IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN.
We love left of centre music here at RMHQ and just fell in love with this Christmas song by New Yorker Rich Krueger, who is releasing a fabulous new album on January 26th (watch this space!)
Rich Krueger, who is now based in Chicago, IL, was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, NYC. He has been writing and performing with his band The Dysfunctionells since 1985. The Dysfunctionells, (who describe themselves as “THE Butt-Ugliest Band in Chicago”) have backed up the Holy Modal Rounders at their reunion at The Bottom Line in NYC, and Krueger has recorded with Peter Stampfel on his own and with the band.
“One of the earliest songs I wrote. It was inspired by a recollection of a memory of going to church for the midnight Christmas Eve service at our families church, and the snow coming down burying the parked cars. I have no idea why a seven year old would left outside on his own in a snow storm at 11 pm on Christmas, but hey it was simpler times.
Ho Ho Ho; ’tis the season to be Merry and all that stuff; but it’s also the Season to produce Annual Top 10’s on websites like RMHQ, so being the awkward so & so’s we are we are producing two Top 10’s; with one being my own personal Top 10 Albums of 2017 and because we have reviewed 312 Albums, singles, books and concerts this year…….the Annual RMHQ Readers Top 10 as judged by actual hits/reads will be a Top 20!!
So……tada (drum roll)…in reverse order…..here is the Rocking Magpie Readers Top 20 Albums of 2017 as read by you lovely people.
20) Grainne Duffy – WHERE I BELONG.
19) Stephen Fearing – EVERY SOUL’S A SAILOR
18) Mark Eitzel – HEY MR. FERRYMAN
17) Trevor Sewell – CALLING NASHVILLE
16) Orphan Brigade – HEART OF THE CAVE
15) The Flaming Groovies – FANTASTIC PLANET
14) The Haley Sisters – ALWAYS BY MY SIDE
13) Project Mama Earth – MAMA EARTH
12) The Raspberries – POP ART (LIVE)
11) Sam Baker – LAND OF DOUBT
10) Rob Vincent – I’LL MAKE THE MOST OF MY SINS
09) Rodney Crowell – CLOSE TIES
08) Will Hoge – ANCHORS
07) Colin James – BLUE HIGHWAYS
06) Danny & The Champions of the World – BRILLIANT LIGHT
05) Chuck Prophet – BOBBY FULLER DIED FOR OUR SINS
04) Prosecco Socialist – THIS DOG’S FOR LIFE
03) Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – SELF TITLED
02) Martin Stephenson & The Daintees – BAYSWATER ROAD
01) Ian McNabb – STAR SMILE STRONG
Honourable mentions also go to…….
*Bruce Foxton – SMASH THE CLOCK. (2016 winner but still pulled enough votes to come in at #12!!)
*Blackberry Smoke – Rock & Roll Again (Video) just kept getting watched 2 years after being posted.
* Heather Lynne Horton – DON’T MESS WITH MRS. MURPHY (4 x great days)
* Pickxen – PICKS & VITTLES (Unknown outside their own backyard but the hits kept coming all year)
* Mick Wynne – WORLD OF MICK (Another unknown ‘local musician’ who had an amazing month on the RMHQ Charts)
* Bap Kennedy – RECKLESS HEART (The legend lives on)
As always the Top 20 (plus 6) highlight how eclectic The Rocking Magpie is. I/We just love music regardless of genre……which is why we listen to as much as possible hopefully bringing you your new most favourite album of all time, or at least piquing your interest.
Let Me In Again
Majority of One Records.
“Let Me In Again,” which is coupled with “A Fine Surprise” is the latest offering in Louise Goffin’s ongoing digital singles project, might seem like a plea to an old lover, but it is really a plea to our tech-centric world.
The song’s opening line “No one has time” is actually what Goffin first said when she met with Marvin Etzioni (Counting Crows/Peter Case producer) to try to write together. The phrase instantly sparked with them. Goffin recalls “knowing it was great” just listening to an early version and now feels the song reveals even more poignancy in its finished version, which she co-produced with Dave Way and, as Goffin describes them, a “to-die-for band.”
