Hey! Hey! Hey! Putting the Western Swing Into Honky-Tonking Classic Country!
This is another album where tracks keep popping up on my I-Phone ‘random selector’; but yesterday was the first time I’ve actually sat down and listened to it from start to finish. Being the old duffer I am, I remember when Akron, Ohio was the Capital of Alternative Music and seemed the most exotic place on earth; so it’s probably no real surprise that Akronites Ryan Humbert (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and Brian Poston (electric & acoustic guitar) would find each other via a mutual love of proper Country music and go on to record their own version in all it’s glory and occasionally glamour. Opening track Cleaning House virtually crackles with excitement as the guitars Twang like a call of nature; and the ‘ear-worm’ chorus ain’t too bad either. As is common in the modern idiom The Shootouts cleverly draw bits and pieces from lots of Classic genres to make what becomes their very own swaggering style; giving us some crash-bang Rockabilly (or is it Honky-Tonk?) with Who Needs Rock & Roll and If I Could both leaving you breathless by the end and even the title track Quick Draw as an instrumental sounds like Duanne Eddy and Link Wray having a shoot-out at the OK Coral wine bar in downtown Akron! With so much history to draw from, The Shootouts manage to do their melancholy love songs with ease and grace, making Lonely Never Let Me Down and the pedal-steelfest that is Losing Faith in Being Faithful sounding like dusty old 60’s Country love songs that have been gussied up, cherished and refreshed by their owners; but they are actually brand new from the box. For me; and I hope you too, this album is totally refreshing in such a mad world that we find ourselves in today; and three songs in particular have caught my attention and tugged at my tired old heartstrings. If We Quit Now not just stars that sublime pedal-steel again, but just when you’re not expecting them a string section of Buddy Holly proportions sweep in and whisk you off into Country Music Heaven for three minutes or so. Then, Radio Jesus is definitely a song that defies genre and it’s only the subject matter that makes you realise that it is a contemporary Country song of the Alternative persuasion; and the other song is one I instantly recognised; though I doubt 99.9% of record buyers will. Each time my I-Phone has played the jaunty It Must Be Love my brain presumed it was some olde songe from ye darke ages; possibly an Everly Brothers minor hit; then I finally read the Press Release. Damn my eyes and curse my memory! It Must Be Love is already a Favourite Song on RMHQ by it’s writer, the divine Stacey Earle (aunt of Justin T and sister of Steve) who has been a favourite here for many years. If you only buy or listen to one song, make it this and then, not only buy QUICK DRAW but then discover the delights of Stacey Earle herself. You won’t regret it. If there’s a downside to this album (and there isn’t) it would be finding a category to comfortably fit it into in a Record Shop…… or perhaps that’s the cunning plan; the shop has to buy five copies to put one each into Country, Honky Tonk, Rockabilly, Western Swing and even Americana. Clever that!
Shipcote & Friends
I’M QUITE HAPPY WITH THAT.
Low Fella Records
Laid Back Americana Full of Warmth Via NE England.
The once thriving Shipcote area of Gateshead in Tyne and Wear has all but gone now; but the name lives on as the alter-ego of one half of the Jumpin’ Hot Club and full time musical troubadour Mr Graham Anderson; of which this is his latest disc.
If you already know him and his music you will buy this CD regardless of what I have to say; as ‘once a fan, always a fan’ in my experience; but to the uninitiated he writes very clever and intricate songs about the immediate world around him and the people who inhabit it; performing them in a warm, charming and laid-back Western-Swing meets American Folk via a traditional singer-songwriter hybrid that doesn’t particularly sound like anyone else I can think of. Confused? You won’t be!
I had to take a deep breath the first time I heard opening track Mystery Waltz as it begins with Cath and her accordion nodding towards something akin to the Captain Pugwash tune; but mercifully Shipcote and the other Friends seamlessly slide in with the first of a series of magical love songs sung to a hypnotic melody that will make you sway along as you aimlessly mouth the words, while thinking that you know who the song is really about.
