Gleefully Pushing The Boundaries of Americana.
Apart from the albums I receive to review, for many years now I’ve used a site called Noise Trade to discover new and exciting artists across a broad musical spectrum. One of these acts was a young lad called Noah Guthrie who (as far as I understood) did quirky cover versions, in particular I’m Sexy and I Know It. With so much going on in my life I never bothered doing any research, so didn’t know that he was an established singer-songwriter and a regular cast member on the TV show GLEE!!!!!
Thankfully I didn’t know that latter snippet of information before I received and listened to his latest and second album; or the ‘music snob’ in me may have taken over.
THE VALLEY gets a hefty kick-start with a the peppy opening track Razor Blade; a major surprise for me with an clever story set to a fiery Alt. Rock soundtrack; with Guthrie’s distinctive rasping vocals sounding perfect for AM Radio.
Guthrie manages to go Country Rock on Love You Now; which follows, with his voice managing to swoop and soar like an Americana Eagle circling over the Nappa Valley while the band plays on.
It’s not just Noah’s voice that has taken me pleasantly by surprise (I can’t think of anyone else to compare him too apart from Robert Pant!!!) but his storytelling and way with words is extraordinary; with Till It Thunders and Beautiful Crime not just showing his gentler more acoustic side; but also his poetical with words too.
Mary is the cornerstone that the album revolves around; gentle acoustica alternating with a full-on Band full of shoe-gazing intensity supporting Guthrie’s breathy and breathless bittersweet love song. What’s not to like?
Which brings me to the battle for ‘favourite song’…..will it be the introspective brittleness of Beautiful Crime or the smart as a whip, yet brooding melancholia of title track The Valley or perhaps Calling Your Name when Noah sounds like he could break into tears at any moment; but no I’m going for the co-write with RMHQ favourite Matthew Perryman Jones, Pardon Me. A breakup song so powerful yet fragile at its core, you genuinely feel his pain with him, and will instantly hate whoever has broken his heart; such is the power of music this good.
The overall ‘flavour’ of the Valley takes me back to those early days when Americana was known as Modern Country and albums by The Jayhawks, Grant Lee Buffalo, Giant Sand and the like were pushing the boundaries of what we knew as ‘Country Music’.
Released June 23rd 2017
I WILL GROW
A few months ago two friends from work went to see the legendary Bad Company at Newcastle Arena and the following day both sought me out to tell me that they thought I would like the support act, Steve Rodgers.
As is my won’t I did nothing about it.
Then this morning I was asked if I wanted to review the forthcoming album by that very same Steve Rodgers and as a taster could have Exclusive use of the video for the first single I WILL GROW.
Rodgers’ engaging voice instantly captures the attention but it’s classy melody and the deep story in his lyrics that make this song really quite extraordinary.
At 14 Singer-Songwriter Steve Rodgers began to write his own songs on guitar and piano. He started a band with his friends at 17, ‘Lost Sons of Davros’. From the ‘Lost Sons’ came ‘Boa’ who released two albums and their first single ‘Duvet’ was the title track to the Japanese multi award- winning animation series Manga ‘Lain – Serial Xperiments’. They toured the States, the UK but after much enjoyment, Steve has decided to follow his own singer-songwriter path.
Sadly, while I’m really impressed with I WILL GROW, for a single it doesn’t sound commercial enough for National Radio; but certainly serves as a delightful taster for the promised album when it comes.
PS I’ve managed to come this far without mentioning Steve’s rather famous father Paul…..he of Free, Bad Company and more recently Queen. Yes THAT Paul Rodgers.
Steve may look a bit like his Dad (not the biggest problem in the world) but has his own distinctive and memorable voice.
Released May 31st May 2017
Silver-tongued, Classy and Deeply Personal Country Heartbreakers.
After reviewing a slew of dark and intimate singer-songwriter albums recently, I woke up this morning needing to hear some happy upbeat music.
After pressing ‘random’ on the I-player a few times the Country Rocker This Isn’t An Original Sin by Will Hoge boomed out of the office speakers! That’ll do for me, I thought.
I found the album and immediately Track #1 The Reckoning made me sit back in my chair. Nothing at like ‘Original Sin’ Hoge’s cracked and pleading voice on a slow sad ballad wasn’t what I should be listening to; but hooked me like a big fat fish on a Sunday morning.
