top of page

Songs Of The Week 2020: Take 3

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

Neil Morton


Climb On Your Tears: The Paper Kites (featuring Aoife O’Donovan)

Australian indie folk-rockers The Paper Kites left it late to unveil one of the year’s loveliest songs. Climb On Your Tears, suitably sad for 2020 but offering comfort and hope, is our Song Of The Week at, a collaboration with the magical Irish-American singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan.

‘From the moment I heard this song, I was absolutely blown away: the production, the delivery of the lead vocal, the lyrics, the vibe – I just couldn’t wait to sing on it,’ says O’Donovan, a member of that wonderful trio of multi-instrumentalists I’m With Her. ‘I ended up recording my part in my closet in Brooklyn earlier this year in the middle of a lockdown.’

The dreamy lead vocal is provided by Sam Bentley, who founded the Melbourne combo with fellow songwriter Christina Lacy in 2010. The plaintive Climb On Your Tears, decorated by David Powys’ subtle electric guitar, is the fourth advanced track from their fifth album Roses, due out in March, their first new material since 2018’s excellent On The Corner Where You Live. The band are all pals from high school, Sam Rasmussen (bass, synth) and drummer Josh Bentley completing the line-up.

Roses is a collection of duets with admired women artists. Bentley explains: ‘I had written these songs and had always wanted to do an album like this, but I remember almost scrapping the project because it felt too hard. It was about finding the right voices, artists who couldn’t just sing but had something deep and moving in the way they sang. That’s not every singer, it’s rare.’

O’Donovan is certainly a rare talent, exquisitely delivering the delicate second verse and harmonising on the hypnotic chorus:

It’s hard when you’ve got that pain

Like a thorn in your side

And it’s calling out your name

And it burns like a fire

Well, I can’t take it away

It’s a shadow in the night

But I can tell you

To keep on climbing now

Climb on your tears

Like a ladder to a rose, baby

Climb on your tears

Wash all your fears away

Earlier duets featured Australian Julia Stone on the smouldering Without Your Love, Surrey-born Lucy Rose on For All You Give and Irish musician Rosie Carney on By My Side. The six remaining tracks will showcase New Zealanders Nadia Reid and Lydia Cole, Aussies Ainslie Wills and Gena Rose Bruce, Sweden’s Amanda Bergman and Portuguese prodigy Maro. Diverse and divine.

Sunblind: Fleet Foxes

Robin Pecknold, mastermind of indie folk-rock project Fleet Foxes, pays homage to his musical influences with the dazzling Sunblind, our Song Of The Week at A mission statement for their uplifting fourth album Shore.

Here and elsewhere Pecknold’s departed heroes are referenced: Richard Swift, John Prine, Bill Withers, Judee Sill, Elliott Smith, David Berman, Arthur Russell, Nick Drake, Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield and, naturally, Brian Wilson. From Beach Boys to Shore.

‘I’m gonna swim for a week in/ Warm American Water with dear friends,’ he sings in a joyous chorus with a nod to a beloved album by Berman’s Silver Jews. Shore, says Pecknold, is ‘trying to celebrate life in a time of death’ and is ‘thankful for what we’ve got’. With hope now being rolled out, it acts as balm for our global gloom.

The 34-year-old Seattle native explains: ‘I've been so lucky in so many ways in my life, so lucky to be born with the seeds of the talent I have cultivated and lucky to have had so many unreal experiences. Maybe with luck can come guilt sometimes. I know I’ve welcomed hardship wherever I could find it, real or imagined, as a way of subconsciously tempering all this unreal luck I’ve had.’

The music, produced by Pecknold without his core band members because of Covid restrictions, evolved pre-pandemic but the lyrics were later inspired by long, lonely drives through the wild landscape of upstate New York. ‘It was like the car was the safest place to be. I had this optimistic music but I’d been writing these downer lyrics and it just wasn’t gelling.’

But gel it did. This is a more upbeat work than 2017’s darker, introspective Crack-Up. As he sings in A Long Way Past The Past: ‘My worst old times look fine from here.’ Another standout track, Can I Believe You, has a gorgeous anthemic quality. If Glastonbury as we know it ever reopens, they’ll be crowd-surfing to this song. ‘Those choral voices are actually 400 or 500 people from Instagram that sent clips of them singing that line to me. There’s this big hug of voices around the lead vocal that’s talking about trust and believability.’

The majestic Cradling Mother, Cradling Woman bears Wilson’s Pet Sounds stamp but it is Sunblind which features some of Pecknold’s most exquisite, poetic lines...

For every gift lifted far before its will…

I’ve met the myth hanging heavy over you…

Beneath you, songs, perfect angels in the snow…

Swimming high on a lea in an Eden…

And in your rarefield air I feel sunblind…

But I’m loud and alive, singing you all night, night

Shore is a metaphor for the ebb and flow of people in our lives, like breaking waves. With its trademark layered choral passages, the grandeur of its orchestration and magnetic melodic hooks we are reminded of the beauty and sadness of Foxes’ eponymous debut album and its acclaimed sequel, Helplessness Blues. A celestial sound appropriate for an autumn equinox release.

Christmas All Over The World: Geraint Watkins

A seasonal single from Geraint Watkins, keyboard player to the kings, provides our Song Of The Week at The uplifting Christmas Day All Over The World is notable for its charm and its last two words: Abertridwr and Abertillery.

Geraint Meurig Vaughan Watkins is obviously a proud Welshman. If you don’t know the name, you must have seen and heard him. He has been the go-to piano man and accordionist for a host of luminaries – Nick Lowe, Van Morrison, Dave Edmunds, Mark Knopfler, Paul McCartney, John Martyn, Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, Shakin’ Stevens, Peter Green, Eric Clapton, Status Quo, Rory Gallagher, Tom Jones, Carl Perkins, Andy Fairweather Low and the re-formed Slim Chance. It is hard to believe he is still regarded as an undiscovered treasure.