The jaunty Photograph follows; and yet again a simple thing like ‘looking at a photograph of his wedding day’ ends up taking us all down ‘memory lane’ thinking exactly the same thoughts about our own past; such is the power of clever songwriting.
Although a man of a ‘certain age’ Shipcote isn’t as cynical as the majority of people I know; generally seeing the best in life; as the punchy Sanctuary Street and the delightfully romantic Country Swing of Lucky Me prove; but he can also let his imagination go wild with the insightful and sensitive I’m Coming To Get You, which will also turn a few eyes misty as time goes by.
The whimsical I Get Around and title track, I’m Quite Happy With That are both autobiographical ditties that had me smiling from start to finish as our man describes his day to day life; with the latter being a description of his office including the posters on the wall , the swivel chair and his name sat next to a paperweight on his desk; and is all only an 8 minute ride away each day. I doubt Robbie Williams will ever cover this song; but I love it to bits!
Picking a Favourite Track on a Shipcote album is never easy, as each song always has its merits; and this one is no different with the slightly brittle and dark break up Hope It Stays That Way is unlike anything I’ve heard from him before and would be a contender for that reason alone; but the addition of luscious harmonies and a heartbreaking cello take it onto a whole other level.
Then there are two songs that are very close to my own heart, the first is a tongue in cheek tilt towards the myriad of Award Ceremonies every year, covering just about every (and some made up) categories in our own little musical world; leaving them with very little, if any meaning save for the Press Releases that litter my desk.
The other; and it’s the one I’m actually giving the prize to is What Can a City Do? Specifically about Newcastle which is on the verge of having more student accommodation than it has for actual rate payers and (more importantly) Social Housing; Shippy lists all of the new businesses that now litter the High Streets of our once Green and Pleasant land. And, in Shipcote & Friends style it’s all sung over a charming and lazy Countryfied melody.
Okay, I’m a friend first, a fan second and only thirdly an impartial reviewer; but if ever a song title summed up the contents of the music within the cover it’s, I’m Quite Happy With That and that’s is exactly what you will feel as the final song runs out into the groove.
Charming Contemporary Country Music That Nods Back To The Golden Years.
Well…..this is a fascinating … as I first encountered Sophia and her sister Hannah when they were members of the Toy Hearts alongside Dad Stewart; and loved seeing them play live many times, plus their song Tequila and High Heels was a favourite of my listeners on the Jumping Hot Club Radio Show many years ago.
Sophia eventually re-located to the Colonies and the home of the music she loves, Austin. She skillfully describes the initial frustration she encountered entering the US of A very eloquently on the swinging opening track Visa Blues; and I’m sure will be sung with a rye smile when featured in concert. And it has to be said Sophia’s guitar playing is as extraordinary as ever on the solos; often hinting at Chet Atkins several times.
What pleases me most here is the way Sophia slips and slides between several Country Music styles with ease; although the title track One Year, and her version of the intriguingly titled Bob Wills instrumental Big Beaver truly showcase her first love, Western Swing.
While she wrote and arranged most of the Toy Hearts songs, Sophia’s writing has really matured since she moved to Austin; with Don’t Call and the acutely observed bittersweet Kitchen Floor and Rue The Day showing a new contemporary style of storytelling which I like a lot.
Now;the accolade of ‘RMHQ Favourite Song’ goes to Starting Fires; because it’s not just an exceptional Country ‘Break Up’ song but also a superb slice of Classic Country melancholic melodrama played out to a haunting backdrop and a wailing fiddle from Beth Chrisman and some divine Honky-Tonk piano from the delightfully monikered Earle Poole Ball all combine to create a song that would have done Patsy or Loretta proud in the heyday of Country Music on National Radio.
The album comes to a sweet and swinging close with a jaunty rendition of I’m an Old Cowhand and Beaumont Rag which showcases not just Sophia Johnson’s dexterity on the geetar, but the amazing skills of the musicians she has surrounded herself with.
