I-95; almost two thousand miles from Maine to Florida, if you’re Southbound like J.P. Soars. Not as well known as Route 66, but here’s a coincidence; I’m reading a guitar player’s memoir at the moment (next review up) which references I-95 extensively. And Southbound? Well that’s heading towards Florida and who wouldn’t, particularly in the winter? The title song’s a road song, plain and simple, in the age-old tradition; it’s the story of touring musicians, road dogs, and it’s the most straight-up, no-nonsense song on the album. No matter how sophisticated your tastes and influences get, it’s always fun to throw in a few loud riffs and fills

J.P. Soars is no average blues player. Great players don’t allow themselves to be defined by one genre; blues/rock might be at the centre of “Southbound I-95” but it doesn’t define it. And before we move on, there are fifteen songs on the album, but the funky “Sure as Hell Ain’t Foolin’ Me” crops up in ‘explicit’ and ‘clean’ versions (‘bullshit’ becomes ‘BS’) and “Arkansas Porch Party” reappears as the muted background for a hidden track.

If you’re this good, you don’t just keep recycling the same old licks; you keep moving on and soaking up more and more esoteric influences which then resurface in your work. You might do the Albert King and Muddy Waters covers (and J.P. does “When You Walk Out that Door” “Deep Down in Florida” with style and conviction) but there’s a lot more to it than that. Some of the stylings are fairly standard; “Southbound I-95” opens with a surf-punk guitar sound (think Dick Dale meets Link Wray, “Shining Through the Dark” is sixties pop-soul with a hint of “Hey Baby” while “The Grass Ain’t Always Greener” channels “Great Balls of Fire” and the Gary Bonds stomper “New Orleans”.

Things get a bit more esoteric with the mariachi horns adorning “Deep Down in Florida”, the surf meets Perez Prado sound of “Across the Desert” and the strangeness that is “Troubled Waters” which opens like Lynyrd Skynyrd before morphing into an Eastern-influenced instrumental breakdown with a banjo taking the sitar part and back into Southern rock again.

In a world where the hopes of megastardom as a blues/rock player are minimal (apparently there’s only room for one Joe Bonamassa at any given time) and you have talent to burn like J.P Soars, then you just have to follow your vision and go where it leads you. On the whole, this is a hugely entertaining album; it sounds like everyone’s having a great time and the playing is phenomenal – give it a listen.

Release date Friday March 8th .

And enjoy this:

It’s a phrase that first was first heard in feminist politics in the late sixties – “The personal is political” – and it’s just as applicable in the USA today. Jess Klein’s latest album, “Back to My Green” is the culmination of a period of turmoil that was both political and personal; a new relationship (and marriage) and a certain presidential election in 2016. Both of those things had a massive impact on Jess Klein’s work, and her upheaval is definitely our gain, pushing her out of her comfort zone and into new ways of writing and recording. A stripped-back, raw set of songs morphed over time into a band sound which even stretched to a couple of sixties-style string quartet arrangements.

The album’s rough trajectory is from the personal through the personal/political and back to the more contemplative personal as the album closes and, although the title track has a powerful message, the personal and political strands are knitted together inextricably in the album’s longest and hardest-hitting song “New Thanksgiving Feast” which ties highly personal childhood reminiscences to ancient fishing rights, Native American pipeline protests and the ‘taking the knee’ national anthem protests spreading through American sport. It’s a heady mix and underlines a theme that’s increasingly common in Americana today; depending on whose figures you believe, ninety-nine per cent of Americans are descended from immigrants. Jess Klein only has go back two generations to find that link (a bit like POTUS really, but I bet Jess’s father didn’t attract the ire of Woody Guthrie). “Blair Mountain” also combines the two strands, looking at the impact of rapacious mining on the economics and ecology of a small town while “Gates of Hell” rails at the lunacy of life in the land of the free in the early twenty-first century.

Which brings us to the title song, positioned in the middle of the album. The message is that there can be an escape from the madness if you find the right place. I’ve focussed on the lyrical content, but Jess has also created some memorable melodies and the band creates musical settings that allow each of the songs to shine. The album is studded with interwoven personal insights and social comment married to great tunes. I’ll take that any day of the week.

