Nothing Compares 2U (Single)
Today; Friday March 24th sees the release of the first single “Nothing Compares 2 U” from the long awaited forthcoming album from American soul singer Nikka Costa – “Nikka & Strings, Underneath and In Between” which is due out later this year.
“Nothing Compares 2 U” showcases the lush production values of the album through Nikka’s personal and intimate interpretation of the classic Prince composition.
Says Nikka – “I’m really excited to have recorded the new album with a rhythm section and a string quartet! I have some songs I’ve always wanted to record with this line up and make into a very special album featuring this music I love. I grew up surrounded by orchestras and its music that is close to my heart. The new album features some standards, some unexpected covers and some of my own new material written especially for this project! I’m so excited!”
Released 24th March 2017
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors
A Rootsy Road Trip to Make Your Heart Sing and Your Soul Stir.
Drew Holcomb already had 7 releases under his belt when I first heard and reviewed Good Light in 2013; and that long apprenticeship at the coal face of Rock and Roll is still paying off with this, his ninth album in 12 long years.
My reviews always begin with the first track; simply because that is where listeners begin and I believe should give you a ‘feel’ for what is to follow. It doesn’t have to be the most commercial or indeed, ‘best in show’; but one way or another it should grab your attention.
In this case, on The Morning Song the opening couple of lines from a world weary and love lorn Holcomb not only ‘grab your attention’ but punch you in your heart and spin your brain…..like a flaming arrow from Eros.
“I want to make love after midnight/and fall asleep in your arms” and “Let’s dance like drunk sailors/like angels and jailbirds” take my breath away every time I hear them; plus…..well, you have to hear the song yourself to understand why I keep pressing repeat and wiping salty tears from the corner of my eyes.
Even if the team of Holcomb, Brinsfield & Dugger never ever write another song; they can all sit back and say “I wrote that.”
Comfortably straddling Alt. Country, Folk and Classic Country the Memphis/East Nashville hybrid that is Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors have never sounded finer than on the sorrowful Rowdy Heart/Broken Wing and Postcard Memories, with its’ wailing harmonica intro and Dew’s quivering voice delivering two songs fully laced with a brittle poignancy.
I must make it clear at this junction that this isn’t a ‘sad album’….not by a country mile; especially with the inclusion of the jaunty Mama’s Sunshine, Daddy’s Rain (possibly about a child or a lover…..but could actually be about me!) and the spine tingling love song Yellow Rose of Santa Fe; but quite a few songs are deep enough to make you really think about the contents.
The piano driven duet between Drew and wife Ellie Holcomb Black & Blue is almost ‘Beat Poetry’ over a late night Jazz melody; and is one of the many delightful surprises SOUVENIR keep throwing up.
For the accolade of ‘favourite track’ it’s obviously the opener The Morning Song; but album closer Wild World runs it a very close second. Again we find Holcomb at the piano and his warm leathery voice sounds on the edge of breaking as he delivers what at first sounds like a doleful and deeply thoughtful view on the world we now find ourselves in; but as he says “It’s a wild world/ but there ain’t no way I’m gonna quit it/Love is all I’ve got to give away.” Again; even if Drew Holcomb only ever wrote this song, he could die an incredibly proud man.
While everything here revolves around Drew Holcomb’s distinctive and expressive voice; this is very much a team effort from the song writing through the production to the tightly wrapped way the band perform behind the singer.
Congratulations all around.
Released March 24th 2017
WE ALL WANT THE SAME THINGS
Tiny Stories Full of Wonderment, Poignancy and Cracked Beauty.
Probably because I am an old man, the Hold Steady have completely passed me by so I still smile at the thoughts of previously confusing Craig Finn with Neil and Tim Finn from Crowded House…….in fairness to me; all three are very literate and thoughtful songwriters, but…..hey; it was an easy mistake for a doddery old man to make OK.
This is Craig’s third solo outing and to some degree is a lot more self-confident than the previous two albums; but still maintains the dark literacy and poetic heartbeat that they had at their core too.
Opening song Jester and June is a tightly wound up and passionate look back at something of a ‘car crash’ relationship from the narrators youth. Finn’s now trademark droll delivery is even more affecting here as the band go off into Alt territory with some punchy drums and bass and some slightly terrifying guitar licks in the background.
I said earlier that I feel that this is a ‘self-confident’ album; and I believe it is because with unconventional songs like Birds Trapped in the Airport and Preludes Finn certainly isn’t courting mainstream success; these are songs he must have had brewing for quite a while and ‘just had to record them’ and damn the consequences. They are twice as beautiful because of that attitude.
Rescue Blues and Tracking Shots are still left of centre; but more traditional in an Alt. Rock meets Randy Newman sense…….and to some degree the spirit of Randy Newman hangs all over this album. Finn’s vocal delivery not only reminds me of The Master; but the way he controls the narrative and combines words with ideas to create literate yet listenable songs, is straight out of Newman’s songwriting class 1:01.
God in Chicago is the most notable example, with Finn barely touching the piano keys as he doesn’t even allude to singing; just talking intimately to you the listener and you hand on every word scared to breath in case you miss something. Plus the fly-speck detail he includes in the story, is straight out of Hemingway….. “We had a boom box on the back street/that was running out of batteries/we played 1999 and Led Zeppelin Three/When the tape-deck got all wobberlee/she still sang harmonies.”
One song; for a variety of reasons stands out like a poppy in a what field…..It Hits When It Hits, is as far from being a traditional Love Song as the genre gets; but the way Craig Finn combines a softly hypnotic synthetic electro back beat with the saddest delivery you’ve ever heard on a song that feels like a boxer jabbing at your ribs until you have nothing left; and just have to surrender to the power of his words and spirit.
I’ve had this album for a few weeks now, and it’s been a bit of a sanitiser getting played in between tightly wrapped female singer-songwriters, Rocktastic Blues guitarists and Folk Singers who think that they have something to say; but also at the end of the day when my head is spinning and I need something that treats me like an adult; and that’s the best way to describe it Adult Music.
I’ve always had a soft spot for left-field music; Newman, Waits, Cohen etc. It ‘speaks to me’ and Craig Finn can now be added to that list; writing, singing and releasing albums like this for no other reason than because he wants to and in the knowledge it will always find a loving home someplace somewhere in the world.
Released Friday 24th March 2017
The Haley Sisters
ALWAYS BY MY SIDE
Prime Country Music, but Made In Yorkshire.
The Haley Sisters aka Jo-Ann and Becky have been criss-crossing Britain’s highways and by-ways
playing great Country music for 25 years or more; long before the mainstream media deemed it ‘fashionable.’
During my days at Maverick magazine I was well aware of the sisters; mostly because they were friends and firm favourites of my mentor, and then Editor Alan Cackett; so when he sent me this, their latest album I felt honoured indeed.
Even though I pretty much knew what to expect; I was still astounded by how good….and indeed ‘cool’ opening track Always By My Side was. WOW! Sweet Country Music indeed. The sister’s voices harmonise in a way only siblings can, and the song itself is pure quality.
At times it’s difficult to believe that these songs weren’t written on Music Row and recorded in one of Nashville’s hottest and most expensive studios, Luckiest Girl Alive would be a solid gold hit if recorded by Dolly Parton; but honestly wouldn’t sound half as good as this relatively simple recording, and that’s not meant to take anything away from the marvelous musicians who work so hard to create something that sounds so ‘simple’!
Eight of the ten songs here come from the sister’s own pens; and they definitely know what their fans want, with the thoughtful love songs Letter To My Heart and Somewhere Along The Road both feeling like a punch to the heart; but making me press ‘repeat’ after hearing them that first day.
While it’s all too easy to draw favourable comparisons with the Dixie Chicks (especially as they include their version of Bruce Robison’s Travelling Soldier) but The Haley Sisters have a bit more edge and earthiness to their songwriting, in the way Nanci Griffith or Laura Cantrell have, with If I Had My Time Over Again, being a perfect example of what I mean.
Tucked away in the middle is an extraordinary song called Hello Dad that will stop you right in your tracks, just as it did me. Very sentimental – yes; but every word is from the bottom of the heart and sung with such passion it will bring a tear to a glass eye.
While most other songs err on the quieter more introspective side of Country; the Haley Sisters can Rock the Honky Tonk when they need to, with my favourite track here being Can’t Walk Away From The Blues, which has some spark inducing guitar and mandolin in the background, but it’s Becky’s voice that you will remember.
Two other songs deserve a mention too; Song For Jim is a toe-tapper of the finest order featuring some mighty fine Cajun-style accordion. The other is a song I instantly recognised; but don’t know why as I can’t find it in my collection under anyone else; this version of David Allan Coe’s Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone) really shows the versatility that this delightful duo possess in spades.
RELEASED March 20th 2017
Cindy Lee Berryhill
Inspirational Yet Uneasy On The Ear Anti-Love Songs.
As a general rule I no longer review albums that I deem ‘challenging’; yet there was ‘something’ about this album that has kept drawing me back to it, over the last couple of weeks.
Written and recorded over the last 5 years, this is a series of left of centre Alt. Rock meets the Avant Garde songs; inspired by Cindy’s late husband Paul Williams, the founder of Crawdaddy magazine, who died in 2013.
Opening track American Cinematography has a certain mystical/Eastern Beatles flavour to it; although Cindy’s deadpan delivery sounds nothing like Paul McCartney! It’s probably the melody here that has kept me coming back time and time again; peeling away the many layers that Cindy hides her feelings under.
While fundamentally an album of Love Songs to her late husband, they aren’t always easy on the ear; with the darkly beautiful an Affair of the Heart being the nearest to what you would hear on the radio.
But when you invest enough time; songs like Somebody’s Angel and Gravity Falls unravel like 3D Jigsaw and leave you quite breathless.
Others are a bit too Avant-Garde for my tastes; yet I Like Cats/You Like Dogs and Contemplating the Infinite (In a kiss) both left me cold until the night I listened on headphones; and then the parts all fell into place and I’ve grown to like…no, love both.
While not alone, title track The Adventurist uses a crazy collection of instruments, marimba, sheet metal, vibraphone, cello, violin and banjo alongside more traditional devices to create a gorgeous backing that never overwhelms Cindy Lee’s ever so natural voice.
The final track Deep Sea Dishing is an instrumental worthy of being on a film soundtrack and finds Cindy not only playing guitars but also the less well known dishwasher!
As well as the opening song, the other I keep going back to is Gravity Falls; a slightly Baroque slice of atmospheric Alternative Rock; not unlike something Polly Harvey or Tori Amos may record, so it takes the accolade of RM Favourite Track.
So, The Adventurist won’t appeal to everyone and nor was it intended to; but those with a sense of musical adventure will fall in love with this irregular creation.
Released March 10th 2017
Lowlands and Friends
Play Townes Van Zandt’s Last Set.
A Wonderful Homage To A Legendary Evening.
Townes Van Zandt didn’t really find fame, nor certainly fortune during his lifetime; but his influence and shadow can be heard and felt in a lot of what we now call Americana Music.
He played his last ever set at The Borderline in London on Tuesday 3rd December 1996; and as was common at the time only hardcore fans were there to witness a shambling set, with the singer the worse for ‘a life well lived.’
Twenty years later Songwriter, producer and leader of Lowlands Edward Abbiati has lovingly recreated the complete set-list in chronological order with the help of numerous friends from today’s wacky world of Roots music, in bars, garages, bedrooms and wherever across the globe.
Each song is introduced in the style of a radio presenter by narrator Barry Marshall-Everett who was there that night.
First song, Lightning Hopkins’ My Starter Won’t Start is a low down dirty Country Blues, featuring Shinyribs/Gourds frontman the inimitable Kevin Russell alongside the Gnola Blues Band; and boy does it inhabit the soul of not just the song; but Townes himself.
There are Townes’ songs here that I’d forgot about; and some I plain didn’t know and the way some of bands and singers explore the depths of his words are at times overwhelming.
Dollar Bill Blues I did recognise; but Italian Rock band Cheap Wine turn the volume up and create a dirty Grunge meets Alt. Country rocker of the highest quality.
Just like that track there are surprises, and always pleasant surprises around every corner…..with new names to me like Will T Massey and Australian Tim Rogers reinventing Marie and A Song For respectively.
Then there are RMHQ favourites Sid Griffin and Rod Picott to talk about; with Sid, Michele Gazrich and a band we’d nearly forgot about, The Lucky Strikes combining to bring an extra spark to Pancho & Lefty; making it sound not unlike The Band; although Michele Gazich’s ‘fiddle-extreme’ really does cut through everything like a freshly sharpened Bowie knife.
Rod makes two appearances; one alongside a host of other great voices on an almost psychedelic version of Sanatorium Blues; then on the much easier on the ear Tecumseh Valley/Dead Flowers hybrid; which was an early contender for the ‘favourite song’ accolade.
