The First Lines Game

Regular readers will know that I am a massive music fan, and even though I mostly listen to country I think it's fair to say that I have fairly eclectic taste. I also have a worrying memory for lyrics (in more ways than one), so when I came across the First Lines Game on Claire's blog I had to give it a go!

The rules are pretty straightforward:

- Put your music player of choice on shuffle (I used my saved songs list on Spotify)
- Post the first line (or a couple) from each song that comes up
- Players then have to guess which songs the lyrics come from by posting in the comments
- Italicise the lyrics and post the details when someone guesses correctly. I'll add YouTube links for the ones with videos as well
- For those who are playing the game - no googling or using other search engines to look up lyrics!
- If you like the game post your own version (and link to it in the comments)

So here are my 30 songs - best of luck!

1. When I'm sitting in traffic some afternoon / Or bored to death in some waiting room
2. It took a million miles of wrong turns just to find you
3. Now you're gone / I wonder why / You left me here / I think about it on and on and on and on again
4. I got your postcard scribbled from a nowhere town / It said I think I still love you
5. These boots have counted off many a band / Playing one night roadhouse stands
6. So far away / I've slept for days / And I just lay right next to you
7. Rode into town at only 18 / Girl beside me and our baby in a car seat
8. Brothers and sisters put this record down / Take my advice cause we are bad news
9. Look at the tears filling up your eyes / I've been around so don't even try to tell me
10. So don't wait up for me cause I'll be gone til well past three
11. Hey there Mr Tin Man / You don't know how lucky you are
12. If you ain't got two kids by 21 you're probably gonna die alone
13. It's a lonely road / Two for the pain and three for the show
14. I don't want another heartbreak / I don't need another turn to cry
15. I've been thinking (Yeah) / It's been a while since we got out of town
16. You could never know what it's like / Your blood like winter freezes just like ice
17. Everybody's always waiting on Friday / Watching that clock and sitting on go
18. Work sucks truck died hot as hell outside my AC just broke
19. Close like that little strap to your shoulder / Close like you've been since you slid over
20. It's got a touch of the town where I grew up / Something bout it them California girls love
21. The moon / Outside / Too bright
22. I gotta thank a small town preacher / making me a hymn singer
23. I was a liar / I gave into the fire
24. Goodbye / It's an easy word to say / People use it every day / Just a line they throw away
25. She looks so pretty with no make up on / You should hear her talking to her mama on the phone
26. If I could kill a word and watch it die / I'd poison never and shoot goodbye
27. That Sunday morning choir calling church doors open wide
28. B-U-S-H-P-A-R-T-Y / We'll have some if you're in tonight
29. When I first got to Nashville town / They called me in and sat me down
30. Hey girl do you feel that temperature drop / That time time going tick tock

How many did you get?

Pogasca (Hungarian Cheese Scones)

It's become a bit of a tradition that every year my friend Simon hosts a Eurovision party, which has become something of a reunion for our university friends now we're all scattered to different places. There is also a buffet at said party where everyone brings food from a particular country competing, and this year I decided to attempt to recreate the cheese scone bites we had when we went wine tasting in Budapest last year (more on that here). They're known as pogasca - the Hungarian word for 'biscuit' - and tasted amazing, so here's hoping I managed to replicate them well enough...

I slightly mixed together two recipes for this one as some of them didn't necessarily translate that well, but have included a few tweaks so you can adapt it for your own tastes. It mainly depends on what kind of cheese you like, how much rise you want and how many scones you want to make. They are a little time-consuming - mainly due to kneading and resting your dough - but they're really easy to make and taste pretty good too, so it's definitely worth giving these a go if you need a party snack.

This will make about 40 small scones.

Ingredients
  • 600g flour (I used plain but you could make it with any flour you have available)
  • 250g butter, diced, room temperature
  • 100-200ml milk (you'll need more or less depending what flour you use)
  • 2 sachets of dried yeast (you can skip this and just use baking powder but won't get so much rise)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 200-250g medium hard cheese (like Cheddar or Emmenthal), grated
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar (you can leave this out)

Method

Heat your milk up to a lukewarm temperature. Pour it into a jug, add the sugar and yeast and set aside for 15-20 minutes so the yeast can ferment.