Abertridwr is the Caerphilly village where Watkins was born and in the song, as idiosyncratic as its creator, follows the more familiar locations he name-checks: Paris, New York, Milan, Tokyo, Casablanca, Beijing, Hongkong, Aleppo, Moscow, Honolulu. ‘Lo and behold it’s cold,’ he sings in that world-weary yet ever so sensitive style in the droll video.

The musician was once described by Nick Lowe as ‘the missing link between Paulo Conte and Howlin’ Wolf’. Bob Dylan declared him his favourite English piano player on his Theme Time Radio Hour show. On top of all the session work and touring with countless bands, he has released five solo albums, the latest being 2019’s Rush Of Blood, in collaboration with producer Simon Ratcliffe of Basement Jaxx. It includes the lovely gentle rocker Hold Back, co-written by London bluesman Little George Sueref who contributes exhilarating harp and vocals.

One critic wrote of 2004’s Dial W For Watkins: ‘The love songs are sweet and short, there are lots of ragged edges and lots of jokes – but that’s the appeal: it’s warm, friendly, engaging music, perfect for a relaxing evening at home with old friends.’ That down-home retro quality is perfectly captured on the late-night lounge lullaby Another Day Over on Rush Of Blood: ‘I had the time of my life, and now the story is told, I’ll kick off my shoes. Another day over… let’s dance, let’s dance, let’s dance in the moonlight.’ It’s almost as if he is saying goodbye but this year’s Christmas special suggests there is plenty of swooning and crooning left.

Watkins, 69, lives in Balham, near London, where he founded pub rock band The Balham Alligators in the early Eighties. Before that he fronted The Dominators whose album was produced by Fairweather Low. Even earlier there were stints in the Cardiff delta with Red Beans And Rice and Juice On The Loose. His ability to play and compose in any genre, from vintage R&B and rock to country and Cajun, has ensured no end of engagements and admirers. All over the world.

I am grateful to Phil Shaw for the recommendation. For an alternative take on festive music, from Davitt Sigerson to The Cocteau Twins, revisit Phil’s playlist of under-the-radar nuggets. ’Tis the season to be different.

Heart Like A Kite: John Paul White

Bittersweet love songs come and go, but John Paul White’s Heart Like A Kite will be swirling around the senses for some time. The track appears on the Alabama songwriter’s 2019 album The Hurting Kind and is our Song Of The Week at ‘I'm holding on for dear life,’ he sings as love floats away.

The extraordinary range of White’s soul-infused tenor evokes one of his heroes, Roy Orbison, as the Americana-indie folk artist teams up with Nashville veterans Bill Anderson and Bobby Braddock for a very modern take on classic Sixties country. This slow waltz has a timeless feel, the lyric oozing heartbreak...

She’ll always come back down to earth


But I fear there’s coming a day

When I’ll run out of string

The former member of duo The Civil Wars, who broke up in 2012 in a most uncivil manner, sought a torch song quality for his change of direction – ‘to not be afraid of the big note, and not be afraid of the drama’. Just like the Big O.

The album, recorded at home in Florence and at the Fame studios in nearby Muscle Shoals, was co-produced by the Alabama Shakes keyboard player Ben Tanner. There is orchestration but it is on the sparse side of lush. The collaborative project, which preceded a duet with Rosanne Cash on perhaps the song of the pandemic, the magnificent We’re All In This Together Now, featured harmony contributions from Lee Ann Womack on This Isn’t Gonna End Well, Erin Rae, Lillie Mae and The Secret Sisters.

During his only live show of the pandemic at Auburn University in Alabama (‘Let’s pretend the world is normal’) White showcased some of the songs on his Bandcamp site, including the powerful My Dreams Have All Come True, The Long Way Home and I Wish I Could Write You A Song. Well, that’s something he certainly can do.

White’s concert was available for streaming on Bandcamp Friday, a monthly event initiated by the music distribution service to help artists survive the nightmare that is Covid and extended to the end of the year. It has given performers, who have had gigs, tours and festivals cancelled, the opportunity to receive money for music and merchandise directly from their fans, with fees to the platform waived.

Meanwhile, performers in the UK have appeared before a government inquiry, protesting against the ‘microscopic earnings’ made from streaming. The Mercury Prize nominee Nadine Shah wrote eloquently in The Guardian: ‘Streaming only really works for superstars and super record labels. Instead of receiving a direct amount per sale, as with downloads or physical purchases, it’s a winner-takes-all system.

‘Even before Covid, the major labels were making almost $20m a day from streaming. And this year has seen a huge increase in streaming subscriptions, as fans turn to platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify to help ease their locked-down minds… For all the promise of digital democratisation of music, the opposite appears to be happening. For an independent artist with a dedicated audience, the system doesn’t work.

‘Music needs to be wild and varied, it needs to be inventive and original, and it needs to be economically sustainable. Streaming provides less than a trickle for the workers who make it. Reform is needed so it can grow into a river from which the musicians of today and tomorrow can drink.’ Let us drink to that sentiment.

La Vida Tómbola: Manu Chao

To mark the extraordinary football feats of Diego Maradona, we could not resist revisiting La Vida Tómbola, a song written and performed in his honour by French-born Spanish musician Manu Chao. It’s our Song Of The Week at If life is a lottery, Diego won and lost.

The song, with its infectious rumba beat from Chao’s fourth studio album La Radiolina, featured in the acclaimed documentary entitled Maradona directed by the Serbian film-maker Emir Kusturica and premiered at the Cannes festival in 2008. The Buenos Aires street scene where Chao is seen busking – conveniently witnessed by the Argentinian idol himself as he steps out of his car with bodyguards at his side – looks so natural and is a constant delight.