“Back to My Green” is released in the UK on Friday February 22 on Blue Rose Records (BLU DP0727) and Jess is touring the UK in April-May 2019.

Ok, a couple of little stories for ya from Shepherd’s Bush Empire. First one’s from 2010.

Backstage at a Jukes soundcheck, I was loitering waiting for Southside Johnny to arrive for an interview and trying pretty unsuccessfully to pretend I wasn’t nervous. I mean why would I be, this guy had only been a hero of mine for over thirty years and this was my first interview with him. Think about something else, listen to what’s happening down on the stage at the end of the soundcheck. So I did and it was unusual; it was Jeff Kazee singing something I had never heard at a Jukes show. Jeff had missed the European mainland leg of the tour because of a family bereavement and was doing his first gig in London. Fast forward about four hours and that little bit of distraction comes back to hit me like a sledgehammer as Jeff lets out his feelings in the most public way with a heart-rending, tear-jerking version of “Many Rivers to Cross”. If you wanted a definition of catharsis, this was it; it would have melted a heart of stone. Did I cry? And then some, and I wasn’t on my own. It was the most moving thing I’ve ever experienced at a gig, and that’s a lot of gigs.

Skip forward just a year to October 21 2011. The Reverend Harold Camping had predicted (for the second time) that the world would end on that day. On stage at the Empire, it was beginning to look like he might be right. From the start of the set, there were complaints from the band about the monitor mix and just as the crew got that sorted out, another gremlin raised its head in the shape of Glenn Alexander’s guitar amp; it wasn’t amplifying. You’re on stage, the set’s just catching fire and suddenly your equipment blindsides you. Take losing your wi-fi for an hour and multiply it by a hundred; you’re getting close to the level of frustration on stage left that night. Long story short, it took three amps before the glitch was solved; the only problem now was to get the gig back on track, so what would the mainman do. The mainman called a Sonny Boy Williamson tune, “Help Me”, throwing the spotlight back at Glenn to harness his frustration and kickstart the show; which it did, with a vengeance. That’s a great band and bandleader in action right there.

And, honestly, it’s not for everyone. If your thing is a setlist that’s been rehearsed to within an inch of its life, absolutely note-perfect and with a synched lighting plot (and I’m honestly not knocking that) this isn’t the gig for you. However, if you want a set that’s unpredictable, packed with powerful vocal and instrumental performances and great tunes, this definitely is for you. And I haven’t even mentioned my favourite combination yet. Cheese and onion, sweet and sour, trouble and strife don’t even come close – it’s horns and Hammond, Hammond and horns (see, it’s even alliterative). The recipe’s pretty simple; get seven of the best live musicians you can find, make sure they know all of (ok, most of) the songs and give them plenty of opportunities to express themselves. When those guys are Jeff Kazee (keys), Glenn Alexander (guitar), John Conte (bass), Tom Seguso (drums), John Isley (sax), Chris Anderson (trumpet) and Neal Pawley (trombone) each performance will be special and different. Now, that I will go see and hear any time.

So why am I telling you all of this now? Easy, there’s a couple of those increasingly rare opportunities to see Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in the UK on a mini tour in March 2019. The band’s playing Glasgow (St Luke’s) on March 19th, London (Shepherd’s Bush Empire) on March 22nd and Holmfirth (Picturedrome) on March 23rd and 24th. Why two gigs at The Picturedrome? Because the first one sold out – obviously the North of England knows about good music. These UK gigs are precious because it ain’t cheap to bring an eight-piece across the Atlantic and you never know how long it is until the next tour.

So get yourself some tickets for one of the remaining shows and treat yourself to one of the best live bands in the business. What will they play? I don’t know and, most likely they don’t know, but it will be special and it won’t be anything like the set they played the previous night. See you at The Bush.