“A Fine Surprise” resulted from Goffin’s initial song-writing meet-up with singer/songwriter Billy Harvey (Patty Griffin, Bob Schneider, Slaid Cleaves). The two realised that all their songs were about break-ups, so they resolved to write a love song together. The song’s lyrics, Goffin shares, deal with coming out of grief and experiencing the “fine surprise” of discovering that there can be hope and a new life on the other side.
She plans on releasing a new single around every six weeks. This project represents the highly creative period Goffin is currently experiencing.
These digital singles also exemplify Goffin’s desire to get her music out quickly and be heard. Her determination to “make music and share it” stems greatly from her frustrating experiences in the major label world.
With the release of the “Let Me In Again”/“A Fine Surprise” digital single, Goffin is launching into 2018 with the music and momentum to make it an exciting year for her. For more details on her digital singles series, visit http://www.louisegoffin.com for updates.
At The Helm Records
Brothers & Sisters; Time Loves a Hero….and I Think I’ve Discovered a New One.
I only ‘discovered’ the quaintly monikered Hans Chew earlier this year when he opened for Will Hoge at a Jumping Hot Club gig in Newcastle. Apart from his distinctive and expressive singing voice I was thrilled to see him play the piano; and play it well, which is a rare treat these days.
With that in mind I was quite excited to receive this; his fourth album a couple of weeks ago…….but……and this is 100% accurate……nothing prepared me for the sound that came out of the speakers during the opening track Give Up The Ghost. I was expecting pleasant singer-songwriter faire; but….HELL NO……he has a band….and what a band it is. Dear Reader; this album is top drawer Americana/Soft Rock of the finest order, with a singer who fully inhabits his dynamic stories and a guitar player in Dave Cavallo who can really make a guitar gently weep.
At only six tracks long OPEN SEA would be an EP in other hands; but Chew and friends scoff at the three minute rule……allowing songs like Cruikshanks and the stunning title track Open Sea weave, bend and flow until they reach a natural conclusion 7 or 8 minutes after they start; making me hark back to those long dark nights in my teenage bedroom listening to the Allman Brothers and Little Feet on my huge black headphones.
At 9 minutes plus Freely is the longest track here; but not a second is wasted on a deliciously strolling Folk-Rocker which has elements of Traffic and the Fairports entwined with some guitar playing worthy of John McLaughlin in his full majesty. The album cover may well only have Hans Chew’s name on it; but be ensured this really is a combined band effort with drummer Rob Smith and bassist Jimy SeiTang keeping meticulous time and beat behind the afore mentioned Cavallo and Chew’s own intricate piano playing.
With only six songs to choose from picking a favourite wasn’t easy; with the final track Extra Mile being the nearest to what originally captured my heart that night at the Live Theatre; but I’m going for the shortest song here; Who Am Your Love? Which is as good a 4 minutes of intense Americana singer-songwriting as I or you will here in the next year. As per the other 5 songs Chew chooses his words very carefully; but the ones he does use are spell binding; as is the passionate way he delivers them on this heart shredding love song.
A couple of weeks ago I had an interesting conversation about ‘there being too much music available’ these days; and I firmly believe there is; and because of that it’s frightening that such a great (and it is a GREAT) album would more than likely disappear without trace were it not for the wonderful Brighton based Record Label At The Helm and a handful of websites like RMHQ…..trust me; if you even vaguely like the reference bands I mentioned earlier, you will love this.
Released December 1st 2017
Sharply Observed Songs For Sad Eyed Grown Ups.
When I reviewed Jimmy Livingstone’s previous release ONE EYE OPEN/ONE EYE CLOSED I described it as ‘being a big sound on a small budget’ and here the budget involved in the recording appears bigger; but the sound he creates hasn’t been compromised one little bit; and if anything gives a more ‘complete’ feel and probably replicates the sounds he hears in his head in a more coherent manner.
AIRPLANE MODE opens with the delightful Taking The Long Way Home; with Livingstone’s weather beaten voice atop of a red hot band on a Road Song about a man returning to his home town after too many years away, with superb lines like “I’ve been digging holes/When I should have been building bridges” and “I’m a slow lane Joe/but it’s good to know/I’m taking the long way home.”
