The Durbervilles - Alternative Route To All Destinations
Both within and outwith the ballpark of our expectation, at long last in strides the Durbervilles’ long-awaited “difficult third album” with all the swaggering, punchy confidence we know and love.
The actual opening bars of the set may be more laid-back, but as soon as the drumkit kicks in for the chorus we know we’re back there in familiar Durbervilles territory for a good-time-anthem (that’s blessed with one of the longest titles concocted in recent years!), amidst all the catchiness of prime Lindisfarne.
Since their second album, the Durbervilles have suffered no disruptive lineup changes or stylistic upheavals, so Alternative Route… gives us just more of what they’re good at, the tried and tested formula in many ways. Buy hey, I don’t mean to imply that the band are standing still musically or failing to progress, for their togetherness as a performing unit (as well as their muso-cred as five individuals) is even more apparent on this new set, as are those intelligent subtle little details in the arrangements and picking that can sometimes get a little hidden even with the fine sound they get to achieve on a live gig. Not to mention the ever-quirky observation and offbeat inventiveness of the lyrics, which, though still drawing to some extent from the trusty conventions and sensibilities of the wellspring of Americana and roots heritage, retain a definably wry quality that’s thoroughly English (I dubbed it “downhome-UK” last time round, and I stand by that tag).
That quality unavoidably invokes comparisons with the likes of Squeeze or Ray Davies (Randell Avenue), Clive Gregson (300 Letters) and Little Johnny England (Glory To The Few), the latter outfit also being honourably invoked through the rocked-up-reeling backbeat of the fun instrumental Corporal’s Trousers/M’Lady’s Moustache (which comes complete with guest morris and clog dancers and slightly silly touches). Which leads me on to remark that even though the album is self-evidently a studio production, the Durbervilles have succeeded in capturing much of the essential infectiousness of their live performances, the energy and drive that they always bring to their music, the momentum that carries the listener along and forward too. They’ve also learnt the lesson of the virtue of economy, for there’s no excess baggage in their songs, they get on with it, make their point and then shuffle off, none of them overstretched or needlessly extended – in fact, perhaps one or two (Silence After Midnight and the rock’n’roller Unguarded Moment) feel a little prematurely curtailed.
Standout cuts for me include Rain Upon The Road, with its timeless roadsong feel, No Good Around Here, and the closing track, the mini-epic The Last One, which features some typically florid, soaring soloing from Fairporter Ric Sanders. Ric also guests on four other tracks, and Chumbawamba’s Jude Abbott brings her distinctive vocalising to two of the songs; otherwise it’s an all-Durberville production with regard to both performing and compositional credits.
The whole affair turns out a well unified production, not least considering the liner note’s claim that it was recorded “in various places and numerous front rooms all over the north and the midlands”, representing another irresistible and thoroughly entertaining 44minutes in the life of the Durbervilles.
Lasairfhíona - Flame of Wine
Lasairfhíona is a singer very much rooted in the Sean Nos song of her native Aran Isles off the West Coast of Eire and as you would expect this is very much reflected in her material, both self composed and traditional. 'Flame of Wine' is her second release following her 2002 debut 'An Raicín Álainn' and with this release whilst keeping true to her roots she has branched out a little, including some English language material both self composed and traditional.
'Flame of Wine' consists of 14 tracks, the majority of which are Gaelic, some of which she has learned directly from close family members on the Aran Islands and has given her own touch to the material, other material includes a haunting interpretation of Aoibhneas An Ghrá, a piece of Irish Bardic poetry (interpreted as 'Loves Enchantment'), through to the soothing 'An Gleanntán Uaigneach (The Lonely Valley), a slightly adapted version of a song she learnt from her Uncle. Each song on this recording stands out in its own right and each clearly indicates the breadth of Lasairfhíona's talent and connection with the roots of her music. Make no mistake Lasairfhíona is one of the most outstanding singing talents to emerge from Eire in recent years, and this release is testament to the increased diversity of her material whilst making no compromises, as well as her own strengths as a vocalist Lasairfhíona has collaborated with the likes of Máire Breatnach (providing fiddle and production skills), Mary Bergin (Tin Whistle) and Bill Shanley (Guitar), each of which has added their own skills to an outstanding release.
I would hope that visits to this side of the Irish Sea will be on her agenda in the not too distant future in the meantime for further information see www.aransinger.com (which helpfully includes clips from all the tracks of 'Flame of Wine') or myspace.com/lasairfhiona
Ffynnon - 'Adar Gwylltion'
Ffynnon are a four piece based in Cardiff, although relatively unknown this side of the big pond, which is perhaps a symptom of the lack of acknowledgement given to the Welsh contribution to the folk arts in these islands, the band were signed to the Green Linnet label in the states as a result of a demo tape sent through the post, following this up they have performed succesful concerts across the US. The band started life as a trio consisting of Dave Reid, Lynne Denman and Stacy Blythe, Read was well know on the Jazz scene both in London and Wales and his Guitar playing bought a special element to the original trio when combined with the more 'folky' elements of Denman's vocals and Blyth's accordian and harp. Although sadly Reid suffered a fatal heart attack in 2003 his influences can still be felt in the bands sound. After this tragedy and loss the band re-organised and recruited two new members, Fiddler Emma Trend and Guitarist Matthew Lovett who like Read has a background in the Jazz scene and indeed plays with the BBC Not NOW Jazz Ensemble.
'Adar Gwylltion' is one of those CD's where it is hard to identify a particular highlight or two, indeed without fail every track is a highlight in its own unique right. The quartet experiment, improvise, include other traditions and put their own mark on each track whether instrumental or song based. Indeed the 13 full tracks include both instrumental and vocal based tracks and range from Songs taken from the Breton tradition to Welsh poems and elements of the Welsh oral tradition put to song. The two examples of the former are 'En filant ma Quenouille' and 'Septmartins' with the latter being a traditional Breton song concerned with the young women of the village waiting for the return of the sailors, examples of the latter include 'Rheged' which are verses from 'Diffaith aelwyd Rheged', an ancient Welsh poem lamenting the betrayal which lead to the loss of the ancient British lands and 'Llys Ifor Hael' a work by the 17th century poet Ieuan Brydydd Hir. For the most part the songs are in the Welsh Language, the exceptions are the English Language poem by contemporary poet Janet Dubé and part of the final song 'Breuddwyd'. However the strength of this quartet lies precisely in their innovation and absorbing other influences (the Jazz background of one of their members being an obvious example) whilst in no ways losing the essence of their own tradition or for that matter the Breton songs they include on this collection.
Whilst each of the band are busy and are involved in several other projects on the strength of this release I find it hard to believe that Ffynnon will not become more of a 'name' on the folk scene over the next few years. My only criticism are the lack of details on the inlay card either about the band or the songs and poems, although to be fair the lyrics and details of the songs are clearly available online and can be found at ffynnon.com which includes the details you would expect along with short clips from each track on the current CD, sufficient to encourage you to increase your credit card bill I would suspect.
Shoormal - "Turning Tide"
Released October 2006
What can I say about this album? As it turns out, there’s too much to say!
This is a dazzling piece of work. Truly, an offering without blemish. Shoormal, in Turning Tide, has set a standard that others can only mimic. A Must Buy Album
Turning Tide is twelve tracks (plus bonus tack) of sheer unadulterated delight, a listening pleasure which will massage both your senses and your spirit: I recommend you slip this album into your player, dim the lights and indulge yourself.
Opening with the wonderful Serendipity, with its rich luxurious intro and Donna Smith’s wonderful vocal the standard is set. One of the joys on this album is that Smith has more lead vocals, with arguably the best track, the sensitively written and stunningly performed, Tightrope Walker.
Freda Leask opens her account and delights us as she leads in the eponymous and emotive, Turning Tide. As enchanting as her Shetland dialect is, it never-the-less cannot hide the pain, emotion, and pathos that are found in the lyric. She radiates again in the country vibed, Skin Deep, little wonder, as it is inspired by a poem by her late brother, the poet Brian Tulloch.
You can’t talk about Shoormal without mentioning (though methinks she would shrink from the description) the jewel in their vocal crown Joyce McDill. For me McDill is Scotland’s most underrated female vocalist and songwriter. Reading her lyrics over the past three albums I am convinced she should consider poetry to more deeply express her inner thoughts.
Meandering back to McDill’s vocal, she simply shines whether it’s in the thought provoking Sanctuary, the divine Woods In Winter or the upbeat in both tempo and content Slack Water.
Shoormal may be blessed with great vocals, but that is only a part of what they are. In Smith and Tulloch they have two extraordinary guitarists, with Ritch, Kemp and Arthur. On Bass, Percussion and Piano respectfully, this is truly a gifted outfit, and gifts they use to wonderful effect, all for our ministration.
I for one am thankful for their efforts
Mick Sands with Clive Carroll – The Ominous And The Luminous (Box Room Records BRR0001)
Funny how life has a way of surprising you? Only this week I’ve had a couple of happy ‘folk’ related incidents both connected with the Young’s Fish TV advert. Having just discovered that Andy Findon is the ‘whistle’ player on the latest incarnation of ‘When The Boat Comes In’ I now notice that Mick Sands (who provided the original vocal version) has recorded a new version for this, his latest venture. Being hand-clapped and spoons led, it’s certainly different but who wouldn’t just die for those vocals? I’ve known Mick for many years having first met at The Boyle Family sessions at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Since then he has developed a career as a theatre composer and worked on many collaborative music projects. It was on one of these that he first encountered the stunning guitarist Clive Carroll who was working with Maggie Boyle. Out of a mutual respect for each others musicianship the occasional duo was formed and this recording, steeped in the tradition with songs such as; “Up The Raw”, “Lough Erne’s Shore” and “Cunla” complemented by Mick’s not inconsiderable talents as a writer himself is the pleasing result. As is obvious from the outset Mick’s love of words particularly the beautiful Robert Burns “Slave’s Lament” is compassionate without the sense of over sentimentality conveyed by (how shall we say) less worthy singers. For copies of the CD drop Mick a line via E Mail at email@example.com
Albion Band – Lark Rise To Candleford (Talking Elephant Records TECD097)
I suppose for many British folk musicians like myself, the late 1970s early 1980s were possibly the most fruitful for the combination of theatre and ‘folk’ music. Lark Rise and Candleford were being staged at the National Theatre and I can still remember being jostled by Brian Glover in one of the numerous performances I attended like an unpaid extra in a TV production. The excitement for me of course carried over to the sound that was The Albion Band. Helmed by Ashley Hutchings the group included amongst others John Tams, Graeme Taylor, John Kirkpatrick, Martin Carthy and (the sadly missed) Howard Evans. It was indeed a glorious racket that ushered in the opening track with the brass band taking on the full majesty of the electric slide guitar with ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’ followed by Carthy’s harmonically accompanied ‘Lemady’. In fact, I can remember every single track (for there wasn’t a bad one) of the twenty-one included on the album and of course the recording remains as fresh today as it ever did then. If you missed out at the time or are indeed looking for something to get into after your latest fix of Bellowhead then this is where it all began. It’s great to see a recent upsurge in re-releases of some classic folk albums and Talking Elephant are leading the way. For more information check out the website at www.talkingelephant.com
THE McCALMANS - Scots Abroad
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Playing Time – 56:47
The original McCalmans (Ian McCalman, Hamish Bayne, Derek Moffat) met in 1964 at the Edinburgh College of Art. The folk craze was in full swing with groups like the Kingston Trio and others having a significant impact on young college students worldwide. In 1982, Hamish retired to a life of building concertinas, and Nick Keir joined the group. When Derek Moffat sadly passed away in 2001, Stephen Quigg joined. Back in 1986, The McCalmans signed on with Greentrax Recordings when Ian Green’s label had just formed, and the label’s second release was the group’s “Peace and Plenty.” Six other McCalman albums have been released on the label over the years. Now, twenty years since they first contracted with Greentrax, the label’s 300th album release is The McCalmans’ “Scots Abroad.” Their popularity, longevity and success are largely attributable to their strong vocals and harmonies anchored by Ian MacCalman, Nick Keir and Stephen Quigg. Instruments used include guitar, bodhran, keyboard, mouth organ, mandolin, and whistles.
Besides an emphasis on “Scots Abroad,” the 17 songs also tell stories of Scots at home. The themes of traveling, rambling, dreaming and roaming have always been consistent crowd-pleasing subjects in Scottish ballads and songs. Over half of the offerings are originals, and I was particular intrigued by Nick Keir’s wry-witted “American Accent” about the old days when everyone sung like Dylan or Elvis. I always enjoy good renditions of traditional fare like “The Broom o’ the Cowdenknowes” and “The Skye Boat Song.” From one of Scotland’s finest songwriters, Karine Polwart’s resplendent “Follow the Heron” tells of winter’s back being broken as the seeds of summer have spoken. “Scotland's Story” speaks to the great ethnic diversity in Scotland’s population.
The rousing 3-tune instrumental set at track 10 is a showcase for Nick’s whistle. Nick Keir’s “All Over This Town” is a heart-rending and eloquent love song. And, for a song about a favorite Scottish haunt for dreaming, listen to the beautiful imagery in Nick’s “East Lothian Sky.” Sung in English and Danish, “The Tivoli Song,” a collaboration between Jeremy Taylor and Nick Keir, was recorded live in Hagge’s Musik Pub in Tonder, Denmark. Closing the album is another live cut -- from the 2005 Scots Trad Music Awards concert, when they brought doon the house with their humorous “The 12 Folk Days of Christmas.” I compliment the group and label for including both the lyrics for and notes about the background of each song (with the exception of the lyrics for “Learning to Row”).
“The Macs,” as they are endearingly called, are a premier male Scottish folk and vocal harmony trio. In 2004, they were honored at the Scots Trad Awards with the “Hamish Henderson Award for Services to Traditional Music.” Truly indefatigable and wry-witted, The McCalmans continue to present new material. Because their largely baby boomer audiences are encouraged to sing along, I recommend that you pick up a copy of “Scots Abroad” so that you can learn some of their newest songs like Ian’s “Extra Time” about aging healthfully, cleaning up your act and towing the line. As they sing in Leaving Denmark, “the old boat rolls a little more.” It’s a profound statement about their own endurance.
BODEGA – Self-Titled www.greentrax.com OR www.bodegaband.com
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Playing Time – 52:55
Every serious band wants to create its own unique, tantalizing, personalized sound that is immediately recognizable. One talented group that is well enroute to achieving that goal is Bodega. While only together since early 2005, Bodega exhibits youthful exuberance, joyful optimism, and sheer creative audacity. The five band members met at The National Centre of Excellence for Traditional Music in Plockton, Ross-shire (northwestern Scotland). After forming for a few casual gigs, they realized that something special was in the breezy Scottish air. Bodega subsequently won the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2006.
Produced by Jack Evans, their debut album is an ingeniously designed triumph that particularly showcases the strong instrumental abilities of Gillian Chalmers (pipes, whistle, fiddle), Ross Couper (fiddle), Tia Files (guitar, bass guitar, snare drum, djembe), Norrie MacIver (vocals, accordion, guitar, djembe) and June Naylor (clarsach). Between the five of them, they have all the instrumental bases well covered. Their repertoire includes plenty of traditional tunes, some even sung in Gaelic. Interestingly, one of their own favorite songs is Bob Dylan’s “Wagon Wheel,” learned from The Old Crow Medicine Show. Norrie MacIver sings with considerable confidence and gusto, and his voice works best with rousing songs like “Crooked Jack” and “Greenland.” I was happy to hear some of Norrie’s own backing vocals in the mix of the latter, but the heavy effects on Ross’ fiddle break takes some getting used to. Norrie’s vocal presentation is a bit too assertive for the lovely 6-minute ballad, “Oran Chaluim Sgaire,” that could’ve also been embellished with some vocal harmonies. Of special note is the set of “Compositions” at track 8 that feature contemporary tunes penned by June, Ross and Tia. Bodega’s album debut proves that they are clever and skillful. Their versatility is a clear strength, and this CD will build them a legion of fans who can appreciate both their talent and affability.
VARIOUS ARTISTS – Scotland: The Music & The Song “20 Year Profile of Greentrax” Cockenzie Business Centre Edinburgh Road Cockenzie East Lothian EH32 www.greentrax.com
Retired police inspector Ian D. Green launched Greentrax Recordings in 1986, and the company has released 350 albums in twenty years. The award-winning label of Scottish traditional music has supported both established musicians and previously unrecorded ones. In 2001, Greentrax became the European distributor for Alasdair Fraser’s Culburnie label, and there’s a cut from his and Natalie Haas’ 2004 Scots Trad Awards winning “Fire & Grace” album included on this sampler. The 3-CD sampler from Greentrax includes Ian Green’s 59 personal favorites (with 4 hours of total music), a couple even from out-of-print albums by Ian Hardie and Ceolbeg (with Davy Steele). Although originally conceived as a one-CD anniversary compilation, the project was wisely expanded to provide a more thematic understanding of the label and presentation of its myriad artists. The first CD reviews the decade from 1986-1996, and the third CD covers 1996-2006. The second CD in the digipak features cutting edge contemporary Scottish music from the entire twenty-year period.
There is emphasis both on singing, as well as on consummate instrumental work. Perhaps the former receives slightly more focus from Greentrax, and in a few instances (e.g. Jeannie Robertson’s “Harlaw”) the Scottish brogue and dialect will require some further study for complete understanding of the lyrics. The Gaelic language is also praised in “Canan Nan Gaidheal” from the album “Gaelic Women,” and there is even some examples from Mairi MacInnes of Puirt-A-Beul (Gaelic nonsense songs sung for dancing when bagpipe and fiddle were banned after the Jacobite uprising). If instrumentals are your preference, then you’ll certainly appreciate the Neil Gow compositions played on bouzouki, mandolin and guitar by Kevin MacLeod and Alec Finn. And, of course, there is plenty of danceable ceilidh music too. The cutting edge material on disc two defies categorization but illustrates the label’s open mind to technofunk (Roddy MacDonald’s “Good Drying”), The Easy Club’s swinging jazzy rhythms, South American influences in MacUmba’s music, and the toe-tapping Latin/Celtic blend of Salsa Celtica.
Greentrax Recordings has consistently released very high-quality Scottish music full of heart, soul and emotion. This well-executed 3-CD set of beautifully arranged music is a must for every lover of eclectic Scottish music. Every cut is special. Ian Green, and all the musicians on Greentrax, should be very proud of their achievements at this 20-year milestone in the company’s history.
The Sage Gateshead Americana Festival July 22-23rd 2006
This weekend was very exciting, not just for me but for many lovers of Americana and country music here in the North East. To me it symbolised a huge turnaround…that after years of being left off the map, suddenly we are an area where quite rightly American music artists want to perform, and there is no shortage of music venues, with The Live Theatre, The Cluny, All Saints Church and others in Newcastle and The Little Theatre and the stunning new Sage on Gateshead Quayside.
The Sage was primarily responsible for this spectacular event, held in the Performance Square directly outside of the building, with stunning views, commented on by many performers, over the River Tyne, the Millennium Bridge and the Baltic Arts Centre, and across to the Newcastle side of the Quayside, whose recent transformation along with the Gateshead side has provided the North East with something of which to be truly proud.
There was even an arrangement with independently run Tyneside Cinema to show American country classics such as ‘Walk The Line,’ ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ and ‘Nashville’ as a limited Americana programme.
The Sage was featuring ticketed events also by such greats as Solomon Burke, Guy Clark, Giant Sand, Adem, Joan as Policewoman, and the three which I had the great pleasure of attending; Thea Gilmore, Dwight Yoakam supported by Tift Merritt and the great Emmylou Harris, supported by Jon Randall. To get artists of their calibre is clearly a huge coup and testament to the commitment to music of the Sage Gateshead.
The weather this weekend for once did us proud and enhanced the atmosphere tenfold, everyone was in high spirits and out to see the best music had to offer for two whole days whilst basking under the sunshine. The organisation was second to none all weekend, each artist allocated a 45 minute time slot and everything ran incredibly smoothly. American themed snacks such as nachos and margheritas abounded from stalls around the stage and the music flowed…..
The Saturday began in the absence of Juliet Turner which was a shame, with Beaver Nelson and friends, followed by Martin Stephenson and the Toerags, both of whom got things off to a toe tapping start.
Next up was South Wales band The Storys, whose music I had actually been introduced to through Tia McGraff. A thoroughly enjoyable set followed, including several tracks from their self titled CD, including ‘I Believe in You,’ ‘Be by Your Side,’ and perhaps lesser known ‘Journey’s End.’ The Storys, fronted by lead man, Steve Balsamo have already heralded comparisons with such greats as The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. I for one am already looking forward to their return to the North East in September.
Having heard a great deal about Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart I was looking forward to seeing their set. Stacey reminded me of a younger Nanci Griffith in more ways than once, and they really shone when performing songs which showed off their harmonies.
Saturday’s highlight for me came in the form of The Greencards, an Austin, Texas based bluegrass band comprising members from Australia and the UK. In all honesty I have never been a great fan of bluegrass but this group could well have changed my view. They clearly enjoy performing so much and wowed the audience with tracks such as the achingly beautiful ‘The Ghost of Who We Were,’ ‘Weather and Water,’ ‘What You Are’ and ‘Almost Home.’
Sunday commenced with a soul tinged session from Jeb Loy Nichols followed by Ukelele Allstars who I am assured performed a lively set. However I missed this one as my friend and I decided to head inside to check out one of the events in the aptly titled Americana Lounge, which over the weekend was hosting workshops with Otis Gibbs, and American themed films. Having been to Montana and Wyoming back in 2003, and fallen in, love with the area, I decided I wanted to hear Cowboy Poet Wallace McRae, read some poetry and talk about his life on the ranch. The stories he told of his life rang so true and were told with such humour everyone quickly warmed to him. As he talked of the battlefield of Custer’s last Stand and ranch life, I was transported back to that area. Then he treated us to a recitation of one of his most requested poems ‘Reincarnation.’ On talking to the man himself afterwards, it emerged that en route to Mount Rushmore I’d have been within 20 miles of his land…..small world indeed. Information about his poetry can be found at http://www.cowboypoetry.com/mcrae.htm
Paul Kelly Duo from Australia was up next on the main stage outside playing a range of songs; some known, some less familiar. They were followed by Scottish group Aberfeldy who it seems are currently making a big name for themselves on the UK music scene with such songs as the intriguingly titled ‘Vegetarian Restaurant.’
