Cowgirl BoudoirSo, Kimmie Rhodes. Singer-songwriter, former Willie Nelson collaborator and duet partner and generally overlooked talent from way back when, she has been quietly taking care of business by writing, recording and performing since 1981 without ever achieving the recognition she deserves. Well, maybe now is the time to put that right. On “Cowgirl Boudoir”, Kimmie works with multi-instrumentalist Johnny Goudie, producer Gabriel Rhodes and Sunbird Studios house band to create a poignant, forthright and sometimes achingly beautiful set of songs that deserve a wider audience. And it’s not just a collection of songs, the album has a narrative which flows from the hauntingly world-weary opening duet, “I Am Falling” with Johnny Goudie to the positive and uplifting closer, “Yes”.

With “Cowgirl Boudoir”, you get a lot of bang for your buck. There are fourteen songs on the album and absolutely no filler; every song is there on merit. It’s fair to say that there aren’t too many cheerful little toe-tappers but the songs are well-constructed, beautifully played and sung from the heart. There’s a theme which runs through the album; about half of the songs are about dysfunctional and flawed relationships, but that’s not really news in the singer-songwriter genre or in country music generally, is it?

Musically, the core of the studio band is Kimmie Rhodes (vocals, guitar), Johnny Goudie (vocals, guitar, piano), Gabriel Rhodes (just about everything), Dony Winn (drums, percussion) and Glen Fukunaga (bass) with the seasoning supplied by Jolie Goodnight (backing vocals), Tommy Spurlock (steel guitar, Dobro) and Stephano Intelisano (keyboards). The musical settings emphasise the mood of each song on the album, from the plaintive steel guitar of the opening track and “Lover Killing Time” to the uplifting piano on “Me Again” and folksy feel created by mandolin and guitar on “Always Never Leave”. Not forgetting the psychedelic feel of the electric sitar on “The Sky Fell Down” and the Hammond B3 filling out the mid-range of “Worthy Cause”.

The lyrics are deceptively simple; they sound very straightforward, but they’re actually very well-crafted. “Me Again” uses themes and characters from fairy stories and fables to evoke childhood, and buying “Eight Days a Week” to represent a rite of passage into adulthood and music, while “Trouble Is” has the listener trying to work out what trouble actually is before working out that trouble just is. And I could go on, but the best bet is for you to have a listen for yourself.

“Cowgirl Boudoir” is out now on Sunbird Records (SBD 0021) and you can see Kimmie Rhodes on tour here.

 

 

Sonic Boom TitleOK, so it’s about time we started another one of our occasional features. How about digging out those albums that had an instant impact on us and maybe even changed our musical tastes and lives. It could be something which went on to sell millions or it could be selling for 50p in the Oxfam shop (or both), but it was an album that made a difference. It was an album that made you see things in a different light and an album that you can drop the stylus on today, or stick in the CD player and it still makes you feel good. Oh, and you can listen to it from start to finish without skipping any tracks.

We’ll give you a starter for ten in the next couple of days and the Riot Squad will throw in the occasional contribution after that, but from that point on, it’s up to you. We want to hear about your personal album epiphanies; the impact they had when you first heard them and the effect they still have on you. We’re going to be asking for contributions from artists we’ve featured on Music Riot in the past and artists we’re hoping to feature in the future and anyone else who feels like having a go at enthusing about an album which influenced them.

Sound good to you? Watch this space and, if you feel like it, tell us about your Sonic Boom.

 

West TitleIt’s great to see that after twenty years together, Pete and Maura Kennedy are celebrating by releasing three albums in 2015, following the live Nanci Griffith set and Pete’s solo instrumental album last year. I can’t think of a more compact, complete and self-sufficient creative partnership than Pete and Maura. As live performers, they both sing beautifully, with Maura generally leading while Pete supplies perfect harmonies. Instrumentally, Maura provides the rhythm guitar backdrop while Pete plays lead lines to complement the songs and occasionally gets the chance to demonstrate his mastery of guitar and several more (mainly) stringed instruments. They’re both fine songwriters together and individually who aren’t afraid to include songs by other writers with their own material. This might all sound a bit general, but all of this applies to the duo’s latest studio album, “West”.

