John Prine – The Tree of Forgiveness

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John Prine
The Tree of Forgiveness
Oh Boy Records

Prime Prine….. Funny, Relevant, Smart and always Engaging.

When you start listening to a new album and can’t take it off repeat even though you have a dozen other albums you’re supposed to be listening to instead. That’s me listening to the new John Prine album, The Forgiveness Tree, his first batch of new songs since 2005’s Fair & Square.
This is prime Prine. Funny, relevant, smart, engaging.
Yes, Prine is a legend known for writing concise, witty songs about the foibles of being human, and yes, he has a sense of humor like no other songwriter on the planet except for perhaps Randy Newman. (Who wants to hear a Prine/Newman album of songs, Newman’s piano backing up Prine’s finger-picked guitar and the two of them croaking along gracefully and artfully? Newman plays Prine! Prine plays Newman! My hand and hopes are raised high.)
On several of these tunes he’s wistfully thinking about the past but he’s not obsessed with it either, rather using the past as a starting point for a verse, looking back with the wisdom of experience and a warm acceptance.
You can always count on Prine to make you smile and even laugh out loud which he does here on several of these tracks. One could make an entire film out of the events and characters in “Egg and Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)” and his ruminations on “The Lonesome Friends of Science” are as heartfelt as they are poignant and funny. Then Prine takes us all for a ride through a dark and demented carnival in “Caravan of Fools” which could be about the current political situation world-wide but, like many of Prine’s tunes, it’s about the human condition and SO much more. Yes, lucky for us, Prine can get serious and thoughtful, which he does in “I Have Met My Love Today,” “No Ordinary Blue,” and “God Only Knows,” and then there’s “Summers End,” the warmest song on the album—hell one of the most honestly.
warm songs I’ve ever heard. No schmaltz, no innuendo, just a song about true caring and love worth waiting for. In “Boundless Love” Prine seems to address his long bewildering career, and legion of fans with lines like:

“Sometimes my old heart
Is like a washing machine
It bounces around ’til
My soul comes clean
And when I’m clean
And hung out to dry
I’m gonna make you laugh
Until you cry”

The last song on the album starts out with a harp run straight out of Old Hollywood dreamtime that leads us into a half-sung/half-spoken word rave-up about death, Heaven, family, and having fun, with rollicking old-time piano, laughing babies, a kazoo, and one of the funniest sing-a-long choruses you’ll ever hear.
With Prine, each song just gets better and better. How does he do it? No fancy chord changes, no riffs, verse and chorus often using the same melody and usually with no bridge in sight for miles and miles. In a lesser mortal’s hands these songs would come off as unfinished, crudely written, or amateur, yet Prine ably crafts them into sharp focus, adding little touches here and there, verses as fine as Hemingway, choruses that thump you in the chest, and then delivers them all with a heartfelt seriousness that’ll make a fan out of anyone. John Prine. Still in his prime.

Guest Review by The Legendary Roy Peak ( )

Released 13th April 2018


im with her

I’m With Her
Rounder Records

The Perfect Soundtrack to the Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer.

I’m not sure what constitutes a ‘Supergroup’ these days especially in the Roots world; but a combination of Sara Watkins, Aiofe O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz must surely deserve such a title, shouldn’t it?
The short history is that these three musicians got together for an impromptu show in 2014 which was such a success (surprise, surprise) that the trio have played together as often as schedules have allowed in the intervening years, receiving incredulous reviews and eventually the recording of this album in London with Ethan Jones at the controls.
It’s easy to see from the opening song See You Around what all of the fuss is about. At face value it’s a simple Country-Folk song; but when you actually ‘listen to it’ the intricate harmonies should normally only come from siblings; but the three disparate voices don’t just compliment each other but sound like a Summer breeze blowing through a field of wild flowers; and the ladies’ musicianship is nothing short of exemplary too.
You could easily play this one song over and over again and still be happy; but no there is more and…..even better to come.
As you would expect the lead vocals and songwriting are shared around fairly equally; and it would be a little unfair to single out any single singer for high praise; as it’s the ‘overall sound’ that this album is all about; playfully moving seamlessly from the more traditional Folk songs like Pangaea and Ryland (Under The Apple Tree) through to a more contemporary Country Folk ‘feel’ on Game To Lose, Crescent City and I-89 without you ever seeing the joins.
Personally I’ve appreciated but never really got into the solo work by these three ladies over the years; but together they have certainly won my heart here; with two songs in particular making my heart beat faster than it is meant to.
Close It Down is a very clever song when you pick apart the lyrics; but that doesn’t come until you have had your senses left tingling by the way the three voices swoop and soar like butterflies in the Garden of Eden; and that’s not even my favourite song here!
Regular readers and my friends will tell you that I’m no lover of Folk Music; but if it all sounded like Ain’t That Fine I would grow a beard and start wearing badly fitting jeans in an instant! That said, a lot of this record actually reminds me a bit of the early Dixie Chicks….so is it Country? Country-Folk? Who the Hell cares what pigeon-hole it might fit in; because it doesn’t…….it’s ROOTS MUSIC at it’s best.
I’m writing this review on a bitterly cold February afternoon with heavy snow forecast for the next few days and SEE YOU AROUND is the perfect soundtrack to a day just sitting in the living room just as much as it will be in Spring and more importantly those hazy, lazy days of Summer.

