This has all happened a bit quickly; so apart from saying this new single from Matt McGinn is absolutely lovely, I will leave it to him to tell you the background ……….
Matt; “In November 2019 I was asked by Anthony Toner to join himself, Ciara O’Neill & John McCullough for a lovely evening of music. The theme of the evening was the Moon. With some help from friends and family, I picked out some lovely songs, Moonlight in Vermont, Grapefruit Moon and Werewolves of London. I was annoyed, though, that no matter how much I searched through my back catalogue, I had nothing that I could sing that would relate in the slightest…even at a serious stretch. So I sat down on the morning of the concert to write one. I sat sweating for around four hours looking at a blank page until suddenly it came and flowed out onto the page in around fifteen minutes. How? I’m not sure, but I’m glad I waited for it.
I started recording it in lock-down, building up the track with the intention of getting a rough demo that I could bring into a better equipped studio than mine, with better musicians than me. But as the track built, I started to get attached to everything I had built. But it did need something that I couldn’t provide. I contacted the incredibly talented and lovely couple, Niamh Dunne and Sean Og Graham who had I seen handle a very successful album release under lockdown with their band Beoga. (Brilliant album by the way). Sean and Niamh worked their magic in putting down wonderful accordion and fiddle parts. They weaved their way around my harmonies to create a world for the song that I could not have imagined. The last step was to send it to the Isle of Wight where my long time go-to double bass maestro, Jon Thorne glued the whole thing together.
Today Bandcamp have wavered their commission and the song is on sale today for one day only before it heads to Spotify next month. As I write this, the support of you all is quite astounding. The sales would equal around 200,000 Spotify plays, or in layman’s terms, a day’s pay. Now it will take a few days pay to cover costs and show profit, but even even more importantly, I’m feeling the love. Love for me, my music, this song and even a new larger appreciation for music and artists worldwide. It feels like a movement that has begun. A movement by a lot of people, each making a small change. It’s a very powerful thing. I feel it today and it gives me hope. And for that, most of all, I thank you.”
Paul Kelly and Paul Grabowsky PLEASE LEAVE YOUR LIGHT ON Gawd Aggie/Cooking Vinyl
Inexplicably Cool Arrangements of Legendary Australian Singer-Songwriter’s Classics.
I’ve lost count of the number of Singers and TV Stars over the years, who suddenly ‘re-discover’ their love of The Swing Period (Sinatra, Nat King Cole etc) and coincidentally release an album of ‘standards’ swamped in an orchestral backing on the run up to Christmas ……. invariably the result is a mighty gloop and not worthy of your hard earned cash. Legendary Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, on the other hand has had fellow countryman and famed Jazz pianist Paul Grabowsky arrange 11 of his own songs (plus one wonderful ‘standard’) into arrangements akin to Sinatra’s work with Nelson Riddle and this is the result. I’m a recent convert to the work of Paul Kelly, and would never have thought this format could work; but a balladeer and occasionally, a crooner he is indeed; as opening song True To You proves. I rather like it when artists strip their songs back to basics; but I never expected to hear True to You sound ever more beautiful and, even evocative than the original …… which is due not just to Paul Grabowsky’s new arrangements, but his delicate piano playing too. This is actually true of every other track here; but with Time and Tide, Winter Coat and When a Woman Loves a Man you will most likely be as startled by their inner beauty in a way you never expected. It’s fair to say that Paul Kelly is no Sinatra or Bennett; and he doesn’t try to be at any time …….. but he certainly knows how to use his voice to bring something extra special out of his most famous songs, Please Leave Your Light On and You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed in this extraordinary format. Then, there’s Gods Grandeur. Something of a ‘Soundtrack to 2020’, dark, brooding and intrinsically sharply observational ….. plus Grabowsky’s playing is a little bit frightening at times! I’m not aux fait with all of Kelly’s back catalogue, so a couple of these songs are new to me; and when I first heard Petrichor it genuinely took my breath away; not least because of Paul Grabowsky’s brittle and beautiful playing on the piano. While I’ve obviously focused on Paul Kelly; be under no illusion this is an album where both artists deserve equal billing; all of these songs; and especially Every Time We Say Goodbye could have easily been an unholy mess if it wasn’t for the delicate and sympathetic way the pianist brings out the very best in the singer. While this is very much an album that you put on and just sit back and wallow in from start to finish; there are two very, very special recordings here. Time and Tide sounds like I’ve known it all my life, whereas I don’t think I’ve heard it before in any format and the combination of voice and piano here is truly extraordinary. Then, there’s my Favourite Song here Young Lovers. I already liked the original version; but if one song actually captures the spark of the Sinatra/Riddle combo, that the duo wanted to capture this is it. This is the song that Kelly will undo his tie for, take a sip of whisky from the glass on the Grand Piano, take a deep breath, give a rye smile and launch (for want of a better word) into this timeless narrative set to music. This format could easily have failed; and had Paul Kelly only sang Standards, I fear it would have; but choosing his own songs is something of a Masterstroke, as not only will his own fans love this album; but it should surely bring cross-over Jazz fans to the party too.
