Powerfully Addictive Songs That Outshine Her Peers.
Even though the sun was shining outside this morning, it isn’t inside my head and I spent over half an hour pressing ‘play’, ‘stop’, ‘next’ on the RMHQ laptop in the vain hope of finding something to suit my mood and eventually I came across Danni Nicholls’ heartrending and sorrowful voice pining on opening track Wild Is The Water; and I knew that I’d found just what I was searching for. Hopefully my current mood isn’t the targeted demographic Ms. Nicholls is looking for; but that song somehow stung a chord for me; and the peppier Losing It which follows made my bottom lip tremor; if you get my meaning. Danni Nicholls has one of those pearlescent voices that have always been popular in Country Music and has the ability to capture the attention and make absolutely everything listenable, non more so than the melodramatic Hear Your Voice which builds and builds like a romantic thriller on TV. That’s not to say these songs, often co-written with RMHQ favourites Ben Glover and Robby Hecht, wouldn’t still be good in other hands; but Danni brings out that ‘something extra’ when she pours her heart and soul into Power To Leave and the haunting Unwanted. Danni Nicholls’ voice also has the ability to draw out a cinematic intensity in the deeply personal songs Texas and Hear Your Voice, without ever setting her volume control at anything over 4 or possibly 5; which is quite some feat. The one dilemma I have here is finding a slot to place the album into; Danni certainly sounds ‘Country,’ but in the Emmylou and Gretchen Peters area of expertise; and although Danni is 100% British, there’s an all pervading sense of enigmatic and Pure Americana in Ancient Embers and the wistful Wish I Were Alone, which also has a Folk tinge to it too. Hey! Who needs pigeon-holes? Good music is just that; good music. I’m a sucker for a straight up Love Song and the finale, Hopeless Romantic could easily have been written for me; yet Danni Nicholls sings it in the first person, so perhaps I’m not alone feeling this way, after all. There’s a beautifully timeless quality to all of these songs and Producer Jordan Brooke Hamlin should be congratulated too, for creating a wonderful musical landscape for Danni Nicholls to pour her heart out in song; and what great songs they are too.
Josh Ritter All Some Kind of Dream (Single) Pytheas Recordings/Thirty Tigers
The latest single taken from Josh Ritter’s forthcoming tenth LP (produced by Jason Isbell), ‘All Some Kind Of Dream’ sees this RMHQ Favourite at his best – blending heartfelt, introspective Americana with his renowned alt-country charm. Partner that with Isbell’s masterful production and you’re left with some of Josh Ritter’s finest work to date. The singer-songwriter’s tenth LP, Fever Breaks, is due for release April 26th via Pytheas Recordings/Thirty Tigers and as well as drafting the mighty Jason Isbell on production duties, he’s also got the multiple Grammy-winning musician’s 400 Unit band featuring on the songs too.
Anna Tivel The Question Fluff & Gravy / Proper Records
Razor Sharp and Intimately Epic American Folk Songs.
I had a bucket load of CD’s to write about that are being released for Record Store Day 2019, when I got my dates mixed up and dropped this release from singer-songwriter Anna Tivel from Portland, Oregon into the office CD Player, when halfway through opening track The Question I was stopped in my tracks and had to return to the start. Phew, blimey and even crikey! What a way to start a record of what is primarily pure and simple American Folk Music. While these songs are certainly ‘pure of heart’ they are as far from ‘simple’ as you can get. As there is such a brilliant ‘twist to the tale’ it would be wrong of me to talk to much about this amazing song, less I give the game away. But what I will say is the the character Anna sings about is going through something a close friend and colleague is going through too at this very moment, and both have brought me to tears. What a brilliant way to start any album. Then there is track #2 Fenceline, which I will come back to at the end as this sublime and ever so timely story is by far and away my Favourite Song on an album that will surely turn up in my year end Top 10. Then, there is track #3 the dark and ethereal Shadowland which could well have been written after the songwriter had immersed herself in Leonard Cohen’s Masterworks for a week or more, such is the way her flawless and poetics words join together and float mercilessly from the speakers. Then again, most songs here are in that vein too. I wish I had the time and space to speak longingly about every single song here; but I will leave those surprises for you to discover for yourself. What I will say though is songs like Minneapolis and Velvet Curtain aren’t anywhere near as delicate as Shane Leonard’s production and Brian Joseph’s engineering would have yo believe at first hearing. These songs, and the album as a whole demand your FULL ATTENTION…… as I will be asking questions later. On any other album the song *Anthony would easily be my Favourite Track. A ‘break up song’ par excellence and unlike any other I think I’ve ever heard. I’ll tell you how good it is; if Anthony ever crosses my path I will ‘Biff him on the nose’ for breaking Anna’s brittle little heart. Bastard! As a CODA to that song, there’s the incredible and punchier Worthless which if it’s not about Anthony it’s about someone very similar….. and he too will get a Biff on the nose too! The actual Winner of the RMHQ Favourite Song is Fenceline. Flipping Heck Mother! If ever there was a song that was ‘of its time’ it’s this one; while not exactly a protest song per se; this harrowing and epic tale of a man trying to cross the Mexican/American Border is so well told and created it is surely a song waiting for a film for it to be the soundtrack to. Anna’s story builds and builds alongside the notes her crystal clear voice reach until I found my fists had clenched tight. This is a song that should be on the school curriculum and played every day at morning assembly. Plus, if ever the likes of Joan Baez or Judy Collins were on the look out for a song that captured the current Zeitgeist they need look no further. I love discovering new artistes and music then having the ability to pass it on to you crazy kids…… and albums like THE QUESTION are the lifeblood of RMHQ and are what keep us going. So; instead of squandering your pocket money during Record Store Day or even on chocolate eggs for Easter; save your cash and invest it in THE QUESTION …… you won’t be disappointed.
*Hopefully Anthony is actually a fictitious character that Anna Tivel has made up for this song. I hope so for his sake!
John Paul White The Hurting Kind Single Lock Records
Country Songs For Not Just Only The Lonely But the Hopeful Too.
Even if I didn’t already know who John Paul White was the stunning Blue Notesque artwork on the album cover would certainly have caught my attention in a record shop; and I would cross my fingers that that haunted look in the singers eyes was a foretaste of what was to come. And my second sight would have been 100% correct. White’s songs in his previous incarnation as half of the Civil Wars and then his last solo album Beulah were always heartfelt and on the sadder edges of Country Music; but from opening song The Good Old Days you get the feeling this young man has spent the intervening years wallowing in the section of his record collection that includes Hank, George, Patsy, Raul and more likely than not……. Roy Orbison. What a way to start an album; and man, oh man will that song take your breath away. It’s never been in any doubt that White was/is one of the finest songwriters of his generation and here he surrounds himself with some really clever co-writers; but even I have been surprised by the depths of his soul that he manages to mine for the winsome The Long Way Home or Yesterday’s Love and the stunning and occasionally stinging title track itself, The Hurting Kind which will all break hearts left, right and centre across the Western World. John Paul White admits to attempting to recreate the Classic Country sound of the early 1960’s when they went into the studio; and he has certainly managed that with ease, but just like Buddy Holly he’s managed to include luscious orchestrations throughout that never threaten to overshadow his magnificent voice or contemporary and it has to be said, edgy lyrics either. If there’s a theme here; and as it’s a Country Album in all but name; the golden thread is ‘Love’ in all it’s forms. On I Wish I Could Write You a Song, White adds some Twang as a metaphor for the way his heart feels as he attempts to tell the girl how he feels. I can only think he missed a Million Dollar Trick by not releasing this on St. Valentine’s Day! The song that already appears to picking up interest is the world weary duet with Lee Ann Womack, This Isn’t Gonna End Well and it’s as wonderful a Country duet as you will hear this year, or indeed methinks…… this century! But…… that’s not even the best song here! Nor is Mrs. Magpie’s selection for Favourite Song My Dreams Have All Come True, the one where White takes melancholy into a whole new stratosphere. Nope, the best song here (in my humble opinion) is Heart Like a Kite, a fairly simply constructed song by the high standards that White sets here; but one full of metaphors and longing that will reduce grown men to a mushy heap. Just imagine White sitting on a porch with his Stetson tipped back on his head as he fights back the tears while singing, “She’s got a heart like a kite Floating away all the time But I’m holding on for dear life But she’s got a heart like a kite.” Come on; if George Jones had wrote that verse there’s not a jukebox in America that wouldn’t still be playing it today. It would have been all too easy for John Paul White to have stayed in the shadows with his current career as a ‘Go-To’ Producer; but no…… he’s a songwriter and singer first and foremost, and he’s dug deep here to create in many ways a career-defining album that should and will not just feature in many Reviewers Top 10’s of 2019; but will surely see him in the running for yet another Grammy.
