Benjamin Jason Douglas
FIRST WORLD BLUES
Flour Sack Cape Records
Slick, Smart and Swampy Country Blues.
Yet again you can thank my trusty I-Phone for finding this album for me and indeed you. OK, I’ve had it in the reviews box for a few weeks but with so many other albums from artistes that you and I know and love, to listen to this one kept getting pushed to the back.
Then last Monday on a rain swept journey to work, the opening track Tent Pole came sashaying out of the car speakers like a New Orleans funeral marching band; and I was instantly captivated.
The return journey 10 hours later was made up of the complete album as my soundtrack; and now I can’t get enough of Douglas’s raspy and wheezy voice and that’s nothing compared to his articulate way with words and a tune.
Beat Black and Blue Collar Blues which follows, is another jaunty mid-tempo song; nay ‘howl’ and hearing it that first night had me bellowing out the chorus after barely a minute; and certainly not in time with the young Nashville based singer-songwriter.
While the album refers to ‘The Blues’ it’s actually a bit of a misnomer; as Benjamin Jason Douglas (aka BJD here on in) is a crafty singer-songwriter with a toe in many camps; but manages quite easily to bring them all together under one wonderful musical umbrella.
Our young man can really Rock-a-Tune when he wants to with Digging a Stigmata, which sits quite comfortably between the low down and sultry Doc Red Blues and the oh so cool late night Jazzy tones of Funny Feeling.
It’s all too easy and even lazy to compare BJD to the likes of Dr. John and even the lyricism of Randy Newman; who must have been influences, but our Benjamin is very much his own man when it comes to writing a cool song and delivering it with his own swagger and a side order of panache; as Tchoupitoulis and the almost Swampy Gothic of Walking Down The Grain both prove.
Choosing a Favourite Track was quite easy for me as one song stood out just by it’s title alone; and that’s Raggedy Andy Williams, as the 70’s crooner is a ‘guilty pleasure’ around these here parts; and BJD’s heart rendering chorus of “honestly Alice/how did you expect/ this Raggedy Andy Williams love story to end?” sang with a croak in his already gruff and leathery voice almost had me in tears that first night in the car! I’m pleased that I’ve never suffered a break-up like this; as I’m not sure I would have come out the other end in one piece; but then again, I’m not a songwriter, and such matters of the heart and how they deal with them are what separates guys like Benjamin Jason Douglas from the rest of the pack.
But credit must also go to the epic Street Preacher and Gloria which combine to close an absolutely fabulous debut album; that is destined to be a bit of a go-to album in the RMHQ Offices for a long time to come.
I will end by going back to the beginning; because this album is the perfect soundtrack to a stormy and heartbroken night; but I’ve also played it on the big speakers as I lounged in the garden on a sunny and hot Sunday afternoon and it didn’t annoy the neighbours.
Released August 10th 2018
Hadley McCall Thackston
Wolfe Island Records
Captivating Country Folk Songs For a Fine Summer’s Evening.
Like many self-appointed arbiters of good taste; or music reviewers (you decide) it’s not uncommon for a review to followed by numerous e-mails stating “If you like that; you will like us…..can I send a copy of our latest release?”
Me being the musical tart that I am I rarely say “no”; so when this was offered after our latest Jeremy Nail missive I was intrigued; as he’s not an obvious act to compare yourself too; and songstress Hadley McCall Thackston from Decatur, Georgia sounds nowt like him at all; yet I think I’d love to see the pair performing together one evening.
“Pray tell, Why is that”? You ask.
The fragile opening song Butterfly strangely enough made me think of those early Nanci Griffith LP’s I still cherish. There is something delightfully innocent in the way Hadley recounts an almost poetic tale over a winsome fiddle, mandolin and acoustic guitar.
I was instantly hooked.
Then Ms Thackston cranks up the volume to Four on the snappy Ellipsis which follows; and even during that magical first play last week I was ensnared in the silken web this young lady weaves with her stories.
The accompanying Press Release describes her music as Porch to Porch music; and I can see why as the imagery this talented young woman conjures up combines the smells and sounds of not just Georgia but South Carolina where she now lives too; in the way you feel the evening heat on your shoulders as the sun comes down as family sit around sipping cool drinks in the delightful Change and later on Ghost, as well as plenty of others.
Don’t be deceived though; this isn’t a ‘simple album’ at all; the production may make the songs sound that way; but there’s a whole lot of majestic playing behind Hadley as she delivers the haunting Redbird and Devil Or Angel, which has to heard to be believed. Trust me!
