Doug Hoekstra. The Day Deserved. Drop Autumn Records

Amidst the hurly burly of raucous rock’n’roll and the earnestness, drama and tears of much country and folk music, there’s a place for well-measured and carefully crafted intelligent song craft. Our touchstones are probably the like of Van Dyke Parks, Randy Newman, Tom Waits and Jackson Browne (add your own favourites to this list). So here, filing his application to join this estimable bunch, is Doug Hoekstra, a Nashville based songwriter and author who is releasing his first album after a ten-year sabbatical from music.

The Day Deserved is one of those albums which slowly creeps into your life. It’s polished, all the songs are gems which have been cut to perfection but they reflect darkly the world around them. Hoekstra leads his note perfect ensemble on a variety of styles ranging from lounge lizard sleaze and sophisticated syncopations to dreamlike reveries and tender, introspective murmurings. Amidst all this, Hoekstra captures various scenarios with a forensic precision to his lyrics- acutely penned portraits of his protagonists.

The album opens with the seemingly slight, almost yacht rock beat of Seaside Town with Hoekstra waxing poetically about an artist gone missing, but as the song progresses the waters get choppier and the band become ever more convoluted with David Henry’s violin adding some Eastern mystique. Higher Ground’s limpid guitars then hove into view on a lengthy song, ostensibly written about the plight of Pacific islanders whose homes are disappearing under rising tides, but given a universal sheen in the chorus. The subject of Unseen Undetected is that of immigrants hiding under the radar and here Hoekstra sticks more firmly to the topic, singing about refugees in the States and Vietnam and Holland while the band strike up an impressive bustle of sounds with glistening guitars and tremulous violin before ending in an excellent Beatles’ like coda.

Gandy Dancer finds Hoekstra tip toeing into early Waits/Rickie Lee Jones territory on a blustery and bluesy outing where he is ably supported by his co singer, Hannah Fairlight, while Keeper Of The World finds him on the other side of the Atlantic on a breezy number. This is about a bookshop romance and has the innocent delight of the likes of The BMX Bandits in its wonderfully naive delivery. However, Hoekstra digs deeper into frailty on several songs, reminding this reviewer of both Lou Reed and Dan Stuart, the ex Green On Red front man. Late Night Ramble is vulnerable in its restrained delivery with guitars gently scrubbed over a subdued beat and Grace is a another hushed affair given some extra depth by the mellow sax of Jimmy Bowland. The closing Outside Looking In, a song inspired by watching baseball but positioning the scoreboard operator as the ultimate outsider seeing all is another wonderfully realised slow motion walk on a not so wild side.


The Primevals. New Trip. Triple Wide Records

While most folk ate out to help out the spread of the virus late last year, The Primevals decided to get back into the studio to record this swift follow up to Second Nature, the pandemic blues album they released in the summer of 2020. New Trip is simultaneously leaner and more expansive than its predecessor, Second Nature crammed 16 songs into 60 minutes, while here we have nine songs stretched out over 40. Still entrenched in the murkier depths of garage rock and the sonic blizzards of the likes of Sun Ra’s Arkestra, The Primevals remain vital and New Trip is both action packed and compulsive listening for anyone needing a shot of hoodoo voodoo grooves.

Hey Love smacks the album open with a crash of guitars and Farfisa organ as the band zoom down a scuzzy highway which knocks the socks off anything that Primal Scream ever laid down. Guitarists’ Tom Rafferty and Martyn Rogers have their guitars set to stun and vocalist Michael Rooney rides the sonic wave with an effortless sense of hip. This is amplified on the paranoid rush of Intrusive Thought, which riffs mightily, reminding one of Sky Saxon’s more unhinged moments while Searching In The Shadows is also rooted in the more feral garage bands of the 60s who missed out on being included on Nuggets but made up for it by being included on the Pebbles series.

Rooney gets all street political on The Euthanasia Of The Youth, coming across somewhat like a reincarnation of Mick Farren but he’s more to the point on the slippery and slide guitar driven The County Line where he captures the excitement and the danger young folk are exposed to these days. That sense of excitement is present in the twists and turns of Gimme Gimme Some Action, a call to arms of sorts which charges along before dissolving into a sixties freakbeat outro and there’s more of that in the wailing blues of Only You, which comes across like a turbocharged Yardbirds tussling with an evil synthesiser genius out to control your mind.

