Album of the Month Archive
January 2018 Album of the Month: ‘Fire' - Midnight Skyracer
'Fire' is one of those albums that falls squarely into the ‘play it again’ bracket because from first to last, the moment it finishes, you want to hear it all over again. The debut album from Midnight Skyracer is a definite supercharge for that wonderful expression ‘British-built bluegrass, which began with a trickle that's become a deluge - and I love it. ‘Fire’ combines seven self-penned pieces, traditional and bluegrass classics - tradition and contemporary working hand in hand and no sign of a join, and it’s seriously good. Harmonies to die for, delicious voices and succulent instrumentation.
The originals include absolute crackers like the ripping opener ‘Fuel To My Fire’, ‘Virginia Rose’ with its wistful feel, the punchy‘So Long, Goodbye We’re Through’ and the reflective ‘They Want Go’. Tradition is represented by a roaring ‘get –your-feet-on-the-floor’ take on ‘Susan Anna Gal’ – outstanding stuff, from there they give a fine rendition of two bluegrass classics with‘Working Girl Blues’ by the wonderful Hazel Dickens and Bill Monroe’s supremely sorrowful ‘Sitting Alone In The Moonlight’.
‘Midnight Skyracer’ is a ‘new’ band even though its members are well-regarded, exceptional musicians. Listening to ‘Fire’ it’s obvious that ‘Midnight Skyracer’ has a long way to run, probably at full throttle. They are Tabitha Agnew (banjo, lead/ harmony vocals) Charlotte Carrivick (guitar, harmony vocals) Laura Carrivick (fiddle, Dobro, lead/ harmony vocals)Leanne Thorose (mandolin, lead vocals) and Eleanor Wilkie (double bass). Website: www.midnightskyracer.com
December 2017 Album of the Month: ‘Bring Back Home' - Ange Hardy
Incidents and accidents have a way of just happening ... they also have a way of shaping our world, or at least how we view it. You can look askance at life, become involved, fall its victim or make yourself its equal. The voyage that brought Ange Hardy to deliver ‘Bring Back Home’ proves she understands the vagaries of chance and the positivity of choice. This collection returns to more observational and personal views, changing perspective from the concept and themed approach of the previous two albums.
Deeply rooted in the folk tradition yet bursting with originality and invention, ‘Bring Back Home’ stands continuing proof, were any needed, that Ange Hardy ranks among our most meaningful and respected folk musicians. Her interpretation of two ‘classic’ traditionals is faultless while her touch on the 12 originals is inspired. Opening with ‘Sisters Three’ ... standard folk-fare woven with jealousy, murder and mystical happenings, before the inspirational ‘Once I Was A Rose’ tugs at the heart and the poignant ‘Bring Back Home’ tells its sad tale of loss. Continuing a story that Ange introduced on the album Barefoot Folk, ‘The Hunter, The Prey’ is a darkly moral tale of a hunter hunted and killed by his son, as ‘Summer’s Day/ Little Wilscombe’ lifts the mood with its pastoral message.
Two interpretations of tradition are ‘Claudy Banks’ combined with a spritely reel ahead of ‘Waters of Tyne’ with lamenting lovers separated by said river. There follows two inimitable originals: ‘A Girl Like Her’ for Ange’s daughter, inspires a wider and positive standpoint on Asperger’s and ADHD, before ‘What May You Do For The JAM?’ with its themes of social awareness, understanding and respect inspired by Theresa May’s observation that some families are “just about managing.” This is a wonderful album. Joining Ange Hardy (vocals, harp, guitar, whistle) on ‘Bring Back Home’ are Peter Knight (fiddle, vocals, backing vocals) Lukas Drinkwater (bass, guitar, backing vocals) Evan Carson (percussion) Alex Cumming (accordion) Jon Dyer (flute, whistle) and Lee Cuff (cello, backing vocals). Website: www.angehardy.com
November 2017 Album of the Month: ‘Angels & Men' - Kate Rusby
Always slightly suspicious of ‘the Christmas album’, I now feel like Scrooge following his encounter with spirits and Christmas-morning ‘conversion’. This particular revelation arrived through a concoction of Christmas songs, sacred and secular, ancient and contemporary ... ‘Angels & Men’ from Kate Rusby. A measure of festive spirit that’s nothing less than pure spiritual joy. Lovingly crafted, exquisitely produced and presented to perfection ... through a voice that possesses an indefinable attraction to set it apart from all others.
Opening with a gorgeous interpretation of ‘Hark, Hark’ complete with rich brass accents, it moves to an inspired version of ‘Let It Snow’, which is clearly how it should have sounded in the first place, then Kate’s evocative vocals make Chris Sugden’s light-hearted ‘The Ivy And The Holly’ a lyrical experience to savour: “Oh the ivy has a berry, As black as any Sin, It’s not much use in jams or pies, And horrible in gin.” There follows a stunning take on ‘Sweet Chiming Bells’ ... by now the splendour is almost too much to take, before Kate’s elegant version of ‘See Amid The Winter Snow’, once again with that warm brass, becomes another revelation.
It was once said that Richard Burton was blessed with such a magnificent voice people would listen to him read the Greater London telephone directory, if that is any measure of perfection, then I would listen to Kate Rusby sing it. The proof of that flawlessness lives in her versions of ‘Rolling Downward’, an inspired ‘Deck The Halls’ and positively gorgeous take on Richard Thompson’s ‘We’ll Sing Hallelujah’, beforeKate takes a ‘look-forward’ as Christmas fades, the year turns and the New Year beckons with ‘Let The Bells Ring’. Adding a touch of festive humour Kate treats us to ‘Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo’ by David Myles, complete with Ron Block on banjo, and a Christmas outing for that magnificent Barnsley hero in ‘Big Brave Bill Saves Christmas’ ... absolute magic.
‘Angels & Men’ releases on 24 November on the Pure Records label ... need that exceptional Christmas gift for yourself or for a loved one ... this album is the best you can do. Website: www.katerusby.com
October 2017 Album of the Month: ‘Anarchy And Love' - Adrian Nation
Think of a powerfully emotive voice, softly honest and richly listenable, couple that to a consummate skill on guitar, with perceptive lyrical delivery that verges on inspirational, and that’s Adrian Nation. His latest album ‘Anarchy and Love’, combines all the above and has been my constant companion for a while now. It continues to fascinate and has the makings of a long-time companion.
Bring to mind anyone that’s going to cover Runrig’s dramatic 'Rocket to the Moon' and firstly: make it work, then secondly: make it their own ... the list is going to be pretty short but somewhere near the top will be this man and that’s how he opens ‘Anarchy and Love’. From there, Nation’s keenly felt observational songs take the listener on a journey through personal travels and places, loves lost and found, challenges met and overcome. There’s also a sharp focus on the wider experience of people being ‘in that place’ where profound issues take over and react to what happens ... Nation reflects those moments to make them come alive.
From the haunting 'Benderloch Stone' through the evocative 'Anarchy and Love' with its drive to the supremely beautiful 'With or Without Me' this album exerts a hold you won’t want to let go. With its savage honesty 'Dying of Democracy' takes an acerbic view of the human condition with its similarities and the divisions, before the reality of'River in the Rain' with its exquisite homage to Nation’s father with its soul-touching presence and to close, a moving take on 'A Man's A Man' by Robert Burns. And to allow you to soak in the man’s skill with a guitar there are two instrumentals to savour 'Carpe Meridianus' and 'Ezzu' ... enjoy. ‘Anarchy and Love’ is an album of genuine sincerity and truth, revealing much of the artist’s soul and in its inimitable way, touches you own. Website: adriannation.com
September 2017 Album of the Month: ‘It Isn't Over Yet' - Red Shoes
With the new album arrived from Red Shoes, response here ranged from: “At long last, it’s been a long wait” to “Hopefully not a hidden message.” Our reactions aside, ‘It Isn’t Over Yet’ from Red Shoes may be more prosaically summed up as ‘... among the very best albums we’ve heard this year’ ... simple as that.
So what do you get? A double album that reflects both their presence as a full-blown band with some seriously powerful ‘friends’ involved plus the stripped-back sound of Carolyn and Mark Evans as a duo. Whichever route you take, band or duo, they’re delivering supremely emotive songs. The ‘voice’ is still there ... utterly involving and intensely affecting ... Carolyn’s vocals have long given Red Shoes a unique presence, and nothing changes. There’s also their ability to craft memorable melodies that quite simply reach out and touch that part of your soul where feeling lives ... whenever you listen to Red Shoes, be prepared to experience the poignant and the tender.
The ‘band’ CD entitled ‘Act One’ opens with the reflective swing of ‘Salters Screen’ a song inspired by a cinema and featuring Joe Brown on dobro and backing vocals, ‘Dust In The Hallway’ adds a mournful country tinge, while the painful sentiment of ‘Hostile Place’ cataloguing a break-up hits hard ... an experience to make you weep. They move into a classic Red Shoes offering with ‘It Isn’t Over Yet’, before the quintessence of ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ carries its powerful message. Their ‘duo’ CD ‘Act Two’ begins with the deeply meaningful ‘Floorspot Annie’ as you’re swept into the narrative by Carolyn’s vocals, the expressive story of ‘Six Boats’ with Mark leading on vocal, their potent, challenging and haunting rewrite of ‘Reynardine’ and to finish, the beautiful ‘Martha’s Song’. ‘Act One’ of ‘It Isn’t Over Yet’ includes Carolyn Evans (vocals, backing vocals) Mark Evans (vocals, acoustic guitars) Nigel King (acoustic guitars, electric guitars, backing vocals) Rob Mason (drums, percussion) Dave Pegg (bass, mandolin, bass, ukulele) Ric Sanders (violin) with special guset Joe Brown (dobro, backing vocals), while the ‘Act Two’ features Carolyn, Mark and Nigel King ... doing exactly what they do best with unerring skill. Website: www.redshoes-music.com
August 2017: ‘Wild & Wicked Youth' Kim Lowings and The Greenwood
Some albums take time to grow on you. Some never make a connection. This one takes no time at all and the connection is instantaneous. Take any aspect ... voice, instrumentation, arrangements, melodies ... it matters not where you begin or end, the attraction is immediate and lasting. The album is ‘Wild & Wicked Youth’ from Kim Lowings and The Greenwood. The depth of folk tradition is evident, as is a freedom of invention, the result is dynamic, invigorating, different and exceptional.
Kim’s voice comes with a warmth and richness that engages from the first, as throughout each song it holds the story, changing in emphasis and presence to perfectly match message and mood. The appeal is also driven by the way the instruments soar around each other, sparring and dodging, driving the tunes but never too hard ... dulcimers, bouzouki, guitar, double bass, cajon, violins and piano ... and from start to finish there’s a continual flow of memorable hooks.
From the outset the mix of tradition and innovation is addictive, the prophetic folk rock pulse of ’In Spirit’ leads you into the album, it’s followed by a fine take on the multi-versed ‘Oyster Girl’, there’s a splendid percussive version of ‘The Cuckoo’, a totally different take on ‘Bold Reilly’ before they move into another many-versioned and familiar murder ballad given a singular feel, ‘Oh The Wind and The Rain’. There are other ‘stand-outs’ on ‘Wild & Wicked Youth’, the cautionary and eminently listenable ‘The Tortoise and The Hare’, the sparkling ‘Wyle Cop and The Wonderful Mr. Clark’ and another slice of inventive tradition with ‘The Newry Highwayman’. Kim Lowings and The Greenwood are: Kim Lowings (vocals, Appalachian dulcimer, stick dulcimer, piano) Andrew 'Jarv' Lowings (guitar, bouzouki, bodhran, backing vocals) Dave Sutherland (double bass, backing vocals, guitar) and Tim Rogers (cajon, percussion, drum kit) with guest musicians on selected tracks Lewis Jones (melodeon) Shannon Johnson (violin) and Ami Oprenova (violin). Website: www.kimlowings.com
July 2017: ‘Windrose' The Routes Quartet
Creating something new in terms of style, approach and instrumentation and integrating it to any genre could be considered something of a long shot. Taking the string quartet into the realms of folk music with its wide acceptance of innovation might be less of a gamble but it’s still a bold step. Then again, listen to the gorgeous mélange of music created by The Routes Quartet with their debut album ‘Windrose’ and it becomes the most sound and obvious decision to make ... not only because the blend works so well but mainly because The Routes Quartet do it supremely well. A talent for creative composition, saturated with traditional jigs, reels and marches, fused to a classic string quartet, allied to a wealth of tradition ... ‘Windrose’ is the result.
The quartet is Rufus Huggan (cello) Emma Tomlinson (viola) Gràinne Brady (fiddle) and Tricia Mullan (fiddle) ... together they explore the richness of the string quartet combined with cultural and musical influences from Scottish, Irish and English traditional music. The opening reel and jig combination of ‘Roisin and Paddy’ makes it obvious you’re listening to something both different and exceptional in approach and scope, from there the music saturates your senses ... the softly embracing ‘The Gentlemen’s Farewell’, the portentous ‘Trinkamp’, beguiling ‘The Quartz Jig’ and deeply meaningful ‘Retreat Marches’. ‘Windrose’ is an experience to savour, within its hold you’ll hear folk tunes presented as never before take time to imbue its depths ... rewards await. Website: www.routesstringquartet.com
June 2017: ‘No Heaven' Chapin-Wickwar
This music doesn’t come from the head, it comes from the heart. And that’s where ‘No Heaven’ from Chapin-Wickwar hits you, in the depths of your humanity, that place where your soul resides. Back in 2015, acoustic duo Sue and Lisa Chapin Wickwar released ‘If…’ a debut album lusciously delivered, emotionally rich and powerfully candid ... now comes ‘No Heaven’ and once again forges a pure and perfect connection between artists and audience through nakedly revealing and sensitive soul-baring songs.
