Quiet loners,serial killers & murder ballads



Last week, I went to see my good friend and occasional songwriting collaborator Matt Hill –  aka Quiet Loner  –  play a solo show at The Windmill in Brixton.

Matt is a very talented Americana artist – as I once wrote in a review: “With pithy, sardonic lyrics about fallen angels and serial  killers, he is one of the UK’s finest alt-country balladeers”.

During his Brixton gig, Matt played a song that knocked me for six – a dark, wry murder ballad called The Cold Hard Facts Of Life, which is about a guy returning home a day early, to accidentally discover his wife is cheating on him with another man. The guy stumbles across the infidelity when he stops into a liquor store to pick up some pink champagne for him and his wife. Overhearing a bloke at the counter talking to the shop assistant about entertaining a woman while her husband is out of town, he only realises that the man is referring to his wife when he follows the guy’s car home and sees it is stopping outside his house. After supping from the bottle of champagne, the jilted guy then kills both his wife and her lover with a knife… Very, very country.

After the gig, I actually congratulated Matt on penning such a great track. More fool me.

“I didn’t write it,” he told me. “It’s by Porter Wagoner.”

I assumed Porter Wagoner was some obscure, uber-cool Americana band I’d never heard of, but Matt corrected me – he was in fact a US country singer who gave Dolly Parton her big break on his long-running TV show in the ’60s and ’70s. He died in 2007.

Wagoner was known for his flashy Nudie suits and blond pompadour hairstyle, but The Cold Hard Facts of Life is chilling and laced with black humour.

I thought Matt had written it, as it’s up there with his self-penned, macabre tales of murderers, misfits, losers and the loveless.

Below is a clip of Portner Wagoner performing The Cold Hard Facts of  Life on a US TV show.

I’ve also included footage of Quiet Loner playing Lucifer – a track that’s destined for his new album, out in November.

And for the sheer hell of it, I’ve thrown in Elvis Costello playing Psycho – Leon Payne’s song inspired by a Texas serial killer.

Now, I’m really spoiling you.


The Coral go cosmic!


Dig out the kaftans, baby, those cosmic Scousers The Coral are back
with a killer new psychedelic single that sounds like it was written
by The Byrds in 1967.

Maybe 1000 Years has actually been around for,er, years, locked in a
vault and left to soak in super-strength acid, while Roger McGuinn and
co’s Younger Than Yesterday was played on constant repeat on the
stereo. It does sound quite like Renaissance Fair (see below).
Who knows? Who cares?

Tune in, turn on, drop out, kids.

The new album by The Coral, which is called The Butterfly House, is
out on July 12. Here’s the great title track:

Sea shanties and storm ballads


Those of you who are familiar with velvet-voiced crooner
Richard Hawley will know that the sea is a recurring theme in his

Sheffield’s answer to Roy Orbison even recently hosted a Radio 2 show
called The Ocean, which was named after his song of the same name and
looked at the history of seafaring towns in the UK.

New from Hawley this month is False Lights From The Land – a limited
edition EP that’s made up of four tracks that are all
inspired by the sea.

Comprising two original Hawley compositions
(Remorse Code and There’s A Storm A Coming) and two cover versions of
sea shanties (The Ellan Vannin Tragedy and Shallow Brown), it’s a
great little record that has drawn me in like, ahem, false lights from
the land.

Remorse Code was featured on Hawley’s last album, the wonderful
Truelove’s Gutter, and at nearly 10 minutes long is a spiralling,
twilight ballad that’s loaded with nautical imagery, but is also about
a friend who has gone off course and sunk to unimaginable depths,
driven by drink and drugs. It’s a beautiful song, laced with gorgeous
twangy guitar and slightly eerie atmospherics.

The other original song could have been lifted from his
Coles Corner album. There’s A Storm A Coming is yet another sublime
Hawley ballad, but lighter than his latest work, it’s a shuffling,
sentimental ’50s-style pop tune that sounds like it’s been around
forever. One for the mums and dads. And for melancholy muso journos in
their late thirties. Lovely.

Both of the remaining two tracks feature female folk duo The Smoke
Fairies (terrible name). Shallow Brown is a traditional acapella
number, but the real gem is The Ellan Vannin Tragedy.

A mournful, haunting folk song written by Hugh E Jones of The Spinners,
it tells the tale of a ship that sank in ferocious waters just outside
Liverpool after leaving Ramsey on the Isle of Man on 3 December 1909,
losing all 21 crew and 14 passengers.

Hawley’s version sounds like he’s set sail on a ship bound for hell,
with Nick Cave as the captain, while a funereal cello drones in the??background.??

Careful – it’ll drag you under and you’ll never be seen again.

Storming stuff, indeed.

The twang is the thang!


I’ve always had a thing (or should that a be a thang?) for twangy guitars.
And no-one does twangy guitar better than Duane Eddy.

When I was a kid, my dad often used to play Duane’s records in the??house, so I grew up with his unique baritone sound.??