Finally came the moment I have to confess I had been waiting for, having been told by both Tia McGraff and various friends how amazing Eve Selis is and having waited a long way for her to venture in our direction. So to be treated to a free performance by the lady herself, accompanied by her amazing band (Marc "Twang" Intravaia, ‘Cactus’ Jim Soldi and Sharon Whyte) was an opportunity to good to miss. The first thing that must be pointed out about this lady is how down to earth she is and the almost magical, certainly effortless way in which she connects with and engages her audience. From the second she bounded onto the stage and launched into the rockin’ ‘Mr Lincoln,’ I and those around me were held captivated by Eve’s performance. This she followed with ‘The Ballad of Kate Morgan,’ ‘Russellville,’ a wonderfully penned song about being lost, Kim Richey’s great song ‘Those words we said’ and a stirring version of the ballad ‘Pocket Full of Stones.’ Essentially this is a song about kindness and I am confident that I am not the only person who was moved to tears by it. Another highlight was ‘Do you Know Me?’ a song penned by Canadian singer Lisa Brokop and Eve’s long time collaborator Kim McLean (previously known as Kim Patton-Johnston) about how there are angels all around us and we just have to learn to recognise them. What most strikes you about Eve’s performance is the sheer energy she exudes. It has been said of her ‘Eve Selis isn’t just a “singer” — she’s an emotion transducer who converts country, R&B, blues, folk, and rock ‘n’ roll signals into a megawatt zap that galvanizes everyone in its path.’ Using her own brand of roadhouse rock, her ‘lemonade and whisky voice’ as it has come to be known, finds its way to your very core and leaves you in awe at the experience. Eve is returning next year, both with and without her band, and I can virtually guarantee she has found a whole new audience here in the North East. Looking around, people were blown away by her performance and the queues to buy her CDs were the biggest I’d seen all weekend. Even she was amazed at the reaction to her music.
Suffice to say for the sake of the music loving public and Americana music, I for one am hoping and praying that this festival will not only be repeated in 2007 but that it will become an annual event at the Sage Gateshead. I urge anyone who enjoyed it to pass that feedback to the Sage and to encourage them to follow this event up with another.
Helen Mitchell, South Shields.
Tia McGraff and Tommy Parham @ The Riverside, South Shields, July 25th 2006-08-20
Tia McGraff is making big waves here in the UK, that is for sure. Building on the success of two tours in 2005, they returned this summer to perform a variety of venues, including the Sesiwn Fahr festival in Wales, where they performed with such artists as Amy Wadge. They have had writing sessions with members of The Storys and The Christians and great things are happening. Even well known North East radio DJ Alan Robson held a live session at Metro Radio, which resulted in some new faces at the Riverside.
It was a pleasure, therefore, to welcome Tia and Tommy back to The Riverside after an eight month interlude, on this, their honeymoon UK tour! Tia seemed genuinely happy to be back in a town she says reminds her of home in Port Dover, Ontario, and was in good spirits on a blisteringly hot summer night.
Beginning with the now well known title track of their current CD, Outside of the Circle, which had several audience members singing along, Tia then took us on a journey of songs and emotions from earlier work through to brand new material. The Fisherman song went down well, here in this once busy port and was complimented beautifully by a song which held everyone spellbound. Tia said since we were in a coastal town, she wanted to try out a new song they had just written in Wales the previous week. Thus we had the privelege of hearing the first live performance of Devil's Gold, written about a clipper which hit rocks in Wales, en route home from Australia. There is a tale, the old folks tell here/ about the storm of 1859/ 500 souls, sailing homeward/ dreaming of tomorrow / with riches on their mind /………But greed is the devil's daughter/ in the deepest water she'll drag you down…… This song is destined for the new album, to be recorded later this year and was definitely the highlight of the evening for me.
Other new songs included That Ain't My Story' an almost tongue in cheek look at the current news and political stories we hear so much about. I Can't Quit, Tia wrote for Tommy and is a touching, but not over sentimental, love song. Silver Lake was inspired by the place in Port Dover where they annually perform at the July 1st Canada Day celebrations. Clearly despite seven years in Nashville, Port Dover is still home to Tia; It makes my heart ache, for Silver Lake.
Ending the set with Jewel's Café, and Catfish Deacon, and the touching song, written by Dinah Brein, Until We Meet Again, which seemed highly appropriate, Tia and Tommy left the audience wanting more and eagerly awaiting their return.
I don't think it will be long before Tia has outgrown such venues and seeing her perform in such intimate locations will be a distant memory. I suggest that before this happens, you grab the next opportunity with both hands.
Puppini Sisters – Betcha Bottom Dollar - (Universal Music 9857592)
I might sound a little like the character played by Hugh Grant in the film ‘Notting Hill’ writing for ‘Horse & Hounds’ but the end justifies the means and with this in mind I’d like to draw your attention to this gem of an album that just about crosses into the realms of folk music and, let’s face it, who wouldn’t die for those fabulous Andrews Sisters style harmonies?
Marcella Puppini, Kate Mullins and Stephanie O’Brien are a trio who not only let you re-live the 1940’s but through an ingenious bit of re-arranging transport the listener with the likes of Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and Tina Turner’s ‘I Will Survive’ into the same period – a bit like The Philadelphia Experiment perhaps?
A quick glance at the track listing; “Sisters”, “Mr Sandman” and “In The Mood” shows where the girls allegiance lies in terms of their musical influences and the inspired choice of French-Canadian guitarist Benoit Charest as producer proves a master stroke. I’m sure that by the time you read this the Puppini Sisters will have amassed a phenomenal fan base and the recording will have sold millions – it deserves to!
Further details from www.thepuppinisisters.com
Rachel Hair – The Lucky Smile (March Hair Records MHRCD002)
Rachel Hair has that uncanny knack of picking just the right tunes to take her audience on a spectacular acoustic musical tour. For instance the highly syncopated opening track “Back Home” which, given a great jazz feel propelled by her accompanying musicians Paul Tracey (Guitar), Angus Lyons (Keyboards), Andy Sharkey (Double Bass) and Scott Mackay on drums brings her into Deborah Henson-Conant territory. The following track “Kilmartin Sky” ably demonstrates Hair’s own compositional skills with a beautifully crafted slow air joined by the smile-inducing jig “Francie’s”. Joy Dunlop adds haunting Gaelic vocals on a couple of tracks with “A Fhleasgaich Oig As Cednaltg” reminiscent of the soundtrack to the film ‘The Wicker Man’. This is a very enjoyable recording that will capture the hearts of listeners with splashes of tasteful jazz colourings and is a must purchase for those who like their ‘folk’ with a bit of attitude.
Rachel Hair – Hubcaps & Potholes (March Hair Records MHRCD 001)
This is a bright and breezy offering from newcomer Rachel Hair and as the CD cover boldly declares…this is Scottish, Irish and original music performed on the harp or, to be precise Clarsach. Recently I’ve been swayed by the likes of Corrina Hewat and even the more heavily jazz influenced Deborah Henson Conant but, wouldn’t you know it, here is an album that really works for me as it is just the harp pure and simple with a smattering of Douglas Millar’s piano and the breathy tones of Peter Webster’s flute on one track. Harking back to that bright and breezy introduction, that is certainly true of Rachel’s own uplifting ‘Starry-Eyed Lads’ which opens a set of jigs rounded off nicely by the traditional ‘Rolling Waves’. Although it won’t set the world on fire, it’s refreshing to just hear an instrument unadorned of any clever posturing and let’s face it who needs it when it is performed this well?
Further details from www.rachelhair.com
Christy Moore – WHERE I COME FROM (Sony Music)
This brand new three-disc set from Christy looks at first glance to be nothing more than a retrospective-cum-compilation of many of the man’s greatest songs, and if taken purely on those terms would easily satisfy anyone who’s ever fallen under the spell of the warm-toned, generous and inspirational – and genuinely iconic – performer. However, looking closer into the package, we uncover its specific selling-points, for it’s not just a compilation, not by any stretch. Firstly, it consists solely of Christy’s own compositions (that statistic alone is a first for Christy in his 25+-album career, you might be surprised to hear). These could be said to proudly chronicle Ireland’s own history over the past 50 years, with their inimitable and bold mixture of poetry, tragedy and humour (sometimes all within the same song), this mix so powerfully conveyed by Christy’s signature delivery. Secondly, the vast majority of the tracks are fresh, recent studio re-recordings, the exceptions being four live cuts (see below). These new studio versions often yield considerable interpretive insights from the benefit of experience, providing significant gains on the older versions (some made several decades ago and with inferior or distracting arrangements perhaps). The opportunity to re-record these songs has also highlighted the consistency of Christy’s output, the passion of his writing and worldview, and his perennial desire to above all else communicate to his listeners. And his artistically perfect partnership with Declan Sinnott, of course, is a further key factor in the unity of this project. While let’s not forget that unmistakable Christy Moore delivery, that disarming combination of plaintiveness and intimate, hushed confidentiality (often with a twinkle in the eye), that telling sense of barely-restraint in the clenched lips of the political songs, that delicious whimsy in the puckish, often more than mildly irreverent observational pieces, that unflinching status as thoroughly engaging entertainer that still brings him sellout audiences wherever he plays. Finally, the set contains two completely new songs: Where I Come From and Arthur’s Day. These both crop up twice, in each case the latter incarnation being a live recording. Amongst the remaining 41 titles, there might be one or two that even the hardcore Christy Moore fan might struggle to recognise (I had to think twice before recalling that The Stardust Song used to be named They Never Came Home, for instance), and quite a few of the songs are blessed with updated lyrics. And yet, the continuing universal relevance of Christy’s sentiments is striking and the hallmark of a true songwriter. There are simply so many great songs in Christy’s canon, and any songwriter would give his proverbial eye-teeth to have written just North And South Of The River, let alone Veronica Guerin, Lissdoonvarna, or The Boy From Tamlaghtduff. This man can hold forth equally compellingly on a whole range of topics and emotional situations, ample evidence for which is provided on this set, which can be viewed as a true celebration of Christy Moore the consummate entertainer, songwriter and singer.
Christy Moore – FOLK TALE (Sony)
Christy’s latest album is a collection of revisits of 11 songs from his back-catalogue, albeit in brand new state-of-the-art studio recordings. The songs run a typical gamut from nostalgia to poetry, tragedy to humour, with Christy and his seemingly-eternal collaborator Declan Sinnott in perpetual musical harmony. Indeed, it all sounds exactly as you would expect, and that’s intending no criticism whatsoever. Every note, every nuance is perfectly judged, with Christy’s distinctive voice right at the forefront of the sound-picture while cradled lovingly by Declan’s ever-inventive guitar embellishments. Over and above these fundamentals, Declan has engineered further selective enhancements courtesy of Gerry O’Connor, Tim Edey, Neil Martin and (on the title song) the West Ocean String Quartet. Christy’s ongoing reinterpretation of these songs, honed finely through continuous live performance, clearly pays dividends, not least due to factors such as hindsight and career maturity; in this instance particular gains are accrued with the more reflective slant now given to Farmer Michael Hayes (a classic from the Planxty days) and Kevin Littlewood’s thoughtful On Morecambe Bay, while the simple humour of My Little Honda 50 is all the more telling (in a Colum Sands kind of way) for its slight understatement in this new recording. The cautious beauty of Haiti (co-written with John Spillane) is all the more poignant here too, as is Paula Meehan’s lovely poetry on the title track, while Christy’s measured delivery on the tender Seamus Ennis tribute Easter Snow, the hymn-like album closer God Woman and the gentle ode to Ballydine is just perfect. Only the semi-whispered ribaldry of Weekend In Amsterdam, though fun, perhaps doesn’t quite bear repetition in the way the rest of the songs here do (this may well be due to its melody so closely resembling The Craic Was Ninety In The Isle Of Man!), although the new arrangement’s sprung rhythms are quite deliciously handled by Declan and Gerry. It might be argued that the more casual admirer of Christy’s talent may not need a second or third rendition of these songs in his/her collection just yet. Nevertheless, Folk Tale, with all its new insights and richness of ambience, is extremely unlikely to disappoint Christy’s diehard fans, except perhaps in terms of its relative brevity (just 38 minutes of music).
Christy Moore – Live In Dubln 2006 (Columbia-Sony/BMG DVD 828768 27789)
Well, folk music certainly can’t be accused of not holding up its end when it comes to marketing. The age of the DVD is upon us and, if I’m perfectly honest I relish it every time I get a silver disk in my mitts rather than a piece of paper saying I’ve paid twenty quid to sit on an uncomfortable seat in some unforgiving theatre to try and see the pin prick that is ‘the artiste’. No, thank you very much I’m more than happy to switch on the TV or computer and see the performer in all their glory sweating for their art. If that’s what you want (and I do) then the close-ups on those tricky little fills that Declan Sinnott is so adept at bringing to the table, featuring his weapon of choice the trusty Fender Stratocaster then I for one salute the cameraman for earning his money. And don’t let us forget for one minute that without the dynamics both vocally and on acoustic rhythm guitar of Mr Moore himself this whole exercise would be pointless. Of course it’s Christy’s moment…it always was and ever more shall be so even if you get some dick-head from the audience trying to impress his girlfriend by shouting out something unintelligible. For here is a man whose passion engulfs the listener…I’m thinking of Burt Lancaster in all his outrageous glory as Elmer Gantry here…uttering lyrics with such zeal that each word becomes some kind of sacrificial offering – but then again I don’t need to preach to the converted do I?
No, show me anyone who hasn’t got a recording of “Ride On” or “Hiroshima Nagasaki Russian Roulette” propping up their record collection and I’ll show you someone without music in their soul. Never one to hold back it certainly takes bottle to put across the sentiments of Morrissey’s “America, You Are Not the World” and whether you like it or not you have to admire Christy’s tenacity for hitting some of the audience where it really hurts! On the audio commentary overlapping ‘The Soundcheck’ tracks Christy states that the soundcheck itself presents a whole new perspective to his singing and playing which is more relaxed and as he says is not so adrenalin charged and I couldn’t agree more. It’s these subtle differences in his performance that makes the DVD just that little more interesting and, by the way, if you purchase the double CD there’s an additional eight tracks. If you’re a shrinking violet this recording may not be the one for you if, on the other hand you’re made of sterner stuff you won’t be disappointed. Further details from www.christymoore.com
Vanishing Girl - Liz Simcock (ANGCD002)
Liz Simcock is the first artist to be signed to Angelic Music - the UK's first label to specialise purely in female singer/songwriters. Liz's music career has been a quiet revolution, after having a song chosen to appear on the 'Playpen' compilation cd alongside Eliza Carthy, Billy Bragg, Eddi Reader and Kathryn Williams. Liz then released 'Seven Sisters Road' her first full length cd, treading her own independent path and building a solid reputation as a live performer along the way. Liz's determination to be totally her own woman is a theme that continues on with this new album 'Vanishing Girl'.
The wry tongue-in-cheek Letisha Boccemski (Liz's alter-ego) gently but firmly lets you know in no uncertain terms that the artist has no interest in swaying with the well meaning advice and opinions of those who think they know better. She knows, as all true artists should, that what really matters, is a calm focus on her music and lyrics above all else. Her source of inspiration is clear in 'The Sand that makes the Pearl'. Quite literally the 'pearl' of the whole album, the song takes the story of the life of Joni Mitchell and works it into a shimmering work of beauty. The message however, goes beyond Joni's personal story to reach out on a personal level to touch everyone who hears it.
"Time and time again the choice for me, Either to be loved or to be free, Has left me wheeling skyward frozen and alone - But it's a winter that brings springtime to my world: It's the sand that makes the pearl."
Blessed not only with a voice that is charged full of emotion, direct, warm and melodic, Liz's lyrics are both calm and passionate, full of poetry and yet instantly accessible, warm and welcoming but tinged with a touch of sadness, perhaps at this mad world we all find ourselves in - it's clear in the opening track 'Fish Out of Water',
"And I feel like a fish out of water trying to breathe, Twisting and turning but the water is out of my reach. You could say that it's just how life goes but I still dream - of rivers running out to the open sea"
In this world of pop idols and celebrity worship, a quiet revolution is indeed taking place!
There are those of us out there looking for the real thing - if that's you, close your eyes, turn off the mobile and prepare for a treat! - www.lizsimcock.com
Arcanadh – Turning Of A Day (Wren Records WRCD1601)
Well, what a surprise. I had a few minutes spare and just by chance reached across for this more than welcome contribution to my record collection. Arcanadh are a sextet comprising Maria Corbet, Fiona Walsh, Colm Breatnach, Sinead Gibson, Martin Gallen and Mags Gallen. The first thing that is obvious are their references to those that have gone before; early Clannad, Bothy Band, Deanta, Tamlin and Cherish The Ladies – you get my drift and, if you don’t, then where have you been all these years? Still, let us embrace all those influences, package them with a nicely rounded production (particularly where their vocals are concerned) and you have a more than capable unit who can exploit the best of the tradition and include their not inconsiderable talents as songwriters in their own right. Perhaps not as raunchy as say Solas, the band still cut finely honed performances of “Silver Dagger” with established nautical bodice rippers like “Billy Taylor” and, without wishing to sound a party-pooper (I suppose I could be held accused of jolly-ing up certain songs for audiences in a pub) when Arcanadh dilute a ballad as weighty as Mick McConnell’s “The Tinkerman’s Daughter” I’m not sure it’s quite such a good idea. I think this is probably the only misplaced track on what is above all a sparkling album full of choral sounding vocals liberally sprinkled with tremendous musicianship. Further details available from www.arcanadh.com
CLOGMANIA – Worden Arts Centre – 22nd June.
The floor at Worden had to stand up to a fair old battering when it became host to ‘CLOGMANIA’ for the evening.
Renown clog dancer and tutor – Alex Fisher was the driving force behind this marvellous event, her vision is simply to ‘Engage young people and make this heritage live on into the 21st century’ and from what I, and the rest of the ‘packed to the rafters’ crowd at Worden, witnessed tonight Alex is certainly delivering the goods.
The four ‘teams’ of clog dancers came from four local schools,
St Mary Magdalen’s – Penworthaham
Our Lady & St Gerards – Lostock Hall
Coupe Green – Hoghton
& One High School
Each group of young people danced for 10 minutes or so delighting a crowd that was made up from parents and general public alike (not forgetting South Ribble’s Mayor & Mayoress). These were 4 completely different routines all performed to a very high standard – a credit to Alex who has only had seven workshop sessions with each group.
My thoughts when watching these young people perform were first and foremost it was more than obvious that not only did they really enjoy dancing but they were all ‘bought in’ to ensuring that the event was a total success in the way that they conducted themselves whilst other groups were performing giving each other lots of support and encouragement. Secondly I was pleasantly surprised to see so many young lads involved.
It was also nice to see that at least one teacher had donned her clogs and got involved with this ‘new’ extra curricular activity.
When I arrived the four groups were running through a last-minute rehearsal of the ‘Grand Finale’ whereby they would all take to the floor together ‘en-mass’. I noticed that the majority of the youngsters had gone for the ‘traditional look’ of flat caps, waistcoats and shawls whilst others wore modern casual attire – jeans and T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Pop’ slogans . I wasn’t sure whether this would somehow spoil the image of the clog dancing. It didn’t – in fact it was a plus – these youngsters made clog dancing look ‘cool’ which can’t be a bad thing if the idea of the exercise is to encourage more to become involved.
Musical accompaniment for the dancing was in the hands of Carolyn Francis (Striding Edge) who played fiddle and drum whilst the cloggers did their thing.
Musical interludes were provided by ‘The Becky Taylor Band’ with Becky Taylor on Irish pipes, Frances O’Rourke on fiddle and Pat O’Reilly on bazouki. They treated us to a selection of lively slip jigs and Bretton tunes and it was quite obvious from the way that 36 or so pairs of ‘Clog-shod’ feet clattered in time to the music that the youngsters liked what they heard.
During the interval there were displays by ‘Clatter of Clogs’ (Michael & Janet Jackson) – Roger Dower (The clog-maker from Oswaldtwistle Mills) and Leyland Morris Men. There was also a fine display of ‘Clog-related art’ from Our Lady & St Gerards school.
Clogmania received funding from – Awards for All, Lancashire Folk, Eccleston Heritage Clog and South Ribble Borough Council who all deserve our thanks for helping maintain our musical heritage.
If you would like to know more about clog dancing or Clogmania then contact Alex Fisher (Eccleston Heritage Clog) on 01257 453185
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James Ross – James Ross (Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX284)
The piano in all its majestic glory can transport the listener (I’m listening to this album in a high-rise flat!) to a different place entirely – take for instance this beautiful recording by young Scots whippersnapper James Ross. For those who can cast their minds back a few years to (what appeared to be) the groundbreaking album The Dolphin’s Way by Michael O’Suilleabhain you can revel in that cool jazz-folk crossover that touched our very souls. The funny thing is it’s been done before and in fact I can remember vividly this particular style of performance back when I was in infants’ school. Traditional Scottish melodies more than their Irish counterparts have an empathic link to jazz interpretation and this is ably demonstrated with the melancholy re-working of ‘The Haggis’ before it is taken into the rip-roaring pace most musicians will be familiar with. There’s not a track on this recording I don’t like and it really makes me feel inadequate as a performer knowing that I’ll never attain the peaks achieved here but then again, that’s the nature of the beast – you are ultimately in charge of your own destiny and if that is the case Ross will be well rewarded for his efforts. A majority of the tracks rely on the good old ‘trad arr:’ but just as effective are the use of Andy Cutting’s “Spaghetti Panic” or his own composition “Deirdre’s Computer Slip”. Produced by Brian McNeill it’s pleasing to note that James is allowed plenty of space to breath with only a mere smattering of accompaniment for a touch of colour – in fact, this is one of those rare recordings that everybody should have in their collection just to prove that ‘real’ music can make a difference. Contact www.greentrax.com for more details.
Fran Rodgers at Escobar, Wakefield. Sunday 19th March 2006
Some singers simply sing lyrics, some live the lyrics, the rare talented ones take the audience within the songs and on to a higher musical experience, Fran Rodgers is such that rare talent. Her thirty minute performance at the “Acoustic all-dayer” at Wakefield’s Escobar was a musical joy to behold. Every word was sung with a delicate, yet powerful pureness rarely heard. It would be easy to describe Fran as Yorkshire’s answer to the multi-award winning Karine Polwart, however this would detract from the uniqueness of Fran’s song-writing and singing abilities. Her set included songs from her new and acclaimed four-track CD ‘Let the Rain Fall’, each song being individual and poignant. The perfect antidote for a day of stress would be to dim the lights, have a glass of wine and play a Fran Rodgers CD over and over and over…
Shaun T Hunter - The Great Departure
Running time 62.53
If you are one of life’s “fortuitous people” you will hear an album which has a profound effect on your life, Shaun T Hunter’s recently launched CD “The Great Departure” is such a CD. Personally I have never listened to an album of songs which have touched me so emotionally and spiritually.