The album closes with the superb title song which is a reminder that The Pimevals can stretch out and surprise. A Teutonic propulsive rhythm section drives the song as snatches of Shaft like wah wah guitar briefly appear and a saxophone (played by Kornelijus Pukinskis) balefully moans before Rooney rides in, a modern Kim Fowley to the rescue if you like. The song drives on and the guitars  eventually erupt into Eastern scales entwined within soaring solos while battling with Pukinskis’ parping sax as they race to the pulverising end. It’s quite exhilarating as one tries to take it all in. We eventually plumped for saying it’s like a mash up of The Doors and Can but it is much more than that.


Danny & The Champions Of The World. Los Campeones En Vivo. Loose Music

Just as we’re on the cusp of getting back to see real live musicians playing real live gigs in real live spaces, along comes an album which packs all the punch of being at a live concert, an immersive and revitalising dive into what was described as a “ragged, sweaty and emotional performance, caught on tape.” Recorded in Asturias, Spain in 2018, Los Campeones En Vivo captures Danny Wilson and his band of Champs at the top of their form and shows their progress since their previous live recording which was captured in 2014.

The set list leans heavily on the band’s two last studio albums, What Kind Of Love and Brilliant Light, two albums which found them inhabiting more of a country soul world than their previous releases. Memories of seeing them around this time allowed that they were akin to seeing a soul revue and that’s confirmed here, especially when they stretch out on a 12-minute rendition of You’ll Remember Me with Danny cajoling and seducing the audience wonderfully as the band go all Stax-Volt on us.

From the off, it’s clear that the band are champing (sorry) at the bit to be set loose. A tumultuous torrent of guitars and percussion is the curtain opener for Let The Water Wash Over You (Don’t You Know) which is turbo charged in relation to its studio version. It’s followed by an another tsunami of noise introducing Consider Me, another song which here flexes its muscles, throwing sand in the eyes of the recorded version. By now, one is getting an idea that the band are on fire on this occasion and there are moments which are quite astonishing such as the breath taking close to Coley Point where they come across like a threshing machine driven by thunderous percussion and Paul Lush’s wailing guitar.

There is space for some old favourites such as (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket, Every Beat Of My Heart and Restless Feet along with Brothers In The Night – here delivered with a hefty dollop of Sweet Jane stirred in. But overall, the two discs here are a perfect capture of a thoroughly road tested band, proud of their whole catalogue and enjoying showing it off. The sound is excellent while there is some humour to be found in Danny’s mixture of Essex and Spanglish in between songs while bassist Chris Clarke is allowed to show off his command of the language (which consists of gracias and cerveza). Best of all is the sense that as the songs progress we are hearing an unedited live set, which captures the excitement of the night. A storming version of Clear Water is followed by a farewell rendition of (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket after which the audience shout for more. What they get is a rollicking Faces’ like knees up on Everything We Need with Tom Collison’s keyboards rocking the joint before they launch into a sinewy Little Feat like delivery of Long Distance Tears. An anthemic Restless Feet, Danny Champ’s paean to restless heroes and, well, rock’n’roll, closes the set with the crowd singing along and Danny urging them to have a few beers with the band once they’re off the stage. A brilliant close to one of the best live albums we’ve heard in a long time.


MG Boulter. Clifftown. Hudson Records

As the press release reminds us, Blabber’n’Smoke once described MG Boulter as the poet laureate of the Thames estuary, a land of faded glory and tattered seaside resorts. Boulter has sung about this Essex coastline, its history and characters over his career, be it within the muscular strokes of his band, The Lucky Strikes, or on his mellower and pastoral solo recordings. Clifftown finds him focussing on a mythical resort, almost certainly based on his home town of Southend On Sea, but which could stand for just about any faded seaside town in this blighted nation. Promenades trading on past glories, dependent on tourists and good weather and deserted in winter months, a Martin Parr photo essay in song.

