Jeremy Ivey The Dream and The Dreamer Anti- Records
The Dark Heart of Alt. Country Gets a New Voice.
As is my won’t I’d played this album a couple of times before I read the Press Release; and yet again I’m pleased I did because what I hear bares very little in connection to the prose of some in-house underwriter. For me opening track Diamonds Back to Coal is a real ‘breath taker’ in the most literal sense; as it’s a deep and powerful view on the state of America; but without all the shouty angst. Ivey uses metaphor, nuance and even melody to get his message across in a way that will make Bob Dylan proud. To all intents and purposes this is Americana at its very best; with Ivey (and producer Margo Price who just happens to be Jeremy’s wife!) combining Alt. Country and Indie, with the odd splash of Folk to create a sound that shames more established artists (and producers). The subject matter isn’t always ‘easy on the ear’; with the duet with Margo Greyhound, Story of a Fish and Worry Doll all being perfect examples; with sing-along choruses and bitingly pithy lyrics masking two dark stories. Jeremy Ivey is certainly ‘left of centre’ in the way he creates his characters and their situations; and in my humble opinion the world needs more songs like Gina The Tramp and Falling Man, with their deceptively mellow tunes but so full of piss and vinegar you can taste them in the air. This sounds like a very personal album to me; which makes choosing a Favourite Song a burdensome task; as each and every song here has its merits; but I;m going to toss a coin to decide between Laughing Willy and the piano led (and John Lennon influenced?) darkly observational title track The Dream and the Dreamer. Both are quite exceptional and possibly even ‘timeless’; but somehow the bitter angst of Laughing Willy is exactly what I needed to hear this morning …… so it wins (today). While Jeremy Ivey and Margo Price are inextricably intertwined both musically and in their personal life; I’ve heard enough here to realise that Mr Ivey has more than enough talent not just to be the ‘wind beneath her wings’.
The Orphan Brigade feat. John Prine Captain’s Song (Sorley Boy)
In many ways; or at least in my little world The Orphan Brigade are something of a ‘Supergroup’, as they consist of RMHQ Favourites Joshua Britt, Ben Glover, and Neilson Hubbard plus a vast array of friends who regularly appear on these pages. The new album, TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD comes out on 27th September; and to tease us they’re releasing CAPTAIN’S SONG (Sorley Boy) as a single …… and the world should rejoice; not just because it’s one of the finest songs on a very fine album; but features Living legend John Prine!
“For any history buffs, the song refers to the infamous local chieftain from the 1500s, Sorley Boy MacDonnell, who’s descendants still have strong connections with the Glens of Antrim.” -The Orphan Brigade
Rachel Harrington Hush The Wild Horses Skinny Dennis Records
Raw and Articulate Americana That Eases Between Shadow and Light.
It’s odd how ‘fate’ plays a hand in life, isn’t it? Or, as my father used to say; “God acts in mysterious ways.” A few weeks ago I was having a beer with a friend I’d not seen in a year or so and during the conversation he asked, “Can you remember that woman we saw in that cafe in Tynemouth?” I scratched my head and eventually remembered her name as Rachel Harrington; and we both wondered whatever happened to her. Two days later this album dropped on the hall mat! Spooky, or what????? Apparently she’s been ill and subsequently took a couple of years, that stretched to 8 ‘off’; and as part of her therapy began rescuing horses, which has rekindled her love of music …… which took her to a Mary Gauthier songwriting retreat and here is the result. While I own two of her previous four releases I haven’t played them in years; and deliberately avoided them while listening this week, for fear of pre-judgement. The first thing you will notice is the stark beauty of the recording; this is Americana in it’s purest form; starting with Hush The Wild Horses itself, which has a violently strummed acoustic guitar, militaristic drumbeat a maudlin fiddle accompany Rachel’s pained vocals. It has to be said that ‘there aren’t many laughs here’ as Rachel delves deep into the darkest recesses of her heart for these stories; many of which sound quite cathartic; none more so than Child of God which finds the singer only barely restraining herself from screaming and possibly even crying as she tells a harrowing tale of a child’s sexual abuse (her own actually.) Truth really is stranger than fiction in this case. I hadn’t noticed until earlier today how not just the dark subject matter of her songs, but the timbre in her voice and even the way she actually sings reminds me of Joni Mitchell circa Blue! The other name that sprung to mind was Guy Clark; and it wasn’t until I finally read the Press Release that Rachel tells us that her beautiful song Susanna is actually a tribute to the Great Man; who is/was one of her all-time heroes. (Serendipity again?) Which in its own way puts her powerful Vietnam based songs into perspective; starting with Mekong Delta, about on her own Uncle’s experiences in Vietnam and then the rocking and rolling Drop Zone; but most especially The Barn; a subtly deceptive tale based on a story about her Mother’s first love which will bring tears to a glass eye. While there is more than enough shade here; there is also plenty of light ……. with Rachel pouring her heart out in the brittle love songs I Meant to Go To Memphis and the delightful Save Yourself; which is Americana in its rawest form. I say ‘Americana’ which is the best way I can describe these songs, as they conjure up cinematic imagery in a way we associate with filmmakers as disparate as John Ford and David Lynch. I’m actually selecting two songs as my joint Favourite Songs; If Wishes Were Horses and Drinking About You, which both transcend what we think of as Americana Music and even Country although both fit very comfortably into either genre. While the subject matter here is often challenging, it will also resonate with many people of ‘a certain age’ and many of whom will find solace in Rachel Harrington’s words, while her Love Songs; not always easy on the ear manage to shine a light in a way very few modern songwriters can achieve in such an eloquent manner.