Seeing Shaun “live” is a wonderful experience, however, in a noisy pub it is impossible to take in all the subtle and poignant lyrics this unique song-writer produces.
A ‘normal’ CD review outlines the songs and describes or quotes certain lyrics, to do this with Shaun’s CD would take a ream of paper, due to the complexities and feelings described in the songs, all of which we have experienced along our journey in life, including all the pain, suffering, despair, hope and joy.
To listen to these songs, either in a room of subtle lighting or with your eyes closed takes you to a higher consciousness, where you will find, or touch, your own personal god, spirit or destiny.
Richard Digance – Working Class Millionaire (Castle Music CMDDD1328)
I don’t want to be a clerk, a conductor or a spark or a music journalist for that matter – but hey, we all need to earn a living somehow and Richard Digance predominantly makes his with guest appearances on Countdown these days. Mind you, throughout the 70’s Digance used to be a regular performer on the folk circuit. It was at the Bird In Hand folk club in Forest Hill that I first met Richard and for some reason I purchased his debut album (hot off the press if memory serves me right?) ‘England’s Green and Pleasant Land’ without knowing what he sounded like. It was on the strength of talking to him prior to the gig that I felt I could trust him to turn out the goods and, thankfully my judgement proved right as the album was a revelation to me in my inexperienced youth as a budding folk performer. His gig proved to be just as revelatory with songs including the gorgeous ‘Migration Memoirs’ and ‘A Natural Gas’ which hinted at the strength of his leanings towards a clever and comical lyric. Of course he later established himself as a consummate support act to the likes of Steeleye Span and in fact his second album ‘How the West Was Lost’ (and still my personal favourite) produced by Steeleye’s Rick Kemp was a landmark Melody Maker album of the year. As well as the emotion wringing title track it included plenty of other great numbers such as ‘I Hear The Press Gang’, ‘Drag Queen Blues’, ‘Dear River Thames’ and of course ‘Working Class Millionaire’. Although pretty much overlooked by the music press his third recording for the Transatlantic label ‘Treading The Boards’ still had some good tracks including ‘The Red Lights Of Antwerp’ and again a trusty music hall inspired ‘Rosemary McLaren Of The Strand’ - a precursor to ‘Drinking With Rosie’ perhaps? He always was a class act and this can be heard to great effect on the ‘In Concert At The Rainbow Theatre’ album which featured the wistful ‘Beaver The Believer’ showcasing his talents as a guitarist of great quality and humorist par excellence. The heady days of a ‘folk music’ career may be long gone for Richard but for those of us old enough to wallow in the nostalgia of it all, we can feel sated that this 2 CD (4 album!) package of those early recordings will once again get a good airing. Further details from www.sanctuaryrecordings.co.uk.
Castle Music should be congratulated for all their recent Transatlantic re-issues and perhaps, if anyone at the company is reading this review they might consider getting the rights to the first three JSD Band and Harvey Andrews recordings – how about it?
Richard Digance – Fairfield Halls, Croydon (18.10.06)
Richard Digance is no new comer to an audience at the Ashcroft Theatre. Mind you, this was an afternoon concert and as he pointed out a bit of a new departure on behalf of the management at the Fairfield. Casting my eyes about I couldn’t help but notice that the assembled throng were predominantly of a ‘certain age’ and appeared to be counting down (sorry about that) the minutes in eager anticipation of the arrival of the man himself. With just a guitar for company he immediately engaged his audience as if he was meeting a bunch of mates down the pub and put everyone at ease with his friendly Cockney banter. Unusually he decided to sit down for a majority of the performance and not unlike his own childhood hero Val Doonican soon treated everyone to a mixture of songs, tunes and poems interspersed with anecdotes of his time as a guest on TV’s Countdown and tours with Jim Davidson. Although these days he might be better established for his appearances in Dictionary Corner, he certainly knows how to hold centre stage and with splashes of colour including the digitally challenging guitar set-piece (ranging from Bach to Ragtime) he can certainly ‘entertain’. In time honoured end-of-the-pier tradition his off the cuff routine - inviting a couple of the audience to join him on stage to read one of his poems - proved an obvious ‘local’ crowd pleaser whilst his song “200 Remembers” had us all yearning for the days of Spangles and Flying Saucers. It’s hard for any artist to be tempted out of bed for an afternoon gig …and let’s face it, what self respecting musician would want to (?) but Digance did it with aplomb!
For more details of upcoming dates check out his website at www.digance.co.uk
Jeff and Vida - 'Loaded'
Jeff Burke and Vida Wakeman are 'Jeff and Vida', formerly of New Orleans, in the aftermath of last years dreadful events relocating to Nashville, they are a duo rooted in traditional Americana music, chiefly bluegrass influenced but with side dishes of Blues, Rockabilly, Country, mixed to create a more than edible main course. They have been making their mark across the Americana scene in the US and have been making regular trips to the UK and Eire since the late 90s, have won and been nominated for several awards for both their recorded work and their live performances, and are regularly invited back to events such as The Johnny Keenan Banjo Festival in Eire and the New Orlean Jazz and Heritage Festival, an indication perhaps of the strong impression they leave behind of their live performances.
Like their previous two releases ('The Simplest Plans' and 'One Horse Town') 'Loaded' consists entirely of their own compositions (twelve in this case) although more than once I had to do a double check on the CD notes to check whether the song was contemporary or had been written in years gone by, despite the freshness and individuality of their sound, they do more than justice to the traditional roots of the music.
The tempo and feel of the songs are as wide and varied as the topics they cover ranging from the faster bluegrass influenced road song 'high load, heavy load' via 'Dont give your heart to a stranger', to the much slower 'Blessed but Not Favoured', another song reflecting life on the road (a reflection of their own lives and lifestyles perhaps) and 'I cried' representing a further departure through the variety of Americana music they respect and pay homage to in their own manner, in that particular case bringing Patsy Cline to mind. Whilst the bulk of the songs have their lyrical contents covered by Wakeman's powerful vocals, Burke provides Guitar, Mandolin, Banjo and lap steel Guitar often providing multi-dimensional layers to the release as a whole, working in harmony with Wakemans Burke provides some of the impressive (and sensitive on the slower tracks) Banjo and Mandolin playing in Americana.
Having seen Jeff and Vida for the first time about five years ago and already having their two previous releases in my collection 'Loaded' was pretty much what I expected from the duo which in no way makes it predictable, their sound is as fresh, energetic and original as it was the first time I saw them and long may it continue.
Expect to hear more from this duo in the future and I hope they make their trips to the UK a more regular occurance, for further information, clips and tour schedules visit www.jeffandvida.com.
Janis Haves - Big Front Door
Listening to Big Front Door, the first solo album from Janis Haves - one half of Haves and Haves the other being her husband, guitarist and producer Geoff - is a bit like being a welcome guest in her home, you're privileged to be there as a well-thumbed family album is opened. Warm memories and experiences pour out of every note and line. It is impossible not to be enchanted by the magical world Haves has created. To step through the Big Front Door is to enter a better place. Somehow it is entirely fitting that the artwork for the album should come from a birthday card given by Geoff to Janis. It encapsulates the whole weave of personal and family history that runs though the heart of Big Front Door. It also provides and instant connection between artist and listener.
Haves also provides a reminder of how incisive, beautifully simple folk music can be. Her voice on songs like The Box pierces through the darkness like a pinpoint of light. There is a crystal clarity about what she says and how she says it. In common with the very best of folk singers, male or female, Haves displays a strength of purpose. As with Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez, there is nothing twee or condescending about either Janis Haves or Big Front Door, Waiting For Jesus for one is sombre and direct . But whether it's the touching Gwendoline or the well of emotion that is In My Chair, a song written and performed through her grandfather's eyes, or even the straight, pacy narrative of Mary and Me it is impossible to escape the magnetism of these stories. For the space of an album her personal is your personal. She is so engaging a performer that you can't help but become inextricably entwined in songs like Blind Leading The Blind, but more important than that you can't help but care about them.
Big Front Door is the musical equivalent of having a masterpiece painted before your eyes. Each song adds another shade until the picture is complete.
Visit www.janishaves.com for more information.
BEYOND THE SAND
Les Cameron & Barbara Helen (Saltburn Beach Music SBM)
Saltburn residents Les & Barbara are two-thirds of Third Party (who went down very well at July's Nature's World festival), and this is their first CD release as a duo partnership. It works well too, with proficient and characterful singing and attractive, mellifluous accompanying guitar work; Les and Barbara share the lead vocal duties, and Barbara also doubletracks some nice harmony vocals on several tracks. The material they perform is a persuasive mix of traditional and composed songs. Here, of the CD's ten tracks, six are penned by Les himself (one of those co-written with Barbara), and there's a setting of Walter Scott's Maid Of Neidpath by Barbara. Les's songs at their best convey simple truths and direct emotional responses in an equally direct musical idiom that at times owes as much to contemporary country as to folk (I particularly liked the poignant Johnny-Cash-style duet Loving In The End). The traditional songs are generally well chosen: Ploughman Lads is acknowledged to come from the singing of Nic Jones, whereas I Am A Youth Inclined To Ramble, described as a "poignant, romantic piece with a beautiful melody", gives Barbara the chance to demonstrate her mastery of effective minimal decoration. The third traditional song, Matt Hyland, I initially thought less successful, for in deciding to adopt a rather choppy syncopated rhythm for singing the text the essential flow of the narrative seems disrupted somewhat - but strange to say by third play I actually rather preferred it to the more orthodox, altogether sweeter treatments of other singers. The recording process was presided over by Brian Bedford, and the result is admirably clean and clearly defined.
To purchase this attractive and good-sounding CD, contact: 01287 - 624528.
Steeley Span – Cogs, Wheels And Lovers (Park Records PRKCD106)
A welcome return to one of England’s finest folk-rock band’s bringing with them those glorious riffs that have become so much a part of their distinctive sound. The UK is blessed in having a fine tradition of song bearers and whilst we have artists such as Steeleye Span and the fluid vocals of Maddy Prior to bring these ancient ballads dramatically to life we can all rest easy in our beds. Opening with the robust tale of “The Gallant Frigate Amphitrite” and it’s tribulations ‘rounding the Horn’ you’ll no doubt be rooting for the crew mastering the even more treacherous waters of the girls they left behind. On the second track I’ve a ‘nagging’ feeling that some of you reading this review will already be aware of the tale of “Creeping Jane” and that I’d better ‘rein’ in the puns before Maddy becomes too ‘horse’.
Performed in a style not dissimilar to the band’s previous hit “Hard Times Of Old England” with it’s galloping jig beat courtesy of Liam Genocky and Peter Knight’s duelling violins it’s left to the driving bass of Rick Kemp and axe-man Ken Nicol to get us past the finishing post. Re-visiting the song “Fighting For Strangers” (from their Rocket Cottage album) the inspired ‘strings’ arrangement of “Our Captain Cried” shows that the band has lost none of its freshness in reinventing the wheel on an album that is littered with gems and although they may be in a more subtle, contemplative mood this is as good as anything that’s gone before.
Further details from www.parkrecords.com
Steeleye Span – Live At A Distance (Park Records PRKCD104)
I was lucky enough to catch Steeleye on their latest 2009 tour and came away mightily impressed by their great ‘live’ show so imagine my surprise and delight when this 3-disk CD/DVD landed on my doorstep. The band have still got what it takes forty years down the road and to bear this out they start with a rousing “Who’s The Fool Now?” featuring their trademark battery of vocals…it’s also interesting to glimpse percussionist Liam Genocky providing vocal reinforcement with the band on the DVD. Following up with the ponderous though never more apt arrangement of the gothic “When I Was On Horseback” and a truly joyful re-working of the Dixon Of Dock Green inspired chorus in “Two Magicians” it’s then that nostalgia soon starts to bite. Utilising a massive back catalogue the band’s net is cast far and wide to include more recent compositions contributed by Peter Knight, Ken Nicol and Rick Kemp that settle nicely amongst the more established traditional re-workings. Still on fine form and resplendent in red Maddy cuts a striking figure as her soulful renderings of “The Dreamer And The Widow” and “Betsy Bell And Mary Grey” (joined by a truly inspirational Peter Knight on fiddle) are given the gravitas they deserve. Well, what more could you ask? If you’re a fan of the band or just starting your journey with them this is as fine a representation of folk-rock I’ve heard (or seen) in ages and a must purchase at only £15.
Steeleye Span – Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon 22.04.09
With a sold out (well, I couldn’t see any unoccupied seats) Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon the jubilant return of the godfater’s of folk Steeleye Span took to the stage opening with one of their earliest established traditional re-workings “The Blacksmith”. With Maddy Prior in good voice this song proved an automatic crowd pleaser with the majority of 40 something’s making up the audience. Perhaps more widely regarded as the ‘fiddle’ player with the band it was Peter Knight’s mandolin featured on another song “Lovely On The Water” with its very Russian sounding arrangement that made you aware that here was a truly unique group. Catchy hooks and choruses have always been staple fare with fans of the band and they didn’t disappoint tonight with “Seagull”, “Thomas The Rhymer” and of course, the chart-topper “All Around My Hat” being well received. New boy since 2004, Ken Nicol has provided the band with some tremendous songs including “They Called Her Babylon” and “The Scullion King” along with some bravura electric guitar riffs/solos and a spell-binding finger-picked acoustic guitar accompanying Maddy’s “I Live Not Where I Love” and listening to members of the audience during the break I wasn’t the only one suitably impressed. In the engine room providing some very arty drumming was Liam Genocky and, standing in for Rick Kemp was folk-rock seasoned veteran Pete Zorn on bass (although you wouldn't have noticed the joins). So, all in all a great night out and hopefully it won’t be another four years before I catch up with the band again.
Steeleye Span – Bloody Men (Park Records PKCD81)
A great title! - that nicely puts across the point of a majority of the album. Steeleye (for me anyway) were always the folk-rock band of choice for a juicy ballad and in Ken Nicol they’ve found a fine replacement where once stood Bob Johnson. Being the fresh blood (sorry about that) within the ranks of the band Nicol’s sense of the dramatic in relating British history is well researched and documented in the informative sleevenotes. It pays dividends on his own compositions ‘The Story Of The Scullion King’ and ‘Demon Of The Well’ whilst the obligatory trad.arr ‘The 3 Sisters’ and a slightly twisted arrangement featuring Maddy Prior’s vocals taking on the male perspective on ‘The Bonny Black Hare’ it’s good to see the band biting back again. Another great thing about Ken is his undoubted talent as a guitarist. Whether rocking it out on electric or his beautiful finger-picked acoustic playing on ‘The Dreamer And The Widow’ he proves a worthy contender for my personal musician of the year. Of course, instrumentally speaking the other members are no slouches either with Peter Knight at his fiddle flailing best on a powerful set of tunes and Rick Kemp’s bass offset by Liam Genockey’s drums provide just the right tension in the rhythm section. The second CD features Rick’s five part storytelling of the Luddite Rebellion providing a showcase for the band’s theatrical wide-screen approach to their subject matter. In many ways I’d say this album is a bit of a ‘sleeper’ in that it will grab your attention when you least expect it but that’s also what will keep it fresh.
Further info from www.parkrecords.com
Steeleye Span – Folk Rock Pioneers In Concert (Park Records PRKCD89)
Do you know, I don’t think in all the time I’ve been a fan of Steeleye I’ve ever heard them produce a bad album - not bad for a band who have been together forty years! OK, it goes without saying that a lot of the numbers on this album are well established favourites (with their fans) but if, you are that way inclined the inclusion of ‘King Henry’, ‘Sir James The Rose’ and ‘Long Lankin’ will sate those of you who enjoy a bit of a gore fest whilst those who are looking for the an element of smugness in their lyrics can turn to the perennial hit ‘All Around My Hat’. Personally, if you’re looking for a track with real substance then I’d check out ‘Betsy Bell & Mary Grey’ which is a superb bit of showmanship from Peter Knight whose evocative violin is just the right foil for Maddy Prior’s plaintive vocal on a chilling tale of the deaths of the said ladies from contracting the plague in 1666. Instrumentally the band haven’t sounded better with those great bass lines from Rick Kemp, Ken Nicol’s sparring guitar on ‘Cam Ye O’er Frae France’ and most notably Liam Genockey’s drum solo neatly segueing into ‘Drink Down The Moon/The Cuckoo’. In his sleeve notes Phil Udel states that more than a debt of gratitude from the likes of Jim Moray and Bellowhead are owed to Steeleye and I totally endorse his views. If you’re just getting into the traditional British folk scene then I can’t recommend this recording more highly - if you’re already a committed fan then you won’t need any cajoling. Further details from www.parkrecords.com
Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen - Live
Many things, and much of life, is 'awesome' these days, the words to over exaggerate our perception of this or that moment abound and are often made into nonsense by their inappropriate use. Of course, for some people, exaggeration may be a way to escape the dull thud of another unexciting day. So here am I, I cannot say I need to punctuate another boring day, I simply cannot remember having a boring day, but I do need, here and now, some big word to describe something that really was 'extraordinary'. So I reach for my Roget's Thesaurus, purchased in Foyle's book shop, Charring Cross Road London, in October 33 years ago. It only cost £0.65 pence back then, probably a lot of money for me then, but look what it gives me now 'THAUMATURGIC' 'that which has the power to work miracles' - my MicroSoft spell checker wants to correct the spelling but my Oxford Dictionary knows better....How on earth would you pronounce it ?
Thaumaturgic is a word that can really describe the powerful concert which, Steve and Cindy gave. Two parts of about 50 minutes and more than twenty beautiful songs. Cindy has a voice of which any angel would be proud and she compliments and contrasts the several voices which are Steve's. It was a very 'Folk' sounding concert Cindy squeezing harmonica's and Steve playing the guitar in a way which many of us, so called guitarists, would love to be able to achieve.
The material was rich and deep and full of stories, with powerful melodies and strong hooks, 'Here's to the Rocky Road' has been buzzing around my head for nearly a week now. Steve wrote some, and Cindy wrote some, and Steve wrote some with some other people, and some other people wrote some without Steve and Cindy so there was a huge range of ideas with each song thaumaturgic it's own right.
The audience sat memorised, tapping feet, laughing at the jokes and the extremely funny, and very clever, song ' I'm My Own Grandpa' by Moe Jaffe and Dwight Latham, from 1947 and based on a Mark Twain anecdote. http://users.cis.net/sammy/grandpa.htm (you can hear the tune on this linked page but it is not Steve and Cindy playing the music). Both Steve and Cindy are possessed of large enough self images to make the audience feel comfortable and their vast experience in live performance meant that everyone present became emotionally involved. Another thaumaturgic moment.
I have been getting to know Steve, through e-mails, for about 8 months now, however, it is so much more powerful when one meets face to face. My head full of the information gleaned from the http://www.compassrosemusic.com a nervousness came over me knowing that I to must perform in the same concert and I wondered if these people with so great an history would be kind or honest. So we sat, guitars in laps, wondering where to begin then it struck me. Tom Paxton was the link between us so I started tickling the strings with 'The Last Thing on my Mind', 'Just how Tom does it' said Steve, nice, may be honest, anyway the ice was broken and off the three of us went swapping songs swapping stories, it was obvious that we had all come up that rocky road, so another thaumaturgic experience took place.
When it was all over, and it was time to go, like a child finishing Christmas, I had that longing that it would just last a bit longer. Great concert, great people they are always touring so look out for them, for if you miss them you may well have missed one of the thaumaturgic concerts of your life.
Johnny Dickinson - Live
Looking relaxed and making one of his now rarer appearances on his home turf, Johnny played a beautiful set of slide-guitar and finger-picked blues; a set that took us on a global trip from Mongolian yurts, laid-back Hawaii, India, and even down the terraced pit rows of Pegswood (a mining Northumbrian village). The man's a true blues-master. Johnny's slide playing is simply mesmerising, and he's got a unique feel for British folk in both interpretation and voice. Johnny's vintage blend included his own classic tracks like 'Beach Road' and new favourites like 'Map of the World' and tunes from his delightful Northumbrian 'Border Ballads' album - tunes composed by Johnny and featuring the sumptuous words of Algernon Charles Swinburne, as demonstrated on 'A fragment of a Border Ballad'. Johnny really talks the talk an all (he really is great crack live). The show included a wonderful rendition of Black jack Davy, a catchy rendition of Jock O'Hazeldene, some haunting improvised airs and yes, Scottish pipes on the slide guitar as Johnny played a stunningly beautiful version of the Drunken Pipers. It's the second time I've heard him play it and it...just... gets me somewhere. Johnny Dickinson's a Northumbrian gem. If you missed him - go and treasure him next time he's playing!
Ribbon Road - 'The Tender Coming'
Ribbon Road are Brenda and Geoff Heslop who originally hail from Northumberland, but are now living on a tiny island on the west coast of Scotland. Their music is up-front and personal in it's approach, using the craft and experience of many years to present music of surprising directness and emotional honesty.
'The Tender Coming' is the latest of four albums made over the last 14 years, combining the singing and songwriting talents of Brenda with the arranging, production and performing of her husband Geoff. Combining fine lyrics with two voices which complement each other perfectly, the result is a music of deep emotion that speaks to the audience on a very personal level. It is a set of 13 intimate and searing torch songs - stark, mimimal and led by Brenda's exceptional vocals. It unashamedly takes you on an emotional journey through themes of loss, betrayal, faith and the tortuous nature of romantic love. Brenda's haunting voice and the close vocal harmonies from Geoff are synchronised and perfectly in tune, drawing the listener into the intimacy of their relationship. You almost feel you're in the same room as they are.
Ribbon Road's work is increasingly fascinating, the album covers (by Geoff) are fused with their music to form complete artworks.
All the musical work of Ribbon Road can be experienced and bought on their web-site www.theshipbuilders.com
Stitherum - 'Threads'
"Fourteen tracks from Sue and Mike Dewsbury of Gainsborough folk club. A thoughtfully selected collection of material from contemporary folk songwriters, from tragic to comic and including Woven Threads of Linen, Sue’s winning song from the 2003 “Write a Song for Lincolnshire ” competition with its unique approach to the story of the second world war bomber squadrons in the county.
Comedy comes in the form of Bernard Carney’s Cricket Lovers and the gentle wit of Brian Bedford’s Too Old To Care, plus Mick Ryan’s The Devil and the Widow, now as much a part of the tradition as many a 200 year old song.
