Road Movie

“Debut Album Delivers Box Office Mojo”

Road Movie is the first album by MDH, the nom de plume of gifted singer/songwriter Michael Humphrey. It’s an impressively bold foray, not least because the songs are thematically linked and inspired by the artist’s own road trip across the good ol’ U.S. of A. Even more impressive is Humphrey’s multi instrumental prowess, strong singing voice and a magnetic north for “the right” melody. This guy’s got SERIOUS game!

Album opener, “Road Movie 1” sees us up in the air with a moodily impressionistic flight across the Atlantic. The instrumental piece is laced with a tentative optimism and excitement as the narrator gets ready for a JFK touchdown. It’s reminiscent of the kind of soundtrack that Thomas Newman pays the rent with and gives the listener an immediate sign that Humphrey is going for something cinematic here. The clue’s in the album title, right?

We’re off the plane in a rush of adrenaline as “New York Minute” takes us through the best (and worst) of The Big Apple in…just over two minutes! The overlaid harmonies glaze the hooky chorus sweeter than a heart attack of doughnuts and the acoustic guitar work is nipped and tucked tighter than…well, you get the picture. Suffice to say, Humphrey isn’t messing around here; you want a catchy tune with immediacy? Well, say goodbye to your eardrums – it’s feeding time down at the ear wormery!

“Endless Texas”, washed clean through in beautiful synths, lifts dreamily out of the speakers into a chorus as big as the open plains that the tune opines. It also serves as a nice counterpoint to the acoustic work of “New York Minute” and begins the showcase of styles that Humphrey comfortably moves through. It’s built for prime-time radio.

“A Town for all Seasons” yearns with the melancholic longing of a Hotel California reduced down to an old town motel, murdered by the great American highway. One gets the sense that you’re not encouraged to checkout anytime but, sooner or later, everyone leaves.  Evocative in a funereal sense, this one showcases the artist’s multi instrumental prowess and songwriting depth. Give it a few spins, you’ll see what I mean.

With “Santa Fe Sunset” Humphrey moves to the piano stool at a late-night cocktail lounge whilst “Louisiana ain’t no Swamp” lifts the tempo with a jolly romp through the Mardi Gras locale, its Cajun tongue lodged firmly in cheek. Both tunes whisk by in the wheel spin of a rented convertible before we head down a more sinister road…

“Hey Mr Memphis” positively oozes out of the speakers with all the sleaze of a Lizard King returned. A truly epic sax solo, nicely underpinned by Manzarek-esque organ, conclusively proves that we’ve landed in a moral vacuum. Well, if no one here does get out alive, at least the soundtrack is kinda happening.

The dissonance of “Area 51”, neatly incorporated into a more conventional folk piece, again evidences Humphrey’s songwriting skill and formidable musicality. At times like this, it’s easy to forget that this is all the work of one man and not the blended abilities of a group. I told you that this guy is talented, right?

And then we’re in country and western territory with “Nashville Queen”. Well of course we are – no American road movie would be complete without at least a cursory nod to the musical lifeblood of the USA heartland. Once again Humphrey nails it to the wall. He keeps it light, keeps it breezy and gives us a clear indication that hey, we’re just passin’ through here! with the line “I didn’t shout out I was from much further away”. It’s another strong contender for song of the album and moves credibly into the genre without losing the artist’s characteristic flair for a driving acoustic and a harmony laden chorus.

What to expect from a song entitled “Vegas”? The steroidal pump of Braund Reynolds “Natural Gambler” perhaps? Or maybe the crooning majesty of Sinatra’s pompery at its shit-eating finest? Try a red eyed paean to homesickness via “the country’s largest gift shop” and the “Stratosphere Tower view”. Very moody, very four in the morning. But hey, we’ve got a plane to catch…

“Road Movie 2” is another impressionistic flight through the clouds. It’s a cool little bookend which, along with the album opener, (almost) frames the narrative of the songs. We’re on our return journey, a little older, a little wiser, but keen to get home.

