importance, and had me poring over the poetic lyrics.
But the title of RMHQ ‘favourite song’ goes to……..The Irony of Love, a song that had me thinking “where the Hell did that come from?” An almost lo-fi story that had; and still has me marvelling at it’s haunting construction and the actual phrase ‘The Irony of Love’ is just perfect and had me wondering why no one has actually used it before…..because, as Hannah points out, Love is made up of many and various ironies. 10/10.
Then we have the title track Gold Rush; a fascinating acoustic Alt. Country ballad which closes the disc and uses Hannah’s luscious voice against a moving pedal-steel, shimmering cymbals and some gorgeous bottle neck guitar playing from Vaden.
I’m not sure what more I can say to draw your attention to this album; but if it was by one of Hannah Aldridge’s more well known contemporary’s the national magazines and newspapers would be wetting their pants with excitement; so get in first and see what the fuss will be about.

Released 16th June 2017

https://hannah-aldridge.myshopify.com/

Curse of Lono SEVERED

curse of lono1

Curse of Lono
SEVERED
Submarine Cat Records

Tightly Wrapped, Dark and Cinematic Americana.

Somehow managing to blend the harmonious Twang of the Byrds with the songwriting of Nick Cave, Curse of Lono’s EP came along just at the right time last Autumn; capturing the gloomy zeitgeist that was all pervading at RMHQ just perfectly.
Jump forward six months; and we are still enjoying a good wallow in musical melancholia…..so, bring on the Curse of Lono LP!
The album opens with Five Miles High; an illegitimate step-brother to the Byrds Eight Miles High; with harmonies to you could drink and enough psychedelic Amaricanesque guitar to light up a motorway.
The song is quite deep and mystical; but Felix Bechtolsheimer’s world weary voice draws you in like a siren on the rocks.
While Curse of Lono are only two years old; Bechtolsheimer wrote these songs over a 14 year period; knowing that sooner or later he would find a fitting band and producer to bring them to life.
For a British band, Curse of Lono can make you feel like you are sitting in a Texas saloon bar (Send For the Whisky), lonely Mid-Western Motel (Each Time You Hurt) or perhaps the JFK Airport Lounge (He Takes My Place) with the greatest of ease…..they just ‘get’ America and Americana. The way the narrator describes the minutiae in that latter heartbreaker (He Takes My Place) put Felix up there with the likes of Slaid Cleaves and Otis Gibbs around these here parts.
Apart from Felix Bechtolsheimer’s identifiable voice the main thing that makes Curse of Lono stand out from the crowd of British pretenders is the way they use guitar effects to emphasise the mood of different songs; even making one sound like a pump-organ on Welcome Home.
The perkiest song here, Pick Up The Pieces has the feel of someone like Paul Simon or Don McLean on mogadon…..but don’t let that analogy put you off, because it’s excellent; dark and mysterious certainly but excellent and will stick in your brain for hours afterwards.
While I adore this album for what it is; an actual album two songs particularly stand out; the Country-Blues of Just My Head with it’s opening line “Its hard not to drink like a man/when the ghosts that surround you insist that you can”…..it’s when I hear songs like this that I realise how powerful music can be; but I have yo hark back to a song from that EP that features here and has matured in that year like a fine whisky. London Rain still has a minor Doorsian feel to it but oddly enough hints of the Jam in Down in the Tube Station (After Midnight). The edgy atmosphere Bechtolsheimer and friends conjures up, of the darker side of a fractured relationship that is as frightening as it is figurative.
I fear for the success of SEVERED by Curse of Lono as Summer is just around the corner and this is best listened to late on a windswept rainy evening; but I guess a lot of readers here inhabit that world 12 months a year anyway!

http://www.curseoflonoband.com/

Released April 7th 2017

Curtis McMurtry – The Hornet’s Nest

curtis-mcmurtry-z

Curtis McMurtry
The Hornet’s Nest
Self-Release

A Late Night, Avant Garde Approach to Alt. Country.