Whoa…..this guy can really write a song; and sing it too.
The delightful acoustic guitar that opens the next track This Grand Charade will lull the casual listener into a false sense of security; as this song about the slow and painful breakdown of a marriage, as told from the husband’s point of view is stunning, as Hoge fills the verses with the kind of detail that surely only someone who has experienced that charade first hand can write and sing about.
OK, you may already know that this is CMA, ACM and Grammy nominated Will Hoge’s seventh sol album and his list of hit songs for others is long as my arm; but I didn’t but when you hear the likes of Through Missing You, Baby’s Eyes and the strikingly beautiful Angels Wings it’s easy to imagine the ‘hat acts’ and their managers in Nashville Town asking for permission to record them; but none will be as intimate as the original by Hoge himself.
It’s a similar story with A Cold Night in Santa Fe; my stomach was in knots as Hoge manages to describe a passionate love affair from start to its slow and excruciating closure in four minutes; which is some special achievement.
The title song Anchors, about a young man who worries about ‘the sinners of the father/weighing like an anchor on a chain’ will make your jaw hit your chest and possibly even forget to breathe for the last minute or so; at least it did with me!
The accolade of RMHQ ‘Favourite Song’ should by rights go to This Isn’t An Original Sin and could easily have been the best song Steve Earle never wrote, Little Bit of Rust (which features Sheryl Crow btw) but actually goes to another blaster of a Country Rocker……and a Summer ‘driving song’ par excellence, Young As We’ll Ever Be, which closes the album and opens the door for me to Will Hoge’s expansive back catalogue.
All in one album of 11 songs Will Hoge takes us on an emotional roller-coaster but by the end you know there is still ‘hope’ that the next ‘love story’ will be the love of your life; and surely that’s what the best of Country Music does better than any other genre?
Now ANCHORS has been on the office Hi-Fi all morning, I’ve decided this just may be the finest Country Record I will hear this year; and I will hear a lot.
Released 11th August 2017
UK Tour July 2017
Ani Di Franco
Righteous Babe Records/Aveline Records
Very Thought Provoking and Challenging Songs.
Ani Di Franco is one of those artists whose name I recognise but know absolutely nothing about; which meant this album has been moved around the RMHQ desk several times recently, from ‘urgent’ to ‘to-do’ to ‘maybe’ and back again several times.
Then on Friday Chastity Brown talked about Ani Di Franco in glowing terms; so it’s now on the office stereo for the second time this morning.
The title track BINARY opens the record and; sadly had me curling my lip the first time I heard it, primarily because of the Electro-Pop back beat that accompanies several vocal overdubs; but by the second outing Di Franco’s expressive poetic hip-hop lite lyrics are starting to win me over.
Straight away the following song Pacifist’s Lament was more ‘up my street’. It’s easy to let this lovely musical interlude wash over you; but as I was told in no uncertain terms on Friday…..listen to her words…..they may be shrouded inside a clever production; but when I took the time to listen carefully Ani Di Franco is a very insightful and powerful songwriter. Who knew?
Written prior to the latest American Elections Di Franco was very involved in getting young people to vote; and that ‘political activism’ comes across in Play God and Terrifying Sight; but the insightful way she unfurls the story in Almighty; set to a mystical almost Eastern tune.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a ‘man of a certain age’ but BINARY and many songs therein has been a challenge for me; with the rocky Spider and the more easy on the ear piece of Beat-Poetry Sasquatch sounding like the type of intellectual songs that people will argue of the meaning of for years to come; rather than the transient music I normally listen to.
With all of that in mind it hasn’t been easy to choose a ‘favourite’ song. At first I thought it would be Zizzing; as it’s a great word and surely beckons a frothy tune…..oh dear Lord no! The first minute is a dark piece of epic cinematic proportions, then Ani slides into the mix with an even darker tale of imminent death and destruction for mankind (I think).
What I will go for is the final track, Deferred Gratification. Another very articulate and intelligent song probably aimed at brighter people than me; but probably the most ‘traditional’ of singer-songwriter type songs that I recognise on this disc.
Released June 9th 2017
Jumping Hot Club
Friday 15th June 2017.
For a man who only three years ago went to at least two gigs a week ( 7 in 10 days once!) tonight was only my fourth gig of the year, so quite a big deal.