Humphrey saves his major assault on the commercial jugular for the album’s closer, “Tend the Flame”, a song that would serve any boy band well in the ballad department. Our hero returns from his travels espousing truths spun from the everyday folk of the New World but, underneath it all, he’s just a lovelorn guy returning to keep a promise. It’s a straight up love song that wears its heart on its sleeve. It works superbly well and, as the final track of “Road Movie”,  gives the piece satisfying closure. “Yes”, it says. “I may wander but when all is said and done, I’ll always come home to you.” And who doesn’t like a happy ending?

It’s rare that an artist hits it SO out of the park on a first release but that’s exactly what MDH has done with “Road Movie”. To deliver a debut album, a concept album nevertheless, with songs as strong as these is nothing short of remarkable. I recommend that you listen to it. Listen to it now.

Cameron Dunham

A set of songs inspired by a road trip from New York to Las Vegas, taking in most of the hotspots of American music history east of the Pacific coastline, and designed to sound good in the car – like a rock record should.  It was a special trip, and the album is a collection of happy, vivid memories.

Hear some reimagined live performances here:

Album song info, lyrics and accompanying diary entries

Road Movie I

This is the first of a pair of instrumental tracks to set the scene of the album, and is the more optimistic-sounding of the two.  The musical material was created by plugging in the abbreviations of the states we went through (e.g. NY, AZ) into a cypher that attaches a letter of the alphabet to a note of the chromatic scale.  A close friend and respected musician and writer suggests that these 2 tracks represent the travel.  I like to think they have a clinical but weary feel that I do associate with airports…  The states in here are: NY, NJ, PN, MY, WV, VA and TN… not that you’ll hear it I don’t think!

“So, what do I hope to get out of the trip?  Honestly nothing: really if I wanted to advance myself then I ought really to be staying indoors at my desk.  Inspiration has never been a problem – and that would surely be what road trips are supposed to provide.  It’s the discipline and tenacity that are hard, and swanning about doing cool stuff doesn’t give rise to these.”

New York

New York Minute

It’s where we landed, the third time I’d been so I avoided the obvious sights and went walking around Brooklyn, Queens and Harlem.

climbin out the taxi at a Brooklyn high rise
payin $20 for a burger and fries
squinting out the window at a jeg lag sunrise
fillin up on city with my tourist wide eyes

I can walk the bridge this morning
and lookin through the wires
see liberty still stalling
beside the towering isle

steppin off the subway for a Brooklyn lager
lookin at you funny you forgot to tip her
findin where the locals go is cloak and dagger
grow a pair and find out if you dare to ask her

up in Central Park bicycling
the rain is cold relief
catch me down on 4th jaywalking
away from the police chief

in a New York minute it’s beginning
it’s a race New York and you are winning
I got a feeling you and me New York we’ll come out on top, just don’t ever stop,
don’t ever stop!

what I had for breakfast is my first burrito
putting on a shirt will make me incognito
in the Lincoln Center it’s where all the pros go
learning how to play the very best sax solo

discovering the village park scene
singing patti smith
playing pool with some old drag queen
love the one you’re with

“What might happen is that we meet John Harris.  Our drunken, romantic plan hatched before we left was to spend the evening slugging beers on Coney Island waterfront under the old fairground – giving one last nod to the Atlantic before we spurn it for the open road.  We decide against this in favour of downtown bars for 2 reasons: another evil storm is forecast, and we are still unsure of the subway links out of Manhattan.  I suspect, with uptown and Harlem fresh in my mind (and calves), that we will have made a good choice.”



