This end of year Top 10 Albums malarkey is proving ever more difficult…….. so far we have posted 279 reviews covering Americana, Country, Alt. Country, Cow Punk, Soul, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Blues Rock, singer-songwriters, Folk, Alt. Folk, Nu-Folk, Ska AND Reggae! Each individual album is here on it’s very own merits and we wrote about them because we liked ’em and passionately believed they needed to be heard around the world (speaking of which…….. we had visitors from 371 different countries during 2018!!! 371???? I didn’t know that there was that many!) At one stage the spreadsheet for my Top 10 featured over 50 titles; such has been the quality of releases in 2018; but after a lot of deliberation and heartache, here is my own personal Top 20 albums that were released this year and each ‘surprised or fascinated’ me when I first heard them……….. sorry if you aren’t included.
Kim Richey – Edgeland
Malcolm Holcombe – Come Hell or High Water
Big Boy Bloater – Pills
Stephen Fearing – The Secret of Climbing
Curse of Lono – As I Feel
Gem Andrews – North
Ruby Boots – Don’t Talk About It
Bennett Wilson Poole – Bennett Wilson Poole
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite – No Mercy
Prosecco Socialist – Songs From Behind Bars
Kid Ramos – Old School
John Hiatt – Eclipse Sessions
Susie Vinnick – Shake The Love Around
Abe Partridge – Cotton Fields and Blood For Days
Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore – Downey to Lubbock
Steve Young A Little North of Nowhere Self-Release
Quality Mellow and Laid-Back Americana
I know I shouldn’t, but I do feel guilty when some albums fall by the wayside at RMHQ. Not always of course; but in these days of limited National Media, unsigned acts with no budget for paying for adverts that give them reviews (you know who I mean #wink), it falls to sites like ours to give them a little leg up the ladder of moderate success. Steve Young? Who he? Why should you care? Hailing from the legendary Rock and Roll pantheon that is the Isle of Wight, this is the singer-songwriter-guitarists second album and is already a confirmed Favourite of the ‘random button’ on my mobile phone! My copy is actually two discs, with the second being a series of random ‘live tracks’ that I will come to later; so let’s start with the main album. The gentle A Fools Dream sets the mood quite perfectly, a laid-back tale of unrequited or is it broken love; whichever Young intricately combines the laid back West Coast sound of my youth with the type of cool stuff Jack Johnson and John Mayer have been dropping into the mainstream over the last few years. One of my phones favourite tracks is the pleading Trembling Heart which follows, and for a relatively simple song there’s a whole lot going on behind Young’s honeyed voice; as there is throughout the whole album. For someone who crowd-funded this album; Young has managed a very expensive sounding production worthy of some of America’s more famous studios; most notably on Waiting For My Heart (to catch up with my head) and the delicious Hard Times in a Beautiful Place; which when heard at the proverbial ‘right place and right time’ is quite breathtaking. While the tour that originally accompanied this release in October was as a support in clubs that are the size of my back bedroom I love the way Steve Young ignores that and throws caution to the wind by writing songs and creating an album that sounds like it is meant for the Radio 2 A Playlist! Which is where you should really be able to hear The Greatest Love Song and/or Guilty By My Eyes; which are both 10 x better/cooler than anything Gary Barlow or Eric Clapton has written in the last 20 years! In the nicest possible way this is 21st Century Classy Easy Listening; which may be why Mrs Magpie likes it as much as I do; with Beautiful Tonight being her personal favourite and the delicately perceptive My Son; which touched my heart too. While it could be argued that in more famous hands, this album is full of singles I actually think of it as an old fashioned LP that deserves your full attention and needs to be heard from start to finish in one sitting. That said me and my I-Phone have two Favourite Tracks; the tale of the unheralded troubadour The Great North Road and the charming Celtic tinged love song It’s a Good Thing. The Bonus Disc is a great throwback too; initially introduced by Sir Bob Harris’ s son Miles and then has Steve introducing or at least talking about four of these live ‘rarities’ which I love, the other two songs are re-mix/re-models of songs from an earlier release. A couple of stories that link to the songs are really heart rending; and a will really resonate with other songwriters; most notably how he worked on cruise ships between Copenhagen and Oslo, and wrote dark loves songs i his spare time…… which you would of course in such conditions! Then there is Young’s staggering acoustic re-working of Shine on You Crazy Diamond; which was originally recorded for Harris Jr’s Under The Apple Tree Sessions. I don’t use the word ‘staggering’ lightly here; it was only on the third play that the penny dropped as to what the songs was…..or used t be.