Earlier this year I had been really looking forward to Curtis McMurtry’s first appearance at the Jumping Hot Club but had to cancel at the last minute due to ‘work commitments’. Talking to friends in the following weeks drew interesting comments; with no one going as far to say that ‘they had actually enjoyed’ the night, which made reviewing this, his second album even more ‘exciting’ for me.
First of all Curtis McMurtry’s approach to what we know and love as Americana/Alt. Country/Roots music is certainly ‘different’…..left-field, if you will.
Hard Blue Stones which opens the disc is a raw folk song played out against a brittle sounding banjo, and isn’t always easy on the ear.
Smooth as Thorns which follows, isn’t a million miles away in ‘feel’ but the addition of some finely textured cello shadowing his voice, plus a trumpet from the Chet Baker School of trumpet playing makes for an interesting juxtaposition of styles.
There are left turns at every juncture, with the almost romantically Latin flavoured Wrong Inflection being sandwiched between the Western Swing of Loves Me More and the Spanish guitar on the traditional Folk ballad Coward. Yet; it works …..I don’t know why; but it does.
The ukulele makes an entrance alongside Nathan Calzada’s sweet trumpet on the sweet sounding lullaby Together For Now; but listen more than twice and you will find a heartbreaking story that will bring a tear to your eye.
Tracker is as interesting as it is puzzling; reminding me at times of David Olney’s excursions into Film Noir a couple of years ago but also conjuring up mad thoughts of what Scott Walker might sound like if he made a Rootsy album. A dark, gloomy and ultimately a beautiful song.
I get the feeling that Curtis McMurtry would be devastated to know I was going to pick a ‘favourite’ here; as The Hornet’s Nest appears to be a ‘complete work’ in the mode of a theatrical story; not necessarily telling a story; but all of the narratives coming together to create a ‘mood’; but I feel the need to point you towards the pensive Shot At The Title or Rebecca as snapshots of what lies around them.
Everything here, from the delicate balance of the instrumentation through to McMurtry’s intelligently barbed lyrics are challenging; and they are meant to be; with McMurtry’s delightful voice being the singular constant that holds everything together.
As my knowledgeable friends intimated, The Hornets Nest won’t appeal to everyone; but fans of the Handsome Family, Scott Walker and Leonard Cohen will probably be attracted to the dark delights that abound here.

Released 24th February 2017

http://www.curtismcmurtrymusic.com/
https://curtismcmurtry.bandcamp.com/album/the-hornets-nest

Albert Af Ekenstam – ASHES

albert-af-4

Albert Af Ekenstam
ASHES
Kning Disk KD131

Ethereal Soundtrack to an Imaginary Scandinavian Love Story.

I do like a good ‘entrance,’ something different; something to capture my imagination and this disc did that with knobs on.
The initial CD package was a plain brown envelope/bag and inside that was a plain black CD cover….but inside that is delightful ‘letter’ talking about Af Ekenstam and his songs that are included on the album.
Impressive stuff indeed.
The opening instrumental track, 1996 sounds like something you would hear over the opening credits on a rainy windswept episode of a bleak Scandi Cop Show. The luscious arrangements and lead guitar are quite mesmerising and beautifully lead us into the rest of this debut disc like a mysterious tour guide.
The title track Ashes comes next and it’s a bit more contemporary with Albert using his fragile but rich voice like an extra instrument on a heart shredding love song.
Even now, after listening to the album constantly for two days I’m not sure how to describe it….Lo-Fi? Probably. Folk? Possibly? Alternative? Definitely. But Alternative to what, is the question.
The Devil Bird is almost poetic in a Leonard Cohen fashion; transcending the norm with consummate ease, and somehow sticking in my head hours later.
Following immediately afterwards, Made of Gold has a piano thread that owes more to Bach than any modern pianist and Ekenstam’s voice sounds cracked and pained as a dark drumbeat haunts the background.
What Albert Af Ekenstam does isn’t necessarily ‘new’ but what he does he does extraordinarily well; holding the listeners attention like a new lover whispering confidences into your ear. Walking and The Avenue both fall into that category; being so fragile you find yourself drawn nearer the speakers so as not to miss a word or a note.
The track, or two actually that sum up the album are probably Blood of Shame and the other instrumental 2006 which are both staggering in their complexity but eminently ‘listenable’ by the likes of me.
ASHES is definitely a ‘complete album’ and one that will be impossible to cherry pick on a download site; as it demands your full attention with absolutely no other distractions for the 41 minutes of its duration….or 82 minutes, as you will press ‘repeat.’

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Released October 14th 2016