Ben de la Cour
HIGH COST OF LIVING STRANGE
Flour Sack Cape
An Americana Road Trip Where The Memories Will Remain Forever.
Here’s an odd thing; a PR sent this to me even though he’s not even working on promoting this album simply because he thought that me and you, my readers would like it.
How nice is that in this cynical world we live in?
It was all a very long time ago but I actually reviewed Ben de la Cour’s album GHOST LIKE in 2011 for a once important magazine; and if memory serves me well; I liked it a lot and forecast a career of money, awards and baubles on the horizon for the young Londoner out of Brooklyn.
As soon as I heard opening track Dixie Crystals I knew why Adam thought I’d like this; De la Cour has a warm and interesting voice; unlike most others and his song-writing is eloquent and detailed plus his band skirt Southern Gothic and modern Hill Country music……what’s not to like?
Baring in mind Ben’s background (born in London and raised in Brooklyn NY) there’s a distinct whiff of Magnolia, Jim Beam and the Everglades that are all pervading through these songs; not least the gorgeous tale Uncle Boudreaux Went To Texas; which is about a man who the narrator sits at his feet listening to and wallowing in his tall tales; but as his own father tells him; “The closest he ever got to Texas/was listening to Willie’s Greatest Hits.”
We’ve all got an Uncle Boudreaux haven’t we?
Tupelo is a darkly atmospheric tale from the Nick Cave book of songwriting; if the Australian had been born in the Southern States; with a shimmering fiddle scaring the bejasus out of me every time it comes into the light from behind some deeply unsettling drums, bass and guitar.
It’s probably best that the more feint hearted don’t listen to this song on their own.
Funnily enough a fiddle comes to the fore again on the next song; Guy Clark’s Fiddle which, partly because I love Guy Clark but mostly because it’s a clever and sensitive song about ‘hope in a broken world’ that I probably needed to hear that first day; and again today if truth be told.
I can’t remember very much about that 2011 album; but I was obviously correct in highlighting Ben’s songwriting skills because he sure can write a doozy. Face Down Penny is certainly the type of song that Johnny Cash would have wanted to sing on his American Series; and if I use my imagination it’s the type of song I associate and love by RMHQ Favourites Slaid Cleaves and Rod Picot; which is praise indeed.
Trying to select an actual Favourite Track isn’t as easy as it should be, as the final track here The High Cost of Living Strange under normal circumstances ticks every box we have for said honour; rumbling and very dirty guitars; an understated bass that still rattles your spine and De La Cour sounding almost demonic on a helluva Country-Gothic song; but then again any album that has a song like Company Town on it has to be very special indeed.
The first time I played the album I nearly missed Company Town, but after three minutes in I had to go back to the beginning and listen intently; as Ben’s tale of dark deeds in a dying Blue Collar rural town; or is he actually comparing America itself to that dying town is disorienting and brooding from start to finish; and rightfully takes the Favourite Track Award.
To some degree Ben de la Cour has instilled everything I love about Americana Music into his 8 songs; taking us on a road trip from the Rust Belt to the Delta and back again and the time goes by in the blink of an eye; but the memories remain with you forever.
Released April 2018
Love On Drugs
Grown Up Well Crafted and Sensitive Songs That Don’t Really Fit Any Specific Category.
This is another one of those albums that could have got away had it not been for my trusty I-Phone!
When it arrived last month I’d already missed the release date so it went straight into the ‘maybe’ pile without even a cursory play. Then two morning ago I was driving to work at dawn and the weather was grey and damp; but a song called At The Rainbow’s End really warmed the cockles of my heart. I don’t really understand technology but the title came up as Track #3 alongside the band name Love On Drugs; so a mental reminder was put in place for later that afternoon.
By the time I arrived home the sun had come out and I played the album as I ate a sandwich and checked my e-mails.
It turns out the ‘band’ Love On Drugs is actually the nom de plume for Swedish singer-songwriter Thomas Ponten and this is his 7th album in this guise, with more to come very soon.
Busy is the first song you’d normally hear and there’s a very ‘grown up’ feel to the way the song evolves; building and building layers yet still sounding quite simple; which is quite an achievement.
