Warm, Evocative and Thought Provoking Inter-crossed Celtic-Americana.
While I can’t actually find any record of Ciara Sidine’s 2011 debut album SHADOW ROAD SHINING in any of my files or even my CD Collection (it doesn’t actually have a filing system) but I certainly recognised both her name and her warmly expressive voice; so I guess I reviewed it for a certain UK Magazine and the CD will turn up when I least expect it.
So; with no real reference point I will treat this album as a completely new ‘find’ and what a ‘find’ it is!
As per usual I will begin at the beginning, track #1 Finest Flower. PHEW! My first thoughts were how much Ciara reminded me of a young Joan Baez or Linda Ronstadt the way she phrases her words and sings them in a breathy fashion. Then the more I’ve listened the more the song unravels, and the thorny topic of Ireland’s Mother and Baby Homes is worthy of Joan herself; had she been from Ireland.
Some artistes get a bit arsey when reviewers constantly draw comparisons; but as a ‘seller of their works’ I feel it is my duty to let the readers know what to expect, which is why I have to say the gutsy and passionate 2 Hard 2 Get 2 Heaven has a golden thread that leads back to Sinead O’Connor’s first album; but Ciara’s distinctive voice and exquisite songwriting skills actually makes that comparison futile with hindsight.
UNBROKEN LINE will undoubtedly be filed under ‘Folk’ in record shops; but Ciara Sidine can’t be pigeon-holed so easily; as she is an old-fashioned singer-songwriter who changes course like the wind and lets the song choose it’s own expressive style; with the lovely Watching The Dark and the spine tingling Trouble Come Find Me both being a bit of a late night Jazzy/Blues hybrid and perfect for anyone with a broken heart.
What I particularly like about this album; is the way Ciara’s expressive voice draws you into her stories; so much so that I defy you to try to listen to this as background music (as I did), because you will find yourself stopping whatever you are doing and cocking your head towards the speakers so you don’t miss a word of songs like Unbroken Line and the staggeringly dark tale Let The Rain Fall (which is a song Sinead O’Connor must wish she could have written!).
If you are ever lucky enough to hear the title track Unbroken Line on the radio it will make you do a double-take; as it sounds like the sort of Americana/Country Rock song you’ve heard before but actually haven’t.
On an album chock-full of richly crafted and exceptionally well written songs; two stood out the first time I played them and made me call Mrs. Magpie into the room to hear them. Lemme Drive Your Train is a subtly sassy love song from the point of view of a feisty young woman, and Woman of Constant Sorrow is Ciara’s reworking of that Country Folk standard; and the way she pours her heart and soul into her vocal performance; and the restrained elegance of her band makes it as exciting as any version I’ve ever heard in 40 odd years, therefore giving it the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song.
Although Ciara Sidine’s name is on the album cover; this is actually a ‘band effort’ and couldn’t and wouldn’t have sounded half as good without the aid of Conor Brady’s liquid and lissome guitar playing; Robbie Malone’s subtle bass playing; Justin Carroll’s haunting keyboards and the jazz-lite drumming of Dave Hingerty all sitting in the shadows as the singer shines in the spotlight.
Released October 6th 2017
There will no doubt be reviews that draw the analogy between Richard Thompson’s release schedule and that of waiting for a bus, although in this case, it’s not two come along at once but three. This release though is for the uber-fan, brimming with unreleased tracks, those that bemoaned the first two Acoustic releases as being short of ‘wow’ will be cheered by Rarities.
Speaking of the unreleased tracks, there are 6 included here, all recorded afresh for this album ahead of his tour starting in Brighton (the very venue that I first marvelled at Rory Gallagher) and finishing up with a sold-out date at the London Bridge Theatre at the end of October.
The first of the unreleased tracks, What If, kicks off the album and for the life of me I can’t understand why a song with a chorus that includes the lines “What if I’m cool and you’re deluded, what if I’m hip and you’re excluded” hasn’t made it to an album release before. There’s even a reference to a ‘fat man in a thong’, and it works. It’s just the line most of us think of as a cutting riposte ten minutes after the intended victim has walked away.