Intricate Tales of Unrequited Love From a Rising Star In British Country Music.
Kerrie Fuller is a true D.I.Y. artist. She writes her own songs, records them in her own home studio in Kent, producing them herself, and then releasing them on her own label. It’s a tough world out there for any musician struggling to get some notice, kudos to Fuller for being brave enough to give it a go. Cliché is Fuller’s third EP release and, on this one, most of what we get is tales of unrequited love, but not of the “Oh, poor me,” variety, instead there’s heartfelt anguish and romantic despair, especially on “He’s Not Mine” and “The Other Woman.” The title song, “Cliché,” is the strongest track here with a fun chorus and witty verses — What a great idea for a song! “Little Bit Lonely” has pop potential, and “Why Don’t You Love Me?” is a plea for understanding in a doomed romance. The simple rhythm guitar accompaniment helps this one out, letting Fuller’s vocals shine through. Fuller is still learning and feeling her way through the difficult and often confusing world of being an artist in today’s confining environment, and I’m looking forward to watching her adapt and grow.
Light, Bright and Understated Songs of Americana Dreaminess.
Consistency is a hard line to toe when you’re an artist. Too much and all your material sounds too much the same, not enough and you risk alienating an audience who expects enough of that consistency in order to have something familiar to latch onto. With Is It the Kiss, Ana Egge’s latest, she manages the right mix of both. We get more of the wonderful woodwinds and simple sounds from Egge’s previous album, White Tiger, throughout this new one which is a nice touch. You don’t hear that on too many rock and folk albums these days and they give Egge’s songs a warm yet light touch, which reminds me of some of Jonathan Richman’s albums — another artist who understands dynamics and the benefits of a light, understated touch. Egge has a way with sincerity. I get the feeling that these songs rise up out of her and bubble to the surface when they’re ready instead of having to be coaxed. Her songs don’t sound forced, nor are they full of lyrical trickiness that makes one say “Oh, what a witty writer.” Instead, these songs are way past that, coming from decidedly purer places. If a writer’s job is to say “This is who I am right now, and this what I see,” then Egge has done her job remarkably well. I’m not a believer of a need for poetry in rock music, and there is little of that here. Egge is less Bob Dylan and more Gordon Lightfoot or Tywanna Jo Baskette, and for that we should all be grateful. But what about the songs, you say? “Cocaine Cowboys” is so perfectly crafted it could be a lost Willie Nelson classic, and Egge’s dreamy-druggy euphoric delivery is flawless. The sawdust pedal steel and tenuous touches on the harmonies and piano make this the perfect lead off song on a finely crafted album. “Hurt A Little” is part life lesson, part plaintive call for peace of mind with a marvelous melody and subtly driving electric guitar. “Stay the Night” with its pleas of patient wanting and fearlessness is a seduction song — but who is she trying to convince? Herself or her hopeful lover? On an album of short songs, this one’s the shortest, clocking in at 2:35, but has some great lines such as “What is it about a secret, that makes you wanna keep it?” delivered with honest matter of factness, not cheekily, that make this one a standout. “Chasing Rabbits in the Sun” leaves us on a darker, yet welcome, note. This is impressionist songwriting. You know SOMETHING is going on, but not exactly what. This one is like a dream you just woke from, waiting for the coffee to kick in. This album, much like her previous one, is full of deft subtleties and soft intensities which magnify the mood. Ana Egge’s albums could be considered “quiet,” but they’re not “easy-listening” at all. One thing Egge and her producer and musicians understand is how that sometimes intentionally holding back can create more tension than bombastics or playing ahead of the beat. Bravo.
Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors Dragons Magnolia Music/Thirty Tigers
The King of Alt. Country Hat Acts Delivers Another Classic!
In the internet age it’s kind of odd that albums are still occasionally released at different times across the world; which is why it’s annoying that I’ve missed the North American release date for this latest release by RMHQ Favourite Drew Holcomb; as my copy has arrived to coincide with its UK Release in October; but onwards and upwards we go. Opening track Family is unmistakably Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors but sounds unlike anything of theirs that I can ever remember. A jolly and eminently danceable beat based around some enthusiastic drumming and the band all harmonising on the word ‘Family’; which acts as sort of chorus ……. if only we had radio stations brave enough to play left of centre songs! There are all kinds of other songs here too ……. Holcomb himself describes them as a ‘sonic landscape’ and who am I to argue? Obviously there are the obligatory Love Songs, with none finer than the delicate heartbeat of But I’ll Never Forget The Way You Make Me Feel (featuring Ellie Holcomb on harmonies and Oooh Oohs); but the Byrdsian You Make It Look So Easy and the other duet with Ellie, the velvety lullaby Watch The World runs it a very close second and third. Surprisingly (to me at least) there are even a couple of exciting guest appearances, with Lori McKenna joining Drew on the swishing and swaying You Want What Have You Cant’ Have, which is as Pure damn a Country song as you will hear this year; and. Natalie Hemby from rising stars The Highwomen not only co-wrote the tragic and harrowing Maybe with Drew, but joins him on vocals too. The song that closes the album; Bittersweet opens with some slightly psychedelic guitar; but quickly finds Holcomb pouring his heart out over a divinely lo-fi backdrop from the Neighbors. Only time will tell if DRAGONS will become my favourite album from this fabulous singer-songwriter but with two simply stunning songs here tying for the accolade of not just Favourite Song on the album, status but being contenders for Favourite Song of the year too! The first finds The Lone Bellow alongside Drew and the Neighbors as Holcomb recalls the advice his Grandfather once gave him in a dream. In lesser hands this could easily have been twee and cloying; but in this setting Holcomb brought tears to my cynical eyes more than once. “ I was climbin’ a mountain Asleep in the moonlight Ghost of my grandpa Came to me in a dream ‘Cause the stars hung above us He started singing this chorus Laughed loud as hell And said this to me “Take a few chances, a few worthy romances Go swimming in the ocean, on New Year’s Day Don’t listen to the critics Stand up and bear witness Go slay all the dragons that stand in your way”
Now that’s a mantra for a life, well lived isn’t it? The other song, End Of The World finds Drew and his cohorts delving not just into REM territory in words, but Mumford & Sons in deeds too; and this very topical track is surely destined to becoming an Alt. Country Classic and should finally tip Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors into the Commercial stratosphere (hopefully).
Released North America August 16th 2019 Released UK & Europe October 11th 2019
Aaaahhhh Helen McCookerybook, possibly or is it probably, the sweetest Punk Rocker that ever lived? This review is far too short to list all of Helen’s accomplishments in the last 40 years (eh? 40 years and her still so young looking?) but if there’s any aspiring young musicians out there; especially of the female variety……. forget Miley Cirus; check Helen’s ‘story’ and back catalogue out if you are looking for inspiration. Enough of looking back; onto today and her latest release GREEN. Opening track Rainbow of the Colour Green is charm personified; with a spiky poetic spine to it and when the harmonies eventually sweep in, you hardly notice them the first time as you will be so engrossed in the song itself. It’s fair to say that Helen has a distinctive singing voice; and it’s absolutely perfect for her joyful songs; even when the subject matter is a tad on the dark side…… Danse Macabre and At The Bathing Pond instantly spring to mind; but I’m still on a learning curve with the album so more songs are yet to unravel. Even at her most serious there’s always a smile in Ms McCookerybook’s voice; which is why I find her albums so charming; but it’s her songwriting that makes her stand above her peers. Without ever patronising us, Helen includes a couple of politically charged songs; So Long Elon is a stunning observation of our planet’s future and Where Is Home treads a similar but more local path; or does it? And, who else could write such articulately clever bittersweet love songs like Change the DJ or 21st Century Blues and still make them so accessible. Two songs in particular stand out like blood red roses in a hedgerow; the quirky and perceptive Saturday Night With the London Set with it’s Jazz-Lite undertones and my Favourite Song here; A Good Life With a Bad Apple which is so complex it will have you leaning in towards the speaker to decipher it; but when you do you will recognise someone from your circle that fits Helen’s moving and colourful description. Is this Folk Music? Of course it is; but it follows more in the tradition of British Legends Jake Thackray and Victoria Wood than it does Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan as Helen’s songs and stories are simply timeless and have a deceptive simplicity will appeal to young children and old fogeys like me as well as all you hipsters with your well manicured beards, tattoos and designer clothing.
