Rod Picott Tell The Truth & Shame The Devil. Welding Rod Records
The Heart of Americana Unchained and Intimate
It wasn’t until I read the Press Release that I found out RMHQ Favourite Rod Picott had had some pretty serious health problems, including a ‘heart scare’ last year; but thankfully he’s come through it all with a new spring in his step and more importantly; it’s helped him create this, his latest album. The first thing you will notice is the sparsity of the production; well…… there’s basically no ‘production’ at all, as Rod recorded every song at home and just went with his gut (and newly mended heart) as to when to press ‘record’. There’s a definite intimacy right from the beginning, as Ghost is everything you would hope and want as a fan; from such a harrowing backstory and yes; it is as brittle and beautiful as anything Picott has ever previously recorded; in my humble opinion. I wish I could tell you that there were surprises here; nope ….. this is just one of America’s finest songwriters doing what he does best; sometimes with his long time friend Slaid Cleaves; and when they combine their talents on Mama’S Boy the result is, as usual quite staggering. This particular tale is about the ‘overtly masculine’ world a young boy finds himself in; and it really does tug at the heartstrings. Even though some the stories here are as grey as they are stark Picott’s warm voice brings Too Much Rain and Bailing totally engrossing for casual listeners and lifelong fans alike. As expected Rod Picott sings about and his first hand stories examine the ‘blue collar/working man’ life better than most out there; and here he takes a couple of left turns that even by his high standards are quite staggering. I’m particularly thinking about the lament John Wallace; A 38 Special and a Hermes Purse and Spartan Hotel with it’s simple guitar and harmonica arrangement, which lesser reviewers will say sounds like Brucie circa NEBRASKA, but Rod was doing this years before Springsteen picked up an acoustic guitar; and that long apprenticeship pays off in diamonds here. It’s particularly odd to hear Rod Picott’s voice without any technological wizardry behind it after all these years; and it’s fair to say A Guilty Man and The Folds of Your Dress benefit from this format. Then, of course I have to select a Favourite Song…… and that’s not easy at all; especially as the quality that oozes out of every single track here means each is a contender, but my trusted ears and heart keep coming back to A Beautiful Light, mostly because the combination of wheezy harmonica, strummed acoustic guitar and a voice on the brink of cracking up plus a story means it’s something most of his peers can only ever dream of writing and recording. It’s been a bugbear of mine for many years that far too many singer-songwriters fill their albums with all kinds of ‘bells and whistles’ that can’t or won’t be available ‘in concert’; so Rod has given us the album his talents have threatened us with for many years……. it’s all about the songs kid; and that’s all you get………. and that wonderful voice of course.
Classy Singer-Songwriter and Interpreter of all That is Roots Music.
As has happened a couple of times this year; I’ve received this album from two different Publicists; and this time they couldn’t be more disparate …….. the American Connection is primarily known for Blues music and the British one Folk; and there lies my dilemma …….. where does Alice Howe fit in to my little world? Opening track Twilight wafts lushly across the whole Americana spectrum; like a pretty musical butterfly and finally lands on warm and colourful folksy flower, whereas the next song Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes certainly has a delightfully sweet Blues timbre to it; as it should because it’s written by Taj Mahal, who has maybe influenced this version in many ways too. According to the attached notes Alice has a ‘mezzo-soprano’ voice …… I wouldn’t know; but it is bloody lovely, and she sure can catch your attention with it! The mix of self-penned and cover versions is intriguing; with Alice’s own songs Still on My Mind and the funky and feisty Getaway Car standing proudly alongside some veritable classics that span the generations. Without worrying too much about a pigeonhole to put this album in to, I’ve just sat back and let myself get immersed in the delightful Too Long at the Fair and the Rootsy Celticana of You Just Never Know. Plus I’m suitably impressed by more of Alice’s choices of songs to cover ; ooohhhh oooohhhh and oooh; she turns Muddy’s Honey Bee into a late night sultry seduction ode, while Don’t Think Twice Babe gets dusted off, polished and a whole new age group are set to discover Uncle Bob’s skills via this album; and if there wasn’t another song here that made me crumble like a baby learning to walk, Ms Howe’s impressive rendition of Bring It On Home to Me would surely have been the RMHQ Favourite Song here by a mile. As a sucker for a good old fashioned Love Song, I always have; dating back to my teenage years pining over Tamla and Stax 45 RPM singles in my cold and lonely bedroom; so it will come as no surprise to find that the tantalizing What We Got Is Gold which is heartbreaking, heartfelt and even uplifting in equal measures is the official RMHQ Favourite Song here. After spending the afternoon in a sunny back garden listening over and over again; let’s just settle on Alice Howe being a timeless Singer-Songwriter in the mould of Nanci Griffith, James Taylor and Joan Baez ……. laid back, thoughtful and most of all classy.