‘Grown Up’ is probably the best way to describe the way Ponten writes; and more especially the way the songs are constructed with dashes of Rock and Roll thrown in from Every Now and Then and Your Kind of Man juxtaposed against the more intimate Scar and Solitude which both seem to shimmer as they seep from the speakers.
Mrs. Magpie’s favourite Night Ride Home is both claustrophobic and intimate and one of those songs that needs to be played on the radio as the midnight hour approaches.
I don’t know why but using a piano as the lead instrument; in this case exquisitely played by Anders Gorasson gives music a more intellectual feel; or is that just me?
Choosing the Favourite Song certainly hasn’t been easy; as everything has its merits in that regard and there are no obvious commercial radio singles here at all; but I’ve come back to two songs a couple of times the darkly personal Insomnia touches spot for me I’d rather not go into and that bass heavy Your Kind of Man has a certain ‘funk’ to it that I really like; so I’m going for the latter song.
Music like this has drifted in and out of my life for nigh on half a century; Elton John, Billy Joel and even Chris de Burgh back in the day; all wrote well crafted and sensitive songs that don’t really fit any specific category but won them legions of fans who don’t just follow the crowd for the sake of it.
Released April 13th 2018
Liz Frame & The Kickers
SPARROW IN A SHOEBOX
File Under Country, Folk and Americana.
If I’m being perfectly honest I struggled to get my head around this album when I first received it; not that there was anything wrong with it, just that I needed a fix of louder music…..Bluesy stuff to make my feet move and my heart skip a beat.
That said; I always knew I’d come back as there was something in the way Liz Frame sings plus the songs themselves sounded like I needed to listen deeper than I was capable of at that time.
Now I’m ready to kick back and let Liz Frame and the Kickers win my heart and soul without much of a fight.
The title track Sparrow in a Shoebox is the first thing you’ll hear and if you’re not careful it will make you go weak at the knees. A delightful mix of Rootsy Country and classy Folk music; I was instantly reminded of those early Mary Chapin Carpenter records I still cherish and perhaps even Nanci Griffith in the way Liz both writes and sings.
In a good way there’s a little bit of everything here; from the gutsy Folk and Roll of Lookin’ For a Lonely Man which really showcases Patrick Chamberlin’s guitar skills; through the the heartbreaking Tex-Mex ballad Ungrateful Girl and coming out the other end with a gentle Rocker for people of a certain age, Grown Children; which will have fans tapping their toes to the melody while nodding along in agreement to Frame’s very perceptive lyrics.
In between the band slip and slide seamlessly between Grown Up Country song What You Gonna Do When I’m Gone? and the intense Little Brown House; which again will tug at the heartstrings until you fall under the Boston songwriter’s spell.
Now I’m sitting in the sunshine wallowing in this delightful discovery; two songs really, really stand out and therefore tie for the Favourite Song Award; the deceptively simple She’s Made of Light and Love is one of those songs that will spin your brain as it unravels each and every time you hear it.
The other is I Used To Be Your Slave; and again Liz and the band mask a harrowing tale with a jaunty tune; but the message hear is much clearer as she takes the role of a woman leaving an abusive relationship.
SPARROW IN A SHOEBOX just like those early albums by Nanci, Lucinda, Mary and Emmylou could easily be filed under both Country and Folk but more likely these days under Americana; with fans of all stylea finding plenty to like and indeed love here.
Let’s just hope it’s not another 7 years wait for the third album from Liz Frame and the Kickers; as that’s how long her fans have waited since her debut in 2011.
Released 8th June 2018
ONE LAST KISS
Growling Moon Music
Soundtrack For A Hot August Night in a Tennessee Backwater.
It’s fascinating what music can do for a person; be they a listener like you or I but actual musicians themselves; as it seems that the ‘power of music’ has been a golden thread in RJ Comer’s life be it his time as a violent addict or later after cleaning himself up and discovering God; as an attorney……music got him through some dark times.
Now, many years later he’s a full time singer-songwriter living in the Tennessee woods making music and occasionally touring the United States , North, South, East and West to popular acclaim it has to be said.
The rather snappy Under a Lover’s Moon opens proceedings with some neat fiddle and guitar interjections complimenting RJ’s rich and expressive baritone voice. The song itself is one of the few love songs I’ve heard recently which is written and about a genuine couple of mature years who actually seem to like each other; which gives it an extra star at RMHQ.