Opening with the beautiful ‘I Am Ready’ you’re immediately aware of the synergy that exists between this duo, a languid softly-delivered melody holds the confessions of ‘Afraid of Love’, while within its reflective musical presence ‘Black & Blue’imparts its harrowing message. The title track ‘No Heaven’ is as revealing as it gets and most people will relate, the heartache of ‘Leave Me Here’ is almost too much to bear and ‘I Will Wait’ is capable of softening the hardest of hearts ... and if the power of ‘Refugee’ is heard in the right places, it may become an anthem for change. For those that know Lisa and Sue, there’s the same deft touch on the strings, never too much, always just enough. There’s the same fluid intermingling of harmonies. There’s voices blending perfectly to breathe life into superlatively emotive lyrics. A follow-up is often described as ‘that difficult second album’ ... ‘No Heaven’ is clearly a labour of love, given the personal presence poured into it, however with this album Lisa and Sue have proved that the second can surpass the first.
Chapin-Wickwar is a musical partnership based on shared love, shared truth and shared expression ... ‘No Heaven’ allows us to share that experience ... and it’s something well worth sharing. Playing on ‘No Heaven’ are Lisa Chapin-Wickwar (vocals, rhythm guitar, lead guitar) Sue Chapin-Wickwar (vocals, rhythm guitar) Ray Turley (harmonica) Gaile Stevens (piano) and Richard Casson (bongos). Website: www.chapin-wickwar.com
May 2017: 'All We Have Is Now' - Elephant Sessions
Following and possibly surpassing something utterly different and ground-breaking is less than easy, especially when it includes the potential spectre of that ‘difficult second album’ lurking in the wings. With the follow up to their debut ‘The Elusive Highland Beauty’ ‘neo-trad quintet’, Elephant Sessions demonstrate that for them at least and their second album, ‘All We Have Is Now’ there are no such problems. Once again, these skilled, creative musicians mix their interpreted influences of traditional Highland roots with the rampant freedom of inventive rock and funk mixed with electronics to deliver an unrestrained essay of iridescence.
Possibly, this time they have moved further into their art perfecting the result into a cleaner and crisper, more together feel while still retaining that essential fearlessness to go where the desire takes them. The moment ‘Wet Field Day’ opens you’re back with the inimitable Elephant Sessions sound ... elaborate, elusive melodies soaring across a thumping funk foundation, from there they move into a softer reflective mood with ‘Lament For Lost Dignity’ ... still with that readily recognisable drive but this time slightly muted. A fuller sound returns with the wonderfully titled ‘Misty Badger’, ahead of the ethereal echoes of ‘Summer’ and ‘Fran’s’ that sweep you to somewhere mysterious and dreamlike, before they close with the high-energy intensity of ‘Doofer’.
I’ve observed before, their music has an elegance that becomes more evident the more you listen, the same definitely applies to ‘All We Have Is Now’, each time you listen something new and ear-catching makes itself felt, engaging and embracing your attention. ‘All We Have Is Now’ is played by Elephant Sessions: Euan Smillie (fiddle) Seth Tinsley (bass, synths) Alasdair Taylor (mandolin) Greg Barry (drums, percussion) and Mark Bruce (guitars) and features Laura Wilkie (violin) Andrew waite (piano accordion) Susan Applebe (cello) Andy may (keys) and Tamzene (vocal sample). Website: elephantsessions.com
April 2017: 'All Grown Up' - Tinderbox
Growing old isn’t optional it’s a fact of life, growing up is a decision ... nothing more. Eventually, a time comes when the former makes its presence felt, like it or not. Then again, that still leaves time to make a choice about the latter ... some make it wisely, others live with regret, for a few find the decision is made for them. ‘All Grown Up’, the latest album from Tinderbox explores both growing old and growing up, the impact of both and how they touch both young and old ... and the result is perfect, simply perfect. This is a five-star album, no question. The foundations that underpin Tinderbox encompass all the constituents needed to create something exceptional ... Monique Houraghan’s startling, clear and devastatingly emotive voice, the musical interplay between guitarist and songwriter Dan Tucker and multi-instrumentalist Bob Burke, and their intuitive interaction as a trio. This time around they’ve widened and expanded the Tinderbox sound by adding extra instruments to the line-up ... lead guitar breaks, violin and whistle accents ... adding spellbinding depth to the whole.
Listening to this album is an unreserved pleasure ... the contemplative memories of ‘Easy and Carefree’, time-worn guidance everyone recognises in ‘Life Is For The Living’, the importance of the ordinary sealed within ‘Down The Track’ and with its melody to die for, the singularly beautiful ‘Don’t Wake Me Up’. There’s the purity of unconditional love in ‘Leave Your Light On’, the potent brilliance of ‘All Grown Up’ revealing the deep understanding of what it means to be a parent and the vivid child-imagination of ‘Sparkledust’.Even the insert, with its collection of faces displaying youthful innocence, expectation and promise contributes to the undeniable magnetism of ‘All Grown Up’.
Tinderbox are Monique Houraghan (vocals) Dan Tucker (guitar) and Bob Burke (guitar, piano) and playing with them on ‘All Grown Up’ are Dave Eales (drums) Darren Shaw (percussion) Lucy Kavanagh (bass) Frank Boyle (lead guitar) Catherine Burke (whistles) Annie Bayliss (violin, viola) with backing vocals provided by Monique, Bob, Annie and Gareth Lee. Website: tinderboxacoustic.com
March 2017: 'Bury Me Naked' - Roving Crows
Hard on the heels of their first outing ‘Bacchanalia, an album entitled ‘Deliberate Distractions’ created something of a stir, then came an EP called ‘Up Heaval’, which left you wanting more ... and now here comes the long awaited follow up ... ‘Bury Me Naked’ from Roving Crows ... and it’s bloody marvellous. Want to wrap your head around innovative, vivavious, pulsating Celtic folk rock? Look no further, this could become the definition of the style. Fast or slow, and there’s both, the songs come with an insistence that demands attention. Addictive hooks remain in your mind, cleaving guitar claims your ears, soaring fiddle breaks sweep you away while a drive of bass, synths and percussion pound home the message; add to that melange some wickedly sharp and poignant lyrics and you have ‘Bury Me Naked’. Now, I’ll be the first to admit a certain affinity for the directness and strength of this music, that and the evolution of soundscapes through their potpourri of instruments but whatever your musical predilection you’re going to love this.
The opener ‘Bury Me Naked’ makes intentions clear, followed by the style mix of ‘New York Love Song’ and ‘Refugee’, from there the subtle clarity of ‘Riverside’ grabs you and refuses to release. A fierce instrumental ‘Fire Sky’ rips it out while the softer approach of ‘If I Had To Choose’ strikes home, as does the melancholy narration of ‘Last Breath’. Through a percussive, guitar-driven apocalypse ‘Revolution Is Now’ tears into the ‘rigged system’ before ‘Glory Bound’ makes its considerable presence felt without ambiguity ... folk rock in top gear. ‘Bury Me Naked’ releases 8 April 2017 ... online retail sites will crash, record shop queues will be down the street.
Roving Crows are Caitlin Barrett (fiddle, lead and backing vocals) Paul O’Neil (lead vocals, electric and acoustic guitars) Loz Shaw (bass guitars, backing vocals, keyboards, synths, baritone electric and acoustic guitars, clarinet, banjolina, kalimba) and Tim Downes-Hall (bongos, congas, cajon, snare drums, cymbals, djembes, timbale, shakers, floor tom, gong drum).
February 2017: ‘Routes' - The Hut People
It’s not every day that you hear something unique. Something so unlike anything else that your brain takes a start and you have to check that what you’re hearing. Back to the first track to make sure ... and yes, there it is, utterly different and wholly addictive.
From their first studio album in 2010, ‘Home Is Where The Hut Is’ through ‘Picnic’ two years later to ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ in 2014, The Hut People have consistently produced a sound that’s outright ‘different’ and ‘innovative’ ... with their latest outing, ‘Routes’, Sam Pirt and Gary Hammond have stepped up a gear with their combination of riveting accordion and enthralling percussion. ‘Routes’ sweeps across an eclectic and boundless sea of influences, taking music from wherever inspiration lands and crafts it into an inimitable sound.
The explosion arrives with the ‘Humours of Tulla’ reel, continues with the sparkling ‘Gumboot’ derived from gumboot dancing in the diamond mines of Apartheid South Africa, and the pulsating presence of ‘The Cage’. These are followed by such wide-ranging offerings as ‘The Whitby Drip’, inspired by a toilet cistern, ‘Dis Found Harmonium’ bringing a Basque influence, a longing version of‘Sweet Nightingale’, the tongue firmly in cheek excesses of ‘Maids Stomach’ and the Maypole dancing of ‘Brighton Camp’. Add it all together and ‘Routes’ is a journey through the unique world of The Hut People ... you're either moved to foot-tapping and silly leaping, held in rapt attention and suspended belief, taken with sparkling musicianship and vibrant innovation ... and on a journey that's entirely exceptional. Website: www.thehutpeople.com
January 2017: ‘Long Lost Home' - Daria Kulesh
Some singers have the ability to pour their being into song. Those that possess that talent, combined with the strength and vulnerability to do so, create an experience that brings the audience terrifyingly close to the passion in their soul. Daria Kulesh has both the fragile openness and potency of lyric to achieve such musical intimacy with a ‘oneness’ that enables her to personify both singer and song. Her latest solo album, ‘Long Lost Home’ takes that enchanted flair, connects with her personal heritage and cultural history to carry the listener along with the clear-sightedness of an artist that ‘lives’ the message.
The ethereal and eerie percussive tones of ‘Tamara’ lead into this magical album, from there ‘The Moon and the Pilot’ reveals sorrow few can imagine, before ‘Safely Wed’ and ‘Amanat’ divulge their own disturbing tales. Daria has a purity of voice that makes the telling of these stories both moving and distressing ... and quite simply you experience all the emotion that’s expressed. The simply articulated anguish of ‘Distant Love/ Gyanar Bezam’ touches the soul, while the powerful accusations and exacting truths of ‘The Panther’ and ‘Like a God’ are amplified as Daria’s voice adopts a commanding presence. There’s true intuitive feeling here, words and music from the heart ... one listen to ‘Only Begun’ is evidence enough.
Using human experience, particularly her grandmother’s homeland of Ingushetia in the Caucasus Mountains, ‘Long Lost Home’ relates harrowing narratives of deportation, oppression, loss and fear in a truly human way. And yet , despite the sadness, the fire remains, the fervour of an indomitable spirit burning with a fierce desire.With ‘Long Lost Home’ Daria Kulesh delivers an aural masterpiece of intensity ... reflecting resilience, compassion and understanding. With a potency of voice and exceptional musicians, it is an indisputable privilege to fall into its embrace. Website: www.daria-kulesh.co.uk
December 2016: 'Night Hours' - Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith
It seems a long time since their debut album, ‘Let The Wind Blow High Or Low’ introduced their music and voices to the wider folk world. With that album Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith reflected the endurance of tradition coupled with the spur of innovation, their follow up ‘Night Hours’ takes their reverence for heritage coupled with a boldness to invent and connects it to their undoubted gift for narrative song. That union gives ‘Night Hours’ a commanding human edge, for whenever in time these songs originate, long ago or directly from Aldridge and Goldsmith, there’s a link to lives lived by people, the struggles they face and their common stand against adversity.
The essence of this album moves through examinations of striving, perseverance, compassion, deliverance and resilience. The understanding and synergy between the artists, their voices and their music is self-evident.
The solitude of ‘Night Hours’ touches from the first, as does their take on ‘Bonny Bunch Of Roses’, the despair within ‘The Ballad of Yorkley Court’ is relieved by the spirit and shared strength of ‘Mary And The Soldier’. From the sense of despair in ‘Moved On’ to the loss and sorrow of ‘The Grazier Tribe’, Aldridge and Goldsmith prove their ability to reflect social inequality through a precise focus on the plight of individual people.
‘Night Hours’ amounts to a masterful expression of story-telling and musicianship. Jimmy Aldridge (vocals, banjo, fiddle) and Sid Goldsmith (vocals, guitar, double bass, concertina) are joined by James Gavin (fiddle) Tommie Black-Roff (accordion) and Dominic Henderson (Uilleann pipes, whistles). Website: www.jimmyandsidduo.com
November 2016: ‘Bloodlines’ - Merry Hell
By any measure Merry Hell are classic proponents of classic English folk rock ... the music, the songs, the themes and lyrics place this band firmly in England ... and fully aware of and prepared to reveal its injustices, faults, conflicts, social issues and absentee politics, still they celebrate their homeland. Their latest album of socio-political comment, raging against injustice and ever-enduring hope, ‘Bloodlines’ is a worthy follow up to their previous outing ‘The Ghost In Our House’. In true Merry Hell style the songs range from powerful heart-pumping anthems through soft tear-jerking ballads to distinctive songs of perceptive observation and comment.
The strength of ‘Bloodlines’ resides in its fearless social examinations, single-minded embracing narratives, memorable melodies and hook laden compositions. It’s there in the striking lead vocals, formidable guitar riffs, pirouetting mandolin breaks, intense fiddle inflections and driving bass.