Released USA May 17th 2019 Released UK July 15th 2019
Harry Harris I Feel Drunk All The Time Self-Release
Scottish Americana that Criss-Crosses Indie, Folk-Rock and Classic Folk.
It seems like 100 years ago that I reviewed Harry Harris’ debut album (2010) for a magazine (which shall remain nameless!) and out of nowhere he got in touch a couple of weeks ago asking if I’d give his latest and 3rd release an airing. Well dear reader, a lot has happened to young Harry in the intervening years; he no longer resides in Wales….. now it’s Ye Olde Edinburgh where he sells himself as a singer/songwriter/journalist now; where the latter job includes RMHQ Favourites Nylon, Vice, Mundial and more. While I vaguely remember the first album as being on the cusp of the Folk bracket; now I’ve played I FEEL DRUNK ALL THE TIME quite a few times I’d definitely now describe him as being an all encompassing Singer-Songwriter as the songs here are a lot more rounded and contemporary with a foot in several camps, starting with the powerful Marathon; a deep, dark and brooding tale that uses that ‘sport’ as a metaphor for dear life itself; and it manages to tick a lot of Americana and Post-Indie boxes too. Perhaps the use of a saxophone in the Memphis gives it a hint of Grown-Up Blue Eyed Soul; but don’t think you can really dance to it; as it’s the type of song you will find yourself wallowing in late at night while you try to mend a broken heart with a bottle of wine. Harris’ songwriting is universal, and as this album more or less came about following the death of his best friend at an unfeasibly young age; everyone will find not just solace but a kinship in Bloodletting and the title track itself I FEEL DRUNK ALL THE TIME, and the gently rolling guitar in the latter l take your breath away. For a Welshman; there’s a distinct Scottishness to the whole album; as it sounds like it couldn’t have been written or recorded anywhere else with the starkness of Things John Hated and Free Italian Food managing to take melancholy into a stratosphere originally inhabited by Donovan and Bert Jansch but more latterly Eddi Reader and Kris Drever. When you have such a rich and expressive voice as Harry has, ‘Folk Music’ is always going to be the first thing you think of; the bouncy Deadliest Warrior and All My Worst Ideas (both with a band in tow) criss-cross Indie, Folk-Rock and even the latest wave of Scots-Americana with ease and indeed, rhetoric. To a greater or lesser degree I FEEL DRUNK ALL THE TIME has caught me ‘at the right time’ as my ‘head hasn’t been in the best of places recently’ and one song in particular caught me off guard and has had me going back to it again and again; making the bucolic and brittle Making a Go Of This my Favourite Song here; although the off-kilter subject matter may not appeal to everyone; but the sentiment will keep you coming back peeling away the layers until you crumble like house built on sand too. It may sound odd calling this collection of deeply personal dark and brooding songs a ‘pleasant surprise’; but it has been as Harry Harris is a mighty fine songwriter and singer too; and I’d have been very disappointed if I’d missed this rather beautiful and brittle album.
Transcendental and Emotionally Raw Songs from Britain’s Musical Roots.
