Michael McDermott WHAT IN THE WORLD Pauper Sky Records
Complex, Biting, Mature and Beautiful Songs For Grown Ups.
I love it when acts tear up their play book and surprise the Hell out of me and their existing fan base …….. and that’s what young Michael McDermott does with the piss n vinegar title track WHAT IN THE WORLD which comes at you like a ferret on steroids; biting, nipping and scratching as the singer part Raps his fabulous Insurgent Country ode to America in 2020. Thankfully you are allowed to draw breath again on the more user friendly New York, Texas which follows …… but again, it’s no jolly sing along …… this man is angry and you know it! Perhaps it’s because I haven’t played one of his albums in quite a while, but Michael’s voice sounds huskier and tattered around the edges than I remember; but that works in his favour adding a world weary wisdom to The Things You Want, the acoustic Positively Central Park and of course, the majestic Blue Eyed Barmaid. There’s a bit of an emotional and musical roller-coaster here; with heads down boogielicious Rockers like Mother Emmanuel sitting comfortably (and sometimes uncomfortably – The Veils of Veronica?)) alongside the smoother sounds of No Matter What; but that just goes to show what a clever, intelligent and articulate songwriter Michael McDermott is. We all love certain songs for different reasons, but how often does a song you hear on the radio make you think …….. “that could be about me?” A lot, I’d guess …… which brings me to my Favourite Track here; Contender. A tightly wrapped Rock & Roller with a jaunty beat and saxophone worthy of the Big Man, Clarence Clemons himself. Arguably there is more than a hint of Springsteen in the mix; but I could find another hundred Rock n Rollers who have done songs a bit like this; but none with the aplomb that Michael McDermott squeezes out of every damn line ……. and yes; I too could have been a Contender if it wasn’t for those darn kids! Neatly the album is book ended by an acoustic demo of the title track What In The World; and stripped back to the marrow it sounds even angrier than the other version! It would be wrong of me to say that McDermott’s songwriting has matured over the years; as he’s always wrote complex songs for Grown Ups ……… and his albums, especially this one, all sit comfortably alongside the feted Singer-Songwriters of yore; from Paxton to Prine, via Springsteen, Simon, Van Zandt and Zimmerman too.
Oh to be 15 or 17 again and listening to ROOKIE for the very first time! All kinds of memories have been evoked on listening to this well crafted Rock n Roll album over the last few weeks. Most of all, I remember once buying Electric Warrior by T Rex from FW Woolworths and rushing home to play it. WHAM! What a game changer that night was. A couple of days later my bubble was burst when my elder brothers sniffily pointed out the ‘references’ that Marc Bolan had appropriated to make his fabulous music. Jump forward 20 years or so and I did something similar to son #2 when he became infatuated with Oasis. Sorry son. But …… when you’re a teenager in Poughkepsie, Pittsburgh or Palmdale, who the Hell cares what the influences are for your favourite band in the whole damn world? Dylan ripped off Woody, The Stones stole Muddy and Bo whole back catalogues while the Beatles pinched Buddy Holly’s singles wholesale …….. it’s gone on forever; get over it. Which finally brings me back to the latest release on the fabulous Bloodshot Records label; Rookie by Rookie. Right from the get go; they unleash a marvelous Rock and Roll stew that takes in the very best of Southern Rock, Britpop and all points in between to create a launch pad for teenage parties the world over via the stonking Hold on Tight and the crashes and bangs continue with the sleazy I Can’t Have You, But I Want You …….. both hormonal boys and girls will think this song was written for them, and them alone. Sadly many other reviewers will get all smart arsey with this album; but you have to remember the sheer adrenaline rush you got as a teenager when great new music landed on to your turntable like something from outer space …… thankfully; I can! In many ways Rookie are a straight up, no frills Rock & Roll bar band; but instead of sticking to tried and trusted cover songs; they have the cojonas to listen to their Dad’s Stones albums and think “We can do better than that;” and with Side of The Road and Michigan they’ve recorded two songs that trump anything Mick and Keef have written this century. I can only imagine the thrill of being in a packed club or school gym and hearing the band blasting out Miss United States and the primal scream of E-Jam! Where to go for a Favourite Song? I love the sheer audacity of sliding in the gorgeous acoustic ballad Elementary Blues; but Let’s Get It Right and the musclebound One Way Ticket are genuine contenders; and would be if they appeared on albums by Rookie’s peers; but I’m going for a song that will be one of my ‘Sounds of the Summer’ 2020; the timeless Sunglasses which somehow manages to sound a bit like Cheap Trick AND The Kinks at the same time; but not actually like anything either ever recorded; bizarre but true. This is very much the music I (and my brothers and our sons) grew up listening to on National Radio; but sadly this generation have so much to choose from on the interweb; Rookie will have to depend on word of mouth referrals from ‘people who know’ to get their message across; so it’s over to you guys and gals……… buy a copy for your favourite son, daughter, nephew or niece ….. it will change their lives; and quite possibly get you a better care home in 20 years time!