 

Humour me for a minute. Every so often, a piece of work like this comes along (it’s not just an album it’s a project, maybe even a concept) where every aspect and detail is absolutely perfect. The humouring bit concerns my particular slant on the project. MusicRiot’s gig team, The Riot Squad, are big fans of Dean Owens, the UK representative on the project, so forgive me if I spend a bit of time on Dean’s contribution. It’s fair to say that Dean’s solo material has a strong sense of location; he writes about the area and the people he knows, just like Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh in their novels and short stories. It’s also fair to say that he’s always been willing to push the boundaries in his collaborations, spreading out into traditional Scottish folk ballads as Redwood Mountain with Amy Geddes, rockier material with his occasional band Deer Lake and his consistently excellent work with Will Kimbrough (more about that later).

Buffalo Blood is something else indeed. Dean teamed up with his Nashville friends and collaborators Neilson Hubbard, Audrey Spillman and Joshua Britt, along with sound engineer and photographer Jim DeMain to spend two weeks deep in the New Mexico desert feeling the forces of previous lives played out there while writing and recording  fifteen songs that tap into the echoes of centuries of betrayal, exploitation and alienation of the Native American peoples. And it’s not just the songs; there’s video and photography as well. The incredibly ambitious aim of the project is to immerse the listener in five hundred years of Native American experience. What’s truly incredible is that they actually succeeded. “Buffalo Blood” is an album that will entrance you, engage you and enrage you; maybe it will even make you take a serious look at the history of the indigenous peoples of the American continent. That’s what can happen when creative artists follow their instincts and beliefs and just create; I can’t imagine any of the major music providers bankrolling this project, but I believe “Buffalo Blood” has a real shot at commercial success; it’s that powerful.

The songs were recorded live outdoors in the desert, the wind and animal noises contributing to the feeling of immersion in an environment that retains echoes of centuries of struggle. The quality of the songwriting is consistently high across the album as Celtic, European and Native American influences combine to create a perfect musical backdrop for a message that is still relevant (Standing Rock ring any bells?).

The album has a narrative flow; it moves from the original contact with European settlers through time to the closing lament “Vanishing World”, which is perfectly suited to Dean Owens’ plaintive voice. This album is a classic, carrying a very potent message through the medium of haunting melodies and flawless performances; get it on your wishlist.

If you needed the album to be ground-breaking in any more ways, it’s the first UK release on the Eel Pie Records label and it’s available as a vinyl gatefold double album or digitally from Friday February 15 (EPRLP001)

Breaking news – Dean Owens won UK Song of the Year at the UK Americana Awards 2019 for the title track from his 2018 “Southern Wind” collaboration with Will Kimbrough. And that’s not the only good news from the Buffalo Blood camp; Neilson Hubbard produced “Southern Wind” and also Ben Glover’s “Shorebound” (UK Album of the Year winner) and “Rifles and Rosary Beads” for Mary Gauthier, who won International Artist of the Year and is up for a Grammy this year. Not a bad haul, and that’s before “Buffalo Blood” is released.

If you need any more recommendations for Buffalo Blood, try this:

First impressions; sometimes you can stake your life on them and sometimes… Well, this was one of those. The opening song, “Let’s Go Back in Time, Man”, screamed out ‘Rockabilly Revival – again’, and we’ve all seen too many of those built around mediocre pop bands. But the album’s twelve songs long, so let’s not be too hasty. Guess what? By the second song I’d admitted to being a bit premature and by the end of the album, the message had hit home; the title of the first song’s ironic and this is about viewing a mid-twentieth century musical phenomenon through a twenty-first century lens. Forget the revival, this is how Rob’s rockabilly rolls in 2019.

Now, with the best will in the world, some of the original UK rockabilly bands were characterised more by enthusiasm than expertise; that’s definitely not the case with Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra. These people can play and what they are is much, much more than a skiffle band with better gear. And maybe rockabilly isn’t really a wide enough description for the scope of their work. Just look at all the incongruous elements.

The second song, “There’s a Hole Where my Pocket Used to Be” combines  a Spaghetti Western ambience and choral refrain with a Theremin and a clever lyric built around the number six. Don’t look for too many predictable where Rob Heron’s concerned. Song number three, “Life is a Drag”, combines lyrics about the joys of cross-dressing with a jazz arrangement, an accordion solo and lead guitar that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Les Paul record. And so it goes on – “Une Bouteille de Beaujolais” evokes a Paris café with an accordion solo, a gypsy Django feel and wine references. You wouldn’t find either of those two songs in a Crazy Cavan set.