That theme continues on the next track Walking Down Kingsland, when the singer walks around the streets of his home-town like a stranger in a strange land; but people he hasn’t seen for years pass him with a nod and a “Say, how you doing man?” As if he’s never been away. I have similar tales of returning to my home village for weddings and funerals 30 years after first leaving. Classic songwriting that will appeal to most people who have left home.
There’s a thematic sadness that links a lot of songs here; but the way Livingstone concocts a snappy tune to accompany his melancholy words on Encouraging The Sun, Half-Written Love Song and She Made My Heart Her Home deflect from the cracked melancholy of his razor sharp words.
If one song sums up this album, it’s King of the Middle of the Road which will make many other songwriters smile ruefully as it details his struggles to ‘make it’ in a world full of “younger, better, fitter men” but describing the lifelong struggle for a ‘hit’ ….. “In a twisted kinda way it turns me on.”
I love Livingstone’s tongue in cheek and often rye sense of humour that comes from age, wisdom and actually having a real life before finally becoming a full time musician, which really comes to the fore on the finale Play My Songs When I’m Dead and Gone.
Not all of the songs here are so autobiographical; as two of the best are observational songs; Plain Sailing is another pretty tune hiding a dark message and It’s Hard Being a Whore is a beautiful story about a taboo subject.
Which brings me to my ‘favourite track’ …….the slow Texicana Waltz of The Great You is a slow burning tale of unrequited love; and includes such intimate detail like “Lets drink a last tequila to the sunrise/Glen Campbell on the Jukebox singing Gentle on my Mind/And I’m hypnotised.” Your heart will bleed every time you hear this wickedly beautiful song.
If you’ve not heard of Jimmy Livingstone before it’s difficult to explain where he fits in……an Americana Crooner? A commercial Nick Cave? Scott Walker with a Bigsby on his Telecaster? He Rocks when he wants to; but more likely he will break your heart when you were least expecting it.
Grown up music for grown ups like me and you.
Released January 26th 2018
The Raving Beauties
RAVING FOR BAP (KENNEDY)
A Special Way To Celebrate a Wonderful Life at Christmas.
Phew…..I don’t really know where to begin here; where does the time go? It’s now over a year since Belfast Boy Bap Kennedy died and his passing still feels as raw to me as it must his family.
Here, Bap’s friends and family have combined to record 5 of his finest songs that span his career way back to the Energy Orchard days with all proceeds (coupled with the £2,000 his lovely sister Marian has raised by a 12 month long sponsored abstinence from the demon alcohol!) going to the Marie Curie (NI) who looked after ‘yer man’ in those horrible last few months.
Normally at this stage I should actually review all 5 songs on this delightful record; but apart from telling you they are all delightful and come oozing with love for Bap; what’s the point? You are going to buy this anyways; aren’t you?
1) Walk In Love
2) Moriarty’s Blues
3) The Way I Love Her
4) Hard Street
5) Lonesome Lullaby
Oh…..I’m not even giving you a free sampler as this cause is so important I want you to give hard cash to hear this beautiful tribute. Trust me, it’s worth it.
The release comes via a digital download or a collectors edition 10″ vinyl (which I DO NOT WANT TO SEE ON E-BAY!).
Download (£5 or €5?)
PS All of Bap’s wonderful musical legacy is also still available to buy (and give as Xmas presents)
BATHED IN COMFORT
Americana Labelled With Love From England and San Francisco.
The story begins the day after 43 year old Ex-Patriot Yorkshireman Steve saw Chuck Prophet in concert and began ruminating on some songs he had written and on a whim he forwarded them to Mr Prophet for his consideration. Much to the songwriter’s surprise Chuck responded by inviting him over to San Francisco to record said songs alongside the Mission Express…..yep; really.
Six of these songs were recorded over those few days with the intention of releasing them as an EP; but Chuck and the band liked them so much Steve was invited back in early 2016 to write and record a further 4 songs that would ultimately make up this album.