Obviously not everything is as upbeat as that opener; but that’s not to say that the songs from the darker edges of life; House Grown Cold and Still Doin’ Time spring to mind don’t have a brittle beauty to them too; as they do.
After playing in bar bands for many years, it’s obvious RJ Comer can turn his hand to most genres of popular music; but he generally sticks to the Country-Blues format I normally associate with Townes, Guy and Rodney; but he’s got a lot more strings to his bow than that as Desert Mama and If I Could Be Water prove; with something of an early Neil Diamond ‘feel’ to them at times.
Like all the great singer-songwriter’s Comer digs deep into the darkest corners of his memories for his songs and comes out the other end with such raw delights as Bad Day in Paradise and You’d Drink Like I Do which are both perfect for the wee small hours of the morning when you feel that the whole world is against you……and it might be; but RJ Comer let’s you know you aren’t alone.
The record closes with the title track ONE LAST KISS; a sad old tale with a truly mournful fiddle accompaniment about the singer’s father but could easily be interpreted by any of us to describe many relationships that have haunted us too.
Hmmmm; where to go for a Favourite Song’? There have been a few contenders; not least the first and last tracks and more than once I’ve played Let’s Run on repeat several times, but I’m going out on a limb with the nigh on Gothic Cain’s Blood, which not only describes Comer’s life that straddled good and evil in equal quantities; but again this is the mark of a great songwriter; could describe most of us and not least myself over the years, which is quite some achievement.
I love music in many formats which is why I do what I do with this website; and every now and again a really rare talent comes along like RJ Comer; and if he’s not too old to grasp the nettle…….he could and should be a Major Star in the Americana world if there is any justice.
Or he may just enjoy his anonymity living with his wife in that Tennessee backwater; and who can blame him?
Released 15th June 2018
WHEN WE WERE ANIMALS.
21st Century Schizoid Rock and Roll Poet Fills Your Head With Beautifully Dark Imagery.
Mishka Shubaly’s previous release the cathartic COWARDS PATH (2015) was pretty much as left of centre that I’m allowed to play out loud at RMHQ; but even then Mrs. Magpie is still prone to raising her eyebrows and finding something else to do in another room.
Thankfully; not a lot has changed on the follow up WHEN WE WERE ANIMALS as opening track Forget About Me reignites that dark humour and when Shubaly sings/growls “I like smooth shiny girls/hard boiled/and loaded with sin” you know he’s not targetting the Ed Sheeran market.
I will say up front that the world needs Mishka Shubaly; as he is the perfect antidote for all of that anaemic music that has taken over the airwaves.
He takes chances that others are afraid to try; who else would dare to re-invent Willin’…….no longer is he a simple truck driving man; here he sounds like the type of guy the FBI have on their Wanted Lists across 12 States!
On World’s Smallest Violin he Rocks the Hell out of your speakers as his self-depreciating hard luck love story unravels in ways that will send a shiver down your spine.
For a Rocker Shubaly certainly has a way with words and at times is almost poetic; with the Waitsian Last Of My Kind and Death in Greenpoint going into recesses that very few songwriters would dare venture, for fear of scaring their fans away.
Shubaly relishes such challenges; running full pelt past the centre ground on the funklicious Wooden Crosses and later with Leaving Feels Like Flying. Both of which I have to listen in headphones for fear of scaring Mrs. M!
I doubt anyone else out there will choose a ‘Favourite Track’; even Shubaly’s Mother would think that would be a test too far of her love; especially the title track Animals, which I love, but…… after several plays I’m going for Never Drinking Again; partly because it’s the nearest thing here to being ‘commercial’ but hey……it’s a cracker; and more than anything else; we’ve all been there haven’t we? In another parallel universe Lee Marvin would star in the video which would be directed by Shane Meadows.
Just a thought.
WHEN WE WERE ANIMALS isn’t for the feint hearted and will be a challenge for just about everyone who hears it; but like some of the world’s greatest novels the bumpy ride and false endings are well worth the journey; and those who do get to the final lines of Death In Greenpoint II, “I feel like I’m gonna die in Greenpoint/Yeh I know I’m gonna go/With a head full of Blow/in a Polish disco…… in Greenpoint.” they will be so deeply in love with the record; they will think they know the meaning to life.