Ida Mae’s website tells you nearly as much as the accompanying Press Release about this enigmatic duo …….. nothing! So, a tiny bit of detective work has discovered that the married couple of Stephanie Jean and Chris Turpin were the mainstays in a British Blues Rock band called Kill It Kid (3 albums) but have now gone renegade in a quest to make the music of their heart’s desire; which is a twist on Rootsy Americana, if my ears don’t deceive me. WOAH THERE! I certainly wasn’t prepared for the loud and raucous grittiness of opening track Boom, Boom, Boom (although the title should have been a clue) …….. this is raw 21st Century Rock n Roll that sounds like the White Stripes covering an Imelda Mae song; and it’s followed by My Girl is a Heartbreak; which is much slower and a lot more intense but Turpin’s vocals are just as powerful and gritty, in a velvety manner. You are in for a treat, as the couple’s songwriting is quite extraordinarily ‘good’, with clever narratives and tips of the hat towards poetry on a couple of songs too, plus the guitar playing throughout is deceptively brilliant at times too. It took me a couple of plays to understand the highs and lows of the mood swings that Ida Mae deliberately create here; with the dark ballad Easily in Love following the magnetic drum heavy and hypnotic Higher Than the Light, and preceding the swelling harmonies of Love is Still a Hard Road, which sounds like the couple are singing too and with each other without a care that anyone is listening. ‘Love’ in all its mysterious guises features in many, if not all the songs here; sometimes it’s ‘what it says on the tin’ via the title; the raw Delta Blues of Sick in Love and If You Don’t Love are obvious choices, but never cliched, with Chris ringing every ounce of emotion out of both. But, such is the articulate and smart way the couple create a song, the heartfelt Rightfully, Honestly will feel like a stiletto to your heart when you hear it for the first time; yet on Reaching Chris sounds like he could explode as he hits notes that only dogs will hear; but the delicate title track Chasing Lights has the ability to make you stop breathing while you listen and take in the duos compelling story. That song was very nearly the RMHQ Favourite song; but then I listened again to final track Baby Be Mine, which has Stephanie Jean taking lead and Chris supplying winsome harmonies; and…. well……. it falls just short of being a tearjerker; but I think it won’t be long before I’m reaching for it one cold evening just as I uncork a bottle of wine. As well as Chris and Stephanie Jean Turpin; a huge round of applause must go to the simple bass playing of Nick Pink and the extraordinary guitar interludes from one Dweezil Zappa but most of all the understated production by Ethan Johns, who also supplies drums, keys and even ukulele too! If you don’t already know Ida Mae; as I didn’t, but they cover a heady mix of sounds that will remind you at different times of the White Stripes, The Civil Wars and even John Martyn and Nick Drake; so strap yourself in for a bunch of songs that will not just challenge your emotions, but make you sing, dance and every old thing, too!
Grown Up Monochromatic Americana Imagery in Words and Music.
We all have ‘favourite artists’ that no one else has ever heard of; and Buford Pope (from Gotland, Sweden) falls into that camp for me; with this album being his fifth that I’ve reviewed and each one has been a veritable cornucopia of musical gems. His love of all things American and Americana comes across in not just the opening song the gloomily atmospheric America; but the dark imagery in track #2 Hey Hey Aha too, and also as a golden thread that holds this whole album together. Pope’s songwriting style should make you think that he was born and bred in some small claustrophobic town in Middle America; not a rain swept island in the North Sea; but hey …….. at the end of the day it’s all about the songs; isn’t it? It’s a personal thing, but I love the intensity in Buford Pope’s songs; with Five Minutes To Midnight and Can I Be There For You capturing in words the thoughts many of us; or perhaps just me have …… but can never articulate at the ‘right time’ and with Hard Life he gets to speak for the ‘everyman’ in all of us these days. One of the other things I especially like is Pope’s pearlescent singing voice; which neither sounds Swedish nor American; just his very own. Without delving back to those first two albums I reviewed in 2011 and 14; it’s difficult to tell how much his songwriting has evolved; but his use of instrumentation to take us on a musical journey certainly has; as Stoned and the majestic Tell Me What I Am will testify. This is multi-layered grown up music; for astute grown ups; in a way you would associate with Randy Newman or Leonard Cohen, that’s for sure. Yet again this is an album with no obvious ‘commercially radio-friendly- tracks on it; but I’ve found myself pressing ‘repeat’ on In My Hometown and First Blood a few times in the last few days; and even more so with Wanna Say I’m Sorry Before I Die; which has really touched my heart and soul in a very profound way; hence it being the RMHQ Favourite Song here. I hope Buford Pope makes a handsome living from his music; but more than that I just wish he could get the adulation that his words and music deserve.
Buddy & Julie Miller Breakdown on 20th Ave. South New West Records
Captivatingly Raw and Emotional Alt. Country From the Soul.
