Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst HEY!

Steven Casper & Cowboy Angst
HEY!
Silent City Records

Putting the Alt. Into the Dark Heart of Americana

For someone who lurks in the musical shadows rather than headlining festivals; I really look forward to Steven Casper’s albums; and it seems I’m always surprised and pleased with the contents in equal measure.
Yet again he’s pulled together a bunch of nothing less than ‘interesting songs’ that have kept me entertained on a couple of longish car journeys in the last few days.
The band kick things off with a raucous rendition of Absolutely Sweet Marie; which owes a lot more to the Jason & The Scorchers Cowpunk version than it does Bobby Dylan’s original.
This is followed by the first of Casper’s own songs; the maudlin and haunting By Your Side which somehow puts the Alt. straight into the dark heart of Americana in the way the Folkie instrumentation and Casper’s woeful vocals tell a sad, sad tale of his feelings as and after his Mother died, pre-pandemic.
This leads us further into the shadows with Cold Dark Hole which could easily be a lost The Band track that’s dusted off for the 21st Century not least because of the Garth Hudsonesque organ that sweeps and swoops in and out like the Angel of Death;
You can be her Samson or her Romeo
You can pick your poison and see how that goes
Her fingers beckon you closer and somehow you know
That you’re gonna wind up lying in a cold dark hole.

When it finally arrives Howling at The Moon is actually a bit of light relief; as Steven recounts his teenage days ‘feeling free ….. with wine, weed and friends being the only things he needed.”
The album closes with another dark and very personal missive about the breakup of a relationship; that will touch the hearts of many who hear it; as the singer pours his heart out ….
It’s so damned hard to say goodbye
And it’s hard to let go of all the things that you know
It’s so damned hard to say goodbye
Seems a long long way From the life that we made and I can’t find my way
Can’t find my way. 
Tucked away in the middle are a couple of absolute corkers that raise the bar for what we know about Americana and even Alt. Country; the first, Easy sounds like it could have been a Sturgill Simpson/Jason Isbell co-write late one Friday night; and the title track Hey! with its crunchy guitars and powder keg drumming and bass aligned to Casper’s distinctive singing style is a sure fire end of show ‘punch the airathon’ that the songwriter can be really proud to have created.
Yet …. there is still one other song that tops both of these…. ‘how could that be?’ You might well ask; but with the stunningly and starkly beautiful Motherless Child Steven Casper enters brand new and slightly dangerous territory; but the addition of Linda McCrary Fisher performing a mother’s cry is absolute genius on a lo-fi rendition that will having you holding your breath so as not to spoil the mood that the collective have created.
Hence, Motherless Child is by far my Favourite Song on a really special album.

Released 6th May 2022
https://www.caspermusic.com/

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Fred Hostetler WALL OF DREAMS

Fred Hostetler
Wall of Dreams
Mukthiland Records

In a Parallel Universe This Will be The Soundtrack to the Fourth Summer of Love.

It doesn’t seem like five minutes ago that we first played Fred Hostetler’s ‘return to the fold’ album; FORTUNA REDUX, yet it was over a year ago …. and he appears to have spent the intervening time studying late 1960’s Psychedelic Pop Music; of the Beatles/Love/latter day Yardbirds ilk.
That’s actually a very good thing; as Fred has taken the best and most commercial of that genre as his template and breathed 21st Century angst and edge into his songs; starting with the opening track Wall of Dreams, which sets the mood and tone for what is to follow; leaving me nodding my head in time to the grooves and occasionally miming the lyrics …. especially the chorus.
This is neatly followed by the more edgy in construction; You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know which has more of a contemporary feel to the lyrics and even the way Hostetler delivers them.
It wasn’t a huge surprise to find a piece of whimsy tucked away in the middle; and while I’m not altogether sure what Olaf’s Daughter’s Finnish Knee High Leather Boots; although it could be a love song about finding love in the most unpredictable of places; the melody and keys are so catchy this song should have been a hit single on the Buddah Label back in the day.
Dreamer’s Dream again features a sitar as the lead instrument and as the title suggests is an absolutely dreamy four minutes designed to make you kick back and let the music heal your woes ….. if that isn’t too hippy-drippy for you.
The all too short 7 track release closes with River of Hope which is actually a lot more intense than the title would at first suggest; and feels like it will have the ability to spark off into several new arenas when ever played live.
While in every aspect WALL OF DREAMS has been a joy from start to finish; there is one really special song here; True True Love that will make you close your eyes tightly shut so as to let the words and music overwhelm your senses (which is a problem if you are driving!) and the chorus is going to be an earworm for hours afterwards too; by the very way!
Following his return to the West and the music industry in 2018 after spending 17 years in India Hostetler is certainly making up for last time; with each of his three previous releases being as different from each other as this is from Fortuna Redux ……. and in a parallel universe WALL OF DREAMS would be the soundtrack to the Fourth Summer of Love.