The eponymous opener, “West”, is a mid-tempo country rock exploration of a theme which dates back to eighteenth century, moving west as voyage of discovery. It just happens to have the most insanely catchy one-word chorus you’re ever likely to hear. As openers go, a road song with the perfect chorus is a pretty good start. “Elegy”, the second song in, is a folk-tinged celebration of the work of American folk singer-songwriter Dave Carter featuring banjo, mandolin, and even dulcimer from Pete. “Sisters of the Road” is a celebration (that word again) of the female voice and the bond between the sisterhood of performers who criss-cross the USA (and the rest of the world) meeting up whenever their schedules happen to coincide. “Signs” has a very 60s psychedelic folk feel with some electric sitar from Pete and a lyric inspired by a week spent by Maura in the New England woods. The mid-tempo country feel of “Jubilee Time” features a lead vocal from Pete and the uplifting message that however bad things are , they can always get better: ‘And when you’re standing with your hat filled with rain, Just remember that we will meet again’. And this may just say more about my record collection than anything else, but it reminds me a lot of Bob Seger’s “Fire Lake”.

From the opening low-register guitar intro, it’s obvious that “Locket” is inspired by Buddy Holly. It’s musically very simple, and lyrically it’s built around a metaphor of a locket representing a heart; simple but hugely effective. It also alludes to the genesis of Pete and Maura’s relationship twenty years ago, but that’s another story. “Southern Jumbo” returns to a country style, pulling together the themes of a family get-together for cooking and singing and a love song to a guitar and, again, it works perfectly. “Black Snake, White Snake” is a supernatural story of two sister snakes (one bad, one good) based on a piece by poet B.D. Love (who has also been collaborating with Maura on an upcoming album) with Pete’s sitar adding a psychedelic sound which emphasises the sinister tone of the piece.

“Bodhisattva Blues” is a flat-picked country blues pulling together concepts from Eastern and western religions sung in two-part harmony throughout and it’s great acoustic fun, while “Travel Day Blues” moves firmly into electric twelve-bar blues territory combining the legend of the Comte de Saint Germain with a list of some of the distractions that help to pass the hours spent moving from gig to gig. There’s also a nod in the direction of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and proof that all Chuck’s children are still out there playing his licks. “The Queen of Hollywood High” is a tribute to a Kennedys favourite, the late John Stewart. It’s perfect West Coast pop and Pete and Maura are also helped out here by John’s former band members.

If you know anything about The Kennedys, you probably know that they are Byrds fans, so it should be no surprise that John Wicks of The Records wrote a song for (and about) them, “Perfect Love”, which they perform here. It’s a lovely song and works really well with Pete and Maura’s voices. And what better way to end the album with a twentieth anniversary love song from Pete to Maura with Everlys-style harmonies? “Good, Better, Best” isn’t a song about everything always being perfect, but about how the right person helps you deal with the inevitable bad times.

“West” is a gem of an album; thirteen varied and beautifully-crafted songs played and sung with taste and sensitivity by two very gifted people. There aren’t any instrumental or vocal pyrotechnics, just proper playing and singing; there isn’t anything here that isn’t absolutely necessary. Besides the themes of love, celebration and remembrance, there’s a bit of the supernatural and a light-hearted look at religious enlightenment and fulfilment; I haven’t heard a better album in a long time.

The album is self-released on May 13th 2015, but Pete and Maura will be happy to sell you a copy at any of the following tour dates in the UK:

April

Thurs 30 Glasgow                   Woodend Bowling & Lawn Tennis Club

May

Friday 1                                   Basingstoke, The Forge at The Anvil

Sunday 3                                 Birmingham, Kitchen Garden Café

Wednesday 6                          Southport, Grateful Fred’s at The Atkinson

Thursday 7                              Milton Keynes, The Stables

Friday 8                                   London, Kings Place

Saturday 9                              Leeds, Seven Arts

Sunday 10                               Haile, Cumbria Haile Village Hall.

 

 

 

 

Smoke and MirrorsUnless you’re the most jaded and cynical old hack ever to have had any connection with the music business, then surely an email with the header ‘Slovenia’s ShadowIcon to release Symphonic Metal EP’ has to grab your attention. I mean, we know that symphonic metal exists, so why shouldn’t it exist in Slovenia? It’s easy to dismiss the genre as clichéd, over-the-top and predictable, but if you threw Paramore, My Chemical Romance and 1970s Queen into a blender you’d probably end up with something very like ShadowIcon (or a few litres of very messy genetic material).

The EP opens with “(Now I See) Through a Mirror Darkly”, a duet between Ana Prijatelj Pelhan and Helloween’s Sascha Gerstner and blasts in with a high-speed guitar riff and strings which break down briefly for the entry of the vocal, but carry on at 100mph (sorry 160kph) for the rest of the song. “If I Was the One”, the lead track from the EP is up next; slightly slower with loads of keyboard arpeggios under the vocal and a synth solo at the two-thirds mark which doubles up with guitar before the final chorus comes in. Here’s what the video looks like:

The Edge” (and it isn’t about the guitarist from U2),opens like a Phil Spector classic, breaking down briefly again for the entry of the vocal before building to wall of sound climax with strings and bells. Of course it’s over the top, but isn’t that the point? “The Beauty of a Rose” starts with slow solo piano and voice, but it doesn’t take long before it becomes a big production number, trading string and guitar riffs before the obligatory impassioned guitar solo and epic finish with massed choir vocals and a plaintive synth line. “My Plea” again opens with just mid-tempo voice and keyboard but doesn’t even make it to the end of the first verse before the rest of the band starts to pile in, building up to an epic final chorus with the usual massed backing vocals, guitars and keys all turned up to eleven. The final track is a non-duet version of the opening track which doesn’t really add anything, but it doesn’t take anything away, so I guess the decision was easy; just put it on there and the fans can decide which version they prefer.