Mary Chapin Carpenter The Dirt and the Stars Lambent Light Records (via Thirty Tigers)
Beautiful Songs About The Aches and Pains of a Very Fragile Soul.
Five time Grammy winner Mary Chapin Carpenters 15th. Studio album is her first collection of all-new material since 2016’s Dave Cobb produced “The Things That We Are Made Of”. As far as female singer-songwriters are concerned she is without doubt one of the most successful alive today and indeed has consistently been so over the last 30 odd years. Fact is, my wife and I have seen Mary in concert on numerous occasions and the ‘Chief Operating Officer’ of this household religiously follows Mary’s ‘Virtual Concert’ series that she puts out on Social Media entitled “Songs From Home,” which is filmed at her beautiful home in rural Virginia. The new album was written at that remote farmhouse, but then recorded here in England at Peter Gabriel’s real World Studio near Bath and produced by the highly experienced and very successful Ethan John. The Dirt and the Stars contains 11 new compositions and follows the winning formula which Mary’s fans have become accustomed to hearing over the years. Sometimes difficult subject matters are covered, without any sugar-coating and often coming from a pain with an almost insular perspective. This particular set of songs are not for the faint-hearted. In many ways they are poems and personal stories set to music and therefore the words are so much more relevant than the music. Although, most of the melodies are typically enchanting with slow walking, tortoise paced, laid-back tempos which create a sense of relaxation, until you actually listen to what the lyrics are covering. “Farther Along and Further In” is the opening track, clearly recognising the gradual, sometime distinct, changes that hit everyone as we grow older, whilst “Nocturn” follows the same casual, pedestrian path. The title track probably tells the best story, recalling a time when the confusion of youthful innocence perplexes and confounds even the clearest of thinkers. Deliberately fusing in the melody from the classic Jagger & Richards’ Wild Horses to transplant us all back to her 17th. summer. As well as the best story, this track also has a terrific solo from Mary’s long-time guitarist, Duke Levine, conjuring up a single car driving into the sunset, down a long lost highway. “Asking for a Friend” is a deep, dark introspective and soul searching inquest regarding another failed relationship but cleverly using the modern vernacular of the ‘pretend friend’, then “Old D-35” is all about her faithful, iconic, Martin acoustic guitar. The one song that kinda breaks the mould and stands head and shoulders above the other 10 tracks for me is the politically themed pot-shot “American Stooge”. Apparently, this clunky uptempo song is all about a candidate who ran for President, lost the race then turned into one of his winning opponents side kicks, not just defending the other sides ideology but metamorphosing into a yes-man, even a lackey, indeed ……. a stooge. In summary, it sure wasn’t an easy album to review, knowing and loving her previous catalogue of music as well as I do, enjoying all those superb live concerts here in England and having several family members who all hold MCC is such high esteem. Yes, the music is beautiful, yes the songs are well structured and oh so superbly played, but be prepared to palpably feel the aches and pains of a very fragile soul.
Singles? Really? Do they still have a place? Hopefully, yes and judging by the amount we get sent every week …….. singles may just be as popular as ever. Sadly, because of time and space constrictions at RMHQ we have to dismiss 95% without even listening to them …. as we are predominantly an Albums site; so when we do promote a single it has to be very, very special. And anything the combination of Ben Harper & Rhiannon Giddens put on vinyl has to be special, doesn’t it? So, when the dynamic duo record their version of Nick Drake’s Black Eyed Dog (which has always been a bit of a secret favourite around these here parts) well ……. it’s spine-tingling to say the least; but we will let you decide.