Outstanding track on the album however is He Fades Away from the pen of Alistair Hulett, a story of lung disease in the mining industry. It’s a song which fully tests the interpretative skills of any performer and Stitherum pass the test with flying colours, a clean and uncluttered arrangement with clear and sensitive singing which leaves the song to speak for itself..
The no nonsense delivery of quality material from Sue coupled with Mike’s understated guitar work make for a very listenable album with plenty of depth and variety" See www.angelfire.com/folk/stitherum for more information
Adrienne Young & Little Sadie: The Art of Virtue
Adrienne Young has a unique flair in her music that is an enchanting mix of
old-time and pop with 21st century musical keenness and business acumen.
Young's astute approach involves association with consummate musicians,
charged-up arrangements, thoughtful messages, and bright and breezy
vocalizing. Like her debut 'Plow to the End of the Row,' Young's sophomore
effort, 'The Art of Virtue,' is on her own Addiebelle Records. One has to
appreciate this talented, young lady's self-confidence as she continues to
build her resume in a very competitive field.
'The Art of Virtue' was inspired in part by Ben Franklin's 'virtues of man' writings and stories. Songs like 'My Sin is Pride' and 'My Love Will Keep' and 'Wedding Rings' emphasize the themes of morality, goodness, and high levels of integrity. Her messages might have a nostalgic look back to yesteryear, but her music is very contemporary and soothing. There's certainly nothing wrong with a thematic album that appeals to us in a visceral way 'down where the roots grow deep.' Ballads like 'Ella Arkansas' and 'Rastus Russell' paint powerful pictures and tell engaging stories while incorporating country and acoustic blues riffs.
Art of Virtue features Young's proficient songwriting, some reinvented old-time fiddle tunes, the gospel standard 'Farther Along,' and the Grateful Dead's classic 'Brokedown Palace.' A Zydeco-flavored 'Wedding Rings' is a spirited performance that gets us up and cutting a bean, while 'Don't Get Weary' is an old-timey offering with frailed banjo, guitar, bones, resonator guitar, and voices. Young's lyrics offer mature and solid advice, usually gained from a lifetime of experience. Her smarts and wisdom belie her age.
A grad of Belmont University's music business program, Young's career took off after winning the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at Merlefest. Her 'Plow to the End of the Row' CD earned a Grammy nomination for album design. On 'The Art of Virtue,' Young's songwriting exhibits honesty and a natural inclination to create lyrical and melodic treasures. Her singing shines with its greatest lustre on the slower songs, while a few pieces (like 'Don't Get Weary') portray a more arduous side to her voice. An uptempo 'Farther Along' is an interesting bluegrass presentation that certainly works, but her greatest success is as a storyteller of original folk tales. Young's parables put to music are very likeable.
Adrienne Young & Little Sadie – Plow to the End of the Row
Playing Time – 48:49
Originally from Florida, Adrienne Young may be a new face on the Nashville music scene, but she and her band Little Sadie are making a big splash with their neo-traditional sensibilities that incorporate elements of folk, country, and bluegrass. Keep in mind, however, that this is an independent release so just how far and wide will her largely original music get disseminated? On the other hand, Adrienne is a recent Belmont University graduate with a music business degree who has a considerable amount of business acumen. This debut CD is packaged in such a way that garnered her a Grammy nomination for best recording package. The tri-fold digipak comes complete with a 20-page paper booklet (all lyrics included) and a small packet of wildflower seeds. Take her advice to break dirt and cut the furrow. With a voice as sweet as the lemon mint, Adrienne’s sharing a bit of that passion and love for music that blooms in all of us.
The music on “Plow to the End of the Row” is solidly crafted and has a pleasant, at times striking, feel. The band’s instrumental and vocal prowess are more than sufficient, and Will Kimbrough’s and Todd Schneider’s french harp playing (on two tracks) is an especially nice, relaxing touch. The bluesy quality on “Home Remedy” is perfect to emphasize the power of love to cure most anything. Other standouts include Tyler Grant’s lead guitar and Clayton Campbell’s fiddling on a traditional tune like Leather Britches or Lonesome Road Blues. The banjo (played by Robin Rucker, Ketchum Secor, Will Kimbrough, or Adrienne) is only given a subordinate role for fill in ten songs. My own personal preference calls for mandolin over snare, drums or drum loops. Their vision for success today, however, necessitated the latter forms of percussion, and this may actually allow them to get them more airplay on the likes of Americana and public radio “fresh tracks” programs. Electric guitar and drums draw them closer to the modern singer-songwriter folk genre.
Adrienne’s messages are thought-provoking and presented with genuine sincerity. Her advice in “Blinded by Stars” is to not “let the towncrier decide if we go to war” and “don’t be blinded by stars tangled in stripes.” Her song, “I Cannot Justify,” addresses reincarnation, but a deeper message deals with personal growth as she sings “How can I justify the narrow vantage of these eyes, such a good disguise, I cannot justify.” The title cut is a straight-forward expression of the trials, tribulations and hardships faced by farmers.
“Sadie’s Song” starts with the fiddle tune’s familiar riff but evolves to become a tragic murder ballad of trust gone astray that provides us with some insight into the rationale for Sadie’s ultimate demise. The song took first-place in the bluegrass category of the 2003 Chris Austin Songwriting Contest at MerleFest. “Poison” and “Nipper's Corner” get a little too raucous and pop oriented for my own tastes, so I’m glad to see the band come back to leaner and more acoustic arrangements by the album’s last few traditional offerings.
Adrienne Young demonstrates a maturity that belies her age, and she’ll see
plenty of better days ahead. She’s been able to translate her vision into a
welcome and successful Americana journey. With her soft, silky voice and
songwriting talent, she’s sure to go far. I think she’s just trying to get
people reconnected with what’s important in life. She sings about being born
a rebel and questioning what she’s told. Let’s hope that her premonition “no
wonder this young skin I’m wearin’ feel so old” does not come true and
discourage her. In fact, it’s her confidence, independence and business savy
that should propel her to greater heights in an industry in need of
something organic, pure and fresh.
Almond Greenway - Live
In February I was visiting friends in Newcastle upon Tyne, They invited me to a Tom Paxton concert, excellent. However, I really enjoyed the man who introduced him, Almond Greenway, he made a speach and sang a song, the performance was all to short. After the concert I was able to buy his CD 'My Passport Says Planet Earth' - Just this fabulous voice and a simple guitar, I think it is great. There are a couple of songs on the album which some folkies might not think should be there but if you read the cover notes you can see why they have been selected.
One song 'The Galway Shawl' he learned from the great Christie Hennessy. Unaccompanied and you can just see the shawl draped around a beautiful Irish girl.
I like too his view that 'My Passport should Say Planet Earth'.
Simply great. I found his web site at www.almondgreenway.com
Event: Angie Palmer
Venue: The Duchess
Date: September 24 2009
I bumped into Angie Palmer outside The Duchess just as dusk approached on a relatively warm York evening, just as the singer-songwriter was making her way down to the neighbouring Fibbers night club, where another gig was about to commence. 'Hope you're not escaping to another gig' I said as she walked towards me with her companion. 'No, we're just going to see some friends before they go on, Wreckless Eric's on downstairs tonight'. This may be the reason behind my recent rant on why everyone seems to disappear in York whenever anyone of importance is playing. Perhaps there's just too much going on at the same time and choices have to be made!
Angie delayed her visit 'downstairs' to speak to me for ten minutes whilst the sound of the two support bands filtered throughout the darkened corridors of The Duchess during their respective sound checks. The Lancaster born singer-songwriter was seemingly relaxed before the gig, wearing tight denim jeans and black waistcoat, as any self respecting rock chick should, as we sat and discussed everything from Dylan and Debussy to travelling though Europe, playing with a superb bunch of musicians collectively known as The Revelators and most importantly, her current album 'Meanwhile, as Night Falls..'
Later, after two excellent support spots by Suzy Bradley and the Morning After and the fabulously tight Jen Low Band, Angie Palmer walked onto stage with an acoustic guitar, a bunch of well-crafted and easily assessable songs and was flanked by an ensemble of excellent players, all completely in tune with every single move their leader made.
Opening with three consecutive songs from her current album, the Alan Gregson (Cornershop) produced 'Meanwhile, as Night Falls..', Angie soon fell into a relaxed groove during "On the Eve", "The Fiery Lake" and "After the Lights Have Gone", all pretty much exactly how they appear on the album. For the delightful "After the Lights Have Gone", Angie urged the audience to pull up some comfortable chairs and come a little closer. A true artist knows instinctively how to make the best out of a not so good situation. If the room isn’t bursting at the seams, then draw the small audience in, come a little closer, let's get intimate.
The atmosphere was intimate and the audience did indeed move closer to the band, which consisted of birthday boy Billy Buckley on guitars, Richard Curran on fiddle and mandolin, Ollie Collins on bass and Sophie Hasting on drums. Revisiting her two previous albums Road (2005) and Tales of Light and Darkness (2006), with the hard rocking "Fishtails" and the equally powerful "Footprints in the Snow" from the former and the funky "Letters From Home" and "Fool’s Gold" and finally a song which Angie referred to as a 'rarity', the love song "Michelangelo" from the latter, Angie demonstrated a good cross section of songs from her most important period.
Two more songs from the new album were selected for the set including the Johnny Cash inspired rocker "I Hear That Locomotive", which Angie invited the audience to provide suitable train sounds, which to a York audience shouldn’t be too difficult. Then the adult version of Little Red Riding Hood, "Hunting the Wolf", introduced in French, produced one of the highlights of the night both in terms of tightness of arrangement, including Billy Buckley's astonishing sneer of a guitar solo, and in tension building, courtesy of Ollie Collins' bowed bass and Richard Curran's demonic fiddle playing. One of the songs I was most looking forward to hearing live and one that was more than satisfactorily realised tonight.
The final song, which really couldn’t be followed by an encore, was the magnificent "Weeping Wood", the song that concludes the new album. I knew it was coming as Angie had told me in advance of the gig that she would be performing it. 'But can you possibly give it the full whack?' I asked before the show. 'We'll give it as much welly as we can but obviously we can't bring the full string section, or an organ or a large gong', Angie cheerfully responded. Judging by the satisfied expression on the faces of each and every member of the audience tonight, I think it was just right.
Angie Palmer - "Road"
Palmer is a Lancashire based singer songwriter who from the age of 17 spent seven years busking and playing concerts on the streets of Europe (mainly France and Switzerland) before finding herself back in the UK. Her experiences playing, busking and earning a living through her music in Europe has impacted on both her playing style (as she explains she had to play hard to make herself noticed and make an impression on the Paris pedestrians) and her songwiting. Her style broadly falls into the 'Americana' genre with clear Country and Country rock influences, amongst others, whilst certainly not being a carbon copy of any of the current well known crop from across the pond.
"Road" consists of nine jointly composed tracks and Palmer is accompanied by Acoustic Bass, Fiddle, Mandolin, and Cello alongside her own Vocals, Guitar and Banjo playing. She has also co-written all the lyrics with Paul Mason which range in subject and tempo from the more reflective "Down the Street of the Cat who Fished" to the more Honky Tonkish rocking Fishtails whilst detouring through the smoother Country song "Ballad of Love and Strife" and opens with the strong and country rocking "Footpints in the Snow". Apart from Palmer's mature and diverse vocal styles the lyrics themselves are incredibly strong and whilst they deal with human relationships in the broadest sense they are the signs of a very strong storyteller in their own right.
Rarely has an independant recording come along (although to be fair Palmer has spent many years learning her trade, years that were well spent) which contains such a strong mixture of songwriting, vocal and musical skills, combining a firm edge with sensitivity, a rockier component with balladry and more contemplative elements such as the lengthy Down the Street of the Cat who Fished" (worth buying for the song title alone), this is a recording that really doesnt fail to please, no fillers, every track stands out on its own merits and a clear indication of the strength of the whole. That aside I still suspect that Palmer's strengths even more in her live performances, and I'll certainly be grabbing the first opportunity to test that hypothesis
This is Palmers third release and with this recording she has started to mark the impression she rightly deserves (the strength of this recording alone should be suffice to ensure that) and I would imagine or more accurately predict that she will be a far more regular booking in the better venues shedules soon.
For more information visit Palmers site at www.angiepalmer.com and expect to see her at a venue near you soon.
Swill and The Swaggerband - "The Day After"
For those of you who are unaware, 'Swill' (Philip Odgers) is one of the frontmen of longstanding folk rockers The Men they Couldnt Hang. This is a Odgers first side project where essentially he took a set of tunes, a handful of friends and some instruments and stayed in the studio until he got the result he wanted, by that I dont mean that months were spent polishing and shining the release, on the contrary Swill and friends booked the time they needed and simply played until they produced the result they wanted.
The end results consists of 13 tracks, a mixture mainly of his own compositions, and some others re-arranged for the recording, as well as Swill's guitar and vocals he's joined for this session by the renowned Bobby Valentino on fiddle (the chances are youve heard Mr Valentino's fiddle even if you dont realise it), Tom Spencer on Guitar and Banjo, fellow band member Ricky Maguire on Acoustic Bass and Jon Odgers on percussion.
The songs are considerably more mellow than Men They Couldnt Hang Material, not to say they have any less of an edge to them in their own right. They range in subject and tempo whilst they do suffer to a small degree from 'sameness', there isnt one song that fails to stand out on its own merits or grow with repeating listening, that said the two or three tracks that particularly stood out for me were the opening track "The Thief, the Brief and the Boy in Blue", probably the closest to some of the earlier Men material lyrically and in style, 'The Day After', a rather chirpy tune concerned with the last few moments of love and life after (I assume) a nuclear holocaust, 'In the Jailhouse Now' a finger tapping tune where Swill is accompanied by guests Marsha Swanson (vocals), and Jamie Mathews on Ukulele. As a contrast 'Lost in the Flood' describes (as indeed you may well guess) the rise of rivers and the associated destruction (homes and lifes etc) is treated with the respect and feeling it merits (Valentinos fiddle really stands out here for its sensitivity) and personally this track more than any other made me reach for the repeat button.
One minor criticism include the lack the inlay details, which had the knock on effect of making me listen a little bit harder to the lyrics...., that aside I for one am looking forwards to the next 'Swaggerband' release which could be sooner rather than later, Swill has recently signed up to Robb Johnson's irregular records and all being well a further release of songs which couldnt quite make it onto this recording will be hitting the streets.
The 'Swaggerband' have made a few trips out into gigland, visit www.tmtch.net to see if they are playing in the not too distant future and for further information and news.
Bob Cheevers - Tall Texas Tales (Inbred 005)
This uncannily prolific singer-songwriter remains master of his art and at the top of his game with his latest offering, which follows swiftly on the heels of last year's powerful collection Fiona's World. Its ten new songs have been inspired by his responses to the "lone-star state", to which he moved just under two years ago. Bob's personal and heartfelt brand of deep-rooted Americana remains wholly accessible yet without musical compromise or undue commercial concessions, and on this latest album (recorded mostly live to analogue tape) he's been fortunate in commanding the support of a great team of Austin musicians (Marvin Dyckhauis, producer Stephen Doster, Bob Pearce, Dennis Ludiker, Chip Dolan, Charlie Irwin and Rich White) to realise his vision, his entirely affable (yet never without depth) reflections on life and love.
Well OK, perhaps the album's title is a mild misnomer, cos you do get the feeling these tales are anything but tall, having that indisputable ring of truth about them. The settings range from the classic twang of the opener Grown Up People to the rowdy accordion-led cajun of Luckenbach, the fiddle-and-banjo epic Mushroom Cloud Lil, the tongue-in-cheek Bo-Diddley-shuffle of One Good Rib and the steamy, stealthy bluesy swagger of Texas Is An Only Child, but musical versatility notwithstanding, I feel that this time round the album's standouts lie more in the terrain of the longing, lovelorn ballads at the centre of the disc (the exquisite Budget Motel, the tougher Turquoise Heart With A West Texas Smile and the tenderly resigned Give This Heart) and maybe also the closer (Falling).
Even so, there's not a weak track, and while Bob's legions of loyal fans won't be disappointed by this new set I'm sure that with another exhaustive UK tour coming up this country's stage is set for further conquests as well.
Bob Cheevers – Fiona's World (Berkalin Records 10002)
Fiona's World is almost cinematic in its proportions, which has prompted me to outline a proposal for a new blockbuster. I think I'm going to cast Brad Pitt as our main protagonist, if that's okay with you Bob. I would have preferred Paul Giamatti but this has got to be a hit. Our leading lady will probably be Kate Winslet; she's from Reading which is as near as dammit to the New Forest where Fiona resides, so the accent shouldn't be much of a problem.
The plot is simple. Green-eyed blonde beauty sketches visiting American singer whilst singing songs about the Civil War in a Southampton club. American meets artist after show and promptly falls in love (with Fiona, not the sketch). Winslet will be okay with this as she did precisely the same in Titanic only in reverse. Locations used throughout include the American Deep South, Southampton, the nearby New Forest and Paris. Okay, it's going to be a romantic movie.
Bob Cheevers has set out this romance quite eloquently, referring to it as a 'mystical journey and symbiotic relationship' in no less that forty poems and sixteen songs, fourteen of which are contained within this handsome package, featuring Fiona's original sketch on the cover. Cheevers wears his heart on his sleeve here, with an outpouring of emotion, which probably came as much of a surprise to him as to anyone else. On "New Forest Girl", he squarely admits he didn't see this coming, as in the outset of most symbiotic relationships that embark on mystical journeys.
Specific songs relating to familiar landmarks of Southern England sound rather enchanting when spoken or sung in a voice reminiscent of Willie Nelson. With a backdrop of the New Forest, Bob and Fiona play out their romance with little interruption from any extras. This is essentially a screenplay for two.
By scene six, the action moves from England to France, after our Romeo and Juliet's first encounter in Southampton. To sweeping accordion fills, we find our sweethearts roaming the Champs-Élysées after carefully planning out their rendezvous in Paris. This is where Winslet predictably gets her kit off and goes for the love scene that will finally get her that much sought after Oscar, you know, the one that continually seems to evade her.
Whilst "Only Roses" appears to be the stand out song on this imaginary soundtrack; a poetic confessional that alludes to all the inadequacies that a traditional 'dozen red wishes' has to offer, "Every Beauty" celebrates romantic love in the most direct form; 'every beauty must have a flaw, but I have yet to find yours'.
Fiona herself makes a cameo appearance in this movie, singing her part in a duet on "Pictures of Strangers", which is immediately convincing. It becomes increasingly ambiguous as to who exactly is the artist here and who is the muse. The lines are frequently crossed throughout the fourteen songs.
My only reservation about this completely romantic collection of songs is the climax, which is essentially "New Forest Girl" speeded up as a hoedown. It's a mixture of Thomas Hardy meets the Clampetts. I feel if this track had to be included, it should've been one of those 'hidden tracks' that pops up five minutes after the album has ended. Having said that, if you allow yourself to be drawn into Fiona's World, it really is quite an engaging experience.
Bob Cheevers - "One Man One Martin"
Bob Cheevers is a Nashville based Singer Songwriter who occupies that arena which is described as Americana these days, and he has made a significant impact in that field with two of his recent albums charting in the 'Americana Charts', his music is clearly rooted in the best traditions of story telling and has clear Folk and Delta Blues influences. Cheevers has his roots, both ancestral and musically in the Mississippi Delta, and whilst he has been based in Nashville since the early 90s his music and stories are often still focused on and influenced by his origins, and stories of characters of that area.
Whilst many may not have heard of Cheevers he is a regular visitor to these shores often playing thirty or more dates on relatively short visits and as often as not he will return with a new recording usually with a slightly different slant to it. In this case the CD does exactly as it says on the label, so to speak, Cheevers has here released a collection consisting solely of his voice and guitar with no need for any other accompaniment. Stripped right down to the bare necessities,
'One Man One Martin' consists of 12 songs which vary from exploring (sometimes intensely) relationships in songs such as 'Drowning Moon', 'Ruby, Scarlet and the Sacred Rose' and 'Heads and Tails' to tales of characters he has either met on his (considerable) travels and experiences or who are products of his imagination. Tales such as 'Horseshoe Man' and 'The Quick and the Dead' bring to mind times long gone in the West and Cheevers ability to bring such times and his characters to life through his words give extra deepness to the words.
Cheevers is a songwriter who appears to write (rather prolifically at times) of characters and feelings that have genuine meaning to him and this is probably reflected in an almost detectable integrity in his songs, as he himself puts it 'I dont know if these stories are true, but they happened to me', clearly why he can sing of his subjects with such familiarity and feeling at points.
For more details and to check future UK tour dates visit Cheevers website at www.bobcheevers.com
The Machine Breakers - "The Bells Ring Anyway"
It certainly doesn't seem like 2 years since their last album but it most definitely is and the wait has been well worth it. Twelve great tracks make up 'The Bells Ring Anyway' and there's a new coherence to these latest songs from the now three piece Machine Breakers. The whole thing has a silkier feel to it, a new richness, a professionalism, yet it still retains the powerful, raw spirit of Julian Pollard's earthy songs.
Typically, Simon Othen's guitar work accentuates Julian's own work beautifully as he picks, strums and slides his way effortlessly behind the gritty vocals. New man, Mark Platt, has brought a softness to the mix with his excellent backing vocals, percussion work and fine whistles.
There's a variety of moods to take in here and not a bad track in sight. Opening with the punchy, statement laden, 'Mediocrity (UK)' and finishing with the subtle and moving, piano (Steve Preston) backed title track this is a fine, contemporary, piece of work. I particularly liked the moody use of cello (Catherine Oldham) on the superb 'You Haunt Me', the subtle guitar work of the excellent 'One Regret' and the combined vocal work, powerful guitars and brilliant lyrics of 'Hit 'Em Hard'.
There's other guest appearances worthy of mention here too with Luke Wormli on harmonica and Alesandra Di Prospero on flute; both adding their individual touches to this remarkably fine album.
'The Bells Ring Anyway' is a brilliant piece of modern aural sculpture and by far the best thing thus far from this talented acoustic trio.
Peter Brown (www.toxicpete.co.uk)
More details of the Machine Breakers can be found at: www.themachinebreakers.com
Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver – Beyond the Shadows
Sugar Hill Records SUG-CD-3753
Publicity [at] sugarhillrecords.com
Playing Time – 32:38
Songs - . When We Meet to Part No More, 2. By the Side of the Road, 3. Babylon's Falling, 4. Every Time I Feel the Spirit , 5. Beyond the Shadows, 6. When the World's on Fire, 7. When Life Is Over, 8. Hiding From the Storm Outside, 9. The Wings of Faith, 10. The Long, Long Journey, 11. We'll Sing in Gloryland, 12. My Lord Delivered Me
“Beyond the Shadows,” now being reissued by Sugar Hill Records, is Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver’s third gospel release (from 1986), and it celebrates a few different highlights in the band’s career. Firstly, it celebrates the band’s existence for a quarter century since their formation in 1979. The band signed with the Sugar Hill Records label the following year, and this reissue marks an impressive and prolific long-term relationship that has resulted in 24 albums in as many years for this fine group that features well-blended vocal harmonies and arrangements.