It appears that Hadley is a very shy person by nature; and was originally cajoled into putting one of her songs onto Facebook; so it would be a huge disappointment if I was never to witness her singing the gorgeous Last Mountain Waltz or especially Somehow played live in an intimate setting.
Choosing a ‘Favourite’ here is as hard as ever with the ‘bonus track’ Slow Burn certainly being a contender but I’m going for the fiery Wallace’s Song (Sage Bush) which has a delightful danceable beat to it and some fascinating lyrics on a quirky love song.
There’s a whole lot to like here from a 25 year old on her debut album; as she’s a fine storyteller with a pearlescent yet slightly worn around the edges voice……again; not unlike a young Nanci Griffith; but I can easily see her appealing to the hipsters who love Fleet Foxes, First Aid Kit and even Ed Sheeran; as well as our friend Jeremy Nail of course.
Released 15th June 2018
THIS SIDE OR THE OTHER
Black Hen Music
Founding Father of Americana Shows No Signs of Slowing Up.
Like many of my favourite albums from the days before the Interweb was in it’s ascendancy, most came via ‘word of mouth’ and David Olney’s Live in Holland CD was one of those and will still occasionally get dusted off and let me drift off into a world of wizened Americana characters that only he could possibly invent and bring to life.
His other album (EP?) that I love is Film Noir from 2011 which would have been the last time I saw him play live; which is a damn shame.
Then of course there are numerous individual songs that if compiled onto some kind of Retrospective may end up being a triple album; and then have to leave a couple out.
So; any new release is worthy of my time and means I have to put time aside to listen ‘properly,’ with no distractions.
Sadly that is today when I am painfully deaf in one ear, so will pretend this is a Mono release (joke.)
Opening track Always The Stranger, is trademark David Olney with a sweet Texicana tune masking a bittersweet love story that is sung by world weary voice; and it’s certainly the type of song that makes you want to sit back and wallow in whatever the narrator has to say.
Wall which follows has a Native American feel to it, and as the title suggests it’s about ‘building walls’ both real and metaphorical; which is a tender subject across the border lands of America and Mexico where many of Olney’s characters reside.
As you will expect from one of the founding fathers of of Americana; this is a song that has much to say about modern history as it does the past; intertwining both with grace and hope.
This imagery of ‘walls’ continues throughout THIS SIDE OR THE OTHER with the beautiful title track and Death Will Not Divide Us both using that invisible imagery on both songs, making them enjoyable on many different levels; but making you continuously change your mind as to what they are really about; which is quite some trick for a songwriter.
Even by David Olney’s standards I Spy is a dark song; almost ‘talking Blues’ poetic in a Kerouac style that has had me trying to unravel it’s many mysteries this morning; but have decided to just let it be what it is……. a riddle in a puzzle set to music.
Again; by David Olney’s ‘standards’ this is as much a Country album as he’s produced in many years; with Western imagery hauntingly making Stand Tall and Border Town sound like they should be on the soundtrack for a Tarantino re-imagining of Butch Cassidy.
For a man of his advancing years, David Olney can still write a love song that will send shivers down your back; which brings us to the two songs vying for Favourite Song Status; Running From Love with it’s ghostly harmonica accompaniment would easily win the title on many albums; but is just pipped at the post by Open Your Heart (and Let Me In) which will touch the hearts of every romantic who hears it.
Then, just when you think you know exactly where David Olney is coming from he throws a perfect curve ball with the finale; a simple and very rootsy song called She’s Not There…….hang on a minute!
Yes; it actually is the Zombies pop hit from the 60’s but turned on its head, with David doing for this what Joe Cocker did for With a Little Help From My Friends, way back when.
Perhaps I should change my choice of Favourite Track; but will actually keep this song our little secret.
Such is the quality and density of David Olney’s songwriting I could probably write a completely different review of these songs tomorrow and again next week. I will now leave it to you.
Released August 24th 2018
Ethereal, Claustrophobic and Misty-Eyed Songs For Romantics Everywhere.
Jeremy Nail’s last album My Mountain in 2016 completely took us by surprise at RMHQ and was hardly out of our stereo for months; regardless of what shiny new disc was meant to be reviewed; and obviously it made our Annual Top 10 that year.
