Rod Picott ‘Fortune’ - Welding Rod
At this point, some eight albums into his career, Rod Picott is something of a veteran of the trials and tribulations that face the independent working troubadour. A lifestyle that is often not conducive to steady relationships or a settled life. But what it does is to give Picott a personal insight into the lives he sees around him, as well as his own. Such events that occur are distilled into a set of songs that speak true to the turmoil and equal tenderness that we all can encounter along the way.
The first song here, is Maybe That’s What It Takes, allows that the knocks received can often be a catalyst to something else. Equally This World Is a Dangerous Place sums up the caution required to navigate through an uneven path. I Was Not Worth Your Love admonishes a former partner for trying to make him something he wasn’t until the relationship turned him into something that ironically might have fit the requirements.
Later in the album things get a little more positive in outlook with I’m On Your Side but overall the gaze is cast downward. Uncle John refers to a relative who was a charachter but with whom he no longer has any contact. Jeremiah is also about loss. Spare Change shows how a little money might have helped in certain situations. These are songs that on the surface might seem to be drawing down the darkness. Something perhaps summed up by a line in Drunken Barber’s Hand (“…this world has been shaved by a drunken barber’s hand” - something it is not hard to agree with). However Picott has enough inbuilt humanity in his music to make these songs a simple, life-affirming experience.
Produced by Picott and Neilson Hubbard it has a a selection of players will to make these songs work in a stripped back but effective way. Will Kimbrough is a player well used to using his talent to best find the emotion of the songs. He is joined by the rhythm section of Lex Price and Hubbard himself on drums. They create a suitably unsettled setting for these songs which are essentially built around Picott’s voice and nylon stringed guitar. The end result is one Picott can be justifiably be proud of and one that draws the listener in to, in turn, get much out of.
Johnny Selfish & The Worried Men ‘Calle Salvaje’ - Rivertale
This Italian band have made a joyous, uptempo fun album that they describe as a tribute to inspirations such as Hank Williams Sr, Ennio Morricone and Mano Negra as well as movie heroes like Clint Eastwood and Sam Peckinpah. This is the bands fourth album. A nine track mix of covers and what I assume are original songs (as there are no writing credits included). The covers include Williams’ Alone and Forsaken and the Bill Monroe associated A.P. Carter song Working On A Building. These songs are delivered in English while others such as Vaquerito and El Gringo are in Spanish.
There is a mix of instruments used from electric guitar, banjo, double bass through to kazoo and Mariachi-styled trumpets. The end result is varied enough to keep the whole thing moving along in a spirited, almost Pogues-like folk/punk take on their influences. There nothing particularly ground breaking going on here, rather it is the spirit and energy with which the songs are performed that makes it a diverting listen and one that should bring a smile to your face. Can’t ask for a lot more than that sometimes.
Malcolm Holcombe ‘Another Black Hole’ - Proper
Following hot on the heels of his RCA sessions album comes this new one from Mr. Holcombe. He seems very prolific of late with a whole bunch of new songs delivered in that battered, gritty and distinctive voice that is uniquely his. It is a folk/blues Americana mix that brings together his usual crew of Ken Coomer, Jared Tayler and Dave Roe alongside Drea Merritt on some vocal harmonies and Tony Joe White on some swampy guitar.
Those who know (and love) Holcombe’s work will be happy to get know these new songs. As in the past there are others who can’t get passed the voice. All has been brought together by Brian Brinkerhoff and Ray Kennedy’s sturdy production. The latter also engineered, mixed and mastered the album. The playing through is top notch and gives added depth and texture to these songs that look up to the sky and higher, from a position that is much closer to the street and those that live there. People who may just get by, who have few expectations but somehow manage to see some grace. This feeling may well be summed up in Siobhan Maher-Kennedy’s cover illustration.
The hard-scrabble blues on offer may not appeal to all but it has dignity and a purpose and the assembled players know how to bring the tales of woe to a sunnier side of the street even if Holcombe’s voice seems to sit on the grittier side of Tom Waits. He offers nothing here but his own truth and his hard held beliefs and some very credible music. Something that has always given Malcolm Holcombe his edge with his coterie of admirers and friends.
Jimmy Ruggiere ‘A Heartache Couldn’t Happen To A Nicer Guy’ - Blue Streak
A harmonica player who recorded a lot with Travis Tritt steps up the the centre mic for his debut album. The album is produced in Austin, Texas by Chris Gage. Gage is a multi-instrumentalist who is no stranger to the studio as artist, player or producer. He has gathered together some equally seasoned players such as Paul Percy on drums and percussion, Warren Hood on fiddle and Lloyd Maines on pedal steel to bring their individual talents to these self-written songs.
Ruggiere has a solid warm vocal style that may not be a totally distinctive one but is one well able to deliver his songs, which fall into an easy to like feel but also ones that have their fair share of heartbreak themes. As witnessed by songs like the title song, I Want To Wake Up Stoned and I Cried All The Way To Fort Worth. There are songs that find him wanting to get back to his lady (Ninety Miles From Nashville) as well a tribute to a man who was an important part of everyone’s life - not just Ruggiere’s (Going Home to Say Goodbye To Dad).
He is obviously a skilled harmonica player and the instrument features throughout the album to good effect as does his acoustic guitar. There are a mix of tempos over the album as well as some nice textures from Jimmy Shortell’s trumpet, c overing different moods in Sunday’s Broken, which has a late night feel, or the border overtones of There’s One Too Many Pretty Girls in Tucson.
A Heartache Couldn’t Happen To A Nicer Guy is an accessible and easy listen given its’ undemanding or non-edgy style of country music. In itself it is one that would please a wide audience with it’s solid production, playing and personality. Jimmy Ruggiere comes across as a man who enjoys making this music as much as many will enjoy hearing it. So any success his debut album might find likely couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.