In addition to Ana, the band comprises Tomaž Lovšin (guitars), Bojan Kostanjšek (guitars), Matej Ravšelj (bass), Peter Smrdel (keys) and Žiga Ravšelj (drums) and they’re all good musicians. It’s easy to criticise bands like ShadowIcon but the music’s dramatic and dynamic; the drums thunder, the guitars scream, and the lyrics stand up to scrutiny pretty well. If you like your metal melodic and melodramatic, then you’ve come to the right place.

Out on March 16th.

Mollie TitleAs ways to start the night go, having a chinwag with Joe Brown in the toilets at The Half Moon is a pretty good, if slightly surreal, one. So what’s he doing there on a Monday night? Perfectly obvious really; both Mollie Marriott and her support act Mo Evans are family and Joe’s there to support them. And he’s not the only one. Judie Tzuke (one of Mollie’s writing partners) has shown up as well. There’s a bit of a buzz around this show because it’s the debut for Mollie’s full band, and most of the audience is anticipating some new material as well.

But before we get to that, there’s a short set from Mollie’s nephew, Mo Evans, who’s a singer-songwriter in the confessional mould. Armed with only an acoustic guitar, a capo and some interesting tunings, he manages to grab the audience from the start. It’s a difficult job at the best of times, particularly when your songs don’t have too many happy moments, but they’re a pretty good crowd and he gets them onside. There’s a particularly nice moment at the end of the set when his guitar amp gives up and he reacts by jumping down from the stage and gathering the audience around him to finish the set completely unplugged.

Mollie’s been doing acoustic gigs and radio appearances recently with Johnson-Jay Medwik-Daley (guitar and backing vocals) and Izzy Chase-Phillmore (backing vocals) and this line-up is augmented for the album material by Sam Tanner, Alex Reeves and Henrik Irgens (keyboards, drums and bass). There’s an assurance about the band’s performance that only comes from putting in the hours in rehearsal; there should be some nerves showing on the first outing with new material but they’re well hidden. The band are all great individual musicians but this is about working together to showcase the songs and Mollie’s voice. Oh yes, that voice; it’s powerful and pure and strong (which you would expect from someone who’s worked extensively as a backing singer) but when she pushes it towards the limit, there’s a raw emotional edge there that you only find in the truly great blues and soul singers. On top of all that, she’s a genuinely engaging stage personality who has a great rapport with her band and the audience.

The set features the two singles “Ship of Fools” and “Transformer”, the Alanis Morissette cover “Mary Jane” and a selection of new material from the album, including “Give Me a Reason” which features some lovely harmonies from Izzy and Johnson-Jay; the audience loves it. There’s a huge amount of love and mutual respect on stage but also between the band and the audience, which all helps to create a perfect live music experience. The Half Moon isn’t full by any means, but anyone who was there will be spreading the word.

So, is 2015 the breakthrough year for Mollie Marriott? It certainly looks like this is the right time for the big push; she’s been around the music business for a few years now and she’s highly respected as a backing vocalist, but she now has an album’s worth of songs, a tremendous band behind her, a label and a good support team. And, in case I hadn’t mentioned this already, a phenomenal voice. “Transformer” is already generating media attention and picking up local radio playlistings, and with the album coming out later this year, this just might be Mollie’s time; I really hope so.

 

CATB TitleIt’s nearly two years since Klare Stephens reviewed a Coco and the Butterfields gig at The Blind Tiger in Brighton for MusicRiot and it’s fair to say that the Canterbury band have grown (in more ways than one) since that gig, although they’ve managed to stay true to the busking ethos that underpins their music and has helped to create their truly dedicated fanbase. So now they’re headlining at The Jazz Café in Camden on a Friday night and it’s a good opportunity to see how far they’ve come in such a short time.

But before CATB take the stage, there’s a support set from singer-songwriter Mario Lottari who (despite a few technical glitches) wins over the mass of CATB fans crowding the front of the stage with his well-crafted songs and a versatile band backing him up with a huge variety of instrumental textures. That’s another one I’ll be watching out for this year.