“I’ve always wanted to cover ‘Black Eyed Dog’, but the song was intimidating in its haunted perfection,” Harper says. “Only through collaborating with Rhiannon would I have ever attempted it. When I step back from it, this collaboration should’ve happened long ago, but I’m thrilled that it’s finally here.”
RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON HARD LUCK STORIES (1972 to 1982) UMC / Universal RELEASED September 11th 2020
An expansive 8 CD set featuring all 6 studio albums remastered from the original tapes, with 31 previously unreleased recordings including outtakes, demos and rarities along with live concerts from 1975 and 1977. This first ever comprehensive career retrospective was personally curated by Richard and Linda and compiled and mastered by Andrew Batt.
Alongside the 3 classic Island Records releases, ‘I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’, ‘Hokey Pokey’ and ‘Pour Down Like Silver’, the box set also includes the long out of print albums, ‘First Light’ and ‘Sunnyvista’ (both new transfers from recently relocated masters) as well as their final LP, ‘Shoot Out The Lights’. Disc one, called ‘Sometimes It Happens’ compiles their formative collaborations as solo performers with The Bunch and Brian Patten and disc five, ‘The Madness of Love’, contains 5 stunning live performances recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in April 1975 and a further 5 songs recorded live at The Theatre Royal, London in May 1977.
This comprehensive box set covers the couple’s entire career and is a must-have for fans of Richard and Linda Thompson as well as a definitive introduction to a body of work which resonates, and is still revered today. The set also contains a 72-page hard cover book featuring brand new essays plus many rare and previously unpublished photographs by some of rocks greatest photographers including Keith Morris, Gered Mankowitz and Pennie Smith, as well as images from Richard and Linda’s own archives. Sleevenotes for the box set are written by Patrick Humphries and Mick Houghton.
During the 10 years they officially performed together, Richard and Linda Thompson created a seminal body of work, ground-breaking in its time and, as this new box set demonstrates, still sounding fresh and relevant today. Their lasting impact on the musical landscape is unparalleled, evidenced by the numerous contemporary artists who cite them as major influences and the enviably high regard in which they continue to be held.
DISC ONE – SOMETIME IT HAPPENS – THE EARLY YEARS
01: Sweet Little Rock and Roller – The Bunch – Alt version ( 3:48 ) Previously Unreleased 02: The Locomotion – The Bunch from Rock On ( 3:02 ) 03: My Girl In The Month of May – The Bunch from Rock On ( 2:13 ) 04: When Will I Be Loved – duet with Sandy Denny ( 3:17 ) 05: Amazon Queen ( 3:58 ) – Previously Unreleased 06: Shaky Nancy from Henry The Human Fly ( 3:28 ) 07: The Angels Took My Racehorse Away from Henry The Human Fly ( 4:02 ) 08: Embroidered Butterflies from Brian Patten’s ‘Vanishing Trick’ ( 3:17 ) 09: After Frost from Brian Patten’s “Vanishing Trick” ( 1:57 ) 10: Sometimes It Happens – Demo – from ‘Dreams Fly Away’ ( 2:06 ) 11: Restless Boy – Demo – from ‘Give Me A Sad Song’ ( 4:17 ) 12: The World Is A Beautiful Place from ‘ Give Me A Sad Song’ ( 3:30 ) 13: Shady Lies – Live at London University College, 25/10/1972 ( 2:23 ) 14: Napoleon’s Dream – Live at London University College, 25/10/1972 (2:02)
DISC TWO – I WANT TO SEE THE BRIGHT LIGHTS TONIGHT – EXPANDED
01: When I Get To The Border ( 3:26 ) 02: The Calvary Cross ( 3:52 ) 03: Withered and Died ( 3:25 ) 04: I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight ( 3:08 ) 05: Down Where The Drunkards Roll ( 4:06 ) 06: We Sing Hallelujah ( 2:51 ) 07: Has He Got A Friend For Me ? ( 3:33 ) 08: The Little Beggar Girl ( 3:25 ) 09: The End Of The Rainbow ( 3:56 ) 10: The Great Valerio ( 5:23 )
BONUS TRACKS 11: Mother and Son ( 2:21 ) – Previously Unreleased 12: Down Where The Drunkards Roll – Take 1 ( 4:04 ) – Previously Unreleased 13: The End Of The Rainbow – Linda Thompson vocal version ( 3:57 ) – Previously Unreleased 14: A Heart Needs A Home – Demo version ( 3:58 ) – Previously Unreleased 15: The Great Valerio from Live at the Rainbow 16/03/1975 ( 5:16 )
DISC THREE – HOKEY POKEY – EXPANDED