Alt. CountryPower-Pop meets Punk on the corner of Sad and Lonely.
Well this is a turn up for the books! The publicist who sent this album is more noted for supporting the more Folkier and Rootsier end of the Americana spectrum; so the crunchy electric guitar and slightly angsty and sorrowful vocals on the opening title track 4:30 took me by surprise ……. in a good way. Although Ms. Perley’s exquisite songwriting and storytelling can be a bit dark at times; songs like the punchy Back in Town and Dangerous Love have hooks that will still be in your head hours after last listening to them. I don’t know who she is, but love the ‘effected snarl’ in Angela’s voice as she describes someone in her circle on the mean ‘n moody Snake Charmer. That ‘snarl’, or is it a ‘snear’ also appears on the tightly wound rockers Let Go and Friends (with the latter being the best song the Runaways never recorded!). I’ve been really, really impressed with Angela Perley’s storytelling throughout 4:30; and especially so with the edgy but gentle and reflective Local Heroes which bleeds into Lost & Found; which is clever programming on someone’s behalf. To some degree listening to this album has been a case of ‘right place/right time” as it’s been perfect company in the car on a couple of hot and sultry car journeys; which kind of sums up my two Favourite Songs; the maudlin Don’t Look Back Mary and He Rides High, which precedes it. Even with the Air Con on; you can taste the unrequited love and sense of longing in both songs; which both certainly put the Alt. back in the Country that I love. Think an Americana drenched Bangles or and this even better; Angela Perley being some long lost relation of either Lucinda or Debbie Harry and too you will fall under her spell right from that razor-sharp opener through to the perky and bittersweet love song Walk With Me, which delightfully mixes Pop-Punk with Alt. Country melodrama ……… seriously; what’s not to like?
Probably better known as a film maker and writer, we find Modern Renaissance Man Don Cherel in very reflective mood on his debut album as a singer-songwriter. Looking at the films he’s made ( https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5905734/ ) it’s oddly pleasing to find that he’s an old ‘Folkie’ with a ‘Country Soul’ at heart. Opening track Love’s a Funny Thing, that if it was any more laid back, it would be horizontal; yet is the perfect accompaniment for a cold beer or chilled white wine on a sunny evening; and the clever lyrics will have quite a few listeners pursing their lips and thinking “Ain’t that the truth Brother!” Sitting hear listening, with my feet up and headphones firmly in place, Don Cherel’s insightful songwriting is often deceptively wrapped up in a Soft Rock backing; but listen carefully to Just Because or Man of Steel and you will realise that you are in the presence of a very articulate and clever man of words. Cherel has a velvety sheen to his vocals that will draw you in to Brown Eyed and Blue or possibly Miracles Happen; and when you are ensnared the stories unravel in such a way you will find yourself rewinding just to clarify where the twists and turns in the tales are; and what they mean. As a ‘man of a certain age’ the first names that sprung to mind when I first played this CD last week were Tom Paxton and James Taylor; and while I’m not saying that Don Cherel should be revered in those lofty echelons; but after listening to this album quite a few songs have made me smile, especially the final two songs Fish and Whistle and I Do Fly I bet Don has quite a few of their albums in his collection. but one which brings me to the two songs that I have to seperate to choose a Favourite Track. Sue Ellen stands out as it is a dark and brooding Alt. Country shoe-gazer that reminded me of someone from my younger days and the rolling acoustic lament, sung as a glorious duet (with an unnamed female on my copy) Can’t Love You Like I Used To probably took me back to that time in my life too and therefore takes the accolade; but is one of only a handful of songs here that isn’t ‘radio friendly’; but sometimes deeply personal songs like this need to be kept as a bit of a secret, don’t they? There’s a whole lot to like here; none more so than the subtle instrumentation from the musicians that surround, yet never come close to over playing their hand in this rather lovely record.
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.