Endless Texas

It’s a big place.  There was an afternoon when I started to get a bit freaked out because we had been driving for an hour, at 90, and hadn’t passed another car.

a steady ninety
the scenery won’t ever change
and rattlesnakes will line our way
and vultures soar to block the sun

it handles nicely
the radio is working now
to play those sweet duets somehow
they seem to move me every one

when they settled here the children and the wives, what did they hope to find?
and did they like it here once they had broken ground?
maybe they just liked the sound

of endless Texas
of open road
a thousand fence-posts re-articulate the sound
of endless Texas
of bullet holes
of breezes blowin dust under sunshine we have found
we have found endless Texas

a simple gear change
we drive an automatic car
it has to take us through lone star
and ever onwards towards the sun

a bold solution
I try to make my feet slow down
I try to make my heart not pound
it seems we three are born to run

and when they sat to paint the desert and the sky, what did they hope to find?
and did they like the view, the cacti and the clouds?
in particular they liked the sound

of endless Texas
of open road
a thousand fence-posts re-articulate the sound
of endless Texas
of bullet holes
of breezes blowin dust under sunshine we have found
we have found endless Texas

 “These really are strange places.  Truck life must be a very drab affair.  I wonder how much more driving those guys do in a day than what we’re doing.  We feel fatigued but at least we have company and the landscape is novel to us.  Motel life must get sapping after a few weeks: Big Spring was another nowhere town that for some reason has a dozen full or nearly full motels.  There is no reason to visit here, and no visible population to call on.  One receptionist explains that the rooms are booked up by contract workers – the ones in front of me in one queue were there for a week.  The thought of that makes us Londoners shudder – you may as well be going into deep space.  Texas is endless – we are doing 90 on flat, straight roads and not getting anywhere, or so it seems.  The only signs of life are the oil pumps tolling back and forth in the fields either side of us.  Someone must come to check them but to us it’s like the last person here forgot to switch them off and left the country.”

Front Royal

A Town For All Seasons

About Front Royal, the “gateway to the blue-ridge mountains”.  Suffers from the same golden age of tourism hangover that places like Margate and Great Yarmouth do in England, but it’s a lot nicer than either of those two places.  It’s tagline is “A Town For All Seasons”, and is emblazoned on many lampposts and signs, but doesn’t quite ring true as we wandered around an empty town that looked to be stuck in the “off-season”.

a town for all seasons, untouched by the flood
a town square of grandsons clots like old blood
who’s down at the Tavern? what’s on at the flicks?
a town for all seasons – a nickname that sticks

a town for all seasons, it’s in all of the books
the way that it welcomes and the way that it looks
it’s tired of your custom but glad just the same
it’s sad that you’re leavin but happy you came

a town for all seasons, we’d sit watching the game
before the foreclosures did you look the same?
or did you smell like Spielberg and Hollywood lawns?
a town for all seasons but the good times have gone

a town for all seasons, I’ll think on you at length
about all of your shadows and all of your strength
we saw through peeled paintwork to your picturesque past
a town for all seasons feels winter at last

“The receipt that barman gave us had us marked down as ‘TABLE NO.: 3GUYS’.  He was a fairly depressive-looking sort, a fine figure of a white-haired 50-something fireman type, but clearly weary and just-doing-his-job.  He was pleasant, helpful and well-humoured but one sensed that he really had to dig deep for the energy for it.  We were just 3 guys – another 3 to a town born and raised, and arguably sickened by people just passing through.”

Grand Canyon Monument

Santa Fe Sunset

Kieron had heard somewhere that the best sunsets are in the Santa Fe area.  When we were in Santa Fe it was cloudy…

the sun still goes down in London town
and it sure is a sight to behold
before the night sky steals the light from your eye
you get fireworks and lava and gold

there’s beauty and splendour wherever you look
but I can’t seem to see none somehow

we still have dark clouds in my old hometown
they fill up til no starlight remains
the ocean gets deeper from blue into grey
it knows no deeper comfort than rain

there’s something remarkable out in the west
out there still movin on down

of all of the things that we planned to see
we’ll – save for the photos – forget
of all of the things that they told us about
they said we ain’t seen nothin yet

a bald eagle’s claw or a rattlesnake’s jaw
but we never saw a Santa Fe sunset – did we?