As is my won’t these days I quietly made my way into the Cluny basement as the applause was dying down for the first song from ‘The Geordie Dusty’…..’Little Mo’ Scott.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen Mo over the years and tonight she was making her annual visit to the JHC; and with hindsight was the perfect foil for headline act Chastity Brown.
Mo regaled us with her inimitable versions of Ry Cooder’s Borderline, Norah Jones’ Lonestar and a gorgeously sleazy rendition of Love Me Like a Man; a hit for Bonnie Raitt but written by JHC favourite Chris Smither.
These songs (and others) were interspersed with self-depreciating jokes about age, eyesight and memory; much to the ‘mature’ audience’s obvious delight.
As the set came to an end, there were cries for “more” from the crowd and after a very quick con-flab between Shippy the Promoter and Geoff the MC Mo was told she had time for one more song. Surprised, she had a chat with her guitarist and multi-instrumentalist drummer they decided on the beautiful I Cry Myself To Sleep; and this crazy world seemed a slightly better place.
After a very short break I nearly missed Chastity Brown’s sultry opening song After You from the magnificent Back-road Highways.
The singer, looking a vision in white (inc. a white bow-tie) was on fine form from the start, greeting friends in the audience as she introduced the second song Colorado, explaining why it had taken her four years to follow up the previous album….”I’m from Tennessee; we do thing real slow there.” She smiled and shrugged her shoulders.
The next hour and a half was packed with a mix of songs from both albums, including a really passionate delivery of If You Let Me and the sweeping landscapes of Drive Slow on album now sounding tightly wrapped and almost claustrophobic.
I can’t go any further without mentioning guitarist Luke Enyeart who provided heartbreaking accompaniment on his Bigsby enhanced emerald green Gretsch guitar.
Highlights are nearly too many to mention; but a song dedicated to her Mother back home in Tennessee featured the Cluny Evangelical Choir on harmonies and a new song, played solo called I Ask For Nothing really, really showcased her extraordinary voice.
The show came to an all too brief closure with her beautiful interpretation of the Nina Simone song Baltimore which tugged at the combined heartstrings of the audience.
One more thing; Chastity took the time half way through to thank Promoter Graeme Anderson for “taking a chance on her four years ago, when she randomly sent him an e-mail alongside 20 others in the UK asking for a gig.” Only Shippy and a guy in London responded (I was at that gig and suitably star-struck immediately) and ……the rest is history.
Lungs Are Burning (Single)
With a UK tour just around the corner Canadian Singer-Songwriter Christina Martin returns with a brand new single, ‘Lungs Are Burning’ out June 6.
Triggered by a rising Fentanyl drug crisis killing thousands of Canadians, alongside her and guitarist/producer Dale Murray Christina eloquently and passionately sings about a very personal subject, with a series of stark lyrics lyrics Martin captures the desperation of “chasing the dream” and the horror of living it. Murray’s stately production brings that stark reality home with a bite.
LUNGS ARE BURNING TOUR – UK TOUR DATES
June 24 THE STUDIO-FAT PIGEON LIVE CHESHIRE
June 25 TBD YORK
June 26 KITCHEN GARDEN CAFÉ BIRMINGHAM
June 29 THE DOG AND PARTRIDGE MARCHINGTON
June 30 SONDER FESTIVAL MANCHESTER
July 1 THE BANK EYE, SUFFOLK
July 6 THE LATEST MUSIC BAR BRIGHTON *
July 7 THE SOUND LOUNGE LONDON*
July 8 THE LITTLE RABBIT BARN ESSEX*
Big Air Records
Classy Lounge-Rock For a World Without Tears.
One of my ‘favourite surprises’ over the last few years was Greta Gaines’ last album Lighthouse & The Impossible Love way back in 2013; so I was giddy with excitement when I received this new 7 track (mini) album.
The first time I heard it, my eyes actually lit up as the crashing guitars transitioned into Ms. Gaines distinctive voice on the steamy pot-boiler of a title track TUMBLEWEED which opens the album; and by the second chorus I found myself actually mouthing the words too. The bittersweet love song has an edgy Southern-Rock feel to it; and if I was being lazy it would certainly bring back memories of Lucinda Williams albums at the cusp of the new century; although Greta Gaines certainly has her very own finely-textured and distinctive singing style.