A Rare Story-Telling Rootsy Americana Talent in the Grand Tradition.
As Santa starts pulling on his boots in readiness for grooming the reindeer, I’m still playing ‘catch up’ with reviews from November! Some have already fallen by the wayside, but I can’t let 2018 fade away without telling you about this charming album from son of Baton Rouge Doug Schmude (rhymes with moody apparantly). For once it was a combination of the CD’s artwork and the artiste’s quirky name that drew my attention to this disc two months ago, which has led to several ‘listening sessions’ each of which has helped unfurl ever more from Shmude’s clever and intelligent songwriting. As always I judge albums by their opening track and Setting Fires on the Moon ticks every box I have; a fascinating love story sung by a warmly distinctive voice over a rather lovely melody. What’s not to like? Even Mrs. Magpie found herself tapping her toes to Silas James; but there’s so much more to this snapshot of small-town Middle America than a catchy tune. Who among us won’t have their imagination piqued by the opening lines; “His Hair was whiter as the white album, eyes as Blue as a Skip James song, he knew music like the B-Side of his hand, a song for every problem known to man!” loosely reminding me of my Favourite Song of all time, Mark Germino’s Rex Bob Lowenstein, this is one for all of us. OK it’s a bit of a fantasy song to me; but I really hope Silas James really did exist. This is followed by the darkly brooding Worry Stone which feature some delicious fiddle playing by Georgina Hennessy, and is a very clever story in a Jackson Brown kind of way. As I said at the beginning, it’s one of the songs that slowly unravel the more you hear it. One song especially fascinates me; and it’s one of those songs that make people like me with no talent at all, sit back in awe as they listen. My Daddy’s Musket is something of a historical tale about the Civil Way on the surface; but touches on many things that effect people; especially in the USA today. Congratulations all round chaps and chapesses. Mostly this is a Singer-Songwriter album that straddles the Rootsy edges of Country and the prosaic edge of Modern Folk, but there’s a rocky side to Doug Schmude too; with Salt being a moody Lo-Fi assault on the senses; and one I love to bits! The album closes with the rather delicate title track Burn These Pages, a songwriter’s song in some ways, as it feels like you are intruding on a man’s personal thoughts at times. But that’s the art of the songwriter isn’t it? I’m troubled as to what to choose for my Favourite Song; Silas James certainly has it’s merits as does the haunting Chris Knight song Enough Rope; another intense Lo-Fi rocker that’s chock full of dirty electric guitar and a story-line that Springsteen would have been proud to have written circa The River; but I’m going for the stunning El Tren de la Muerte, a thoughtful ‘Border Song’ in the mould of Tom Russell and Dave Alvin that will surely turn up on albums by Schmude’s contemporary’s in years to come. There’s a whole lot to like here on Doug Schmude’s 4th release; especially the very mature songwriting and the clever production which can be claustrophobic when necessary but also allowing room for songs to breath and slowly filter into your subconscious.
http://www.dougschmude.net/ Released 16th November 2018
Rebecca Loebe is one of those artists that have flitted in and out of my ‘musical life’ a couple of times over the last few years; and I can remember playing a couple of tracks on my Olde Radio Show several years ago. Here we find her again with this gorgeously delicate single Ghosts; taken from the album GIVE UP YOUR GHOSTS due for release in early February; and from the few tracks I’ve played has all the hallmarks of being a bit of a game-changer for this young lady.