“The roads we take take us through breathtaking vistas – and such variety – to the point where we are almost glazed over and taking them for granted by late afternoon.  We see green-spotted desert, panoramas that go on for states, stack mountains, bright chilli-red rock faces, forest, and a huge area of grassland surrounded by mountains so it looks like a vast, green lake.  The beautiful scenery is fantastic but puts us behind the clock with over 180 miles to go, luckily the roads start to co-operate.  We emerge from the scenic route to hit 85mph for a solid hour with barely any traffic and no less breathtaking scenery.  The ever-lowering sun beams back of the road surface while casting long shadows across the CGI-perfect sprawl to the left and right.  The road-arcs start to look like Saturn’s rings as we glide through mountains and canyons.  We stop for supplies then turn left towards our intended destination – Shiprock – due west towards the Arizona border.  The driving conditions become very difficult in the best possible way – we are driving due west as the sun sets.  We slow to a good 20 below the limit as the sun stares right at us like a crosshair.  It finally drops and we eventually arrive in Shiprock through sporadic (sometimes momentary) rain showers.”

New Orleans2 New Orleans

Louisiana Ain’t No Swamp

We all agreed it was our favourite place – New Orleans was amazing, and the drive alongside the Gulf of Mexico to enter Texas at the SE corner was breath-taking.

let’s dress up in white and go and dine by candlelight
Frenchman St. will be just fine
let’s drink cans of beer and wait to watch the scene appear
I fear we’ve crossed the party line

movin over clear water
there’s light reflected from below
she flapped her wings but we caught her
she ain’t no swamp I’ll have you know

order me the shrimp I’m comin for a second stint
on the boat back from Algiers
have the oysters fried with 4 martinis on the side
sell the car we’re stayin here

movin over clear water
there’s light reflected from below
she flapped her wings but we caught her
she ain’t no swamp I’ll have you know

see me sneakin out the door
the preacher’s said it all before
who’s the hottest of them all,
down in Preservation Hall? 

movin over clear water
there’s light reflected from below
she flapped her wings but we caught her
she ain’t no swamp I’ll have you know

“We head to Frenchman Street which every tourist guide seems to tell you is “where the locals go” (so I wonder whether it’s still true).  The first place is fantastic – a band of all ages that sound like Pavement might sound if they grew up on the swamp and had an age range of 25-60.  We buy cans of beer at the bar for less than $3 – this is definitely a record. The bar has a launderette in the back so the occasional glazed-over person with a wicker basket walking through only adds to the down-home feel.  Up Frenchman St proper we see cute shops and I can’t resist buying a 2nd-hand book titled “Teaching as a Subversive Activity” while Tom and Kieron buy a DVD about train-hoppers in a nearby night market – directly from the director who is open about the fact that the more people buy it, the sooner he can start his next film.  This guy is proud to present his film to all comers – he doesn’t seem to be the hard-sell type (he’s just spent the last year illegally sitting in train carriages) yet he’s out there almost like an old-west miracle cure seller.”



Hey Mr. Memphis

Memphis was always going to struggle to live up to the standard of Nashville that I was naively in love with.  It’s a pretty poor place, and we seemed to be hustled in the street at least once on every journey that wasn’t on Beale St.

hey Mr Memphis why you walkin so slow?
hey Mr Memphis it’s that time don’t you know?
hey Mr Memphis you been talked up you been spoilt and it’s starting to show

hey Mr Memphis motel funeral home
you tell your pusherman to leave me alone
he’s got his eye on my backpocket $20 and a cellular phone

hey hey have a lucky day
hey hey have a lucky day

hey Mr Memphis did you happen to hear?
you’ve been asked to be the man of the year
hey Mr Memphis better get yourself a haircut before you disappear

hey hey have a lucky day
hey hey have a lucky day

hey Mr Memphis did you get my last text?
that’s not the kind of thing we’ve come to expect
from some poor boy truck driver wondering what you’re gonna do next