If I was Maradona

I'd live like him

A thousand rockets... a thousand friends

And what may come at 1000%

If I was Maradona

I’d go on Mondovision

To scream at Fifa

That they are the big thief

If I was Maradona

And a game to win

If I was Maradona

With a divine hand…

The multi-lingual, multi-genre Latin star spent his early career in Paris, busking and playing with bands such as Hot Pants and Los Carayos. With friends and brother Antoine he formed Mano Negra in 1987, enjoying considerable success in Europe. After turning solo in 1995 he toured with his live band Radio Bemba.

As a boy he was a big fan of the Cuban singer-pianist Bola de Nieve. His Spanish republican parents had emigrated to France to escape Franco’s dictatorship so politics were bound to inform his songwriting. ‘It’s a song about destiny. What better example than Diego as to the ups and downs of life?’ he told the Guardian in Barcelona before a 2008 UK tour which included a Glastonbury appearance.

Diego, revered more than he was reviled, died at the young age of 60 although it was hardly a surprise his demons would befall him sooner rather than later. La Vida Tómbola indeed. Let us celebrate his sublime gifts along with his countrymen and football clubs around the world.

Never mind the Hand of God goal against England in that World Cup quarter-final in Mexico in 1986, it was his second that was truly divine along with countless other magical strikes for his country, Napoli and Barcelona before a failed drugs test in the US led to his expulsion by Fifa. Former Argentina team-mate Jorge Valdano explained Diego’s appeal to his global fanbase: ‘With Maradona, the poor beat the rich.’ You have to say, he was magnificent.

Tried To Tell You: The Weather Station

Tamara Lindeman, the songwriter behind the project entitled The Weather Station, calls her latest release a clumsy attempt at a pop song. I wish all pop songs could be as intelligent and arresting as Tried To Tell You, our Song Of The Week at There’s a change in the Weather...

The track is from Lindeman’s ambitious fifth studio album Ignorance, due out in February. Ignorance was born out of a fixation with dance rhythm, new territory for the rural Ontario native. ‘I saw how the less emotion there was in the rhythm, the more room there was for emotion in the rest of the music, the more freedom I had vocally.’

The Canadian’s vulnerable, conversational style can be challenging, disturbing even, and here she digs deep into the concept of natural beauty being spurned and unappreciated. Writing on piano rather than guitar for the album, she brought in jazz musicians Brodie West (sax) and Ryan Driver (flute) to improvise against the basic structure of the songs alongside Ben Whiteley (bass), Johnny Spence (keys), Christine Bougie (guitar), Kieran Adams (drums) and percussionist Philippe Melanson.

Lindeman told Rearview Mirror in an interview in 2018: ‘I don’t have a super strong or loud voice – I can’t belt things out. I think because I have that limitation, I’ve really focussed my singing on expression – on how many colours of feeling I can run through my voice, how I sing words, when I sing them, phrasing. All the singers I love most are singers who maybe don’t have the best voice technically but have wonderful expression in their voices – that to me is the goal.’

Wonderfully expressive is how you would describe her singing on memorable tracks such as Thirty, Impossible, Kept It All To Myself and You And I (On The Other Side Of The World) from The Weather Station’s fourth self-titled album. Tried To Tell You dazzles too with its insistent backbeat and her always highly literate lyric writing, a stream of conscience as well as consciousness.

This is what the songs are for

This is the dirt beneath the floor…

I’ll feel as useless as a tree in a city park

Standing as a symbol of what we have blown apart

You know you break what you treasure

I tried to tell you

But I’m not sure you remember

I tried to tell you

And no, it cannot be measured

I tried to tell you

Would it kill you to believe in your pleasure?

I tried to tell you

Lindeman directed the video herself at a woodland location near her childhood home. She explains: ‘The video portrays a person who is beset by miracles and visions of beauty, which emanate both from inside of him and from all around him, but rather than reacting with awe or joy, he reacts with annoyance, indifference, and mistrust. This is how many of us live under a vibrantly shifting and changing sky all day long and literally don't see it; this is also how we are taught not to see the natural world that we still live in, preferring instead to dwell on the artificial, which is so often a poor substitute for the vibrant real. I mean, flowers really do rise up from mud, and many of us are full of treasures and beauty, but we often discount these things or throw them away.’

An online performance of the new album will be aired on February 11. Our first taster, the album’s opener, was Robber, magnificent in its indignation, a tirade against the impact on the environment of corporate greed. The songwriter, for whom climate change is a passionate theme, says: ‘To put it straight; there are real people who are literally robbing us and all future generations of all of everything that matters, right now. But we can’t see that as a society, because for one thing we’ve been taught not to value what is taken. And for another because we’ve been taught to glamorise and love the taker.’

If Robber and Tried To Tell You are anything to go by, Ignorance will be bliss.

Close Your Eyes And Think Of England: Del Amitri

The image of Brexit’s chief architect leaving No10 carrying the box he was renowned for thinking outside provides an apt backdrop to our Song Of The Week at, Del Amitri’s acerbic new track, Close Your Eyes And Think Of England, which was released on the same day as Dominic Cummings’ departure.

Scottish songwriter Justin Currie describes the piano-driven composition, delivered on Friday the 13th, as ‘our European valediction, a ballad of pure bile and remorse, sweetened by a sledgehammer of sarcasm’. As with the best of Del Amitri, the melody and vocal are immediately engaging and Currie’s lyric is cutting, more bitter than sweet.

The track will appear on the on-off band’s seventh studio album, Fatal Mistakes, scheduled for late April next year. It was recorded just before March’s lockdown, their first offering since 2002’s Can You Do Me Good? Singer-bassist Currie and guitarist Iain Harvie are joined by the line-up who enjoyed reunion tours in 2014 and 2018: drummer Ash Soan, Andy Alston (keys) and Kris Dollimore (guitar).