Released January 2022
https://fredsheartradio.com/

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Michael Weston King THE STRUGGLE

Michael Weston King
The Struggle
Cherry Red Records

A Genuine Masterwork From a Forerunner of Americana and British Country.

Surely I don’t have to start by filling you in with Michael’s backstory do I?
I first encountered him via The Good Sons, when their WINES, LINES and VALENTINES album was recommended by the nice man behind the counter in the legendary Goldrush Records in Perth, Scotland and, it’s fair to say I’ve been a fan ever since …. not least because his double act with wife Lou, My Darling Clementine were absolutely brilliant on record and especially live.
Hey ho ….. let’s go!
As I say, I’ve been a fan for nearly 25 years, yet opening track Weight Of The World still had the capacity to take my breath away and leave me shaking with shock the first time I played it!
It’s one of only a handful of songs I’ve ever heard that made me go WOW! half way through when the story quickly unravelled and I was left marvelling at Kings majestic storytelling.
Without spoiling it for you; it’s a song written in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and how the Trump administration handled/mis-handled the aftermath; but for once written from the perspective of a normally left/liberal leaning American Police Officer watching the turmoil unfold on TV.
Plus …… it could also easily apply to Putin and his One Man War against Ukraine!
I mean ….. seriously …. WOW!
That first day I was probably still trying to comprehend that song when track #2 was playing; but on subsequent plays Sugar has become a song that needs to be listened to several times; is it about the food stuff itself or is it about a lover, quaintly named or nicknamed ‘Sugar’ …… that’s for you to find out yourself.
This is a brave thing to say with such an exemplary back catalogue; but I genuinely think this is a Master Work by MWK!
How else do you describe an album, when such powerful songs as the deceptively delicious The Old Soft Shoe, Valerie’s Coming Home and Me & Frank which all have the creativity and nuance to be most other Singer-Songwriter’s finest works; yet here they are tucked away in the middle; sandwiched between The Final Reel, where Michael dabbles with traditional Folk Music and makes it sound like he invented it; and later Theory of The Troublemakers, where he delves really deep into his psyche to bring us a feverishly potent tale that will make you inadvertently move your ears towards the speakers to hear every syllable and note.

Then ….. there are two other songs which I can’t seperate in my quest to find a Favourite Song and they are sequenced one after the other too.
Even if it wasn’t how I’ve been feeling myself recently …. The Hardest Thing of All deals with depression in an almost beautiful manner; but King’s words still cut and slice in a way very, very few other writers can ever achieve as he perfectly describes how it feels to live under constant black clouds.
With Another Dying Day, Michael sings about the heartache and break a man feels when his wife unexpectedly leaves him; and he battles on, ‘smiling on the outside, while crying on the inside’ ….. although Michael describes it best with:
Lord I can’t believe some of the things
My mind wants me to do
From the outside looking in
Everything seems well
But the truth that lies within a man
Can shame him so
Until he can’t take back the plans
That he’d never dared tell.