Time moves on and a lot of misty eyed singer-songwriters have graced our office in the last two years; but every now and again; normally when I’m feeling sad and lonely (it does happen) and the handsome young Texan can always make me at feel at ease with the dark edges of the world.
Then early last week a plain brown envelope arrived just as I was about to leave for work, so I left it on my desk alongside 4 or 5 others; and there it stayed until yesterday when I saw a link to a review on Twitter!
Affronted at not knowing about this release I was just about to pen a stinging letter to his Press Guru when I finally opened the aforementioned padded envelope.
Everything was put on hold as I carefully slid the CD into the player and sat back nervous and expectant……waiting to see if he could come close to that previous Masterwork.
Perhaps it’s my memory or the change of producer or just a maturing but opening song Abiquiu has a warm glow to it; even though it’s a sad tale of a mythical town somewhere unnamed that is dying like so many others across America. But here, Nail finds a tiny glint of hope and ends the song “Here in Gods Country/There is no glory without suffering/You dance between the two/on a chance you make it through/Abiquiu” then the title is repeated over and over again as the hypnotic guitars fade to dust.
Yep…..the kid still has it!
The title track Live Oak follows and some very precise and neat guitar picking takes us in a more Countrified direction than I’d expected. OK it’s not YEE HAW Country; but Nail’s beautiful narrative about a real tree in Austin Texas which was deliberately poisoned but saved may or may not be a parable about his own life and illness, and that’s Country enough for me.
For me Jeremy has a poets soul and very distinctive voice that washes over me and seeps into my heart whenever I hear him; and if you have never heard him before you are in for a rare treat when you hear Rolling Dice, the deceptively gorgeous So Long Yesterday and more importantly Other Side Of Time; which will have you tilting your ears towards the speakers as he sings in a loud whisper as an ethereal guitar and some angelic drumming fill the spaces behind his carefully crafted words.
In this highly technological world I’ve played this album on a number of different systems including my olde Technics Hi-Fi which has been long banished to the conservatory but strangely; for me songs like Freedom’s Bell and Fields of Our Fathers sound best when played through the tiny and tinny speakers on my laptop; as it gives them an extraordinarily claustrophobic sound that suits the dark and brooding way the songs are delivered.
Not for the first time in recent years; this is a complete album with no nods towards commercialism; this is very much the way Jeremy Nail intended this record to sound and be pieced together and the result is both brittle and beautiful; with one song in particular taking my breath away the first time I heard it; and even today I’ve had to repeat it three times in succession and the story (alongside others) is still unravelling; and I’m sure it will for years to come.
So, the haunting Sea Of Lights is my Favourite Track here; but you will have your own and will cherish it like a first born child’s first mittens or shoes.
For what sounds like a simple Country-Folk/Singer-Songwriter album; according to the sleeve notes there’s a hell of a lot going on behind Jeremy Nail’s voice; but it’s testament to the delicate production, engineering and mastering that you hardly notice them at all; but would miss all those extras if they weren’t there.
Released August 17th 2018
SLOW DOWN E.P
Four Exhilarating, Gritty and Honest Songs From Young Durham Lass.
I actually missed the push on Holly Rees’ single Magpie because we were gallivanting in NYC and it’s actually haunted me ever since; mostly because she’s a local lass from the Durham Dales; but also because it’s a cracking slice of simple yet very articulate Folk that Rocks!
Thankfully I can right that wrong today as it’s the opening track on her new EP. For a simple Acoustic song, producer Matt Dunbar and this delightful young lady certainly create a ‘big noise’ and a noise that deserves to be heard btw.
Sometimes it’s not easy to differentiate between Folk Music and what I prefer to refer as ‘Singer-Songwriters’; and I tend to favour the latter so that’s how I will describe Holly’s approach to her songwriting and singing; it has one foot in the past with Impossible Rules which sounds a bit like singers such as Judie Tzuke or Joan Armatrading who I would see on OGWT and then rush out and buy their latest LPs from Woolworths on Saturday afternoon in the 1970’s; but the sparkling Missing Out will most certainly appeal to fans of Heidi Talbot and Elie Goulding and the current glut of gritty and feisty young women who are headlining on stages at Festivals and Universities across the length and breadth of the UK.
With only four songs to choose from and each with it’s own golden merits; selecting a Favourite Song hasn’t been easy; but with a deep breath and my fingers crossed I’m going for track #2 In My Arms; a darkly beautiful, deeply personal bittersweet love song that felt like a punch to the heart when I first heard it.