Scott H. Biram Sold Out to the Devil: A Collection of Gospel Cuts by the Rev. Scott H. Biram Bloodshot Records
A Hellfire and Brimstone Gospelish Compilation For Rock and Roll Sinners Everywhere!
I’ve only ever seen Scott H Biram play live once and it was so intense it was very nearly an epiphany for me. That night I doubt there were more than 30 in the Hall; but every single one of us stood enthralled and spell bound for nigh on two hours transfixed at the performance that we witnessed. That said, even though I’ve loved his last two albums I find them difficult to listen to as ‘entertainment’ ….. and that’s true of this amazing compendium of his ‘Religious’ songs too, but in the name of research I’ve persevered….. just for you. A crackling old radio starts track #1 Get Me Religion (Preachin’ the Blues) and when Biram and his guitar come into play you know you are in the presence of someone very special indeed. For an acoustic guitar Scott H Biram makes it sound louder and meaner than Tony Iommi ever managed in Black Sabbath! And, the song itself really does open the floodgates for what is to follow as Biram re-invents himself as travelling preacher from the 1920’s transported forward 100 years to deliver his Message to unbelievers and sinners like you and I. There’s a timeless quality to this collection, which crosses his 20 year recorded career and is aimed squarely at the members of “The First Church of The Ultimate Fanaticism”. Several years ago, when I had a radio show I actually received a letter of complaint after playing Biram’s John The Revelator; and I’m still staggered as to what any God Fearing person was doing listening to my show anyway; but if I had my time again I would play this power-hymn a second time just to really scare the bejaysus out of my angry listener! Now I think about it; it may have been Biram’s ‘crackling radio intros’ to songs like True Religion and Been Down Too Long that inspired me to do the same on other songs on that show; not that these two actually need any frivolities to catch your attention as Biram’s robust delivery and fascinating lyrics are more than enough in themselves to please the average fan. The nearest to a ‘commercial song’ here is probably Gotta Get to Heaven and the Bluegrass tinged Broadminded; although the lyrics are still so sharp and edgy enough to keep it off national radio …… more’s the pity. Choosing a Favourite Song here is always going to be based on my mood at a particular time; as two nights ago I was driving home in a storm when I See The Light/What’s His Name came on my i-phone and I automatically cranked the car stereo up to 11 and I felt like a character in Grapes of Wrath driving to the promised land. Then, of course there’s Biram’s definitive version of Amazing Grace sung in what sounds like pouring rain, which closes the album; and being the contrary curmudgeon I am, I could be tempted to put this on my ‘funeral list’ …… or perhaps not. But this morning, God Don’t Work (Like a Natural Man) sounds like the pivot that everything else sparks off; with Biram using his trademarked foot-stomps, assorted clicks, growls, screeches and a wheezy harmonica to fight the demons away and boy does the passion come out of the speakers in a way normally unknown in the world of Rock & Roll; so this wins the accolade. As a concept this compilation works a treat; although I doubt it will make its way into many Christmas stockings but fully paid up members of Scott H Biram’s “The First Church of The Ultimate Fanaticism” will scoop it up like manner from Heaven.
