'Queen of The West' - new album just released!
David White, RnR: “Rich in color and detail, an album of contrasts that nestle harmoniously, ‘Queen of The West’ is hugely impressive, rewarding it’s author’s ambition and this listener’s expectations.” John Sobel, Blogcritics: “… a through-conceived album of beautifully composed songs, written by Bradshaw and a few collaborators, richly arranged, played with taste and skill, and unusually deep and memorable.” Jay Miller, Patriot Ledger: “… a cinematic collection of songs, almost a Western-Romance-as-done-by Fellini.” Midwest Record: “We haven’t had something like this that works as effectively since Willie Nelson’s ‘Red Headed Stranger’.” Michael Masuch, Hooked On Music: “… very tasteful and multi-layered… the leisurely honky-tonk rhythms of ‘Albuquerque’ mutate seamlessly into the highlight of the album: the John Hiatt-like ‘Every Little Thing’.” H.R.Gertner, Americana Highways: “… cinematic in concept and delivery.” Dani Heyvaert, Rootstime: “… a kind of road movie… an audio novel about a fascinating character, brought to life by Bradshaw with great empathy. Beautiful, beautiful!” Andy McKay, Music Riot: “… an album that impresses with its quality and innovation… ‘1-800-SOSAINT’ is clever, original and masterfully delivered.” BabySue: “… smart guitar-driven melodic pop with a Western flair… but its that deep focused voice that will keep listeners coming back for more.” Remo Ricaldone, Planet Country: “… inspired, ambitious, high effective roots music… ‘Ruby Black’ reminds one of Los Lobos.” Cis van Looy, Written In Music: “The imaginative evocations that adorn recent, excellent albums such as ‘Whatever You Wanted’ and ‘American Echoes’ are further explored.” Marino Serdons, Keys And Chords: “The title track impresses as an instant classic.” T. Bebedor, Dancing About Architecture: “… it’s difficult not to fall in love with Bradshaw’s new album.” Rootsville: “Brilliant!”
Some longer reviews:
Sean Smith, Boston Irish Reporter, 1/2/20:
With every album he makes, Bradshaw, a Cork-born singer/songwriter who has been living in Boston for some years now, has shown himself willing and very able to take bold steps forward and try out new things.
This time around, Bradshaw locates his gritty but spacious Americana country-rock sound and vivid, incisive writing in a series of interconnected songs rooted in two foundational elements of American mythology: the Old West and the movies. “Queen of the West” is not a classic (if you will) rock opera in the mold of “Tommy” or “Jesus Christ Superstar,” although there are some recurring characters and the framework of a plot – events hinted at or referenced, sometimes well after the fact. Similarly, the narrative voice frequently shifts, sometimes taking on a specific focus or perspective, elsewhere more expositional.
The titular heroine, Ruby Black, has played many characters in her life – as noted in “Role of a Lifetime” (“They say the Queen of the West killed a dozen men/They say she wed a dozen more/They say she led a cavalry charge/In the Mexican-American War”) – but her personal tragedy overshadows anything else in her resumé. Central to the tale is the possibility of redemption for Ruby as well as Tom (her would-be protector and lover, not necessarily in that order), despite the gravitational pull of identity and experience. While there are familiar Bradshaw settings and details in the lyrics (“So I parked my Mustang here in Escondido/a sleepy, dusty, tranquil border town”), this story has a global reach: We also find ourselves in Ireland (“Wearing of the Black”) and eventually, somewhere in “the East” – in many ways the polar opposite of where the story began.
Bradshaw doesn’t push the drama or plot developments any more than he has to, and comes up with some inventive ways to advance the story. In “Ruby Black,” when Ruby goes to church to seek the intercession of saints, their less-than-helpful answer is given via a raffish chorus by Bradshaw and his bandmates (“Ruby, why don’tcha check in with us anytime your calendar allows?”); this leads to a more elaborate, sardonic response in “1-800-SOSAINT” (“Call me Anthony/I work closely with the boss/If you ask nicely/I’ll find the things you lost”). “Child,” which relates to the hole in Ruby’s life, is a lament encased in a gentle, daydreamy soliloquy – the pain of her loss less acute but still present. Bradshaw’s normally gruff voice is at its most tender, with gorgeous harmonies from Kris Delmhorst and Annie Lynch and sweetly plaintive fiddle from Chad Manning.
The purely musical quality of “Queen of the West” is equally as strong as the lyrical. Bradshaw confidently and successfully interpolates different genres throughout, most ingeniously in “Ruby Black,” which is nudged along by Andrew Stern’s edgy, atonal electric guitar riff until the aforementioned choral interlude, punctuated by an elegant duet by Stern with pianist James Rohr that could’ve been mined from 1970s progressive rock. The album’s eponymous track, meanwhile, is marked by exhilarating crescendos of strings, guitars and percussion – a perfect opening credits-type soundtrack. The easy-going blend of honky-tonk and Tex-Mex in “Albuquerque” is followed by the frayed-nerve, acoustic guitar-driven “Every Little Thing,” which has the feel of a stripped-down Tom Petty song.
There’s no glorious, triumphant ride off into the sunset at the end of “Queen of the West,” but Bradshaw suggests that living to fight another day – or at least escaping with as much of your dignity and sanity as you can salvage – may be the best thing to hope for when the house lights come on.