Who knows what the future holds for Holly Rees; with a little bit of luck and a couple of plays on Radio 6, she most certainly has the voice and songs to move up the ladder of success with ease; and she most certainly deserves it.
Released August 10th 2018
PARALLEL WATERFALLS (Single)
Hopefully you will remember Simon Murphy’s 2015 album LET IT BE that we loved (and still love) at RMHQ, well apart from making babies with his lovely wife (one toddling and one about to hatch imminently) and continuing the day job as a psychiatric therapist in Belfast (God Bless him!) in his spare time Simon has continued writing perfect songs and even managed a trip or two to Nashville Town pitching his wares, playing a couple of gigs and most importantly writing and co-writing a heap of new songs, which will be released primarily as singles during 2018.
This is the first, a co-write with (Grammy Award Winner no less) Don Henry and is absolutely beautiful……and Simon has given us the EXCLUSIVE first play of the video and you can buy it from the relevant streaming websites in the next couple of weeks; but we suggest you go directly to yer man’s own website listed below.
CRY TO ME (Single)
WAHAY! I’ve come home from a few days in the North Yorkshire hills with no internet access and just when I thought life couldn’t get any better, I found a new single from the legendary John Hiatt waiting for me……and I can’t wait to share it with you guys (and gals).
“John Hiatt is set to return with ‘The Eclipse Sessions’ on 12th October 2018 via New West Records. The 11-track set is the Grammy nominated legend’s first new album in four years. It was produced by Kevin McKendree (Delbert McClinton) and features Hiatt’s longtime drummer Kenneth Blevins and bassist Patrick O’Hearn, as well as Yates McKendree (Kevin’s 17-year old wunderkind son, who also engineered).”
“Hiatt places ‘The Eclipse Sessions’ in a lineage alongside two of his greatest works — 1987’s mainstream breakthrough ‘Bring the Family’, which sprung from an impulsive four-day session with an all-star combo led by Ry Cooder, and 2000’s ‘Crossing Muddy Waters’, an unplanned and largely unplugged effort that garnered a Grammy Award nomination and also set Hiatt on the rootsier path he’s still pursuing today. “The three albums are very connected in my mind,” Hiatt says. “They all have a vibe to them that was unexpected. I didn’t know where I was going when I started out on any of them. And each one wound up being a pleasant surprise.”
There’s a grit to these songs — a craggy, perfectly-imperfect quality that colors every aspect of the performances, right down to Hiatt’s vocals, which are quite possibly his most raw and expressive to date.
The Eclipse Sessions will be available across digital platforms, compact disc, vinyl, as well as a limited split metallic & white vinyl edition available at Independent Retailers. John Hiatt’s The Eclipse Sessions is available for pre-order now via NEW WEST RECORDS http://geni.us/jhtes?track=pr
John Hiatt’s songs have been recorded by Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Iggy Pop, Rosanne Cash, Eric Clapton & B.B. King, and countless others. He has received his own star on Nashville’s Walk of Fame, the Americana Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting, and has been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.”
John Hiatt The Eclipse Sessions Track Listing:
1. Cry To Me
2. All The Way To The River
3. Aces Up Your Sleeve
4. Poor Imitation Of God
5. Nothing In My Heart
6. Over The Hill
7. Outrunning My Soul
8. Hide Your Tears
9. The Odds Of Loving You
10. One Stiff Breeze
11. Robber’s Highway
Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear
THE RADIO WINNERS
A Magnificent and Daring Leap Forward Into the Soul Stratosphere.
A couple of years ago Madisen Ward & Mama Bear were the ‘flavour of the month’ in the music press; not just because they were very good but predominantly because their USP was that they were/are Mother and son, which by any stretch of the imagination is odd in Rock & Roll.
That album Skeleton Crew was a hit around the world and the Dynamic Duo have toured on the back of it non-stop ever since; only stopping earlier this year to record these six tracks.
Obviously a lot has happened in that last three years, as their new ‘sound’ is lot ‘bigger’ and even ‘orchestrated’ which all comes to the fore on opening track Childhood Goodbye which quickly finds Madisen joined by what sounds like a choir on harmonies as a string section swoops in and out like a Summer Breeze.
It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting; but it’s been a very pleasant surprise as the song builds and builds to a pulsating intensity at the end, as does the EP itself.