Intrigued? Well; read on……
At this point I desperately tried to forget the Chuck Prophet connection as opening song Rosalie bears no resemblance to anything I’ve heard from him……but why would I? This is Steve Gardner’s album and Prophet et al are just helping out in the background. This opening track conjures up memories of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook’s post Squeeze solo outings; a quaint English Folk Rock/Americana hybrid that just oozes quality from every groove.
As everyone knows I’m a sucker for a good love song and quite a few are included here; the dark relationship breakdown of a torrid affair that is described in I Can’t Walk Away is truly heartbreaking and delicately told from the male protagonists point of view; and the dark Murder Ballad Take Me Down is worthy of Nick Cave.
What Would I Do is a bit ‘wordy’ at times, but on the other hand is a gorgeous love song shrouded in a velvet fog of longing for the woman he’s in danger of taking for granted…….a scenario many of us live out each day, and Steve Gardner puts the sentiment I feel so eloquently into words and music.
Who among us could resist a song called Peter The Astrophysicist? Hmm; so it’s just me is it? Well it’s certainly a bit quirky as Peter dances around the world looking ‘for a wife’ but hey…..we all need a little bit of quirkiness in our lives don’t we?
Back to Mr Prophet; it’s easy to see why this self-confessed lover of British music would fall in love with the 2 1/2 songs that tie for the title of RMHQ ‘Favourite Song’…….The Fall of Lance Gardino is a tale of a one time Rock Star now selling vinyl on a market stall and ‘Raising Hell on a Thursday at the karaoke/singing a selection of his own hits.’ Amazingly well constructed and the Mission Express do what they do better than most other musicians behind Gardner’s droll flat Northern vocals.
Two and a half ‘songs’ you ask…..well the other song appears twice; first as a traditional Pop-Rock toe-tapper and then at Chuck’s insistence in a Country guise…….The Day The The Aliens Saved The World is a wonderful tongue in cheek A-Political song that may or may not have a semi-religious sub-plot; or not as the case may be……but I bloody love both versions.
What more can I say; this has been joy from start to finish and owes a whole lot more to the likes of English Pop Royalty Squeeze, Prefab Sprout and especially Nick Lowe than it does our favourite San Franciscan and given a good tail wind I can imagine several of these songs being played on Radio 2 or any of the cooler TV 30 Something shows.
Released 20th May 2017
You’ve Been Away So Long
Boston singer/songwriter Alice Howe’s reference points lay in 60’s folk and 70’s Southern Californian style; not just her penmanship but also in her approach to her songs. Part Joan Baez and part Joni Mitchell (Blue period).
This 5 track EP showcases her wistful style with some fine songs. The title track You’ve Been Away So Long, as you might imagine, is a call to her ‘darling, who’s been away so long’. She avoids the obvious clichés of comparing a missed loved one with missed birthdays, summers alone or long walks alone and instead, talks of the shores and, mountains and how the trees have grown since her loved one has been gone. Special mention at this point goes to Jeff Fielder who is handling practically everything that is either plucked or strummed.
Homeland Blues is the track that is getting plenty of airplay at the moment; with that man Jeff Fielder providing some tasteful Dobro that supports Alice Howes finger-style acoustic playing. It’s a twist on the old “Woke up this morning, Grandmama had them too,” it’s a familiar story of someone looking forward to the day that they can book their ticket home, but with no mention of the person she’s singing to going with her. Are they coming with? Is it a single trip? The press release will tell you it’s a driving, fingerpicked blues, but it’s not. It’s a delightful variation on a straightforward 12 bar and all the better for it.
On Make A Fool Out Of Me Hard it’s hard not to warm to the opening lines “When you hit your stride on a Monday night at a half empty bar downtown”. It’s a gentle country waltz about arriving in the Hollywood hills with no prospects and no promises. It’s possibly this track that we best hear Jeff Fielders 1920 Gibson L-1 archtop providing the sweet picked lines, supporting and not intruding on the tale of lessons learned and experienced gained.
Courtesy or Guest Reviewer TONY PEARCE
Released 21 August 2017
WAFFLES, TRIANGLES & JESUS
The Definitive Americana Album From Left Field Maverick.
Jim White used to be incredibly difficult to categorise; but with the advent of ‘Americana’ there isn’t a single word in the English language that sums up this left of centre Maverick better, as he encapsulates everything I associate with that all encompassing word.