01: Hokey Pokey Song (The Ice Cream Song) ( 3:22 ) 02: I’ll Regret It All In The Morning ( 3:36 ) 03: Smiffy’s Glass Eye ( 2:53 ) 04: Egypt Room ( 3:52 ) 05: Never Again ( 3:08 ) 06: Georgie On A Spree ( 3:40 ) 07: Old Man Inside A Young Man ( 4:26 ) 08: The Sun Never Shines On The Poor ( 3:41 ) 09: A Heart Needs A Home ( 3:47 ) 10: Mole In A Hole ( 3:26 )
BONUS TRACKS 11: Hokey Pokey – Live on Marc Time – 1975 ( 3:13 ) – Previously Unreleased 12: A Heart Needs A Home – Alternate 1976 version ( 4:03 )
DISC FOUR – POUR DOWN LIKE SILVER – EXPANDED
01: Streets of Paradise ( 4:17 ) 02: For Shame Of Doing Wrong ( 4:43 ) 03: The Poor Boy Is Taken Away ( 3:34 ) 04: Night Comes In ( 8:11 ) 05: Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair ( 2:49 ) 06: Beat The Retreat ( 5:52 ) 07: Hard Luck Stories ( 3:51 ) 08: Dimming Of The Day / Dargai ( 3:52 )
BONUS TRACKS 09: Wanted Man ( 5:35 ) – Previously Unreleased 10: Last Chance – Previously Unreleased ( 3:42 ) 11: Dimming Of The Day – Demo version ( 3:52 ) – Previously Unreleased 12: Things You Gave Me – Live at Oxford Polytechnic, 27/11/1975 ( 2:35 ) 13: It’ll Be Me – Live at Oxford Polytechnic, 27/11/1975 ( 4:24 ) 14: Calvary Cross – Live at Oxford Polytechnic, 27/11/1975 ( 13:24 )
DISC FIVE – THE MADNESS OF LOVE – LIVE – * Previously Unreleased
01: Dargai – Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall 25/04/1975 ( 3:33 ) * 02: Never Again -Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall 25/04/1975 ( 3:07 ) * 03: Dark End Of The Street – Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall 25/04/1975 remixed ( 4:19 ) * 04: Beat The Retreat – Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall 25/04/1975] remixed( 6:24 ) * 05: The Sun Never Shines On The Poor – Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall 25/04/1975( 3:48 ) * 06: If I Were A Woman and You Were A Man – Theatre Royal, London, 01/05 1977 ( 2:54 ) * 07: The Madness of Love – Live, Theatre Royal, London, 01/05 1977 ( 7:00 ) * 08: Night Comes In (Linda vocal) – Live, Theatre Royal, London, 01/05 1977 ( 12:53 ) * 09: A Bird In Gods Garden – Live, Theatre Royal, London, 01/05 1977 (9:33) * 10: The King of Love – Live, Theatre Royal, London, 01/05 1977 ( 6:55 ) * 11: Layla – Live, Theatre Royal, London, 01/05 1977 ( 8:48 ) *
DISC SIX – FIRST LIGHT – EXPANDED
01: Restless Highway ( 3:58 ) 02: Sweet Surrender ( 4:53 ) 03: Don’t Let A Thief Steal Into Your Heart ( 4:43 ) 04: The Choice Wife ( 2:06 ) 05: Died For Love ( 7:01 ) 06: Strange Affair ( 3:08 ) 07: Layla ( 4:22 ) 08: Pavane ( 5:07 ) 09: House of Cards ( 3:30 ) 10: First Light ( 4:22 )
BONUS TRACKS 11: Strange Affair – Demo version ( 4:09 ) – Previously Unreleased 12: Drunk – Demo version ( 2:14 ) – Previously Unreleased 13: The Dust Of Your Road – Demo version ( 2:33 ) – Previously Unreleased 14: Layla – Demo version ( 4:38 ) – Previously Unreleased 15: Died For Love – Demo version ( 4:47 ) – Previously Unreleased 16: First Light – Demo version ( 4:03 )
DISC SEVEN – SUNNYVISTA – EXPANDED
01: Civilization ( 5:01 ) 02: Borrowed Time ( 5:34 ) 03: Saturday Rolling Around ( 3:24 ) 04: You’re Going To Need Somebody ( 3:47 ) 05: Why Do You Turn Your Back ? ( 5:09 ) 06: Sunnyvista ( 4:24 ) 07: Lonely Hearts ( 5:05 ) 08: Sisters ( 4:47 ) 09: Justice In The Streets ( 4:00 ) 10: Traces Of My Love ( 4:05 )
BONUS TRACKS 11: Georgie On A Spree – 7” single version ( 3:28 ) 12: Lucky In Life – Demo version ( 2:42 ) – Previously Unreleased 13: Speechless Child – Demo version ( 4:17 ) – Previously Unreleased 14: Traces of My Love – Demo version ( 4:13 ) – Previously Unreleased 15: For Shame Of Doing Wrong [Gerry Rafferty version] ( 4:16 ) 16: The Wrong Heartbeat [Gerry Rafferty version] ( 3:09 ) 17: Back Street Slide (Gerry Rafferty session, 1996 remix) ( 4:27 )
DISC EIGHT – SHOOT OUT THE LIGHTS – EXPANDED
01: Don’t Renege On Our Love ( 4:17 ) 02: Walking On A Wire ( 5:26 ) 03: A Man In Need ( 3:34 ) 04: Just The Motion ( 6:17 ) 05: Shoot Out The Lights ( 5:22 ) 06: Back Street Slide ( 4:31 ) 07: Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed ? ( 4:49 ) 08: Wall of Death ( 3:43 )
BONUS TRACKS 09: Living In Luxury – 7” single version ( 2:32 ) 10: The Wrong Heartbeat – Shoot Out The Lights version ( 3:20 ) 11: I’m A Dreamer – Gerry Rafferty session – 1996 remix ( 4:09 ) 12: Walking On A Wire – Gerry Rafferty session – 1996 remix ( 5:12 ) 13: Pavanne – Live, Bloomington, Indiana 29/5/1982 (5:38) – Previously Unreleased 14: High School Confidential – Live, 2nd Story, Bloomington, Indiana 29/5/1982 ( 4:29 ) – Previously Unreleased