First released in 2016 this album has arrived too late to be featured in any of my Top 10’s; but it would have been a worthy contender as it’s been a bundle of pleasant surprises from start to finish.
As things have shown in my personal life recently; life’s too short and it’s all about the music at the end of the day; and this album is really well worth searching out.
Country AND Western That Will Break Your Heart (And Mend It Too!)
This is a weird thing to say, but I always felt sorry for the Toy Hearts (sisters Sophia and Hannah Johnson plus Dad Stewart) as they were exceptionally talented, looked good and were bloody hard working; but were treading the circuit and releasing albums in the years just before British Country Music became cool (and profitable).
So it was a lovely surprise when I saw a link to Hannah Johnson’s IndiGoGo page last week financing her maiden solo album; then before I had the chance to pledge some dosh, or ask a mutual friend for a contact number, Stewart sent me an e-mail offering a review copy – RESULT!
It arrived the following morning and hasn’t been out of the car stereo for the last three days.
The opening track Nowhere Train is an absolute delight; with Hannah channelling her inner Reba and Tammy on a delicious slice of Classic Country with enough Telecaster Twang to set my heart on fire.
With not hearing the Toy Hearts for a couple of years I’d forgot what a lovely and distinctive voice young Ms. Johnson has; soft, velvety and with just the slightest ‘rasp’ around the edges; and alongside Stewart’s classy pedal-steel and Chris Shirley’s subtle bass playing gives a truly authentic sound to Morning Cocktail* and the swoonsome West Texas Lullaby.
Hannah co-wrote 3 songs here; but it’s her ability to choose a song to suit her voice that is most impressive. She could easily have gone for a bunch of Classics; but no….there are a couple of brave choices here that work a damn site better than they should. I already own three versions of Trouble in Mind; and there are scores of others but Hannah takes it, turns it inside out and makes it a sultry Western Swing song; perfect for a late night in a Downtown Honky Tonk; and it’s a similar story with Willie Nelson’s Three Days on which she really does get to show her vocal range in all it’s glory.
I had a rye smile when I first heard Hannah purr her way through this sultry version of Not In Birmingham; not just because it’s marvellous; but of course because Ms Johnson comes from Birmingham…..ENGLAND; which I doubt Roger Miller had in mind when he wrote it.
For once Mrs Magpie agree on a ‘favourite song’ and I’m thrilled to say that the clever and bittersweet your Girlfriend Hates Me is a co-write between Hannah and Sarah Sharp; and is as good a Country song that I’ve heard in years; and is absolutely perfect for National Radio and TV; in the UK and US of A!
The Toy Hearts were probably best associated with Bluegrass and possibly Western Swing; but were never ‘one trick ponies’ and Hannah moves through the different genres with the same ease and cool herself; with every song being different enough from the previous one to keep the whole album interesting but nothing ever jars; which is quite some feat for Hannah Stewart and Chris Barns who all co-produced this 36 minutes minutes of Country Heaven.
The funniest part of me keep talking about SHAKEN being an ‘Authentic Country’ album is that expression is out of fashion these days and Hannah Johnson (& The Broken Hearts) recorded the album at the Ameripolitan Studios in Austin TX and has firmly aligned herself (and band) to Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan Movement which is rekindling this type of quality music around the globe; and more power to all of them.
PS i I’m pleased to see that sister Sophia, while not in ‘the band’ plays acoustic guitar throughout.
PS ii My car stereo doesn’t have enough room to show the full title of *Morning Cocktail; missing ‘tail’…..which made me blush the first time I looked!
The legendary Martin Stephenson and Graeme ‘Shipcote’ Anderson talk about their time in The Toe Rags (and more); who are reforming for one night only on 1st August in the Q Festival Speigletent in Baltic Square, Gateshead alongside Jumping Hot Club regulars…. HYMN FOR HER (USA), BRENNEN LEIGH & NOEL McKAY (USA) and GEORGE WELCH & CHRISTINE JEANS on 1st August 2017.