Although Boulter is singing about decline, the album is a joyous delight. His airy voice has never sounded better and he has assembled a top-flight notch of musicians who give wing to the songs. Together they weave a glorious concoction of sounds ranging from whimsical folk sounds and  bed sit ruminations to elaborately arranged anthems and even one chunk of rock’n’roll. Throughout the album, Boulter breathes life into his cast of characters while Clifftown glowers balefully behind them. Midway through the disc, a song, The Slow Decline, is perhaps the exemplar here as Boulter remembers a woman who dreamed of being a star only to end up singing in a seaside show. Her failed dream is then followed by his mention of “corner bums sleeping under the archways tonight” accompanied by a sardonic lyrical steal from The Loving Spoonful’s Summer In The City.

Opening with the winsome Midnight Movies, Boulter immediately offers a sense of nostalgia as he summons up a tale of late adolescence seeking excitement in rain swept neon lit streets despite the inherent dangers. Soft White Belly then clamours in with some raucous guitar charging away as Boulter initially observes an old lady feeding arcade slot machines , comparing her limited horizons to his adventures abroad before the song culminates in a glimpse of more ancient grandeurs. Here, memories, Boutler suggests, are as malleable as history and subject to the whims of whoever wrote that history. More down to earth, the title song is almost like a “fly on the wall” documentary as Boulter observes the exodus of youths from their dreary Clifftown lifes (the Co-Op is the only shop open on a Sunday), enticed by the nearby gateway to the world, London town. There are those who choose to remain however and Fan Of The Band is delivered from the perspective of one who wasn’t enticed by the bright lights but who remembers the heyday of Canvey Island rock’n’roll – a salute to a survivor and his memories which he is happy to share over a pint or two.

Hugely enjoyable is The Author Of All Things, She Speaks, with its audacious and wonderfully performed arrangement. Flighty guitars and bustling percussion drive this glorious song which finds Boulter in a transcendental bind. Meanwhile, Nights At The Aquarium finds Boulter in territory not dissimilar to that of Blue Rose Code, a band he has played with in the past as, with a fine sense of wearied acceptance, Boulter sums up the hum drum routine of life in Clifftown, enlivened only by aqua blue dreams. It’s quite hypnotic in its limpid delivery and there’s more of that in the closing song, Pilate. Recorded back in 2016 for the fledging Hudson Records, it closes the album on a high note with its fluttering strings, gentle waves of percussion and occasional guitar murmurings.

If you have a chance, listen to MG Boulter talking about the album and some of the history of Southend On Sea with his label mate, Jenny Sturgeon via this podcast while he offers his very own guide to Clifftown here.


Justin Rutledge. Islands

Canada’s Justin Rutledge’s latest album is like a gift to his fans. A lockdown album conceived before lockdown, it features Rutledge plucking songs from his back catalogue and delivering them in appealing stripped back versions, the main instruments here being his voice and guitar. Recorded in three days in early 2020 it has a warm and immersive feel to it with echo and reverb used to great effect, the songs ringing loud and clear while additional sounds, especially some sublime electric guitar warblings, add some heft to the overall yearning.

With most of the songs hovering around the five-minute mark, the album allows for a fine wallow in Rutledge’s bruised thoughts, the only upbeat moment coming at the end of the disc with Rutledge’s echoed voices singing the audience favourite, Jellybean, the first time that he’s recorded it actually. The remaining songs are much more introspective and the opening song, Come Summertime, is one of the starker deliveries here. Nonetheless, it sets the stall out for what is to come as it steadily builds in grandeur as piano and grave electric guitar kick in. Good Man is more folk like in its structure as Rutledge hymns a troubled soul while the mournful This Is War is an icy dissection of frozen relationships with appropriate arctic blasts of ambient sounds. Out Of The Woods is another chilly song with its references to snow but is more remarkable for its gusts of gutsy guitar which bellow and growl however Rutledge then warms us up with the wonderfully relaxed Federal Mail which retains its Ry Cooder like bar room lilt but is here delivered as an instrumental.

There is one cover song here as Rutledge takes on a song by the Canadian band, The Tragically Hip. Nautical Disaster was written by the late Gord Downie whose death in 2017 was widely felt in Canada. Rutledge strips the song of its rock bombast, transforming it into a chilling elegy for drowned souls. . The standout song on the album however is the finely crafted Alberta Breeze which has a touch of Dylan in its delivery and Van Morrison in its lyrics.