The anti-Brexit tirade, written by a pro-European and fierce advocate of Scottish independence, may be a lost cause but the narrative suggests a long-term ambition for a change of heart…

Deal by deal

We’ll crush them on the wheel

Of progress and manifest destiny

So close your eyes

And think of England

That boat afloat all alone

On the ocean is sinking

And a telephone is ringing

The coastguard have been drinking

Nobody had an inkling

’Cause they closed their eyes

Brexit is not great news for songwriters and musicians below exalted status who depend on their own gig economy in the UK and short tours of the continent to sustain them. Robert Vincent, whose name is probably as famous in Nashville as it is in his Merseyside birthplace, summed up the feelings of his humble contemporaries when he tweeted about ‘the restrictions and regulations musicians are going to face when we leave the EU. This is horrendous stark reading and only the most wealthy of musicians are going to be able to continue to tour Europe, and for peanuts. Brilliant’.

Del Amitri, on the back of a new record deal with Cooking Vinyl, will hopefully be heard beyond these shores in the near future. Fatal Mistakes may be saying farewell to Europe but it marks a welcome return by the Glasgow band whose fame peaked in the 90s with five consecutive top 10 albums and hits such as Nothing Ever Happens, Always The Last To Know and Roll To Me.

April is a long time for us to wait for an album billed as ‘absolutely right for these difficult times’. Barnard Castle needs this now.

Cassiopeia Coming Through: Karen Matheson

Karen Matheson planted the seeds for her new album, Still Time, a decade ago and it will finally bear fruit in February. Tantalisingly, she has released an advance track, Cassiopeia Coming Through, our Song Of The Week at A gem from the pen of James Grant.

The beloved Scottish folk singer, lead vocalist with the band Capercallie, describes the single as ‘a hopeful longing in these turbulent times’. The Argyll-born regular of the popular Transatlantic Sessions tours, adds: ‘I've always been drawn to the poetic imagery of my good friend James Grant. The song is a beautifully crafted call for change, for hope, for moving forward.’

Grant plays guitar on the dreamy track referenced as jazz folk by Mark Radcliffe on his Radio 2 show. Matheson’s producer husband Donald Shaw on accomplished piano and Ryan Quigley on gorgeous flugel horn provide the jazz flourishes. The singing is as captivating as ever – the recently departed actor Sean Connery once said she has ‘a throat that is surely touched by God’. Anyone who heard her stunning rendition of Robert Burns’ Ae Fond Kiss at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014 or with Paul Brady on season two of the Transatlantic Sessions TV series would concur.

Still Time would have arrived much earlier but for Matheson’s need to honour her Hebridean roots with an album of purely Gaelic music following the loss of her parents. Urram (which translates as Respect) in 2015 earned acclaim; now she is ‘super proud’ of this long-gestated collection of contemporary and traditional-style songs. ‘We were left with a body of work, waiting in the wings to be resurrected at a later date with my sore heart eased and my faith in humanity restored. Fast-forward a decade and while the world paused, bird song soared and banana bread baked Still Time was reborn.’

Cassiopeia is a constellation in the northern sky named after a vain queen in Greek mythology who boasted of her beauty. This track, whose attraction is obvious to the listener, was recorded along with the rest of her fifth solo album during lockdown. As we endure another, Matheson’s voice can lighten moods and lift spirits.

A Beautiful Noise: Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile

A Beautiful Noise is not the Neil Diamond hit with indefinite article added, it’s a universal message of hope by two fine American vocalists from different genres, Alicia Keys and Brandi Carlile, and our Song Of The Week at An empowering power ballad.

The two songwriters performed their classy duet on socially distanced grand pianos, one white, one black, on a CBS TV special, Every Vote Counts: A Celebration Of Democracy. A collaboration high on Carlile’s wish-list, the song was intended as a late push for voting in the US election as well as a commemoration of women’s rights.

Remarkably, the composition involved eight women songwriters, which suggests further versions and extra verses. The story of suffrage was to be told by diverse artists from venues across the US, from LA to Brooklyn to Nashville, but then Covid struck. Instead of a day marking how far women have travelled and still have to go, the lockdown led to a singular song being written.

The first author was Brandy Clark before Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey, Ruby Amanfu, Hailey Whitters and Linda Perry were enlisted. Then along came the 39-year-old performers, Keys and Carlile. Songwriting royalty indeed. The process began in late June, took shape in August, and was completed six weeks ago.

I have a voice

Started out as a whisper, turned into a scream

Made a beautiful noise

Shoulder to shoulder, marching in the street

When you’re all alone it’s a quiet breeze

But when you band together it’s a choir

Of thunder and rain

Now we have a choice

'Cause we have a voice

This is Carlile’s first new music since her trail-blazing work last year with The Highwomen (featuring fellow alt country songwriters Natalie Hemby, Amanda Shires and Maren Morris) and her superb soulful album By The Way, I Forgive You in 2018. She says: ‘The evolution of A Beautiful Noise represents a group of incredible women from all different walks of life coming together with a universal message of hope and empowerment. It is an important reminder that we all have a voice and that our voices count… Alicia lives this song. This is how she walks through the world. I am forever inspired.’

Keys, who co-hosted the TV show with actors Kerry Washington and America Ferrera, showed on her seventh solo album ALICIA how politically and socially engaged her R&B can be – try Perfect Way To Die and Underdog. In the centenary year of the 19th amendment, she adds: ‘This song has that special energy we really need to feel right now. Everyone has the power to make beautiful noise and to lift others up with their voice. And now more than ever, we need to let those voices be heard by voting.’