That in fact goes to the stunning Waiting Around To Die; with Chris Cacavas from the legendary Green on Red on Vocals fronting an intensely tight band of fine musicians, which leaves me breathless every time I hear it.
This would have been a fascinating project even if it had only been one singer re-enacting the concert; but by featuring such a variety of bands, singers and musicians to cover each song in their own inimitable way is very nearly genius; and every one concerned, especially Edward Abbiati should be incredibly proud of themselves.
Released February 10th 2017
Heart-warming Quaint and Quirky Songs From Irish Singer-Songwriter.
Eamon Friel is one of those names that crop up every couple of years at Festivals and on the club circuit; yet I’ve never seen him play before, which I actually find odd. He’s released quite a few albums over the years and I love the fact that he is still employed by BBC Northern Ireland writing and performing ‘topical songs with a political flavour’……now there’s a skilled job!
His latest EP of four self-penned songs, opens with Takeaway, which is a bit of a delight actually; as Friel recalls the time he moved to London as an ‘innocent 18 year old Irish boy’ and took work in a Chinese restaurant…..as you do. The characters are all very well observed, especially the owner Mr. Woo, who sings while cooking and the unrequited love of young Eamon; Jasmine. It’s the type of song only an Irishman can write; making you laugh, smile and sigh all at the same time.
Track #2 Across is more up my street; a charming modern folk song; featuring some intricate guitar and accordion accompanying the story of a young man skimming stones onto a lake and dreaming of what lies beyond that mysterious horizon. Funnily enough it’s another song that will make you smile and sigh; but for entirely different reasons.
The short disc comes to a close far too quickly with a song from another of Eamon Friel’s earlier albums Here Is The River; and All The Lost Things really highlights Friel’s imaginative songwriting and storytelling. After seeing a tattered leather jacket tangled in a tree the writer then sets off on a journey recounting ‘All The Lost Things’ he has seen and owned including a ‘lost sheep’…..is that the singer or someone else; we don’t find out, but it’s a wonderful tale.
Which all brings us to my favourite song here. Well; if you’d described it to my two weeks ago I would have sneered at you for not knowing my musical taste at all…..yet……the traditionally comical, folk song James Joseph Alphonsus never fails to make me smile and usually sing along (sometimes out loud!) whenever I play it. The song about a boy with an old fashioned name couldn’t be any more Irish if it was played on shamrocks and Guinness glasses! Everything about it should have made me press FF but no; this old fashioned love song about a Mammy and her son is actually quite beautiful in every which way; making it our song of the week at RMHQ.
As a ‘sampler’ of his work; this EP works exceptionally well showcasing an exceptional songwriter who can glide in and out of ‘moods’ with the greatest of ease; which is quite some talent.
RELEASED 10th March 2017
Gut Punching and Heart Shredding Canadiacana.
Levi Cuss? What a great name and thankfully the music here is just as good and indeed interesting.
I wasn’t quite prepared for Cuss’s smooth yet weather worn voice on opening track Red City River ; but it more than matches the Twangy guitar and desperately honest and raw lyrics of a modern folk tale.
The pedal-steel that opens and closes the ‘talking Blues’ Pills cuts through this sad story like a cut-throat razor; and couldn’t be any more fitting.
Legendary Canadian producer Steve Dawson has done an excellent job bringing out the pathos in songs like Tecumseh; a tale of redemption for a man who murdered a woman’s brother and Dark Horses; showcasing Cuss’s storytelling and voice while making the overall song very cinematic; which is quite some feat.
It appears Levi Cuss has had his ‘demons’ over the years; but haven’t all the great songwriters? Here he manages to turn some of those episodes into songs; with the dark and broody Saturday Night being a great example as is the Country Boogie of Bringing it Back……both being Country Outlaw songs for the Alt. Country generation.
But like all ‘bad boys’ there’s always a woman in his life that he can’t live without; and in this case it’s Grandma; and let’s just say that the Grandma in this song is quite some lady indeed!
I’m torn between the dark almost Tom Pettyesque Tongues and the late night Honk-Tonker Cut My Teeth as my favourite track; and after tossing a coin will go for the latter; mostly because it somehow encapsulates the spirit of the whole album in just under four and a half minutes. Searing guitar, a story from the mean streets of down-town and Levi Cuss pouring his heart and soul out.
I can’t forget Murder of Crows; a rattling good slice of Alt. Country which features some really mean Hammond organ too.