Mix the flour and salt, then crumble in the butter for a breadcrumb consistency. Add two of the eggs, baking powder, milk mixture and half the cheese.


Knead the mixture together for around 10-15 minutes until it comes away from the side of the bowl and has a springy elasticated texture (if you press your thumb into the dough it should spring back up). I also do something called the windowpane test, where you take a little bit of dough, hold it up to a window and pull it apart; if you can see light through the dough before it breaks, then it's done. Pro tip: Knead with one hand as this means you can hold onto the bowl. It also helps if the phone rings or you're suddenly called away as you'll have one non-doughy hand! 

Shape the dough into a ball and sprinkle a little flour on top. Cover and leave it in a warm place (such as next to a radiator or in an airing cupboard; I put mine in the grill section of our oven - turned off, obviously!) for around 20-30 minutes until it has doubled in size.


While the dough is resting, preheat your oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
Roll the dough out to around 2mm thick, then fold the bottom third into the centre, the top third over that, then half in from one side and half from the other (see the photos below to show you how). Cover and leave to rest for around 10 minutes.





Roll the dough out again and score with a criss-cross pattern. Cut out the scones using a small cookie cutter then brush with the remaining beaten egg. Place the scones on a baking tray lined with baking paper and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. 


Bake for around 25 minutes on the middle shelf of the oven or until golden. Whilst your scones are baking, refold any remaining mixture and rest in the same way as before.
Leave to cool and enjoy!


Let me know if you try these - I'd love to see your version :) Apparently they are really good with bacon or pancetta in them too, which I'm going to attempt for next year's Eurovision...

What have you been baking lately?

Album Review: Chris Stapleton - From A Room: Volume 1

In a year of country comebacks, there probably hasn't been a more highly anticipated album than Chris Stapleton's sophomore set. Traveller was a huge hit for him - helped by his 2015 CMA Awards performance of 'Tennessee Whiskey' - so people were undoubtedly keen to see what he'd do next. The answer is: release two albums recorded in RCA Studio A in Nashville, with Dave Cobb (who also produced Traveller) at the controls. The first of these, From A Room: Volume 1, came out this week and so I sat down to listen to it with high hopes, but also with a few nerves. Could it live up to the brilliance of Stapleton's debut? We're about to find out...

Image source
1: 'Broken Halos'
We're launched straight into the record - one chord and then you're hit by the emotion in Stapleton's voice, which contrasts well with the simple-stripped back guitar and steady rhythmic drums that reminded me of 'Traveller'. The lack of flashy production means the message of the lyrics comes through really strongly without being overshadowed. Morganne's background vocals throughout also sound great and add a nice extra layer.

2: 'Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning'
This is a cover of a Willie Nelson song but I honestly wouldn't have known as Chris really puts his own stamp on it. I love the storytelling in the lyrics as it builds up from spilt coffee and rubbish not being picked up to the big event of Stapleton's lover leaving and then heaps insult on injury. The air of resignation and restraint in his voice also works as a nice contrast to the typical treatment of this theme in country music and I like the sparse guitar and harmonica too.

3: 'Second One To Know'
'Parachute' is one of my favourite songs on Traveller and this rocky uptempo number with thumping drums took me right back to it. Sticking with the theme of vanquished love, Chris shows off the raw power in his voice whilst keeping control over it, and the simple production allows his vocal to lead the song. Throw in that seriously impressive guitar outro and I can see this going down a storm when it's played live.

4: 'Up To No Good Livin''
One of the things I like most about the album is the blend of different styles; this song switches back again to a laid-back vibe, with an almost surf music feel in the intro. With a story about a man who changes his wild ways yet is disbelieved by his wife, Stapleton really shows off his songwriting skills - I particularly love the line 'they called me the Picasso of painting the town'. His voice retains that gravelly tone but with a sense he could let go any time, the resigned air gives the song much more of an impact.