Las night I planned to review something completely different than this latest release by DL Rossi, but after not playing it for a couple of weeks, something drew me to the artwork on the cover and here I am, about to start gushing about this guy, his voice and his wonderful songs. I’ve said before ‘music effects you in many ways depending on your emotional state at a particular time’ and so it has been with this EP/Album this morning. I knew the songs from a couple of weeks ago; but this morning …… woah…. they have taken me not just by surprise but as a musical hostage! At first sight opening track This Road is a staple of the Americana/Roots scene; but there’s something quite magical about the way Nolan Rossi’s delicate production brings out the sadness; no…. the tragedy in DL’s voice as he pulls us through an emotional ringer, on a story of being in the middle of a real-life shoot-em-up and the mixed emotions such a trauma leaves someone with. For a young man, DL has had his fair share of troubles, from testicular cancer through a failed marriage that followed a nervous breakdown and not forgetting his dalliance with Punk Rock getting him ostracised from the Christian community he had belonged to growing up. But being a songwriter; those tattered emotions just make for damn fine songs; listen to the mournful Love Song A Sweet Thing to understand where I’m coming from! There’a blue-collar Alt. Country essence to Good Woman; you know the type that Steve Earle used to create and Rossi grabs that tarnished mantle with a new found fervour on this heart-crushing love song. On the deep, dark and soulful More Seconds Rossi takes to the acoustic guitar, and with the assistance of Mollie Parden and Corrie Bechler on backing vocals they combine to create a song worthy of Gram Parsons at his most eloquent. A drummer by profession, it’s no surprise that DL has a wonderful way with timing on these songs, especially so on Something Back which just sweeps you along like a leaf in the wind. With only 7 songs here; and each one has effected me in some way, selecting a Favourite has certainly not been easy; with Be Your Man and it’s inherent passion oozing from every single line being a contender; but I’m going for the song that should be a Radio Hit if it weren’t for the judicial use of the word ‘shit’ in every other stanza! Better is one of those songs that a writer only manages to write once in a lifetime; as many people listening to it will think ‘that is about me!’ In Better Rossi really encapsulates the raw emotions you feel when things are spiralling out of control;
“I lost a lot But I also lost myself Doing things I never thought I’d do And I’m broken up But that isn’t an excuse To be an asshole after a few.”
History shows that Rossi does come out the other side; with a fabulous song in tow too. Not everyone is so lucky.
I have a Gretchen Peter’s T-Shirt that says ‘Sad Songs Make Me Happy’ and that phrase neatly encapsulates my feelings about DL Rossi’s songs here; they are as sad as sad can be; but they are as intrinsically beautiful and tragic as can be but hopeful and eloquent too, and the world is a better place that they are available for the likes of me and you to wallow in his prose.
Bob Hillman Some of Us Are Free, Some of Us Are Lost Self-Release
Contemporary and Free-Thinking AOR.
I was sitting earlier today wondering what to write about next, as there are a couple of releases from ‘name acts’ that I’m having trouble getting my head around; so I put Bob Hillman’s fifth release in the player and was soon swept up in the deceptively ‘easy listening’ manner of his voice and the particularly luscious production on a few songs. Then I listened a bit more closely and these songs are really deep and quite edgy at times too. Right up our street then! The title track, Some of Us Are Free, Some of Us Are Lost opens the disc with a laid-back, Laurel Canyon vibe…… not a million miles away from Jackson Browne and Stephen Still if I’m not mistaken….. but I probably am! Hillman’s storytelling isn’t exactly in the A-B style; there’s very much a poetic heartbeat to most of these songs; albeit in a Soft-Rock & Roll fashion. I’ve quickly become smitten with Song For Sarah, Carveresque and Hypnotized; and I guess the more I play them each will unravel a bit more each time revealing really special secrets. As I’m prone to do, I try to pick out an artistes influences for you and the names that spring to mind are the afore mentioned Jackson Browne but Steely Dan and Barenaked Ladies too …… I don’t know why either. This is very much an articulate and ‘grown up’ album with plenty for the listener to wrap their cerebral matter around and discuss at length….. This Surfing Life and Cocaine Ruins Everything immediatly spring to mind, with the latter being about David Crosby. My first choice as Favourite Song wouldn’t surprise regular readers who know what a sucker I am for a ‘love song’ so I nearly picked one of the two versions of I’m In Love With You; probably the latter Jazzier version too; but I’m going to surprise you and me by actually selecting You’re Off The Rails; a slightly off-kilter You’re Off The Rails; probably because bits (if not all) reflect a relationship I had with a friend; and the Alt. Electro Pop tune does it no harm at all and makes this the most Steely Danesque song here and a damn good one at that.