Released 23rd February 2018


Nowhere Brothers – DOWN LIFE BOULEVARD

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Nowhere Brothers

Stripped Back, Sparse and Simply Beautiful Americana From an Italian Duo.

Just like last year RMHQ is currently inundated with new albums to review, with quite a few even being from household names (at least in our household) so actually choosing something to review can sometimes be difficult; then along comes something like DOWN LIFE BOULEVARD to blow us away.
The Nowhere Brothers are Nick Ventolini and Roberto Fiorelli, both originally from Italy and meeting in the city of Trieste before moving on and around the world with one now based in the rainy Latin Quarter of Leeds, Yorkshire and the other in the US of A; which is a chemistry that  somehow conjure up images and music of the dusty back roads of the American Southern states that will make Ry Cooder and John Hiatt look over their shoulder.
The quaintly monikered song Nowhere Brothers opens the record with some intricately strummed acoustic guitar and a whispery harmonica before a road worn and leathery voice slides in and out on a song so atmospheric I found myself rubbing imaginary Arizona dust from eyes as the last verse filtered across the airwaves.
That laid back and often sparse mood pervades throughout with Peace and especially Soul Mirror conjuring up memories of Bruce’s Nebraska/Tom Joad albums with their stark and poetic lyrics, stinging harmonica and duelling acoustic guitars.
I’ve said it many times before that the ‘romance’ we feel towards Americana from across the Atlantic possibly makes for more authentic Roots music than what is actually coming out of Nashville and Austin these days; and The Nowhere Brothers prove my point exactly with Used Boots which nods towards early Tom Russell; but with some liquid electric guitar behind an imaginative story; and it’s a similar feeling that the quasi-political Dust Walker brings to proceedings…….”Fool Man/You’ll never stop alignin’/Flags and pledges have no meanin’/Pure Brainwashin’/But it’s too late/No matter where your Soul is. And the slide guitar therein ain’t too shabby either!
On an album that I expected very little from when it arrived, there are beautiful surprises around every corner with one song in particular taking my breath away each time I’ve played it, Montenegro Diaries is the type of deep and meaningful acoustic song that gives Americana a good name and defies the thousands of miles between where it was based and where it was actually written.
From the excellent artwork and accompanying booklet through to the actual songs themselves The Nowhere Brothers have delivered a musical time bomb that deserves to blast them to the top of the burgeoning Americana and Alt. Country movement that is currently sweeping across Europe.

Released December 4th 2017



Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst SOMETIMES JESSE JAMES

steven casper

Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst
Silent City Records/Hemifran

The Essence of Americana in Six Songs.

We absolutely loved Steven Casper and Cowboy Angst’s previous album SNAKES IN MY HEAD so got really excited when this new EP arrived through the letter box and …..woah….. (spoiler alert) it just might be even better!
The CD had been in the car for over a week when I slid it into the player on a cold, dark January evening as I left the depot…..and as soon as the crunchy Bo Diddleyesque riff that opens the first song Down came growling from the speakers I just knew all of my cares were about to be blown away; and I was right.
Down goes on to be the perfect ‘driving song’ with a toe-tapping beat and a chorus that had me singing my heart out along the Washington Highway* as the flickering lights cascaded through the wet windscreen.
Part Rock and Roll and part Alt. Country and 100% pure quality; what’s not to like?
Things slow down on the next song The Best Days Of Our Lives; not quite a ballad; more a sultry soft Country Rocker……think Tom Petty covering the Flying Burritos and you will get the mood; and what a mood the band create; especially those guitars and pedal-steel.
My Wrecking Ball finds Casper driving through the night in a clapped out car to see his lover (not unlike me that first night!). It’s a theme often portrayed in Rock n Roll but this has a Hill Country thread and is a lot darker than anything Bruce ever wrote; and I like it for those very reasons.
Ooohheee….They Call It Love is sultry joy from start to finish; not quite Gothic, but not too far away and the way Casper delivers his words over some sizzling guitars will make you wonder why he’s not headlining stadium tours.
The music takes a hefty left turn for the sixth and final track here; Mi Sueno, Mi Dolor; a gentle Tex-Mex instrumental that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Quentin Tarantino Spaghetti Western; or indeed a Mavericks album.
Then of course there is the RMHQ ‘Favourite Song’ accolade which goes to the sleazy yet beautiful Born To Lose Blues; a late night Southern Shuffle worthy of the Sir Douglas Quintet or (again) The Burritos.
SOMETIMES JESSE JAMES is over all too quickly at only six tracks; but there’s always the repeat button for a smart set of timeless Americana music that will still be played in thirty years time; which won’t be the case with your Ed Sheeran downloads.