The power of Merry Hell’s anthemic songs arrive laden with enough spirit to move your soul and implore you to join in, the deliver the reasons why we are where we are, within ‘We Need Each Other Now’ and echo a cry for understanding, equality and justice with ‘Come On England’. The softer edges of Merry Hell come through the acutely affecting ‘When We Are Old’, the poignant ‘Sailing too Close to the Wind’ and the memorable melody and piercing lyric of ‘Under the Overkill’ while for social comment and a rage against inequity you could do no better than ‘Stand Down’ or the defiance of ‘Over The Wall’ through lyrics that take no prisoners. Merry Hell is a band that continues to deliver songs with an utterly compelling edge, songs with real-world meaningful narratives and relevance, in short, a band that grows in stature with each successive album ... and that my friends is all you could ever ask. Merry Hell are Andrew Kettle (vocals) Virginia Kettle (vocals) John Kettle (guitar) Bob Kettle (mandolin, bouzouki) Nick Davies (bass) Lee Goulding (keyboards) Neil McCartney (fiddle, backing vocals) and Andy Jones (drums). Merry Hell website: www.merryhell.co.uk
October 2016: ‘Life In A Paper Boat’ - Kate Rusby
Few original words, if any, remain to be written about Kate Rusby and her music. There are not many without running out of plaudits or risking dissolving into sugary-sweet appreciation. The iconic purity of voice, the feel for tradition, the ability to express every nuance of a song, they’re all there in her latest album ‘Life In A Paper Boat’ but to explore the desire for an original ‘mot juste’, there’s something else. And that’s a ‘difference’ to this album, subtle I’ll admit but different nonetheless ... the vibrant interpretation of traditionals, the allure of the originals, the pervading electronics, while across all the inimitable touch of production by Damien O’Kane taking the songs to somewhere not always expected yet always intriguing.
Which taken as a whole, means that ‘Life In A Paper Boat’ is an album that start-to-finish brings every track, ‘tradition arranged’ or ‘original composition’ from its place of beginning through the metamorphosis of interpretation to point expression to a unique existence. This is where true freshness is added to tradition and superbly controlled innovation is paired with heritage ... and essentially, still searching for that killer word, I would quite simply call ‘Life In A Paper Boat’ a ‘triumph’.
The evidence for that assertion lies in the reworking of such pleasures as ‘Benjamin Bowmaneer’, ‘The Ardent Shepherdess’ with a crisp new tune and the ‘Pace Egging Song’ while originals such as the stunning ‘Hunter Moon’, the moving ‘Life In A Paper Boat’, a cautionary ‘I’ll Be Wise’ and the wonderful tale of the Yorkshire superhero ‘Big Brave Bill’ amply prove gifted talent at work. Fundamentally, five stars are insufficient, but in the absence of any alternative level of recognition then ‘Life In A Paper Boat’ from Kate Rusby deserves five stars.Website: www.katerusby.com
September 2016: ‘No Petticoats Here’ - Louise Jordan
An ocean of words has been expended on the criminal, profligate waste of life and the far reaching, cataclysmic social changes brought about by the First World War. To add more words seems superfluous. However, with considerable empathy for the subject, Louise Jordan has created ‘No Petticoats Here’, an album that definitely transcends the gratuitous and perfectly presents a little explored facet of the conflict. For the first time in history, women did not remain ‘at home’ waiting for the black-edged telegram, waving wet handkerchiefs to departing loved ones or soothing the fevered brows of returning troops. There were women who stepped outside convention, defied the establishment and actively took on challenging roles, many traditionally reserved for men.
Through Louise's poignant lyrics and haunting music ‘No Petticoats Here’ gives voice to real-life narratives about exceptional individuals ... women who dressed as soldiers, drove ambulances, set up front-line first aid posts, played football to raise funds, spied on the enemy and invented a method of dispelling poison gas ... women who overcame prejudice, chauvinism, intolerance and misogyny to achieve what they set out to do.
The album opens with ’The Pride of The Army’ inspired by Ada Hind, Staff Matron-in-Chief of Southern Command, British Army and recipient of the Royal Red Cross and bar for services to military nursing, moves to ‘Perhaps’ a poem written by feminist and writer Vera Brittain, who became a Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.) nurse. The stories take a different turn with ‘Shoulder to Shoulder’ about women munitions workers playing fundraising football matches for soldiers’ children and families (before the FA banned women from playing football in 1921) while the powerful songs ‘Freewheeling’ about Dorothy Lawrence who dressed as soldier to experience the front-line at first hand, and ‘Ripple and Flow’ relating Hestha Ayrton’s research in the field of science.
Louise Jordan has with ‘No Petticoats Here’ created a landmark album that is engrossing and entrancing and a fitting tribute to some exceptional women. If there’s one album you really should own, then this is it. Release date: 30th September 2016. Discover more here: www.nopetticoatshere.co.uk – www.louisejordan.co.uk
August 2016: 'No Smaller Than The World' - Broom Bezzums
Released almost a year ago in Germany, Broom Bezzums, aka Mark Bloomer and Andrew Cadie release their album ‘No Smaller Than The World’ in the UK on 26th August 2016. Established in Germany as a leading folk duo, far too many people in the UK remain unaware of their music, hopefully this album and a return tour will go some way to change that. The music of Broom Bezzums owes much to Bloomer’s Black Country heritage and Cadie’s Northumbrian roots, combining tradition with originality, histories with narratives ... the result seamlessly presented on ‘No Smaller Than The World’.
Making much of its blended instrumental weave and the duo’s rich, complementary voices, with precise vocal accents added by Katie Doherty, this album has both reach and depth. It opens with Bloomer’s darkly ominous ‘Cold Winds Blow’ and Cadie’s maritime influenced ‘Keep Hauling’ ahead of the ‘Ashgill Force Rant’ instrumental and Doherty’s potent ‘Passing Through’. ‘No Smaller Than The World’ will gain your undivided attention and hold it ... classic folk music at its best. Among the 15 tracks that make up the album is a powerful version of ‘High Germany’, a traditional Northumbrian song ‘Bonny At Morn’, an incredibly moving ‘Down By The River’, a cover of Jez Lowe’s ‘Bare Knuckle’, another instrumental outing with ‘Hen In The Pen’ before the distressing message of ‘The Drawbridge’.
Bringing ‘No Smaller Than The World’ to life are Mark Bloomer (vocals, guitar, mandola, drums, cajon, percussion) Andrew Cadie (vocals, fiddle, acoustic and electric guitar, Northumbrian pipes, trumpet, piano) and Katy Doherty (vocals) with the added talents of a host of musicians and vocalists. Find album and band here: www.broombezzums.com
July 2016: 'Timeline' - Donald MacNeill & Roberto Diana
Donald MacNeill proved with his 2011 album ‘Fathers and Sons’ that he is a musician with a keenly observant eye and an impressive sense of rendering his observations into songs that readily take his listeners into his insightful world. Now in partnership with Sardinian composer Roberto Diana, comes another sharply focused and sensitive album, ‘Timeline’. And if there’s a point where this album relaxes its powerful and encompassing intensity, I’ve yet to find it.
The minutiae with which MacNeill sees everyday instances releases images that for many would pass by in a split-second to be forever forgotten. In contrast, his songs capture those moments and magnify them to their rightful level of importance. Multi-instrumentalist, Diana employs a mercurial touch on electric and acoustic guitar, lap steel and bass, piano and cello, to pour expression into MacNeill’s songs. ‘Timeline’ feeds on the persistence of memory, marking the passing of days with a strong remembrance that remains despite the changing days. It’s also an homage to a lived-in heritage moving through time ... sometimes familiar and friendly, sometimes strange and disturbing. It is this intimate crafting of songs that although intensely personal, offers each listener an openness that renders their poignancy readily understood.
A penetrating personal scrutiny and concentrated musicianship that produces the sharp understanding of ‘My Mother Rode Her Motorbike’, a harrowing reflection on dealing with trauma, the confusion and recrimination sealed within ‘No Tears, No Chains’, and the unlooked for truth and personal pain of ‘Brightest Star’, featuring Jen MacNeill on vocal. From the recreated time-shift of ‘The Hall In ‘59’ and ‘The Journey’ with their finely-crafted historical perspective to the startling frankness and implicit understanding of those moments that remain forever with ‘Home Is Where The Dog Is’. Together, MacNeill and Diana have crafted an album that’s dazzling in its simple beauty and dramatic in its revelations. Find artists and album here:donaldmacneill.altervista.org
June 2016: 'Paper of Pins' - Vicki Swann & Jonny Dyer
A wholly unique blending of tradition and contemporary with unrivalled empathy for an exceptional tune, sensitive arrangements and dazzling melodies ... that inspired alignment makes every album from Vicki Swann & Jonny Dyer something to be waited for with anticipation and savoured with exhilaration. Their latest album ‘Paper of Pins’ is no exception. It’s all there ... Jonny’s wonderfully clear vocals, inspired compositions and ‘feel’ for an unforgettable hook, Vicki’s enchanted touch on nyckelharpa and equally vivacious writing skill ... and that special alchemy that happens when they play together.
Swann and Dyer consistently develop new interpretations of old songs keeping them fresh and exciting, match that skill to create magical self-penned tunes and songs, and you have a duo that both protects and invents the tradition. Not once does your attention wander through ‘Paper of Pins’ ... the delights of ‘The Golden Glove’, the nyckelharpa jubilation of ‘The Halsway Parade/ The Quantock Reel’ and the pure empathy of ‘Friends’ all hold your ear. Dyer’s supremely delicate ‘Canon’, an exceptional re-creation of an old familiar with ‘Daddy Fox’, the curiously titled and absolutely mesmeric ‘Hornlåt Om Mobil Saknas / Bröllopsgåvan / Piggelunkschottisen’ and the delightful title track ‘Paper of Pins’ combine to make this an exceptional piece of work. And to close the album, there’s a spectacular wedding suite comprised of tune sets entitled 'Processional’, ‘Signing The Register’ and ‘Recessional’, superbly blending ancient, traditional and original music in a way that Swann and Dyer have clearly mastered.
‘Paper of Pins’ is quite simply a solid gold, five-star album. Find Vicki Swann & Jonny Dyer and ‘Paper of Pins’ here: www.swan-dyer.co.uk
May 2016: 'Good Times Will Come Again' - Megson
The minute this album begins you’re instantly in tune with the splendid talents of Debbie and Stu Hanna, aka Megson. Their latest offering ‘Good Times Will Come Again’ moves away from their interpretations of tradition to deliver ten original songs, still immersed in the narrative tradition they reflect so well but awash with their own savagely perceptive lyrics, ear catching vocals and melodies to die for. This is destined to become a classic contemporary folk album and will, if any form of justice prevails, bring Megson the plaudits they so richly deserve.
The album examines issues that impact people, with the frankness of lyric and clarity of vision that set Megson apart as songwriters and performers. Their commentaries move through a soul-crushing grind to afford a home, the steady erosion of the steel industry, fighting to put food on the table, acid-sharp observations on life-risking migration and the human waste visited on families through war. From the sharp surveillance of ‘Generation Rent’ and heart-touching ‘A Prayer For Hope’, through the darkly perceptive ‘Burn Away’ and the achingly poignant ‘The Bonny Lad’, to gentle expressions of love with ‘The Bookkeeper’ and the pressure of zero-hour contracts in ‘Zero’, Megson lead you into their insightful and deeply meaningful stories
Debbie and Stu Hanna have established themselves as exceptional tellers of traditional tales, ‘Good Times Will Come Again’, filled with their own work, is further proof were any needed, of their creative calibre. Find Megson and their music here: www.megsonmusic.co.uk
April 2016: 'Preternatural' - Moulettes
There’s something about the bite of salt-filled air and a certain wildness of geography combined with cultural freedom that creates an individualistic, nonconformist attitude to this island’s coastal places and their inhabitants. Brighton, England is no exception, from here the multi-instrumentalists and multiple genre-expanding band ‘Moulettes’ expound their unique amalgam of progressive, rock-embellished, alternative folk. The latest incarnation is their fourth album ‘Preternatural’ due for release on 27 May 2016 ... and lovers of their expressive musical fusion will be riveted.
In keeping with their crucible of synthesis, the album takes its title from a blending of Latin language roots to forge supernatural with paranormal, otherworldly with unearthly. The uncanny fluidity of enchantment and mysticism this implies makes ‘Preternatural’ particularly relevant to its content of capacious lyrics, complex instrumentation, slicing strings, power percussion and experimental distortion.
Divided into two ‘sides’, the album ranges across natural-world phenomena ... Side One opens with the cataclysmic force of ‘Behemoth’ moves through the splendour of ‘Underwater Painter’ to ‘Pufferfish Love’ before Side Two arrives with ‘Patterns’ morphs with ‘Medusa’ and finally into ‘Silk’. The subjects entertained within its 11 tracks include mystery underwater sounds, bizarre mating rituals, coral reef crises and web-tuning spiders, within which ‘Preternatural’ explores and rejoices. Much as I abhor comparative descriptions, I keep hearing echoes of early Van Der Graaf Genrator or perhaps imagine the conjuring of a Boschesque aural fantasy-scape. Without doubt, ‘Preternatural’ is the Moulettes most impressive work to date. Moulettes are Hannah Miller (lead vocals, cello, guitar) Oliver Austin (drums, guitar, percussion, vocals) Ruth Skipper (co-lead vocals, bassoon, autoharp) Jim Mortimore (bass, vocals) and Raevennan Husbandes (electric guitar, co-lead vocals). Find the Moulettes and their music here: www.moulettes.co.uk
March 2016: 'The Silent Majority' - Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar
Seldom does an album make its mark as surely and swiftly as ‘The Silent Majority’ from Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar, with its poignant narratives and powerful messages that remain relevant today despite many being as ‘old as the hills’. Already highly regarded as proponents of the ever-evolving folk tradition with their respect for heritage, contemporary compositions and masterful musicianship, this duo’s third studio album offers increased depth and wider exploration of their own and other writers work.