Let’s recall the early history of Lawson’s band. In 1979, Lawson put Quicksilver together with banjo player Terry Baucom, guitarist Jimmy Haley, and electric bass player Lou Reid. The band released the albums Quicksilver, Rock My Soul, Quicksilver Rides Again, Heavenly Treasures, and Once and for Always. After rededicating his life to Jesus Christ in 1985, Lawson recorded the all-gospel “Beyond the Shadows” with new players Scott Vestal (banjo), Curtis Vestal (electric bass), and Russell Moore (guitar). It was momentous occasion that indicated the band’s ability to continue to set a high standard for bluegrass gospel music.
His gospel (and secular) albums consistently best sellers, Lawson’s recipe for success has always been to present an excellent variety of material that appeals to the young and the old. As an example of this approach, let’s analyze the last five songs on “Beyond the Shadows.” Moving effortlessly from an acapella “Hiding From The Storm Outside” to the call-and-response (with just guitar and mandolin accompaniment) of “The Wings of Faith” (by Don Reno) demonstrates their skill. A slow triple-timed “The Long, Long Journey” (by Jimmie Davis) adds Mike Auldridge’s pedal steel and provides us with an inspirational message. The band then picks up the tempo with the a cappella “We’ll Sing in Glory,” before closing the album with a bright, fully accompanied rendition of “My Lord Delivered Me.” I miss hearing some fiddle in the mix, but this gospel project doesn’t particularly suffer from its absence. Also, the electric bass has been equalized to approximate the sound of an acoustic upright, but at times it tends to have a bit much sustain. All in all, the instrumental accompaniment, when used, does not detract from the vocals and the songs’ messages.
The album’s title cut comes from the pen of one of the early queens of country musician, Martha Carson., who was a big draw at the Renfro Valley Barn Dance in Kentucky. Lawson and band add guest Mike Auldridge’s steel on this cut, and it’s a song that epitomized the type of great old-time gospel gold that Lawson searches out and arranges for his band. “Babylon’s Falling,” presented without instruments, precedes an uptempo “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” that is accompanied with only the guitar playing a vamped barre chords.
Another occasion for this reissued album to celebrate is Doyle Lawson’s 60th
birthday in 2004. Happy Birthday, Doyle! He developed a love for quartet
gospel singing as a child. His mother, father, and sister sang in various
trios and quartets. Preserving his family traditions has always been one of
Lawson’s goals. “Beyond the Shadows” is an album that presents gorgeous
vocal work, both from the lead and harmony singers. All should take note of
this band’s ability to seamlessly blend their voices, as well as to arrange
their songs without any or with just enough instrumentation to make them
special and memorable. “Beyond the Shadows” could make a rainbow appear on
even the darkest, stormy day.
Raven Moon – Raven Blue
8922 Trolley Rd., Columbia, Il. 62236-3422
EMAIL: ravenmoon [at] rdr.net
Playing Time – 41:51
The strength of Raven Moon, a 5-piece band from Illinois that formed eight years ago, is their variety of material that spans the genres of old-timey, bluegrass, swing, blues, Celtic and country. While they might seem to have an identity problem, I suppose the band members just have a variety of musical interests, and they’ve built their regional following by appealing to audiences who like a lot of variety. In producing such a project as “Raven Blue,” they take us from the British Isles and Appalachia (“Frosty Morning”) to the brother duets of the 1930s (the Delmore Bros.’ “Pan American Boogie”). Wayne Rayne’s “Fast Train Through Arkansas” is given a locomotive treatment that’s full of steam.
Raven Moon also weaves their musical journey through traditional bluegrass (“Foggy Mountain Special” and “Walls of Time”), progressive bluegrass (“Down by the Riverbed”), swing (“Full Moon of Love”), and country (“Blue Kentucky Girl” and “Walkin’ After Midnight”). Their melting pot of acoustic music even offer an appealing original, “Magic Mandolin,” a nostalgic recollection of Grandpa and his instrument. The songwriter of that number, Christine Peick, is Raven Moon’s guitarist and primary lead singer.
Besides Christine, Raven Moon includes John Higgins (fiddle, harmonica, vocals), Bob Lucas (banjo, guitar), Johnny Stephens (bass), and Glen Obata (lead guitar, vocals). Guest musicians include Bob Breidenbush (dobro), Tom Murphy (mandolin), and Lois Clay Quest (harmony vocals on “Clay Halo”). All of them are solid and accomplished musicians. Competent on their respective instruments, the band presents an adept regional band sound that is immediately appealing yet not overly flashy like some of the over-produced products from Nashville these days.
This album is a nice sampling of the varied music that Raven Moon brings to their live shows. Crowds are always guessing what they’ll do next. Some in their audiences may take to the bluegrass while others’ affinity may be for the Cajun or Irish tunes. At the end of a show, Raven Moon’s audiences go away happy with the whole package. The band has been able to open doors for bluegrass. Raven Moon is known in St. Louis as the band that takes bluegrass to places it has never been performed before.
Raven Moon keeps busy by playing many festivals in Missouri and Illinois,
and they have enjoyed a considerable amount of success in that locale. They
even achieved some national fame when Garrison Keillor, host of “A Prairie
Home Companion,” played one of their songs on his radio show. The band
was invited to showcase at the 2004 IBMA Convention and Trade Show, but they
are just too booked to fit that in. Let’s hope they can make it in a future
year, as that may launch them to greater heights and more national
Jenny and Martin Schaub hail from Sweden where they perform as members of West of Eden, a band formed in 1995 and which has released three highly-acclaimed albums from 1997-2003 with Celtic and pop sensibilities. “Kite High” offers an enchanting repertoire of uplifting music with several interpretive twists arranged around the multi-instrumental talents of Martin and the gripping vocal performance of Jenny. While liner notes don’t give any indication, Martin apparently plays such instruments as guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, piano, tenor banjo, fiddle, accordion, dobro, tin whistle, and synthesizer. Jenny is a defining voice of her time, and she is blessed with a silky touch and ability.
The album is graced with eight originals and five arrangements which they identify as traditional numbers. The latter are harvested from fertile Celtic fields, inspired after the duo spent the summer of 2001 studying Irish music traditions in Limerick.. “The Flower of Magherally,” “Poor Old Horse,” “The Snow it Melts the Soonest,” and “New Year’s Prayer” are beautifully-paced ballads. “Two Blackbirds” is a splendid little nostalgic tale of lost love. A common theme of love-gone-wrong is the message in “The Biggest Fool.” Martin provides some fluid and precise lead vocals for “Paddy’s Lamentation,” and Jenny gives us a tastefully rendered “Seventeen Come Sunday.” Both are favorites that have become standard fare for many Celtic groups.
Many of their originals were also composed following their Irish summer experience, and their leisurely approach to their well-arranged music is an exercise that yields bountiful rewards. On songs like the opening cut of “Underneath the Harvest Moon” and the title cut of “Kite High,” we are given smooth and bouyant melodies that float effortlessly from note to note like clouds in a tranquil spring sky. Happily, I found lyrics for five originals on their website – westofeden.com. The Schaubs say that lately their lyrics contain more intimate and down-to-earth storytelling about human beings and relations, which also affects the music itself. The stories behind the making of the songs can be found on the group's website. Spirited instrumentals like “The Road to Ravello” and a reflective lament, “A Place by the Sea,” round out the project.
I would like to hear more of Martin and Jenny Schaub’s music. They are
excellent musicians, and their “Kite High” project will serve to solidly
hold them a place among the most engaging and dynamic duos currently on the
Celtic music scene. The Schaubs should be very proud of this piece of
Monroe Crossing – "The Green Mossy Ground"
Monroe Crossing MC-0603
17625 Argon Street NW Ramsey, MN 55303
firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com
Playing Time – 45:38
Songs: This Morning At Nine, The Way You Look At Him, The Green Mossy Ground, Leavin’ Rosine, I Love To Tell The Story, No Mother or Dad, Listening to the Rain, The Sweetest Song I Sing, Eight Good Years, Blake’s March, Just Because of You, The Rain, Tequila Mockingbird, Why Did You Wander.
Monroe Crossing’s logo shows a yellow and black crossing sign with Big Mon and his mandolin. Rules of the road necessitate our slowing down and paying attention to this busy band from Minnesota that includes Lisa Fuglie (fiddle), Art Blackburn (guitar), Graham Sones (banjo), Matt Thompson (mandolin, fiddle) and Mark Anderson (bass). Their third album in as many years offers a lively set of traditional standards, four originals, two instrumentals, two gospel numbers, and some other surprises. There’s plenty here to thrill their fans as they continue to break out of the regional band category and into a national spotlight
Their allegro rendition of Sid Campbell’s “This Morning At Nine” (classic Country Gentlemen fare) sets the stage for some high stepping and fast traffic ahead. They also cover hits from The Osborne Brothers (Listening to the Rain), Flatt & Scruggs (No Mother or Dad), and Bill Monroe (Why Did You Wander?). With their abilities, I’d like to see them wander a few more of the back roads of bluegrass for less oft-played material.
Engaging arrangements for their instrumental offerings spice up Aubrey Haynie’s tribute to Bill Monroe, “Leavin’ Rosine,” and a tune from Norman Blake called “Blake’s March” offers some tasty flatpicking. Sones’ banjo is in the spotlight on Pete Wernick’s “Tequila Mockingbird.”
Blackburn and Fuglie are Monroe Crossing’s lead vocalists. Harmony support is ably provided by Thompson and Anderson, and the band really shines on the gospel song written by Becky Buller (“The Rain” ), a Tim O’Brien love song (“The Sweetest Song I Sing”) and old Lutheran hymn (“I Love to Tell the Story”).
Just when you start to think you have this band pegged, they lay out
something like an original honky tonk country song, “Just Because of You,”
that kicks off with twin fiddles and a strong walking bass line on
Anderson’s portable upright. A pleasing trademark of this band is their
propensity to arrange their songs with occasional phrases of instrumental
harmony. The band’s other original material is also impressive. “The Green
Mossy Ground,” by Fuglie, is a triple-timed high lonesome tale of love that
leads to death. Blackburn’s “The Way You Look at Him” speaks to a common
theme in bluegrass, love gone wrong after encountering a “cruel and unkind
twist of fate that hard life often brings.” Blackburn also penned “Eight
Good Years,” a contemporary song with the questions a couple face when they
reach a crossroad in their relationship. The next time you are on the
highways of Big Minnie, be sure to slow down and stop when you see a Monroe
Jen Gloeckner - "Miles Away"
Jen Gloeckner is an Iowa based singer songwriter and multi-instrumentalist and 'Miles Away' is her debut release. Thus far the release and her music has been described as 'alt-folk', 'alt-jazz and several other labels all of which have validity and a mixture of these would probably most accurately describe what is on offer.. Whilst 'singer-songwriter' is increasingly meaningless as a label as it tells you nothing about the music (or talent) of the artist concerned, if this particular artists music needs to have a description it could be described as falling somewhere between the two aforementioned categorisations, although there are certainly some 'world music' influences at play as well. The 'alt-jazz' feel of the recording is perhaps most in evidence in tracks such as 'Glimpse' or 'Otherside' with Gloeckners vocals ranging from intimate to almost distant where you can feel the singer perhaps absorbed in her own song and music.
The album itself consists of 15 tracks and is a respectful 55 minutes in length, starting with the title track 'Miles Away', as an opening track it provides a sound taster of what is too follow, Gloeckner furnishes the track with a gentle but firm finger picking style woven around her vocals also accompanied by herself on keyboards, providing an atmospheric background to the track, whilst remaining firmly in the background. All the tracks were written and composed by Gloeckner herself, the range of lyrical matters ranging from the allegorical such as 'Clear the Sand' to reflections of relationships and their strains on tracks such as 'Glue' and curiously named 'Swarm'. There are a number of tracks that capture the imagination, but one that particularly struck me was 'Mountain' in the way that Gloeckners Guitar and Mandolin playing is combined with a particularly impressive flute and the use of congas to provide a non intrusive but firm beat, however the variety offered on the album cant really be done justice by naming one or two tracks.
These days the term singer-songwriter doesnt necessarily say very much about the music or style of the artist concerned, however whilst labels or pigeonholes will not really suffice here, it is fair to say that Gloeckner is very much her own artist, certainly 'Miles Away' is one of the more original offerings that will surface this year, expect to hear more from her direction.
For more information and clips etc visit www.jengloeckner.com
Afan "Queen of the Rushes Brenhines Y Brwyn"
Track listing: Can Merthyr, Cwrw Da Set, Kevin goes to town?, Waterfowl Set, St Augustine, Water Kelpie, Y Deryn Pur, Afon Afan,
Bear Dance Set, Llwyn Onn, Big Mon Set, Mermaid Set/Ar Lan y Mor, Suo Gan/Queen of the Rushes set, Kelly Anne Set, Stumpie Set
Afan are an Arizona based four piece (in truth a five piece including the bands dancer Sarah Houghtelin) Celtic combo consisting of John Good, Kevin King, Billy Parker and Caven Clark, each of whom are accomplished multi-instrumentalists. Despite the considerable experience of the bands components parts as a unit they have only been playing together since 2001 with the aim of putting traditional Welsh music to the fore and whilst they have maintained this as the core of their agenda, that has since been broadened out to include other influences (including Wales, Ireland, Scotland, North America and further afield) all of which is reflected on this, their first release. The bands flautist John Good originally learnt his skill in the South Wales Valleys before departing across the pond (taking up an MSc in composition from Cardiff University enroute), his band mates have equally if somewhat more local pedigrees.
The album itself consists of a far more than reasonable 15 tracks and represents a fair variety of the bands influences and styles with Welsh, Scottish and Irish traditional material sitting comfortably alongside a sprinkling of self composed material and the odd helping of American Folk and Bluegrass. The American folk influences on the album are represented by on the one hand the old Dylan anthem 'I dreamed I saw St. Augustine' and from a somewhat different angle 'Big Mon' by Bluegrass legend Bill Monroe. Mixed in with these influences are traditional tunes from across the 'Celtic' world including an interesting Breton tune 'Me anvez goulmik' and The Welsh Trad song 'The song of Merthyr' and self composed material including 'Kevin goes to Town' where the bands bodhran player provides an energetic solo slightly reminiscent of John Joe Kelly of Flook fame, and a number of compositions by John Good. All of these are played with an impressive talent and gusto by the band, with strongly suggests they are an impressive outfit live.
Apparantly Afan have made an impact in Arizona and have been described as the best "Celtic Band" by the local media, whilst Im not quite sure of the usefulness of such labels this CD is a damned fine contribution with an enjoyable mixture of styles and influences by talented musicians and I'm looking forward to the next such contribution.
To listen and find out more visit Afan at www.afanmusic.com
Po’ Girl – FOLLOW YOUR BLISS (Po’ Girl Records PG. 006)
It’s been quite difficult keeping up with Po’ Girl lately; just prior to their celebrated Deer In The Night set, they underwent a pretty major lineup change when Trish Klein left the band, and then what was effectively their next album, No Shame, somewhat confusingly came out under the name Sofia. Now, judging by the liner credits on Follow Your Bliss – and indeed the generally fuller sound the album proudly boasts on several tracks – the lineup would appear to have permanently expanded to include that fine drummer Mikey August (who’s actually been touring with the others for some time now) alongside founder Allison Russell and newer recruits Awna Texeira and Benny Sidelinger. Whatever, Po’ Girl haven’t lost their special trademark, for their captivating “Canadian urban roots music” is still as much a unique blend of Appalachian-style oldtime folk with lazy jazz and gospel and a touch of contemporary songwriting sensibility, and they emerge from the latest studio sessions with all their principles and practices – and originality – intact.
The recorded sound is warm and close yet with every detail of the intriguingly organic arrangements faithfully delineated, and the distinctive, idiosyncratic (and sexy) singing voices of the two individual writers captured to perfection (Allison’s hushed smokiness complementing Awna’s more girlish coquettery); and then, when the two voices resound together in intoxicating harmony, there’s another kind of magic brought into play (it borders on McGarrigle-esque at times). The instrumental interplay between the various textures is brilliantly managed too, with the sounds of accordion, banjo, dobro, glockenspiel, clarinet and guitars both electric and acoustic deftly configured around, and entwined beneath, the vocal parts. There’s an appealingly wistful feel to the ladies’ writing that transcends any empty or merely trendy nostalgia, and while Awna tends to favour either the jazzier or alt-country modes of expression in her compositions, which virtually alternate with Allison’s throughout the album’s sequence, there’s no hard and fast rule and the work of both writers embodies an easy, companionable familiarity. Easiest to sample, perhaps, for a flavour of Po’ Girl’s compelling musical landscape and the telling contrasts within would be the delicate Pink Shoes, with Allison’s playful clarinet criss-crossing Awna’s spare guitar lines; the opener Kathy (on which Allison celebrates the musical inspiration she’s gained form her mother); the slightly woozy dance-floor waltzery of the spacious, lonesomely evocative Western Skies (perhaps my favourite cut overall); and the aromatic, horn-bedecked, bouncy carnival shuffle of the title song – but each track possesses its own special delights. Arguably the most spellbinding of the fourteen tracks (aside from the gorgeous Western Skies) are Allison’s seductive Go Easy, her chiming “hymn to the survivors” To The Morning and her beautiful, reflective Benediction (which incidentally also features some wonderful dobro work from Benny, a key constant in the current Po’ Girl sound), but the seriously tasty Little-Feat-style southern delta boogie vibe of When We Are Love provides a contrasting standout cut early on in the running order. And right in the middle of proceedings we find a minor curveball in the form of a spicy group-collaborative effort, a rousing klezmer-style romp through an anonymous French piece from the 16th century (Maudite Guerre). This entirely consistent, and marvellously intoxicating, new set from Po’ Girl may in time turn out to be their most satisfying yet.
Po’ Girl – Deer in the Night (Po’ Girl Music PG.004)
Americana-roots outfit Po’ Girl’s fourth album release is their first without founder member Trish Klein, whose place has been taken by Awna Teixeira, the lineup being completed by the similarly multi-talented Benny Sidelinger. But fans will be relieved to find that although the group dynamic has necessarily altered, the band’s trademark, its quite special musical mix of old-time and Appalachian folk with gospel and jazzy overtones, is largely intact. And there’s what seems to be a more natural use of existing resources on this new album, with less intention to prove a point or sound self-consciously quirky: here, generally, those quirkier touches serve the songs rather than the other way round, although there are moments when the oddball overrides the artistic considerations and there’s an occasional suspicion of vocal affectation creeping in (as on No Shame). Composition-wise, Awna gets a marginally greater share of the credits, but her writing fits really well with Allison’s and almost any of her songs here could’ve easily graced a previous Po’ Girl album. There’s a bonus track too: a really nice cover of Julie Miller’s All My Tears. The trio lays plenty of different musical cards on the table during the first four numbers, giving an immediate and truthful overview of their influences, capabilities and musical predilections. The title track (one of Allison’s) is a gentle and slightly eerie quasi-lullaby, kicking off with bicycle-bell percussion and tinkling glockenspiel, to which the jazzy, clarinet-and-banjo-infused Dig Me A Hole provides a healthy contrast followed keenly by the sinuous swamp-slide tread of Bloom and the swaying Dietrich-like, purring Berlin-café-waltz of Gandy Dancer. Throughout the disc, in fact, the instrumentation is creative and distinctive, with well-managed guest contributions from a number of extra musicians. The disc’s one joint composition, Grace, starts out with what sounds like a Joy Division bass riff, but the song itself then doesn’t quite live up to that association, its personalised lyric sounding a touch studied. There’s also still a slight touch of detached posturing about one or two other songs, almost as if the interest of the instrumental settings and the distinctiveness of the girls’ lead-vocals (sweet vs. earthy) and their well-practised harmonies should be enough to wholly satisfy but aren’t quite always. And a brave attempt at mid-song gear-change, on the dreamy Sing Away, feels self-conscious. But when the magic works all at once, the effect is mesmerising, as on One Little City, the casually funky slouch of Fool, the backporch antiquity of Isobel and the shuffling Things We Believe In. I’d be the first to admit that Po’ Girl’s music might take a time to weave its spell on you, that is if you didn’t first succumb to their imaginative instrumental touches and the actual sound of those marvellous voices. Just don’t expect catchy riffs or hummable melodies, for Po’ Girl’s gift is instead to create and nurture imaginative detail to cloak their often enigmatic lyrics. It might sound contradictory, but in spite of the above observations and reservations I’m coming round to feeling Deer In The Night is Po’ Girl’s most consistent set yet.
www.pogirl.net 'Po Girl' Live at The Ceol Castle, Birmingham - 3rd February 2004
There are only 3 chances left to see these three outstanding Canadian girls from Vancouver .If you are anywhere near Hereford tonight, Windsor tomorrow, or Basingstoke on Sunday make the effort to see them .I dragged an ill wife through the Birmingham rain onTuesday but like me she was absolutely blown away . For those who don't know, Po Girl consist of Trish Klein from the equally excellent Be Good Tanyas on vocals guitar harmonica and banjo, Allison Russell on vocals and clarinet and Diona Davies on Vocals violin and guitar.
The music is a fusion of folk jazz and blues but that is really an oversimplification . The real secret is the balance between the vocals,particularly Allison Russels soulful voice .Their songs are a mixture of traditional American folk and own compositions ranging from the delightful opener "Gone in Pawn" through "Cold Hungry Blues" to the socio political " City Song" sung by Trish. The political theme was carried on in the first of two encores "Resist War" adding the bands comment to the WMD debate.
My neighbour leant across to me after the duet between Allisons vocal on "Lullaby" and Dionas violin and said that alone was worth the ticket price . I had to agree.
The only slight downside was that the girls had some sound problems particularly at the start but these were not intrusive . We had a chance to chat briely in the bar afterwards - no prima donnas these three!
I took the unusual step of sending the band an e- mail afterwards and had an immediate reply from Trish which made my day.
If you cant make it this time they tell me they are back in the Autumn so see them then and in the meantime check out their website www.pogirl.net and buy the CD of the same name.
Giveway "Full Steam Ahead" Greentrax CDTRAX 245 2003
Give way, yield right of way, and make way for this fantastic family group!