Released February 9th 2018

*That’s the ‘original’ Washington in NE England btw.

Beth Nielsen Chapman – HEARTS OF GLASS

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Beth Nielsen Chapman
BNC Records/Proper Music

Crystal Clear Songs From and For The Heart.

Aaahhh….swooon…..Beth Nielsen Chapman you say? Well; she’s a definite favourite here at RMHQ especially Mrs Magpie who had to have this disc wrenched from her hands when I needed it for review purposes.
I have no idea how she’s thought of in the USA but over here after years of touring Beth is very much an ‘International Treasure’ and has taken the place in our hearts that was warmly reserved for Nanci Griffith.
When I got around to reading the accompanying Press Release it confused me as it made HEARTS OF GLASS sound like something of a hotch-potch and possibly even ‘experimental’ when nothing could be further from the truth. Yes Beth includes some older songs that she has recorded with guitar instead of piano and a more spartan production than on previous versions; but sitting alongside the newer songs they fit in perfectly.
Opening track Come To Mine is quintessential Beth Nielsen Chapman; a delightful modern Country flavoured Folk song; that when you peel away the veneer has some very sharp observations inside the lyrics; which isn’t a surprise when you find it’s actually a co-write with Graham Gouldman and Kevin Montgomery; two of the 20th Century’s finest songwriters.
Track #2 Old Church Hymns & Old Nursery Rhymes might be familiar to older readers; but not me. Originally written for Waylon Jennings’ 1990 EAGLE album; Beth strips it back to the bone and gives her words the freedom to breathe that they truly deserve.
It’s similar tale with If My World Didn’t Have You, which she wrote for Willie Nelson and her own Child Again and Rage On Rage which are all re-visited and simplified; making them ever more beautiful than I remembered.
Fans of Beth Nielsen Chapman will already know she has had had her own problems in recent years and some of these are subtly touched upon in Epitaph For Love and of course, You’re Still My Valentine which are both as good as anything I’ve heard from Beth in recent years and Sam Ashworth’s ultra-simple production brings out two very sensitive performances.
We’ve played this album quite a bit over the last few weeks and have both fallen in love with it as a complete record; but when prompted to choose a ‘favourite song’ we nearly had an argument!
Mrs. Magpie immediately picked Child Again; as it ‘touched her’ in a way a song hasn’t for years. I can’t argue with the sentiment; and I can even picture a video for the song as I listen again; which is always a good sign….but…. Life Holds On is one of those songs that only comes along once in a lifetime, and a subject very few other songwriters could write about and make this scintillating.
As Beth herself says in the Press Release Dancer To The Drum which closes the record bookends everything quite perfectly, and yet again showcases Beth Nielsen Chapman’s prowess with the English Language in a way that will send a shiver down your spine.
HEARTS OF GLASS is the perfect title for this collection of songs; as each and every one is for and from the heart and performed in such a fragile way; thanks to Sam Ashworth’s crystal clear production that the album must surely jump into the singer’s Top 3 of all time.

Released February 9th 2018


John Oates & The Good Road Band ARKANSAS

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John Oates & The Good Road Band
Thirty Tigers

Music From an Abandoned Luncheonette Jukebox In Big Pink.

