We’ve always been partial to Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra’s jived-up take on old timey music, a grand blend of western swing, country blues and ragtime. They’ve reminded us at times of Pokey LaFarge (with whom they have toured) and it has to be said they do put on a grand live show. On Soul Of My City they continue to evolve with some elements of rockabilly and early sixties beat pop creeping in, but at heart they are still supreme evangelists for pre sixties music albeit that Heron has at times allied this innocent sounding music with current commentary on state of our nation and his home town of Newcastle.
Such is the case here with the title song ramming in with a stirring martial beat before Heron and the band slouch into a louche late night vamp as he rails against the so called “gentrification” of a bohemian Newcastle quarter, an excuse really for a moneyed land grab. There’s more social commentary on the lighter Lonely Boy In The Dole Queue which finds Heron solo and yodelling away in his best Jimmie Rodgers style. Meanwhile the syncopated swing and twang of There’s A Hole (Where My Pocket Used To Be) is a grand nod to hard luck songs of the past with its excellent and flamboyant delivery similar to that of local neon lit sonic gangsters, The Strange Blue Dreams.
The band roam across various styles in a grand fashion. Life Is A Drag is a cross dressing song given a stirring western swing outing, Une Bouteille De Beaujolais has a not unexpected Gallic touch while Holy Moly (I’m In Love Again) comes across like as if Hank Williams was being accompanied by an extremely dexterous bunch of Acadian musicians. They do vamp wonderfully on Fool Talking Man and One Letter Away From Lonely is a total swoon of a bobbysoxer song. There’s a bit more muscle in the rockin’ rumble of Let’s Go Back In Time, a big boned salute to old time music as Heron lists his favourites while singing, “That 21st century music man, it’s so watered down.” Like A Cuckoo teeters dangerously close to his cut off point as the band give us a finely attuned horn fuelled bop which could have featured on the soundtrack of the original John Waters’ Hairspray. Signing off with what is probably the first postmodern take on old time music’s occasional interest in sex, stymied at the time by obscenity laws and therefore couched in various terms, there’s Double Meaning, Double Entendre. It’s cool, it’s funny, and best of all, it rocks.
Rob Heron & The Teapad Orchestra are touring the UK in February and March including shows in Glasgow and Edinburgh. All dates here.
History is much more interesting on record than in a dusty museum and it seems that recently there’s been a slew of discs which reach back into the past in order to enlighten and entertain us. It’s certainly the case with Riverland, this trio’s collection of songs inspired by Mississippi, the state and the river, described in the liner notes thus, “Mississippi is a broken place. It is America’s Eden, if instead of banishment, God chose to flood the garden and wipe flat every last splinter that Adam and Eve ever erected.” It’s certainly central to much of the history and culture of the States, a state of mind as much as a place of mud, floods and slavery, and Brace, Cooper and Jutz do the legends and stories justice on this fascinating listen.
Avoiding the temptation to delve into delta blues the trio deliver a handsome set which doesn’t avoid civil rights issues but gives space to poverty stricken folk who tried to live off the land and some of the artists who have defined some of the Mississippi spirit in book and in song. Acoustic for the most part with resonator guitar well to the fore, they sing of pre steamboat punt driven keelboats, the devastation wrought by floods and the aftermath of the civil war when Ulysses S Grant besieged Vicksburg, the town capitulating on the 4th July leading to them refusing to celebrate the national holiday thereafter. The disc is chockfull of information like this and a handsome booklet leads the listener through the stories behind the songs.
The album opens with River City, a melancholic diorama describing the trials and temptations of the bright lights. It’s next on to the quick step old timey King Of The Keel Boat Men and then the powerful drama of Win Along The River, the Grant song, delivered with weeping fiddle and aching mandolin. There’s not many upbeat songs here, Southern Mule jaunts along in a mild western swing style while Fort Defiance, a song sitting towards the end of the disc, is simply a description of the delights to be had boat watching at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers although even here there’s a tug of melancholia in the song. They celebrate a renowned civil rights activist and preacher, Rev. Will D. Campbell, on the banjo speckled Old Tom T And Brother Will which is about his friendship with Tom T Hall and Campbell comes alive on the most powerful song on the album, Mississippi Magic, which concerns the enrolment of James Meredith as the first black student at the University of Mississippi. Elsewhere the Nobel Laureate, William Faulkner is recalled in It Might Be Hollywood and there’s a grand nod to John Hartford (and Mark Twain) on the Hartford inspired To Be A Steamboat Man (Hartford himself qualified as a steamboat pilot). The album closes with an elegy of sorts on Mississippi, Rest My Soul, a song which finds a son of the soil clinging to his stained heritage despite an exodus to the cities by his peers. It ties the album up as, from the excitement at the beginning through the trials and eventual tired present day, this talented trio really do sum up this blighted land.
