Monica Queen. Stop That Girl. Last Night In Glasgow

Monica Queen, doyen of Scottish singers, lends her glorious voice to a collection of cover songs on her latest solo release. In the main these are songs originally released in the 80s, a post punk era which saw a wave of songwriters unafraid to reveal their pop sensibilities although these were invariably coloured by punk and its predecessors. As such, Queen tackles Orange Juice, The Subway Sect and the little known Bourgie Bourgie along with artists who were gathering new fans at the time such as Captain Beefheart and Lou Reed. At its heart the album recalls the halcyon days of Scots pop, centred mainly on The Postcard label and as such Queen is backed by a select crew of musicians who played with various bands of the era including Aztec Camera, The Blue Nile, Bourgie Bourgie, Jazzateers, Love & Money and Paul Quinn & The Independent Group. Integral to the project are her long time partner, Johnnie Smillie (on guitar and production duties)  and Douglas MacIntyre, head of The Creeping Bent Organisation, who writes two of the songs on the album.

The album kicks off with the warm guitar and organ tones of Bourgie Bourgie’s I Gave You Love (with original guitarist Mark Swan on guitar) which soon soars into celestial popdom as Queen’s voice rings out over a twisting tangled guitar solo which seems quite endless in its invention. Captain Beeheart’s Too Much Time is one of his more accessible songs and while Queen and Smillie don’t mess around with its original melody they do give it a soulful makeover with the end result sounding as if it was being beamed in from a southern soul shack with Queen sounding like a cross between Irma Thomas and Diana Ross. So far so good, but it’s when the title song crashes in with a glorious flourish of guitars that one begins to be really knocked out by how good this album is. The original version (written by Vic Godard) today sounds quite quaint in its DIY quality but here it gains wings and flies into the stratosphere. Queen is in full throated glory here while the band and the harmonies are quite spectacular, recalling the sound of Orange Juice around the time of Salmon Fishing In New York. When Queen later visits Orange Juice themselves on her cover of Dying Days she again lifts the song into a much more dramatic and spectacular orbit with the band sounding ever more kaleidoscopic, especially in the elongated ending with male harmonies repeating the title.

Lou Reed’s Over You retains much of the Velvet Underground trade mark sound, especially in the repetitive percussion but Queen commands the song while Smillie adds some brilliant curlicued guitar. Perhaps the most triumphant cover on the album is the immersive dive into Gene Clark’s Why Not My Baby. A glorious enough song to begin with but sung here by Queen with passion, conviction and yearning while the arrangement updates the baroque folk of the original quite brilliantly with the strings replaced by clarion guitar.

Midway through the album are a brace of songs which step away from the covers’ concept. What Is Home is a Queen/Smillie song which recalls their work as Tenement And Temple. With a tenebrous cello adding to the melancholic air, it’s chamber folk of the first degree with a dramatic flourish in the vocals. Two songs by Douglas MacIntyre follow. Deep In My Bones revisits the Velvet Underground in its funereal percussion and glowering guitars with Queen sounding disembodied as if she were singing from a coffin buried six feet deep. I Want You To Stop, You’re Killing Me is a much brasher affair with the band sounding as burnished as a quicksilver version of The Byrds circa Younger Than Yesterday. Its sonic brilliance almost disguises the lyrics which seem to about trying to escape from a “gaslighting” relationship but there’s no doubting the excellence of Queen’s performance here. Overall, the album is a reminder that the old Postcard Records’ motto, The Sound of Young Scotland, was not so much age related but more of a state of mind.


Sulidae. Kitchen Sink Dharma


Sulidae is a solo project from Glaswegian singer/songwriter Bobby Motherwell although describing Motherwell as a singer/songwriter actually does him some disservice. Aside from playing in the band The Undying Embers, he promotes live music in his abode of Howwood, bags Munros for a charity drive and is an accomplished photographer, poet and prose author. Kitchen Sink Dharma is our first opportunity to listen to Motherwell and its mellow sound, accompanying his warm embrace of humanity in his lyrics, sung with a fine Scots burr, kind of knocked us out by how good it is.