You will have to search to find a song with a more profound message than the ‘The Silent Majority’, which spans the impact of history allowing ‘evil men’ to rise to power because the majority remain silent and do nothing, by contrast ‘George’ changes the focus from many to one man, recounting drunken nights on Fridays and Saturdays in Glasgow. ‘We Must Be Contented’ originally written in response to the1832 Representation of the People Act designed to bring wide-ranging changes to the electoral system, tells of oppression of common folk by the wealthy ... not much changes then.
They also offer the moving ‘Did You Like The Battle Sir?’ written by John Richards and Bev Pegg, a re-working of ‘Limbo’ with its ‘Hogarthian’ tale of riches to rags in debtors’ prison, and maintaining sad tales an original take on the sorrowful ‘Brisk Young Man’. As you might expect they include some tunes: the iridescent ‘The Intruder’, the dream-like embrace of ‘The Tide’ and the quiet wit of ‘Swipe Right’. The Silent Majority’ is performed by Greg Russell (vocals, guitar, bouzouki) Ciaran Algar (violin, vocals, bouzouki, banjo) with the added talents of Laurence Blackadder (double bass) Ali Levack (Highland pipes, Border pipes, whistle) Hannah Martin (vocals) and Tom Wright (percussion). Having long-appreciated Russell and Algar’s work, I recommend you pay attention to ‘The Silent Majority’ ... find them here: www.russellalgar.co.uk
February 2016: ‘Tide, Timber and Grain’ - Paul Handyside
The third solo album from Paul Handyside has all the elements required to become wholly memorable. Whether he’s writing with touches of English folk or an edge of Americana, mixing tradition and original, narrative or ballad, the distinction and combination makes ‘Tide, Timber and Grain’ so thoroughly listenable it’s heading for ‘replay’ the second it finishes. Warm and compassionate vocals, softly struck and emotive guitar, poignant and piercing lyrics – there’s everything here that ensures that ‘Tide, Timber and Grain’ strikes home.
Listening to Handyside deliver his songs prompts you to immerse yourself in their message and find that unique moment when artists communicate directly to each individual within an audience. Through the gentle reflection and sweeping guitars of ‘Flowers Won’t Bloom’ and the supplication within ‘Let Me Down Easy’, the condemnation of ‘All Will Be Revealed’ and the simple truth of ‘Should I Leave Your Side’, there’s the impression of Handyside reaching out to touch people directly.
Whether through the bucolic description of ‘Woodcutter’s Son’, the personal reflection and sorrow of ‘Desperate Days’ or the historical narrative ‘A Whaler’s Lament’, Handyside delivers melodies that hold, hooks that catch and songs that will stay with you for a long time. And that’s why ‘Tide, Timber and Grain’ is an album you will appreciate.
Find Paul Handyside and his music here: www.paulhandyside.com Alongside Paul Handyside (vocals, guitar, harmonium) are Rob Tickell (Weissenborn slide guitar, bass, guitar) and Dave Porthouse (melodeon, double bass).
January 2016: 'Bedlam' - Kelly Oliver
Some artists arrive with the force of a tornado, their music hits somewhere you always wanted to go but the burnout can be equally spectacular, with others their music grows on you, develops and often becomes a standard against which others are measured. The music of singer/songwriter Kelly Oliver falls into both categories with the power of its arrival and its continuing presence, and were I a betting man I would make a sizable wager that its longevity is assured. With her debut album ‘This Land’ she arrived in a rush and swept all before her, now with ‘Bedlam’, the early promise is fulfilled, the sound has developed and it’s clear how far this gifted and talented singer songwriter has come.
The title track holds the melodic strength and piercing lyrics we’ve come to expect, an achingly poignant story of a girl incarcerated in the hideous Bedlam asylum for nothing more than having an unwanted child and subjected to the practice of people coming to ‘view’ the lunatics in ‘Bedlam’ ... a truly harrowing tale. By contrast ‘Lay Our Heavy Heads’ has a jaunty lightness and reveals a supremely catchy song about love that exudes happiness and optimism, and then ‘Jericho’ arrives, and it’s clear exactly how Kelly’s music has developed. The ‘girl-with-guitar sound’ has changed, the production is fuller and wider, involving musicians like Stu Hanna, Nigel Stonier and Laura Deakin Davies, and her composing skills have flourished.
Intensity of feeling is always present in Kelly’s songs, perfect examples include ‘In the City’, the profound sadness and devastating realisation pouring through ‘The Other Woman’, the understanding within ‘Ghosts at Night’ with its different look at relationships, and with its unrelenting angle on the human condition ‘Die this Way’ uncovers the ultimate wretchedness of children involved in conflict. Kelly Oliver writes songs that touch you deep inside, cause eyes to water and hearts to rise. The songs on ‘Bedlam’ will remain by your side long after the album has finished. Find Kelly Oliver here: kellyoliver.co.uk
December 2015: 'Old Adam' - Fay Hield
There’s something profoundly natural and organic about ‘Old Adam’ from Fay Hield and The Hurricane Party, due for release in January 2016. This album lives, pulses and breathes with a being of its own, a presence brought out through its ‘living’ collection of traditional songs rewoven in refreshing, original configurations. The mix runs through the compelling ‘Green Gravel’, through the combination of lyrics blended into ‘Raggle Taggle Gypsy’ and the scintillating ‘Katie Catch’ to a supremely heartfelt version of ‘Old Adam’.
Throughout the album, Fay’s utterly distinctive and meaningful vocals give the songs a level of authenticity not always present when old songs receive original treatments. The musical variations course through complex to modest. Listen to the medieval-edged narrative of ‘Queen Eleanor's Confession’, involving tales like ‘The Hornet And The Beetle’ and ‘Jack Orion’ and a vibrant take on ‘Long Time Ago’.
This is an outstanding folk album, it’s everything the English tradition needs and it’s quite simply something to play and play again. ‘Old Adam’ is released on 12 February 2016 on Soundpost Records. Playing alongside Fay Hield on ‘Old Adam’ are Sam Sweeney (fiddle) Rob Harbron (concertina) Roger Wilson (guitar, fiddle) Toby Kearney (percussion) and Ben Nichols (bass) with special guests Jon Boden (guitar fiddle) and Martin Simpson Guitar). nFind Fay here: www.fayhield.com
November 2015: 'Areas of High Traffic' - Damien O'Kane
With a fine understanding of tradition and an equally fine ability to expand with a contemporary touch, Damien O’Kane creates an ancient and modern folk-fusion without a visible seam, on his latest album, ‘Areas of High Traffic’. The result is an impressive interpretation of heritage allied to innovation. There is of course, the foundation of his Northern Irish homeland running through his music, there’s also the fearlessness to augment convention and in doing so turn out something fresh and new. Choosing some fine traditional Irish classics, O’Kane is unafraid to write his own tunes to re-map the entire feel of the song. Listen to the bucolic love song ‘The Maid of Seventeen’, the emigrant ballad ‘The Close of an Irish Day’ or the iconic ‘The Banks of The Bann’ to hear just how superbly he works his alchemy.
Without doubt, the man possesses a voice that brings out pure meaning from the lyrics in a way that pours life into the songs. The desolate emotion of ‘Erin’s Lovely Home’ and ‘The Green Fields of America’ demand your attention, as do the subtle but nonetheless sparkling renditions with ‘‘Til Next Market Day’ and ‘The Blacksmith’. For good measure, O’Kane includes two self-penned instrumentals with the liquid banjo of ‘The Goddaughter (part1)’ and the delightfully dreamy ‘Interlude For Mama’. I feel in no danger of going out on a limb by saying that without doubt ‘Areas of High Traffic’ is destined to become a classic.
Playing on ‘Areas of High Traffic’ are Damien O’Kane (vocals, guitars, tenor guitars, banjo) Cormac Byrne (drums, percussion) Anthony Davis (Roland keyboards, bass, synths, piano, electric piano, organ) Steven Iveson (electric guitar) with guest appearances by Kate Rusby (vocals) and Ron Block (banjo). Find the man and his music here: damienokane.co.uk
October 2015: ‘Facebook Friend’ - Dave Ellis & Boo Howard
The long-time partnership between Dave Ellis and Boo Howard consistently exudes high-quality musicianship, whatever genre or style they choose to absorb and reflect, the result is the same - classy, imaginative and engaging. Their latest album ‘Facebook Friend’ offers all that and more. The lyrics are well thought out, the melodies subtle and the interaction between elegant guitar, sonorous bass and laid back vocals hold a distinctive allure. As has been said before, some albums create a link between artists and audience, this is one of them. You could be sat in the same room with them, the communication is that personal. Rather than saying the album is sparse on production it’s more accurate to say there’s precisely enough production and no more than required.
The diversity of songs on ‘Facebook Friend’ is immediately evident from the delightful longing and fulfilment within ‘Home Again’, tongue in cheek bluesy humour through ‘Facebook Friend’ “… you may think I’m an old fuddy duddy but I don’t want to be your Facebook buddy” and the deep felt anguish and recognition and melodic richness of ‘God Save Olive Cooke’. The pipe dreams of the sultry ‘Back To Default’ certainly strike a chord, while the gentle truths of ‘We Go Round’ and the honest assessment of being who you are with ‘Two Left Feet’ tell stories you relate to without effort.
For those that know the music of Dave Ellis & Boo Howard this album is expectations fulfilled. And that’s how to take ‘Facebook Friend’ – let it connect with you on whichever level reaches you and you’ll find a ‘friendship’ you’ll want to continue. Find ‘Facebook Friend’ here: www.daveandboo.com
September 2015: ‘Watershed' Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin
There’s an essential and enduring beauty seeping through the music of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin. It’s driven by an inventive composing style that lifts their work way above the ordinary into realms not readily reached by many. Their latest album ‘Watershed’ offers all that one would expect of this original duo, the difference is this time the compositions come with distinct and diverse approaches that encapsulate the watershed theme. As the ‘Watershed’ cover states: “A time of decision. A moment of change. Turning point.” And that’s precisely the feeling this album generates. It’s so strong you can touch it. Again, their musical span strides across folk to blues, country to Americana, blending and fusing each in a way that delivers a result that’s seamless and wholly integrated. Again, Henry’s multi-layered instrumentation forms perfectly around Martin’s beguiling vocals. The themes on ‘Watershed’ explore those moments in time that make a difference, to those immediately affected or the wider impact on friends, family, places and communities.
These songs explore the task of living in the moment, reflect on allowing the present fade as time to rushes past, and examines those instants that really have an effect in past, present and future. From the multiple paths of ‘Watershed’ and the rebuke of ‘Stones’through the simple truths of ‘Yarrow Mill’ and childhood muse in ‘Conkers’ to the yearning loss of ‘Letter (Unsent)’ and the thought-provoking ‘Foundling’. ‘Watershed’ may well live up to its title and become the point where Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin find they have reached a ‘… time of decision, moment of change, and turning point’ and marks them out as that rare commodity – a perfect pairing. The ‘Watershed’ band are: Hannah Martin (vocals, fiddle, banjo, five string violin) Phillip Henry (Dobro, harmonica, vocals, lap steel, Weissenborn guitar, acoustic guitar, tenor guitar) Matt Downer (double bass) James Taylor (drums, percussion, vibraphone) with Rex Preston (mandolin). Find Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin here: www.philliphenryandhannahmartin.co.uk
August 2015: ‘Esteesee’ - Ange Hardy
There’s a tendency for ‘concept albums’ to have a short life, they stand a few ‘repeats’ but as their originality fades, the story once told, often becomes tedious in the re-telling. Then along comes the powerful ‘Esteesee’, the fourth studio album from folk singer and composer par excellence Ange Hardy. Although more of a project than a concept, its songs draw inspiration from the life, experiences, anecdotes, relationships and work of the Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (who disliked his name so much he would write it phonetically as ‘Esteesee’). In many ways ‘Esteesee’ departs from the intensely personal and sometimes autobiographical songs of her previous landmark albums ‘Barefoot Folk’ and ‘Lament of the Black Sheep’ to an observational place that takes a blend of poetry, lyric and music somewhere essentially wonderful … and in doing so makes ‘Esteesee’ a powerful piece of work.
To lovers of Ange’s work, the musical ground is familiar yet different, marrying written fragments, extracts of verse and complete poems with her striking voice and outstanding ability to entrance the listener with lyric and music. Coleridge was a mercurial character suffering anxiety and depression augmented by poor health and a chronic opium addiction. Ange takes the listener through narrative songs that observe his changing life - the sorrowing story of ‘The Foster Mother’s Tale’, the exploration of the lighter ‘My Captain’ and the hope of ‘William Frend’, before the harrowing ‘Curse of a Dead Man’s Eye’ returns to the dark side once more. The delicious interpretation of ‘Friends Of Three’ creates a dream-quality song that takes the listener deeper into Coleridge’s
confused world, while her ability to touch the human condition forges the profound pain of ‘Epitaph On An Infant’ and the heartrending ‘Mother You Will Rue Me’, given an added edge by Steve Knightley’s vocals. And if ‘Kubla Khan’ has ever experienced a better delivery with Ange’s evocative arrangement and Tamsin Rosewell’s expressive reading then you’ll have to go a long way to hear it.