Aha! Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock really is a ‘one off’ sounding quite unlike anyone else, especially all the pretenders to his self-made throne.
I only discovered his magnificent 1995 debut album Thunderstorms and Neon Signs a couple of years ago when I had my radio show. A friend with impeccable taste asked for the title track to be played on one of the very first episodes; and the album became a favourite of our listeners; but that’s in the past.
Three years since his last album hasn’t seen Hancock resting on his laurels; no sirree! Averaging over 200 gigs every year where he has honed these new songs like a razors edge; and the time is finally right for another dose of good time, Juke-Joint, Hill-billy, Swing with assorted love songs for good measure.
The album opens with Hancock introducing the title track Slingin’ Rhythm then counting the band in and …phew we then get the coolest, autobiographical ‘road song’ you will ever hear; and more than a smattering of red hot gee-tar…Mister!
While Wayne Hancock certainly has a distinctive ‘sound’ based around a head mix of Western Swing and Classic Country with a spine of Rockabilly in there too; but he somehow manages to never repeat himself.
Wear Out Your Welcome; even features some sweet guitar that owes more than a nod in the direction of Les Paul and Chet Atkins; but certainly doesn’t sound dated.
What may or may not be overlooked with Hancock is his song-writing and story telling which gets over shadowed by the way he sings. Divorce Me C.O.D is a very clever song based around a very Country ‘theme’ going back to Hank, George and the rest; but Hancock’s turn of phrase never sounds dated.
Dirty House Blues is a stunning little number featuring some absolutely sizzling pedal-steel alongside a chunka-chunka 4/4 back-beat that will have toes a tapping and fingers clicking all over the world.
OK I’m a sucker for a love song; always have been and always will be so the short and sweet, Love You Always is already a favourite at RMHQ, but there are two other songs that certainly take Wayne Hancock to another level.
Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine is the type of Country-Gospel I would normally associate with Hank Williams but this song has more than a hint of Woody Guthrie in it too and was spine-tingling the first time I heard it.
But….by far the favourite song at RMHQ is the Murder Ballad ‘Killed em Both;’ a fabulous song that has all of the hallmarks of a show stealer wherever and when ever Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock comes to town.
Dog Day Blues and Small Bouquet of Roses are both the type of song that would have been Top of the Hit Parade in the late 50’s or early 60’s perhaps; but are probably ‘too Country’ for Modern FM Radio….but with the upsurge in specialist Digital Radio I’m sure you will hear them and just about all of the other songs here somewhere on the World Wide Web.
The Soundtrack To An Imaginary Soundtrack of Jimmie Rodger’s Life.
You can listen to this album on several different levels; and thoroughly enjoy it every which way, as it is the fabled Paul Burch’s latest album sung in a semi-traditional; but always reverential Country-Swing style and; most interestingly it’s an ‘imagined autobiography of The Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers life.’
As I know very little about Jimmie Rodgers; I will review it as the former; if you don’t mind.
The first song, Meridian; about the town in Mississippi where Rodgers was born, opens with some charming clarinet, before Burch saunters in with an even more charming, piano led song setting the scene for the story that will follow.
As you would expect every song charts a period or event in Jimmie’s life; and I particularly like the Honky-Tonk foot-stomper US Route 49 and the bewitching Hillbilly twang of Black Lady Blues; in the first half. The fiddle playing on that latter tune is worth the entrance fee alone.
That same fiddle nearly sets on fire during To Paris (With Regrets); a barnstorming piece of Gypsy-Jazz that also has some crazy guitar and a red hot accordion too; the song is well worthy of the music in the background too btw.
With Gunther Hotel Blues, which immediately follows, it’s back to Western Swing as Burch tells a raunchy and dark tale that shines a new light on Mr. Rodgers, for me.