They won’t of course; but they will know something you don’t. Mishka Shubaly is a rare talent indeed and one that we need to cherish.
Released June 1st 2018
Betty Beetroot Records
Gloriously Inspired Folk/Lo-Fi Crossover For All Ages.
I had no intention of reviewing this album this morning; in fact four hours ago I didn’t even know it existed and even when I opened the envelope Lucy Ward’s name only vaguely registered and when I read she was a Folk Award winner I was left a bit non-plussed, as British Folk records aren’t the first thing I reach for.
But……and I will never know what made me do it; I pressed ‘play’ as the CD downloaded onto the RMHQ Laptop.
As my dear departed father used to say, “God moves in mysterious ways.”
Perhaps it was the beautifully simple piano intro to Silver Morning; or more likely Lauren Ward’s amazing pearlescent voice that made me reluctantly smile, as I sipped my coffee and skimmed through my e-mails.
The next song; an almost Technicolour epic called Cold Caller filled the room with an ethereal charm that first time; and subsequently the multi-layered and almost Gothic tale has seeped into my soul; and now I can’t wait to listen to it on headphones as I just know there is still a lot more to unravel.
Music effects people in many different ways; and today the songs on Pretty Warnings are just perfect for my mood on a grey and cold Tuesday morning that followed a warm and sunny Bank Holiday weekend that I had to work all four days.
Obviously there is a spine made of traditional ‘Folk Music’ here; most perceptible in Lucy’s Northern phrasing on Fair & Tender Ladies and the delightfully dark and gloomy Murder Ballad Bill Norrie; but both and more noticeably the traditional Welsh ballad Mari Fach; but all have a crossover charm that is almost Lo-Fi and to another, older generation would just have been found on a Singer-Songwriter album.
So, on a dark and brooding Folk record what would I possibly choose as a ‘Favourite Song’? Well, it’s been a touch easier than you’d imagine. Perhaps it was the mood I was in earlier; perhaps it made me think of my Grandchildren or perhaps I’m just a silly old sod, but track #3 the ethereal Sunshine Child totally caught me by surprise and before I knew what was happening found tears slowly running down my cheeks.
There’s not a lot more I can say; Lucy Ward has created a record she can be very proud of and music fans of all ages will appreciate the hard work that has been put in to make these songs sound oh so simple.
*I’ve just checked and while I can’t find the actual original document; but it appears I reviewed Lucy’s album SINGLE FLAME many years ago in 2013 when I was a writer for a once important Roots music magazine.
Released 15th June
YESTERDAY & ME
Red Raw and Authentic Blue Collar Country From a Texas Rose.
It’s funny how reviews of one artist or a style of music can spawn a score of others in the same vein; which explains whey I currently have a slew of edgy female Country singers beating a path to my door (not literally I hasten to add).
I’ve had a cursory listen to a few that could do with more gigs under their belt and a much tighter production; but neither are true of Texan Rose Miss Kayla Ray.
The album cover was pleasant enough and the accompanying letter (NOT a Press Release) only hinted at the box of delights I was about to discover.
I smiled at the title of opening song Rockport; but mercifully it’s not an ode to the footwear of choice for football hooligans in the 1980’s but a rather dark and sad tale, in the style of Bobbie Gentry about a woman whose husband dies and leaves her with debts, kids and a habit; eventually ‘asking the neighbours to watch the house/as she nailed the last board on.”
The kids get to watch her decline into a haze of drugs and booze, eventually ‘finding comfort in the needle/and Daddy’s snub nose .45’.
I did say it was dark; but wow; what a way to start a Modern Country album……and the accompanying guitars are nothing short of breath taking.
Bless her but Kayla Ray isn’t courting mainstream radio at all here; as her songs are all from the heart and the part of town your Mother warned you against.
Where to start? Once a Week Cheaters is the type of song that will stop you dead in your tracks; and many listening won;t be able to look their partner in the eye as Kayla and Colton Whitley sing verses to each other in a way George and Tammy patented 50 years ago.