From the gentle opening developing into a spirited tune on track one 'Manonymous' of this album, I defy anyone not to be enthralled by this group. Who else would mis-pronounce anonymous and then admit their error and use the word as an opening title on a debut album?
Made up of four sisters - Kirtsy, Fiona, Mairi and Amy - with an array of instruments from fiddles and whistles to accordions, drums, keyboards and synthesisers, this is the sound of Scottish folk in the Third Millennium. Aged from 13 to 17 years they have a sound far in advance of their years.
The title track 'Full Steam Ahead' gives a final lie to the old adage that a gentleman (or lady) is one who can play the accordion, but doesn't. Kirtsy will boil your blood with her playing on this track. I dare you not to tap your foot as she wrings magic from her instrument ably assisted by her sisters. This is joyous music. This is what music needs to be.
To prove that spirited is not their only mode, they then present the old traditional tune 'Blue Bonnets (Over the Border)' and show us how drums can greatly enhance even the gentlest tunes in the hands of those with an obvious love of the music.
The track 'Riverdance' is not the worldwide Irish phenomenon, but a medley of reels.
'Jigging' is unusual in that the set opens with a very slow piece but it soon takes off to have anyone with a dram of Celtic blood hopping and 'lepping' around the room.
Amid the traditional and contemporary compositions there are three by 17-year old Fiona. One of these is 'Glencoe Beginnings'. This is beautiful and mature composition recounting how an aunt of the girls lost some of her school friends in a storm. It prevented her from taking part in outdoor activities but when she re-learned the joy of such pursuits she met her future husband. Keeping it in the family, a poem by the girls' grandmother is spoken on the track.
This CD has just about all anyone could ask of it. The music is fabulous. The notes are informative - and funny without the usual self-importance of sleeve notes. Treat yourself to a bit of modern Scotland with more than a hint of tradition and a palpable love of what is being performed. Watch out for this group - they won't give way.
Janne Henshaw "Drifter’s Prayer"
Total Playing Time – 41:05
Songs – 1. So Long Gone, 2. Fatherless Child, 3. Bottomlands, 4. Wondrous Love, 5. The Stone is Rolled Away, 6. Dear Elinor, 7. Green Rolling Hills, 8. How Long, 9. Light In Your Window, 10. That's How It Seems, 11. A Drifter's Prayer, 12. Mary Wants To Ride, 13. I Will Not Forget You
Nashville-based songwriter Janne Henshaw has assembled some impressive
players for her debut album, Drifter’s Prayer. The fiery picking of her top
accompanists could easily overshadow her vocals, but instead these
professionals know how to complement her comfortable delivery with just the
right notes and fills. The cast includes Jeff White (guitar), Andrea Zonn
(fiddle), Rob Ickes (dobro), Jim Hurst (guitar), Butch Baldassari
(mandolin), Mike Bub (bass), John Mock (tin whistle, low whistle,
concertina), Bryan Sutton (banjo), and Joey Schmidt (accordion). White, Zonn
and Michael Reynolds sing the harmonies to Janne’s sweet, mellow voice.
Compression used during the mixing process unfortunately accentuates a
little more of her breathing between phrases than I would have preferred.
A gifted singer with a distinctive voice and award-winning songwriter with great knack for the craft, Janne Henshaw has been compared to Nanci Griffith. I also hear tints of Mary Black, Jean Redpath, Kathy Kallick, Will Maring, Gillian Welch and Emmylou Harris. Along with her Nashville compatriots, this is a very impressive acoustic music album.
Henshaw draws her repertoire from original material, along with songs from Wil Maring, Utah Phillips, Betty Elders, Lee Satterfield and George Teren. The project opens with “So Long Gone,” a hope for love reunited. “Fatherless Child” won her second place in the 2000 Merlefest Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Songwriter Will Maring was also a Merlefest contest winner (in 1998), and her song “Bottomlands” is one of several standouts on this project. The addition of Mock’s whistle and Sutton’s clawhammer banjo give the song a distinctive Celtic and old-timey feeling.
“Dear Elinor” is a beautiful ¾-time song inspired by a love letter written by John Briner in 1863 during the Civil War. Sutton’s banjo also appears in Utah Phillips’ “Green Rolling Hills,” which has been supplemented with additional lyrics written by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. Henshaw’s bouncy “How Long” would’ve benefited from some hot bluegrass banjo in the mix. The album slows down with “Light in your Window” and “That’s How it Seems” before the title cut adds a spark and optimistic message. The ballad “Mary Wants to Ride” illustrates Henshaw’s aptitude for storytelling, and with Schmidt’s accordion, they impart a graceful twist to her original Americana music. The album closes with the warm words, “I Will Not Forget You,” that goes down Irish style like a pint of stout on a cold evening under the full moon. May the road to success rise up to meet you, Ms. Henshaw.
Janne (pronounced “Jan”) Henshaw is a name to remember. To understand her musical influences, one need only review her background. Raised in Michigan, she performed classical, folk and country music. After earning college degrees in Music and in Folklore/Ethnomusicology, she traveled through Norway, Ireland and the southeastern U.S. These experiences have obviously flavored her songs. She has toured throughout the U.S. and Europe, and she has been featured on such radio programs “The Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour,” “Homefront Performances” and “Bound for Glory.”
Jones, Clancy, Hills "Faire Winds Live"
Brick Wall Music Brick 006CD 2003
Oh how I wanted this to be a full length CD? It is only six tracks but it is
worth the price of many a three CD set.
Here we have a truly international offering as the sub title says "three stunning voices - three different cultures".
The cultures are England, Ireland and the USA. The voices are, respectively, Bill Jones, Aoife Clancy and Anne Hills. Yes three divas of the folk genre on one short album.
I have reviewed Bill (Belinda) Jones before and was 'blown away' by her voice and interpretation of classic folk songs. Here she takes lead vocal on the beautiful traditional song 'Rocking the Cradle'. The harmony vocals from her companions lift a track that is already 'way up there' with its piano tune.
The Appalachian song 'Across the Blue Mountains' opens with just the clear crystal voice of Aoife Clancy drawing us in. The others join in to bring us a magical a Capella track. You can feel the mountain mist and see the trees as you drift away with the music.
America's Anne Hills takes lead vocal on her own composition 'Pendle Hill'.
My favourite track is another written by Hills, 'Some Boats' with guitar and piano along with those voices.
The CD ends all too soon with Alan Bell's composition of 'So Here's to You'. The lyrics saying "we will meet again" gives us hope of more collaborations between these three angels of folk.
Jez Lowe "Live At the Davy Lamp"
Live albums are notorious for being 'bitty' but this double CD from Jez Lowe
with The Bad Pennies is a tour de force of what live folk should be.
In 23 tracks plus an enhanced CR Rom track, which offers words, pictures and a video clip this excellent singer/songwriter brings you the magic of folk.
The songs are often deceptively simple but most hide a strong and heartfelt message. They are combinations of great tunes, humorous lyrics and spirited renditions that will leave even the armchair 'folkie' shouting for more.
The CD is all the more amazing in that all tracks are written by Lowe (two in collaboration with Bev Sanders), but there are no two songs the same.
The opener, 'Another Man's Wife' features the distinctive sound of the hurdy gurdy and sets the tone of the night.
As usual with Lowe there are numerous songs about the north east of England and the blessing or curse of the coal industry on the inhabitants. A particular favourite of mine is 'Black Diamonds' a title that conjures up the reality of the industry. Another song of the coal comes near the end of CD 2 and 'These Coal Town Days' remind us that although coal mining is a dangerous occupation it is a job and people have very mixed feelings when a mine is closed.
There are some fantastic funny songs on the album. 'High Part of the Town' is one that had me laughing aloud with the witty observations of a "young lad" about his "Da". 'Big Meeting Day' is another song of fun and atmosphere as it helps us re-live the miner's gala days when thousands gathered for music, fun, frolics and not a little beer.
'Weave and Worry' commemorates the Eastington Colliery closure and is a poignant tale of the life of a miner's wife, which is epitomized by that title.
'Kid Canute' brings us back to humour as Lowe makes fun of those eternal rock and rollers that we all know. The ones who still have the drainpipe trousers, coiff and grease of the fifties.
'London Danny' is another Lowe classic telling that oft told story of the man who marries a girl who was left behind by the high roller and his fears when the successful man returns. Like so many of these songs by Jez Lowe, it tells a deep and heartfelt tale with lovely music and gentle words that never get too sloppy.
The penultimate song 'You Can't Take it With You' is a typical live programme closer with an infective chorus.
Thankfully, with this CD you CAN take it with you. You can take great songs in a beautiful performance in the car, on a train, to your sitting room or anywhere.
Artist: Tim O'Brien
Some musicians like to make it all look so easy, whether it be in the way they jump from one instrument to the other, demonstrating an excellence of playing and dexterity in each of the instruments they pick up, or in the relaxed approach they have to singing, especially in some of the most challenging songs. Tim O'Brien is such a singer and musician who made his solo debut in York tonight at the National Centre for Early Music, performing much of his current 'Chameleon' album to a packed and enthusiastic house.
Born and raised in Wheeling, West Virginia, a place where you couldn't really create an equivalent of CSI due to 'everyone having the same DNA and no dental records' he joked, O'Brien is steeped in traditional country and bluegrass music and has been a major player in this field for some three or four decades. Having cut his teeth in the bluegrass band Hot Rize throughout the 1980s, culminating in the band picking up the International Bluegrass Music Association's first ever Entertainer of the Year award in 1990, and taking the Male Vocalist of the Year award himself three years later, Tim has settled into a solo career of some considerable merit and is a much sought after musical collaborator; you sense that he never stops. He would be meeting up with Lau after tonight's show, who are playing at nearby Thorganby and tomorrow he'll be hanging out with the Rusby's, catching Kate's show at the York Opera House.
Tim was relaxed tonight, though in all fairness it's hard to imagine him being anything other than relaxed; I should imagine he's pretty cool by nature. Starting with "Kelly Joe's Shoes", Tim alternated between guitar, fiddle, banjo and guitar shaped bouzouki ('I had it built in the shape of a guitar to avoid telling airport officials I have a bouzouki in my case'), performing a first set that probably went over the hour mark. Tim may have been waiting for the 'one more' signal, but everyone including Chris Eusden, our MC for the gig, was enjoying the first set too much to bring it to a close.
A good deal of the performance was centred around Tim's current album 'Chameleon' including the bluesy "World of Trouble", the minor key troubadour love song "The Garden", and the dance friendly "Get Out There and Dance", during which Tim did the old side step and shimmied as he played. Tim's sense of humour was evident not only in his between-song stories but also in songs such as "Running out of Memory for You", from his 'Cornbread Nation' album, bringing us bang up to date lyrically but maintaining the old bluegrass sensibility:
'My color screen won't even function
It's one big solid field of blue
My hard drive it went soft
My application coughed
And I'm a runnin out of memory for you'
Joining the Grammy Award winning O'Brien for a couple of songs from the record voted Best Traditional Folk Album of 2005, 'Fiddler's Green', was the British multi-instrumentalist Jason Titley, whose work on the British bluegrass scene, most notably in bands such as Natural Hazard and The Daily Planet, had not gone unnoticed by his American peers. With Titley providing the rhythm on either guitar or tarabuka, O'Brien was free to dazzle the audience with his fiddle and banjo playing respectively on "Sandy River Belle" and O'Brien's take on Ola Belle Reed's soulful "I've Endured".
Returning to the bouzouki ('Greek for out-of-tune'), O'Brien concluded with "Walk Beside Me" featuring some stunning guitar licks courtesy of Titsley, before returning to the stage for an encore of the anthemic "A Mountaineer is Always Free" from his acclaimed album 'The Crossing', rounding off an excellent evening with one of the true giants of Americana.
Tim O'Brien "Traveler"
Howdy Skies Records/Sugar Hill SUG-CD-3978 www.sugarhillrecords.com
Playing Time - 49:46
Tim O’Brien has done some traveling in his days, and this album contains a nice collection of eclectic material inspired by his many journeys. Originally from West Virginia, O’Brien now calls Nashville his home. Along the way, he’s picked with The Hutchinson Brothers, The Ophelia String Band, Hot Rize (1979-1990), his own group The O’Boys, in a duo with his sister Mollie, The Flattheads, and New Grange. This solo album, with many excellent accompanists, has a couple key strengths besides O’Brien’s mandolin, guitar, bouzouki and singing. I’ve always been a big fan of O’Brien’s eclectic and unique Americana sound that incorporates elements of bluegrass, folk, old-time, country and Cajun music. He once described his musical style as “weirdcountry, electro-acoustic, folk-beat, walkin-the-line between-several-genres acoustic music that rocks a bit, but you understand the words.” On this project, the tasteful flavorings of Dirk Powell’s accordion and Ray Bonneville’s harmonica provide an especially nice coloring. Other standout and noteworthy instrumental work comes from Casey Driessen (fiddle), Bela Fleck (banjo on “Another Day”), Jerry Douglas (lap steel or resophonic guitar on two cuts). Percussionist Kenny Malone and bassist Dirk Powell are also rock solid in laying down a rhythmic groove throughout.
O’Brien, the singer/songwriter, contributed or collaborated on eleven of the twelve songs on Traveler. Only “I’ve Endured” (by David Arthur Reed and Ola Belle Reed) is a cover. His songsmith collaborators include Lucas Reynolds (“Turn the Page Again”), Darrell Scott (“Another Day”), Ray Bonneville (“Forty-Nine Keep on Talkin’”), Allesandro Massa (“Travelers”). O’Brien’s partnership with Darrell Scott has been fruitful during recent years, and in 2000, they toured and released an instrumental Grammy-nominated album, “The Second Mouse.” With recorded hits by Kathy Mattea, Hal Ketchum, Garth Brooks and others, it’s clear that this artist follows a strong and inspirational lyrical and melodic muse. All lyrics are included in the CD’s jacket. Read ‘em, pay attention to ‘em, because O’Brien’s got some profound things to say. As he sings, “we are but travelers on a road without end,” let’s hope that he’ll find those signs that he is searching for.
Lisa Redford - "Slipstream"
Lisa Redford has had a presence around the acoustic scene for a few years, both as a solo performer and for a period as part of a trio which was aptly named 'Redford'. These days however Redford is concentrating on her solo career and 'Slipstream' is her first 'proper' release.
All the tracks on the release were self written and composed by Redford, and her vocals and picking are central to the sound, whilst she is supported by a range of guest contributions including mandolins, keyboards, slide guitar, piano, harmonica and percussion, these never detract from the centrality of Redfords guitar or singing.
The twelve tracks range to a degree in style from the radio friendly "Carolina Rain", having clear Americana influences with its effective and slide guitar backing with its atmospheric input, "Blue" with perhaps a slightly more jazzy feel to the piano featured to merge with with Redfords solid vocals, to some more 'pop' singer songwriter fare such as the opening and title track and "turn away". Most of the lyrics are concerned with aspects of relationships or emotions, at the same time allowing the strength and sensitivity of Redford's voice to come to the fore, a tool she interweaves with her gentle picking to maximum effect.
Certainly as a songwriter Redford's cited influences are varied ranging from Tracy Chapman to Shawn Colvin via Neil Young and Chrissie Hynde, whilst it may be a truism, it would be true that elements of some these influences certainly are in evidence in this debut whilst certainly not implying any lack of originality, nor that Redford is any kind of pale impersonation, far from it, if a comparison is needed then perhaps US singer songwriters such as Shawn Colvin come most readily to mind.
A couple of limited criticisms do come to mind though, firstly whilst Redford's songwriting skills are clear perhaps a little more scope on this release would have been interesting, personally the last three tracks on the album showed more clearly the potential and variety of Redford's songwriting skills.
Secondly whilst not a significant criticism more information on the inlay card would be appreciated. Having supported the likes of Boo Hewerdine and Jesse Sykes it would be fair to say that Redford's star will shine somewhat brighter on the wider acoustic scene in the near future.
For further details, clips and forthcoming dates visit Redfords site at www.lisaredford.com
Liam Clancy "Memoirs of an Irish Troubadour" - Virgin Books (ISBN1-85227-948-6) 2002
From a small town in the south east of Ireland to the dizzy heights of the
folk boom, Liam Clancy tells a story with humour and sadness that enthrals.
I have long been a fan of Liam Clancy in his many musical combinations - as a solo artiste, with his brothers, with Tommy Makem and in Clancy, O'Connell & Clancy. Now I am a fan of him as a writer and social historian. This book is a revelation.
It takes in 290 pages plus pictures but even at that it only brings us up to the time that he got seriously into the folk music scene so hopefully there is a sequel.
That he was born in Carrick on Suir I knew and that he became part of the folk music revival I knew but the array of people he met and worked with and the range of experiences recounted here is new, revealing and fascinating.
His tales of childhood are a mixture of joy and sadness but they are recounted with a wit and charm very much like his on stage banter. He has all the turns of phrase and the sayings to paint true word pictures. His story of his aunt's devotion to St Martin de Porres and how she turned against him in true Irish small town fashion had me laughing aloud. (After putting his statue on a stair landing she prayed fervently for a favour. When it wasn't granted she was heard on passing the statue to call him a little black bastard. Maybe this is too strong for inclusion.)
His introduction to the insurance business in Dublin is more memorable for the break into acting and appearances with the Abbey Theatre. We find the great Irish actor Cyril Cusack suggesting he use the name Liam instead of Willie as he was known up until then.
His tales of travelling the British Isles recording old folk tunes with two American ladies - one of whom turned out to a Guggenheim - bring us in contact with some of the great Celtic traditional musicians.
The book is punctuated with verses from these and other songs.
His travels to America to learn about film, funded by a lady whom he says had designs on his body, and subsequent expeditions to the Appalachians in search of more music bring us into proximity with great American musicians. His descriptions on the poverty in some mountain areas and relating it to Ireland can tell us a lot about the bonds in our music.
I was fascinated to read of the people he met and worked with. Not only that but the casual no nonsense attitude that he had with them reminds us that all our heroes and heroines are ordinary people.
As an actor her worked on stage and in US television. He played alongside Robert Redford, Walter Mattau and Julie Harris. He played in Shakespeare in small loft theatres and in the open air.
He met Odetta and Ramblin' Jack Elliot. Maya Angelou was an opening act on the bill with him and his brothers. He swapped songs with Bob Dylan. A girl called Barbra Streisand got a slot in one of their shows to break into the music business.
Having read this book I can better understand his stage persona. His first great love was acting and we now find him giving full rein to that skill in his banter between songs. We find in these pages the consummate performer who grew out of a shy boy and teenager. We get a real feel for life in small town Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s. We experience the reality of a hard life that was made good by a family and we live through the sadness of the loss of a sister and later his father. His honesty in telling of his loss of religion, his sexual awakening, health problems and attitude to monogamy is revealing.
This is storytelling at its best. It grabs our attention, it makes us laugh, it makes us think and it makes us glad to have had a chance to read it.
Lenahan "Contrary Motion"
Clandestine Records CR 217 1998
Anyone who has ever attended a genuine Irish session and enjoyed it as only
a true music lover can, will have said "if only they could bottle that they'd make a fortune". They may not have it bottled but Lenahan have very
definitely captured it and put it on CD.
Many artistes in the past have produced live albums that try to re-create the sound and feeling and the experience of a live session but even the big names have failed. Maybe that was because they used music that was too well known or an atmosphere that was created in a concert hall.
Lenahan are new to me but I so want to hear more. This album, too short as it is at 40 minutes and still would be at 140 minutes, is one of the best value CD I have heard in years. It should carry a government health warning for anyone allergic to toe tapping because you will not be able to resist that urge.
Perhaps the reason that this record works where the better known names have failed is in the inspired mix of familiar, new and "where did I hear that before" tracks.
'Lanigan's Ball' is an old 'come all ye' that everyone knows but the Lenahan treatment gives it new dimension.
I am not a jazz and blues fan so when I saw a track listing as a "30's blues2 number I was tempted to skip it but because I was so entranced by the other songs I gave it the 3.09 minutes and I was almost converted to blues. The track is 'Let Her Go' and it is magical.
Two of the ballad type tracks are without doubt my favourites among favourites. 'Coat & Tie' is a new song to me and I must admit I was fooled. On a traditional CD I was waiting for the typical emigrant song of 1847 and the Famine but this is a very smart song and bang up to date. At the same time it is a good fable on ecology and the world domination of the 'grey suits' as we say in Ireland or the 'collar and tie' businessmen of the song.
'New York Lullabye' is another modern traditional classic if that is not too confusing. This is modern New York or any big city's hopes, fears and dreams set to a haunting traditional style melody and it works magnificently.
Traditional tunes are also featured. These are given new vibrancy with new arrangements, unusual instrument combinations and top class performances. Give a listen to 'The Ash Grove' to hear what I mean.
Play it loud, with an open fire and few pints, in good company and if you can play any instrument join in. This is Celtic music at its infectious best.
Lenahans home on the web can be found at www.celtic-rock.com
THE CROOKED JADES - World's On Fire
Playing Time - 54:57
Songs - 1. Can't Stare Down A Mountaineer, 2. Sandy Boys, 3. Fork & File, 4. Goodbye Trouble The Soul of Man, 5. One Girl On The Turnpike Road, 6. Girl Slipped Down, 7. Old Cow Died, 8. Ring The Moon, 9. Shirttail Boogie, 10. Shallow Brown, 11. Heaven's Gonna Be My Home, 12. Indian War Whoop/Pancake Walk, 13. Blur, 14. Blackberry Blossom, 15. World's on Fire
Old-time music, by nature, balances a certain amount of repetition and rhythm with innovative melodic forays. Still claiming that "Old Time is Not a Crime," this San Francisco-based band formed by guitarist Jeff Kazor in 1994 now has a decade of experience and numerous albums under their belts. Since their last album, however, the Jades appear to have undergone some personnel changes. Gone are Lisa Berman, Tom Lucas, Stephanie Prausnitz, and Dave Bamberger. Now joining Kazor are Jennie Benford, Adam Tanner, Erik Pearson and Megan Adie. While the band lineup has changed, both Pearson and Tanner have been associated with the band since the early days, and both appear on most of the past Crooked Jades recordings.
The various instruments consistently played include guitar, fiddle, banjo, fiddle, and bass. Some songs incorporate jaw harp, piano, banjo uke, soprano uke, and slide. Fiddler Bruce Bowers appears as a guest on "Blur" and "Shallow Brown," while Bruce Kaphan's piano also appears in the latter. Kaphan also recorded and mixed the album. The band's multi-instrumental prowess is a continuing strength, as is their spirited vocals.