With ‘Esteesee’, Ange Hardy delivers an outstanding album, and along the way, changes forever the jaded view of the concept album. Although FolkWords is not given to awarding star ratings as such, this work deserves a definite five-star rating, no question. And to complete the ‘concept’ there’s an inlay booklet with lyrics and luscious photographs. ‘Esteesee’ releases on 23 September 2015 with the album’s launch concert at Halsway Manor on 4th October. Find Ange Hardy here: www.angehardy.com
July 2015: 'Clype' self-titled album - Clype
Now, pay attention, no snap decisions, this one will grow on you. When it does, and it will, you’re going to find yourself rewarded with some utterly category-busting music that will sweep away preconceptions. ‘Clype’ is the self-titled debut album from a Scottish duo that clearly make it their mission to soak up and interpret influences from far, wide and everywhere else in between.
They take the Scottish folk tradition, plunder Latin American rhythms, employ jazz inventions, and combine piano with fiddle to build expansive narratives that create a refreshing and inimitable sound. And the more you listen the more you'll find the magic works.
Fusion is a much-used and much-misinterpreted word in music. To find out how it really works take time to listen to Clype. Time invested getting to know this music will be time invested in the betterment of your own well-being. And if that sounds effusive, good, it’s meant to. Clype represent yet one more facet in the expansive and explorative edge of folk music, and they’re very good at what they do.
Clype are pianist and singer-songwriter Simon Gall and fiddler Jonny Hardie, together they have delivered an album that personifies different. And that’s the point where some might make an error of judgement - “It’s different therefore I don’t like it”– what absolute rot! It’s different, thought-provoking, defiant and quite literally overflowing with a vibrancy and freshness that draws you into its creative stimulation. From the exciting ‘The Brush to Paint Us All’ through the Latin-inspired edge of 'Down With May' to the thoughtful reflections of‘Red Tide’ and emotive ‘The Internationale’ the blend of heritage and innovation works to perfection. These sounds will stay with you and linger long after the last note fades. This is an album to relish and appreciate. There’s a meditative magic at work throughout and you should share it. 'Clype' released on 24 July on Other Music Records, find Clype here: www.clypemusic.com
June 2015: 'Wing of Evening' - The Dovetail Trio
The continued journeying through traditional folk and preservation of our folk heritage has long-continued in the safe hands of artists, who although relishing the legacies, remain unafraid to delve, cultivate and augment as they progress the folk-road. The latest to set foot on that route is The Dovetail Trio – purveyors of engaging folk narratives given a
distinctive edge they make their own. The combination of richly rounded accented vocals, skin-tight harmonies and sparse yet polished instrumentation makes their debut album ‘Wing Of Evening’ a real treat for fans of ‘folk as she is sung’.
The album offers an integration of influences from England, Scotland, America and a shimmering French/ Canadian set that engage from first to last. The trio’s name is aptly chosen - Rosie Hood evocative vocals, connect seamlessly with the voices and instruments of Jamie Roberts and Matt Quinn. The simple combination of guitar and concertina form a perfect base on which the voices tell their tales, however it’s a simplicity that belies the intricacies need to weave the tunes that gives this album its musical attraction and involvement.
‘Wing of Evening’ is a faultless collection of folk – from their interpretations of ‘Greenland’ to ‘Rambling Comber’ and ‘The Lady and The Soldier’ to ‘Frozen Girl’. Each will find their own preference, mine include the beautiful ‘Rose of York’, a superb rendition of ‘Oak Tree Carol’ and the trio’s perfectly crafted take on Peter Bellamy’s ‘Sweet Loving Friendship’. This is folk music grown from deep roots with a burgeoning growth that proves that trunk and branches remain in rude and vigorous health. The Dovetail Trio, each with long-served pedigrees in English folk, are Jamie Roberts (guitar, vocals) Rosie Hood (vocals) and Matt Quinn (concertina, vocals) and you can find them here: dovetailtrio.com
May 2015: 'Live On The Ley' - Alastair Caplin, Jez Hellard, Nathan Ball, Nye Parsons and Scott Cook
Opening with the sound of talking a dog (yes really) introducing the band ‘Live On The Lay’ features the talents of Alastair Caplin, Jez Hellard, Nathan Ball, Nye Parsons and Scott Cook playing and singing to a select audience in the welcoming setting of St. Dunstan's House, Glastonbury. The result is a live concert piped directly into your own home, complete with the expected banter, spontaneous musical interplay, occasional missed notes and unrestrained interaction between audience and artists.The selection of music is quite frankly stunning, from ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ through Scott Cook’s eloquently touching ‘Song for a Pilgrim’, the acid-sharp observations of Nathan Ball’s ‘McDonald’s for the Mind’ to a soaring interpretation of ‘Atlas Tango’, this is an album of exceedingly good music delivered in a remarkably expressive and entirely intimate way. Throughout an enticing mix of jazz, classical and folk thread a musical extravagance that holds the audience rapt and it’s easy to understand why - listen to the anguish of ‘When We’re Back Around’, the sparkle of a solo violin on ‘Esplanada De Graça’, the mellow warmth and essential truth of ‘New Grist’ or ‘Footprints’ and you’ll find that you’re held too.
It’s a given that the quality of a ‘live’ album can range from indistinct, through hit or miss, to at best intermittent. It’s not often you find one that comes across as thoroughly representing the live environment while at the same time as providing a quality product. Well this one does. The experience is intimate, involving, and the music as clear as crystal. As I said earlier, all the idiosyncrasies are there but they never get in the way. So ‘hats off’ to the musicians, most certainly the engineering, the audience and of course ‘the voice of dog’. In case you’re interested, ‘the talking dog’ results from the room being too small for the musicians and Sam Welbourne on the mixing desk, which were relegated to an upstairs landing out of sight and earshot. The only way for performers and recording engineer to communicate was through a speaker located behind Alastair’s sleeping dog, so Sam’s clearly ‘Muppet-influenced’ dog-voice appeared to come from the dog. I guess you had to be there but the opening few seconds has an attraction all its own.
As part of the package ‘Live on The Ley’ comes with a sumptuous tri-fold case including articles from Jez Hellard and Scott Cook, a twenty-page lyric book with original artwork and outstanding colour photography. 'Live On The Ley' was recordd live by Sam Welbourne at St Dunstan's House, Glastonbury. Mixed by Sam Welbourne and Jez Hellard, mastered by Alastair Caplin and produced by Jez Hellard. Find out more here: live-on-the-ley.
April 2015: ‘Despite The Dark’ - RURA
Music offers an invocation to summon memory, conjure images or charm the soul, ‘Despite The Dark’ the second album from Scottish band RURA, does all that and more, through a construct of intricate instrumentals and profound songs. The term 'magical' is often applied to an album, in this case it’s accurate, for there is an alchemy at work throughout ‘Despite the Dark’ that spirits you away to reveal whatever enchantment you care to imagine. A sense of otherworldly fantasy moving towards haunting glimpses or an affecting involvement in human meanderings, the music and songs create powerful images that allow you into their existence, wherever you might to imagine them to be.
From the mysterious power and intense passion of the seven-minute progression through ‘Dark Reel’ to the deeply moving and lyrically evocative ’Weary Days’, there’s an immediate sense of latent energy waiting there to pull you into its presence. There’s also a manifestation of poise and authority to this album that’s driven by accomplished musicianship, expressive vocals, flawless composition and inspired production – all in all a supremely impressive, evocative album.
Simply absorb the stirring emotion of sets like ‘The Smasher’ or ‘The Glorious ‘45’ or the poignant lyrics of ‘Between The Pines’ and the words of Robert Burns with ‘Cauld Wind Blast’. This music also holds precious moments that touch the places where your soul lives, you could do little better than soak up the breadth of feeling packed into 'The Lowground' or revel within the spellbinding potency and deliciously encompassing experience created through 'The Lasher'.
Wherever you start your journey with ‘Despite the Dark’ you’re riding a fluid river of music that induces you to join the flow. Go with it, you'll be glad you did. RURA are Steven Blake (pipes, whistles) Adam Brown (guitar, backing vocals) David Foley (bodhran, flute) Adam Holmes (vocals, guitar) and Jack Smedley (fiddle, backing vocals). ‘Despite the Dark’ released on 27 April, 2015 – find out more here: www.RURA.co.uk
March 2015: ‘The Ghost In Our House’ - Merry Hell
The singularly individualistic sound generated by Merry Hell is English folk rock for sure, more accurately it’s folk rock with spirit, insight, coupled with a fine sense of melody, narrative skill and a large dose of observant commentary. And the comments make some acid-sharp perceptive observations aimed at our society and its individuals rich and poor, now and then. From the album ‘Blink … and you’ll miss it’ through ‘Head Full of Magic Shoes Full of Rain’ and participation in the Armistice Pals project, the band now releases their third album ‘The Ghost In Our House’, and if what went before caught your ear then this one is going to become a permanent fixture in your head. It’s all there … driving bass, infectious guitar riffs, dancing mandolin, searing fiddle accents and wicked vocal interplay … but now it’s tighter and more impressive. The scope offered by the talents of their songwriters moves the breadth of their compositions far and wide yet within their distinct style. Heart wrenching ballads sit together with intimate social examinations, sharply focused narratives and accusative anthems, reflecting on futility of war, mendacity of politicians and arrogance of bankers. Whatever the subject, both the problems and solutions come under the investigative Merry Hell microscope.
Opening with a backward glance to missed chances, the title track ‘The Ghost in Our House’ is classic Merry Hell only more so, it’s followed by the wistful longing and profound sadness of ‘Leave The Light On’ brought out by the expressive interchange between male and female vocal leads. They move through energy-infused vibrancy with ‘Summer Is A-Comin’’ and more vocal virtuosities in ‘The Baker’s Daughter’ through the poignant truths of ‘Human Communion’ and the acutely affecting ‘The Old Soldier’. A call to remember why we all once shouted out loud echoes through ‘Rage Like Thunder’, the vagaries of relationships flows through‘Love Is A Game’, while the foot-stomping ‘No Money’ and ‘Out Of My Mind’ give political and financial bastions a well-deserved bash. And then when the end comes there’s ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’ offers a nostalgic and undying call for hope … it made me believe.
‘The Ghost In Our House’ is folk tradition of the 21st century. The 'voices of the people' crying out to be heard. The desire to stand up for what's right. The mix of tender sadness and outraged anger. A pulsating artery of England's folk heritage ... healthy, live and kicking. Merry Hell are Andrew Kettle (vocals) Virginia Kettle (vocals, banjitar) John Kettle (guitar, banjo, backing vocals) Bob Kettle (mandolin, bouzouki) Nick Davies (bass) Lee Goulding (keyboards) Neil McCartney (fiddle, backing vocals) and Andy Jones (drums) with Gordon Giltrap (guitar – Leave a Light On’). ‘The Ghost In Our House’ and Merry Hell live here: www.merryhell.co.uk
February 2015: 'Walking into White'- Sarah McQuaid
The echoing magic of ‘Walking into White’ the latest album from Sarah McQuaid, seizes you from the first and holds you captured long after the last notes fade. The owner of a distinctive captivating voice, exponent of striking melodic dexterity, Sarah has created an album suffused with slices of exploration and discovery that writes one more mesmeric chapter in the ever-expanding chronicle of her music.Sending out a trembling resonance, this is a collection of songs that feel their way into your being, combining to impart breadth and spread coupled with an allure that beguiles you to share the confidences they reveal. From the supremely melodic instrumental ‘I Am Grateful For What I Have’ through the lingering three-part round of ‘Jackdaws Rising’ to the combination of child-inspired innocence and adult-insecuritites running through ‘Yellowstone’, a sense of completeness and unity pervades the entire album.
The hypnotic ‘Low Winter Sun’ pulls you into a moody, synthesized soundscape evoking the chill that accompanies cold winter sunshine, before the potent ‘Where The Wind Decides To Blow’, taking its influence from Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’, adds adult nuances to the story’s theme. The references to ‘Swallows and Amazons’ crop up in two more songs, with Sarah using her love of these children's books to expand allegorical reach. ‘The Tide’ explores navigating a ‘safe channel’ through shallow water into the dangers lurking in life’s shallows’, while ‘Walking Into White’ expands on another life-parable of finding your way through enveloping fog.
The truly beautiful ‘Leave It For Another Day’ with its echoing guitars, deeply-moving lyrics and haunting vocals is a shiver-inducing song, ‘Canticle Of The Sun’ (better known as ‘All Creatures Of Our God And King’) repeats the splendour, while Sarah’s emotive take on Ewan McColl’s ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ performs the perfect close. Find Sarah McQuaid here: www.sarahmcquaid.com
January 2015: ‘Eternal Child' from Daria Kulesh
The ‘first-person’ album is nothing new. Personal albums range from snapshots of incident and experience to utterly exposing chronicles of a life-journey. The privilege of finding an artist’s soul desperately close to the surface is a rare occurrence. There are usually masks and facades laid in place that protect or perhaps lessen the impact. None of that happens with Daria Kulesh’s debut solo album ‘Eternal Child’. This is possibly the most raw and unashamedly revealing collection of songs I’ve heard in a long while. That said, it’s not a gushing exercise of self-indulgence, it’s a set of powerful and intensely direct narratives that reach out to touch, and that touch goes deep.