They Tore the Hippodrome Down is a reflection upon returning to somewhere you once knew only to find the landscape changed and the landmarks of your youth have been replaced by a supermarket/car park/fast food joint. I couldn’t help thinking of The Kinks’ Come Dancing as it managed to evoke exactly the same kind of feeling of change and loss.
The Poor Ditching Boy is one of the tracks that the savvy fan will recognise as from 1972’s Henry the Human Fly although it took me a couple of listens before I realised why it sounded familiar. A punchy accompaniment from (possibly) a 12-string acoustic lifts the song and will probably generate a whole new bunch of fans on this outing alone.
There are a couple of tracks rerecorded that were previously covers, Seven Brothers that had been covered by Blair Dunlop and Rainbow Over the Hill that you may have heard from the Albion Band.
Given RT’s storming Cropredy appearance and with the man being on something of a roll, I would urge you to do almost anything short of requiring a court appearance to get a ticket to one of his shows.
Review courtesy our mate Tony Pearce.
Released October 13th 2017
Mavis Staples has again joined forces with songwriter-producer Jeff Tweedy for a new album entitled ‘If All I Was Was Black’, out 17th November.
More excitedly she has unveiled her latest single “Little Bit” here. The song is a cautionary anthem of all the ways in which those regarded as suspicious have to weigh their actions just to survive day to day: “A little bit too high, a little bit too low, a little bit out of line, and my baby won’t make it home.” Mavis leads listeners through call-and-response vocals in a soundscape that recalls Sly and the Family Stone’s mix of joy and social criticism unfolding over a funk-edged rhythm section.
The lyrics are occasionally shot through with anger. “I have a mind to bury them whole, when they go low,” Mavis sings on ‘We Go High’. “There’s evil in the world, and there’s evil in me” opens the first verse of ‘Try Harder’. “Oh, they lie, and they show no shame” adds a harsh undercurrent to ‘Who Told You That’, an anthem against accepting the status quo. Unsettling musical elements wind their way through the record, too, from the abrasive guitar distortion of ‘Try Harder to a descending bass line that signals danger on ‘Little Bit’.
Despite all this, the mood ring on Mavis’ 2017 outing is set to love, which runs through and over the fury and despair. The songs move less like a hammer and more like the tide, with Mavis countering the anger with an eye toward the work that is required to bring change. She is singing the world as it is, but also a way forward. Mavis is sure that the answer is to lift each other up. She’s not embracing the anxious hesitation of respectability politics but the possibilities of love.
ADA /Warner Records
A Magnum Opus For The Middle-Aged.
It’s difficult not to argue against Deptford Fun City’s finest sons Squeeze being amongst the finest ever deliverers of British Pop Music singles in the last forty years; and even longer in my own humble opinion.
Their quintessential English ‘kitchen sink dramas’ easily draw comparison with more feted artistes like the Kinks and Madness; and have stood the test of time better than any others from their Post-Punk generation.
But; and even Messrs Difford & Tilbrook agree in various biographies their albums were best described as ‘patchy’.
Following in the footsteps of the fabulous Cradle to the Grave theme song/single two years ago, does their latest effort change that description?
Yes…….and no, is the answer.
THE KNOWLEDGE opens with the cinematic Innocence in Paradise; possibly their most ‘Grown Up’ song to date; and one that deserves radio play; but more on a late night show, where you ‘listen’ to the output rather than daytime when the output is more or less wallpaper.
I love the guitar opening to Patchouli which follows; and as the guys look back on the halcyon days of their youth, I too was transported back to days spent ‘looking out of windows’ and that overpowering smell of Patchouli which conjures up memories of hanging around Handyside Arcade in Newcastle among a whole host of exotic long haired characters.
As I first played this album in the car on a long journey through the Autumnal countryside, it rapidly became obvious that Chris, Glenn and I (AND YOU!) are no longer the Cool Cats out for a bit of Slap n Tickle and the songs here, like the feisty Please Be Upstanding and Final Score are the new soundtracks to my life; as they deal with subjects that are just as taboo as the unwanted pregnancies and alcoholism of their earlier Master-works.