It’s believing you belong

It’s calling out the wrong

From the silence of my sisters

To the violence of my brother

We can, we can rage

Against the river

Feel the pain of another

I have a voice

Crawl Into The Promised Land: Rosanne Cash with John Leventhal

When Rosanne Cash sings ‘Deliver me from tweets and lies’, there can be only one person she has in mind. But her timely new track, Crawl Into The Promised Land, our Song Of The Week at, has a broader context than the US election.

Trump v Biden is the backdrop but this is a deeper, multi-layered soundtrack, written by Cash and her guitarist-producer husband John Leventhal. Amid the despair, isolation and fear of the pandemic and the protests over police brutality, she offers cautious hope of salvaging the American dream.

Leventhal’s gorgeous guitar (in fact he plays all the instruments) and that southern rootsy melody ‘convey all the urgency, faith, outrage and power’ felt by Cash in the pressure cooker of their New York lockdown in April and May. ‘I kept thinking of the model in physics where things have to fall apart in order to reassemble themselves in a more refined, ordered state.’

It was fortunate they had a recording studio in the basement, with the means to ‘articulate the division, the suffering born of racism, and the suffering born of Covid’ through music. Cash, one of America’s great liberal voices and a revered songwriter, says in a handwritten essay unveiling the single on her website: ‘I want to run away from the moment, to look back at this time decades in the future and understand it, and see that we rose to our best selves.’

The song’s chorus echoes that optimism...

And don’t it feel like home

Don’t it feel like we belong

You gotta lift your head and raise your hand

And crawl into the promised land

There's a verse about ‘grifters with cruel intentions, people who operate out of greed and the most base ambitions, people who value power over human lives, and shockingly do not suffer the consequences of wielding that power’.

Sarah Jarosz and their son Jakob Leventhal provide backings vocals as the potent accompanying video flicks through images of family, ancestors, women activists, civil rights marchers, the cotton fields and a country at war. ‘I'm angry and bewildered that our leaders consider me and many others the enemy. I am a patriot. Every generation of my family has served this country, back to the 18th century.

‘The trashing of norms, the abdication of dignity, values and true leadership torments me. I want to see the American dream become the American reality. I need more time to understand what happened, why we elected such an unfit person to guide us, why we kill black people with impunity, why our leaders dismantle and mock every institution we have painstakingly erected to hold us safe.’

Only in our dreams we had

Faith in bigger lives and plans

We put away those broken vows

To crawl into the promised land

United State Of Mind: Robin Trower-Maxi Priest-Livingstone Brown

When an old rock guitar hero tells you it’s one of the best tracks he’s been involved with, you take notice. Robin Trower is referring to United State of Mind, our Song Of The Week at It’s the title track of his latest project that turned into a collaborative gem.

Trower, the former Procol Harum guitarist whose 1974 album Bridge Of Sighs as frontman to The Robin Trower Band remains essential listening, teamed up with London neighbour Maxi Priest, a giant of reggae fusion, and Livingstone Browne, producer and multi-instrumentalist, in the latter’s Brixton studio to create blues and funk that is slick but always soulful.

Strings announce United State Of Mind but there isn’t a synth to be heard. Priest’s soaring and swooping velvet vocal dovetails silkily with Trower’s virtuoso playing – all tone, texture and economy with echoes of Hendrix minus the pyrotechnics. Brown’s bass lines, horns and versatile flourishes complete the joyful mix.

Priest, who had a US No1 hit with Close To You, describes an unlikely alliance: ‘Three different minds came together trying to create a unification that we can give as a gift to the world… I’m overwhelmed and proud of this album. It’s all live instrumentation – fully organic music.’ United State Of Mind is the album’s opening track and its groove grabs you and never lets go…

I don’t need no company

Horizon be my friend

My wildest thoughts I’d follow

To the end

On a lonely highway

This world is mine

On a lonely highway

This united state of mind, state of mind

Brown has worked with a diverse collection of artists from Ed Sheeran, Bryan Ferry and Kylie Minogue to Tina Turner, Bill Withers and The Waterboys. He has played with Trower and Priest on and off for 30 years. ‘I’d always tried to keep the two of them separate,’ the producer told the black music monthly Echoes. ‘I just thought they were two separate worlds and there wouldn’t be a lot of commonality there. But then one day Robin was leaving the studio as Maxi turned up, and sparks started flying.’

The 75-year-old Trower was surprised how easily he adapted to a more soulful setting. ‘The music was a bit of a challenge because I had to find something that Maxi would feel comfortable with and that would suit my guitar playing. But after the first couple of songs we hit on a formula. We began to realise how it could work and we had a great time doing it. A lot of the melodies and phrasing are R&B influenced and we used that, together with mellow chord sequences. That’s the combination and Maxi went right in there. It came completely natural to him.’

For further examples of their emotional synergy, listen to the driving On Fire Like Zsa Zsa, the political Sunrise Revolution (‘Too many politicians/ Answers way too few/ Taking up positions/ Not for me, not for me and you’) and the beguiling ballads Bring It All Back To You and Where Our Love Came From.

This album set out to celebrate a shared history. The rest was chemistry.

We Believe You: Diana Jones

The displaced could not have found a more eloquent champion than Nashville singer-songwriter Diana Jones. Her plea for compassion, We Believe You, is our Song Of The Week at A track from her thematic sixth solo album Song To A Refugee.

Jones enlists the plaintive voices of Steve Earle, Richard Thompson and Peggy Seeger to take turns in projecting the powerful message, a subtle yet unambiguous response to the lazy scapegoating of asylum seekers and refugees by increasingly authoritarian governments. It is deeply troubling that politicians here contemplated establishing a processing facility on an island thousands of miles away.

There is soulfulness and sensitivity in Jones’s delivery but she grants Thompson the most poignant verse...