So many albums to review and so little time has meant some absolute gems have fallen by the wayside this year; and this flawed diamond nearly followed suit; but even a cursory play in the car on a sunny afternoon over a month ago meant I knew that I had to come back to it sooner or later; as you need to hear this…..you really, really do. A haunting slither of what will probably be described as Alt. Folk in the mainstream press; actually follows in a long line of very intense, quintessentially English singer-songwriters starting with Nick Drake right through to the more recent Martin Longstaff aka Lake Poets. Luke opens his record with an instrumental, of sorts called From The Drove. A hybrid of background noises followed by some kind of acoustic guitar noodling brilliantly leads into the first actual song Snares & Traps. Not for the last time here I can picture the singer clenching his eyes closed as desperately stops himself screaming his very eloquent words out; painfully pouring his heart out alongside some very taught guitar playing. The mood picks up ever so slightly on Speak To Me; and here the guitar playing is almost Spanish in origin which gives this sad song quite an exotic texture, which I wasn’t expecting. The claustrophobic Rabbit Hole is tucked away in the middle; which has a lot going on behind William’s sorrowful voice, but never so much that it ever interferes with the song or indeed, words and story; because this is a song that the sad and lonely at this time of year should listen to……. or perhaps not. At only six tracks and five songs long; I felt a little bit cheated tonight as the brooding You Are The Captain filtered away; as this and especially the winsome, but delicately powerful Still In Bed, which is the RMHQ Favourite here more than hints at a talent that is on the cusp of blossoming into something very special indeed. I don’t know much about Luke James Williams as his e-mails have both been quite short and straight to the point; but in DROVE, from the very first time I played it; (in very much the wrong setting) gave me a shiver down my back, just like the first time I heard Nick Drake and The Lake Poets. As the hipsters would say “Luke James Williams is the Real Deal.”
Released 21st November 2018 http://www.lukejameswilliams.co.uk/
Apart from her name, Holly there isn’t anything Christmassy about this delightful, sad and broken-hearted love song, unless you are sad and broken-hearted at this time of glee and bonhomie; from local lass and friend of RMHQ Miss Holly Rees. A very simple arrangement gets the message across in a way pomp and bombast can never achieve…………………. this goes straight to the heart and stays there.
This time last year one of my best friends bizarrely challenged himself to ‘posting an album a day’ from his ‘musical life’ on Facebook throughout 2018…..which I thought was utter madness! Somehow he’s managed it, and set me thinking…… 352 was far too many surely, perhaps I could post 12 as ‘an album a month’ from across my life, throughout 2019, which became a list that very quickly grew and grew to 50+ i.e an album a week. Then, last week that list was 175 albums! Mercifully I’ve now culled it down to a manageable Festive 100! Seriously; all of these 100 albums have effected my musical tastes over the 50 years since my big brother Brian first gave me a pile of LP’s that he no longer wanted back in the Summer of ’69, with the Dusty Springfield one being part of that package. The first and indeed Top Ten are My Favourite Albums of all time, but the other 90 are various gateways into the many directions which finally brings me to where I am today; and are just the order in which they came into my head. I’ve always had eclectic tastes and an inquisitive mind; but generally, as you will see it’s a pretty commercial collection of albums with nothing intrinsically ‘cool’ or ‘clever’ that I’ve discovered on Google just to impress you…… it’s all a snapshot into my musical life and back catalogue. * As with John’s original idea, the only caveat was that I would only use one album per artist (i.e. Rod Stewart and the Faces being two distinctly seperate turns in my head). Let me know if these stir any memories……………..