Powerful stuff indeed; and the melancholic accompaniment make this a song crying out for a monochrome video to accompany it.
There’s a significant difference between Weight of The World which opens the proceedings; and the clever Ghostwriter re-mix which includes a radio reporters’ soundbites; in a way that reminds us of Simon and Garfunkel’s 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night and if you’re not wiping tears from the corners of your eyes as it fades away …… you must have a heart of stone.
Michael Weston King was at the forefront of what became Americana with his band, The Good Sons (his solo albums moved that sound along in the UK too) and later My Darling Clementine opened the door for what we now know as British Country Music; but ….. I firmly believe he has surpassed himself with this staggeringly good album.

Released April 1st 2022
http://www.michaelwestonking.com/

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Rain Perry A WHITE ALBUM

Rain Perry
A White Album
Precipitous Records

A Fearsome and Fearless Songwriter at the Peak of Her Powers

This is another album that very nearly got away from me; landing on my desk a few weeks ago and instantly being an ‘office hit’ but then getting buried under a swathe of other April and May releases, until a nice e-mail from Hello Wendy PR reminded me that it was awaiting another listen and a review.
Rain Perry? I haven’t got time to go into her full background but she has had a fascinating life; culminating in not just being a fabulous singer-songwriter, but documentary filmmaker and social activist too; as well as working as an advocate for people with arthritis, after being diagnosed herself, when she was twenty-two. 
Onto the music …. I hear you cry!
In her accompanying bio Rain more or less says that her career has been building up to this album; where she uses her abundant writing skills to delve back into memories of growing up and finally arriving in 2022.
Opening song; Melody & Jack; through the eyes and words of her Grandmother, tells the romantic tale of her own Mother and her first love; Jack who eventually grew up and they parted their seperate ways; as often these things do …..
Picture a shipyard town
In California after the war
Salt air and daffodils
And everybody on the edge of poor
At the clothesline
My Nana keeps an eye
As my mom Melody and her friends
Go running by
“Those kids were like Our Gang,” Nana said
Which meant one of them was Black
And then her face got strange
As she told me about Jack”
and Rain subtly deals with the racism in her small town which may or may not have played a part in the couple not marrying; as Jack had hoped when they were children.
The next track; The Money about two men; one white and one not, from the same town who join the Military and lead similar lives at that time; but there are ever so many differences that probably still apply today.

My grandpa bought a little house up on the hill
He was a poor boy on the GI Bill

He said: “if you’re smart and put your money away
You can be part of the American Dream someday
Nooooo!

While this is very much a Folk Album; Rain slips in a bit of Rapping half way through, which works a lot better than you’d think.
It’s fair to say Rain Perry’s songs are very deep and require your full attention; which is no hardship with top quality songwriting like None of Uas Are Free (featuring Betty Soo), the compelling What’s Wrong With You and the haunting Lady of The Harbor, which sounds as good as anything Perry’s peers and RMHQ Favourites Mary Gauthier and Beth Neilsen Chapman have written in years.
Before I get to my actual Favourite Song; I have to mention that Nanci Griffith and Tom Russell both recorded one of Rain Perry’s songs, Yosemite in 2003; which kind of shows you the standard of writing involved here.
For my choice of Favourite Song I was immediately drawn to the remarkably powerful Indian Hill, Ohio 1967, with Rain Perry’s silky and vivid voice telling a very dark story about how the Middle Classes held drinks parties as Ohio burned in the near distance …..
The neighbors are over for a drink
The bourbon pours, the glasses clink
A toast to the good life
Our little piece of heaven
Indian Hill, Ohio, 1967
The city burned a dozen miles down the road
But the Long Hot Summer seems so long ago
And a world away from these green lawns and old trees
.”
leaving me wide eyed and open mouthed the first time I played it!
But; the song which follows that makes it feel like a sucker punch leading up to the Knockout!
What’s Wrong With You is by far the shortest song here; yet right from the opening feisty guitar salvo; you know you daren’t blink an eye for fear of missing something really important as Rain growls and stalks her prey (you the listener btw) like a hungry lioness; or Joni Mitchell at her angriest!
There is light and shade here; although very little to make you smile, apart from the amazing musicianship and razor sharp production from Mark Hallman that come together to underscore Rain Perry’s words and voice throughout.
I could quote lines from every song here all night long, that will make your hair stand on end; but I urge you to buy the album to hear a fearsome songwriter at the peak of her powers.