Please Be Upstanding is a typical Squeeze song; a catchy melody and a sing-a-long chorus and…then you go…..OOH! Yep; it really is about erectile dysfunction…….can you think of another Pop song on this subject? Me neither; but it’s an imaginatively constructed song and one that many men will associate with.
Final Score? Phew. If you thought that last song was a strange subject; this one touches on very dangerous ground indeed……the horrible subject of predatory sports coaches and the scars that they leave behind on the young people they effect.
I can’t tell you how proud of Glenn and Chris I am for writing about both subjects so sensitively.
There are also plenty of smiles to be had too; Albatross is a cool song about obsessive Record Collectors (you know who you are!) and the jaunty Skanking Two Forks which closes the record is a less than subtle look at the duo’s own sparky relationship over the last 40 years.
Before I tell you about my ‘favourite song’ I feel it’s my duty to mention two oddities; Rough Ride and Elmer’s End.
The former, Rough Ride sounds like it was a good idea at the time; but a possibly great insight into the current ‘poverty crisis’ and Government induced ‘Austerity measures’ blighting our inner cities includes a female operatic voice and a Pink Floyd type school choir alongside our heroes; which detracts from the ‘message’ that needs to be told; and when you read the lyrics is told very well.
The instrumental Elmers End initially sounded like a droll homage to Glenn Miller at first; but now I’m not even sure that description actually fits.
But……back to the good news…..it’s my ‘favourite track’ time. A&E is the type of relatively simple ‘everyman’ story that first made Squeeze famous; and made me gasp “Yessssss….you beauties” while I drove with tears in my eyes that first day. It begins with the singer taking his wife to A&E an sitting for four hours with her in pain; but coming out with an even stronger love and bond with the Nurses and staff who are underpaid, over worked and constantly belittled and abused by drunks and people with mental health problems…..but still retain their dignity and treat everyone with a smile.
Whatever rewards, financial and otherwise that Chris and Glenn have previously received they should never feel prouder than writing and singing this beautiful love song to the NHS!
That’s all Folks; while not exactly perfect; this just might be the best album Squeeze ever released and even if it’s not (it is!) the best bits are certainly as good as they have ever released in the last 40 years.
Released October 13th 2017
LET YOUR WEIRDNESS CARRY YOU HOME
A Whole New Intriguing and Mesmerising Direction For Northern Ireland’s Finest.
I won’t bore you again with my story of the day that I ‘discovered’ Malojian aka Stevie Scullion; but when both Bap Kennedy and Anthony Toner ‘insist’ that you watch a young lad and his band at a music festival; than said young lad must be pretty special; and…..he/they is/are.
This is Malojian’s fourth album since that exciting afternoon in Belfast and I’ve been excitedly waiting for my copy ever since I heard a whisper about it’s release from a spy in Northern Ireland as far back as July.
Not for the first time this year I can honestly say……this ain’t what I was expecting….at all. Malojian is primarily a singer-songwriter brought up in the post-punk era and has a love for all things Indie, which can come across in some of his songs……and his last outing had a bit of a ‘West Coast/Laurel Canyon’ theme…….and opening track Some New Bones sort of carries on where that album left off;
the guitars certainly have a Byrdsian feel to it, then with the addition of some crackling radio effects; the song soon drifts off into Teenage Fanclub Land; with harmonies galore and more echo than the Grand Canyon and could easily have been one of my ‘Sounds of the Summer’ had it been released earlier.
With that in mind, the first track most of us heard here was the single Ambulance Song, with it’s Sgt. Pepper meets Syd era Floyd ‘vibe’ which intrigued me; and if I wasn’t prepared for that, track #2 here A New Armageddon knocked me sideways; it’s a slow, moody and stark song sung over a luscious and intense Doors style meditative melody……but don’t worry……it’s bloody beautiful in it’s own way.