Last week The Americana Music Association UK (AMA-UK) held it’s fourth annual awards ceremony. Over those four years it’s become a big deal attracting stars such as Robert Plant, John Oates, and the recipient of this years Lifetime Achievement award, Graham Nash. The MC for the occasion was the “godfather” of UK Americana and country, Whisperin’ Bob Harris. So it’s great to relate that the winner of the UK Song of the Year was Scotland’s very own Dean Owens, a lad from Leith who is now the owner of a much coveted “Woody,” a handcrafted wooden facsimile of a 7″ disc, commemorating his win.
The song in question was the title number of his Southern Wind album (reviewed here) which Owens co-wrote with Will Kimbrough in Nashville. Commenting on the award Owens had this to say, “ I’m delighted, it was a complete surprise. As the first Scot to receive an award from AMA-UK, it feels really special, and a huge honour to bring this back to Scotland. Apart from a cup for being Boxer of the Year as a kid, this is the only award I’ve ever won. I’m still in shock to be honest!”
His co-writer chimed in from Nashville to add this regarding the song, “Dean and I wrote Southern Wind in a flurry of creativity. Ideas were flying. I am from so far south that Nashville is eight hours north. Dean is more of a northern man. My Southern Wind calls me to a long left behind home; I like to think that Dean’s Southern Wind calls him South to create in Nashville. The lure of home. The lure of the muse. Both romantic and hard to reach. That’s Southern Wind.”
The award was presented to Owens at the star studded ceremony in London by Graham Gouldman, a founder of 10CC and writer of some of the most memorable songs of the sixties including Bus Stop which of course, was a hit for Graham Nash back when he was in The Hollies.
The Americana Music Association UK (AMA-UK) is a professional trade association representing and advocating for the voice of American roots music in the UK. Its membership comprises musicians, from the UK and overseas, plus professionals from all sectors of the music industry. https://theamauk.org/Nominees-2019
Mayonnaise is a bit of a pic’n’mix album from Rhode Island’s alt rockers, Deer Tick. It’s comprised of some alternate versions of songs released on 2017’s double disc offering, Deer Tick Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, six new numbers and a brace of cover songs they were prone to playing as they toured around the 2017 release. As on the two self-titled 2017 discs they switch from sensitive alt folk numbers to rockier affairs with ease which certainly adds variety to the album and posits it as a fine introduction to those not aware so far of the band.
On the covers, they wallop through The Pogues’ White City capturing perfectly Shane McGowan’s sneering vocals while giving The Velvet Underground’s Pale Blue Eyes a fine makeover delivering it as if a deadbeat Tim Hardin was fronting The Fugs. They also cover George Harrison on Run Of The Mill, which unfortunately just about lives up to its title. Their version of Ben Vaughan’ Too Sensitive For This World does stand out as it limps along wonderfully as a wounded, almost power pop, song with an neatly understated Alex Chilton feel to it.
And while they do rock out on the lurching Spirals and the poppy new wave Hey Yeah it’s that walking wounded sense which marks out the better of their own songs here. There’s a delicately rippled version of Limp Right Back and a ramshackled and loamy country rock ballad on Old Lady. Strange, Awful Feeling is a fractured anxiety ridden love song of sorts with wracked harmonies, End Of The World finds singer John McAuley offering some paranoid advice to a child and Memphis Chair is a late night lounge jazz instrumental which has some fine Twin Peaks vibes to it. They close the disc with a grand slice of pedal steel flavoured soft rock on Cocktail which sounds as if Jimmy Buffet was explaining a Margarita addiction to his local AA meeting.