The Crooked Jades draw from both traditional and original material. Songs from both sources sit nicely side by side, the contrasts providing considerable diversity for our listening enjoyment. Kazor's "Goodbye Trouble The Soul of Man" makes a poignant statement, and Benford's "Can't Stare Down A Mountaineer" implies that the hardy breed of old-time mountaineer (or musician) is stalwart, brawny and strong. Many of their songs have a mesmerizing feeling, almost an impression of "new-age" sensibility that bewilders our consciousness to some degree. A standard chantey like "Shallow Brown" is infused with new life with a pensive arrangement that turns the song into a reflective lament. "Blackberry Blossom" is unlike any standard rendition of that traditional offering. The medley of "Indian War Whoop/Pancake Walk" has plenty of emotion, while the next track "Blur" has plenty of emotive sentience. There are distinct differences as the juxtaposition of the old and new take shape. The Crooked Jades recorded three albums for Copper Creek, then began producing their own independent releases. "World's on Fire" is an enthralling addition to their recorded legacy. The Crooked Jades' interpretation of the old-time genre is a reinvention and artistic foray into very seductive and adventurous territory. Balancing sophistication with rusticity is no easy matter, and this band rises nicely to the challenge. And they succeed splendidly.
The Crooked Jades "The Unfortunate Rake Vol. 2: Yellow Mercury" Copper Creek CCCD-2005 Copper Creek Records, PO Box 3161, Roanoke, VA 24015, 1-888-438-2448 http://www.coppercreekrec.com OR www.crookedjades.com
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com
Total Playing Time - 66:58
Song Listing - 1 }Knoxville Rag, 2 }Shady Grove, 3 }Unfortunate Rake, 4 }Job Job, 5 }The Bull And The Bear, 6 }False Hearted Lover Blues, 7 }Yerba Buena Lament, 8 }Love Creek, 9 }Yellow Mercury No. 2, 10} Indian Ate A Woodchuck, 11} Tell Her To Come Back Home, 12 }Ain't No Grave, 13 }California Blues, 14 }Heaven Holds All My Treasures, 15 }Johnson Gal, 16 }A Broken Time, 17 }Love Got In The Grain, 18 }Old Man Below, 19 }Uncle Rabbit, 20 }Warfield, 21 }Yellow Mercury No. 1, 22 }New Lost Mission Blues, 23 }So Many People (So Far From Their Hearts)
An old-timey band from the San Francisco Bay area, The Crooked Jades have a motto that “Old Time is Not a Crime.” Guitarist Jeff Kazor formed the band in 1994. Besides Kazor, this album features four other Jades (Lisa Berman, Tom Lucas, Stephanie Prausnitz, Dave Bamberger), along with seven other special guests. On 23 tracks, the various instruments played include 6-string guitar, tenor guitar, high-strung guitar, fiddle, Hawaiian slide, banjo ukelele, baritone ukelele, organ, banjo, resophonic guitar, mountain dulcimer, pedal steel, tiple, single quill, mortar & pestle, and bass. The album’s subtitle, Yellow Mercury, and the inspiration for the two Kazor instrumentals, “Yellow Mercury No. 1” and “Yellow Mercury No. 2” refer to the slang term for gold. Kazor uses it as an analogy for the greed, corruption, deception and environmental damage that resulted from the gold rush and its byproducts.
Their material draws heavily from the traditional, and liner notes acknowledge the sources for all pieces from Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and elsewhere. The band is at its best with lively twin fiddled favorites like “Indian Ate A Woodchuck,” and “Tell Her To Come Back Home,” snappy numbers with plenty of pep. Seven Jeff Kazor originals are also included, and he tends to write slower ballads and laments. His most interesting offering, co-penned with Tom Lucas, is “New Lost Mission Blues,” a lament about San Francisco’s Mission District where restoration by the middle class is displacing low-income folks. The song includes minstrel banjo, a grinding stone’s rhythm and a fife-like instrument called the single quill. Fiddler Adam Tanner also composed “The Bull and The Bear” and “A Broken Time,” two bouncy instrumentals.
The Crooked Jades have recorded three albums for Copper Creek, but this is their first after a three year hiatus. The sheer number of tracks, and the variety of instruments, make this an interesting and worthy old-time project. The Crooked Jades are a band of high-geared musicians that really feel their old-timey oats.
Suzy Thompson "No Mockingbird"
Native and Fine Records 906-7
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Total playing time - 42:38
1. Babe (3:20), 2. Frosty Morning Blues (3:57), 3. Red Apple Rag (3:05), 4. Salt Lake City Blues (Cathie Whitesides) (3:12), 5. My Handy Man (4:07), 6. Teabag Blues (Hank Bradley) (2:45), 7. Prodigal Son (4:09), 8. Worried Yid Waltz (3:23), 9. No Mockingbird (S. Thompson) (3:12), 10. Blue Devil Blues (2:34), 11. California Blues/Left All Alone Again Blues (2:35), 12. Lonesome Shack (3:22), 13. Dickson County Blues (2:57)
Suzy Thompson subtitles this album “old-time fiddle rags and blues songs,” although the scope is actually even broader. Her assisting cast includes an impressive musical cadre: Kate Brislin, Bill Evans, Paul Hostetter, Tony Marcus, Geoff Muldaur, Maria Muldaur, Dave Murray, Hoyle Osborne, Del Rey, Fritz Richmond, Mike Seeger, Jody Stecher, Eric Thompson, Larry Cohea, and Steven Strauss. They work well together and easily fall into a mountain music groove. A fiddled “Babe” opens the project, and good liner notes tell us that this is the first tune Thompson learned some three decades ago from an East Texas Serenaders record. Piano and voice are the featured instruments on Bessie Smith’s “Frosty Morning Blues.” Her renditions of “Red Apple Rag” and “Dickson County Blues” (from Arthur Smith), “Salt Lake City Blues” (from Cathie Whitesides), “California Blues” (from the Stripling Brothers) and “Blue Devil Blues” (from Clifford Hayes) are old-time, blues and jug band music at their best and would be great tunes of choice in fiddle contests. I would call Hank Bradley’s “Teabag Blues” a hoedown, while the Romanian “Worried Yid” is actually a waltz. She also sings tales of dejection, destitution and melancholy from Victoria Spivey, Dock Boggs, Memphis Minnie, and her own title cut, “No Mockingbird.”
Suzy Thompson has amassed some impressive musical experience. In the mid-70s, her all-woman Any Old Time String Band toured and recorded. As a member of Klezmorim, she appeared on their second LP, Streets of Gold, and she’s recorded with various other well-known old-time, bluegrass, Celtic and Cajun artists. In the 80s, Suzy toured and recorded with the Blue Flame Stringband and the Backwoods Band, then she formed the California Cajun Orchestra featuring accordionist Danny Poullard. In 1994, she toured Scotland and England as part of the Masters of the Folk Violin Tour. Thompson also teaches at many festivals and music camps.
Suzy Thompson’s “No Mockingbird” presents an interesting dichotomy of blue mountain funk and fired up fiddle. I can tell that deep down inside Suzy’s a sunbeam, and this album is clearly a pepper-upper.
Bill Jones - "Turn to me"
Turn to Me - Bill Jones (Bedspring Music BOING 0008CD 2000)
This is an early release from a fantastic singer that I discovered on a
recent CD (reviewed on Rambles).
Dating from 2000 it is interesting to hear the earlier work of this young lady - despite the name.
It consists of a lovely collection divided between traditional and new works.
The CD opens with 'Mist Covered Mountain' by John Cameron. It is a very well performed piece using voice, piano and fiddle. This sets the tone of the album. Spare arrangements that rely heavily on the unique voice of Ms Jones are the signature and they work extremely well through the thirteen tracks.
I find Bill Jones at her best when she puts her own arrangement on traditional songs. She appears to have a knack for choosing material that is just familiar enough to attract the listener without taking on the more over exposed traditional songs.
'The Fisherboy' fits very neatly into this category. I consider it one of her best renditions. It is the classic story song, performed with her own piano backing.
A similar treatment is given to another traditional piece called 'A Brisk Young Sailor' but she proves the value of her voice by singing unaccompanied.
Apart from the vocal pieces, Bill Jones proves her instrumental virtuosity with some spirited musical pieces such as 'Chloe Browne's Set' and 'The Busking Set'.
Her international outlook is evident on the marriage in a single track of 'Blood & Gold' and 'The Universal Soldier'. The former was a revelation to me and her interpretation of Buffy Saint Marie's classic makes this all the more resonant. Saint Marie gave us a definitive version of the anti-war anthem but this beautiful English Rose voice gives a new lease of life to a song that should be compulsory learning in all schools.
This CD is a master class in how to interpret the valuable canon of old and new songs and bring them to a new audience that needs to absorb a living tradition.
Bill Jones home on the web can be found at www.brickwallmusic.com
Blueridge "Side by Side"
Playing Time – 34:55
I don’t think that “BlueRidge” is the greatest name for a bluegrass band, but their music will certainly leave an indelible image on your memory banks. The quintet, formed in 1998, now has three albums under their belt with the release of “Side by Side.” Their two previous efforts, “Common Ground” (1998) and “Come Along With Me” (2002), sold well and introduced us to their cohesive neo-traditional bluegrass sound characterized by some good material selection. It could be that the band’s rather blasé band name is the antithesis of their hard-hitting, professional music. Perhaps “BlueRidge” simply represents an expression of their cool, relaxed, nonchalant, yet still workmanlike, approach to bluegrass. Jon Weisberger’s liner notes, however, explains that the band has fashioned their sound to draw “on the discoveries of an entire cluster of musicians based in the Blueridge region of western Virginia and North Carolina.” While BlueRidge has seen banjo-player Terry Baucom and fiddler Dewey Brown move on to other endeavors, their current configuration has some impressive pickers and singers: Alan Bibey (mandolin), Junior Sisk (guitar), Joey Cox (banjo), Alan Johnson (fiddle), and Ed Biggerstaff (bass).
Nine of 13 tracks feature the lead singing of Junior Sisk, whose emotionally-charged vocalizing is equally comfortable with tempos ranging from slower numbers like “Brand New Tennessee Waltz” and the classic “All the Good Times” to songs like the peppy opener, “What If (Then I’ll Come Back To You)” and closer “Pocket Full of Money.” His own original “You Better Get” exclaims “Well I better get while the getting’s good.” In the late 90s, Sisk toured the U.S. and Europe with his band, Rambler’s Choice, as part of their “Songs from the Mountains” project.
Besides Sisk’s lead vocals, another of BlueRidge’s strengths is their instrumental prowess. No one epitomizes that better than Alan Bibey, with his 1923 Lloyd Loar Gibson F-5 mandolin, who has made a name for himself with IIIrd Tyme Out and The New Quicksilver. Few people know that Bibey can claim to be a world champion player, having won the mandolin contest at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville. Even his 1983 stint with Wes Golding’s band, Sure Fire, might have helped BlueRidge rediscover Golding’s old mountain home song, “Back to Cana” for this project. Bibey’s self-penned instrumental, “Avalanche” burns a few barns enroute, but his lead vocals on his original ballad, “Side by Side,” seemed to lack some energy, perhaps as a result of arranging the song in the lower region of Bibey’s vocal range. All of the songs only span two to three minutes, and this effectively places the emphasis on the songs themselves, while the instrumental accompaniment supplements their messages.
The other performers on this recording are also very fine bluegrass players. Bass-player Eddie Biggerstaff has played with Larry Rice, Rambler’s Choice and Herschel Sizemore. While many of BlueRidge’s arrangements feature his tenor harmony, Eddie steps up the plate and sings lead with a lot of credibility and conviction on “Back to Cana.” Alan Johnson has a lyrical, fluid and precise approach to bluegrass and country fiddling, and has done stints with Pam Tillis, Larry Cordle and Lorrie Morgan. Young banjo-player Joey Cox had big shoes to fill when he joined the band just weeks before completion of this album. However, he rose to the challenge and imparts some breaks and rhythmic intensity to “Side by Side” that are remarkably powerful.
BlueRidge demonstrates that they’re a top-notch band with all the necessary ingredients to go far. They execute their music with great skill, and there’s plenty on “Side by Side” to win them considerable praise and acclaim from bluegrass music fans.
Carol Elizabeth Jones and Laurel Bliss - Girl From Jerico Copper Creek CCCD-0213 Copper Creek Records, PO Box 3161, Roanoke, VA 24015, 1-888-438-2448 http://www.coppercreekrec.com OR www.jonesbliss.com
Email: email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org OR email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org Total Playing Time - 38:09
1)Meet Me By The Moonlight Alone 2)Trying To Get To You 3)Girl From Jericho 4)Bring Back My Blue Eyed Boy To Me 5)One Morning In May 6)Halfway To Nowhere 7)You Don't Tell Me That You Love Me Anymore 8)Father Adieu 9)Why You 10)If You Go Away 11)Rose Of My Heart 12)Dance Of Love
Festivals are a great place to meet others with similar musical interests and goals. Guitarist Carol Elizabeth Jones and resonator guitarist Laurel Bliss first met at Port Townsend, Wa.’s Festival of American Fiddle Tunes in 1994. This album of duets came about when the two friends found themselves at musical crossroads and decided to get back to how they started as musicians. After sharing tapes across the country between Washington and Virginia, Carol Elizabeth and Laurel assembled John Reischman (mandolin), Ruthie Dornfield (fiddle), Nancy Katz (bass) to help out. David Keenan also provided some lead guitar on “Halfway to Nowhere,” a bouncy Jones original. Three other songs penned and sung by Jones include Girl From Jerico, Why You, and Dance of Love. The album’s title cut has a catchy little melody enhanced by the interplay of Reishman’s mandolin and Dornfield’s fiddle. Bliss’ lead vocals are found on material from the Carter Family, Ola Belle Reed, Estil Ball, Joe Vinikow, Hugh Moffatt and others. Her renditions of “Meet Me By The Moonlight” and “Rose of My Heart” and “You Don’t Tell Me That You Love Me Anymore” show her affinity for singing waltz-time numbers of moderate tempo.
It was the Coon Creek Girls and Mt. Airy, N.C. Fiddlers’ Convention that originally inspired a teenage Carol Elizabeth Jones, originally from Kentucky, to get involved in music. She was a member of various string bands (The Wildcats, The Wandering Ramblers), she recorded three albums of original material with James Leva, and she was a part of the Heart of a Singer project with Hazel Dickens and Ginny Hawker. Carol Elizabeth has toured widely and has taught workshops at various music camps. Now living near Lexington, Virginia, Carol Elizabeth is the Director of the Literacy and Language Center in Lexington.
After years of classical training, Laurel Bliss changed her musical direction about 3 decades ago after hearing the “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” album. Festivals and workshops found her with a like-minded community of traditional musicians. Laurel played and sang in Southfork (from 1982 to 1990) and then in a duet with Cliff Perry for five years. In 1993, they recorded Old Pal, an album of mostly Carter Family songs, subsequently awarded County Sales' Best Old-Time Recording of 1994. Besides playing with Carol Elizabeth, Laurel plays with the Happy Valley Sluggers of Bellingham, WA. She has also taught at various festivals, workshops and music camps.
These two songbirds are solidly grounded in old-time mountain sounds, and they demonstrate the joys of singing together.
More Tales about Nuns and Tattoos - Anthony John Clarke - Osmosys OSMO CD 039
It’s Saturday morning, I got up early to do some very important jobs around the house, it’s now almost lunch and I haven’t made a start yet! I’ve got the perfect excuse – I’m listening to Anthony John Clarke’s latest album – ‘More Tales about Nuns and Tattoos’. AJCs songs have that sort of effect, whether live or recorded, the first couple of lines set the scene and before you know it you’re hooked and – it’s just like reading a great book – you are totally enthralled by the plot and have to stay there to find out what happens as the story unrolls.
I have at least five of Anthony John’s previous albums and book him regularly at the club that I run so it goes without saying that ‘I’m great admirer of this man and his music’ and having been very impressed with all his previous offerings I was more than eager to give this album a spin. During the usual frustrating five minute fight to remove the cellophane wrapper from the CD I couldn’t help thinking – surely this guy can’t have done it again – no-one can have that many great songs inside them? – He’s proved me wrong! It’s now playing in ‘repeat mode’ and on third (or is it fourth) listening I have to say, that in my opinion, ‘This is his best yet’ The songs have always been great and the production has always been first class but this time there is a ‘magical atmosphere about the whole thing. It almost has a live feel and listening you can sense the buzz that Elizabeth van de Waal and the rest to the AJCs musicians and backing vocalists get from being involved with such high quality material knowing that mastering of the final product will be nothing less than perfect. (Richard Scott, Audio Services). I love Elizabeths backing vocals & keyboard – just like on a live performance she is so subtle that you almost don’t notice she’s there but you would certainly miss her if she wasn’t – she is the perfect compliment to Anthony John’s musical style.
The eleven tracks (10 by AJC + ‘Fast Approaching Fifty’ Andrew McNeight) take you through all the emotions – most make you smile, a couple make you cry and others make you unashamedly admit ‘Yes! I can identify with that!’
It’s difficult to pick out favourites from a collection as good as this but ‘Two People’ and ‘The Day That The Sky Turned Red’ stand out for me. And I’m glad to say that Anthony John has not forsaken old friends – Sister Mary Joseph peeps out from behind a line in ‘Changes’
Anthony John Clarke "An Acquaintance of Mine"
They say that lightning never strikes twice and that it is always unwise to
return to something that you enjoyed greatly. They are wrong.
Anthony John Clarke first came to my notice with a track on compilation CD. Then I sought out more of his work to encounter only one title in the whole city of Dublin - 'Man with the red guitar' -, which I reviewed recently for Rambles.
Well, I found another one and it is just as good as the last.
'An Old Acquaintance of Mine' is another gem with 16 fabulous tracks. Some were included on the earlier CD but here we get live performances that add significantly to the joy of re-hearing. In particular I enjoyed a version of 'The Broken Years' sung by the choir of St Catherine's College for Girls in Armagh. As this is a tale of the 'troubles' it is all the more poignant sung by school children.
The track on this CD that gave me watery eyes of emotion was 'The Wrong Way Round'. Basically this is a 'what if' song where Jesus returns at Christmastime. He strolls around seeing locked churches and " empty churches shivering, those empty songs, and the way children try to stay up all night long - but it's not me they're waiting for". As he concludes "that's all gone and everything's the wrong way round".
'Another Evening In' tells that familiar tale of a woman who has let life pass by. She sits alone doing crosswords and recalls the fun of earlier times and notes that no one calls.
'Kilaloo' is not written by the singer but could well have been with it's wicked sense of humour. It's a jaunty tale of a master teaching French in a country school.
Clarke is a master at hiding a somber message in an upbeat song. His characters are people we are or know or would not like to know. His tunes are ones that get into your head and will not leave.
I hope he will not be offended if I compare him to a songwriter of over a century ago. He reminds me of Percy French who wrote my great songs - comic and sad. Perhaps the best known is 'The Mountains of Mourne' a warning about emigration told with telling humour. Like Clarke, many people may not listen carefully to the words but they are missing out. As French wrote about ladies in London, you would not know if they were "dressed for a bath or a ball".
This CD has quotes from Frances Black and Sean Keane, praising the writer and he certainly deserves praise, but more that that he deserves a worldwide audience.
The Songs of Anthony John Clarke - Book Review - Self published 2002
In a land of songwriters this man is the one most deserving of a
wider audience. Singers like Sean Keane, Colum Sands and Frances
Black praise him and radio presenters love his music. Of the albums
that I have heard him play on there is not a single bad track. If
even one of his songs were to get international listenership from a
big name, all others would be trampled in the stampede to get tracks
They have access to the CDs and now Mr Clarke has gone one better and published a book of 13 of his songs. Obviously he is not superstitious.
Within 32 pages of black print on white paper - no ostentation - is a treasure house of material for any singer wishing to break away from the chart material or the `done to death' standards. With full lyrics, guitar chords and notation, there is no excuse for not singing a superior new Irish song on your next gig. I hope he has sent copies to Christy Moore and the like.
The songs are fantastic. They reveal a genuine feeling for modern Ireland that is not clouded by silly sentiment. The lyrics are poetry set to music. If there is a criticism of his work it would be that it is, in the main gentle, but then so was the early Paul Simon. The songs are full of wit as well as insight. `Tuesday Night is Always Karaoke' is a fantastic song that laments the passing of the live session. With lines like "a priest appeared from nowhere with those `Fields of Athenry' and a Welshman murdered `Vincent' and `American Pie'", you can sympathise with the sentiment if you ever witnessed such musical carnage.
`Seven in Ireland' is a sad song of childhood in the Northern Ireland of the 1970s.
Imagine Jesus returning for Christmas and you have the poignant song `The wrong way Round'. In the end he sings, "the children try to stay up all night long but it's not me they're waiting for, no that's all long gone". A person called Dolores is mentioned in more than one song and I wonder who she is. Maybe on a re-print the writer would include some background on each song. There is no better way to end a review of this small masterpiece than to quote from his song `But Then I'm Irish'. "But if you listened to a song or two, I say thank you very much, that still means everything".
You can purchase this book for £10.00 sterling including post & packing from A Clarke, 81 Beechfield Road, Liverpool, L18 3EQ, UK or on line at www.anthonyjohnclarke.com
Kate Doubleday – PIED FLYCATCHER (EP) (Copper Records CRCD. 003)
“Kate’s one of the most imaginative of the current crop of singer-songwriters”, I wrote back in 2008 after hearing her enchanting earlier record Belonging. Her strongly spiritual and beautiful music is intensely evocative and all the while personally aware rather than unduly introspective or exclusive, and she derives her inspiration from quintessentially English folk songwriting and poetry as well as, audibly, from world (perhaps especially West African) musics. And while I can’t help thinking Kate has a distinct kinship with performers like Abbie Lathe and Kate Bush, there’s not the same sense of maverick quirkiness nor any sense of plagiarism in Kate’s profoundly original songs. On this latest – and all-too-short – three-track release, Kate encourages us to experience the magic of nature through her intimate, colourful songs, evoking a really powerful sense of place – in this case the wild beauty of the Welsh landscape – in delicate, precise, almost tactile language and carefully considered vocal harmonies.