Probably best know for his documentary film Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus, Jim White is so much more; obviously a singer-songwriter but an artist, a writer and raconteur of the finest order too.
This is White’s 7th album under his own moniker but he also has numerous collaborations which are never less than interesting and always worth checking out.
So; why did this little silver disc make me shake with excitement when I slid it into the office CD Player?
Everything about opening track Drift Away sums up why I love Jim White, he has a soft and sensual voice and his lyrics are almost poetic in essence and he chooses instruments and melodies at will to suit the song he hears inside his head. Drift Away is almost Appalachian in mood; and moody it certainly is.
Yet Silver Threads when it comes along is positively jaunty by comparison and almost Country-Rock; no….that’s exactly what it is Country-Rock not too unlike the harmonies of Poco, if I’m not mistaken.
Playing Guitars on the other hand is a whimsical piece that would sound silly in lesser hands; but had me trying to decipher a hidden meaning (which isn’t there btw) because it’s by Jim White.
Just as your face is smiling from ear to ear, White throws a musical grenade into the mix by following it with Far Beyond The Spoken Word which is spellbinding but has to be heard to be believed.
Later we get Reason To Cry, a haunting and almost Gothic song that will send a shiver down your spine. With Jim White you never know what to expect from one song to the next; but the journey is never less than exciting and intriguing.
Picking a ‘Favourite track’ is virtually impossible with such a myriad of delights to choose from; but I’m going to toss a coin to decide between the Honky-Tonky duet Earnest T Bass at Last Finds the Woman of His Dreams and Prisoners Dilemma an almost cinematic opus, with a dark and serious and almost threatening chorus and melody.
Jim White albums aren’t for everyone; and they are never recorded with commercial success in mind, but White’s fans are many and loyal and they will love this latest release like a long lost child returning to the fold.
PS I can’t wait to finally see him on his upcoming UK Tour.
Released UK & Europe 10th November 2017
Released USA 9th February 2018
Totally You Gunslinger (Single)
Grant-Lee Phillips in the guise of Grant-Lee Buffalo was one of the Gateway acts that turned me on to what was then New Country but which eventually begat Alt. Country and Americana music; so the prospect of hearing and now sharing the first track from his new WIDDERSHINS album which won’t be released until February 23rd 2018 was far too good to miss.
TOTALLY YOU GUNSLINGER conjures up the magic of the FUZZY and MIGHTY JOE MOON albums but more importantly the Jupiter & Teardrop single which is still in my Top 10 of all time.
Ethereal? Mystical? Intense? Soulful? are all words that sprang to mind the first time I heard the song and probably feel the same way two days later and now I can’t wait to hear the actual full album.
Grant-Lee Phillips talking about WIDDERSHINS……
““Widdershins…it’s an old word. Moving counterclockwise, spiralling backwards? This album begs the question, “In what direction are we moving?” – Grant-Lee Phillips
“I’m drawing from the urgency of the moment,” says the acclaimed Nashville-based singer-songwriter of Widdershins, his ninth solo album set for February 23, 2018 release on Yep Roc Records. Inspired by “the things that eat away in the late hours,” Phillips invests the insight, nuance and wit in a riveting dissection of today’s fraught social landscape.
Recorded over four days at Sound Emporium in Nashville, the 12-track set was produced by Phillips (guitar/vocals/keyboards) and cut largely live in the studio as a trio with Jerry Roe (drums) and Lex Price (bass). Mixed by Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists) and engineered by Mike Stankiewicz, the album delivers its poetic truths in Phillips’ peerless melodic sensibilities, relayed via vocal performances that balance intensity and vulnerability.
“I made a commitment to myself not to sink into despair,” explains Phillips, “I’m tracing a longer narrative here. We’ve been through some of this before – not just our country, but the civilisation as a whole.” Phillips sees in Widdershins a connection to his earliest work with Grant Lee Buffalo. “That was also a time of intense social anxiety. The Gulf War, the LA riots – everything became cranked up. Then a few years later there was the earthquake we lived through, which also made for a time of uneasiness. I was in a heightened state when I wrote that stuff – as I am now.”