What’s not to like?
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve praised Canadian singer-songwriters and bands over the last ten years; but there really is something special in the water up there; giving us some of the most authentic Country and Americana that’s available today; and Levi Cuss is a talent that deserves to be heard around the globe.
UK Release March 10th 2017
The Writer (EP)
Beauteous, Brittle and Atmospheric Americana Inspired Lo-Fi From Finland.
A few years ago Son #1 who lives in Finland was taken on a date to see a Finnish Folk-Rock band called Ochre Room, and halfway through the gig he thought ‘My Dad will love these!’ and much to the young lady’s horror (Finnish people are notoriously shy) he introduced himself to the singer at the end of the gig and explained that his Dad was a writer for Maverick magazine in the UK…..they were impressed and gave him a copy of their CD.
A year later I actually interviewed the band for said magazine and stardom surely beckoned….alas not. and like so many other young bands they appeared to have just fizzled out.
Then; totally out of the blue I revived an e-mail yesterday from the singer Lauri Myllymäki who has now formed a new group called Bone Moon, and attached a link to their debut EP.
To some degree starting where Ochre Room left off, opening song The Writer is stunning in its complexity; as one voice, a guitar, a banjo and something called a jouhikko combine to create a haunting slice of Arcadian Americana that you would normally associate with the likes of Fleet Foxes or Cowboy Junkies, not three young people from rural Finland.
Track #2 Bone Moon; is full of shimmering cymbals, plucked banjo and cello (?) as well as some almost Classical guitar alongside Myllymäki’s ethereal voice on a song that is as deep and dark as it is mysterious and will stay in your memory bank long after the record has stopped.
Lady Noon; is the type of cryptic love song that music fans have tried to unravel for decades; but I chose to just let it wash over me like a velvet fog; and yet again Lauri’s voice just melts into your heart.
This far too short EP closes with False Fires, the closest thing here to ‘commercial Folk music’; the sort that I would listen to by Nick Drake or John Martyn with the lights off as I wondered if I would ever find love…..you know the type of song; and Bone Moon capture that feeling better than anyone I’ve listened to in many a year.
What more can I say? I was probably pre-destined to like anything which featured Lauri Myllymäki singing; but these four songs have far exceeded my expectations and I can’t wait to actually see and hear these songs played live either in the UK or Finland.
Released March 10th 2017.
Cool Adult Orientated Scallywag Jazz Infused Alt. Rock.
As I keep saying RMHQ is currently being inundated with new music everyday, so it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find the time to listen to absolutely everything in the to-do box; sadly meaning some potentially great albums are getting missed out…..so….apologies everyone.
This morning on a whim I selected Bonomo on the I-pod for my walk to the shops for the Sunday papers; don’t know why, perhaps it was their intriguing name….who knows; but after listening to Adam Bonomo’s softly pleading voice and the tightly wrapped, guitar, keyboards and tsch-tsch drumming on opening song Baby’s Alright, I decided to take the long way home via the village coffee shop which had put a couple of tables outside to celebrate the first sunny, but chilly day of Spring 2017.
Three strong Americano’s and a warm croissant later I finally had to go home after sitting watching the world go by, listening to the rest of PHASES on my headphones.
‘Tightly Wrapped’ and ‘Adult Orientated’ are the best ways to describe songs like Redshifted and Do Need with it’s breathy vocals and ‘dinner-jazz’ vibe; especially Andrew Renfroe’s guitar that slices through Bonomo’s Jimmy Smith inspired playing on the keyboards.
While the Press Release describes Bonomo as Alternative-Folk meets R&B; my thoughts are more towards Donald Fagan’s The Nightfly album and possibly Holland by the Beach Boys, with a smattering of John Legend too for good measure.
When you listen to Water and the starkly beautiful Do Need in particular its virtuously impossible to comprehend that the ‘sound’ New Yorkers Adam Bonomo and guitarist Andrew Renfroe comes from two people and two people alone without the aid of any multi-tracking……they somehow manage to fill every cubic inch of the speakers without ever sounding loud.
Two very different songs tie for ‘favourite song,’ the dreamy late night lounge Jazz of Repeating could easily appear on a Blue Note album but Show Her Love, which follows is the most uptempo song here and really shows not only the range of Bonomo the band have; but Adam Bonomo’s voice has too.
Released February 19th 2017