That’s not the end of the invention by a long way. “Fool Talkin’ Man” has a Gallic Jacques Brel feel with some atonal touches creating a slightly menacing feel while the title song has the feel of a seventies American TV theme married to a lyric about unwanted gentrification in our cities. And even if the album’s closer, “Double Meaning, Double Entendre”, is based on a fairly thin premise, it’s still good fun and there’s always a place for that. Give it a listen; even better, go out and watch them on their upcoming tour.

“Soul of My City” is released on Tea Pad Recordings (TPCD006) on Friday February 1st, 2019.

 

A few words about MusicRiot before we get underway. You won’t find any negative reviews here. There’s way too much negativity everywhere around us; why add to that? We pick music that we like, live or recorded and we tell you about it; nice and simple. Well, it is most of the time, until you bump up against an album like “Trouble Holding Back”. It’s Helen Rose’s debut album, it’s a labour of love and she’s poured a lot of herself into it. Which brings us back to negativity and how we try to avoid it.

There are some truly outstanding songs on this album but (and here’s my subjectivity cop-out kicking in) there are a couple that I just don’t get. I’m not dwelling on them, but I can’t see the need for another cover of “When the Levee Breaks” and the title track, to my ears, is an over-cooked glam rock stomper. So let’s look at the positives.

The album’s second song “Flatlands of North Dakota” is a little classic, combining echoes of Bobbie Gentry with sweeping string arrangements and a nod in the direction of Roy Budd’s “Get Carter” theme. Match that up with a message about mothers doing what they have to do to bring up a family and you have a great song. “Mississippi Moon” is subtle, lush and atmospheric with a tasteful close-miked sax solo and not too many frills and “Oh Glory Be” is a full-on rock ‘n’ soul production with a horn section and a call and response gospel refrain. And let’s not forget the beautiful stripped-back version of Steve Earle’s powerful indictment of strip-mining, “The Mountain”. There’s more than enough good material here to make this well worth listening to.

“Trouble Holding Back” is released on Friday January 25th 2019 on Monkey Room Music (MRM 0008).

Time flies. It’s over three years since we reviewed the last Sam Lewis album “Waiting on You”. Well, he picked up the opening slot on Chris Stapleton’s ‘Traveler’ album tour, which is a long way from the last time we saw him in the basement at Green Note. He’s moved on a bit in terms of his songwriting as well. The voice is as good as ever and, like the arrangements and stylings, it’s in that confluence where the rivers of blues, soul and country meet. It’s quite a voice; for those of a certain age, if you take a touch of rawness away from Frankie Miller, you’re getting somewhere close.

Events in the outside world have had their impact on Sam’s songs (as they have on many other American songwriters during that time) and there’s a move away from the personal in the lyrics towards an exploration life in America in the Trumpton era. It’s certainly darker than his previous work and definitely in tune with the zeitgeist. And there are some great tunes as well.

There’s a theme running through the album of moving from or towards something, but it goes a little further than that. “Great Ideas” references the management theory of disruption as a means of progress and, despite the darker mood of the album, there’s a huge amount of positivity as well. The message of “Do It” is to spread the love around, while the title track is about the idea that unity and diversity can happily co-exist, even today.

Looking at the whole thing, the album is gorgeous. Sam’s voice is as smooth and seductive as ever and the arrangements are perfect, serving the song without ever becoming too showy or obtrusive. The closest we get to a showy guitar solo is on “The Only One”, and even that’s very tasteful, and definitely not ostentatious. Standouts; it’s all very, very good and bears repeated listening, but I think it has to be the title song “Loversity” which stacks the two guitars prevalent throughout the album up against horns and huge choral backing vocals over a Stax-style groove; what more could you want?

“Loversity” is released in the UK on Loversity Records on Friday January 18th.

Meanwhile, feast your eyes and ears on this:

Welcome to 2019. Here’s the first album review of the year for you.

Listening to Gordie Tentrees’ studio output, it always struck me that there was something missing; I couldn’t quite commit to the albums. It appears that many fans of Gordie and Jaxon Haldane’s live shows thought the same, repeatedly asking for an album that was more representative of the live experience. The result was “Grit”, recorded over five separate gigs in five different venues and it’s fair to say I’m convinced now. The press release warns that ‘All songs contain GRIT. The essential ingredient to overcoming adversity’, or, alternatively, the difference between an oyster and a pearl.