Released April 15th 2022
https://www.rainperry.com/

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Mark Nevin WHILE THE KINGDOM CRUMBLES

Mark Nevin
While The Kingdom Crumbles
Raresong Recordings

Grown Up Pop Songs That Need You To Invest Time To Get The Best Out Of Them.

For all I’ve been a bit of a fan since the Millenium, when I bought Mark’s INSENSITIVE SONGWRITER CD, and the follow up, THE MIGHTY DOVE which is still one of my favourite albums of all time; like every other reviewer I’m legally bound to remind the world that Mark E Nevin wrote the zillion selling Perfect for Fairground Attraction too.
Like all of his solo works; there’s nothing remotely as commercial as that song here …… these songs are more like the type of Grown Up type that could easily feature on his radio show; The Dad Pill.
The opening track; Grace is a real cerebral Pop song; the likes of which you’d expect from Tom Waits, Barenaked Ladies and perhaps Elvis Costello; with Nevin’s world weary rasp adding pathos by the bucket full.
The mood changes somewhat on the second track; Show Me Who You Are with its sweeping orchestral backing, as Mark (ironically) forces rhymes and couplets in a way I’ve always loved from Randy Newman.
That’s what I mean by ‘Grown up Pop Music’ ….. there are melodies and subtle hooks littering these songs left, right and centre but it’s Mark Nevin’s way with words and stories that will keep you coming back to these songs time and time again; with Learning To Swim and Am I The Architect both having the capacity to instantly make you smile; then sooner or later go “Oooohh” when the penny drops.
Were Mark Nevin American; preferably from NYC the national press in all its formats would be fawning all over him when they hear the stunning love songs Someone I Can Hold and the decidedly deep New Words For Loneliness, with it’s haunting pedal-steel; but he’s not and they won’t ….. leaving it to minions like me to spread the word under the radar.
Something In Her Heart For Me is a bit on the quirky side; with traffic noises and the sound of rain in the background at the beginning before Mark delves into the dark recesses of the heart on this bittersweet love song.
While never exactly ‘challenging’ some of these songs certainly need a couple of plays for the stories to unravel; and with My Word to The Scoffers and the title track When The Kingdom Crumbles you will think of it as something of an investment and certainly time well spent too.
Like the vast majority of albums I listen to these days; there are no natural singles here … but then again; as I said earlier this album is full of Grown Up ‘Pop Songs’ rather than the twee bubblegum that fills the playlists of our radio stations; which brings me to choice of Favourite Track.
Initially it was going to be the reflective and relatively jaunty Old Souls; but the more I’ve played the album (told you so!) the Hammond flavoured and swinging Deep Long Love is now dug deep into my psyche and I’ve found myself doing an involuntary shuffle long after it’s finished on the stereo!
I love albums like this ….. ones you have to invest time in to get the best out of them; and the rewards on this one are many and varied; well worth your time IMHO.