Daria uses these songs to explore acute moments in her life-documentary from the unique perspective of guileless innocence born into all children. She uses that perspective to reflect on seeing beyond the idyll of youth, losing the comfort of childhood’s safety blanket, laying bare fragile memories and exploring the cold, mendacious, darkness the world so often delivers. And yet she remains unafraid to retain that first open honesty, realising that surviving as the ‘eternal child’ is a rare gift. While the reaching and longing of the mood-rich opener ‘Fata Morgana’ searches for answers to loss, the harsh understanding of changing experience in ‘Letting Go’ edges a feeling that darkness is never far away. Understanding that closeness to sorrow somehow increases strength and resilience, the harrowing honesty and ultimate sanctuary of ‘Right Here’ and the achingly pure revelation of ‘Tamed’ come alive through Daria’s beautifully clear, alluringly accented vocals. The wider aspects of fragility are explored through the image-rich ‘At Midnight’ and the desperate plight of Butterfly Children encapsulated by ‘Butterflies’. Giving a harder edge to her vocals, Daria delivers a heart-breaking view of trapped experience with ‘The Hairdresser’, while ‘Fake Wonderland’ records the stark realisation that falsehood only breeds pretence. The closing songs reflect on distances between friends, from the inspired addition of hammered dulcimer on ‘I Watch the Snow’ to the essential and sometimes scary recognition of freedom that runs through ‘Cracks’.
The musicians on ‘’Eternal Child’ are Daria Kulesh (vocals) Ben Walker (guitar, keyboard, mandolin, ukulele, octave mandola, bass, accordion, synths) with support on selected tracks from Lauren Deakin-Davies (guitar, keyboard) Luke Jackson (vocals, guitar) Kate Rouse (hammered dulcimer) and Kaity Rae (cello). The faultless production that releases this album’s soul for all to hear is the work of Ben Walker and Lauren Deakin Davies. With her band Kara or as a solo performer, Daria Kulesh always delivers lyrics that expose untainted sincerity with a voice that pours out their spirit, through ‘Eternal Child’ the source of those words is revealed. If there’s an album to buy this New Year, this is it. Folkstock Records: www.folkstockartsfoundation.com Daria and her music: www.daria-kulesh.co.uk
December 2014: ‘The Fall of Eden' - Kenneth J Nash
Sometimes you hear an album that expresses so much within its music and lyrics that you know the artist concerned has plumbed wells of darkness, walked paths of
despondency and through it all found a kind of resilience. ‘The Fall Of Eden’, the latest work by English singer songwriter Kenneth J Nash, is an album that reveals a hardiness of spirit enduring the depths of despair. A spirit that’s unafraid to record its troubles and pain. The drawback is to write songs that stand testimony to such anguish demands experience of its pain. Nash has the scars to prove his endurance, memories that take their toll and through a whisperingly soft delivery, a voice to bring them to life.
The Fall Of Eden’ captures the unrelenting blackness of regret, despair and depression. There’s also the faith of memories portrayed without any tendency towards maudlin self-pity loved by many that lay bare their souls. Nash offers an entirely pragmatic view driving in words that pierce like nails yet never reaching a point of self-sorrow. These are truths, hard and savage, evidences of reality without gloss or dramatics. Emotional loss that eats all it touches. The fracturing of connections, forfeiture of friends and losing of lovers. It’s all here – from the aching endurance of ‘Slow Burn’ through the entreaty of ‘Carol Ann’ to the anonymity of suffering in ‘New Holes in Old Shoes’ – tales told untainted and raw, without embellishment. Through an outstanding weave of instruments, voices and musicianship, Nash’s album takes you to personal places as you try along with him to make sense of what you’re feeling. Whether it’s ‘Take Me Home’ with its supplication of sharing, the agonising reflection of ‘St Mary’s Heart’, the supremely evocative ‘The Way That She Moved’ or the defined questioning of ‘Strong’. This album touched me, and its touch runs deep. It will touch you. Nash offers this perspective: “I guess this LP like all my LPs is my way of getting the pain out of my system, there are some dark parts of my life that have haunted me for years, this LP is my lesson to humanity, kind of ‘I learnt the hard way’.” Alongside Kenneth J Nash (vocals, guitars, percussion) on ‘The Fall Of Eden’ there’s a collection of outstanding musicians - J M Jones (guitars, keys, bass, accordion, vocals) Fran Taylor (vocals) Alan Tang (keys, accordion, violin, viola) Nye Parsons (double bass) Amber India Frost (cello, vocals) Khalil Amin (fiddle) Steevie Poole (percussion, mandolin) Mo Coulson (mermaid vocals, accordion, Irish harp) Ciara Clutterham Reihill (vocals, Irish whistle) Sean Clutterham Reihill (harp) and the Bell Ringers of St Mary’s Church Rushden. Find Kenneth J Nash here: www.kennethjnash.com
November 2014: ‘Little Glass Box’ from Fraser Anderson
There’s no way to mistake the music of Fraser Anderson, guitar, voice, lyrics. On the album ‘Little Glass Box’ they combine to delve into tales that encapsulate so much of the human condition – sharing, corrupt, loving and hopeful. Look into this box and you’ll discover freely structured folk sitting closely beside languid blues, deeply soulful jazz close by the side of picturesque poetry. There’s an ephemeral feel to this music, reach out to touch it and it will fade, classify it and you’ll lose its essence, so fragile it exists only because a master has brought it to life. This feels both elemental and transient, deeply needed but always close to fading away. The penetration of the lyrics pour through a voice that aches with every word and in offering itself to their revelation, pulls you into their depths. Fraser’s vocals border on the fragile but shows its strengths in the resilience to share feelings that many could not bear to divulge. The instruments weave a fabric that slips sensuously around Fraser's words just enough to make their presence felt never enough to obscure that voice.
From the start, the intimacy of Anderson’s music is wholly apparent, the singular intentions of ‘Rag & Bones’ with gentle strings and tender wondering, through the sorrowing narrative of ‘Never Know’ to the mellow understanding of ‘Warhorse’ there’s a sympathy with song and subject that’s unique. These songs are all precise instruments, Anderson’s lyrics examine life close-up, taking in the minutiae with fine examination, as layered music holds you close while words warp around you. Scrutinising more than heavy blows, instead lightly inflicted bruises, not savage cuts but slices that hurt as much, listen to the expression in ‘Photograph’ or the honesty of ‘Open Sky’ and you’ll understand. There’s a delicate level of empathy that comes through all Anderson’s work, yet the vulnerability of ‘Little Glass Box’ holds its own strength. To release these thoughts, words and music into a harsh uncaring world demands a certain inner resilience. Fraser Anderson exposes his soul through his work and that shows the potency of the man and his music. ‘Little Glass Box’ could be called the classic sleeper, having first seen the light of day some years before but now 'released' - and it's well worth the wait. Find Fraser Anderson and ‘Little Glass Box’ here: www.fraseranderson.com.
October 2014: 'This Land' - Kelly Oliver
I cannot recall how many times I’ve predicted success for a new artist only to find that justice appears not to be done. Then again, just occasionally … the stars align. Almost a year ago I wrote: “I hear new artists and feel they deserve wider appreciation, from time to time that happens and then sometimes I’m left wondering why not. I’m willing to bet that for Kelly Oliver wider recognition will come at pace.” So aside from a brief flicker of satisfaction for an accurate prediction, for the past year it’s been truly wonderful to witness the continued rise of singer-songwriter Kelly Oliver - a lady that's set to become one of England’s premier folk talents. It’s also a manifest pleasure to review an exceptional debut album.Following her five-track EP ‘Far From Home’, the album ‘This Land’ is a collection of finely-crafted, lovingly presented, self-penned songs laid across sometimes deceptively simple, yet always beautifully-architectured arrangements of guitar and harmonica. Her voice, rich and natural, silvered and sensuous, cascades lifeblood into her lyrics lifting her songs towards those hidden places where deep feelings dwell. Add an expressive touch on guitar and harmonica and you know that you’re listening to something fresh, vibrant and as essential as breathing.
‘This Land’ opens with a historical tale of prejudice combined with plea for compassion, ‘The Witch of Walkern’ offers punchy guitar and commanding vocals, then by contrast ‘Diamond Girl’ reveals every ounce of Kelly’s mellifluous voice - a supremely sensitive song featuring Luke Jackson. The caution-filled tale of ‘Daughter Dear’ suggests tradition blended with a contemporary edge, while including the impeccable ‘Far From Home’ with its expressive lyrics, seductive melody and evocative harmonica is a triumph. To cover a widely acclaimed song demands both respect and innovation, and Kelly’s take on Dougie MacLean’s ‘Caledonia’ offers all that’s asked as her voice soars across its moving message, and pouring equal feeling into ‘Grandpa Was A Stoker’, she fashions an emotive maritime narrative with a personal edge sprinkled with subtle violin and harmonica accents. Without doubt, ‘This Land’ adds more colour to this country's folk and acoustic spectrum. I also remember saying: “Kelly Oliver is an artist you should remember and definitely not one to ignore. And I exaggerate not.” Again, no sense of conceit implied, simply restored faith that sometimes outstanding talent does win through. Playing on ‘This Land’ are Kelly Oliver (vocals, guitar, harmonica) Lauren Deakin-Davies (bass guitar) with appearances on selected tracks from Luke Jackson (vocals) Kaity Rae (cello) Sunjay (guitars) and Dave Swarbrick (violin). Find your copy of ‘This Land’ here: www.kellyoliver.co.uk.
September 2014: England Green & England Grey' - Reg Meuross
For many, the songs of Reg Meuross are the hinges upon which swing the doors of perceptive English folk. We have accompanied him along paths less travelled exploring echoes of society, politics, history, people and places. Now with ‘England Green & England Grey’ his deft lyrical touch and moving vocals lead us through more opening doors to show what lies behind. There remains the accustomed perception and unnerving fearlessness to examine the minutiae and bring it to the surface. There are no obscure touch-line observations but out-on-the-pitch, down and dirty in the mud empathy. It’s easy to identify with these songs because they strike where we live, some with acid-sharp observations that hit harder than expected.The intense poignancy of social and historical observation flowing through ‘What Would William Morris Say?’ evokes a feeling of irreplaceable loss, especially with the inclusion of quotes from ‘The Message of the March Wind’. The sense of laying waste is palpable - combine a melody to die for, evocative vocals and the undiluted power of the lyrics ‘… they smashed the piano, no money for bands, karaoke led the way, bland leading the bland’ and you have a true folk milestone. The theme repeats through the title track ‘England Green and England Grey’ – an eternally English folk song, and a sad indictment of a nation losing or forgetting its cultural heritage, but laced with a tinge of faith. If ever there was a song to make us want to fight for ‘what’s right’ then this is the one.
With a precise poetic touch and a rich vein of storytelling, his songs form imageries to be remembered. ‘Tony Benn’s Tribute to Emily Davison’ is a perfect example, telling the tale of a secretly-erected plaque respecting the memory of a dedicated suffragette. ‘The Band Played Sweet Marie’ is no less powerful, were the loss of the Titanic not sad enough, permeating down to the personal narrative of bandleader Wallace Hartley tears at your heart. Meuross also espouses narratives of personal tragedy, from ‘They Changed Her Mind’, an incredibly sad tale of individuals confined in institutions by a society that refused to understand and ‘Counting My Footsteps To You’ reflectingthe overwhelming desperation of dementia. These narratives carry characters and relate experiences that create such powerful visual impressions they make this album theatre for your ears. Writing of this calibre demands a deep understanding of a myriad facets within the human condition. Meuross doesn’t simply write songs raging against the powers that be, he doesn’t adopt injured political ire or preach pointless platitudes. He recalls sacrifice forgotten, rights lost, the rule of injustice, personal pain and resolute hope. And if we don’t listen, the erosion might continue unabated. Aside from being a stunning album, ‘England Green & England Grey’ prompts us to save what’s going before it’s gone forever. Find ‘England Green & England Grey’ here: www.regmeuross.com
August 2014: ‘Wayfarers All' by Green Diesel
English folk rock has over the years acquired enough heritage to attain ‘classic’ status. To find a fine example of the genre, you need go no further than ‘Wayfarers All’ from Green Diesel, brand new but in the way of certain folk rock albums, destined to become a classic. Mixing self-penned with trad arr plus a couple of covers, this album more than lives up to the promise offered by its predecessor, ‘Now Is The Time’. This time however, there’s more depth, a richer, stronger sound coupled with a tangible sense of increased confidence. Clearly at home with their command of the genre, Green Diesel deliver folk rock with an innovative yet confident singular edge.
Naturally, the essential ingredients remain - walloping percussion and pounding bass, rocking guitar breaks, overlaid with innovative and exciting washes and accents of violin, mandolin, dulcimer and accordion. And of course there’s still the intensely recognisable vocals and harmonies. The soul of English folk rock, and oodles of soul infuses this music, lives and breathes through ‘Wayfarers All’.Opening with a self-penned composition, offering a quick nod to an old song, ‘To Kill A King’ takes you straight into Green Diesel music, ‘The Southcliffe Jig’ follows – just to remind that they can rip out a dance tune with the best of them. With respect for tradition, there are re-worked outings for ‘Mad Tom of Bedlam’ and ‘Oak, Ash and Thorn’ and then they brew up the powerful concoction that becomes ‘A Fisherman, Once’ – this is a formidable song that harnesses the folk rock drive into a darker moody place. They prove the depth of their instrumental work with the thoughtful expression of ‘Minoorne Labajalg’, an illustration of considerable musical dexterity, while ‘Drive The Cold Winter Away’ serves up more archetypal substance, complete with tasty guitar licks. Green Diesel are Ellen Care (violin, lead vocals) Jon Biron (button accordion, mandolin) Matt Dear (lead guitar, vocals) Ben Holliday (bass guitar, double bass, vocals) Colin Ireland (drums, percussion, vocals) and Greg Ireland (guitar, mandolin, dulcimer, banjo, vocals) with Roger Cotton (keyboards).You can find Green Diesel here: www.greendiselfolk.com.‘Wayfarers All’ will, as that dreamer of old ways and memories, Kenneth Grahame once wrote: “… leave you with a store of goodly memories for company.”
July 2014: ‘Wrap Your Bones’ by Arcelia
There’s something hugely attractive about Arcelia’s combination of voices that creates a subtle, soulful folk-tinted sound, filled with a richness and intensity you can almost feel. They deliver songs with a lushness and an understated opulence that you’ll want to experience. On first-listen their debut album ‘Wrap Your Bones' has a nonchalant feel that evokes a faintly remembered awareness. The warmth of the vocals, softly mixed instrumentation, expressive lyrics and relaxed informality combine to give this album an intimate expression that’s easy to absorb. Even if you haven’t heard this before it feels as though you have – it’s that personal. Somewhere deep in your memory Arcelia awakens an echo.
Their music touches something you may have forgotten, or perhaps it’s something you’ve yet to encounter. Whatever it is, their voices prompt feelings that you will want recall or decide you ought to experience. The combination of their three sympathetic yet markedly different voices, comes together in one of those rare ‘catalyst moments’ that you feel could exist nowhere else. From the lead track, ‘45 Seconds', a warm opening adorned with instrumental accents, you’re into the lyrical vocal expanse of ‘Long Man’ or soft intensity of‘Cupid’ – this is soothing chill-out music. The tranquillity continues through the soporific simplicity of ‘Busking Birds’, Teresa’s evocative vocals on ‘She’s Not Lost’ and the understated sorrow of ‘Blossom’. There’s something of a mood-change with ‘Another Song’, which definitely falls into the ‘surely I’ve heard this before’ bracket but that’s not criticism, it’s simply a reflection of the special touch and character of this album. It’s elemental in its touch and primal in its appeal. Arcelia are Gavin Alexander (vocals, guitar, ukelele) Teresa Gallagher (vocals, percussion) and Simon Foster (vocals, cajon) – they’re joined by Jeff Alexander (banjo, dobro) James Dean (electric guitar) Phil Mulford (double bass) James Shears (bass, percussion) Ben Trigg (cello) and Perry White (piano).
'Wrap Your Bones' from Arcelia is one of those albums you'll listen to again and again. You will find Arcelia here: www.arcelia.co.uk
June 2014: ‘The Lament of The Black Sheep’ by Ange Hardy
Many musicians make journeys, some long, some difficult, others just plain damn hard. Those voyages often include people, places or situations that become catalysts to define the right of passage. “The journey makes the man” a philosopher once said. Well, setting aside any of his incipient misogyny, the journey in this case, makes the woman. And that makes her music.Listening to Ange Hardy’s songs always seems to evoke some distant memories. Times and places once faded away return to life again. At once you’re walking the dusty corridors of heritage and hearing its spirits rise towards today. Moving on from her debut album Bare Foot Folk, on her latest album she delivers another striking collection of self-penned songs that retain and amplify the edge of inheritance - ‘The Lament of The Black Sheep’ offers original, living songs bathed in echoes of deeply felt tradition.
From the presence and potency of the opener ‘The Bow to The Sailor’ through a gently inventive interpretation of the classic nursery rhyme with ‘The Lament of The Black Sheep’ to the desperate understanding and sorrowful refusal of ‘The Gambler’s Lot’ there’s a journey through contrasting influences and expressions. This album delivers cautionary tales, relates sad stories, clarifies simple virtues and lays bare tender poetry blended with stirring melodies – ‘The Daring Lassie’ is a personal and expressive tale, there’s deeply-felt loss within ‘The Sailor’s Farewell’, gentle perceptive humour striding through ‘The Woolgatherer’ while the soft empathy of ‘The Raising and The Letting Go’ is a simple delight. An artist who has lived throughmore than her fair share of pain and confusion, darkness and despair, her underlying strength of her character and the arrival of a child engendered a step change that not only moved her life, it set free the spirit of a creative folk musician, singer and songwriter. Ange Hardy adopts an approach to her music that mixes a fine appreciation of personal examination, a reflection of heritage and its entwining roots, with the ability to turn its anecdotes into words and music that make statements impossible to ignore. You only have to listen to ‘The Lament of The Black Sheep’ to hear the living heart of folk music beating throughout.Playing alongside Ange Hardy on ‘The Lament of The Black Sheep’ are James Findlay (vocals, fiddle) Lukas Drinkwater (double bass, backing vocals) Jon Dyer (flute, whistle) Alex Cumming (accordion, backing vocals) and Jo May (percussion, spoons).You can find Ange Hardy here: www.angehardy.com
May 2014: ‘In the Air or the Earth’ - The Askew Sisters
Tradition withstands neglect, desertion and the grinding pace of time. Despite whatever afflicts it, the depth of tradition endures, and as long as artists like The Askew Sisters nurture its existence, interpret and rework its essence, it remains. Whenever you get a chance listen to their new album ‘In the Air or the Earth’, seize it and you will become imbued with their slice of folk tradition through a gathering of ballads and dance tunes and combination of fiddles, viola, melodeons and concertina, augmented by evocative vocals.
There are songs that move you through striking dark and light tales, drawing your attention with their melodies and holding it with their narratives. There are tunes that speak to you from the first, without need of words, yet begging your soul to join the dance.The echoing sweep of ‘The Maid on the Shore’ takes you to the heart of their storytelling, as does their interpretation of the despair and hope in ‘The Wife of Usher’s Well’, and the dealing-with-death theme continues through ‘The Unquiet Grave’. Through the combination of instruments and voice Emily and Hazel impart tangible levels of sympathy and character into these songs, sensing and relating to the heritage each offers. There’s also superb version of Lewis Carroll’s rhyme with ‘Old Father William’ set to a Morris-style tune penned by Hazel. Turning their attention towards dance, Emily and Hazel captivate with spritely Morris tunes ‘Room for the Cuckold/ Beaux of London’, revive timeless early music with ‘The Whitehall Minuet/ Hare’s Maggot’ complete with lilting vocals, while the splendid combination of hornpipe and stately tune ‘Our Cat has Kitted/ Crimson Velvet’ offers more distinctive attraction.Music like this is not created without an abiding empathy and tenderness for its heritage, coupled with the skill to illuminate it so well. It’s a combination that has crafted ‘In the Air or the Earth’ - an album of singular and iconic beauty.Find ‘In the Air or the Earth’ and The Askew Sisters here: www.askewsisters.co.uk
April 2014: ‘In A Box’ from Megson
With a combined ocean of talent between them, Debbie and Stu Hanna, aka Megson, continue to represent yet another bastion of English folk music with their sixth album ‘In A Box’. And should anyone be at all concerned that our narrative folk tradition is anything but alive, well and flourishing then take home a copy of this album and be utterly reassured. From the awesome poignancy of ‘Clifton Hall Mine’ relating the awful mining disaster caused by the Trencherborne Seam explosion at Lumbs Pit at Clifton Hall near Salford in 1885, through the jaunty sarcasm and cautionary tale of ‘Bet Beesley & Her Wooden Man’ told through the lyrics of J.P. Robson with music by Debbie and Stu, to the reflective tale of ‘Charlie The Newsmonger’, a gossiping stonemason from Gateshead, there’s a blend of arresting vocals, delicious harmonies, intricate musical tapestry and passionate storytelling. This album ranges between traditional lyrics allied to wonderfully attractive musical arrangements and lovingly crafted, self-penned histories telling moving, subtle and tough tales. Listening to these two singing in their native accents is precious treat, especially as the all-pervading mid-Atlantic accent stiil rears its ugly head in folk music. Debbie and Stu give their own personal heritage a cutting edge with the deeply moving ‘The River Never Dies’ , telling its tale of the River Tees running through the events of history.
There's a delicious slice of personal revelation in 'Songs To Soothe A Tired Heart' a gentle lullaby connecting child and parent, while the perceptive observations of ‘Dirty Clothes’ make it one of those enduring songs that touches everyone - listen to the lyrics and tell me you can’t identify with every word. They return to their delivery of evocative stories with the legend of ‘Moses Carpenter’ a Mohawk Indian, written into a slice of pathos-filled human history. The album closes with a lovingly written visit to those supremely private places where our memories live and where we keep those precious moments safe forever, with the stunningly touching duet 'In A Box'. As I said at the outset, Megson rank among those artists that hold the heritage of these islands safe in their hands, whether they reflect traditional tales and through their music give them new energy or treat you to their own insightful views of life lived by everyone. From start to finish, 'In A Box is something to be cherised. This album will become a classic, no doubt, no question. Find Megson here: www.megsonmusic.co.uk
March 2014: Tea and Confidences’ from Fearing and White
There’s an alchemy at work here. The symbiosis between singer-songwriters Canadian Stephen Fearing and Belfast native Andy White, moves beyond transforming base metal into noble metal, to fashion ‘Tea and Confidences’ – an album of considerable presence. The charisma of this album manifests itself throughout the spread of the songs, as it move seamlessly between pulsing guitar-driven energy, deeply felt endearing ballads and powerful personal statements. Creating ‘Tea and Confidences’ presented nearly as many problems as those faced by ancient alchemic practitioners, Stephen lives in Canada’s maritime province of Nova Scotia while Andy resides in Melbourne, Australia. Getting together and forging this album was the not the easiest task. It grew from a concentrated burst of songwriting, a four-day flow of creativeness, with the accumulated material finally formed in The Cottage studio in Guelph, southern Ontario, with Gary Craig (drums, percussion) plus Jeff Bird (harmonica) and Ray Farrugia (drums).
However problematical the task, it was without doubt worth the effort and intensity. ‘Tea and Confidences’ may not be the yearned for philosopher’s stone but it does deliver some pure nuggets of high value. There’s the lyrical edge of the opening track ‘Tomorrow Takes A Long Time’, the guitar and drum punch of ‘We Came Together’, the infectious hooks of ‘Secret of A Long-Lasting Love’ – complete with its caustic yet hopeful lyrics, and the heartbeat pulse and powerful weight applied to the reflective tale of ‘Sanctuary’.The softer side of this collaboration reveals itself through the contemplative experience of ‘Another Time Another Place’ - taking a song about love into an altogether different and totally engaging place, the poignant narrative of ‘To The Great Unknown’ with its stunning vocals and harmonies, the inherent understanding of the whispered musings within ‘Think Of Me Like Summer’ - one of those songs that sums up thoughts and feelings we've all experienced. And of course, the wealth of understanding and emotion tied up in the mournful, devastatingly heartrending ‘Emigrant Song’. ‘Tea and Confidences’ is an album that makes perfect sense. It's also an album that will reach you on so many levels and stay with you long after the last notes fade. You can find Fearing and White here: www.fearingandwhite.com
February 2014: ‘Live At Crossroads’ from Adrian Nation
Live albums prompt one of two reactions – wondering why because it’s so badly recorded or wondering why you’ve been waiting so long for the artist to unleash their live potential on an album. So between ‘why did they bother’ and ‘why has this taken so long’, I approach ‘live albums’ with some trepidation. That’s why this one made my day. Singing and playing with a combined richness and raw openness, Adrian Nation offers a selection of self-penned songs and one instrumental on ‘Live At Crossroads’ and I for one can’t help but question why it’s taken so long for this live album to appear. Perhaps not the most well-known singer-songwriter (although I can’t understand why) this man writes achingly observant lyrics delivered across lingering and memorable melodies.
The breadth of music is reflected in the expanse between individual songs spread across the years, from the opening spoken words of ‘The Coming of the Day’ with its deeply poetic feel and riveting guitar - more a piece of evocative and sonorous poetry than anything else, through the instrumental dexterity on display in ‘Five Finger Rapids’ - ample demonstration were any needed of one man’s command over his chosen instrument, to a quite frankly outstanding rendition of ‘Vincent Black Lightning’. Should you decide to cover a Richard Thompson song you’d better know what you’re doing, not only that, you have to give the song something dramatic to avoid negative comparison. And should you acomplish that, choosing Vincent Black Lightning would be a bold choice. No worries here, Adrian hits it with guitar and vocals. If anyone is going to give 'the master' a run for his money on any of his songs this one gets my vote. The scope of Adrian's music on offer here also includes the reassuring sympathy of ‘Brightest Star’ with its incredibly powerful lyrics - delivered by a voice that raises the emotion to a soul-wrenching level. There's the piercingly perceptive ‘The Dying of Democracy’ - a hard narrative, driven hard, telling its tale of rioting and violence in Athens: "Just a stone's throw from its birthplace, I saw the dying of democracy." Wicked lyrics. And then the evocative reflection of ‘Set Fire to the Sky’, with its sparse but perfectly-placed vocals and haunting guitar. Find Adrian Nation and his music here: www.adriannation.co.uk
January 2014: ‘All Life is Here’ from Harp and a Monkey
Whenever the despair of dull music oppresses there’s always Harp and a Monkey as they move through their intricate world of folk electronica with different and singular steps. Some artists trot out the same old same old, but Harp and a Monkey consistently work their alchemic magic along and across the edge of weird folk. Martin Purdy (vocals, glockenspiel, accordion, harmonica, keyboards) Simon Jones (harp, guitar, viola) and Andy Smith (banjo, guitar, melodica, programming) add innovation and experiment to traditional and contemporary cultural anecdotes to create diverse, memorable folk narratives. With their latest album, ‘All Life is Here’, there’s a subtle difference to the band, somehow tighter and more in control but still just as idiosyncratic and still telling stories with deep meaning. Naturally, they continue with the regular inclusion of background sounds, field recordings and related comments from involved voices, each observation adding another facet to the song. Their chosen narratives about events are made all the stronger by recordings from those voices' that were there'. This time the album opens with an intro soundbite with possibly their youngest fan: “What do you want to listen to?” “Monkey!” “Harp and a Monkey?” “Yes!” – magical stuff. That morphs into the sombre ‘Walking in the Footsteps of Giants’ a tough song, including a veteran’s soundbite describing a perilous trek across dangerous Pyrenean Mountain tracks in the pitch dark to fight in the Spanish Civil War. This is followed by a fervently different take on Ewan MacColl’s gently unusual love story, ‘Manchester Angel’. There’s also the acutely observant ‘Tupperware and Tinfoil’ complete with electronic ‘twinkly’ seaside sounds - chronicling any family trip to the coast, evoking summers long gone, and destined to hit an immediate chord with any of us old enough to remember those far off days. The essence of Harp and a Monkey is their strength of elaborate melody and skilful storytelling technique. This combination creates songs like ‘Bolton’s Yard’ – you’re there immediately as Martin recalls its occupants, standing among the characters that live there, along with their ‘hopes and fears’.