Magnolias in the Springtime and Things Only Years Can Teach a Woman too, are Classic Country of the finest vintage, the type people think doesn’t exist any more; but it does with Kayla’s delightful warble sounding like it’s threatening to break into a full set of tears.
Kayla and band can rattle the roof when they want to too; with the raucous Hell Of a Day To Drink All Night being a rip-roaring raucous song about exactly what it says on the tin…..YEE-HAW!
I guess this is Honky-Tonk Music; but the likes of the dangerously sharp lyrics of I’m Still a Woman and Camel Blues are a hell of lot more authentic than a lot I hear most weeks which purports to be what is known today as Ameripolitan……or ‘the Future of Country Music’. These songs are red raw from a life well lived.
Then of course there is the ‘RMHQ Favourite Song’………..Pills. Whoa there; what a sizzling story! A jaunty melody and a singer with her tongue set firmly in her cheek that masks a very modern tale of women hooked on under the counter anti-depressants (and more); but it’s also a story that could have been written any time in the last 60 years!
Produced by Jason Eady, whom Kayla Ray used to Tour Manage this album certainly owes a lot to the likes of Bobbie Gentry, George and Tammy, even Loretta but I also hear Commander Cody and maybe even some Dixie Chicks in there too; but with such a distinctive voice and a marvelous way with writing and delivering a song; all of that is superfluous; as Kayla Ray’s second album has all of the hallmarks of a hit and launching her into the Big Leagues.
Released May 4th 2018
John Wesley Harding
GREATEST OTHER PEOPLE’S HITS
Imaginative and Intriguing Set of Covers From Roots-Rock’s Renaissance Man.
Here we go again; I was sure I had at least one album by John Wesley Harding aka Wesley Stace; but it appears not as all I could find was a dusty copy of the *album Bob Dylan made in his honour in 1967.
So it’s been something of a musical joyride in a stolen car, that I’ve been playing this album of cover versions and collaborations by Root’s Musics favourite Renaissance Man, recorded over the last thirty or so years.
With not a lot to go on the first few seconds of opening track, Roky Erickson’s If You Have Ghosts scared me; as the feedbacky sound effects made me think I was entering some kind of Pink Floyd Meddle territory; but hey…..NO…..we actually get a really cool, almost Indie inspired Alt. Something, few minutes that made my chest tighten with delight.
As there are 29 years between the first and last song recorded here; coupled to Harding’s abstract collaborations mean the mood, tempo and even style jump around like a cat on a hot tin roof; but it also shows what an inspired and inspirational artiste this guy is.
I don’t know all of the bands and singers JWH joins up with but Star (with Fastball) is another tightly wrapped Indie doozy; and his version of Phil Ochs’ Another Age is almost Beatlesesque circa Revolver, but it’s his heart shredding ‘folk’ songs that initially captured my attention with Covered Up In Ages (with and by Elizabeth Barraclough) making me raise my eyebrows in amazement and the previously unreleased Old Bourbon with Rick Moody (?) was an early contender for ‘Favourite Track’ status as the vocals remind me a bit of Liverpool legend Ian McNabb, of whom I’m a fanboy.
The clever way Harding has constructed the album means that just as you think you are getting a handle on him; he throws a curve ball of **Sandy Koufax proportions. The Hip-Hop version of Serge Gainsbourg’s Je Suis Ventu Te Dire Que Je M’en Vais anyone? In this context alongside George Harrison’s Wah Wah kind of works; but I can comfortably go the rest of my life without hearing either again.
WH has some very famous mates; starting with Lou Reed; yep you heard me right…..there are two of his songs here Think It Over is another previously unreleased track; and quite beautiful in the way he sings it over primarily a 12 string guitar and organ; and that didn’t prepare me for the collaboration with Laughing Lou which follows; a live and raw version of Satellite of Love that may even have been what Lou had in mind when he first recorded it all of those years ago.
His other ‘famous mate’ is the one that will probably get this album coverage in all the National papers and website.
Early on Harding strips back and adds a violin to Jackson Cage making it almost Alt. Country and even a bit of a romantic tear jerker; but later I was taken aback when Bruce’s own distinctive voice joined John on an intimate version of Wreck on the Highway. Intriguingly it’s mixed from a soundboard and an audience member’s tape at a McCabe’s Guitar Shop show in 2000.