Released 22nd April 2022
https://www.marknevin.com/

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Brock Davis A SONG WAITING TO BE SUNG

Brock Davis
A Song Waiting To Be Sung
Raintown Records

Intimate, Personal and Imaginative Songs That Create a Musical Novella

On the day this album was released we had a choice between 14 albums to review …. which left me feeling a bit like Damocles in the Bible; having to choose what to review and what to miss out.
But you can thank my trusty IPhone for picking out a track from this release last night on my way home from work ….. which in turn reminded me how much I’d enjoyed the album a month or so ago.
When you know a little of Davis’s background it helps appreciate the cathartic way he confronts childhood trauma; the demise of an unsustainable marriage; and recent years going 100 miles an hour running a Silicon Valley startup and coming out the other side relatively unscathed.
Straddling Country Rock and Americana storytelling with ease; the album starts with I Choose Love, a delicate and introspective tale about his divorce; but with the narrator choosing to remember their early days and the love and happier times that they had once shared; but no longer can.
Davis immediately cranks up the tempo on the following track Can’t Get Close Enough To You which actually ‘punches well above its weight’ as Davis shows his powerful vocal range on a blistering song that reminded me a bit of a Bob Seger track; whose name I can’t remember!
Later Brock treads a similar, but much softer and path with Second Time around; as Brock sings about a real life ‘second chance’ love affair; which was the track my IPhone played; and a song I’ve come back to it a few times in the intervening days.
I love the way Davis uses and changes the mood right throughout the album; he drops in Soft Rockers like Bet on Love and the intense We Will Rise while surrounding them with beautiful passionate and powerful Marking Time and I Get It Now; which somehow seem more intimate when juxtaposed alongside the more commercial numbers.
Because of the variety in Davis’s writing selecting a Favourite Song has been as difficult as usual.
At first it was going to be the brooding title track; A Song Waiting to Be Sung, which builds and builds until it becomes a crescendo; and it’s immediately followed by the beautiful Your One and Only Life; which is for and about the singer’s daughter ….. and will touch the heart of many who hear it.
Then; there is the bravest song I’ve heard in years …… Bullets and Blood.
The first night I heard it I couldn’t believe my ears ….. and had to take it back to the beginning and listen intently!
Phew!
The melody is as Country as Country gets ….. but the lyrics will set your average redneck’s hair on end; as Brock dictates a story of ‘the love that cannot be named’ …… sadly in 2022, Gay Love is still a taboo subject and I applaud Brock Davis for having the chutzpah to not just write this song but release it too …. and for that it’s my Favourite Song here.
There’s a lot going on in Brock Davis’ songs, with no two being not just the same; but not even similar; yet when arranged like this create a musical novella; worthy of a much bigger audience than the album is; sadly likely to receive.

Released March 11th 2022
https://brockdavismusic.com/

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Anna Howie THE FRIDAY NIGHT CLUB

Anna Howie
The Friday Night Club
Absolute Label Services

Your Membership To an Infectious, Quirky and Soulful Country Song Club That Will Make You Laugh, Cry and Everything Else.

Cutely named after Anna Howie’s regular Friday Night lockdown online gig slot, the British Country singer-songwriter’s debut album neatly sums up how music became a powerful connecting mechanism for many of us, over the last 2 years.
Irrelevant that I happened to be part of a different artist’s community, the process was the same: a group of strangers becoming virtual friends whilst listening to music they love.
This album invites you straight through the front door to be up close and personal, a collection of songs soaked with the spirit of Lockdown storytelling.

Openers can often be louder, designed to grab attention, but Acrobat skilfully does exactly the same job by easing us in, oh so gently, a soothing Bluesy guitar riff and soulful vocals: time to sit down, flick the kettle on and give this album the full attention it deserves.
It is clear that Anna Howie’s intelligent, emotional and often humorous lyrics are a mighty force behind what makes her first album so impressive. In Acrobat she wastes no time in tackling the trials of everyday life and how we can escape them, in fact these lines alone almost bagged this song the top slot:

My heart is clumsy,
my arms are weak,
I work to deadlines,
my supervisors tell me when to speak,
but if I stand by my window I feel the breeze
and I wish I were an acrobat asleep under the trees

The next track Angels Among Us is a folk fuelled sensitive song, delicate guitar picking and fiddle softly guide us through, perfectly timed to bond artist and listener if there was still any hesitation left at this stage, with heart pounding lyrics reflecting on the everyday heroes who stepped up to help others during the pandemic.
I defy anyone not to be completely moved by this track.