CATB don’t so much hit the stage as engulf it; I have to do a headcount because there are so many of them. On top of the core line-up of double bass, banjo, fiddle, guitar and beatbox, there’s also trumpet, sax, a string section (two violins and a cello) and a drummer; I ran out of fingers and had to rely on a smartphone to keep count. By this time, the ground floor of the Jazz Café (and most of the staircases) is a seething mass of bodies and this isn’t a scenester crowd; these people are all here to see Coco and the Butterfields do their stuff. So what is it that inspires such fanaticism?

Well, the band has a pretty good repertoire of original songs now, including “King of the Corner”, “Astronaut”, “Scarecrow” and the anthemic “Warriors”, but they’re equally good knocking out their own take on a song that you might not expect, like “Hard Knock Life” tonight, for example. CATB is not about individual musicianship; it’s much more of an ensemble thing where everyone has their own part to play, but there’s another, more important, difference between this and any other ordinary gig. This isn’t a performance where the band play at the audience and the audience passively soak up the show; it works because the band and the audience enjoy a symbiotic experience. The band feed off the audience reaction and it pushes them on to an even higher level; if every gig was like this, we wouldn’t have any problem filling live venues and maybe more musicians could make a decent living.

This is the fourth time I’ve seen CATB and each time it’s been a step up the London gig ladder. I haven’t seen them play a bad gig, and this time they were superb. Their roots may be in busking and they look as if it’s all a bit of fun, but they take the music very seriously indeed. They seem to be moving at the moment towards a more conventional (by CATB standards) stage line-up, with the addition of a drummer to augment beatboxer Jamie’s percussion and the brief appearance of a couple of electric guitars during the set and it’s shaping up to be an interesting year for them; they seem to be at the point where they can break out from the Kent scene and build their following nationwide. The way their audiences are reacting at the moment, I think the band can still go a lot further (if they want to) without losing the fanatical following they have at the moment.

The bottom line is that you really should go and watch this band.

Here’s someone we reviewed live a few weeks ago with his electric live band stripping things back down to basics with his acoustic version of the Mississippi John Hurt classic “Payday”.

What’s not to like about one man, a resonator and a stompbox?

Black and White TitleWell, it’s been a while but it’s great to finally hear some new material from Natalie Duncan. I’m guessing that the last couple of years haven’t been a bundle of laughs; after the superb debut album, “Devil in Me”, the hype which surrounded her can’t have been easy to deal with. You can call this an inspired guess if you like, but I have a strong impression that what Natalie really cares about is making music and the music business hoop-la surrounding it is something she can happily live without. Anyway, following her split with the Verve label last year she’s had the chance to do her own thing and the “Black and White” EP is her first commercial release in over two years.

The blindingly obvious difference between “Devil in Me” and the new EP is that the traditional instruments and production techniques used by Joe Henry on the album have been replaced by more contemporary electronic techniques, resulting in a very different overall sound, where the distinct voices of the instruments are often blurred by heavy reverb to create an almost ambient background for Natalie’s vocals to cut through.

The title track opens with mournful keyboard chords (harmonium, maybe) leading into sampled backing vocals (more of those later) and builds up steadily with straightforward percussion and very heavy bass as a story of style over substance unfolds (‘They’re gonna love you in black and white’). “Oh my God” has a lo-fi feel using retro samples and surface noise effects to create a backdrop vocal samples pitched up and down to form part of the overall arrangement with Natalie’s voice thrown further back in the mix, becoming just another part of the arrangement; very atmospheric.

Elysium” begins with conventional instruments; the long, melancholy keyboard chords and a detuned guitar and what sounds like a heavily-reverbed steel pan. There’s also some more huge, rumbling bass. The theme of pitch-changed samples runs through this song as well, as a counterpoint to the close-miked lead vocal. It’s a very personal song, particularly in the double-time middle section and is simultaneously disturbing and uplifting.

Ripples” opens with percussion samples and steel pan again, and that familiar vibrant bass which you feel rather than hear. It’s another bitter-sweet relationship song which is probably best summed-up in a line from the coda: ‘Holding on to an empty hand, the world moves past us as we stand.’ It’s another haunting performance.

It’s difficult to say if this is a new direction for Natalie Duncan or if it’s a period of experimentation; either way, the combination of trip-hop samples and ambience with twentieth-first century percussion and sampling techniques works really well with the songs on this EP. Whether her flawless voice is front and centre or being warped as part of the backing track, these four tracks show that the songwriting is still of the highest quality and, despite a couple of years out of the limelight, Natalie Duncan is still a prodigious talent and any new material she releases is worth listening to. Welcome back.

“Black and White” is out now on Spotify.