Rachael Travers

Rachael Travers’ new single, “Whiskey Drinking”, is great for driving fast to – windows down, volume up, regrets in the rearview. This is compelling British Americana, Travers’ voice imbued with the warmth of Allison Krauss, the plaintiveness of Emmylou Harris and capable of Maddy Prior’s directness. Travers sings here with sensitivity and allure, confidence with a hint of coyness – her strong, fragile delivery drawing the listener irresistibly closer. This song’s protagonist is torn between empathy and exasperation for a lover she urges repeatedly to “drink no more tonight”. She’s had enough – she cares, but she’s frustrated and tired. Travers’ vocals are rich and sweet, their beguiling expressivity akin to that of stalwart alt-country contemporary Sturgill Simpson; although Russell Smith, Travers’ producer, is less melodramatic, opting for that’s Staves-meets-Fleet Foxes sound-world. Rachael Travers’ voice has tugged hard at this reviewer’s heartstrings since I was first seduced by a clutch of demos titled Ivy Road, released back in 2012. “Whiskey Drinking” marks a leap forward in confidence and content. This time she deserves to be heard.

“Whiskey Drinking” is available to stream and download on all major platforms.

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Visiting the New York DMV

August 18, 2018


I registered my car today. I have no idea what this really means, but I think it speeds up the process of (while somewhat reducing grounds for) prosecution when I am inevitably pulled over by a cop for speeding. I learned from the driver narrator in Springsteen’s “State Trooper” that you’re meant to keep certain documents in the car because he opines “license, registration, I ain’t got none” like that’s a bad thing. For a while I drove with a current NY license and an expired registration from New Jersey, which apparently could have led to the car being towed and impounded. Springsteen is from the Garden State and I drive there a lot, so I try to heed his protagonists’ advice.

After conversations with colleagues and relatives, ferocious googling, the gifting to me of a car by an exceptionally generous friend, and a whirlwind of paper-and-pen form-filling (very retro), I head to the DMV with the modest ambition of leaving as official car registrant and owner of New York plates. I am turned away Monday, but get a special green form for readmission later that day which apparently you can use any subsequent day too despite explicit instructions on the form to the contrary. When I head back Thursday, I bike there just for fun. It still isn’t fun.

The DMV aesthetic is Wesleyan thrift chic. Cushion-less wooden pews take me back to my misspent, sex-less teen years at a Methodist youth club in West Sussex. A half-cut, wordless security guard gestures incomprehensibly with one hand and grunts. Everyone here moves somberly, so as not to suggest unbecoming hope. The air conditioning is repeatedly turned on and off as a test of endurance. I hear my brain cells dying.

The DMV lady takes the car’s title (I hope I’m not meant to ask for it back). I get a natty little sticker for registration. She takes $194 off me, and I don’t need to use a cheque, which feels like progress. (I had to buy my own cheques from Chase bank recently, which seemed only reasonable; the company must be struggling as their main street buildings look like Greek temples with the marble floor get-up of the heist movies I used to assume was a hyperbolic visual stereotype but is actually how Chase Morgan demonstrates the wealth gap destroying American democracy). She gives me license plates, with a smile suggesting this is the culmination of the registration process. But they are not registration plates, and I already have a license, so I am confused, but I gather I can move the plates to a different vehicle under some circumstances (I have no idea which ones). The car still bears my friend’s old plates, which my mother-in-law advises me I should return to him so the friend in turn can return them to the New Jersey DMV.

The sweetest victory is my insurance cover. It took nine weeks to purchase, while I and my wife performed a delicate (she), impatient (me) and unpredictable (they) dance with the US’s second largest insurer of automobiles, their underwriters (on three separate but related occasions) and multiple applications via internet, phone and mail. When calculating my premium, the insurers’ pricing metrics cared not about 23 years’ experience driving in a country with denser traffic, angrier drivers and narrower streets, nor my decade as a government-certified driving instructor. (I recall my immigrant credit rating – officially categorization: “in the toilet”.) The DMV lady likes my insurance card (paper) so much that she jaggedly cuts it almost in half with cheap scissors before giving some of it back.