Every Picture Tells a Story
Sin of Pride
5 Live Yardbirds
Live in Europe
Rip It Up
London 0 Hull 4
Down By The Jetty
String Driven Thing
The Machine That Cried
Goats Head Soup
I Can Stand a Little Rain
I’m Your Man
Sounds of the New West
Smoove and Turrell
Wheels of Fire
In The City
Last of The True Believers
Mary Chapin Carpenter
Come On Come On
Upstairs at Erics
A Girl Called Dusty
If You Want Blood
Garden in the City
Sweetheart of the Rodeo
In Your Eyes
High on Tulsa Heat
Because It Feel Good
One Step Beyond
Arthur 2 Stroke
Live at Banwells
People Gonna Talk
I’m The Man
Tighten Up Vol 2
High Land, Hard Rain
Night Boat to Bolivia
Skinhead Box Set
Old Is Cool
House of a Thousand Guitars
Girl of Your Dreams
Not The Tremblin’ Kind
Down The River
I’ll Make The Most of My Sins
Justin Townes Earle
Harlem River Blues
A Nod’s as Good as a Wink
Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance
Anymore For Anymore
Bad and Lowdown World
North of a Miracle
Live at Last!
East Side Story
Squeezing Out Sparks
A Little Touch of Schmilsson In The Night
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
A Man Under The Influence
The Houston Kid
Albeit bot anywhere near this list; if one song sums up me and RMHQ…… this is it; local lad made good, Mr John Miles esq. ….. Music (Was my First Love)
A Beautifully Sensitive Epitaph To a Modern Musical Genius.
If you’re reading this I doubt I need to tell you who or what Willard Grant Conspiracy are; or more pertinently ‘were’. But if you are just being inquisitive,they were an ensemble nay, multitude of musicians who gathered around the ever evolving singer-songwriter Robert Fisher, who sadly died on February 12th 2017, and the core of these songs and interludes were written and demoed in the previous 12 months. Now that the rawness of his passing has gone, lone time friend David Michael Curry has re-evaluated the work and gone about creating this final testament to Robert Neil Fisher and Willard Grant Conspiracy. As a side-bar, Fisher lost me off many years ago, leaving me in his slipstream as he blazed a trail somewhere between genius and madness, (in my humble opinion). So; what to make of this final release? As opening track Hideous Beast growled it’s way from the speakers my eyebrows raised so high they nearly touched the back of my neck. Now, with the benefit of hindsight I can’t think of a better way to attract the listener’s attention, but long concealed memories of trying to listen to the crazy and experimental work from Zappa and Beefheart in my teenage bedroom sprung to mind; but hey….it only lasts just shy of two minutes; so no real trauma was done. Mercifully the second song, Do No Harm is more like the Lo-Fi, shoe-gazing introspection that I adored so many years ago, as are several others here that fit that marvelous description too…….especially the dark and almost Gothic I Could Not and the single that trailed the album release, Untethered with its slight Country underscore and Johnny Cash Americana sensitivity. ‘Sensitivity’ is actually a good word to describe the overall ‘feeling’ on this album; Robert always was a canny song-writer; and I know it’s presumptive of me, but as these songs were written after his diagnosis, I think it’s fair to imagine him mining both his heart and Soul when writing and even ‘constructing’ the brittle and beautiful Let The Storm Be Your Pilot, and the breathtaking Share The Load, which will surely reduce many who hear it to tears. Each track here has it’s very own worth; which means choosing a Favourite Track from the wonderfully eclectic mix is difficult to the extreme; but the bleak and brooding Love You Apart certainly bares repeated listening when taken out of context; as does Chasing Rabbits and Margaret on the Porch too; but I’m probably going for the relatively simple Saturday With Jane as the RMHQ Favourite Track, possibly because Robert sounds uncannily like Lou Reed on one of the few songs that would fit into a Radio playlist.
Being the Americana Renaissance Man he was; it’s no real surprise to find two instrumentals here; the quirkilly titled Two Step borders on being Chamber music; when the title suggests something else completely, such is Fisher’s eccentric sense of humour. The other instrumental is Trail’s End, which brings everything to another Zappaesque conclusion, as it meanders and turns left,right and left again before ending as a wild crescendo …….which just may be the perfect epitaph for Robert Neil Fisher Esq. There’s a lot going on here; and an awful lot to like, especially when it’s put into the context of being the last writings and recordings of a man who history will show to be something of a Musical Genius.