Leo For Real, which follows has a rat-a-tat-tat drum beat at its heart and Greta’s voice soars between mournful and hopeful as the song evolves to a doleful and beauteous finale.
Even on the heartbreakingly slow ballads, Only Lonely and Heal Me Greta never sounds down or defeated; she’s a fighter and that comes through not just the lyrics but the way she sings from deep down in the dark recesses of her heart……this lady’s not for turning!
Digging deep into her musical Roots Greta includes an interesting Folk Rocker called Sweet William. I didn’t ‘get it’ at first and thought it jarred with the other six tracks; but by the third time I played TUMBLEWEED it actually fits into the ‘mood’ perfectly.
Tucked away in the middle is the deep, dark Alt-Rocker Begin Again which sounds like the type of song Chrissie Hynde might have recorded had she ever joined Fleetwood Mac! Pounding drums, stinging guitars, a bass from Hades and Greta’s almighty voice……what’s not to like? That’s why it is my favourite song here.
And….when Greta Gaines rocks…..she ROCKS! The less than subtle Light It Up; an ode to legalising marijuana closes the album with not just passion but plenty of pomp too.
While there may only be seven tracks here; that hardly matters as you will have the album on auto-repeat anyway.
Released June 16th 2017
LAND OF DOUBT
A Daring Approach From a Brilliant Songwriter Creates a Bold and Beautiful Record.
It’s a challenge for any singer or band with even a modicum of success to have to choose between recording the same songs but with different titles; or do they evolve and develop; making new music that may alienate their fan base.
Thankfully Sam Baker has taken the latter route over 5 albums in 13 years and a combination of masterful storytelling and a very distinctive voice have managed to bring in new fans with every record without ever losing the original fans.
Without reading the Press Release in advance the delightful semi-classical guitar which opens track #1 Summer Wind took me by surprise and then when Sam more narrates than sings the song I sat back with a puzzled expression on my face. The song is even slower than normal and includes a de-tuned (?) guitar and some sweet trumpet playing from Don Mitchell which sent a shiver down my spine. As soon as it finished I pressed ‘repeat’ and the penny immediately dropped; this wasn’t going to be a ‘normal’ album……in some ways it’s a conceptual piece; but by golly it’s staggeringly good!
Only a few songs here; Margaret and Say The Right Words for example, are ‘typical’ Sam Baker songs in as much as they are very literate, deeply personal stories; but even Say The Right Words has Mitchell performing like an Angel on the trumpet again towards the end.
Without spoiling anything for you several tracks are referred to as ‘interludes’ which left me baffled at first’ then halfway through I realised that these short orchestral pieces work perfectly; cleansing the mind ready for the next song.
A brave thing to do; but when Song of Sunrise Birds (interlude) bleeds into The Feast of St. Valentine you know you’re not listening to an ordinary record…….LAND OF DOUBT isn’t ‘ordinary’ at all.
With that in mind, Peace Out can only be described as poetry set to music, with Sam talking through the first voice and even his singing voice hardly picks up the pace; leaving me with a fluttering the stomach and a big smile as it ended.
As a Sam Baker fan of quite a few years I absolutely love this album and salute the man’s courage for trying something different; but the title of ‘favourite song’ must go to an actual ‘traditional’ folk song; but a song that is as good as anything this great songwriter has ever penned. Some Kind of Blue whizzes us back 40 odd years to the Vietnam War as Sam tells the story of “a quiet young man/too shy to get a date.” But young Charlie enlists and before he knows what is happening he is on a jet then “crawling in a tunnel/where the fallen Angels dwell.” The irony of the chorus “Charlie fighting Charlie” isn’t lost on the character nor will it audiences. Eventually Charlie returns home and marries; but……..”crawling through a tunnel/with a loaded .45/was the only time he felt alive.”
Sadly there are thousands of Charlie’s across the Western world feeling the same way 40 years later.
The title track; which closes the record is a singular radical change of mood, with Baker again taking on the role of narrator on a very atmospheric and even claustrophobic song which brings the whole album to a powerful conclusion and owes a debt to to the Beat Poets and Gil Scott-Heron. If I still had my radio show I would play it every single week for a month.
LAND OF DOUBT is quite a departure from what we expect from an Americana/Folk singer; but don’t worry (spoiler alert!) this album is truly exceptional and takes him into the musical territory I associate with Randy Newman, Tom Waits and even the likes of Nick Cave; and Sam Baker is there on Merit.