The car passes inspection the same morning, which seems weird since both front and back bumpers are cracked and falling off. The guy shaves a sticker off my windscreen and put two new ones up in its place. I hope my Darth Vader gear shift knob will earn me a discount, but alas, $37. This feels like a reasonable price, specific enough not to attract suspicion. Other car things from that guy over recent weeks always had three distinct prices – the cash price (no tax), the card price (yes tax), and the amount he takes anyway when I have give him slightly more cash than he asked for because I’m only carrying 20s and 10s.

I have the rare privilege of driving a car with manual transmission. America’s public has for so long been sliding into collective unconsciousness (along with the rest of the global North) that the 3% of “stick-shift” cars here give me disproportional hope that intention and agency still have a future in a nation where cheese tastes of paper and salt, and the flavor of all cakes is sugar. Anyway, I am licensed, the car has plates to prove it, and I am the registrant owner of a de-titled, bright green car. Life is good. (Although what’s that godawful smell?!)




Expat Royal Wedding

May 19, 2018

Why, America
Do you obsess with this shit?
You’re a republic!

A vapid sideshow
Sick genuflection to those
Presumed our betters

Pandering to them
Just ignore them, is the best
Then they’ll go away

Sick fascination
With those who want for nothing
Revolution, please!

O but you had one
Now aristocrats rule here
Well that was fun, eh?

I am diligent
Working-class and hard-working
You make me vomit

Wishing you the best
Hoping that your marriage lasts
Along with your wealth

Rich people Married
I wish you ev’ry blessing
(you entitled cunts)




The 12 Bar Club is the perfect London rock venue. It’s way better than the over-hyped Bar Flys and Roundhouses of the city, more intimate than the Borderline and dingier than the Bedford.  The place has it all – a tiny stage, battered gear, big-ass sound, cramped standing room for a full house of about 60, and a weird, head-height balcony seating area so the band can get a good look at your shoes. Tonight the room was amply stocked with about 35 paying customers, all friends of the band, and mostly fans of Donny Mahmood, charismatic guitarist, lead singer, songwriter and all-round entertainer.

The band gradually all made it to their positions on-stage in the only way permitted by the 12 Bar – by climbing clumsily over one another’s instruments, and the drummer wedging himself into the corner, boxed in by walls, drums and amplifiers. Once in place, the three-piece rock/funk outfit launched into their signature song, ‘Make It Right’. The guitar was a bit quiet, the bass overpowering and the drummer apparently unsure of the pulse; however, the vocal harmonies were spot-on, and the outfit were tight as you like. All attacked the song with infectious conviction.

Second song ‘Find the Words’ cemented the band’s feel – in lieu of the metronomic articulation of most funk-rockers, these guys let the pulse breathe as they ride as one their course over the organic blues-rock landscape. The audience were all tapping feet, nodding heads, and getting down to the vibe. By the third song, ‘Tension’ –  a straight-er-ahead rock number – Don’s Telecaster was now fully in the mix and the full force of Leo’s Garden hit home. ‘Blunt-Blade Shaves’, a subtler, nuanced five minutes of psychedelic introspection, was perhaps the high point of the night, showcasing the trio’s ability to embrace Velvet Underground weirdness and mastery of dynamics. This song suited drummer Joe ‘B’ Goode’s predisposition towards ebb and flow in the pulse, and allowed the band space to do what they all did best – they grooved, moved, and proved they could remove the audience to another realm. Donny’s voice – uniquely mellow, husky and capable of aggression (manly Macy-Gray-meets-Sammy-Davis-Jnr.) – shone on this number, able to soar over the drum-and-bass polyrhythms and the effects-layered guitar experimentations.

For ‘Look In Her Eyes’ Donny switched to his vintage Stratocaster, and suddenly his sound came alive! The Strat added an edge and a bite to the band’s sound, and as he caressed the neck the guitar sang and moaned as if being tormented by a tortured Eric Clapton. ‘Plenty of Things’ featured a heavy Dave Matthews-style riff with serious attitude;  the guitar was now in charge, but it never shouted. ‘Mash Up’ was a mad party of guitar effects and rock-out jamming Zeppelin-style. Chris’s bass held on to the reins as the song lurched back and forth. Donny’s snarling vocals sent shivers down the spine, as the ending bled seamlessly into a soulful Foxy Lady-like jam and the band channeled the collective spirits of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Great gig. All hail the Don.