We try to do one festival a year here at Music Riot. Last year it was iconic Isle of Wight Festival; this year we’re staying a bit closer to home with a visit to Cornbury Festival in Oxfordshire. We took several factors into account before making the scientific decision to opt for Cornbury this year despite the stiff competition from the plethora of festivals across the UK, from the boutique to the behemoth. So, what do you think swayed us in the direction of Chipping Norton for this year’s summer outing?

Well, let’s start with the headliners; UB40, Alanis Morissette and Squeeze. They’ve all enjoyed single chart success and critical acclaim and each of them has survived through several decades in the music business; four decades each in the case of Squeeze and UB40, and Squeeze are still knocking out great new tunes as if the last forty years never happened. Look a bit lower down the bill and you have all the reasons why anyone who loves music should be going to Cornbury.

There’s great music to appeal to all ages and tastes, from the reinvented P.P. Arnold and the evergreen Mavis Staples and Jimmy Cliff, through the nineties dance of Stereo MCs right up to the London Americana of the superb Danny and the Champions of the World. And, if that wasn’t enough, don’t forget that Cornbury has the poshest loos on the festival circuit; when you reach a certain age, that’s really important.

If all of that hasn’t convinced you, Caffe Nero have a stage at the event where you can get great coffee and see absolutely loads of upcoming talent. We’ve already heard many of the artists playing on the Caffe Nero stage over the last couple of years; you could spend the entire festival there and hear nothing but fabulous music. See you down the front.

Cornbury Festival takes place between Friday July 13 and Sunday July 15.

OK, I’ll give you this one for free because you’ll never work it out from listening to the album. I don’t think Gerry Spehar likes Donald Trump very much. I’ve heard a few American albums this year that have railed against the state of affairs in America generally and POTUS in particular, but none that have so consistently sustained the attack across a whole album of thirteen songs or, more accurately, twelve songs and a prelude. Gerry’s solo album last year, “I Hold Gravity”, hinted at the power and breadth of “Anger Management” but the actuality is so much more brutal and brilliant.

The album is crammed with compassion, anger, pacifism and scathing attacks on the hypocrisy espoused by America’s current elected elite; 2018 is the year that the protest album finally resurfaced and the timing is perfect.

The album opens with the skewed logic of “Thank You Donald”, set in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election victory, where a suicidal impulse is overturned by a desire to save family and friends from the impending Trumpquake. It’s set against a traditional string band arrangement featuring banjo and fiddle that creates a comfortable American feel the remainder of the album systematically demolishes.

The arrangements on the album cover a wide variety of musical styles from a wide variety of countries, underlining the impact that outside influences, and immigration, have had on American popular music and society. The impact is underlined in the album’s second song “Son of an Immigrant”, where the occupation of the central character (a policeman) isn’t revealed until more than halfway through the song. The central message of the song is that almost all Americans are immigrants; it just depends how far back you go.

The album seethes with anger at the ills of modern America, the bitter lyrics underpinned by some incredible musical settings. “Carnival” is a perfect example, equating Trump with Lyndon Baines Johnson against a musical setting that evokes cabaret arrangements from 1930s Germany with sour horn fills and wah-wah guitar. It’s a perfect combination, all of the elements emphasising the madness of the present-day USA; laughing at the freakshow as a distraction from the state of the nation. It’s all perfectly summed up by the advice; ‘Just keep on sayin’ the same damn thing and don’t fuck it up.’

Bitch Heaven” is beautifully constructed, contrasting Trump with Woody Guthrie via Trump senior and his property development Beach Haven. Not only does Gerry stand the president nose-to-nose with an almost unimpeachable American musical icon, he also manages to morph the song into the Woody classic “This Land is Your Land”; it’s powerful stuff. And don’t forget the powerful, sarcastic closer “What Would Jesus Do?”, pointing the finger at the double standards and hypocrisy currently infesting Trumpton. In another penetrating insight, the title song nails the distraction technique of medicalising a perfectly natural reaction to events in today’s America.

I’d like you to do two things for me. Listen to this album on this link, and then buy a copy here. We all need to encourage people like Gerry Spehar to create masterpieces like this.

“Anger Management” is released in the UK on Friday 25 May.

 

 

The difficulty is knowing where to start here. Michael McDermott’s output over the last two years as The Westies and a solo artist has been prolific and profound. Making up for lost time; who knows? Michael’s four years clean and sober; 2016’s “Six on the Out” and “Willow Springs” made references to his lost years, while “Out from Under” tells the whole story from degradation through rehabilitation to redemption, pivoting around the album’s central song “Out from Under” and the decision to take responsibility for his life.

