Press responses to Time and Life:
I’ve got a lot of time for Red Moon Joe. They have actually been around since 1985 and released their first album in 1990. They only lasted a few years until Mark Wilkinson decided to hit the road as a session musician and folded the band.
The next real activity was 20 years later (!) when he got the original band together again – David A Smith on bass, Paul Casey on drums and David Fitzpatrick on banjo, mandolin & harmonica – along with Steve Conway and they recorded their second album ‘Midnight Trains’ in 2010. That shows a certain love for the band.
This album is probably their best yet.
It sits fairly square in the apex of Americana, Bluegrass and country but considering that they are Brits, the music avoids the mawkish sentimentality of a lot of the genre and the playing is actually quite superb.
The songs are quality tales of the feelings that invest us as we age and of the complexities of life in the 21st Century.
From the opener ‘Slow Sun Wheeling’ with its grand riff over sweet pedal steel and sublime harmonies and celebrating the joy of a life well lived and rich with experience to ‘The High Lonesome’ which carries the country theme along and into ‘Psychedelic Sid’ a simply gorgeous tale of the love affair between a man and his axe, these are all tracks that bear up to repeated listening.
‘Orgreave’ is a song to the miners of Orgreave colliery and their battles against Thatcherism – odd to hear a non-Yorkshire vocal style in a song about a very British event but a great track nonetheless.
The album works on many levels and they really do have something more than the standard bands about them.
Here is up to date, relevant, British, Liverpool-produced Americana at its best. The songs are confiding, forceful sometimes. As it says in the first track, “Every page and chorus sweet refrain/ Filled with joy and some… filled with pain.” All you need really! Red Moon Joe are: Mark Wilkinson, who is the founder member (originally forming the band in 1985), producer, singer, electric and acoustic guitars; Steve Conway, pedal steel, dobro, acoustic guitar; David A Smith, bass; Dave Fitzpatrick, harmonica, banjo; and Paul Casey, drums.
The first track Slow Sun Wheeling is a worthy, get up and go, starter. With the band are Justin Currie, from Del Amitri, and Sadler Vaden who plays lead guitar for Jason Isbell. It’s an impeccable start. The sentiments expressed here, in the couplets and the playing, give the listener that mature, distinct evaluation of life; and with the use of Swinburne’s words for a title, with its affirmation of a whole world’s weariness, is confirmation of what is to come in the collection. A great start, and so the album develops. The second track, The High Lonesome with Cathryn Craig from Virginia, continues this promise. All the phrases and place names are there: the pills, heartaches, Bakersfield, Memphis, and “the platinum-blond waitress’s painted smiles.” Tup-tempompo, and finally, the quick conclusion just swoops you up!
One important and standout track that stresses an English political issue is Orgreave, written by David A. Smith. Here is a reflective and angry reaction to the low point of the miners strike in the Eighties, epitomised by the South Yorkshire Police at the coking plant at Orgreave. David Smith’s words express the situation in the simplest of terms: “Dead Streets: 1984/ All the big wheels shut down.” Interestingly, after listening again to Dire Straits, Iron Hand you hear a reaction to the event, but here, with Red Moon Joe, you can hear the force and anger of contemporary feeling which has not been allowed its proper enquiry. The chorus, movingly, provides a clarion call: “You weren’t afraid to try? You never broke the line.”
Just two more tracks to mention here: Elvis, Townes and Hank is another unforgettable track which should be listened to often. At the start, Mark Wilkinson’s guitar wails at you in a piece of advice to three major musical icons. The atmosphere created is added to, and backed up by Dave Fitzpatrick’s harmonica and Steve Conway’s pedal steel. The advice to Hank: to have stayed in Shreveport and avoided “riding the hayride all the way.” His story is set under a “tragic purple sky” where “The snake oil show kept rolling down that lost highway.” Here, amid the arrangement, is high quality, moving song writing. And don’t miss Hard Road for some serious guitar playing!
This is a CD you should not be without. Awarded a high mark after careful and repeated listening.
I reviewed 'Midnight Trains,' Red Moon Joe's first album in twenty years, back in 2013 and in a nutshell, was hugely impressed by the quality of their 'country rock.' I wondered if that album was merely a conclusion to Red Moon Joe's unfinished business so didn't hold out too much hope for a sequel to that excellent piece of work. Wrong! They have come back with 'Time & Life,' an even stronger album than its predecessor, with a more expansive sound bringing more diversity to their often classic country rock sound. They are often referred to as an 'Americana' band but to me they are always country rock although often with a considerable dash of other roots elements in the mix.
Whilst the band originally formed in 1985 and toured extensively throughout Europe, they eventually split up in 1993, although 'unfinished business dictated that one day they would hopefully get together again which they eventually did in 2010 and are now playing sold out shows again. The band consists of Mark Wilkinson on vocals and guitar, David A. Smith, bass, guitar and vocals; Paul Casey on drums and vocals, Steve Conway plays pedal steel, lap steel, guitar, mandolin and vocals with Dave Fitzpatrick on guitar, mandolin, gob iron, banjo and vocals. From that lineup and list of instruments it is easy to see how this band has such versatility of styles, despite them having deep country rock roots. The songwriting credits provide further evidence of that versatility with most of them being involved in the process individually; Mark Wilkinson having written four, Steve Conway two, David A. Smith, also two, Dave Fitzpatrick, one and a co-write between Wilkinson and Smith.
The album kicks off with Mark Wilkinson's Slow sun wheeling with its crashing guitars and percussion getting things really moving with input from the steel guitar as well before being joined by Mark Wilkinsons excellent, raw but melodic vocal on a mid tempo country rocker that further benefits from some excellent high harmonies from Justin Currie. Next up is the co write between Wilkinson and Smith, The high lonesome, and as the title suggests a much slower song, moodily starting with guitars, steel guitar and Wilkinson’s evocative vocal supplemented by Cathryn Craig’s beautiful feminine voice that exchanges verses with Wilkinson as the song begins to take off at a speedy mid tempo. The banjo further adds to the atmosphere that perfectly sums up the songs title, underpinned by the thudding percussion, throbbing bass and an excellent twangy guitar solo on a song that can virtually define the term 'country rock.' Elvis, Townes and Hank is another excellent Wilkinson original, and opens with a haunting electric guitar sound before being overtaken by the chiming piano and Wilkinson’s vocal which are soon joined by organ, percussion, bass and occasional harmonies. The intervention of the weeping steel guitar adds further depth to an excellent 'tribute song.' Brass and harmonica enter the fray but the blend of instrumentation is never over done on a song that is perfectly paced by this band that instinctively knows exactly what their songs require. Hard road has a deep almost spooky, speedy sound on a driving rootsy rocker that includes clashing electric guitars, incredibly dynamic percussion and throbbing bass all played at breakneck speed with Wilkinson’s vocal and guitar playing driving the sound ever faster. Finally, on Smiths Shadows the tinkling piano and organ slow things right down after the fire and drive of the previous song, with an excellent lead vocal from Smith on a powerful country ballad that includes a haunting steel guitar, throbbing bass and melodic guitars on yet another excellent song!
Now it remains to be seen how long this second great flush of creativity lasts; hopefully a very long time. If they keep making recordings of this quality fans will demand no less from this most versatile of 'roots' bands who seem able to master just about any sub genre that has sometimes strong, occasionally tenuous links with classic country rock. This is an excellent album by a great band.
Blabber ‘n’ Smoke
A recent article in Billboard magazine seemed to think that “UK Americana” was a new trend, citing artists who had played at the recent Americana Fest in Nashville. And while it’s perhaps true to say that the UK division of Twang has been getting its act together (principally via AMA-UK) over the past few years, Blabber’n’Smoke can testify to a much longer tradition going back to the seventies while Americana UK has been on the go since 2001. Anyway, thinking about this we were reminded of Red Moon Joe’s recent album, Time & Life. It’s their second release from their first reincarnation – the band originally convened in 1985 but split in 1993 – and it’s proof that some of us on this side of the pond have had the bug for quite some time.
