This probably needs a bit of explanation, mainly about the reason why Music Riot exists. What we’re about is promoting music that’s worth listening to but probably isn’t going to get too much mainstream attention. We know that we can’t make a difference for Springsteen or Dylan (not that either of needs any help) but we just might persuade a few people to listen to a Rob Heron album. The five favourites we’ve chosen are all albums that we’ve reviewed this year, so don’t expect to see anything mainstream there. What they have in common is that they’re all good (we don’t believe in negative reviews – there’s enough negativity without us adding to it) and they all deserve to be heard. In no particular order.

St Paul’s Boulevard – Michael McDermott

Michael McDermott @Water Rats

Michael’s been a big favourite at Riot Towers since The Westies ‘Six on the Out’ in 2016 and with good reason. He’s a great songwriter steeped in the tradition of American popular music, whatever the genre. He can also persuade great players to work with him (Will Kimbrough for example) on his albums. ‘St Paul’s Boulevard’ is an album that looks back with gritty realism at Michael’s difficult past, and forward to a positive with clear-eyed, multi-hued optimism. The title track’s a wonderful piece of work, harking back to Michael’s early Chicago days and describing one of those places we probably all have that were important to us because of the people we met there. And the great lyric: “None of the heroes around here have capes, they’re just talking in taverns and on fire escapes”.

‘Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows’ – Rod Picott

Rod Picott @Green Note basement

Like Michael McDermott, Rod is another Music Riot favourite. I should also say they’re both great people as well. ‘Paper Hearts and Broken Arrows’ is a potent mixture of songs that range from the very personal through social comment to the historical. ‘Revenuer’ has an interesting history; it’s based on a Taylor Brown novel about moonshine runners, but when Rod mentioned this to Taylor, he fessed up to stealing the idea from Steve Earle’s ‘Copperhead Road’. The other song that really caught our attention was ‘Sonny Liston’, Rod’s exploration of the complicated life of the heavyweight boxer. Let’s finish on a great lyric again: “Two big fists pumping like pistons, nobody punched like Sonny Liston”.

Every Seed we Plant’ – Alice DiMicele

Alice’s sixteenth album is one of the many we reviewed in 2022 that’s influenced by the pandemic that we somehow managed to live through. The songs on the album have a huge emotional range, from raging anger to a heart-warming dog story. ‘Dispatch’ is a very angry song about the killing of a retired black Marine in his own home in White Plains, New York after mistakenly calling in a Life Aid medical alarm – it’s harrowing. ‘Dear Elaine’ is at the opposite end of the spectrum; it’s a tale of the healing relationship built between a woman and her dog. The album takes a journey from historic raw rage to a positive look into our future. Alice’s vocals need a mention as well; she has a huge dynamic range from a sweet whisper to a rock growl. There’s a bit of everything here.

‘Leo’ – Pete Gow

Pete Gow @The Playground

Pete’s a very interesting songwriter. He’s a former member of Case Hardin (with the brilliant Jim Maving) and, as a Scottish songwriter living in and writing about London, there’s an inevitable comparison with the late Gerry Rafferty. ‘Leo’ is a full-blooded production featuring a rock band, string section and a horn section with arrangements by Joe Bennett creating some really interesting textures to back up Pete’s fascinating narratives. If you want two highlights, ‘Side III of London Calling’ paints a post-gig picture of a seedy musician on the pull, while ‘Leonard’s Bar’ is the classic ‘one last job’ petty criminal story. The album hangs together really well and the songs sound great in a live setting. And Pete’s a nice guy as well.

‘The Party’s Over’ – Rob Heron & the Teapad Orchestra

Rob Heron @The Lexington

So let’s get this over with first, Rob’s a great guy as well. He read the Music Riot review of this album just before going on stage at the London gig at The Lexington and made a couple of references to it on stage. The album continues Rob’s tradition of eclectic musical influences and even a few political references as well. ‘Snip Snap Snout’ is nonsense zydeco (which is exactly what Rob intended it to be), ‘The Horse That You Rode In On’ channels the Frankie Laine classic ‘Rawhide’ and the light-hearted ‘The Doctor Told Me’ pulls in the House of the Black Gardenia horns to create a New Orleans funeral band feel. I did say it was eclectic. And, like everyone else mentioned here, you really should see Rob & the Teapad Orchestra live – they’re phenomenal.

It’s been a while since we heard from Rob Heron (‘Soul of my City’ in 2019) for all the usual obvious reasons. The release of “The Party’s Over continues to chart the development of the band. There are similar musical and lyrical themes across the two albums; some of the songs have a retro feel, there’s a bit of a political edge at times and the lyrics are cleverly constructed. Rob has always had an eclectic blend of styles ‘The Party’s Over’ develops this further, particularly with the addition of horns on various songs to create a particular feel or evoke a particular era.

The Tea Pad Orchestra already has a wide musical palette with Tom Cronin and Ted Harbot’s combination of mandolin, harmonica, baritone guitar, upright bass and electric bass, and Colin Nicholson’s keyboards, accordion and whistle allowing the band to use surf punk, gipsy jazz, zydeco, country and string band arrangements (among others). The addition of the House of the Black Gardenia brass section adds another dimension, particularly on the album’s closer, ‘The Doctor Told Me’, a humorous tale of the dangers of excess that brings in a melancholy muted jazz trumpet in the third verse to hint at something sad to come before the horns burst in with a New Orleans jazz funeral arrangement to emphasise the death (and rebirth) of the storyteller.

The album’s incredibly varied, moving through the nonsense zydeco of ‘Snip Snap Snout’ to the slow country waltz ballad ‘Trouble Is’ to the Mexican sixties feel of ‘The Horse that You Rode In On’ – a diss track that channels Frankie Laine’s ‘Rawhide’ with humorous lyrics and trumpets and fiddle. There’s a lot going on. And that’s before the madness of ‘My Salad Days’, with its clever wordplay, baritone guitar fills and yodelled a cappella intro. The political element comes with ‘A Call to Mother’s Arms’, a string band arrangement of a song about young men being sent to fight in overseas wars, Vietnam I suspect, and coming back in coffins.

After three years, this is a cracking return from Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra. It carries on the anarchic feel of previous albums while expanding the musical palette to include soul stompers, Mexican mariachi and New Orleans jazz. You can’t argue with that.

‘The Party’s Over’ is out now on Tea Pad Recordings (TP008/TP008CD).

Here’s the video for the title track: