My youngest daughter lived in Stockport near Manchester for a short time. On one of our many trips to see her I noticed a plaque in a nearby street that denoted the site of ‘Strawberry Studios’. This was owned and run by the members of 10cc. Many famous bands passed through including Joy Divison, The Stone Roses and The Smiths to name a few. 10cc also recorded one my favourite albums there – Sheet Music. In fact this led to my first taste of music journalism when I had a letter published in the weekly New Musical Express advising their readership that this album was the future of rock n’ roll (or a similar exaggeration!)
However, I remembered that Neil Sedaka’s second career involved two records recorded here. The above is one of them. This album of 11 tracks spawned four singles, all of which I loved. Sedaka had started in New York as a pop songwriter for other artists in the late 1950s. However he eventually got to record under his own name and had great success in the early 60s. (He’s now 80 years old).
After a seven-year hiatus, Knight returns with a tour de force. His songs are lyrically rooted in the blue-collar world of Kentucky and his sound is uncompromising electric guitar drenched country-blues-rock. Ray Kennedy (5 Time Grammy Award Winner) produces the album and the quality never falters as Knight’s muscular and gritty vocals come to the fore over this full sound often leavened by banjo, fiddle and mandolin. A show stopping contribution comes from Dan Baird (Georgia Satellites) on guitars: fluid solos, incendiary flourishes and a breadth of sounds that will have you reaching for his own work.
Knight wrote all but two of the 11 tracks. He writes from the place of a humble soul often struggling against ‘the Man’ in a world of little money and lots of personal baggage from a life of missteps and hard living. He may have been the originator of this type of storytelling but since he’s been away these first-person stories bring to mind James McMurtry for their wistful insights (and sound) and Tyler Childers for the compact stories of minor criminal hijinks in rural Kentucky.
An early morning text from an old friend alerted me to the latest edition of the local newspaper – The Yorkshire Post. There was a pull out section with images of the past. On the back was a photo of my father. He died in 1989 and 30 years later you don’t expect to see his photo in a newspaper. By the time of his photo I was living away from home but I vaguely recollect him coming across this post box/plate. He was a Councillor on Leeds City Council. I think this may have been something that was surplus to requirements after an old building was demolished and he he bagged it. He did have it refurbished and I expect it then languished in the garage or similar.
Two of 2018’s best traditional country albums were released by Erin Enderlin and Kayla Ray respectively. (I sifted through a lot of music to come to this conclusion). However, whilst they’ve accumulated accolades and awards Stateside, with the cost of visiting these shores, and their current UK profile, meant I’d probably have to make do with the records.
Meanwhile Sheffield’s own Lynne Robertson was in Nashville celebrating her husband’s birthday earlier this year. They found their way to 3rd and Lindsley to listen to some music. By chance Erin Enderlin was playing. Lynne was amazed by what she heard. In chatting and buying a CD at the end of the night a conversation started. They discussed Lynne’s regular Sheffield acoustic music nights for loyal and appreciative members. Erin said she had tentative plans to make a foray to the UK to play her first ever gigs outside of the USA.
I have heard people claim that Sheffield is often touched by Divine intervention. Not least at the nearby Sheffield Wednesday soccer ground, a mere stone’s throw from Lynne’s venue. I didn’t believe it was true until I learned that both Enderlin and Kayla Ray were to appear at one of Lynne’s nights. When buying my tickets Lynne commented that to her surprise people were grabbing tickets from miles and miles away; it was no surprise to me that it was sold out.
First up was Kayla Ray. She seemed taken aback by her first trip to England with our quaint ways and ancient towns. You could tell she was thrilled to be here. The crowd of 60+ were knocked out by this charming Southern belle: all Texan drawl, talk of the bible and whiskey with lots of sass and a fabulous sense of humour. Over ten songs we were treated to A selection from her Yesterday & Me album, new unreleased songs, her latest single release “The Jameson Waltz” and even a classic gospel song. The audience completely lit up with “Pills”. Hilarious lyrics delivered with an impish smile and considerable guitar skills. Between songs there was banter explaining the song’s origins and a self deprecating commentary – “this one’s (Rockport) written by a good friend, Jon Dews. We call him ’pappy’, not because he’s older but because unlike other songwriters he also has a proper job!” Her song delivery has a slow, classic 60s, earnest feel and the pain and anger was shared by the now captivated audience.
After the yearning emotion of “I’m Still A Woman” she declared “on a happier note this is a gospel song about domestic violence”, cue audience collapsing into fits of laughter. It was “Fair Warning”: a tale about an abusive relationship. She finished all too soon with the gospel standard “Peace In The Valley”. The audience clapped and clapped: slightly awestruck she stood there and beamed before making way for her ‘buddy’.
Erin Enderlin has been an important songwriter for a long time with several of her songs appearing on albums by the biggest country stars. These songwriting duties continue but she’s seems to be creating a bigger solo profile by releasing her own music. Whiskeytown Crier seemed a break through and another album is in the pipeline.
Starting with “Caroline” you notice the voice. She has a range with considerable emotional pull. Each song places you in the story. You immediately empathise with the actors in these three minute dramas. If I was feeling this by her fourth song “Ain’t It Just Like A Cowboy”, the room was also transported into the heartbreaking life of a betrayed, yet understanding, lover whose cowboy strays for reasons she explains to be of her making. With little or no eye contact Enderlin plunges us into this woman’s empty life where all hope seems lost; her voice soars or whispers. We absorb this heart rending misery while being carried along by a sumptuous melody.
Enderlin shares her journey: working as a peer to peer counsellor, touring with Willie Nelson, her love of country music from a young age and the icons who’ve inspired her. Many of the songs have been influenced by her own life.
Of the 12 songs,five came from her last album and three from her recently released EPs. Lee Ann Womack covered Last Call on her 2008 Call Me Crazy album. Here in the hands of the creator it was beautiful with its pathos and weary understanding of the lost and lonely male on the end of the line.
“Any requests?” She asks for the encore. The audience doesn’t know her catalogue but, like me, they also think that whatever comes next will be fabulous. She picks “Monday Morning Church” her first ‘hit’. In 2005 Alan Jackson took it onto the charts. If it were needed, this confirmed she’s been writing brilliant music for a very long time. She took a bow and the audience rose to their feet and hollered its appreciation.
On the way out I saw one of Lynne’s regulars grab her arm, stop her, look her in the eye and just say in a hushed reverential way…”wow!”