The rest of the album pretty much follows suit; not quite ‘experimental’ but so far left of what we think is centre; it hardy bares comparison to what has ever gone before.
But……while songs like Damp and the title track Let Your Weirdness are somewhat ‘challenging’ the first time you hear them; persevere and they too will unravel before your very eyes; and when they do you will punch the air with joy.
Now I’ve played the album solidly for two days and nights; just like I did back in my teenage bedroom in the 70’s; I get the feeling that Stevie and his cohorts have been listening to much the same LPs; which has greatly influenced this ‘work’……there’s definitely a ‘Progressive’ feel to Between The Pylons and the gorgeous Hanging on the Glow and Battery, with the judicious use of synths and organs being a bit of a giveaway.
Even on that mind-bending first play one track caught my attention above all others; possibly because it’s more what we associate with Malojian; a deceptively complex love song, that will actually crush your heart……..The Purity of Your Smile; which eventually evolves into a semi-classical piece with swooping violins and a cello from the Gods, is the type of ingenious song that deserves every award going.
The ever growing Malojian fan base I figure will be initially confused as I was; because this is a much bigger and far more complex ‘sound’ than we could ever have expected; but I’m pretty sure they too will persevere and fall in love with it on its own merits.
But……. new fans to Malojian’s music will fall over themselves in the rush to buy this record; and I personally can’t wait to see and hear it performed in all its glory on a stage sometime soon.
Released October 6th October 2017
ANGELS & ONE ARMED JUGGLERS
21st Century Classy Adult Orientated Late Night Alt. Rock .
The name Chris Barron didn’t actually mean anything to me, but the cover artwork looked outstanding so into the player the silver disc went; and the opening track Angels & One Armed Jugglers hit me like a punch to the nose. A really classy piece of music with a multi-layered approach; but ‘that voice’ is just mind-blowing; so I fumbled around for the accompanying Press Release as track #2 April and May punched it’s way out of the speakers.
“Of course!” I chided myself as Chris Barron is/was the frontman for the Spin Doctors; one of the ‘gateway’ bands that led me to what I now know and love as Alt. Country via Alt. Rock and this second song has all that iconic band’s hallmarks stamped all over it.
With that in mind don’t think this album is an artist trying to re-live his glorious youth; far from it; it’s a lot more ‘grown up’ and now, five days on it actually reminds me of Donald Fagan’s Classic Nightfly album; although sounding nothing like it really……just a ‘feel.’
As you’d expect the songwriting and storytelling is quite exceptional with the gently sad In a Cold Way and the nod in the direction of Tom Paxton, Still a Beautiful World which I’ve played on repeat five or six times, like a smitten teenager looking for the ‘hidden meanings’ in Barron’s words. Then, of course there is the ‘I can’t believe that’s not a Randy Newman song’…………Till The Cows Come Home, which the whole album probably pivots around.
The overall ‘feeling’ here is of an album designed for actually ‘listening to’ which may sound odd; but too much of our time is spent with albums as a backdrop to something else; that would be a huge loss as you would miss the intricate lyrics of Gonna Need Someone and the Alt. Country gem (Too Old to Burn) Too Young To Fade which closes the album.
On an album that held a myriad of surprises the first few times I played it; two songs stood out right from the get go and become ‘equal favourite tracks’…..the dark and contemplative Darken My Door and the straight forward Alt. Rocker Saving Grace; not least for the feisty guitars and pounding bass; but hey with lines like “Her skirts too tight for a Monday night” and “I’ve tried songs about Angels/I could use a punch in the face” you know you’re not in Josh Groban territory any more!
It’s probably all too easy for guys like Chris Barron to sit back and count the cash from their mega-hits as it rolls in; but I salute this fella for having the cojones to put his money where his heart is and write, record and release such an interesting and often beautiful set of songs into such a cynical world as this one.
Released October 20th 2017
Jesse Jo Stark
I don’t know very much at all about Jesse Jo Stark; but the attachment with this single intrigued me this morning and the dark, brooding and even haunting single struck a chord with me.