Mainstream Beckons Again After a Shakespearean Adventure.
One thing you can’t accuse Rufus Wainwright of, is being ‘in a rut with his music’ as, yet again on album number 9, he switches his mood with a venture towards mainstream. One of my RW gigs at Sage Gateshead involved a ‘request from the artist’ to, ‘kindly refrain from applause during the first half of the concert’ and, amazingly, the rather startled NE audience acquiesced, albeit with puzzled glances to left and right for potential refuseniks; although none emerged! His second set that night was just sheer brilliance as he demonstrated his ability to keep an audience on side – yet another example of his musical prowess when he harnesses it fully. Ventures into albums based on Shakespeare sonnets and operatic arias have been replaced here with a far more straightforward album and, in the main, this works well as he gives us the chance to hear his voice and the vast and varied range of lyrics I have come to expect from him. The opener Trouble In Paradise stopped me in my tracks as I thought I had switched on a Joseph Arthur track, but a few bars in and it was clearly Rufus with his take on the fashion industry, for some of the problems in the world ‘There’s always trouble in paradise even with the drinks neat or on ice’. A homage to Joni Mitchell (as a love letter) in Damsel In Distress ‘behind the Square of Sloan under the English Moon within the Chelsea sky’ is what I would call a typical Wainwright album track – a story wrapped in well designed lyrics and certainly worthy of the subject. You Ain’t Big is his take on the need to be a success; ‘big in Alabama’ in the true mid America states before you can make it to the top with references to Wichita, Kansas or ‘at least Southern West Virginia’ although what he has against Lawrence in Kansas remains a question mark! The piano in Romantical Man dovetails brilliantly with his voice (and the choir in the background); and on this track I feel this is the Rufus Wainwright that most listeners would recognise although it still doesn’t beat Damsel in Distress to the best album track award. I wondered who the Peaceful Afternoon track was aimed at ‘I pray yours is the last face I see’ and I have to hold my hands up to the fact that another reviewer revealed it was about John Weisbrodt, a theatrical producer and his partner/husband for several years. Personally, I probably tag Rufus in the same category as John Grant – performers able to deal with fairly complicated big backing numbers. but (in my opinion) at their very best in the tracks that are stripped right back to basics. They allow the artists to show their full range of their voice and the significance of the lyrics. My Little You is the track that demonstrates his ability to handle the sadness with equal aplomb to the humour of You Ain’t Big. Early Morning Madness allows him the chance to drop in a track that wouldn’t be out of place played in a jazz cafe in front of a sparse crowd seeing out the night and going along with the early morning madness and sadness described in the song and leading up to a fade away finale. Apparently, the album is split (like the theatre) into separate acts and Alone Time reveals the need for a ‘ittle on my own time but ‘don’t worry I will be back later to get you on the wings of a perfect song’. Wainwright at his best allowing the listener to hear him at his best. There is no doubt he is very talented but he will always be a Marmite type of artist; but approaching his half century maybe this will be the time for him to push on and to produce his finest work in the latter stages of his career. Having listened to the album on several occasions I can honestly say that this is far more like the music that I associate with him – a very accomplished singer/songwriter with many good years ahead of him. Not long after I finished this review I saw that he is due to appear in Newcastle late in 2021 (hopefully; in the current climate) and I reckon that having heard this album I will venture out, but in the hope that I will be allowed to applaud all of the numbers I like and appreciate.