There are songs and spoken word poems. most of them adorned with delicate accompaniment. The players involved (Kirsten Adamson – backing vocals, Andy Lucas – keys, Duncan Lyall – upright bass, Colin Steele – trumpet and Alice Allen – cello) are among the cream of the crop when it comes to Scottish players with Lucas and Steele well known as members of the ever shifting Blue Rose Code and Lyall having a CV to die for. Together, Motherwell and his troupe weave a quite magical tapestry of songs and sounds.

The album opens on a downbeat note as Motherwell sings on A Letter And A Blessing of a relationship which has foundered. The song’s recollection of the more mundane aspects of breaking up allows it the aspect of a kitchen sink drama but there’s a sliver of hope within the lyrics as Motherwell dwells on the aftermath, singing, “The Future looks painfully bright.” Adamson adds ethereal backing vocals while Lucas’ piano is plaintive and elegant. This balance of regret and hope permeates the album with Motherwell able to capture the pathos of writers such as Loudon Wainwright and Richard Thompson while the chamber folk of Unspoken harks back to the earthiness of early Gerry Rafferty on his debut solo album, Can I Have My Money Back.

There’s a nod to classic country duos when a banjo intrudes on the prison ballad Why Don’t You Believe In Me as Adamson trades harmony vocals with the song sounding as if it could be an out-take from a lost Alejandro Escovedo album. In a similar vein, The Child In The Growing positively glows as Motherwell, with Adamson again singing along, muses on the rhythm of life with Colin Steele’s trumpet adding to the circumspection. Motherwell nails his colours to the mast on his solo rendition of Living Like All The Rest which is a confessional of sorts, reminiscent of the late Jackie Leven.

While the songs agonise and tussle with the human condition, there are two spoken word poems which, aside from emphasising Motherwell’s Scottish accent, give the album some emotional ballast. How Peace Was Won, backed by pared back piano and birdsong, finds Motherwell finding some solace in nature and nostalgia while The Silence Was Deafening, which closes the album, again cleaves to nature, almost like a Ted Hughes poem with a Scottish accent. 

Brand New Day erupts towards the end of the album as if someone has swept open the curtains as you are recovering from a hangover. It’s bright and spritely with Steele’s trumpet ringing as clear as a morning reveille and while it’s Motherwell’s celebration of a new start it does somewhat jar within the overall sound of the album. A minor complaint to be sure.


Miraculous Mule. Old Bones, New Fire.

A London based band who describe themselves as “a group of Anglo-Irish honkies who dig African-American Gospel, prison/work songs and Hillbilly music,” Miraculous Mule are a new name to us here at Blabber’n’Smoke. Intrigued by their blurb, we plugged the disc in and, short story, quite loved this album. The band take a clutch of old blues and gospel numbers and deliver them with some aplomb with a sound which recalls the likes of Delaney & Bonnie, Leon Russell and Stoneground along with more than a whiff of Dylan & The Band’s Basement Tapes in their loose limbed approach.

They open with a chain gang lament on I Know I’ve Been Changed, the singers channelling that feted soulful frenzy which characterised preachers such as Elder Utah Smith, famed for his 1940s recording, Two Wings. Nobody /Nothing is much zippier with frantic banjo and fuzz fuelled guitar while City Of Refuge settles into a soulful groove reminiscent of The Staple Singers.

Familiar songs such as John The Revelator and O Death are given new legs in the arrangements here with the former being quite seductive in its shimmering amalgamation of Pops Staples’ guitar lines and Dr. John like voodoo vibes. Butcher Boy is a brief foray into Child Ballad territory which they carry off quite successfully and You Got To Take Sick And Die wanders into early Greenwich Village Fred Neil territory. Amidst the covers, band leader Michael J. Sheehy offers one original song, We Get What We Deserve which captures the essence of the album – a loose limbed ramble of a song with gospel harmonies and meandering electric guitar which sounds like a companion song to The Stones’ You Can’t Always Get You Want. Closing song, Sinner Man is so closely tied to Nina Simone that the band don’t really deviate from her many versions of the song but just dig down and play it. However, you can’t deny there’s an irresistible temptation to picture the band playing this in the mid 60s on a bill along with Jefferson Airplane and Richie Havens. It’s part of the success of this album that the band simultaneously update these songs and transport you back to more optimistic times. Well recommended.