Hmmmmmm; I’m always deeply suspicious when a Million Selling Megastar suddenly ‘finds’ a long lost love of Roots Music and gets to release a very ‘alright’ album in a blitz of publicity; much to the detriment of acts that tread the boards around the country every night of the week trying to make a living with very similar; but original material.
Now that bit’s out of the way; I hadn’t realised that this John Oates was actually THE John Oates of Hall & Oates fame, because the disc didn’t have a Press Release with it……you clever clogs Del Day!
So, it was with no preconceptions I slipped the disc into the car stereo on a cold and sunny January morning and let the music do its business.
I’m no real fan of Bluegrass but the gentle Anytime which opens the record was a very pleasant surprise indeed; with some sweet picking from the Good Road Band and a singer who sounds like he’s been around the block a time or two (if only I had known!).
This is followed by an Oates original, the title track Arkansas with it’s edgy mandolin as lead instrument. Hmm, hmm, hmm….. this is as cool a slice of Southern Roots as I’ve heard in quite a few years. Gorgeous harmonies and a band that must be steeped in the traditions of The Band, coupled to that ‘road-worn’ voice again; and the scene was set for a lovely day out in the Northern hills.
John Oates claims ‘this is the album that he has always wanted to make’ and that may be true; especially the way he has arranged hoary old Folk songs like My Creole Belle, Stack O Lee and Lord Send Me; breathing new life into each and possibly introducing them to a whole new generation or at least group of music lovers.
I actually had four new albums in the car that day; and this one stayed in the stereo as it just seemed the perfect soundtrack to my car journey; especially the ornery Dig Back Deep and the other John Hurt classic Spike Driver Blues; which features some really mean finger-picking geetar.
I’ve not had much time to play my old Blues albums lately so RMHQ ‘Favourite Track’ status falls on Blind Blake’s That’ll Never Happen No More, which is a song I’ve loved for many a year but, in fairness the original isn’t really ‘easy on the ear’ is it? So John Oates Ragtime version is the overall winner on an album that has surprised and delighted me in equal measures over the last week.
Perhaps this album will finally make me reassess my feeling towards Big Time Charlie’s muscling in our little world; but then again it will get Roots Music a little byline in our national newspapers and magazines, won’t it?

Released February 2nd 2018

Buffy Sainte-Marie – MEDICINE SONGS


Buffy Sainte-Marie
True North Records

Potently Raw and Emotional Native Americana.

If my maths is right MEDICINE SONGS is Buffy’s 17th album; and baring in mind the state of the world in 2018 any new music from the woman who refused to go on Sesame Street unless they let her tell the world about the history of Native Americans has to be worth investigating hasn’t it? Well; it has!
The album opens with the feisty You Got To Run (Spirit of the Wind) a full on commercial ‘wall of sound’ based around a Native American chant and backbeat; which when pealed away reveals a very angry song indeed. Boy; would I like to hear this on the radio! Do you think it’s worth holding my breath?
It’s no real surprise to find that this ‘golden ager’ and renowned Feminist and activist is righteously angry at what she sees around her; and as songwriter of some renown manages to get her feelings across in such a way on My Country Of Thy People You’re Dying and The War Racket that will not just educate you but make you want to march down a street too.
After all these years it’s more than a surprise to tell you that Ms Sainte-Marie’s voice is absolutely wonderful and has hardly changed since I first heard her in or about 72 or 73.
Not everything here is brand new; with the inclusion of new versions of the magnificent Soldier Blue, Universal Soldier, Starwalker and of course Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee which a new generation of North American schoolchildren should be forced to listen to on headphones every morning.
One of the older songs that I wasn’t aware manages to Buffy’s righteous anger gets to spill over again on an almost Hip-Hop poetic adaptation of The Priests of the Golden Bull, which is so powerful it will spin you around 359 degrees.
Baring in mind Buffy’s ‘age’…….the lady can still ROCK; as is proven on my favourite track here Carry It On. It’s definitely another ‘protest song’ but it’s also a real fists in the air and scream-along the chorus rocker that puts women (and men) a quarter of her age to shame.
I’ve been playing this album on and off  for two months now, and I’m stumped as to where to place it on my shelf…..Folk? Roots? Rock? Any of which would work; but I’m going for Americana or more pertinently NATIVE AMERICANA!
God Bless Buffy Sainte-Marie; the world still needs her and her fiery passion.

PS. The digital version of this record includes a further six songs that appear to be in a similar ilk; and should be well worth investigating.

Released 26th January 2017


Cambridge City Roots Festival 2018

Cambridge City Roots Festival 2018
Feb 22nd- March 6th 2018.