hey hey have a lucky day

“I wake at an unknown time – in fact I’ve been up/awake a few times on guard for creepy crawlies.  My phone will no longer switch on so I have no personal, portable way of telling the time without relying on the iPhone users, who are asleep.  I wander out of the stale room to the street outside heading to some kind of early open shop with a clock to find out if it’s acceptable for me to be in the room making noise.  A homeless man begins to walk with me… He asks me where I’m going, I say I’m just walking about looking for the time (he doesn’t have it).  We walk for about 6 blocks, moving in circles (squares) for the most part in silence.  Looking back it is quite a memory, us walking side-by-side, both too bleary-eyed to make much of an effort to either hustle or shake off.  At one point he asks me do I like to get high.  I laugh and say no.  After a pause he asked out of curiosity because I was sniffing as I walked.  There was no way I was giving him a twenty, so he had to settle for 4 quarters.  He put up some protestation but not much.  I said, on crossing the road away from him, 40% sarcastic, 60% genuine: “have a lucky day”.”


Area 51

We didn’t actually go to Area 51, in fact you can’t – you’ll be shot on sight if you try to stray into this mysteriously locked-down area.  The song instead chronicles our visit to Roswell, New Mexico – home to an alleged alien crash site…

the message is clear: we’ll tell them what they need to know just to avoid a TV show
you never seem to hear: we’ll let them make up their own minds, explain ourselves in our own time

the message is clear: we’ll make sure everything’s alright and tidy up the landing site
you never seem to hear: we’ll check that we are all insured, then we’ll give the guided tour

I like the way
you still try to say
that nothing happened on that day
that nothing actually happened

“Roswell makes no bones about alien tourism – every shop front, from banks to mechanics, seems to have a green face with big eyes in the window.  It’s a friendly place – we get vouchers for a motel at the visitors centre which will make this our cheapest accommodation of the entire trip so far.   The little old lady who checks us in is doddery and charming in equal measure.  Having saved a few bucks I set off to pay $5 to get into the UFO Museum (and “Research Centre”) in town.  The shops on the way are shameless and pity-evoking, yet everyone seems so cheerful as they watch solitary customers walk in, get bemused and walk out again into the dry heat, empty-handed.  The museum itself does give me an old familiar itch from the X Files days – especially reading about how Area 51 (NW of Vegas) is still a top secret facility patrolled with “deadly force”.”


Nashville Queen

Let The Circle Be Unbroken.

she’s my Nashville queen
up there singin Hank
as I think what could have been
I put a dollar in the bucket and save ten for the tank

I’m wondering if she can see me
I take a seat down at the sleepy end of the bar – no eyes so far
I’m wonderin will she ever notice me
I pull a Lincoln from my jeans lay it flat on the bar – no eyes so far

well she’s singing Bobby Dylan and Jimmy Webb
she’s staring at the ceiling burning through my head
but she’s strummin so gentle on that red, white and blue guitar

she said she comes from South Dakota
I didn’t shout out I was from much further away – nice crowd today
and of the two she sounds much better
the other’s ok but her make-up gives her away – no way jose

when she’s gettin to a high note she tips back her head
what they wouldn’t do to get her into bed
you’ll have to take my word but she’s the best on Broadway I’d say

she’s my Nashville queen
up there singin Hank
as I think what could have been
I put a dollar in the bucket and save ten for the tank

I’m wondering if she can see me
sittin here at the sleepy end of the bar – no eyes so far
I’m wonderin will she ever notice me
with head in hands, elbows rest on the bar – I look up – no eyes so far

She’s still singin Bobby Dylan and Jimmy Webb
staring at the ceiling burning through my head
strummin so gentle on that good old country guitar

she’s my Nashville queen
up there singin Hank
as I think what could have been
I put a dollar in the bucket and save ten for the tank

“Just a feeling of solidarity with the entire city sharing an unabashed and serious reverence for the art of song.  Songs are spoken about like special memories and their success, financial and otherwise is talked up by tour guides with a kind of national pride you might have listing someone’s achievements of bravery during war.  Guitars are gems and music notes and 5-line staves mark everything like hieroglyphs in a pyramid tomb… Full of beans and gatorade I head over to the Ryman and after a high speed debate with myself in the queue I take the plunge and pay $20 to record an original song in the booth just off the stalls area.  Looking out on the same set of seats as Neil Young did on the Prairie Wind DVD actually settles the nerves (more of them than usual, not surprising I suppose) and one take seems to be enough, since the vibe was right – right, Elvis?”