5: 'Either Way'
This is the first single from the record and was originally released by Lee Ann Womack, but after hearing this I can't imagine anyone else singing this - it's another 'Whiskey And You' moment. There's a lot of twang in the guitar and the vocal is very subdued, almost inaudible in parts. That creates a really strong sense of longing, with the almost-howl at the end of each line of the chorus really expressing his inner pain. I also felt that the lyrics and their theme of a relationship falling apart reminded me of Kelleigh Bannen's song 'Church Clothes', which I really like. It's simple, heartbreaking, utterly gorgeous and the best song on the album.

6: 'I Was Wrong'
We return to the chilled-out vibe from before, but with a slightly more ominous feeling to it. As Stapleton mourns a lost love and reflects on his wrongs, the emotional vocal is delivered brilliantly - building to a wailing roar at the end of the chorus and then dropping back down. That knowing when to let go and when to pull back is a consistent element of the album and is evidence of two masters at work. I really liked the slightly Eagles-esque guitar riff after the first chorus too.

7: 'Without Your Love'
Continuing the darker feeling of the second half of the album, this is a song for driving down a lonesome highway. The personal lyrics create a sense of building towards something, yet Stapleton's vocal is a lot more pulled back, which I like a lot - again, this sense of contrast between the controlled public persona and the emotional, wounded private pain is very strong throughout the whole album.

8: 'Them Stems'
Switching it up yet again, this song has a much more uptempo rollicking feel that put me in mind of Brothers Osborne's 'Greener Pastures'. Stapleton's vocal has a lot more drawl in it, adding to the traditional feel; there's almost a sense that this could be a lost Willie Nelson song. I like the mix of the bleak lyrics with the more carefree melody too. This is another one I can see getting a great response live (perhaps at C2C 2018?). It's not my favourite song on the album but I like having something a bit different.

9: 'Death Row'
The heavy, foreboding intro creates a sense that this is going to be a haunting song, and it definitely sticks with you even after the record ends. Stapleton's drawn-out vocals, which start off powerful and then become more subdued, contrast the other songs on the album and work very well with the theme of being ground down and oppressed by the monotony of imprisonment, along with the sparse instrumentation. It's a great finish to the set and a fine showcase for his myriad talents.

Overall: Any fears I had about Chris Stapleton's second record failing to live up to his first are completely unfounded. Like Traveller, From A Room: Volume 1 doesn't go for the bells-and-whistles approach; instead, most of the songs act as great showcases for Stapleton's guitar playing and astounding voice. I was also really impressed by the restraint exercised throughout - you can still feel the emotion and pain in his voice but only letting rip at key points gives it far more impact. It's all the things I loved about his first record but made even better. Volume 2 can't come soon enough now - bring on November!

The good:
Stapleton's voice is allowed to shine; great storytelling in the lyrics; good mix of styles
The bad: Nothing
Rating: 5/5
Top tracks: 'Second One To Know'; 'Broken Halos'; 'Either Way'; 'I Was Wrong'; 'Without Your Love'; 'Last Thing I Needed, First Thing This Morning'

Album Review: Brad Paisley - Love and War (Visual Album)

There's becoming a bit of a tradition for country musicians to 'do a Beyoncé'. First Eric Church dropped his Mr. Misunderstood album unannounced on the night of the 2015 CMA Awards - upstaged only by Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake's duet - and now Brad Paisley has come out with the first country visual album on his tenth LP, Love and War. Brad previewed some tracks from the new album at C2C earlier this year and I was interested to see how they'd marry up with the videos. This is a long post, so grab yourself a cuppa and settle in...

Image source
The album begins with a Tron-like opening sequence before going into the first song, 'Heaven South', which is jam-packed with typical Southern imagery as Brad and his band drive their truck through small town USA. Right from the off the visuals echo the song lyrics perfectly and you get the sense that it's a very literal project. The song's lyrics reminded me of 'Country Nation', one of my favourite Brad Paisley songs, and I liked the mix of traditional and modern references and the carefree feel. It feels timeless yet contemporary at the same time and is one of the standouts from the album.

Continuing with the retro theme, the nostalgic 'Last Time For Everything' mixes home video footage of a young Paisley with faded modern-day shots and is full of 80s references, from the Stranger Things-inspired title card and a David Hasselhoff cameo to Brad dressed as Marty McFly riding a dirt bike. Paisley also hits a seriously impressive note at the end of the song! From there it's into 'One Beer Can', an uptempo rocky track telling the story of a surprisingly sedate house party gone wrong. The song and video have a lot of Brad's trademark humour (with Paisley throwing the titular can that gets teenage Bobby into trouble) and the teen movie tropes are used very cleverly, putting a funny spin on what could have been a standard party song.

The album is split into 'chapters' which show different aspects of Brad's personality, from his more romantic side in the likes of the shopping mall-set 'Go To Bed Early' and 'Contact High', which finds him playing guitar in an indoor skydiving tunnel (as you do), to the slightly silly and throwaway fun of 'selfie#theinternetisforever' featuring what looks a lot like the C2C audience from Brad's performance in March. I also loved the references back to the previous videos, such as Bobby from 'One Beer Can' popping up in 'selfie#theinternetisforever' and Brad still sporting his 80s garb at the start of 'One Beer Can'. These little moments really helped to link the album together and make it feel a lot less disjointed compared to just listening to the audio version.

One of the talking points prior to the release of the album has been the collaborations, which by and large work well. 'Drive of Shame' with Mick Jagger, a 70s rock-influenced number that wouldn't sound out of place in a Rolling Stones set list, balances regretful lyrics with an uptempo melody. Brad also showed his serious side on the title track, a duet with John Fogerty with heavy rock guitars and a biting message about the damaging effects of war, and the heartbreakingly beautiful 'Dying To See Her' with Bill Anderson. Meanwhile, the two songs with Timbaland, 'Grey Goose Chase' and 'Solar Power Girl', embrace traditional instruments and a classic country combination of melancholy lyrics against uptempo melodies. I particularly loved the comic book-themed video for the latter track as it was a nice contrast to the earlier videos.

My personal standout moment of the album was 'Gold All Over The Ground', which takes it lyrics from a poem written by Johnny Cash about his wife June Carter, which Brad has set to music, and I have to admit that without knowing the backstory I never would have guessed that as they fit together really well. The gorgeous imagery of the writing fits perfectly with Brad's slow, simple guitar melody and the darkly lit tour he takes of Cash's cabin in the video; it's respectful but without be indulgent and a lovely homage to the Man in Black. I also loved 'Today', which pairs a simple uplifting piano melody with some incredibly moving footage of significant moments in ordinary people's lives; I defy you not to watch it and not have a tear in your eye at the end.

The album closes with 'The Devil is Alive and Well', an atmospheric video which finds Brad and band outside a burnt-out Nashville church. The slow, sad piano melody adds a feeling of despair and darkness in contrast to the uptempo feel of much of the album, and the lyrics echo the uncertainty of the turbulent times we live in and a yearning to go back to when things were much simpler. And yet, with final track 'Meaning Again' and the reprise of 'Heaven South' to bookend the whole thing, a mix of shots from the previous videos neatly tie the album together and serve as an uplifting reminder to stick with the values of home, family and love and come together to make change for the better. It's simple but highly effective.

Overall I really enjoyed Love and War. For me it sums up the different sides of Paisley's music very well and gives you a great oversight of who he is as an artist - no small feat on your tenth album. He's playing to his strengths as a guitarist and songwriter but also shows that he's willing to push himself and become a little more outspoken. Yes, there is a little unevenness, there are a couple of misfires and the uptempo tracks aren't quite as strong as the ballads ('Heaven South' excepted), but the videos do a great job of pulling everything together and capturing the moment whilst still being timeless. It's a seriously impressive piece of work and I'm intrigued to see how he follows it up.

Top tracks: 'Heaven South', 'Last Time For Everything', 'Today', 'Gold All Over The Ground'

The Love and War visual album is available via iTunes.