Released June 16th 2017
High Tone Records
Classy Songstress Delivers Wonderfully Mature and Literate Album.
Opening song The Darkest Stars is a beautifully dark Jazzy-Noir heart-tugging tale; featuring the type of cool trumpet playing and tsch-tsch drumming I would associate with someone like Chet Baker; yet will have even the most casual of listeners tipping their ears towards the speakers and inhaling every word.
That ‘vibe’ stays with us through delicate ventures like Secret Life and the equally brittle Pulling For Romeo; whereas Flake White Heart flirts with a Modern Folk melody but fits in perfectly.
The harmonies and gentle melodic beat on The Broken News and Crack In The Sky could be latter day Cowboy Junkies songs, yet they have a completely timeless quality to them too.
The tempo finally picks up for Real Gone Girl which closes the album; and I’m pretty sure will become even ‘rockier’ (?) when played live; but not quite fast enough to dance to…..this is music to listen to.
One song worth mentioning is the bittersweet Passing Through, a co-write with Marshall Crenshaw and something I wouldn’t be surprised to find picked up by a Major Artist; which would be good for the bank balance but sad too as this song is well worthy of radio airplay.
I have to swing back to track #2 for my absolutely favourite song, Cigarette. Where she compares an unrequited love as being as much a ‘habit’ as smoking a Cigarette and just as short lived. Cleverly written and expertly executed it’s already been put into my ‘favourite sad songs’ playlist on the I-Phone.
Although the record is under Kelly Ryan’s name; this actually feels like a band effort; with Don Dixon’s bass and the drumming from Jim Brock holding everything together like glue while the occasional trumpet playing from Jon Thornton alongside Kelley’s distinctive tones and superior guitar playing all combine to make this album stand out in a very competitive market place.
I guess there must be someone I can compare Kelley Ryan’s velvety smooth voice too; but I can’t and in this wacky world of musical genres and sub-genres I find myself being drawn back to the age-old, all encompassing adage of ‘singer-songwriter’ for Kelley Ryan; as her haunting vocal performances and very sophisticated songs straddle several areas without fitting directly into any particular single one.
Released 1st June 2017
New West Records
Quirky and Left of Centre Power Pop From the Renaissance Man of Americana.
After seeing Daniel Romano last year at the Jumping Hot Club and thinking he was a contender for the Prince of Nu-Country title; this is not what I was expecting…..not expecting at all!!
Now I’ve got my head around MODERN PRESSURE and given up on trying a compare and contrast with his previous album MOSEY; I think I like it.
I guess there should have been a clue in opening track being called Ugly Human Heat Pt1 not being a Twangy Country tune. Although recorded in Sweden; this is the type of song (and album) I would normally associate with the artsy New York or London scenes.
Track #4 The Pride of Queens finds Romano sounding uncannily like Marc Bolan on a slow burning helping of Glam-Psychedelia with it’s rolling electric organ, funky bass lines and intensely sloppy guitars…….baaaby.
I don’t begin to understand what Sucking The Old World Dry or Dancing With The Lady in the Moon are on about; but hey kids….this is Pop Music; just go along for the whizz-bang ride and enjoy it for what it is.
Marc Bolan and T Rex are the name that spring to mind on many songs here; but there are plenty of others like the Scouse Rockers Teardrop Explodes and Icicle Works that appear to have been on the stereo during the recording process of I Tried To Hold The World (In My Mouth) and the epic title track MODERN PRESSURE; but I could be wrong of course.
The whimsical Impossible Dream is hippy Folk-Rock at its poetic best; then Romano follows that with a deep and meaningful Jennifer Castle.
Roya, the most obviously commercial ‘rock song’ here is an ode to ‘women everywhere’ and the type of song I would spend hours trying to decipher while listening on huge headphones.
While MODERN PRESSURE is a whole lot different from my normal tastes; I have enjoyed the challenge of reviewing it and the finale What’s To Become Of The Meaning Of Love really captured my imagination this week after two horrific terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. I don’t imagine Daniel Romano had those type of atrocities in mind when he wrote the song; but the astute lyrics and unconventional guitar solos really expressed my feelings in a way I never could.
Released May 19th 2017