The song that first brought JWH to the public’s attention is here too and, yes I can certainly enjoy hearing him strip Madonna’s Like a Prayer back to the bone and sinews over and over again. It’s absolutely stunning.
So, after all of that hyperbole what could possibly top rare Bruce and Lou collaborations or the Madonna and Elizabeth Barraclough songs?
Well; it’s a song I already possess and one of my favourite ever Bloodshot recordings; Conway Twitty’s It’s Only Make Believe which finds JWH trying to keep up with the only woman I would leave Mrs Magpie for; Miss Kelly Hogan.
John Wesley Harding sounds quite excellent here; but hearing Kelly’s beautiful tones swoop and soar as a gentle guitar, mandolin and accordion drift along in the background will bring a tear to a glass eye.
While the songs here are varied and even contrary at times; there’s certainly been enough for me to want to dip into John Wesley Harding’s 20+ back catalogue to hear his own work; and I presume his legion of fans will love this release ‘just because.’
PS 10 of these tracks were originally released as Record Day ‘only’ on April 21st 2018; but such was demand a further 7 have been added for this more commercial release.
*That’s a joke btw!
** I Googled him to make my metaphor fit.
Released 18th May 2018
Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore
DOWNEY TO LUBBOCK
Yep Roc Records.
A Gripping and Loving Look at Americana Music’s Roots and Beyond.
Oh Lordie LORD! How excited was I when this dropped through the RMHQ letter box two weeks ago?
(V.E.R.Y is the correct answer.)
Although best friends for well over thirty years their various touring and recording schedules have meant that they have never actually got to record together; until now. But my friends the long wait is well worth it.
One of only two new songs here, the title track Downey to Lubbock opens the record in a way Americana lovers have only dared dream about as the duo trade verses on an autobiographical tale of their long-standing friendship. If this had been the only song they ever recorded together, they could still be very proud men.
But no……more, and dare I say it; better is yet to come.
As you’d expect knowing both men’s history the mood seamlessly glides between the Country Rock of the opener to the more laid back Folkier end of the spectrum on Silverlake which follows with Gilmore purring the delicious lyrics.
Dave and Jimmie both have their own sparkling back catalogues to choose from for an album like this; but they have decided to delve into the last 100 years of Roots Music for this fascinating and often sensational collection of songs; with many being brand new to me, with KC Moon and Get Together managing to sound like they were written yesterday not decades ago.
I’m a big fan of Dave Alvin so the songs he takes lead vocals on stood out on the first few listens; with the jaunty take on July, You’re a Woman and the Tex-Mex waltz of The Gardens tugging at the old heart strings like he did on those early albums that I still cherish.
But the biggest pleasure I’ve had listening to Downey to Lubbock has been the rediscovery of Jimmie Dale Gilmore, especially on the rip-roaring Blues stomper Buddy Brown’s Blues and his dark re-imagining of Woody Guthrie’s Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos) that have now stolen my heart and sent me back to his records after too many years at the back of the cupboard.
But it’s when the two come together that these songs really, really become memorable with Walk On Walk On becoming a real foot-stomping Honky-Tonker and who’d ever have thought a hoary Folk song like the Memphis Jug Band’s Stealin’ Stealin would get me tapping my toes and nonchalantly singing along to the chorus; but Dave and Jimmie’s marvelous duet managed to do that with ease and was an early contender for ‘Favourite Song’ status; as was the red hot re-invention of Lawdy Miss Clawdy; but that accolade goes to the second of their new songs; Billy The Kid and Geronimo. WOW! I guess Alvin had a big hand in the writing of this epic Cowboy tale; and the world is always a better place with new Dave Alvin songs in it; but as each singer takes the roles of Billy and Geronimo you just end up sitting back and wallowing in one of the finest Americana/Country/Roots/Folk songs you will ever hear……honestly, if you even vaguely like this genre listen to this song and tell me I’m wrong.
I dare you!
You really know how clever these two are when they can turn the Youngbloods Pop Classic Get Together into a sad Country sing-along which is just perfect for the crazy world we live in today; and that’s exactly what they do.