I believe you were starving in the desert

All the water had been poured out on the ground

I believe you had no voice

I believe you had no choice

When everything you love was burning down

The song’s title was inspired by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s visit to a US-Mexico border detention centre and her testimony in Washington when she declared: ‘I believe these women.’ Jones had been suffering from writer’s block after a serious illness caused by a gas leak in her apartment until she was moved by the humanitarian work of British actor Dame Emma Thompson.

‘The devastating election of 2016 had left myself and many of my artist friends unable to respond creatively. During the spring of 2018 I landed back in New York after a tour with no new songs… I don’t think anyone could have called me out of my writer’s block the way Emma did and I began to write the stories that I found so devastating, one voice at a time. My own need to re-humanise the people who were being dehumanised by governments and the press resulted in a flood of songs.’

Jones knows all about dislocation. Adopted and raised in Long Island, she was later reunited with her birth family in rural Tennessee, tracing her musical roots to her maternal grandfather, Robert Lee Maranville, who sang in a Knoxville band with Chet Atkins. Her 2006 album My Remembrance Of You and 2013’s Museum Of Appalachia Recording explored that heritage. Her own experience as an adopted child would always feed her sympathy for the bruised and damaged lives of families fractured by US border guards.

Jones has been compared to Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, Joan Baez, Iris DeMent and Nanci Griffith but the American emphasises an earlier influence, Ginny Hawker. Produced by David Mansfield, who contributes exquisite fiddle and mandolin, Song To A Refugee exudes tenderness, empathy and hope within the framework of traditional-sounding country-folk melodies. The mood could have been angrier but her restraint is a far more effective instrument of protest.

Traumatic tales of hardships are deftly observed here. The Sea Is My Mother describes a perilous crossing by two sisters in a boat, escaping a living hell only to risk another. Jones’s storytelling powers are at their strongest in the heart-rending I Wait For You, again featuring Thompson, which tells of a Sudanese forced by her father to marry at the age of 13. Desperation drives her to leave her children behind and seek a better, safer life in England via a detention centre, hoping to send for them later…

You have all my heart

Though we’re far apart

Some day I hope you'll understand

It can be safely assumed that no track on Song To A Refugee will be on Priti Patel’s playlist. Disbelievers, have a heart.

I Believe In Music: Mac Davis

The American songwriter Mac Davis, who died in Nashville this week at the age of 78, was renowned for the hits he composed for Elvis Presley, especially In The Ghetto, A Little Less Conversation, Don’t Cry Daddy and Memories. But our Song Of The Week at is his signature song, the uplifting, gospel-tinged I Believe In Music, with which he closed out every live show. Shake your tambourine...

Davis, born in Buddy Holly’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas, made his break in Los Angeles as a songwriter with Nancy Sinatra’s publishing company, Boots Enterprises (made for walking?) before signing for Columbia Records in 1970, the year he wrote I Believe In Music. In an interview in 2017 he described how the idea for the song came to him at a party at the London home of Lulu and her then husband Maurice Gibb:

‘I went to the kitchen and fixed myself a drink. There was a bunch of hippie types who were gonna have a séance. They asked me if I’d like to join them, and I said: No man, I don’t think so. It wasn’t my thing. Then someone asked: Don’t you believe in the occult? I said: No, man, I believe in music. The second I said it… I just went: I believe in music. I looked around… it was like a God-shot. I saw one of Maurice’s guitars sitting on a stand. I picked it up and started strumming it. I had the hook before I left there.’

Music is the universal language, and love is the key

To peace, hope and understanding, and living in harmony

So take your brother by the hand and come along with me

Lift your voices to the sky, tell me what you see

The country-pop crossover artist had a string of hits as a performer including Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me, which reached No1 in the States, Stop And Smell The Roses, Texas In My Rear View Mirror and Hooked On Music. But it was his association with Elvis which will be forever remembered and revered. He could have dined out forever on tales of his classic In The Ghetto, gratefully received not only by Elvis but more than 150 other singers.

The back story was as memorable as Lulu’s party. Asked by Elvis to write a follow-up song to Memories, which was Davis’s first top 40 hit and composed within a deadline of a single night, the Texan followed up with a haunting song about racial inequality, inspired by his childhood friend, Smitty Junior, the son of a black labourer who worked for his father in Alabama.

‘Smitty Junior was my age and he and I used to play together,’ he told American Songwriter. ‘Our daddies would be working, and in the summertime Smitty would hang out with me. They lived in a really funky dirt street ghetto. They had dirt streets and broken glass everywhere. I couldn’t understand how these kids could run around barefoot on all that broken glass; I was wondering why they had to live that way and I lived another way.’

In The Ghetto was about the cycle of poverty and ‘being born into a situation where you have no hope’. Davis added: ‘If you listen to the song, it’s more poignant now than it was then. Instead of getting better it’s gotten worse. Back then we had gangs and violence in a few cities, now we have it in almost every American city.’

Davis’s I Believe In Music anthem, the title track of his second studio album, was a 1972 success for the soft-rock band Gallery but the first commercial recording of the song was made by Australia’s finest Helen Reddy who died on the same day at the same age as Davis. It appeared as a B-side to her first US hit, I Don’t Know How To Love Him. She and Mac believed in music. Forever linked.

Ghosts: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

Bruce Springsteen’s latest release is a love letter to rock ‘n’ roll and a lament for lost bandmates. The gloriously pulsating Ghosts is our Song Of The Week at Springsteen sings: ‘I can feel the blood shiver in my bones.’ We share the sensation.

Close your eyes and you can picture him crowd-surfing at one of the E Street Band’s sold-out arenas; this is a throwback to classic Spector-esque Springsteen and the ‘best bar band in the world’. Ghosts is the second advanced track from his forthcoming album Letter To You – the impassioned title track was the first. All 12 numbers, nine new compositions and three reworkings of unreleased material from the early 70s, were recorded live in Bruce’s home studio in New Jersey within five days.