The Daintees SALUTATION ROAD (30th Anniversary) Lilac Tree Records
Teenage Angst Rekindled As Tender Middle-Aged Modernism.
I’m not sure if re-recording Salutation Road is the bravest decision Martin G Stephenson has ever made in his career; or the most bleedin’ obvious! The original album is still held in reverential terms by the singers loyal fans; yet I doubt he has sung any of these songs in their original format in the last 29 years! So, with the 30th Anniversary approaching Martin gathered the Dunn brothers Anth and Gaz alongside drummer extraordinaire Shayne Fontaine in a studio in downtown Airdrie, Scotland and has somehow managed to rekindle the original excitement that these songs produced way back when; but instill them all with thirty years of wisdom and reincarnations from all those concerts in-between recordings. There’s bound to be some trepidation when you first press ‘play’; but all worries are instantly cast aside when you hear Martin’s road worn and honeyed voice almost sighing the words to Spoke in The Wheel; and the warmth that the quartet produce is actually quite astounding. Fans will recognise every song here; but it’s best in my opinion to treat this as a brand new album; as ‘comparing and contrasting’ is as futile as it will be heartbreaking. To paraphrase someone famous, “they are playing all of the right notes; just not necessarily in the order you’d expect them.” For me, there’s a new depth to many of the songs; Long Hard Road and Heart of The City spring to mind, now oozing maturity in the way both are fashioned; and not least the timbre in Martin’s voice. As anyone who has ever seen MG Stephenson play live in any of his guises, you will know that he reinvents songs on a whim and often to suit the mood of the audience; which brings me to the Jumpin’ Hot rendition of Too Much in Love which features some scorching fiddle playing in the background from Neil James Morrison; and Morning Time now sounds like a glorious hybrid of Lonnie Donegan and Wes Montgomery with Matt Monro singing ……. bizarre, I know….. but this is Martin Stephenson after all! It’s no surprise at all to find surprises around every corner, with In The Heal of The Night sounding dark and brooding and almost epic, which is not how I remember it at all. We Are Storm on the other hand features some of the sweetest guitar picking I’ve ever heard on a Daintees record and Morning Time runs it a close second in that department, with Gaz Dunn surely being one of the most underrated players in the industry. A few songs on the original album appear to have faded from my memory over the years; but that just makes the delicate Migrants and the more jaunty Too Much In Love all the more refreshing when they came out of the care speakers. The two ‘Hits’ from this album are staples of any and every concert by the Bard of Brady Square; and here he’s turned both Salutation Road and Left Us to Burn upside down and inside out. The former is another very 50’s Jazz inspired re-interpretation and yet again Neil James Morrison manages to make his fiddle fizz and spark alongside Martin’s winsome vocal performance. Then, of course there’s Left Us To Burn. My first reaction was …… “Ooh! I’m not sure about that.” As it’s no longer the ‘piss n vinegar’ angry anthem of our youth, as Martin has deconstructed it and now made it sound like he’s looking back through the eyes of a Middle Aged Man, which he is and I am and you probably are too (unless you are a Middle Aged Woman ……. but you get my drift.) Two weeks in; I’m really, really loving it; especially the Jazz ‘scat poetry’ in the verses that make it ‘different’ in a cool way. I’ve surprised myself by not selecting either as my Favourite Track; as there is an absolute ‘musical diamond’ that I’d forgot about have, but has evolved beyond belief in the last 30 years. Big North Lights; always a ‘touching’ and romantic song, seems to take on a whole new resonance here with the band’s new ‘sound’ and the wailing harmonica does it absolutely no harm at all, either. But the constituent parts that the instruments play are very much second to MG Stephenson’s beautiful and charming lyrics: “Brighter than any neon lights Kinder than any London light Warmer than the New York lights Northern lights are humble lights my friend.” Which somehow sum up the album and becomes my Favourite Song by an edge. Martin Stephenson is such a prolific songwriter it’s difficult to keep up with him at times; but it sounds like he’s thoroughly enjoyed re-visiting his younger self and updated a Classic album in a way that certainly hasn’t harmed any songs; but by fiddling with the arrangements managed to give them all a new found gravitas that only comes with age and wisdom.