The Press Release describes this indomitable duo as ‘Seasoned Veterans’ and I guess I can’t think of anything better as both Dave and Jimmie have been on the Americana/Roots scene since before it even had a name; but what it doesn’t say is that they sound as good; if not better than ever in 2018 and their choice of songs here is absolutely sublime, with not a single one sounding out of place regardless of the decade that it was originally penned and recorded in.
Released June 1st 2018
Gretchen Peters & Kim Richey
23rd May 2018
So far in 2018 I’ve listened to some amazing albums from artists across the globe, criss crossing all of the Roots genres. Two of the very best have come from long term RMHQ favourite Gretchen Peters and a new name to me, Kim Richey; so the opportunity to see both ladies at the magnificent Sage Concert Hall in Gateshead was too good to miss.
As I stood beside the stage, camera in hand I was surprised to see that people were taking their seats behind the stage on the third tier of Hall 2 meaning that this concert was very close to being a Sell Out…….which is a good thing.
A nervous looking, but smiling Kim Richey opened proceedings with a charming preamble to Chinese Boxes from her 2007 album of the same name, and the song itself was absolutely delightful; as were everything else she sang too.
I particularly liked her stories behind the songs; especially the self-depreciating one for Hello Old Friend/John’s Song which really made me and the crowd chuckle; then gasp at the power of the song itself.
With only 45 minutes to play with Kim slid in only a couple of albums from this years’ Edgeland and thankfully my two favourites, the brilliant Chuck Prophet co-write Pin a Rose and the darkly beautiful and autobiographical Wild Horses were among them; and the latter especially received long and loud applause from the knowledgeable crowd as it ended.
Although not something I normally do I’d intended saying ‘hello’ to Kim during the break; but the queue to buy her album and have a photo taken appeared never ending; so I slunk away back into the shadows like a Reviewer Ninja.
When I walked back into the hall, there was a palpable air of anticipation as the lights went down, and Gretchen Peters made her way across the stage.
I was very surprised that she chose the exquisitely dark and brooding Arguing With Ghosts and Wichita from her new album which only came out a few days ago to start the show; but the look on the audience’s faces as the latter ended proved what an excellent selection they were.
For the third song Barry Walsh left the Steinway piano to strap on a piano accordion and stalk the stage like a Parisian troubadour for the chillingly beautiful Matador.
The mood was set, for an evening of ‘sad songs to make everyone happy.’
With a back catalogue of songs that put all of her contempories in the shade; Gretchen chose to pretty much perform the vast majority of songs from the latest album Dancing With The Beast and, do you know what? They were all here on merit, trust me.
With Barry on piano and two young guys from Northern Ireland on bass and electric guitar; the arrangements of these new songs made Truckstop Angels and Say Grace even more haunting than on disc.
There was something that I’d tried to say in the album review that was even more evident tonight; Gretchen tells some harrowing stories on these songs and really and truly inhabits the characters she’s singing about; but giving these ‘feminist subjects’ a very feminine state of mind.
As I said there weren’t a lot of ‘older songs’ but those that were included were breathtaking; especially the Grammy winning Blackbirds and my personal favourite On a Bus Stop to St. Cloud, which was introduced with a story about Jimmy LaFave which sadly went over the audience’s heads.
Oh……another was Guadalupe, which I think I first heard sung by Tom Russell and was probably the first time I’d heard Gretchen Peter’s name; such is the nature of the world she and I inhabit.
Highlights? Flipping heck!
The title track from the latest album Dancing With The Beast is about a horrible subject; but tonight was delivered with majestic aplomb, leaving everyone dumbfounded until they nearly lifted the roof with their collective applause.
Kim Richey was invited back out to provide backing vocals and harmonies on a couple of songs; one of which; Gretchen got the key wrong and had to be stopped mid verse; much to everyone’s delight!
I’m normally not a fan of encores, as they are generally contrived these days, but tonight they were well deserved with Gretchen eventually leaving the stage to go ‘off mic’ to serenade the front row with an incredibly simple and intimate Love That Makes a Cup of Tea; (which was only spoilt by someone dropping a pin), and was the perfect way to end a perfect concert.
Photos by HarrisonaPhotos.
Full set https://www.harrisonaphotos.co.uk/Music/Gretchen-Peters-2018/