Shame on me, but I actually only own two tracks by Buddy & Julie Miller; both of which are from their 2009 album WRITTEN IN CHALK and I played on my olde Radio Show. In the interim I’ve moved here, Buddy Miller has been the defacto go-to Producer/session man for a host of Award winning albums as well as being the ‘Executive Music Producer’ on TV’s Nashville; and Julie has been very, very poorly. Recorded in the Miller’s ‘home studio’ (which I bet is a bit bigger than just a garage with a laptop and Pro-Tools!) there’s a delightful intimacy to both Buddy’s production and Julie’s singing and songwriting; at time you will feel you are intruding on personal conversation set to music. The title track Breakdown on 20th Ave. South opens the record and like just about every other song here sounds like an old friend coming around to visit on a sunny afternoon. All of the songs here were written especially for this album in the last year; and culled from over 50 that spilled from Julie as the muse came back after laying dormant for the 10 years following that last release. Golly Gosh! What a gorgeous voice Julie Miller has; and the way she curls her vocal chords around her words is quite shameful at times; but it goes to make I’m Gonna Make You Love Me and the thunderously bass heavy Underneath the Sky veritably sexy indeed! The lazy among us will hear a lot of Robert Plant and Allison Krauss’ RAISING SAND here; but if you know your history Buddy & Julie Miller were sounding this way a long time before Percy discovered Americana music; and trust me; Julie Miller’s singing voice is every bit as captivating as Ms Krauss. To some degree a couple in a very strong marriage could write and create songs like Spittin’ On The Fire and Unused Heart and come out the other side unscathed; which (fingers crossed) is the case here; with both songs being fragile and beautiful in equal measures. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on Julie’s songwriting ‘style’ she drops in War Child, with Buddy on lead and Julie delivering some heartbreaking harmonies on a very powerful slice of Social Commentary indeed. There are plenty of individual songs here that will be giving Awards committees headaches; but two in particular have stolen my own heart and both are unadulterated Love Songs; even if the slightly spiteful Everything Is Your Fault is a tad on the bittersweet edge of the spectrum; but the Official RMHQ ‘Til The Stardust Comes Apart is a pure 100% Country Love song that will move even the hardest of hearts. This is one of the those albums that appears to be getting a bit of an understated release; but will surely pick up ‘word of mouth’ sales from people (like me) who will love and cherish it above this year’s releases by the great and the good in household names.
A Thoughtful and Visionary Look at Life, Love and the American Way.
I’m staggered to find I didn’t actually review Jack Cade’s A MURDER OF CROWS in 2016; as I seem to remember enjoying it; but it ain’t in the RMHQ Back Catalogue. What I enjoyed then and what I’ve been enjoying again recently is Cade’s raspy, grizzled voice, imaginative story telling and use of melodies too; which is all too much of a rarity with singer-songwriters these days. BEAR BONES opens with He Lies on His Side, which oddly enough isn’t about my nocturnal sleeping position but a ‘travelling man’ in the guise of someone like Woody Guthrie in the Great Depression; but very much a song about 2019. This is also the first of a few ‘band songs’ with Cade going all Alt. Country with a Rocking beat. This is followed by a much more complex and almost sinister refrain for Little Bag of Tricks, which juxtaposes that ‘road worn’ voice with an intense arrangement that features some really dirty guitar solos too. Never even close to being a ‘concept album’, the songs on BEAR BONES somehow manage to have a similar narrative and thread that links them together. Individually the rocky She Got Something To Say and Stripped sit comfortably alongside the more passionate and earnest When You Come Running and Sunshine King; but all also capture the spirit of love, loss and all things emotional in a way a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment may not achieve. To some degree I think this album sits comfortably in the current Alt. Country camp, especially my two favourite songs, the quietly atmospheric Dust and Cade’s ode of Love; Four Letter Word with it’s delicious fiddle playing making it as near to traditional Country Music as you are going to get without digging up George and Hank’s corpses! While several songs here will sit comfortably in the on-line radio shows I listen too; Cade appears to have deliberately avoided trying to create anything remotely commercially enough to trouble the programmers on National Radio across the English speaking world; this is basically an album to listen to in the comfort of your home.
While not normally a fan of ‘traditional Folk’ music; Scots singer-songwriter Karine Polwart holds a special place in our hearts at RMHQ. So we are delighted to bring you her new video for ‘Chance’ ; the latest track plucked forth from her upcoming album ‘Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook’ – a curation of covers spanning 50 years of Scottish pop, from John Martyn to Chvrches & Biffy Clyro. The LP follows her widely-praised live set of the same name at 2018 Edinburgh International Festival, and will be released Aug 2.
This is a sparkling re-imagining of Dunfermline’s Big Country’s classic track, an immortal band for many Scots growing up at the same time as their sweeping, mobilising sound and Stuart Adamson’s especially gritty lyricism – Karine included. “Big Country transformed Thatcherite brutality into melancholic anthems, on guitars that reeked of bagpipes’” says Karine; “Their cinematic narratives nailed the emotional fallout of abandoned shipyards and factories – Big Country documented their own people and place, in the way that folk songs everywhere do.”