Jason Hawk Harris Love and the Dark Bloodshot Records
Pushing the Boundaries of Even Insurgent Country!
I somehow doubt Bloodshot Records have a huge team of A&R Execs haunting the dive bars across America seeking out the next Band to join their never ending roster of Insurgent Country acts. But how else do you explain finding someone like Jason Hawk Harris? You’re never going to find his like on America’s Got Talent or whatever it’s called; and I guess there’s another 99 singers and bands who sound a bit like him who sent in cassettes of their songs too; but weirdly only Jason fits the Bloodshot bill, and he does it quite perfectly too. I can’t even tell you what the Bloodshot ‘signature sound’ is; as every act is so very different; but right from the serenely sparkling opening track The Smoke and The Stars you just know this is a marriage made in Insurgent Country Heaven and you are the Guest of Honour. I doubt I’m going to hear a more Countrier Country Drinkin’ song this year than Cussin’ at the Light which follows tout suite; and you can easily imagine the Ghost of George Jones smiling down benignly when he hears it; especially when Natalie Nicoles seamlessly slides in on harmony vocals. Harris’s observations in his songs might pass a few by; especially if you are too busy dancing to Blessed Interruption, Confused or the irresistible ‘Honky-Tonky’ Red Room Blues; but at some stage take the time to actually listen to his words; you won’t regret it. Before I get around to telling you about my Favourite Track, I’ve got to mention the staggering Grandfather which closes the album. WOW! The only other songwriter that I can think of who would dare to write a Country song like this, is Jason Isbell, and there’s even something in Harris’ phrasing that reminds me of Isbell too and it’s only because there’s an even stronger and stranger song here that means this amazing song is only my Second Favourite Song on this record. Would could be better than that? Phantom Limb, is the answer. There are so many lines I can cherry pick to explain why this particular song has taken my breath away; but I’m going to select a couplet to wet your appetite ……. Harris softly describes his mother’s funeral thus, “I got this shirt. Smells like the viewing/ Formaldehyde, tobacco and tulips/ I’ve washed it ten times, and it won’t come out.” Dark and dangerous, gloomy and enigmatic but always accessible and full of songs that genuinely pushes the boundaries of Country Music in all its various formats ……. and my world is so much better for knowing this album exists.
Robbie Fulks Country Love Songs (Vinyl Only Release) Bloodshot Records
A Country Music ‘Game Changer’ In So Many Fabulous Ways!
Robbie Fulks is probably ‘taken for granted’ by several generations of Alt, Country fans as he is constantly touring and regularly releasing albums; yet there was a time when what he does so well and so naturally was as rare as hens teeth! But thankfully the home of Insurgent Country have always appreciated what a rare talent he has; and to help celebrate their very own 25th Anniversary they are re-releasing his debut album COUNTRY LOVE SONGS as a 180 gram Vinyl record. It may sound as fresh as a mountain daisy today in 2019, but even I as a Fulks Fan can’t imagine how extraordinary the twisted opening song Every Kinda Music, But Country must have sounded in 1996! Just like all the others here, it’s a love song but one that Fulks tips his ‘knowledgeable cap’, back to the Glory Days of Hank, George and Chet with more than a dash of cheek too . I own 6 Robbie Fulks albums, but never this one; so hearing Barely Human, Tears Only Run One Way and the other ‘live favourite’ The Buck Starts Here for the first time has been as exciting as I’ve hoped for two decades. I can’t work out how old/young Robbie would have been way back then; but what a burgeoning talent he had for not just songwriting and storytelling, but adding a catchy melody too – which was way out of fashion in the 1990’s! After praising him to the hilt, I must also mention two tracks which may not have aged as well as the rest; The Scrapple Song is a comical ode to Pennsylvania’s favourite foodstuff apparantly and the instrumental Pete Way’s Trousers kind of jars with everything either side of it …… but I could be wrong. Man…… what to select for a Favourite Song? The powerhouse album closer Papa Was a Steel Headed Man certainly showcases what a talent Fulks was and still is; while the left of centre tearjerker Barely Human is/was probably the first song in a style which is now synonymous with Robbie Fulks; but I’m closing my eyes and selecting She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died) because, yet again it’s 25 years old it sounds as fresh as a daisy with Fulks taking the baton from George or Hank and sauntering in the direction of Alt. Country, Americana and/or Countrypolitain without a care in the world! I hope someone out there can tell me who the mysterious actress of the story was. I will leave the last word to Robbie himself; and the note he attached to the tape he originally sent to Bloodshot in 1996:-