WAHAY! How exciting does this look to start 2018? The World Famous Cambridge Folk Festival now has an exciting little brother of a Festival to whet the musical appetite and it just gets better, more exciting and….dare I say it, more interesting every year.
Just some of what’s in store includes performances from BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris’s ‘Emerging Artist of the Year’ Wildwood Kin, RMHQ ‘Hero’ and BBC Radio 6 stalwart Mr. Tom Robinson and Cambridge Folk Festival summer headliner, Ward Thomas. Some of the UK’s finest folk musicians appear in the form of John McCusker, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, and Megson. Elsewhere there will be award-winning comedy from Rich Hall as he performs “Hoedown” – a withering dissection of Trump’s America which finishes as a celebration of Americana with stand-up, improvised ballads, and amazing musicianship (described as “Blissfully funny” by The Guardian) – as well as what promises to be a fascinating live interview, with charismatic Canvey Island rocker Wilko Johnson. Further headliners also include Gambian multi-instrumentalist Sona Jobarteh with Cameroonian blues and jazz artist Muntu Valdo.

RMHQ says “What’s not to like?”

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Joe Bonamassa LIVE at CARNEGIE HALL (An Acoustic Evening).

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Joe Bonamassa
LIVE at CARNEGIE HALL (An Acoustic Evening).

Guitar Virtuoso Discovers His Brilliance Knows No Bounds.

Joe Bonamassa probably divides opinion among Blues and Rock fans more than anyone else has for decades. His fans can be like acolytes hoovering up everything he releases and taking any criticism personally; whereas plenty of others dismiss him out of hand as a ‘soulless showman,’ and in my humble opinion both sets are wrong.
Prolific, he’s now released 24ish albums in 17 years and while I’ve only been reviewing them for 5; my own feelings towards him and his music have certainly evolved from being in the latter camp – once describing him as a ’21st Century Alvin Lee – the fastest guitar in the West’ but more recently I’ve come to admire the way he constantly challenges himself and allows himself to evolve in a way I’ve not seen since the cusp of the 1960’s and 70’s.
My biggest criticism of Bonamassa’s earlier albums was that a) his voice was a bit too thin and b) his guitar playing was too fancy and long winded which were both highlighted on his many Live albums.
Both wrongs have been righted in recent years when he has ‘discovered his Roots’ and slowed things down; and LIVE at CARNEGIE HALL (An Acoustic Evening) really showcases the ‘new’ Joe Bonamassa.
The album opens with a ‘bang’ as the band throw everything they have at This Train and the addition of International artists playing a multitude of acoustic instruments make it almost unrecognisable from the album version. With so much going on behind him it should be impossible for Joe to make his own acoustic guitar stand out; but….. boy….does he manage it; and his now slightly worn-in voice sounds wonderful.
As the applause dies down a much gentler almost mystical sound filters from the speakers and again we get a completely updated version of Drive, which is taken into the territory I would normally associate with the legendary John Martyn.
More Classic Bonamassa songs are also turned inside out and come out the other side all the better for this refreshing treatment; never a lover of Dust Bowl I sat transfixed twice as I finally got to listen to the words; and I now I get to revel in some delicious bottle neck playing on the intro to Black Lung Heartache; and song really does become the atmospheric epic it always threatened to be.
As expected on previous live outings everything revolved around Bonamassa’s brilliant and technical electric guitar playing; but even allowing for the fulsome instrumentation included here, the songs are allowed to breathe letting the listener hear the beautiful stories that make up Get Back My Tomorrow and the gentle Mountain Time.
There are a couple of songs here that I wasn’t previously aware of, in particular Song of Yesterday from his Black Country Communion days; and the inclusion of some female backing singers and Bonamassa’s all-powerful acoustic playing had me thinking of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen album; and probably that is as good a reference point for this record as any, especially because of the inclusion of Reese Wynans on piano.
I last heard Hummingbird on the Live at The Greek album and yet again; it is virtually unrecognisable in this beautiful format, and all the better for a ballsy Rootsy/Americana treatment that truly showcases Bonamassa’s skills on an acoustic guitar.
Unlike his previous Live Albums where everything plus the kitchen sink is thrown at the finale; tonight things slow down real, real slow for a beauteous rendition of The Rose which closes the night with more of a sigh than a scream, and works perfectly.
The production throughout is crystal clear with every instrument and voice being heard in it’s right place, behind Joe Bonamassa’s masterful guitar playing and endearing singing.

Favourite track? That’s easy…..How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? An age old tale that is still a soundtrack for 2017 and Joe Bonamassa sings the bones out of it!
There’s next to no chit-chat between songs but if you want that there is also a DVD available too which has the addition of a Behind the Scenes film, with Joe talking about guitars (fancy that!), lots of photos and an extra song, and for audiophile there’s even a 3 x LP release too.

Released 23rd June 2017


Curtis McMurtry – The Hornet’s Nest


Curtis McMurtry
The Hornet’s Nest

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