Andy McKay, Music Riot UK 10/14/19
It happens every couple of years; we get a new Bob Bradshaw album, and they’re always worth waiting for. Bob’s a very credible singer with a voice that can bristle with taut emotion or smoothe off the edges to demonstrate a rich baritone for the ballads that has a hint of later-period Elvis Costello. The varied arrangements seem almost effortless and always work to emphasise the qualities of the songs, which are also a rich and varied selection of musical and lyrical styles. As you make your way through “Queen of the West”, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. It’s not a linear narrative, the album opens somewhere in the middle of the story before bouncing back and forth through various critical episodes in the life of Ruby Black, Queen of the West before the album ends with a trilogy of relationship songs which may or may not feature Ruby, closing with tragic story of a boatload of refugees burnt out within sight of the shore – close enough to hear the sounds of the children singing.
And what about those varied styles? Well, the album opens with the beautifully atmospheric and, appropriately widescreen, title song building the atmosphere with floor toms, shimmering guitar and strings as the narrative opens with a tentative reunion for Ruby. It’s a seductive start that sets the scene perfectly for the rest of an album that impresses with its quality and innovation. As an example, three songs in, “Ruby Black”, with its atonal, angular guitar riff pulls together Ruby’s prayer to the saints for her sick child with reminiscences of her musical career, ending with a choral reply from the saints. Which then leads into the almost vaudeville style of “1-800-SOSAINT” pitching the saints as options on a prayer helpline – it’s clever, original and masterfully delivered. Other favourites? Pretty much anything really, but the incredibly catchy “High Horse” and the laconic “Story Goes” have been heavily praised here at Riot Towers.
There’s a lot of chatter about the demise of the album these days and “Queen of the West” is a great example of a piece of work that’s well-written and structured in a way that keeps you engaged throughout. The character of Ruby is developed in a way that pulls you in to her story, crying at the heartache and smiling at the diamond-hard public persona. “Queen of the West” is designed to be listened to as a single piece – it’s a rewarding experience.
Jon Sobel, editor Blog Critics:
On his artful new concept album takes the strong character-driven songwriting of his 2017 a step deeper. The songs on the new disc revolve around the title character, a mythical construct who serves as muse, outlaw ideal, and icon of the American West. The Irish-born, Boston-based Bradshaw has thoroughly absorbed the tropes of American roots-rock and applied his own emerald imagination to make them blossom anew.,
As the tracks progress, the mystical Queen of the title song morphs into an alienated movie star, a country music singer, and a woman with a sick child pleading with the saints for help (“Role of a Lifetime,” “Ruby Black”). When the saints respond (“1-800-SOSAINT”) it’s with irony rather than mercy, with mournful results (“Child”) that climax in the exquisite, gorgeously arranged “The Wearing of the Black” – which also transports us to Ireland.
A faintly prog-rock and Bowie-esque vibe overtakes “High Horse,” a sparse poem that builds to an eerie instrumental rave-up. Ruby Black, the singer who performed as the Queen of the West, returns in the third person, and much reduced, in “Story Goes,” a song that reminds me of John Hiatt’s country mode. And in the gentle southwestern honky-tonk of “Albuquerque,” another top track on an album with many highlights, we meet again the man whose life she changed forever. “I know the mystery of that woman / It called to me forever / It calls to me though never / does she need to make a sound.”
There’s no letup as these 13 songs roll by. The fractured sweep of the story reminds me a little of Barry Gifford’s with its timeless Perdita Durango character. The songwriting has a persistent sting even when the music is in a mellow mode.
The last few songs depict a dissipating relationship (“you’re there but you’re not there”) leading to a hopeful, if low-probability, Narnia-like escape to an East as mythical as the Queen herself. Once there, the narrator – Ruby’s (or the Queen’s) estranged lover – finds war and fleeing refugees. He’s come full circle, sort of, in reflecting the lonely searcher of the opening title track who’ll have “no rest / Until you find the / Queen of the West.”
T. Bebedor, Dancing About Architecture:
With a voice like Elvis Costello and a cast of characters from a television mini-series, it’s difficult not to fall in love with Bob Bradshaw’s new album. At times if feels conceptual, names and references crop up over and over, piecing together a coherent story set against Americana music based around guitar, lap steel, fiddle and an ever-evolving rhythm section – check out the rhythmic patterns on ‘Ruby Black’ that brings a skewed Hitchcock-style feel to the song.
Throughout the album there are hints and glimpses of the off-kilter, something doesn’t sit quite right in the world Bradshaw has made and it’s all the richer for it, it’s a world of forked tongues and people not telling the complete truth, but scratch a little deeper and tiny clues reveal themselves. It’s a clever album, in part an honest, straight up Americana album (check out the country-by-numbers ‘Albuquerque’) but at other times a solid piece of evidence in supporting the fact that music can be much more than a bunch of songs thrown together.
It requires more than a single listen, a little like a David Lynch movie it deserves repeat visits to truly get to the centre of the album. There is a helpline for assistance from St.Christopher, Anthony or ‘Tommy’ – who, although lives in his car, is the man to call on in times of trouble – and then there is the Queen of the West herself, Ruby Black, who one moment is a worried mother praying for her son’s life and the next she is a gun-toting femme fatale (oh and if the comic book style album cover is to be taken literally, also a long distance bus!). Strange indeed but these are the things that make the album so interesting.
The music would suit a road trip, from the optimistic opening songs ‘Queen of the West’ and ‘Role of a Lifetime’ through the unfolding of the story in ‘1-800-SOSAINT’ and ‘Wearing of the Black’ to the final destination of ‘Take Me To The East’ and ‘Your Song’. My advice is start the engine, put on the album and see where the road takes you, better still, leave the car at home and take the bus.
From RnR Magazine, September 2019!