A big surprise follows, proving there is a whole heap more to discover about Anna Howie than her mellow heartfelt Country ballads.
In The Morning dramatically ramps up the tempo with a funky brass section and upbeat sassy vocals, this is an artist confidently in control of her life, spinning a lively tale of the aftermath following a one-night stand.

The bright, chirpy horns return on more tracks including Sylvie Got Cash, a maturely crafted song, the lyrics deeply rooted in her homeland and guaranteed to grab your attention. I really can’t recall another song that references a “knicker drawer” and the final bars reward the listener with a spirited trumpet solo. By this point I am really appreciating the fact that this album was recorded in the UK rather than as originally planned in Nashville, purely in case the wonderfully pleasing contrast of the Americana sound with the quirky British observational lyrics may have been slightly tempered.

The hugely expressive piano driven I Could Be Your Friend follows and is one of the outstanding tracks on the album for me. A stunning example of Ms Howie’s lyrical ability to take us straight to the heart of what really matters, in this instance tapping into the loneliness felt during Lockdown and the longing to make new connections:

“Staring out the window, all alone nowhere to go, I feel the quiet in my bones, the neighbours are never home “

My favourite track without a shadow of doubt is Peas, an old-fashioned Country Blues ditty containing delightfully amusing lyrics recounting the tale of a mature lady being chatted up by a younger man.
Anna Howie’s vocals are spot on and playfully powerful, this song sums up for me why after 15 years as a backing singer and as part of a band, we get the sense that this is now quite rightly her time to reap the rewards of all that experience and shine bright for herself.

go find your Mrs Robinson in someone else’s back room…
I’ve got peas in the freezer older than you.”

The closing song, Friday Night, is by far the grooviest vibe with it’s funky bass and anther return of the horn section; and a very fitting finale to this superb debut album.
It is clearly a tender dedication to the Lockdown community and an open invitation for all to carry on this Party she has started as the world gets back to normal.

Review by Anita Joyce
https://www.annahowiemusic.co.uk/

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Released March 25th 2022
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Friday-Night-Club-Anna-Howie/dp/B09NN48LG5

Dean Friedman AMERICAN LULLABY

Dean Friedman
American Lullaby
Self Release

Quirky, Thought Provoking and Irony Laden Missives About America and the American Way of Life.