Alice's Adventures Underground at The Vaults at Waterloo

Alice in Wonderland is one of those stories I know snippets of, but not necessarily in the right order. So when my friend Billi (who writes the excellent View From The Circle blog, which I highly recommend to all fans of theatre) asked if I wanted to come along to a press event for the revival of Les Enfants Terribles' Alice's Adventures Underground, returning to The Vaults after a sell-out run in 2015, I jumped at the chance to find out more about the story and its topsy-turvy world.





After arriving we went into the waiting area, which has been beautifully designed - it's full of nooks and crannies to sit and just drink in the atmosphere, backed by a soundtrack of retrofied Britney Spears hits and Red Hot Chilli Peppers whilst acrobats with dodo masks do tricks on hoops suspended from the ceiling. As you do.





Before the show started we managed to each grab a cocktail from Smith & Sinclair; I went for the Cheshire Cat, a mix of gin and green tea in a jam jar with a lemon sherbet lolly that supposedly makes the drink change colour when you use it to stir. Sadly my pictures are a bit darker than I'd like but it did seem to go a little lighter! Food meanwhile came from Saucy Chip, whose mac and cheese was excellent - sufficiently cheesy and with breadcrumbs for an extra bit of texture. I only regret not going for the version with added pancetta.

Before...

...and after

Soon enough we were called to begin our journey, and headed off down a corridor and into Wonderland...

The sets are so beautifully realised, particularly the opening study sequence - there's bookshelves coming out of the walls, things in jars and photographs being developed, all set to slightly creepy music. I also really loved the mix of old and new technology, particularly the second room representing Alice falling down the rabbit hole, which (after venturing down a tunnel of books and playing cards) is set up to look like a zoetrope but involves some amazingly mesmerising ceiling graphics. There's also a great use of forced perspective shortly afterwards in the 'eat me/drink me' sequence.

There are apparently 24 different storylines you can play through which depend on your various choices as well as being completely random, such as which suit of cards you are assigned. I was with the diamonds and we were lucky enough to tick off all the key points of the book (at least from my memory). From talking to Billi, who was a heart, everyone visits some of the same rooms, such as the Tweedledum and Tweedledee reciting 'The Walrus and the Carpenter' (which included some great Beatles gags - although I will warn you that you need to duck!) and the chaotic kitchen with the Cook and the Duchess. The tea party scene is also a particular highlight, with coloured tea fountains running down the table, a glamorously dishevelled March Hare and a Mad Hatter whose showmanship and command of the audience was utterly riveting, in a way where you're not quite sure what will happen next yet can't stop watching.

Also the puppets are incredible. The Cheshire Cat in particular was a highlight - during one scene shortly after meeting her, which involved standing in a dark tunnel looking through peepholes, I felt something brush past me, turned and there she was. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it was an utterly magical moment. The frog and the butterfly are in more of a traditional style but very well done too, and the puppet suit for the White Rabbit is just amazing - kudos to him for putting on such a non-stop performance whilst contending with moveable ears!

Special mention must go to Alexander Wolfe, AKA The Mock Turtle, whose song 'The Mirror and the Moon' had the entire audience spellbound. In fact all the music is wonderful; if there was a soundtrack album available I'd snap it up in a heartbeat. Hint hint to any merchandising folk reading this! The Queen of Hearts, who appears in the final courtroom scene, is great too, with shades of Miranda Richardson as Queenie in Blackadder II about her (I also particularly loved her glittery red pout).

After the performance we were lucky enough to go back into the Mad Hatter's Tea Party scene and talk to some of the cast, including the Joker of Diamonds (who had been my guide through the whole experience) and the Dormouse. I was seriously impressed​ to learn that the actors play any of four different parts depending on the night; how they keep it all straight in such a frantic, action-packed show I have absolutely no idea.


Alice holding court.










Overall I absolutely loved Alice's Adventures Underground. Provided you're willing to go along with it, it's a show that rewards you whether you know the book backwards or are a complete newcomer. The level of detail is just incredible and the performances​ are seriously impressive. I want to go back already!

Alice's Adventures Underground runs at The Vaults until 23rd September and tickets start at £31.50 per adult.