It’s the first recorded music featuring the band since 2014’s High Hopes. There are no overdubs, save a few licks from The Boss’s Gretsch electric guitar. Springsteen, 71 this week, describes his 20th studio album as ‘one of the greatest recording experiences I've had’. The sessions were held last November when it was thought a tour would follow. Then the world shut down. Working from home ‘isn’t something I’d want to make a career out of’.

Max Weinberg’s drum intro seizes your senses. A snap of the fingers and that voice takes the baton ahead of the rest of the band:

I hear the sound of your guitar

Coming from the mystic far...

A chord change before the chorus – hardly a bridge too near – gets to the crux:

It’s your ghost moving through the night

Your spirit filled with light

I need, need you by my side

Your love and I’m alive

The ghosts in the song and accompanying video are departed E Street veterans Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons but also members of Springsteen’s first band, The Castiles, where ‘I learned almost the entirety of my craft’. Springsteen was hired as a lead guitarist but tensions grew with established frontman singer George Theiss as he sought more of the mic.  When The Castiles disbanded in 1968, Theiss kept playing in clubs while working as a carpenter. Springsteen found the superstardom Theiss no doubt dreamed of.

Now Bruce is the last Castile standing. ‘You can’t think about it without thinking of your own mortality,’ he told Rolling Stone in a wide-ranging interview. ‘Once you hit 70, there’s a finite amount of tours and a finite amount of years that you have. I feel the band is capable of playing at the very, very top, or better than, of its game right now. And I feel as vital as I’ve ever felt. I plan to have a long road in front of me. I’ve got a lot left to do.

The new songs were written with an acoustic guitar given to him by a fan at the stage door during the Broadway one-man shows. Springsteen reveals that future projects include work on full-length ‘lost’ albums as well as countless out-takes which can be revisited and revised. His favourite song on Letter To You is the intriguingly titled House Of A Thousand Guitars, about a rock ‘n’ roll heaven on earth where the music never ends. October 23 cannot come quickly enough.

Not A Day Goes By: The Eddy

If you haven’t seen Netflix series The Eddy, a drama about an endangered jazz club on the fringes of Paris, you’re missing out. Song Of The Week at is Not A Day Goes By, un uplifting song performed at the wake for a murdered musician by his beloved bandmates.

The soundtrack was written by Grammy-winning songwriter Glen Ballard and Randy Kerber, pianist in the house band at the mythical club, especially built and doubling up as a recording studio. Director of the first two episodes of the eight-part series is jazz fan Damien Chazelle who creates the intimate template employing hand-held cameras. This is a far grittier, less glamorous world than La La Land but Chazelle certainly knows how to capture the joy of performance.

The engaging story was written by Jack Thorne (Skins, This Is England, His Dark Materials, Harry Potter And The Cursed Child). Most of the professional musicians haven’t acted before but you wouldn’t know. The plot follows the fortunes of club owner and band manager Elliot Udo, brilliantly played by American actor André Holland (star of Moonlight, the movie embroiled in that infamous Oscar mix-up with La La Land), as he battles to protect The Eddy and his family and friends from a violent, acquisitive gang.

Not A Day Goes By is delivered by Polish actor-singer Joanna Kulig who fronts the band with gusto (‘I didn’t know/ That all the days were numbered/ I let it go/ And on and on I slumbered’). She is fine with the uptempo numbers such as Bar Fly and Kiss Me In The Morning but sometimes the mood calls for a more sultry tone and the soundtrack album includes extra voices such as St Vincent, aka Annie Clark, with her version of the beguiling title track, Jorja Smith and the band's original singer Julia Harriman on the gorgeous Paris In September.

The disparate cast in this unromantic look at life in the multicultural banlieues care for each other, and we care about them. Each episode is told through the eyes of a different character, and while the dialogue flits between French, English and Arabic the main accent is musical. On screen most music is played to a backing track but in The Eddy it’s all live – and so authentic.

The project was the brainchild of Ballard whose has lived in Paris and loves its jazz scene and scratch-a-living musicians. It began with the songs he and musical director Kerber wrote, more than 60, 39 of which Thorne interweaved with his screenplay. Ballard, who has worked with Michael Jackson, Alan Silvestri and Alanis Morissette, told Collider: ‘I’m just gratified that Netflix allowed us to do it live. We brought together this incredible international jazz band, with a female drummer from Croatia, a bass player from Cuba, a sax player from Haiti, a pianist from California, a trumpeter from Paris, and a singer from Poland. They’re a real band now.

Netflix essentially built a club for me. It was my fantasy club, and we put a recording studio behind the stage, so that everything we did in there was really well recorded... I just wanted it to be about this new, fresh take on what jazz could be in Paris right now. It’s multicultural. It’s a dream come true for me, as a songwriter, to be able to fulfil this part of my artistic destiny.

Ballard’s lyrical skill is best displayed in the title track...

A vortex of sound

Revolving around

Dissolving you down to

The Eddy...

Here’s where we dare

To strip it all bare

Sit with your truth

Dark corner booth

Keep slipping slow

In the strong undertow of

The Eddy

If the world ever returns to normal, the band hope to tour as The Eddy. Jazz may win a few more converts.

Arguing With Ghosts: Ben Glover

Arguing With Ghosts was written by three lauded songwriters in Gretchen Peters, Ben Glover and Matraca Berg. Peters was first to record it on her Dancing With The Beast album in 2018. Now it’s Glover’s turn, and his haunting rendition is our Song Of The Week at

The advanced single is from the Nashville-based Northern Irishman’s forthcoming EP Sweet Wild Lily. Providing delicious harmonies is Kim Richey with whom he toured the UK two years ago. We saw them perform at London’s Green Note, taking it in turns to display the quality of their repertoires, and Arguing With Ghosts was one of the standouts of their set.