I have several rules here at RMHQ when it comes to reviewing albums; which mostly revolve about bringing you brand new music from artistes who operate under the radar; but then I get sent an album by someone famous and I go all giddy like a skittish schoolgirl; but then again that’s also introduced our readers to some fabulous albums that the snob in us all may well have missed.
Both of which scenarios brings me to this release from Pop Star Extraordinaire Mr Dean Friedman, who was recommended our site by a friend and sent us the download of an album released six months ago via a personally written email.
Even that didn’t necessarily guarantee a review, but the following day I was in the Company van and the radio was on a Gold/Magic station and what came on? Only bloody Lucky Stars!
Serendipity my friend ….. serendipity!
Although I obviously pre-judged the album before hearing a note; which was a huge mistake as while he recorded a few zillion selling singles 40+ years ago ( Ariel, Lucky Stars, Lydia, McDonald’s Girl, etc…); I knew nothing about him or his subsequent album releases.
Let’s cut to the chase; Dean writes and sings about what he sees and knows; which is a lot; and he has a way with words and a melody that I’d normally associate with Randy Newman and/or Barenaked Ladies; starting with the fabulous title track American Lullaby which opens proceedings, which actually starts with the sounds of the ocean lapping against the shore before a thought provoking and irony laden missive about the American Way of Life.
That song and quite a few others here have something of a ‘theatrical sensibility’ to them; and could easily be shoehorned into a Broadway Musical, as Friedman’s ‘scene setting’ is immediate; making Welcome To Stupid Town; which may or may not be an acerbic allegory of the USA under Trump; Ridin’ With Biden; which is a smidgen darker than you’d expect and Wear a Mask too all perfect for an all singing, all dancing glittery show about the 21st Century.
I missed it when I scanned the track list; but when I played this last week I was genuinely left speechless when I first heard the prophetic The Russians Are Coming ……. Predominantly about Donald’s ‘alleged’ relationship with the Kremlin; but ……. but ……. apart from Dean Friedman, who else saw what’s happening as far away as last year???????????
Because of the quirky intros to some of the songs; now I’m onto the 6 or 7th play and they sort of become tiresome; but as they only last a few seconds it’s not the biggest problem in the world at the moment; as there is just so much here to enjoy; none more so than the razor sharp I Wish You Joy, which features some ‘very’ Stevie Wonder harmonica alongside harmonies that just drip with happiness.
By my normal standards this album is sounds so ‘middle of the road’ you’d expect the album cover to have a white line down the centre; but like Billy Joel, Randy Newman and Barenaked Ladies whom I mentioned earlier; Dean Friedman has a way with words and a melody you are left smiling and confused as your brain tries to decipher the fabulous Just Another Birthday and Jazztastic Too Much Stuff; and when you do it’s like doing Wordle in three lines!
With so much going on and so very much to like it’s taken me a little while to draw a couple of individual songs out as Absolute Favourites; and I think the gut-wrenching observation about the dissolving ecosystem, Sorry ‘Bout That and Halfway Normal World, which somehow sums up how many of us felt about ‘life’ under the various Lockdowns that have changed our personal lives forever; is the one that I’ll come back to time and time again.
In many ways this album is ‘different’ and we like ‘different’ at RMHQ, which is why I heartily recommend you hunt this out; maybe on his Bandcamp page ….. (try before you buy?) but if you like quirky and melodious songs about Edgy Americana, America and it’s Way of Life; look no further.

Released September 2021
http://www.deanfriedman.com/

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Jeremy Ivey INVISIBLE PICTURES

Jeremy Ivey
Invisible Pictures
ANTI-records

A Brave Album Seeking Out the Light and Confronting the Darkness in These Strange Times.

This is Ivey’s third album in as many years, after his debut The Dream and The Dreamer and its more political follow-up Waiting Out The Storm.
On Invisible Pictures, Ivey takes a more introspective path, no more so than on one of the lead-out tracks “Trial by Fire;” the second track on the release which was conjured up in a reflective moment of self-realisation with wife Margo Price – stuttering piano and picked guitar with washes of string sounds give this a 21st century Laurel Canyon feel.

It’s a contrast to opener “Orphan Child” with its tinny keys and jaunty tinny piano riff; a tale of a “no-name nomad” who’s “better on my own”.
Despite its potentially downbeat subject matter, it carries a hopefully, positive musical vibe.
“Keep Me High” , third track in is also summary and more upbeat;
I’ve got a new love that lasts forever/She’s got what it takes to keep me high.”
although it carries the underscoring of the danger that’s keeping the central character high…

In contrast to this is “Downhill (upside down optimist)” which battles more explicitly with the trap of depression;
Put the blade in me baby and give it a twist
Everything‘s impossible when you’re locked in the myth
and plays the trick of the jolly tune/difficult subject matter.
Musically it lands somewhere between a cross between Eels and Beck – and it has the lyrical dryness of Mark E. Everett too.

“Grey Machine” tackles the frustration of being trapped by the eponymous metaphorical business beast – but within this life of working in less than salubrious bars there’s the glimmer of escape –

He gets a beer and he watches her work
She’s the best thing she’s ever seen
They’re gonna run away
So far away from the grey machine

There’s an element of Elliott Smith about Ivey’s delivery in this; and also on “Phantom Limb” and “Empty Game” – especially the latter with its waltz time, Beatles-esque piano and glum lyricism
I can’t hide the way I feel
I’ve been faking too long
I don’t belong in this empty game
”.