I will do more research as the day progresses; but until then…..enjoy this single for what it is…..I certainly will.
Paul McClure and The Local Heroes
Clubhouse/Rutland Troubadour Records
Britain’s Best Kept Secret Breaks For The Border.
Although on one of my favourite ‘Boutique Record Labels’ Paul is actually a ‘follower’ of our little website and took the time to send this EP, normally only sold at gigs directly with a handwritten note (always a nice touch).
So, out of courtesy I gave it a play in the car; and there it has remained for the last few weeks until he got in touch asking ‘my thoughts’……Bloody Hell! I was enjoying it so much I’d forgot that I was meant to be reviewing it!!!!
An acoustic guitar, tinkling piano, soft drumming and a crunchy harmonica solo open the disc on Million Dollar Smile. McClure really does know my tastes as this world weary love story sung by a world weary voice is right up my street; and ‘that’ harmonica playing…….mmmm mmmm mmm.
This followed by Baby That’s You, a gentle foot stomping Folk-Rocker, that’s just perfect for the intimate setting of a pub back room or even a huge Arena stage with strobe lights and a Gospel Choir; and you can’t say that about many songs, can you?
We will come back to track #3 later; as Weight In Time sounds timeless and must surely come from Laurel Canyon as opposed to Britain’s smallest County, tucked away in Middle England, mustn’t it? Nope, this is the type of singer-songwriter Folk that transcends boundaries as it touches hearts across the oceans (should it be given the chance.)
The all too short EP closes with the introspective and nearly brilliant Troubadours Lament. I’m a sucker for ‘Road Songs’ and this is up there with I See Hawks in LA ‘We Could Be In Laughlin’ in our office. Written while stuck in traffic while listening to CD’s and missing home, McClure captures the magic of music and the mind numbing dullness of travel in equal measures; and I’m sure the ‘secret 20 other verses’ will eventually make an appearance when played live and become something of a Classic…..it already is at RMHQ.
OK….back to track #3……….phew; The Good and Bad of It is a slow ballad written and sung from the pits of Paul McClure’s heart and soul. If you thought his voice sounded ‘world weary’ earlier; here he sounds like he’s fighting back the tears as a gently strummed bass and guitar accompany some delightful piano playing on a genuine heartbreaker for grown-ups.
OK, the simple orange CD cover won’t really catch your attention, but this about the music and Paul McClure isn’t the type of act that Jools Holland or The Guardian will promote this early, you and I will……buy this EP, then tell a friend who will tell a friend….then this time next year Jools may take notice; but you and I will give a knowing wink the next day at work when young girls are swooning over that dishy new singer they saw on on the telly last night.
Released 01 March 2017.
BONE ON BONE
True North Records
Legendary Canadian Songwriter Ups the Ante Again.
Bruce Cockburn? This is his 33rd album since 1970, yet his first in 7 years and a multi-Multi-Award winner but could probably walk unnoticed down most streets in his home country of Canada. That said his fans around the world do pore over his every release like Dylanaholics.
Even though I own three previous releases, strangely this is the first album of his that I’ve ever reviewed.
The passionately poetic States I’m In opens the album and sets the tone for what is to follow quite perfectly. Cockburn’s voice sounds slightly weary but with fire around the edges as the band create a claustrophobic atmosphere that will make your chest tighten.
While it shouldn’t be a surprise Cockburn follows this with a real punchy Folk song, Stab at Matter which features, and not for the time here, some sublime guitar and slide playing.
As a Master Craftsman Cockburn appreciates and studies other wordsmiths in his spare time, which has spawned 3 Al Purdys a re-imagining of ‘a homeless man ranting and reciting the acclaimed Canadian Poet’s works on the streets.’
‘Stunning’ and ‘brilliant’ spring to mind when I heard it the first time, and I still feel the same way about the song now.
Another couple of songs that instantly caught my attention were Jesus Train; a non-preachy song about the singer’s love of Jesus alongside Twelve Gates To The City which has a Southern Baptist feel to it; both coming from Cockburn’s Spiritual Beliefs.