However, I didn’t know that back in 1965, Duane made a whole album of
instrumental Bob Dylan songs.

The amusingly entitled, ahem, Duane Does Dylan, which I recently
stumbled across on iTunes, is a real rock and roll curio, from its
cool cover – Duane sat in a lounge cradling his guitar alongside two ‘dolly
birds’ – to its quirky takes on Dylan tunes – the blistering version
of House of the Rising Sun is awesome – all big, bad boss man guitar
and wailing blues harmonica.

Confusingly, there’s also a great cover of Barry McGuire’s Eve of
Destruction (one of my favourite songs of all time) included, although
it wasn’t ever recorded by Dylan. However, it was penned by songwriter
PF Sloan, who wrote Dylan-like material.

Anyway, it’s twang-tastic, all the same.


And while we’re on the subject of twangy sounds, here’s Jack
Nitzsche’s sublime The Lonely Surfer – an epic, cinematic track from
1963 that features plenty of cool baritone guitar.

Delicious, deep-fried summer soul


In the absence of Duffy or Winehouse, how about some alternative
scorching summer soul – retro style.

The Mynabirds are fronted by Oregon-based singer/songwriter Laura
Burhenn and do a neat line in Motown-meets-country-meets-rock-and-roll, with a healthy dollop of Stax horns thrown in for good measure.

There are also nods to Dusty Springfield and Bobbie Gentry, too.

If you like the sound of that, then you can download the rather tasty
Let The Record Go for free here:

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Apparently Laura wanted to make a record that sounded “like Neil Young
doing Motown”. The album, What We Lose In The Fire, We Gain In The
Flood, has a damn good go.

I’m digging this delicious, deep-fried soul sound.


If I can make it through the summer…


In my previous blog entry, I wrote about trying to deal with the
recent bout of hot weather, which makes me very depressed, cross and
generally hot and bothered.

Well, I’ve now found a song that could be my theme tune – it’s called
Make It Through The Summer.

I recently spent a few days in Chicago (mercifully, it wasn’t hot) and
became dangerously addicted to shopping in Records Reckless – while I
was over there, I visited two branches.

What I love about shops like Reckless are the handwritten
recommendations and mini reviews that are stuck on some of the CD
covers, so if you’re browsing – like I was – and you’re not sure about
buying an album, you can read the store staff’s reviews and comments
and then make your mind own mind up.

As I was in Chicago, I was perusing the Wilco section (well, it is
their home town) and I stumbled across an album by
The Autumn Defense – a duo comprising Wilco members John Stirratt and
Pat Sansone. Hell, I didn’t even know this spin-off band existed.

The album’s called The Green Hour and I was drawn to it by the store
sleeve notes, which said it recalled ’70s AM radio pop, pastoral folk
and The Beachboys.

Add to that the fact that they’re in Wilco and I knew I had to be on
to a winner, so I bought it. It’s a great little record – those guys
at Reckless Records know their stuff. My favourite song is the
aforementioned Make It Through The Summer.

It sounds a lot like Wilco doing The Beachboys, which is fine by me.

Now, if I can just make…..



Byrds-meets-Big-Star-meets-Beachboys – ‘the soundtrack of the summer’



Some of you ‘normal’ people are getting excited by the World Cup or by
the warm weather, but I must say I am not bothered about either.

In fact, this weekend I am avoiding both by staying in, listening to
some new music and updating my blog, which is long overdue.

Trust me, it’s better than being stood in an over-crowded pub full of
undesirable types who only go out drinking when it’s summer, an
international sporting event, St Patrick’s Day or New Year’s Eve, and
then spoil it for the rest of us who are regular frequenters of ale
houses. The hot weather brings ’em all out…

To keep me company – my girlfriend Susie is away in Barcelona – I’ve
stocked up on red wine and cheese. It could be a long evening….

There’s plenty of great new music around at the moment, but I’ve also
been digging around in record shops and online to discover some retro
delights, too.

Now, I may not be a fan of summer, but I am partial to the odd killer
sunshine guitar pop tune or two – and the new Teenage Fanclub album
Shadows is full of ’em.

It’s easily the best thing they’ve done since 1995’s Grand Prix.

OK, so if you don’t like Teenage Fanclub (hard to believe, I know, but
there are such deluded people out there,apparently) then Shadows won’t
convert you, as it’s classic trademark Fanclub to the max. Jangly
Byrds-meets-Big-Star guitars? Check. Beachboys harmonies? Check. Great
melodies? Check. Well, if it ain’t broke….

I always hate it when idiotic, inane presenters like Zane Lowe
proclaim something to be ‘the soundtrack of the summer’, but Shadows
will certainly be the soundtrack of my summer – and hopefully it will
help me to get through the imminent, oppressive heat wave.

Here’s the current Teenage Fanclub single, Baby Lee – if you dig this,
you’ll love the album. Yeah, it’s soppy, but so what? It’s better than
crying over a football match…