The pair function as writing collaborators as well as duo performers, with a couple of their co-writes, “Grit” and “Junior” featuring on the album in addition to a brace of Tentrees/Fred Eaglesmith songs and a number of Gordie Tentrees  solo efforts.

The most astonishing aspect of “Grit” is the variety. The variety of instruments featured (ten between the two players, including the musical saw) and the variety and breadth of the songwriting, which ranges from the social satire of “Craft Beards and Man Buns”, dispensing fashion victim advice to the younger generation, to the moving (but still humorous) account of Gordie’s marriage. There are also a couple of sideswipes at some of the characters that travelling musicians meet along the way. “Sideman Blues” takes aim fair and square at songwriters who are propped up on the road by sidemen who receive little or no credit and not much more reward and, incidentally features some phenomenal playing from both Gordie and Jaxon.

And my favourite song? It’s a two-way choice between the aforementioned “Lost” and the profoundly moving and ultimately uplifting road burn-out song “Junior”. Either one works for me.

It’s a pretty good start to 2019. It’s an album that captures Gordie and Jaxon doing what they do best; performing. They cover all bases instrumentally, melodically and lyrically and do it with a great sense of joy.

“Grit” is released on Friday January 11, 2019 on Greywood Records.

You can find out for yourself how good they are at any of these UK tour dates:

JANUARY

Wed 30

Thu 31

London

South Molton, nr. Barnstaple

What’s Cookin’@ Leytonstone Ex-Servicemens Club

The Plough Hotel

FEBRUARY

Fri 1

 

Wellington, nr. Taunton

 

The Beambridge Inn

Sat 2 Worth Matravers, nr. Swanage The Square & Compass
Sun 3 Worth Matravers, nr. Swanage The Square & Compass                                                          NB. Matinee Show
Mon 4 Brighton The Greys
Tue 5 Bangor, North Wales Blue Sky Café
Wed 6 Southport Grateful Fred’s at The Atkinson
Thu 7 Stroud The Subscription Rooms
Fri 8 East Barsham , Norfolk The Moonshine Club, East Barsham Village Hall
Sat 9 York House Concerts York
Sun 10 Coldingham, Scottish Borders Coldingham Village Hall
Mon 11 Glasgow The Doublet
Tue 12 Dundee Gardyne Theatre
Wed 13 Kelso, Scottish Borders The Tipsy Ghillie
Thu 14 Edinburgh The Bluebird Cafe
Fri 15 Alford, Aberdeenshire Piggery-Smokery
Sat 16 Aberdeen The Blue Lamp
Sun 17 Biggar, South Lanarkshire The Wee Gig, Arcadia Music Cafe

 

Allan was a bit chuffed to get his first big festival photo accreditation this summer for Cornbury Festival in Oxfordshire. It was perfectly timed to coincide with a complete weekend shutdown of rail services through Oxford during the hottest weekend but it takes a lot more than that to stop a determined photographer. When he eventually made it there, well, we’ll let him tell you about it.

 

OK, Friday night and the first band to play in the dark with stage lights was Stereo MCs. Had to be done really. It was a bit of a nostalgia thing; loads of memories of my DJ days in the late eighties/early nineties. From the outset, it was obvious that Rob Birch is still a hugely charismatic and dynamic frontman. I think this just about captures it:

Last set on Friday night was UB40. I saw UB40 on their first national tour when they supported The Pretenders on tour across the UK in 1980. They were fired up, they wanted to succeed and they sounded amazing. Nearly forty years on, it’s a very different story; there are two UB40s touring and neither’s convincing. This version is pretty pedestrian, but they have one secret weapon – Brian Travers. I’m sure he wouldn’t claim to be the best sax player in the world, but he knows how to sell it:

Saturday night was busy (although Alanis Morissette decided not to allow any press access for her set) and the Songbird Stage was the place to be. Obviously Mavis Staples was a do-not-miss, but PP Arnold was another. You would think she’d never been away; she sounded fabulous and looked like this:

Sunday afternoon on the Pleasant Valley Stage; anyone for a bit of Deacon Blue? Definitely; I saw them a couple of times in the very early days and I loved them. It’s partly a Scottish thing, but it’s mainly a music thing. They have great songs and they have the experience to sell them on a festival stage. You never know, Ricky might do a bit of politics. Actually you do know, he will. Anyway, he’s looking pretty pumped these days:

Sunday evening headliners – Squeeze. We go back a long way; I saw Squeeze for the first time at Dundee University Students’ Association; there were more people on stage than in the audience and it was still a great gig. I’ve photographed them on occasions forty years apart (I know, I don’t look that old) and I still love those Difford/Tilbrook songs. This time, it was Yolanda Charles that really caught my eye:

As ever; songs, not singles. These songs are all from albums that we’ve reviewed this year (that’s Stone Foundation ruled out again – sorry guys). There’s something else, apart from greatness, that links all these choices; they’re not the only songs from the albums they feature on that could have made this list. The albums are all wonderful pieces of work taken as a whole, but they all feature at least two standout tracks that would have been seen as singles in a different musical era. There were difficult choices but ultimately it had to be whittled down to five songs. In no particular order, here are Allan’s favourite five songs of the year; the songs that made his heart soar or made him cry, but definitely made him hit the repeat button.

 

“The Last Song” – Dean Owens

Just to be contrary, it’s actually the first song on the album, ”Southern Wind”, which was a collaboration with Will Kimbrough. One of the things Dean and Will bonded over was their love of Ronnie Lane, whose influence is all over this one. Having heard it live a few times, where it tends to appear towards the end of the set, confirms the power of the song and allows Dean to riff on repeated choruses by throwing in lines from, for example, “Ooh La La”. It’s fun and it’s memorable; if you don’t love this, you’ve got icicles for ventricles.

 

“Love in Wartime” – Birds of Chicago

Absolutely gorgeous. This clocks in at about the six minute mark but you just want it to keep going. It’s one of those that seduces you in with a gentle intro then builds and builds to the first chorus. And by that time, you’re hooked; you’re there for the duration. Maybe there’s a nostalgia thing there; the feel, the chord progressions are a lot like classic mid-seventies era Bob Seger. The melody’s hummable, the harmonies are superb and it’s hugely uplifting. I dare you not to be moved by this.

 

“Out from Under” – Michael McDermott

This is a song where you just have to accept the Bruce Springsteen comparison because this is a stadium rocker in the mould of “Born to Run”. It’s a monstrous ‘wall of sound’ production driving along by pounding, relentless floor toms and a huge full band arrangement. In the context of the album, it’s the song that represents the start of the upward turn in Michael’s rehabilitation and the uplifting lyrical message is carried along on the tide of a widescreen musical setting. Taken out of the context of the album, it’s a song that FM radio in the States would have been all over in the 80s – not just a powerhouse arrangement, a potent message as well.

 

“Son of an Immigrant” – Gerry Spehar

A perfect example of the song that leads you in a certain direction before pulling the rug from under you and twisting the point of the narrative. It’s not just an example of a clever narrative trick; like the rest of the album, this is a powerful commentary on the current state of the USA, and its current leader. The song has a very clear message; if you go back far enough almost everyone’s an immigrant in the land of the free. Like “Out from Under”, it sits perfectly within the context of the album without needing that context to shine as a great song.

 

“The Shape of You” – Rod Picott

Sometimes a song just needs to find the point in your life where it fits. This one happened for me on the Tube on the way back from a gig at Green Note. I’d already heard it a few times but this time it suddenly hit home. It’s about the realisation that someone has become a part of you. In this case because that person has gone, but I guess the image works if they’re still around. The song opens with the image in the title, then develops that image. It’s a really simple idea but beautifully effective. The arrangement’s sparse, with mainly acoustic guitar and vocal with some very subtle Will Kimbrough guitar atmospherics just lurking in the background. Delicate and gorgeous.

There are many other songs that could have been on this list; there’s so much incredible music out there, but these were the ones that were buzzing around my consciousness when I put this together. Have a listen, and I hope you enjoy.