We like Ryan Bingham a lot here at RMHQ, and we are looking forward to his UK visit in early 2019 a lot even if he ain’t coming to Newcastle 😦 so it’s been a blast this morning listening to the first song Wolves (especially in this acoustic format) from next year’s AMERICAN LOVE SONG album……… enjoy!
Jesse Kinch I’m Not Like Everybody Else Curb Records
Truth and Beauty By A Star Rising From The Ashes
It’s all too easy for my ageing generation to sneer at the myriad of Talent Show Winners who litter our lives these days; but every so often one or two are genuinely talented……. Leona Lewis, James Arthur and Olly Murs to name but 3 in the UK, and where would Kelly Clarkson be without her leg up from a TV talent show? So kids, forget Musical Snobbery and let me tell you about this album from a winner of ABC’s US Rising Star IN 2014; he’s a lot more talented than you’d imagine….. and in his defence he walked away from his Prize contract with Capital, because ‘this’ is the album he had wanted to make and not just any old Pop-Pap……….so, give him a chance. Obviously I didn’t know his background when I first heard the hip-shaking and head-banging opening track Preaching Like The Pope…… Hell…I just wished I could grow my hair long enough to enjoy it to the Max…Dude! While Kinch cites many and various bands and singers as influences; RMHQ will throw another name into that hat…….. Ian McNabb ex of the Icicle Works. Biff! Bang! Pow! This four minutes of Rock infused Country is straight from Mac’s Merseybeast template…… and it crops up again on the much gentler and more melodic ballad How Do I Reach You? Which follows, and these two songs alone highlight an amazing talent who can slide seamlessly between both worlds with ease. Presumably the handsome young man with the angelic locks isn’t really being directed at my age group; but with quality songs from his very own pen like the raggedy Rock & Roll of Tamed, the ultra-passionate Nighttime In New York City and the winsome and string drenched After All These Lovers will endear him to music fans of all ages and persuasions surely? I’m led to believe his choice of songs to cover in the show where his own; and if that’s true…… Jesse Kinch has impeccable taste and was brought up in a very eclectic household. Kinch cleverly changes the arrangement on I Put a Spell on You to make it sound more like Jose Feliciano than anyone else I can think of; and on RMHQ Favourite I’m a Man he goes all Spencer Davis; which is a name no one under 55 will know of; but hopefully enough youngsters will Google the name and discover a whole garden of earthly delights on You Tube. Jesse drops in a beautiful musical time bomb on yet another classy song from the RMHQ memory bank; the Beatles This Boy, which now has enough pathos to re-float the Titanic, and a song that made me make Mrs Magpie sit down and listen to with no distractions. And…… that’s not even the best cover version here…… that accolade goes to a marvelous re-invention of Billie Jean, which I didn’t even come close to recognising as Kinch plays it on the acoustic guitar with a whole lot of echo; and wow…… I can easily understand why it took America by storm. And…… that’s not even the best song here…… or to be more precise….. not even my favourite song here……. that goes to…..the exquisite title track, and a rare Kinks album track to boot, I’m Not Like Everybody Else. Back in the day this would have been called a Power Ballad; and it still is to some extent, but by jings Jesse Kinch has somehow crafted a very clever Rock song that wouldn’t have been out of place at the top of the charts in any decade across the the last 50 years! There’s a whole lot to like here, with Kinch first and foremost showing himself to be a cracking singer and very accomplished songwriter, plus the inclusion of 5 cover versions certainly isn’t a weakness, as his arrangements show a great talent at work in that area too. # When I first played her the album, Mrs Magpie asked “Is he the guy from A Star Is Born?” Which he obviously isn’t; but methinks will have a very similar demographic of fans of that soundtrack who like quality Rock Music with intelligent and occasionally sensitive lyrics and stories.
Released USA March 16th 2018 Released Europe Jan 18th 2019 (LP & CD) Download and Streaming all areas now.