Adam Carroll I Walked In Them Shoes Gypsy Shuffler Records
Raising the Flag and Bar For Texas Songwriting
Adam Carroll is a highly respected Texan songwriter, now releasing both his ninth, and tenth album this year, 2019. Good Farmer, an album he recorded with his wife, Chris Carroll, is being released next month, but before that you can check out I Walked In Them Shoes, recorded with some help from Lloyd Maines and Pat Manske. These songs on this particular album were all recorded in one session, and Adam’s spoken introductions give them a definite demo feel which works to good advantage here. It’s hard to go wrong with simple arrangements, sparse decoration, and a ‘vocals up front’ mix, and it also helps if the songs are as solid as these are. I doubt that a fuller arrangement on any of them would add anything, so why tamper with purity? “Iris and the Lonesome Stranger” is a familiar story told well, while “My Only Good Shirt” could be a song about passing the torch of songwriting and musicianship along. “Crescent City Angels” takes inspiration from New Orleans, but it’s the title song that got my attention the most. “I Walked In Them Shoes” eschews a traditional arrangement, and Carroll’s vocal take leaps over the finger-picked guitar runs throughout. This is definitely the most rock ‘n’ roll song on the album, fueled by attitude, a sincere feeling of accomplishment, and learning to roll with the punches. There’s been comparisons of Carroll to songwriters such as Guy Clark, John Prine, Townes Van Zandt, and others, (Some even say he’s the best Texan songwriter ever. I’m not gonna go there, because Alejandro Escovedo has pretty much all of them beat!) but mostly these tunes remind me of lesser known songwriter Bob Frank’s best ones, though Carroll is assuredly less dirt floor than Frank, and probably not as barefoot either. What I do hear is Carroll’s gift for imbibing these songs with a genuineness of emotion and sincerity. He’s not as edgy as Townes, nor as funny as Prine, but he does has a gift at storytelling, and enough solid melodies to keep it interesting.
Well; here’s a thing …… this album has arrived with no accompanying Press Release save for a note saying Pete Gow is the singer in a band called Case Hardin; and this is his first solo album. As I have no idea whom Case Hardin is/are (I’m not part of the London hipster UK Americana cognoscenti! ) I will just have to rely on my ears and my heart and let the music do the talking. With all of that in mind; it was my trusty I-Phone that actually picked out a couple of songs for me by random last week which brought me back to the album today. One of those songs was opening track One Last One-Night Stand; a darkly morose song sung in a droll and world weary voice that sounds like it’s lived a life that would have shamed Townes Van Zandt; and somehow swoops and soars like a windswept night on the Moors, making it a thing of raw and aching beauty. Try to imagine how it made me feel driving home at midnight, in the rain after a ten hour shift. Yep; I most certainly had tears in my eyes, but a song in my heart. For an Englishman, Pete Gow’s voice has no discernible accent, nor even an affixed American drawl; although that would have been my first guess from the way he delivers his marvelous poetical tales. I’ve been stunned by the articulate way Gow writes his songs; not a million miles away from Townes or Guy I suppose; but with a razor sharp edge that I associate with newer songwriters like Sturgill Simpson and Hayes Carll; taking simple daily things like TV Re-Runs and filling them with all kinds of clever ephemera and imagery that make them sound ever so romantic; albeit in a cracked and flawed manner. Some times; quite a few actually, you don’t need to know or understand a songs back-story to like it; and that’s the case here with Some Old Jacobite King and the title track Here There’s No Sirens. But, some songs also just unravel before your ears and you will find yourself knowing both characters from your own intimate circle of friends in Mikaela ….. “They sat down and they worked it all out Instead of running each other out of town I found a Bonnie to my Clyde She’d leave any teller bleeding/who refused the combination” Sometimes you wonder how some people do find each other; but they do and Pete Gow captures that mystery quite exquisitely on this wonderful song. Another that is a heady mixture of the simple and the complicated is Pretty Blue Flower which closes the record in a gut wrenching kind of way that will make you immediatly reach for the ‘replay’ button. At first I thought selecting a Favourite Song was going to be difficult; but the more I’ve played the album one song has continued to grow on me and now I’ve played Strip For Me 5 times in a row and feel it’s one of the finest songs I’ve heard in years. Where to start? It’s the type of slow and bucolic Country Gothic song about the type of love that will always end in tears; but is ever so compelling for both parties and somehow Pete Gow captures both the excitement and pathos so brilliantly in every line. “Did you think you were one of those girls Too beautiful to hurt Too beautiful to cheat on There’s no girl too beautiful for that Strip for me like Stormy Daniels Do you still have a thing for older married men?“ I’ve been really, really impressed with Pete Gow’s songwriting and the imagery he creates from start to finish; and coupled to the laid-back Alt. Country musical backdrop and Joe Bennett’s cleverly simple production I think I’ve found another ‘keeper’ for the RMHQ Collection.