Glover explains the genesis of the track: ‘When the three of us got together to write, we started talking about how the skyline and feel of Nashville have changed so much over recent years, and that conversation sparked the theme of losing a sense of the familiar. The character in the song has experienced personal loss and ruminates about the passing of time, wrangling with the tangible and the intangible.’

Glover’s recording is stripped back and intimate. He salutes the role played by cousin Colm McClean in Belfast who beautifully embellishes the vocals and acoustic guitar backing track. ‘I knew I could trust him to lay down what was needed 7,500 miles away from me in Nashville. The sonic landscape he created is intense.’

The song features one of my favourite refrains...

The years go by like days

Sometimes the days go by like years

And I don’t know which one I hate the most

At this same old kitchen table

In this same old busted chair

I’m drinking whisky and arguing with ghosts

Arguing with ghosts

Glover’s milestone year was 2018 when his Shorebound album was released to wide acclaim, winning Album of the Year at the UK Americana Awards. It was a series of brilliant collaborations: Dancing With The Beast with Peters again, the gorgeous A Wound That Seeks The Arrow with Angel Snow, Catbird Seat with Mary Gauthier, Ride The River with Richey and Keeper Of My Heart with Robert Vincent. Last year he teamed up with his Orphan Brigade friends Joshua Britt and Nielson Hubbard for an impressive third album To The Edge Of The World, recorded in a church in Glover’s home village of Glenarm on the rugged County Antrim coast. The trio recruited some talented friends, including guitarist McClean and the late John Prine.

We discussed the memorable Peters version of Arguing With Ghosts here. Glover tweaks ‘I’ve still got my mama’s eyes’ to ‘my father’s eyes’ and Peters’ coffee is turned into whisky. The musical concoctions are equally strong.

Jody: A Girl Called Eddy

Devotees shouldn’t have had to wait 16 years for another helping of sophisticated soul-pop songs from Erin Moran, aka A Girl Called Eddy. But it was worth it. Song Of The Week at is Jody, a brass-adorned tribute to a lost drummer friend which is as joyful as it is melancholic.

Before the opening title track of Been Around crackles into life, a voice asks: Girl, where you been? We’d longed to hear that cosy, dreamy voice again since her Richard Hawley-produced self-titled debut album. New Jersey native Moran co-wrote some of the 12 songs with multi-instrumentalist producer Daniel Tashian of The Silver Seas who recruited accomplished Nashville support from vocalists The Watson Twins, bassist Viktor Krauss, composer Bill DeMain, lap steel guitarist Shez Sheridan, trumpeter Michael Leonhardt and saxophonist Jim Hoke who blows a beautiful chromatic harmonica solo.

Moran speaks highly of Tashian’s creative influence in an interview on her website: ‘Daniel’s quite a Todd Rundgren character in that he plays every instrument, is a great writer and can pull out of his hat any style you can think of. I’d go: I’m thinking this one could be a bit Rickie Lee Jones with some ELO in the middle eight, but with a wash of blue to it, and he’d be like: OK, cool, got it! And he does. He gets it on all the levels you’d want from someone you’re trusting your songs with.’

This is storytelling pop with emotional depth and imaginative key shifts...

Jody said he had a brother, wrote a song for Peggy Lee

Jody moved down south to Tallapoosa back in 2003

I never saw his face again on Greene Street, not a trace again

Jody didn’t like everybody but I’m glad he liked me

We talked about movies and Cuddles Sakall

Hours on the phone about nothing at all

He liked to call me kid

I liked it when he did

The album pays homage to her heroes and influences. While Jody evokes Steely Dan and The Delines, elsewhere she tips her elegant hats to Burt Bacharach (a life-long idol with whom Tashian worked on Blue Umbrella), Karen Carpenter, Dusty Springfield, Laura Nyro, Carole King, Jackie DeShannon, Scott Walker, Chrissie Hynde, George Michael, Rumer and Prefab Sprout. The gorgeous ballad Charity Shop Window (a collaboration with Paul Williams who wrote many of The Carpenters’ hits) recalls Paul McCartney or Ray Davies.

She saw his coat in the charity shop window

Where the past lives on at a bargain price

Long ago dreams find another chance to live again

In the ironically titled Finest Actor, about a romance that turned sour, Moran delivers her most memorable lines...

He moved like De Niro and talked like O'Toole

Inside I was scared but he made me feel cool

He smelled of tobacco, guilt, and red wine

And sooner or later the guilt it was mine…

He could’ve been Burton, Harris, or Dean

They could’ve been moments, but they were just scenes

There are charming reminders here of Moran’s first album back in 2004 (Don Henley’s favourite that year) – listen to People Used To Dream. With Elefant Records in the room there were strong signals of a keenly-awaited solo comeback in 2018 when Moran teamed up with French musician Medhi Zannad, who records under the name FUGU, for an indie-pop project entitled The Last Detail (not the Jack Nicholson film). Another gift for her cult following.

The other uptempo standout on Been Around, which was recorded in Nashville, New York and London, is the fairground nostalgia ride, Come To The Palisades! It begins with an Alabama Shakes-style guitar riff before the horns send it down the rollercoaster (‘Death-defying kisses in the funhouse/ We got drunk on love and beer/ A polaroid of you from 1982’). Note the Coney Island nod to Van Morrison. Not derivative, just respectful and lovingly retro.

‘I was feeling a yellow-tinged, Kodachrome kind of 70s pull at my heart. Not necessarily wanting to make a happier record but a different one. I no longer felt the need to be drowning in the darkness all the time, which I guess was the prevailing vibe on a lot of album one. I wanted a warmer feel, and to have some fun… turns out it’s not the shallow pursuit I used to think it was.’ We hope the vibrancy of Been Around means A Girl Called Eddy will stay around for a lot longer.


730 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page