Helmed by singer and guitarist, Mark Wilkinson, Red Moon Joe rode the wave of cowpunk and alt country back in the days before going their separate ways. Their reunion album, Midnight Trains, released in 2013 (20 years after their last effort) was well received and now, only four years later here’s the follow up. Wilkinson is still front and centre although he shares writing credits with several of the band members (Steve Conway, David A Smith, Dave Fitzpatrick and Paul Casey) and as befits their more mature years, much of the album reflects the gathered wisdom of age with songs recalling past events and past heroes.
With several of the songs recalling the likes of Uncle Tupelo and Jason & The Scorchers the album is a fine blend of up tempo rockers and more reflective ballads, the music finely balanced between electric fuelled blusters and gentler, acoustic, meditations. The notion of looking back is introduced via the album’s title and the title of the opening song, both a nod to a Swinburne poem, but the song is far removed from Swinburne’s Victorian decadence (for that check out The Fugs) as the band weigh in sounding like Uncle Tupelo, guitars thrashing while pedal steel sneaks its way in with guest, Justin Currie adding harmony vocals. The High Lonesome, which follows, again features a guest singer. This time Cathryn Craig duets with Wilkinson as a banjo acutely cuts into the guitars and pedal steel while Wilkinson whips out a fine solo before the song flows into an extended jam with the pedal steel and guitar duelling much in the manner of Poco back in the days. There’s another excellent cosmic cowboy moment on One Day Behind, a glorious conglomeration of psychedelic pedal steel and bustling banjos, the band again recalling early pioneers such as New Riders Of The Purple Sage.
They delve into Jason & The Scorchers territory with Hard Road where Wilkinson’s solo challenges Warner E Hodges and there’s a swell Waylon Jennings’ country thump to Shadows. Meanwhile, and closer to home, they employ a horn section on the E Street sounding dedication to striking miners on the anthemic Orgreave while Elvis, Townes and Hank is an excellent ode to their roots with the horn section, slide guitar and solid rhythm reminding one of The Band. The album closes with the waltz time Tex Mex border strains of Nobody’s Fool, a song that surely was conceived in the midst of a Van Zandt listening binge.
Time & Life is surely evidence that the man on the Clapham omnibus can connect with the drifter on the interstate Greyhound and its highly recommended.
This title is an appropriate summary of this band’s history which saw a first release in 1990, before fate and circumstance stepped in and 20 years later, the original band gets back together again to record their second album, Midnight Trains in 2010.
Americana, bluegrass and country come together on this third release, with Paul Casey (drums, percussion, vocals), Steve Conway (pedal steel, lap steel, guitar, mandolin, dobro, vocals); Dave Fitzpatrick (guitar, mandolin, gob iron, banjo, vocals); David A. Smith (bass, guitar, vocals); Mark Wilkinson (vocals, guitar) making this a very pleasant listening experience.
The band hail from England and the authentic feel of their sound is peppered with great playing that runs through songs like The High Lonesome; Elvis, Townes & Hank; and One Day Behind.
Please Take My Broken Heart is a classic country sound and Hard Road displays some great guitar playing over a driving rhythm that finds the band almost straying into Lynyrd Skynyrd territory.
Shadows calms everything down with a quiet strum and a reflective look at the modern world. One Day Behind is a classic bluegrass workout that energises and inspires and the last track, Nobody’s Fool leaves you with a smile and the urge to keep listening.
KenBrown in Fatea Magazine - Time & Life ****
A revived, renewed and reinvigorated Red Moon Joe give us all a firm metaphorical cuff around the ears with this rollicking country rocking follow up to the comeback album "Midnight Trains". This little gem sees the reformed roots renegades baring their souls and influences, "Elvis, Townes and Hank", and combining the more rootsy elements of americana, like bluegrass, cajun and the blues, with their own electric take on the genre. The result is an album chock full of fine tunes such as "Hard Road" that rocks equally hard (complete with an almost Skynyrd-esque guitar solo), and the whimsical western balladry of "Please Take My Broken Heart". Red Moon Joe are at their best though when they're country-ing it up in rock n rhinestone fashion, a la Steve Earle, on crackers like "Slow Sun Wheeling" and "The High Lonesome". No overblown squeaky clean pristine country production for these boys - "Time & Life" is bar room ready, and guaranteed to rock n roll in the finest garage country band style. (KB)