Jack Law. Shock Of The Blue

Jack Law is a bit of an unsung veteran of Scots music. Way back in the 70’s he was a member of Greenmantle, a band who shared a stage (including the infamous Green’s Playhouse, later The Apollo) with the likes of Billy Connolly, Gallagher and Lyle, Donovan and even Wishbone Ash. Greenmantle ended in 1976 but Law retained his interest in music and began recording again with a reformed Greenmantle and a new outfit, Raging Twilight, in the 2010’s, accompanied by a successful return to the stage.

Like many of his peers, Law wrote his songs through a prism of American music – Dylan and late 60’s LA Canyon especially – while basing many of his later recordings on his own trips to the States. He describes himself as a storyteller but, with the onset of Corona virus and the resultant lockdown, he found that he was drawn to writing about more inner journeys. As he says of the pandemic, “Small things became larger… our past has become the focus of our attention, remodelling and reshaping our understanding.”

Recording at home, Law has embarked on a series of more personal and introspective songs which he plans to release in instalments over the coming months. Shock Of The Blue is the first of these offerings, a three song EP which, to our mind, contains his best songs to date. Playing guitars and bass, with keyboards on one song by Duncan Sloan, Law comes across as a seasoned and wise troubadour, wandering through his thoughts and his past.

Lonesome Avenue trickles out – bedecked with piano, organ and some sly guitar licks – for all the world like a mournful Rolling Stones ballad from their glory days, while Law’s wearied voice comes across in a similar manner to that of grizzled rock’n’roll veteran, Ian Hunter. It’s quite wonderful, poignant and full of regret. Down From The Hill finds Law utilising his home studio set up to great effect. A rudimentary percussive backing (which is somewhat wayward at times) is appealingly naive and sits wonderfully behind Law’s labyrinthine thickets of guitars and sound effects which give the song a slight psychedelic edge, an edge amplified by the vocal effects which recall the whimsy of Syd Barrett.

There’s a definite whiff of nostalgia in both of those songs and the final number, Love, Lies, Bleeding is no different. Here, Law returns to his original roots in the 60’s when he and his peers were picking up on the mantle of Dylan and the folk revival. Part talking blues, part poetic, the song manages to accomplish the difficult task of sounding as if it could have been performed by the original Incredible String Band or Rab Noakes, had they been given a very advanced copy of Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks. It does portray its origins, but it’s performed magnificently and is a fine closer to a grand little release and we look forward to hearing the next instalment.

Bob Collum & The Welfare Mothers. This Heart Will Self Destruct. Frestsore Records

Last time Blabber’n’Smoke encountered Bob Collum, born in Oklahoma and now based in Essex, we remarked on his similarity to the pioneering efforts of bands such as Roogalator, The Kursall Flyers and others who paved the way for the likes of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. This Heart Will Self Destruct retains elements of his affinity with those heady days of proto UK country rock roots music, but adds a healthy dash of more country flavoured numbers and Bob Wills’ styled Western Swing.

There’s a fine and gentle introduction to the album as Parachute glides in with a foot-tapping country rock sway, enlivened by Mags Layton’s fiddle break. Guest guitarist, Martin Belmont, adds some delicious licks towards the end of a song which is quite a palate cleanser. Another guest, this time Peter Holsapple, is on fine and funky form on B3 Hammond organ adding a Garth Hudson like presence to the slinky soul of Spare Me, one of the album’s highlights. Tall Glass Of Muddy Water is up next and it’s another standout as Collum and the band vamp their way through a song which variously recalls chain gang work songs, New Orleans voodoo hoodoo and good old fashioned film noir menace.

A raucous and hugely enjoyable romp through Leiber & Stoller’s Saved allows the band to let their hair down before they launch into a darker theme on From Birmingham. It’s a fulsome country tearjerker song with weeping fiddle and mournful accordion leading the way as Collum sings of a frustrated love affair and more of this on future recordings would be greatly appreciated. As it is, the remainder of the album returns to more upbeat tempos with the title song reviving the toe taps of the opening number while Giving Up is perhaps the song best suited here to sum up Collum’s ability to update the nervy new wave approach to country music. And just as those ex hippies tucked into skinny jeans matured and perfected their craft, two songs towards the end of the album allow Collum and the band to show how well they manage their version of country rock. Second Fiddle comes out of the country gate, approaching rock with its muscular rhythm section while sounding for all the while as if it were a song by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band while Shake It Loose is a hip swaying dance song with twang guitar duelling with Layton’s excellent fiddle playing.