P.S Martin cuts a rather dashing figure on the new CD cover sporting a sexy Newcastle Utd scarf, whereas the Dunn Brothers rather lower the tone with their red n white ones.
Having seen CMA (that’s how she signs her autographs btw – I’m not being rude) with a band and solo, I know there’s a lot of debate between her followers as to which musical setup suits her best. Ever the fence-sitter, I can see virtue in both – and “Old Flowers” should satisfy both sides of the debate, as it’s a more stripped back band album than “Honest Life” and “May Your Kindness Remain” with only three performers – Courtney, Twain’s Matthew Davidson and Big Thief’s James Krivchenia – and this pushes the emotion and heart-rending soul in Courtney’s voice to the fore; piano dominated songs take up most of the album and create an ambience of beautiful melancholy. In pre-release interviews, Courtney has clarified that the album was “inspired” – such an ironic word under the circumstances – by her coming out of a nine year relationship. As a result, it’s cathartic and confessional. In lesser hands such subject matter could have resulted in navel-gazing but not here. Focusing on the small moments and making them universal, CMA makes the acute details of personal experience speak to everyone who’s been through similar emotions…and that’s a lot of us. In opener “Burlap String”, an early teaser release, she states she’s a “sceptic of love” and wishes for the gift of hindsight because “there’s no replacing someone like you” – it’s a razor sharp moment of regret. “Guilty” which follows discusses the difficulty of letting go and starting again as feelings are still there, based around a Neil Youngesque piano accompaniment. “If I told”, the tremulous first released track from the album deals with the danger of baring your soul and of the ineffable nature and mystery/uncertainty of attraction. “Together or alone” looks at the perseverance of feeling from the first moment onwards and there’s the speculation that maybe some time in the future that the pain of the current moment will be softened either “Together or alone” – there’s simultaneous hope and resignation throughout; it’s that moment when you’re not in or out of coping with feeling for the other person. Mid album there’s “Carnival dream” with its “I may never let love in again” refrain and funereal snare – I defy anyone not to well-up listening to this – it hits deep and hard and in the wee small hours it’ll have you in bits. Title track “Old Flowers” changes perspective “You can’t water old flowers” – it’s that point where there’s a realisation that something good has gone but there’s the germination of strength – “I’m on my own now – but I don’t feel alone”. In “Break the Spell” things get harder still – it’s about the push and pull of trying to make something work and the conflicts, truths and lies that we want to believe and yet, deep down know aren’t true – about being in limbo. If he could “break the spell”, then that would make things clearer and simpler. “It Must Be Someone Else’s Fault” takes the narrative into the realm of self-analysis and self-re-creation “I’ve gone bad but the world is good” with an underlying ache yet acceptance of one’s self. The intimate “How You Get Hurt” ends on a note of emotional shutdown – if you don’t “let your guard down/You make a move and then it doesn’t work out” then there’s no pain – simple as – no romantic illusion here. There’s a largely linear thread of an emotional journey throughout the album, but with ebb and flow as emotions well and subside on the path to separation – it’s an encapsulation of a pivotal point in life that many of us have experienced and in exploding the detail of her experience, Courtney Marie Andrews has created great beauty through her shared emotion. Album closer “Ships in the night” goes for closure and offers a pragmatic attitude and coping strategy and places the relationship in a longer term context.
Paul McClure I Love You In The Morning Clubhouse Records
We rather like the ‘Rutland Troubadour’ Paul McClure, here at RMHQ; as there’s something ‘special’ about his songwriting and softly expressive voice that appeals to us (Mrs Magpie & I). He skirts what we know as Modern Folk and Americana without sitting comfortably in either camp; so will will put him into the Singer-Songwriter camp; of old. We’ve been sitting on this release for a few weeks now, and my trusty i-phone keeps finding it and teasing me; as I’d promised to post my words on the eve of the release date. As is the fashion; and something of a necessity both the A-Side, I Love You in The Morning and the B-Side Shoe Song Blues were not just written but recorded during #lockdown; somehow using modern technology remotely to bring the band together; which still baffles yet impresses me. Whatever; these are two stunningly beautiful and simple love songs; something we don’t hear enough of these days; and the world is a slightly better place for their release.
Sharp and Canny Folk Songs From the Traditional to Contemporary
Like many ‘local singer-songwriters’ around the globe, Chris Riley has to adopt many guises to make a living; and we’ve previously reviewed two of his previous diverse releases; the Irish influenced Folk trio The Dicey Rileys and his Rhythm & Blues combo The False Poets, but here he throws caution to the wind and goes completely solo! The opening song Syracuse features a deceptively clever acoustic intro which is sure to catch your attention; and Riley’s warm and expressive voice; hewn from the Durham coalfield takes us on a delightful journey to love in a foreign field. The next track, Pocket Full of Rhymes could have been an alternative album title; as it’s the cornerstone for most every other song here; a gently observational and autobiographical song about the life of a wandering troubadour. Like all of his peers in the Folk World; be that traditionalists like Ralph McTell and Tom Paxton or romantics such as Jackson Browne or James Taylor; Chris Riley manages to find beauty and interest in many things around us all, the things most of us miss and he manages to make Mad Machine into a brilliant example of a songwriter’s art. Here Chris explores the dark side of life too on Gaia’s Answer and When The Roses Bloom, with both making me sit quite still and really focus on the lyrics each time I’ve listened. As a collection of songs created over many years, it’s nice to hear his various influences and styles filter through each and every song, from Traditional Folk (both British AND American) through a bit of Country and coming out with some experimental, nee Prog Folk at the end! Love songs you ask? Of course – the brittle Autumn Colours will send a shiver down your spine, and When The Roses Bloom too, but don’t expect ‘Moon in June’ imagery. Then there’s the instrumental Fistful of Quavers nodding to the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns as it does; as well as my wife’s favourite snack at the same time. But; there’s also the creepy and poetic The Dirge; which is almost cinematic in concept and the guitar work tips towards the work of both John Williams and Martin Carthy, if such a thing is possible. Although both are absolutely lovely; I’m by-passing Kirsten’s Song and the charming Charlotte’s Tune in my quest for a Favourite Song, and debating between two tracks. The first, and this is quite sad for a Reviewer of Universal acclaim like what I is; I’ve been sorely tempted to go for the title track Cestrian; simply because of the title ‘Cestrian’ (i.e a dweller of Chester le Street, which is about 4 miles from where I live and a drinking area which I regularly frequented in my youth); but the bizarre, almost Prog-Folk instrumental actually misses out to Fortune All Around Me; a wonderful song which evoked memories of the teenage me discovering Ralph McTell and Richard Thompson and the dark and evocative delights of British Folk Music which, when done well; is as good as any other style of music in the world; and Chris Riley has written and produced a minor gem with this one. Chris Riley is probably too old with a day job to boot, to tour the world bringing his songs to adoring audiences of all ages; but thankfully his music will always be available to download and also buy on Compact Disc (for the hipsters out there) and bring joy to you and yours in the comfort of your own homes for years to come.