“13 original country songs with an early 50’s production aesthetic (hot vocals, robust bass, live instrumental tracks) and arrangement, reviving certain types of songs long abandoned by mainstream country music. Likewise in retro spirit, these songs will frequently violate current country songwriting trends which hold as taboo themes of negativism, forceful expression, and points of view uncongenial to the prevailing ideology of fatuous feelgoodism; they will instead reflect a modern sensibility in their emotional graphicness, vigorous iconoclasm, and sense of humor. In composition and presentation the music will honestly reflect the heart and personality of its author/singer, and in its fundamental sincerity will stand resolutely against the poisonous tides of camp.”
500 Miles to Memphis Blessed Be The Damned Self-Release/Bandcamp
Insurgent Country-Punk For Doc Marten Wearing Cowboys.
500 Miles to Memphis are one of those bands whose name I instantly recognised, then my mind went blanks….. nothing…..absolutely nothing. Not a note appears in any of my collections. Formed in 2003 they appear to have had several incarnations following drink and drugs shenanigans while also evolving from the Cincinnati Punk scene and incorporating a bit of Kick-Ass Insurgent Outlaw Country into their music…… which all brings us around to this; their 5th album. So, it was with more than a bit of interest I slid the CD into the car stereo. Opening track, The River starts with a rousing A’ Capella chorus before launching head first into what I can only describe as Cow Punk Deluxe with industrial strength powerhouse support from the bass and drums! Not what I was expecting at all….. but very welcome at 5.30 am none the less! As the album progresses there’s an awful lot going on, from the punchy Delta Country of Bonnie and Piggie Boy, which had me trying and failing miserably to sing along twice at least. The band’s Punk background is never too far away; although this will always sit more comfortably in the Country racks of your local record store; with songs like I Said Babe and What a Waste both having the ability to scare the bejasus out of anyone wearing a Trucker cap and Wranglers. As an album, this hasn’t been the ‘easiest of listens’ for me; as I’ve had to judge my mood accordingly…….. this is as ‘angry’ as music gets at RMHQ but the 99mph Hold on Tight and In My Chest, while polar opposites in ‘style’ are destined to get even a Methodist Church gathering pogoing as if their lives depend on it. Don’t get me wrong, everything here has a melody and a chorus; these songs are very well constructed and are fun, fun, fun in one way or another…….. Save Me starts with a Church organ, which carries on through a cacophony of Country-Punk on amphetamines ….. and I did manage to shout along with this chorus. Obviously nothing here is destined for Radioland……. but two songs have already been co-opted onto a Playlist for a holiday car journey that’s planned for March; the awesome title track Blessed Be The Damned and the coolest song here; and one that could almost be called a ballad….. I’m a Bastard; which takes the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song. Where do 500 Miles To Memphis fit in on the music scene? They don’t! It’s as simple as that. In my collection they will sit alongside Jason & The Scorchers, everything on Bloodshot Records and a band I’d actually forgot about until last week…….The Real McKenzies; another band whose attitude is “‘this us, this is what we do….. you can take us or leaves us…. we don’t care.”
Yes, we get inundated with new music from fresh faced artistes every day and we love bringing them to you…..but every now and again the Oldies come along and re-write the rule book…..ladies and gentlemen; I give you…..The Bottle Rockets!