It’s Saturday morning, the sun is shining and I’m watching Geordie Lad Brian Johnson interviewing New Yorker Billy Joel on the TV, while editing photos from a Jason Ringenberg gig last night when I checked my e-mails. Alongside the obligatory rubbish that arrives on a weekend, there was a short and succinct message from Irish singer-songwriter Sarah Buckley linking me to her Debut Single, You’ve Got Me. BANG! I was hooked inside 30 seconds…… perhaps it’s her flame red hair (yup, me and Charlie Brown both!), but mostly it’s Sarah’s eloquent and evocative narrative told via a soft Irish brogue purring out a story of hopeless and unrequited love, that whisked me back to Van Morrison’s golden album Avalon Sunset in the way Sarah uses her words as and conjures up images of infatuation that squeezed each and every single heart-string in my chest. What a tease! One song? ONE song…… come on Sarah, I need a whole album by next Friday!
Sonja Sleator Violent Strawberry (ep) Tin Man Heart
Heartfelt Songs For After Midnight on a Tuesday Night.
I was 99.9% sure I had lovingly reviewed Sonja Sleator’s previous EP Adams; yet I can find no trace of it anywhere on the website……. has someone pinched it? But let’s leap forward to today and this four and a half song ‘introduction’ to another of Northern Ireland’s musical jewels that deserves a much wider audience across the Irish Sea. This is actually young Ms. Sleator’s third release in the EP format, and each has shown a pretty big step forward in both her songwriting and her vocal performance too; with the opening song here Ghost being every bit as ethereal and haunting as the title would suggest. There’s a definite shimmer to her pearlescent voice as she tells a very personal tale of a torrid breakup via the medium of Lo-Fi influenced Country Music. For a pretty young woman Sonja doesn’t appear to have very good judgement when it comes to love, unless all of these songs are about the same person, with As You Claim is every bit as dark and brooding as Ghost; but here there’s a certain charm to the way Sonja rolls with the (metaphorical) punches. The one and a half songs I mention at the beginning are really two versions of Goodbye, with a radio edit ending the EP. In it’s own way this song is the most mature writing I’ve heard from Sonja Sleator; mostly because she judiciously uses the F-word at one stage, but in a way that only ‘it’ will do to get her righteous anger across; and in this gentle format it has the perfect effect. Then there is my Favourite Song here; You Never Said. A very clever and quite intense song; but one that every single second and word will have an effect on. Again, Sonja uses a ‘swear word’ in a verse, and normally that would offend me (I’m an old man!) but when used in context, it works an absolute treat! “Now just leave me be You’re a bastard But so was he But so was he You never said sorry to me You never said Sorry I left You never said sorry to me.” There’s something very special about Sonja Sleator, starting with her distinctive and gently expressive voice; but mostly here very mature and accessible songwriting that will appeal to the demographic that needs a ‘go to set of songs’ for after midnight on a Tuesday when the red wine has run out and there’s only that bottle of brandy your Auntie brought back from Greece in the cupboard. Without getting too carried away, Sonja Sleator will sit alongside Kirsty MacColl, Beth Orton and even Paul Heaton in both my mind and my record collection.