Title track “Invisible Pictures” is fittingly emblematic of the album as a whole – there’s ugliness, danger and darkness everywhere but
But nothing can bring me down today
– the cheerfulness of the main melody that drops off and up with minor shifts keeps a fire of optimism in view…until we reach “Black Mood” – unsurprisingly it deals with the darkest of times and asks to
save me to me
there’s a glimmer of light there, but it’s tricky to find the ”angel of mercy” amongst all the darkness – and the difficulty of escaping the familiarity of that gloom.

These issues continue to the album’s conclusion on “Silence and Sorrow” with
store-bought depression and some shitty cowboy songs”
harmonica and barroom piano give it a 70’s Elton John Tumbleweed Connection melancholy.

Mixed at “The Bomb Shelter” in Nashville (Hoping that’s not prescient) this is an album that fans of Elliot Smith, Eels and Beck will adore – especially the former.
A brave album that seeks out the light and confronts the darkness in these strange times

Review by Nick Barber https://www.flickr.com/photos/efsb
Released 11th March 2022
https://jeremyivey.net/

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CD https://www.anti.com/releases/invisible-pictures/
LP https://uk.kingsroadmerch.com/anti-records/artist/952?ffm=FFM_575760b78d71ca83b0a3076c7157846d
DOWNLOAD https://jeremyivey.bandcamp.com/album/invisible-pictures

Doug Schmude ONE SHY OF A SIX PACK

Doug Schmude
One Shy of a Six Pack
Self Release

Keenly Observed Rootsy Americana to Make You Smile While You Think.

Selecting albums to review isn’t as easy as we sometimes make it appear. Take Friday 28th January 2022 for instance; we received at least 19 albums that were being released that day, and 15 for the following week …… and as we aim to publish one a day, the dilemma is regularly of Solomon proportions.
Which is where singer-songwriter and latter day Troubadour, Doug Schmude fits in ahead of a couple of albums by household names and at least two that the hipsters will swoon over, then never actually play.
It’s a personal opinion of course; but born in Baton Rouge Louisiana and growing up in Oklahoma and Texas, then stints in Colorado, Arizona & Tennessee; and now based out of Southern California Doug Schmude is the epitome of Americana to me; and his deadpan vocals, clever and intricate songs manage to make me both smile and think every time …. so he gets the RM vote.
As the title suggests, there are only five songs here; but each one is worthy of two on albums by Schmude’s contempories in my mind.
The opening track is ‘Trademark’ Schmude; drole and pithy ….. but with power-chords and an organ worthy of Ian McLagan in the background; as Doug pushes the boundaries of Alt. Country and Americana in a way I’ve not heard since the glory days of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo …… oh; the chorus is ‘killer’ too.
Just to let you get your breath back, track #2 On The Run is initially a lot sweeter on the senses; but just as deep when you give it time to evolve and develop. Are the couple involved a 21st Century Bonnie & Clyde or illicit lovers making a dash for the border?
Perhaps we will never know …..
Schmude throws a switch-ball with Nothing But Time; starts by using scratchy acoustic guitar licks to counterpoint his rye observation on the loneliness (I think?) that has affected a lot of people in the last few years; and looks like won’t go away easily; and when the the band finally kick in; it’s like a simmering anger building and building …. but never actually boiling over.
Perhaps I’m overthinking it; but final track Voice God Gave Me sounds as if it’s Randy Newman dipping his toes in the Alt. Country waters; and that’s meant to be a compliment towards this clever and self-depreciating tale of woe.
That only leaves my Favourite Song on this rather good EP, We Won’t Live Forever; which also holds a hint of Newman in the way Schmude observes a birthday from the shadows; and more or less tells us to ‘live for the moment’ ….. which is a wise and bold thing.
If I had more time I’d have filled this review with quotes and snippets from each song; and even out of context would be bound to make you smile.

Released January 28th 2022
http://www.dougschmude.net/

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http://www.dougschmude.net/purchase.html