“Out from Under” isn’t just about the personal narrative; Michael’s been influenced by many different styles of American music and many of those influences surface on this musical journey. This is Michael’s story channelled through the American songbook. With a project this ambitious, you need a great team and it doesn’t get much better than Heather Horton on violin and vocals and Will Kimbrough on, well, anything with strings really.

The album opens with the brooding, menacing “Cal-Sag Road”; it’s about as low as you can get, a tale of drunkenness, sex and murder. It’s underpinned by Will Kimbrough’s atmospheric, ambient guitar sounds and the darkness of the arrangement mirrors the subject matter perfectly. The first half of the album runs through the ragtime resonator and banjo arrangement of “Gotta Go to Work”, the Southern boogie and “Sympathy For the Devil”-like backing vocals of “Knocked Down” to the Tom Petty-esque “Sad Songs”, depicting the malaise and lassitude of the music business. And then you hit the bottom.

“This World Will Break your Heart” is a pathos-packed series of vignettes pulling in dropouts, miscarriages and loneliness in old age. It’s the most heart-breaking song on the album and you know that things have to brighten up from here on in. And they do; It’s big, it’s anthemic and it has a hint of Springsteen. “Out from Under” is a floor-tom-driven monster of a song that’s as uplifting as anything you’ll hear this year. It’s the way forward, pointing the way for the second half of the album beginning with the idyll of “The Celtic Sea” where a sea voyage serves as a metaphor for the beginning of a redemptive relationship; it’s turbulent at first, but the crew pull together and the voyage looks set to succeed.

The three songs which follow are pure, joyous, celebration of love. “Rubber Band Ring” is a horns and Hammond Motown-style stomper, “Never Goin’ Down Again” sets a commitment to reform against a stadium rock background, while “Sideways” combines gorgeous Stax stylings with a lyrical style that leans towards Dylan or early Springsteen. And then you have the gentle acceptance of a new life in “God Help Us”.

“Out from Under” is a hugely ambitious album that follows Michael McDermott’s personal narrative and succeeds in combining an exploration of the highways and byways of American popular music with creative and poetic lyrics. I haven’t heard anything better this year.

“Out from Under” is released in the UK on Friday May 18, 2018.

Don’t take my word for it, listen to it here and then buy a copy.

Photo courtesy of Richard Bolwell

Beth Hart is at the tail end of her USA and British tour that culminates at the Royal Albert Hall on the 4th May, but I’m glad I went to Portsmouth with its bright, clear acoustics and more intimate setting.  It may be nearly game-over for this tour, but Hart showed no signs of tiring, she began singing confidently in the auditorium while the band struck up. Working her way through the aisles, shaking extended hands as she sung her opener, “Somethings Got a Hold on Me” towards the stage, dressed in a simple black shift dress.

It’s a small set-up, with a drummer, bassist and lead guitarist, multi-instrumentalist Beth is left to rotate between keys, guitar and acoustic bass (which she is still learning) while doing vocal duties as well.  Hart has no new studio album to promote, but has just released “Live & Centre, Live in NY”, not a greatest hits package but an eclectic showcase of mainly more recent material but we get mostly a different selection tonight.

Hart is a long-time collaborator with blues guitarist, Joe Bonamassa, with whom she has made a few albums, but on this tour the lead guitar is taken up by John Nichols.  Hart has chosen a set list that moves a little away from the kind of wailing blues she has a reputation for and maybe she has picked songs that her new guitarist can cope with.  Nichols arrived on stage with a Telecaster, more known as a rhythm instrument, and my heart sank a little.  Although he swapped guitars after every song, it was mainly Telecasters so there were no flourishes or stunning solos to melt the lighting track or thrill the audience.

However Hart clearly loves her craft and a grateful crowd and her charisma shines out, with a more attacking version of “Don’t Explain” and Tom Waits’ jaunty “Chocolate Jesus”.  Although she makes covers her own with her heady brew of blues, jazz, soul and country, she also showcased her own writing talents.  “Tell Her You Belong to Me” is an emotional rendition of a daughter’s plea to her father regarding his infidelity.  Hart’s Mother was in the front row and there was some banter with her on some of the more autobiographical tracks, eventually dedicating “Baddest Blues” to her Mum.  Beth Hart easily held the large room, she was engaging with just the right amount of chat.  Hart talks openly about her mental health issues, she has bipolar disorder and addiction issues and once blew the $100k she won on a talent show on hard living in 6 months, but sobriety has brought a new focus for her talent, though the sparks of wildness show through in her tough but tender voice.

Watching Hart, you get the feeling that she really loves performing, clocking up a 2 hour show and eventually, after singing “My California” to her tour manager husband, he kissed her then physically pulled her off stage.  A three-song encore ensued, ending on “There’s no Place like Home” and a wonderful evening flew past successfully.

The photograph for this piece was taken by Richard Bolwell. You can see more of his excellent photographs and reviews here.