Their familiar, elaborate melodies add so many layers this album will always strike fresh as each hearing unearths yet another level. Listen to the scope of ‘Pay Day’ with lyrical depth and shadowy sounds that expand beyond its jaunty melody, or the moving intensity of ‘The Gallipoli Oak’ its tale made expressive by Martin’s rich vocals, and for aficionados there’s another outing from the Folk Police Weirdlore album track ‘Molecatcher’, this time re-written and even better. Since first hearing Harp and a Monkey, along with many others, I’ve classed myself among the ranks of avid fans - the arrival of ‘All Life is Here’ can only swell those ranks. All they need to do now is venture from familiar ground and take their live act from their beloved Lancashire and head down the country – there must be countless fans waiting for them and they’re bound to acquire many more along the way. This is where you’ll find Harp and a Monkey: www.harpandamonkey.com
December 2013: ‘Diamonds On The Water’ from Oysterband
Deliberate on the mainstays of this country's electric folk, folk rock or folk punk and it’s a certainty that Oysterband will be up there with the best-of-the-best. Loud, brash, aware, involved, opinionated – all the words I’ve heard describing their music, yet these seem to mellow when set against their new studio album of original songs, ‘Diamonds On The Water’ ... Oysterband fans will soak it up, every word and every note. There’s something about Oysterband’s music that lives with you long after the music has faded. It’s an elemental touch that quite simply gets to you and refuses to let go. There’s the depth of examination into the human condition in the lyrics. There’s the forging of folk and rock into an altogether different sound. There’s anger and refusal in equal part with understanding and resignation. And through it all comes an overriding feeling of experience (good and bad) allied to time-served. With ‘Diamonds On The Water’ there's evidence of a slightly more mellifluous, melodious touch to these songs, some of the angry angst may have toned down a mite, the political seething given way to more personal reflection – whatever the changes, what’s ‘new’ remains characteristically Oysterband. The pedigree is there, perhaps only the depth and ripeness have increased to create a classic Oysters album.
As the lead track ‘A Clown’s Heart’ sets off, immediately you’re on familiar ground - hook rich, inspiring melody, concentrated chorus and eminently identifiable lead vocal. This song appears more than a touch autobiographical even if it’s unintentional – it brought that feeling to me anyway. There’s a strong sense of reflection that runs through this album, it revisits through ‘Spirit of Dust’ - highly melodic, great harmonies and overflowing with pure emotion, and within the title track, ‘Diamonds on the Water’ enriched with its brass accents. The album is worth your cash for these three alone (along with the superb 'No Ordinary Girl'). There’s a familiar drive and proclamation in ‘A River Runs’ (incidentally co-written by Ray Cooper as his last musical contribution to the band) the same momentum persists through the faintly ominous ‘Palace Of Memory’ and the emotion and sincerity of ‘Call You Friend’. Then of course there’s the delicious ‘No Ordinary Girl’ – lyrics to evoke, a message that invokes and a melody you’ll only resist if you’re dead - another future-classic. Oysterband still holds the stalwarts John Jones (melodeon, lead vocals) Alan Prosser (guitars, viola, vocals) and Ian Telfer (fiddle, concertina, vocals), there’s also Dil Davies (drums) and Al Scott (bass) - find them here: www.oysterband.co.uk. With occasional contributions either on the album, on tour or both, from Adrian Oxaal, Rowan Godel, Lindsey Oliver, Lee Partis and the brass section of Pete Davison, Eira Owen and Sarah Leeves.
November 2013: ‘Come What May’ from Clutching At Straws
Folk music is unique in its malleability and eclecticism. There’s no rabid ‘tribalisation’ that defines by excluding rather than embracing. Folk exhibits new, unusual and different. It is a dynamic meld-point for reflecting influences, cultures and expressions. Unorthodox lives alongside heritage. That’s the ethos that pulled me into this music over 45 years ago (and I’ve written about it enough to get my point across). It’s an attitude that pervades folk – and if ever a band expressed that essence then it’s Clutching At Straws with ‘Come What May’.
The influence of folk heritage is there for all to hear as is the freedom to build a new creation on that foundation. The first time you listen to ‘Come What May’ from Clutching At Straws there’s little doubt you’re hearing another of this country’s outstanding folk bands – however you choose to define folk, or not. This vibrant, thoughtful, ‘living’ music that’s played with passion and presence – and that my friends is usually enough. There’s so many levels working on ‘Come What May’ one or two of them may pass you by at first but the more you listen the more you hear. There’s the sparkling melodies, the engaging blend of voices, the finely eclectic mix of instruments and intense percussion and there’s also deeply investigative, observant and razor-sharp lyrics. Clutching At Straws describe themselves as ‘alternative folk quartet, hailing from the ‘creative county’ of Staffordshire’. Be that as it may, describing their music is better served by using words like unorthodox, hard-nosed and untraditional. Then you could also throw in uncompromising, powerful and penetrating. Then again, without the heritage of the tradition, folk such as this could not have come about. This is 21st century folk that takes on the issues of this era with the themes and essence of its lyrics and directions of delivery, and Clutching At Straws deliver in precisely the right vein. The lyrics cut to the bone with essential truths and a refusal to accept the way it is. As they say it’s the price that so many people pay. Listen to the eponymous ‘Come What May’ with its intense observations and lyrics that make their presence felt and make their point without uncertainty. There’s the more acquiescing acceptance but no less poignant ‘Forged Tales’ – love the mournful doleful resignation in the vocals. There’s the complex and perceptive ‘Look At You Now’ complete with its potent, intricate vocals and the outraged realisation and demand for alternatives bound up in ‘The Price You Paid’. These guys write songs that make intense statements and ask piercing questions. The album closes with ‘Through Your Eyes’ – an ‘anthemic’ melody with a compulsive hook, and again those achingly accurate lyrics and attention-grabbing vocals. ‘Come What May’ isn’t the longest album in the world but if the axiom of ‘leave them wanting more’ ever held good then ‘Come What May’ fulfils the proverb. Hear this album and you will want more. And I’m certain there’s lots more to come. Twice as long would be good next time but if it’s concentrated and powerful then tiny doses often suffice. And this double-distilled, pure sit-up and take-notice music is exactly the required dose. Try it – you’ll love it. Find the album and the band here: www.clutchingatstraws.com
October 2013: 'Red House' by Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer
This duo has forged a reputation of instrumental dexterity, proving their skills through performances, collaborations, albums and workshops. That repute also extends to their empathy for writing and composing, blending both traditional and contemporary themes to produce music both time-honoured and brand-new. The measure of quality has been defined by economists, playwrights, scholars and philosophers, my definition is much simpler – listen to the music of Vicki Swan & Jonny Dyer. Following their progress for over ten years has been a distinct pleasure. Their flawless interpretation of our musical heritage runs through their albums, across their captivating live performances, and has provided eager listeners with hours of pure quality music. Their latest album, ‘Red House’ continues the legacy. Through a partnership that has forged an enviable reputation for instrumental excellence, spiralling harmonies, talented songwriting and captivating arrangements, Vicki and Jonny continue to write their own melodies with the same dexterity and brilliance they apply to their adaptations of traditional tunes. And their mastery of their selected instruments – from Scottish smallpipes, Swedish nyckelharpa and bagpipes, English border pipes to guitars, accordion and ‘saz-shaped bouzouki thing’ – remains dazzling. (For the intrigued among you there’s a little more about nyckelharpa and ‘saz-shaped bouzouki thing’ at the end of this review.)
‘Red House’ is a superb folk experience of precious substance – from the opening ‘The Rambling Shuiler’ once made famous by Planxty, now with a new arrangement that could well become ‘the standard,’ through the deliciously dreamy pipes of ‘Skomakaren’ and the iridescent pipes of ‘Stumpie’ that call you to take on a lively step, to the mournful and cautionary tale of ‘The Sheffield Apprentice’ – each one a gem and collectively a treasure hoard. The experience continues through the multifaceted majesty of ‘Red House’, a fine version of Keys to Canterbury here called ‘The Proposal (Keys of my heart)’ and the duo of sprightly inspirational tunes 'Trad III', learned from Vicki's Dad. There's also 'The Private Still' an oft-repeated tale of common Irishman besting conniving authority by way of faster wits - wait for the punchline, and the delightful vitality of ‘Bolinder’ complete with two-stroke narrowboat engine providing the rhythm - nothing if not inventive! On ‘Red House’ the honours are as follows: Vicki Swan (Scottish smallpipes, Swedish nyckelharpa, English border pipes, Swedish bagpipes, flute, double bass) Jonny Dyer (vocals, guitar, accordion, ‘saz-shaped bouzouki thing’, piano) and guest Tom Kitching (fiddle, narrowboat ‘Spey’ engine driver). ‘Red House’ will become a seminal folk album, no doubt.
A second generation piper, Vicki remains true to her Swedish roots with the Swedish nyckelharpa (literally ‘key harp’) a traditional Swedish string instrument with keys attached to tangents which, when depressed, serve as frets to change the pitch of the string. Somewhat similar to a fiddle it’s also closely related to the hurdy-gurdy. Dating from circa 1350 this impressive-looking device is a true ancient instrument. As well as a master of the guitar, Jonny also demonstrates his technical expertise across sazouki, accordion, cow horn and Kerry low-D whistle. The sazouki being a custom-made saz/bouzouki cross-breed that can trace its history through Ottoman classical, Turkish folk, Kurdish and Assyrian music across Syria, Iraq and the Balkans – certainly well-travelled. The album insert includes comprehensive notes on all the tunes and songs. There’s also line illustrations of Vicki, Jonny and their instruments complete with slightly tongue-in-cheek annotations that include such illuminating information as ‘Wiggle here’, Twiddle here’, ‘Attach elastic bands here’ and ‘Store for chocolate buttons’. You’ll have to get yourself a copy of ‘Red House’ to understand. You can find Vicki & Jonny and ‘Red House’ here: www.swan-dyer.co.uk
September 2013: ‘Stay’ from Peter Conway
Peter Conway has a richly moody voice that exudes obsession and sensitivity both. He has a delivery that just gets under your skin. It’s almost as if his voice transcends lyrics and takes on the persona of another instrument. The more you listen to ‘Stay’ the more you wonder just where he’s going to lead you. The result is infectious, poetic narratives that resonate. The depth and presence of his songs is so powerful their essence stays with you for some considerable time and deliver on so many levels. Sealed within ‘Stay’ there’s soul-deep, Americana-tinged lyrics that relate pensive longing, sensuous understanding, fiery defiance and a ‘street-wise’ acceptance that life ain’t always a bed of roses. This is rough as it comes, no adornment to make the message more palatable and overflowing with pure unadulterated, down-home truths – hard though they may be. Framed with stunning guitars that alternate from acoustic warmth to electric energy, echoed through soulful piano and the steam-hammer emphasis of precise percussion, ‘Stay’ delivers luscious melodies replete with irresistible hooks. And wherever you listen there’s that voice – ranging from sensuous murmurings to full-on agonised exclamation.
The songs on ‘Stay’ develop and grow as you listen, each one telling its cut-to-the-bone story without losing your attention for a moment. Self-describing ‘Stay’ as songs about ‘love, intimacy and human relationships’ Conway lays bare his soul for all to see. From the first, with the brooding vocals and ripping guitar on ‘Found My Faith in You’, through the hard experience of ‘Broken Shoes’, to the potent depths of ‘Without You Next To Me’, this album takes you along with its writer and performer on a passion-filled journey that’s simply too hard to ignore. And if ‘Stay’ and Lonely Tears (Use Your Imagination) don’t get to you then you’re clearly made of stone and have no soul. The flow of songs throughout ‘Stay’ is totally engaging. The stand-outs we identified are ‘Hear Me Now’, the anthemic defiance and resistant hope locked in ‘Hey Johnny (Always Remember Your Dreams)’ and ‘Call Out Across America’ – (some guy called Bruce would love to have written them). There’s also the eternal belief of ‘Hear Me Now’ and the simple yearning of ‘Genevieve (Light Inside)’. There’s no doubt that Peter Conway ‘speaks from the heart’ through powerful songs that relate the vagaries of the human condition, and ‘tell it how it is’ – no frills, no add-ons, no dilution. For our money ‘Stay’ sets out a stall that tells you about life and tells you where it is. And if that’s the case, and it is then you’ll soon find that you’re ready to go there. ‘Stay’ is currently only on limited edition CD release and not yet available to be downloaded digitally, so to get your copy go to Peter's website: www.peterconway.net. Trust us when we say that you will be glad that you invested some of your hard-earned cash in ‘Stay’ – it’s an album that hits hard on so many levels it makes Mike Tyson look as though he punches like a girl.
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