Here’s a little teaser from their new album BIT LOGIC which will be released on October 12th.
Robbie Fulks & Linda Gail Lewis
WILD, WILD, WILD
Hey, hey, hey you crazy kids! Check this rascal out……a rip snorting collaboration between two of our favourites……. Mr Robbie Fulks and the delectable Linda Gail Lewis (the star of TWO SummerTyne Festivals) on Bloodshot Records; and a forerunner to a whole album on August 10th.
“The album Wild! Wild! Wild! was recorded in Chicago with Alex Hall (JD McPherson, Cactus Blossoms, Pokey LaFarge) and features musical contributions from Redd Volkaert (Merle Haggard), Danny B. Harvey, Scott Ligon and Casey McDonough (NRBQ, The Flat Five), Kelly Hogan (Mavis Staples, Neko Case), Joan Collaso, Yvonne Gage, and others.”
Sarah Shook & The Disarmers
Proudly Flying The Insurgent Country Flag.
Hmmmmm…..the ‘difficult second album’ huh? Not really; as this sounds like Sarah Shook has had enough going in her short life to make writing songs about lovers, ex-lovers, wannabe lovers and drinking them off her mind as easy as ABC.
But we all know it takes an incredible talent to write a song as instantly cool, listenable and deep as opening track, the single Good As Gold. That ‘quaver’ in her voice and Phil Sullivan’s red hot pedal-steel makes this Country Gold even if the Wrangler wearing disc jockeys didn’t realise it earlier this year.
Speaking of clothing, I get really, really angry when I see queues of people wearing Hank, Cash, Willie and Waylon t-shirts wrapped around huge venues to see shiny disinfected Modern Country acts when it’s really acts like Sarah Shook who are the true descendants of those Outlaw Acts.
Her songs New Ways to Fail and the gloriously droll The Bottle Never Lets Me Down (the way you do) can only be written after/while living a dark life and listening to those four singers between midnight and sunrise and feeling the need to write songs in their great tradition.
‘Tradition ‘ is as good a word to describe the way Sarah writes and delivers her songs, as she sings not just from the heart but the Soul too with Parting Words and Heartache in Hell being timelessly tart and sardonic in the ‘tradition’ laid out by Loretta and Reba many years ago but now with Sarah’s own personal contemporary stamp all over them, in words and deeds.
Ooohheee…..the title track Years closes the album and that Countrybilly beat that pervaded on her 2017 album Sidelong comes back with a vengeance and will have fans two-steppin’ around the floor in both bar-rooms and kitchens across America.
Just like Mick Jagger ‘is’ the Rolling Stones, Sarah Shook ‘is’ the face and voice of the Disarmers but don’t be under any illusions, this is very much a ‘band record’ with Phil Sullivan’s pedal-steel and Eric Peterson’s guitar alternating between sizzling and stinging throughout; especially on What It Takes and John Howie Jr. and Jason Hendrick consistantly provide a rhythm spine of Clash proportions.
Then of course there has to be a ‘favourite track’ doesn’t there? Last week it just had to be the fast and furious Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don’t which could be the signatune for us here at RMHQ, but the more I play YEARS another track keeps tugging at my heartstrings; so another the Honky-Tonkyiest song here New Ways To Fail wins that coveted accolade by a whisker.
God Bless Bloodshot Records for allowing Sarah Shook and the Disarmers the freedom to proudly become the new standard bearers for the Insurgent Country flag that the Waco Brothers first raised 25 years ago and proudly wave it in the faces of anyone wearing an Outlaw T-Shirt that was bought in a Supermarket or Tax Dodging online store.
It doesn’t seem 5 minutes since Sarah Shook released her fabulous album SIDELONG in 2017; but she hasn’t sat around wallowing in the glory of her reviews; no sirree Bub; Sarah is releasing the follow up YEARS on 6th April; and has let us have an early copy of the video for her lead single GOOD AS GOLD.
We love it and we are pretty sure you will too.