A lot has happened in the last three years and that comes across in the depth of all six songs here, which are exquisitely written and performed; but the addition of this big production takes them into a whole new arena; with Walk In The Park being very ‘radio friendly’ indeed and the first song on the second side of the vinyl release the ghostly Mother Mary brings the duo’s Gospel and Blues background to the fore and really showcases Master Ward’s magnificently expressive voice extremely well.
Hell and Back Alive, sounds almost like slow Philly Funk-Rock track set to an orchestral backing at times; with Madisen sounding uncannily like Teddy Pendergrass as he pleads for redemption and/or forgiveness from some unnamed woman or higher force.
The final song Family Treason wraps things up nicely with a subtle hip-hop beat behind the choral harmonies and that big old orchestra with Madisen getting low, low, low like many famous Soul-bearers before him; and he matches them note for note.
Which then brings me to my ‘Favourite Song, the heartbreaking Everybody’s Got Problems which is absolutely stunning from the actual words in the story to the pinch perfect production, which has reminded me of Michael Kiwanuka’s groundbreaking album last year, which mixed Soul with Gospel and a heavy dash of Power-Jazz in the choruses.
This has been a 360 degree surprise for me as their debut album, while not exactly ‘raw’ was certainly from a duo; whereas here on these six songs it’s all about Madisen Ward and his magnificent voice with The Mama Bear apart from adding harmonies on Hell and Back and Family Treason, virtually nowhere to be seen or heard.
Released July 27th 2018
Where to start? We’ve been fans of Carrie Elkin for many moons now; and whenever we saw her at Jumpin’ Hot Club she would be accompanied by her adoring husband Danny; who was always prepared to let his wife shine in the spotlight.
Then I received a copy of Owls in 2015 and was blown away; so checked out his back catalogue.
Any way; he has a new album coming out in September and this amazing song……an epic btw, is being released as a teaser for the Kickstarter campaign.
Check it out, it’s about how ‘smart’ girls get missed out and trodden if they aren’t pushy; and when they are ‘pushy’ they get trodden on anyways.
Judge for yourself….but I think this song is a masterpiece and can’t wait for the album!
JOY & INDEPENDENCE
At The Helm Records
A Starkly Beautiful Collection of Stories From English Songwriting Troubadour.
In my less lucid moments I think I pretty much have my finger on the pulse of British Acoustic and Americana style music; and then along comes singer-songwriter and all around troubadour Jason McNiff who has released 5 previous albums including a best selling double retrospective; and I’ve never heard of him.
Shame on me.
This ‘stripped back’ album; and all there ever is is McNiff’s breathy vocals, expertly strummed guitar occasional harmonica with no show-boating to divert your attention from his stunning and articulate songs.
The first thing you hear is the title track Joy and Independence, which uses those words as the Christian names of the young couple in the bittersweet story of carefree love across one glorious year long adventure; 25 years ago.
Is there a happy ending? You didn’t think I would tell you; did you?
Now I’ve played this album 6 or 7 times, I’m truly impressed by McNiff’s storytelling and way with words and imagery which conjures up memories of the first time I heard the likes of Townes, Guy and more importantly Tom Paxton all those years ago.
While McNiff’s presentation style is quite laid back; just like his fore-bearers your ears will keep pricking up as stories unfold; with Dream Of a Highway and Wind of Zaragoza both sounding like any of those three songwriters would have been proud to have been written by them.
With Ed Sheeran filling stadiums across the world, I hope that the current wind of change in Folk Music means that songs like the darkly beautiful Italy and the song for songwriters everywhere, And The Sun Comes Up On My Dreams can find the far reaching audience that they deserve; but the cream always rises to the to anyway, doesn’t it?
When it comes to choosing a ‘Favourite Track’ for you, I’m actually spoilt for choice with the spoken intro to the delightful Midnight Shift initially catching my ear, then the re-working of Stuck In The Past proves to be another wonderful example of a songwriter writing from personal experience; but I’m going for a left of centre choice again with Amanda.
It’s an odd and very brave subject for someone to write about; but this tragic tale of Amanda Knox is the type of song my heroes in the 60’s made careers from; and it’s fair to say Jason McNiff treads very cautiously over the broken glass but comes out with a dramatic yet sad song that will make you ‘think,’ smile and possibly even shed a tear as it slowly unfolds and unwinds.
Tucked away in the middle is Thoughts; a delightful duet with Lily Ramona and it may be the one commercial song here that just might find its way onto radio and therefore draw attention to the rest of this starkly beautiful album.
Released July 27th 2018