Karine has a particular affinity towards ‘Chance’, after her experiences working for Scottish Women’s Aid charity supporting victims of domestic abuse. “‘Chance’ is – as I read it – about getting pregnant too young, about domestic abuse and unemployment, which was all around me growing up in the Thatcher era. There’s this undercurrent of despair and violence.”
Jeb Loy Nichols & The Westwood Allstars June Is Short, July Is Long Compass Records/Proper Distribution
Super Cool and Velvety Smooth Country Soul
Jeb Loy Nichols is another one of those Americana troubadours whom I’ve always intended to ‘discover’ but never got around too; and my mate Graham can’t believe I’ve never seen him, on his numerous visits to the Jumpin’ Hot Club in Newcastle over the years. Such is life; but I’m righting that wrong with JUNE IS SHORT, JULY IS LONG. The album starts with ‘Intro’; a bit of a mantra with Nichols repeating “Keep it simple”, which could have been a perfect title for the album itself…… although it’s always apparent that there’s a lot of work going into the creation of every single track here. The real first track is the Supercool, You Got It Wrong; where the Wyoming native croons like a he’s born to be bad, but can’t stop himself being the good guy with a twinkle in his eye. I was fighting temptation as that track ended; but still fell hopelessly in love with Nichols’s voice and band just halfway through Think I’m Going To Fall In Love Today; which shamelessly swings along like warm Summer breeze; and how was I supposed to resist Jeb using a Magpie as a metaphor for his approach to ‘finding love’? When you listen to as much new music as I do, it takes something really, really special for me to feel the way I do about this album; but I’ve genuinely never heard anyone I can actually compare Jeb Loy Nichols voice and singing ‘style’ to. George Benson? Al Jarreau? Jim Reeves? But the one singer he most reminds me of is Roland Gift from Fine Young Cannibals; especially on Nothing You Can Do About It and the magnificent In The Night Time; but only really in snippets of his phrasing. Now I’ve read the accompanying notes I’m staggered to find this album was recorded over three days in the studio in deepest, darkest Wales! Even with so much modern technology; surely songs as complexly constructed as Last Train Home and In The Night Time took weeks to get that ‘razor sharp sound’ right? No? Really? Here I am three weeks into playing this record and I’m damned if I know where to slot it into my collection; or suggest where you will find it in a Record Shop …… as there’s a lot of Southern Soul here and enough Blue Note Jazz vibes to satisfy even the hippest of Funkateers; but I also think songs like (When I Paint My) Picture of You and Matter of Fact as Americana at their heart. Choosing a Favourite Song has been as complex as the mix in the respective songs on the short list; with each managing to touch my heart in different ways, with the bouncy and slightly risque Black Rooster being something of a personal signature tune (really) and the dreamy When I Paint My Picture of You taking me back to a whole other world that I once lived in; but the beautifully fragile tearjerker How Can a Man (Live Without His Mother) takes the Grand Title because ….. well; you listen and tell me that it’s not one of the finest songs you’ve ever heard. Coincidentally the weather has been particularly sunny recently and JUNE IS SHORT, JULY IS LONG has been the perfect accompaniment for sitting in the garden, driving long distances through the countryside and flying to see my Granddaughter in Finland.
To be perfectly honest I’ve always ‘wanted to like’ Frank Turner more than I ever have ….. funny that. But, this single and the forthcoming album NO MAN’S LAND (August) might just turn me into an actual fanboy. Plus; he’s launching a fascinating and interesting Podcast too.
” Produced by Catherine Marks (Foals, The Big Moon) and due out August 16 via Xtra Mile/Polydor, ‘No Man’s Land’ is driven by the lives & legacies of 13 extraordinary women, previously marginalised by history. A self-confessed history nut, Turner began work on the project after learning about Jinny Bingham, a witch who lived in Camden in the 1600s.
Whilst there’s a couple of familiar names profiled on ‘No Man’s Land’ (incl. Godmother of rock’n’roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe), the album shines a light on those overlooked by the mainstream – including Egyptian feminist activist Huda Sha’arawi, Dodge City dancehall dancer Dora Hand and the ‘Jazz Baroness’, Nica Rothschild. ”