That recording can be heard here:



You already know what Vegas is like.  It’s no different (no better) in the flesh…

in 3 days we’ll be home so what should we do?
there’s the overnight casino and the Monte Carlo pool
whatever we decide upon
I’m in if it’s with you

in 2 days we’ll be home so what should we do?
there’s the country’s largest gift shop and the stratosphere tower view
whatever street you take me down
I’m down if it’s with you

can we go, can we just get outta here?

in 10 hours we’ll be home so what should we do?
there’s the seatbelt sign and landing and the 2 hour passport queue
however long it takes this time
I’m in if it’s with you

can we go, can we just get outta here?

“I accompany Tom to the black jack table on the promise of a beer.  It’s awkward but I stay there until I’ve slowly supped the bud light – beers are free if you are gambling, expensive if not… there goes the great dilemma of Vegas.  He seems to be holding his own.  His great defining characteristic – wanting to go to bed early – comes to the fore here, because the sensible gambler backs out early.  I hope he’s done that since I left.  I finish my last glass of wine in the room looking out on the strip and plainly looking forward to leaving.  Time’s kinda up.”


Road Movie II

The second of a pair of instrumentals, this one darker and more reflective, a fitting follow-on to the frustration of Vegas.  This one includes cypher-motifs from: MS, LA, TX, NM, CO, UT, AZ and NV.  Other bits of anoraky composer info are that the digits from the total number of miles we travelled 4532 was used to shape the overall structure and that the time given to each state’s motif is roughly proportional to the time we spent there.  Obvs.



Tend This Flame

Partly written before going, and originally intended to be a new original song for In the Smoke.  In the end the other characters muscled in:  TJ was a waiter in a Mexican restaurant in Austin who was forlornly marvelling at how far we’d travelled, as if was doomed never to make it out of the country; Jonathan is a musician we met in Austin – check him out; Kevin was our guide showing us the dinosaur footprints in the Navajo Nations near Tuba City, he’d casually walk around this wasteland squirting water from a bottle to mark out the imprints on the ground.

waiting for the phone to ring
I’m worried have they heard from him
it’s like Tyler from Rhode Island says: he’ll be back before you know

driving with the wipers on
deciding that tomorrow’s gone
it’s like Kevin from the desert says: we all have to set the sun

and I will tend this flame make no mistake
til you decide again that there’s a chance to take
I will tend this flame until there’s nothin more to say that you don’t know anyway

waking with the door unlocked
I’m washing the hands on the clock
it’s like TJ from Texas said to Jonathan from Flag: we gotta make it to the coast

reminding myself once again
that quiet is my oldest friend
like when Kevin from the desert stood and poured out his bottle on the ground

and I will tend this flame make no mistake
til you decide again that there’s a chance to take
I will tend this flame until there’s nothin more to say that you don’t know anyway

and they’ll sail the border until the dot is a line
and rear view mirrors will send them old valentines
and those foreign oceans will carry them back through the time of their lives

and I will tend this flame make no mistake
til you decide again that there’s a chance to take
I will tend this flame until there’s nothin more to say that you don’t know anyway

“Road trips aren’t movies – the plot doesn’t have an arc.  They are list – a selection of tourisms threaded together so they accumulate.  They say a change is as good as a break.  Putting all these little changes in a row has the effect of multiplying the break.  I never got any further with the dichotomy of standing back to watch, seeing only the glitzy surface vs. involvement and immersion, risking finding out that there is nothing exciting about 99% of people’s lives – nothing to take away.  As expected I wasn’t especially inspired but reassured and affirmed.  It was great to have the time, space, speed and breath to reflect over a long period of time.  No epiphanies but, as a way of taking time out, I’d recommend the “road trip” to anyone.  Maybe Damascus next year.  MDH.”

America grainy group

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