I’d forgotten what an expressive voice Bruce Cockburn has; and his skilled storytelling combine perfectly on the two songs that vie for the title of ‘Favourite Track’. Cafe Society has a sort of smoky Parisian swing to it, and appeals as Cockburn very subtly hits the nail on the head of the minutiae in a world I inhabit myself; gossiping, bitching, politicking and generally putting the world to rights over a Cappuccino or Americano or two for hours on end.
The other, a traditional slice of beautiful Canadiacana; Forty Years in the Wilderness is probably a self-portrait of the artist himself; but felt like a punch on the nose as he could have been talking about me too; and I feel plenty of other listeners will feel exactly the same way about this clever and literate song.
After all of these years Bruce Cockburn doesn’t deserve the likes of me making comparisons; but his other albums are filed alongside David Olney, John Martyn and Bap Kennedy in my collection.
Released September 15th 2017
READY THE HORSES
Hard-working Troubadour Shows His Class On A Big Label Expedition.
I first saw and met Jarrod Dickenson in 2012 when he supported Bap Kennedy in a North London Pub. Without getting over-excited about ‘discovering the next big thing’ there really was something different and even special about Jarrod’s songs and their delivery that meant I actually introduced myself to him. He didn’t have any with him that evening; but when he returned home he sent me a copy of his debut album THE LONESOME TRAVELLOR which I favourably reviewed in Maverick magazine later that year.
A couple of years later he got back in touch to ask if I’d like a copy of his next EP, Songs From Willow Street; which can be found in the RMHQ Back Pages; and I still have the lovely handwritten note that accompanied it.
Jump forward to Christmas 2016 and Jarrod again got in touch to say he had a new Album coming out in the Spring and would send a copy ASAP.
Nothing arrived. Not the biggest surprise in the world as he is constantly touring or supporting all kinds of acts somewhere in the world; but I was still a touch disappointed.
Then a month or so ago a decent sized PR Company got in touch hailing Decca Records new signing…..Jarrod Dickenson who would be releasing an exciting new album in September!
So; I’m thrilled to say that after many years of hard graft; Jarrod Dickenson has hit the Big Time…..but has the music changed?
Hell Yes! It’s got bigger, brighter and better.
Opening track Faint of Heart finds the warmly toned Dickenson fronting a classy Country ensemble on a tearjerker of the finest proportions, and any worries that I had dissolved after less than a minute.
First and foremost a storyteller, Dickenson is a mighty fine songwriter too; honing in on the tiny things in our lives but painting extraordinarily cinematic pictures with his words too.
In The Meantime and Take It From Me are quintessential sad Jarrod Dickenson songs; but with the addition of ‘this band’ are taken into a whole new stratosphere; taking the listener on a beautiful journey along the way.
I’m a ‘fan’ and have seen the singer perform several times; but nothing prepared me for the beauteous intimacy of Your Heart, with it’s majestic guitar picking that accompanies his rich singing voice; but while originally from Willow Street; it’s now delightfully gussied up as a duet with his wife Claire; which gives it a lovely haunting quality too.
California treads a similar path; with the addition of some ghostly pedal-steel on the saddest of sad love songs……certainly one for late at night, as you can with the darkly bittersweet, fightin’, fussin’ and makin’ up Take It From Me too.
As you will know from the hundreds of reviews on RM I do like a good story; and that’s probably Dickenson’s finest strength; storytelling……which doesn’t get better than on the darkly Gothic tale Gold Rush; which has a David Olney quality and then some.
For the uninitiated and fans like me alike; there are pleasant surprises around every corner especially my favourite song here……the gentle Country song A Cowboy. One of the simpler arrangements on the album; but sometimes simplicity is the best way to get a story across and this story is absolutely bloody gorgeous.
For once the money that a record label has thrown at an artist appears to have been well; spent as band (guitar, gentle bass, tsch-tsch drums, pedal-steel and a swirling organ) actually flesh out Jarrod’s songs and stories in the most delightful manner.
Released September 29th 2017