It’s not all laughs and toe-tappin’ tunes here; there’s even a bit of a socio-political statement tucked away in the middle, with The Poor Don’t Vote. Although written by Burch in 2015/16 it truly capture the feeling of the times Rodgers lived and worked in.
As I understand it from the bio and also a friend who is a fan of Jimmie Rodgers; Rodgers fused Western Swing with the Blues and Folk giving rise to the argument that he was a forerunner for what would become known as Rock & Roll; and again Burch captures that spirit on Fast Fuse Blues and Back to the Honky Tonks; which is an absolute delight from start to finish; no matter how many times I hear it.
While there’s an awful lot here to enjoy; my two favourite tracks are the sad New Orleans infused, love song, The Girl I Sawed in Half and a similarly Jazz infused If I Could Only Catch My Breath which features Billy Bragg and the legendary Jon Langford, the latter of which is as good a song as I may have ever heard.
When the final track, the short and sweet, but still rambunctious Oh Didn’t He Ramble filters in you know that you are listening to; and have been listening to something really special indeed.
Shipcote & Friends
Old Is Cool Again
Low Fella Records
The King of Geordie & Western Swing Does It Again.
Every week in 2015 I received albums from all around the globe; some from household names and many from regional acts looking for a ‘leg up’; but none excite me as much as when Shipcote casually teld me he was sending a new disc.
I can’t even tell you why that should be; because most other albums of this ilk leave me a little bit nonplussed; but perhaps the way Shippy happily combines Western Swing, Gipsy Jazz and Old-School Blues with the occasional local theme; it tickles my fancy every time.
The album opens with a delightfully short instrumental; based around a piano accordion and a rumbling Rumba tune. Saltwell Park Lilt could go on forever for me; and while it’s named after a local park; it feels like a sunny walk in the park anywhere in the world.
Just when you are sitting comfortably, without a care in the world letting the music wash over you; Shipcote drops two smart-bombs, in the guise of the toe-tapping Carehome Blues and the big, bouncy and brassy Sometimes Your Up. It’s all too easy to pass these two songs by; but delve a little deeper and you willfind two eye wateringly, heartbreaking stories hiding within two jaunty tunes.
It’s very rare that a British songwriter can make our Cities and regions sound as romantic as they do in the Americas; but Graham manages just that in North of England. It’s so good; I’d pay good money to see him sing it live somewhere in the Colonies (or London) and hear the audience sing along with the catchy chorus. The NE has a new anthem!
While it may not appeal to everyone; but I absolutely love the track Football Focus. OK there’s a lot of blinkered music fans out there who hate the Beautiful Game; but those of us who are fans will smile at the recognition of many things he picks up on.
The title track Old Is Cool Again; will appeal to all of us of a ‘certain age’ (even those in denial) and for the first time on a Shipcote album, we get girly backing singers on the chorus. Couple that with our fella’s warm and friendly voice alongside that accordion again plus Bry never sounding finer on ‘Jazz’ guitar; we have a distinct winner.
By far my favourite track on a lovely album; is Mr. Wonderful. A delightful Country-Jazz ode with a tight tsh-tsh beat; that has had me baffled for weeks; as it must be about someone I actually know! But I can’t put all the pieces together to come up with a name; perhaps I’m thinking too hard about it and should just love it for what it is. Oh – I can’t think of another time someone has rhymed Excitement with Newcastle United; in fact it’s a long time since those words were even mentioned in the same sentence.
The album closes with a rather beautiful love song, Angel of the North (pt2) which may or may not be a reprise of the song of the same title on his previous album; but this one manages to reference the greatest Music Club in Christendom – ‘We Go Dancing at the Jumping Hot Club’ that apart; it’s a glorious story of long term love that could be about me and Mrs. Magpie.
For nearly 10 years now Shipcote; with or without his Friends has been my default setting for cheering myself up when things get bleak; and yet again he has somehow managed to surpass his previous offering and everything that has gone before it.