On the EP’s title song, Kate lifts us straightway into the air with the bird, transporting us on its miraculous journey of migration from west Wales to west Africa to a backdrop of almost onomatopoeic wing-movement (the mercurial kora and guitar playing of Dan Wilkins and Marie Smith’s lyrical cello); you can tell that she’s observed the Pied Flycatcher at close hand, and she manages to convey in simple poetic language, affectionate but never twee, the essential aural jizz of the species, its character within both purely avian and human contexts; and what an achievement. The second of the disc’s three songs is a masterful aural portrait of a hazy summer’s day on the Ynyslas Dunes, which creates and builds its atmosphere through subtle but telling instrumental effects like meandering flute arabesques and the eerie, mysterious sound of the wind blowing through reclaimed glass bottles; Kate invites us to get lost in the sand and discover dancing sea campions, evoking the fluttering of butterflies and the song of skylarks through playful chanting vocal tracks. The final track (Freefalling), although still to some extent mirroring the contours of the Welsh landscape, also shifts the focus inwards, depicting through restless, swooping vocal lines and breathless rippling instrumental figures Kate’s inner vulnerability and sense of personal dislocation. In the midst of all this, however, she is able to draw much comfort from observation of nature – the grace and natural poise of buzzard, barn owl and heron. Martin Levan’s sympathetic production is first-rate, and entirely faithful to the rich and rounded beauty of Kate’s lovely singing voice, while the artwork adorning the cardboard sleeve is both admirably lifelike and artistically attractive. This release amounts to sheer magic, both musically and visually.
Kate Doubleday Belonging – Copper Records (CRCD 002)
Kate’s one of the most imaginative of the current crop of singersongwriters.
Her music is strongly spiritual, beautiful and inspirational, confident yet vulnerable, all the while intelligently conceived and executed.
Some songs are built around, or flow directly from, original chants; others build African-inspired musical adventures around a base of quintessentially English folk songwriting that’s intensely poetic (Kate name-checks the late Frances Horowitz as a major inspiration).
Kate’s voice and delivery make compelling listening and the impact of her songs is disarmingly tactile, from the delicate filigree of Wild Poppies to the Aboriginal delta-slide groove of Eucalyptus, the quivering Balkan chamber-folk of Silver Blue to the floating, rippling, kora-drenched Watch The Flowers.
Kate’s songs are like world music on an intimate scale, combining the environmental conscience, concerns and compassion of an Abbie Lathe with the eager exploratory nature of a Kate Bush.
Producer Joe Broughton masterminds the album’s textures: gently layered, light and airy and yet with no lack of substance.†A most intriguing and uplifting CD, and attractively packaged too.
David Kidman 2008
Kate Doubleday - "Renewal"
Kate Doubleday is a Birmingham based acoustic Singer Songwriter and "Renewal" is her debut release, consisting of ten self penned and arranged tracks plus the increasingly obligatory bonus track.
One of the first things worth saying about both this artist and recording is that Doubleday isnt your run of the mill singer-songwriter, never mind some of the negative and vague connotations of the term itself, none of which can be said to apply to Doubleday, whilst she brings the clearly diverse influences to bear in her recording she moulds them into her own style.
According to her website these are wide and include Irish, Bulgarian and South African, and certainly these influences amongst others are clearly present through the album. In particular the South African Acapella vocal and lyrical style which Doubleday cites poses a very clear presence throughout the album, coming to the fore for example on the opening track "footsteps", "Had to Be" and more clearly "Badumba".
As well as the above mentioned influences, Doubleday's songwriting style encompasses these influences alongside slightly underlying esoteric undertones on tracks such as the title track "Renewal" bringing forth images of the renewing force of nature and the constant process of rebirth and renewal we are all a part of. Doubleday also brings to the fore similar imagery in "Stonegirl" which she combines with a slightly Jazz or torch vocal style on tracks such as "Rise and Fall". On other tracks Doubleday explores more emotional themes or exploration on tracks such as "Needs and Wants" and "Had to be", whilst failing to be predictable and managing to produce an album of several layers and different influences yet which clearly holds together as a cohesive whole.
Apart from Doubleday on vocals, low whistle and thumb piano the backing instruments on the album include Guitar, Bass, harmonica, fiddle and percussion and harmony backing vocals, all of which compliment Doubledays vocal and her interesting arrangements.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable debut release, one which deserves constant attention and repeated listening, and which should hopefully lead to Doubleday having exposure beyond the Midlands in the not too distant future.
Kate Doubleday is touring to promote her album in early 2004, for more information, clips and forthcoming dates visit her site at www.katedoubleday.com
RED DIRT ROAD - Red Dirt Road
Red Dirt RDR-001
222 N.W. 196th Place
Shoreline, WA. 98177
Email THEreddirtguy@aol.com or email@example.com
Total Playing Time - 47:25
Formerly with “Out of the Blue,” bassist Paul Schoenlaub is now collaborating with guitarist Linda Erickson in a band is called “Red Dirt Road.” Their music is 99 percent original acoustic country and bluegrass songs written by Linda or Paul. This debut recording took over a year to produce and was released in February, 2003. The band will appear at Wintergrass, Stevenson and Hood River in 2003. At Wintergrass, Paul and Linda were accompanied by Paul Elliott, Forrest Gibson, and Dale Williams. “Red Dirt Road” was mostly recorded at Eggcrate Studio (Salem, Or.) by Dale Adkins, with some recorded at Laural Inn Studio by Joe Wilmhoff (Seattle, Wa.).The players on the CD besides Paul and Linda are Paul Elliott, Dale Williams, Peter Schwimmer, John Reischman, John Bubb, Dale Adkins, Joe Wilmhoff and Greg Clarke.
Red Dirt Road’s debut album features 13 original songs written by Paul Schoenlaub or Linda Erickson (plus one cover, “I Dreamed My Baby Came Home,” from George Jones and Johnny Mathis). Schoenlaub contributes and sings six songs, and Erickson wrote and sings seven. I especially liked two of Paul’s songs that span two ends of a musical spectrum: an uptempo bluegrassy “Down the Road I Go” and a slow reflective solo ballad, “”Drawn to the Flame” that interweaves some tasty fiddle, mandolin and guitar fills. As for Linda’s compositions, she also shows a knack for writing hard-driving numbers like “Hard Rain,” but her real success lies in the moderate melodic messages of songs like “Wind Rivers,” “It’s Just a Dream,” and what fans describe as “that Louvin Brothers’ song she wrote” entitled “I’m Wondering.” My only suggestion for an album with this magnitude of original material would be to include lyrics in the album’s jacket. This band should take their original contemporary sound on the road, and they should also get their songs into the hands of top bluegrass and country acts looking for fresh, new material. You need to pick up a copy of this. With its eclectic mix of bluegrass and acoustic country, this album could easily become one of my top favorites for 2003. My compliments to Linda, Paul and their professional accompanists for some very high quality, well-written and produced music from the northwest.
To open this review I must re-assure readers that I am not influenced by the
fact that this CD was produced in my hometown. In fact, being Irish, they
run the risk of getting an even more harsh review because they are local and
as the saying here goes "we knew them when they didn't have an arse in their
pants". It's called bregrudgery.
At present you would need to purchase from Wexford Arts Centre - try the
What better way than to celebrate his ‘retirement’ from performing in the UK than a DVD by singer-songwriter Eric Bogle. A visual record of Eric along with trusted sideman of many years John Munro (guitars, mandolins), Emma Luker (fiddle), Hastings own Pete Titchener (guitar), Damien Steele-Scott (electric bass) and Jon Jones (percussion) this recording proves an ideal souvenir for everyone out there who has enjoyed this proud Australian/Scot’s words and music over the years. The photography is first class with crystal clear close-ups of digital dexterity from the musicians and plenty of head and shoulder shots of the man himself. In amongst the 21 tracks are favourites including “Now I’m Easy”, “No Man’s Land” and the towering “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”. Bogle would appear to be a very contented individual according to his observations in the interview section and, whether he likes it or not, as Munro points out he will leave this planet with a legacy of some of the finest ‘folk’ music ever written. Recording engineer Mick Wordley and director Corey Piper are to be roundly applauded for capturing a concert that is full of warmth and humour and is a vital record for those of us that were unable to attend any of Eric’s ‘final’ tour of the UK. Further information from www.greentrax.com
This is a CD with an unusual history. Bogle and Munro are both resident in
Australia - hence the title from these ex-patriates. The main recording was
done in the Antipodes and the tracks transported back to Scotland - a new
twist on transportation. Extra backing and production was done there and the
result is magic.
"Practically Every Day" - Various Artistes Wexford Arts Centre
After that disclaimer, the review.
The CD is the end product of a project that has been taking place at the Wexford Arts Centre for some years now. Each December they organise a songwriter's workshop series. Over a long weekend the aspiring singer/songwriters get an opportunity to work with established writers to hone their skills.
In this third year, they decided to produce a CD that showcases their talent.
As with any CD featuring a variety of artistes, especially some who are new to the studio, there is variation in content and performance. In 17 tracks I must admit that the majority are excellent pieces both in writing and performance.
Kelvin Busher gives us a piece of music that could have come from a Nashville studio with his song 'Fire'. Although like most young performers he started out with Nirvana and Pearl Jam as influences at age 14. He now prefers folk and bluegrass. This is a very mature and well-constructed story song that could well become a big earner if he got the airplay.
'Easy Chair' opens with a lovely piece of fiddle playing. It is a track by Donegal born James McIntyre who says that he wrote his first song at age 14. He plays regularly with the magnificently named group 'Never Pat a Porcupine'.
Katie Daly has performed the in New York as well as some of her songs being used on TV and stage performances. 'Where Did You Go' is a haunting piece very well performed.
The track 'Toadstool' is performed and written by Justin Cullen with backing instruments listed as guitar, pots and pans, lonely violin and The Avondale Clappers. The lyrics are excellent and well constructed.
Tracy Cahill performs a track called 'Experience'. This twenty-year-old shows great potential based on this single self penned song. I heard her some years ago perform a lovely version of 'Bantry Girl's Lament' but this is a much more blues influenced number that is delivered with a passion rarely emoted in a young performer. This girl obviously has a determination to put her heart and soul into her music.
Niall Toner is one of the more experienced singer/songwriters on the CD and this maturity shows through. His track 'I'd Rather be a Rolling Stone' is another piece that could well have originated in Tennessee rather than southeast Ireland. Given a decent airing this is another potential hit for either Toner or any artiste taking the track on.
Clive Barnes is another polished performer on this CD. He has released two CDs of his own work - Shine in 1999 and Welcome to Farewell in 2001. He has a mass of performance experience having toured with Bert Jansch and The Blind Boys of Alabama. His experience shows through on this track entitled 'Drowning a River' which features just his own vocals and guitar.
This is a wonderful showcase of the talented writers and performers involved. It would be an excellent purchase for anyone interested in good new music, anyone wondering what sort of songs and performers can come out of a small Irish town or any performers looking for fresh material to record.
Eric Bogle Live At Stonyfell Winery (Greentrax Recordings DVTRAX2022)
Eric Bogle and John Munro - "The Emigrant & The Exile"
The duo share song writing credits and together they manage to bring us a Scottish folk gem from under a southern star.
Munro has written a short history of Scottish folk in his song 'Were You There?' He recreates an era of folk clubs and "looking back to when Ewan wrote the songs we sang and Hamish played the blues". But this is not just a bout of nostalgia. It also tells us on the record company deals and ends on an optimistic note recalling that Bogle, Gaughan and the like are still writing and performing and as you read this - the audience still loves good folk.
Although this CD dates back a few years, a number of the tracks have not had the exposure that they deserve. One such song is by John Munro. It is called 'The Ballad of Charles Davenport' and it should be a folk classic. Like the best of folk it recounts a real story. The subject was a real person. It tells us that bad as Ireland was in the middle of the last century - the 20th - it was not alone. Other countries threw the children of single mothers into orphanages and then sent them to distant lands "for their own good". Charles was one of them. By the time he traced his mother all he could speak to was a grave.
Bogle asks the question we all think at times in his song 'Progress'. He talks of the modernisation of Glasgow and sings, "if you think we're making progress you are blind".
'Marking Time' is for anyone wondering where to turn, how to proceed. They advise "listen to your heart, it's the only road to follow".
The liner notes tell us that 'Campbell's Daughter' is a modern, instant folk song. It certainly has the ingredients, unrequited love, deceit, injustice and a bit of murder. Listen without knowing when it was written and I bet you could not date it.
I have always loved Eric Bogle's song 'One Small Star' but it was only when reading the liner notes on this CD did I realise that it was written for the parents of the children murdered in the school in Dunblane. It adds a new poignancy to a fantastic song.
The whole CD is a joy to listen to. We are familiar with Bogle but this album gives voice to John Munro.
Here are heartfelt songs, funny songs and most important, songs that make us think.
Well worth the effort of seeking out.
Eric Bogles site is at www.windbourne.com/ebogle and John Munro plays in Australian Folk Band Colcannon
To open this review I must re-assure readers that I am not influenced by the
fact that this CD was produced in my hometown. In fact, being Irish, they
run the risk of getting an even more harsh review because they are local and
as the saying here goes "we knew them when they didn't have an arse in their
pants". It's called bregrudgery.
At present you would need to purchase from Wexford Arts Centre - try the website www.wexfordartscentre.ie.
What better way than to celebrate his ‘retirement’ from performing in the UK than a DVD by singer-songwriter Eric Bogle. A visual record of Eric along with trusted sideman of many years John Munro (guitars, mandolins), Emma Luker (fiddle), Hastings own Pete Titchener (guitar), Damien Steele-Scott (electric bass) and Jon Jones (percussion) this recording proves an ideal souvenir for everyone out there who has enjoyed this proud Australian/Scot’s words and music over the years. The photography is first class with crystal clear close-ups of digital dexterity from the musicians and plenty of head and shoulder shots of the man himself. In amongst the 21 tracks are favourites including “Now I’m Easy”, “No Man’s Land” and the towering “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”. Bogle would appear to be a very contented individual according to his observations in the interview section and, whether he likes it or not, as Munro points out he will leave this planet with a legacy of some of the finest ‘folk’ music ever written. Recording engineer Mick Wordley and director Corey Piper are to be roundly applauded for capturing a concert that is full of warmth and humour and is a vital record for those of us that were unable to attend any of Eric’s ‘final’ tour of the UK. Further information from www.greentrax.com
This is a CD with an unusual history. Bogle and Munro are both resident in
Australia - hence the title from these ex-patriates. The main recording was
done in the Antipodes and the tracks transported back to Scotland - a new
twist on transportation. Extra backing and production was done there and the
result is magic.
Show Of Hands - Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed (Hands On Music HMCD.29)
Now there are some things you can absolutely guarantee you'll get with any new Show Of Hands album: top-drawer musicianship, naturally, and the very highest standards of recording, presentation and packaging. Given that you don't ever have to worry about being shortchanged on any of those fronts, the theory is that you're then able to concentrate harder and focus on the songs themselves that much more, I guess - which can only be a good thing, although it can sometimes render your expectations artificially ambitious. As some listeners may feel with the duo's latest studio offering, a distinctly challenging adventure which, although recognisably Show Of Hands through and through, also has a rather different (and slightly unexpected) kind of impact from so many of their previous recordings. At any rate initially - and for reasons I find it hard to pin down with any accuracy (tho' I'll try!). With hindsight, I'm thinking that it's the cumulative impact of the album, on playing it through complete, that's a trifle muted (at any rate on that crucial first playthrough). Perhaps, I'm now thinking, it's the strength of the album's four covers that's to blame, for each is in its own way quite outstanding and in all they tend (tho' again I emphasise, primarily on initial hearing) to overshadow the disc's new Steve Knightley compositions (even if their function is possibly more to provide a necessary leavening of content!). So I'll deal with the covers at the outset, since Steve's intriguing take on the chantey Lowlands forms the first item on the menu. Acappella vocal provides a deceptively underpowered-seeming opening gambit, and yet before too long you feel it subliminally creeping up on you with the onset of some eerie drone instrumentation, as Steve's voice acquires a breathtaking and disturbing quality. Steve's passionate cover of Dylan's Señor and Phil's vulnerable, wonderfully tender take on Peter Gabriel's Secret World are both welcome and oft-requested additions to the Show Of Hands recorded corpus, while the final cover is a driving, funky-folk Keys Of Canterbury (straight out of the Imagined Village methinks), with Jackie Oates' seductive duet vocal a brilliant foil for Steve's persuasively gritty tones.
The point to stress, though, is that whenever you play any one of the eight new Knightley originals in splendid isolation, it makes a very strong impression indeed. The subject-matter is almost uniformly pretty dark, informed no doubt by the devastating personal crises Steve has undergone over the past year or so as much as by the vastly more troubled state of the world itself twelve months on. The most directly autobiographical songs here are the penetratingly soul-searching The Man I Was and the weird emotional melting-pot that produces the apprehensive daydreaming reverie of Drift (born out of those lengthy sojourns around hospitals last year due to the illness of close family members). Then there are the songs of biting social comment, like The Napoli (one of those country-life-style behavioural pieces that Steve does so well) which hammers home its stance with its catchy communal chorus of looters and its interpolation of snatches of Kipling's Smuggler's Song - and of course the self-evident title track. The Worried Well offers a fresh take on the preponderance of contemporary medical hypochondria, couched in a gospel-style call-and-response, and the tongue-in-cheek Evolution primally purveys Steve's own personal stance on Darwinian theory. Elsewhere, the sinister IED: Science Or Nature (with its superbly chilling Trees They Do Grow High counterpoint) ticks away at your conscience while trying to make sense of seemingly random events that can ruin people's lives; this song contrasts tellingly with the one that follows, The Vale, Steve's poignant and beautiful reminiscence of what seems an altogether simpler time which evokes his mother's wartime evacuation to a Dorset village (while also melody-wise carrying uncanny resonances of Steve's earlier classic Man Of War, I thought).
The overall soundscape of this latest album can actually sound rather stark (compared even to those more bare-bones-style of former Show Of Hands offerings), but this element carries with it a distinctive (cutting) edge of extra-crisp definition - a quality that's so much the hallmark of producer Stu Hanna, by the way - and it accentuates that additional degree of uneasy bleakness I noted in so many of the songs. Although this is characterised by the direct, literal potency of the actual lyrics, it's arguably brought out even more in the new gravel-edged textural quality that Steve's singing voice has now developed: a cracked vulnerability, an extra dimension of grainy weariness (at once resigned and resolutely defiant - the fist is definitely clenched), where he seems drained from the personal events he's undergone over the past year. This quality may at times be a less than comfortable listen and take a bit of getting used to, but I find it very powerful indeed, and the appropriately complementary lean, often nervily edgy musical settings enable Steve to pull his lyric punches soberly and (I believe) make a greater impact than if backed by a more fulsome or glossy production.
Another vital factor in the effectiveness of this new album is the classy nature of the supporting contributions: I'd single out for special mention Jackie Oates' sublime duet vocal on The Vale and The Keys, Debbie Hanna's lovely cameo vocal (on IED and Drift), and the bold presence of Steve & Phil's regular touring-partner Miranda Sykes. Not to forget Andy Tween's refreshingly lean-etched drumming and cajon on four tracks, Matt Clifford's piano on a further two, and the three members of Mawkin: Causley adding fire to The Napoli. So, notwithstanding the overall excellence of the product and its abundance of must-have qualities, the final impression on complete playthroughs still obstinately remains one of an album whose sum is less constantly great than its individual constituent parts. For, although credibly sequenced, it doesn't quite hang together logically (yet); perhaps befitting its coy bonus track (the gentle, quiet backporch-style singalong Rain Song), it's a cloudy, mist-ridden enigma from which (I'm convinced) at some unspecified time in the future the fog is destined to suddenly part. It's nevertheless rapidly becoming one of the most indispensable Show Of Hands releases for me.
Show of Hands - Witness
'Witness' is the lastest studio album from Steve Knightley and Phil Beer, and on this 12 track production you will find everything you expect of Show of Hands yet a litle more, not least because of the production skills employed by award winning Simon Emmerson and Simon ‘Mass’ Massey of Afro Celt fame. The 12 tracks consist of 9 composed by Knightley and the remaining three being their contribution to the Rubber Folk Beatles Covers compilation 'If I needed someone', Beer's version of the Coppin working of the Causley poem 'Innocents Poem' and 'The Falmouth Packet' twinned with the Cornish traditional 'Haul Away Joe'.
The album opens with two upbeat songs including the title track which was inspired by a Devon based commune and their attitude towards their existance, followed by 'Roots' inspired this time by Kim Howells, the former minister of culture, indeed the ministers ill consider words regarding the presence of folk singers in a pub near wells have found themselves immortalised in this appeal not to take pride in English cultural heritage, pity its a plea thats likely to fall on deaf ears where Howells is concerned but that isnt particularly where the message is aimed I suspect. Backing here is provided particularly effectively by a recording of the Cornish Shanty Group 'Fisherman's Friends' singing the choir 'Haul Away'. From the upbeat and foot tapping tracks a counterbalance is provided by the likes of 'The Dive' and it is probably tracks such as this where the influence of the production team of Massey and Emmerson can be most detected by the ambience and depth they add. A touch of humour is added in 'The Bet' with avery clear reference to Knightley's earlier penned song 'The Galway Farmer' whereas the character in the former ends up standing next to the character in the latter at a racecourse (this reference certainly brings a smile to many faces during the live performance). One constant theme throughout the album are references to real life events and tales from the West Country from the emotive 'Union Street' to the upbeat and foot tapping inducing 'The Falmouth Packet/Haul Away Joe' a traditional Cornish Shanty combined with Beer's own composition.
As mentioned above 'Witness' provides everything you would expect from Show of Hands, Knightley's strong song writing, Beer's exemplary multi-instrumentalism with a strong supporting role provided by Miranda Sykes on Cello, Double Bass and vocals - most notably on 'Union Street'.
As well as the duo they have collected an impressive list of guest musicians on this recording including the aforementioned Miranda Sykes, Fishermen's Friends, along with fiddlers Jackie Oates and Lizzie Westcott, Seth Lakeman, Paul Downes, Matt Clifford and Afro-Celts Emmerson, Massey and Johnny Kalsi.
For more details visit www.showofhands.co.uk
Show of Hands - “Country Life”
The enigma that is Show of Hands is back with this stunner of a studio album that makes you question once again why they’re dabbling in the backwaters when they could knock spots of many mainstream. music icons.
Perhaps it’s because Devon’s independent acoustic music duo are simply indefinable. Short-listed for numerous folk awards they may have been but much of this is nothing like the folk I’ve ever heard.
Steve Knightley’s “windswept” voice and astonishing and prolific song writing skills are matched only by Phil Beer’s awesome multi-instrumental prowess -fiddle, slide guitar, Spanish guitar, cuatro, mandocello, melodeon, percussion - in fact give that man any instrument and he’ll play you a tune. Add to that Phil’s distinctive and contrasting voice and Knightley’s own mastery of cuatro, concertina, mandocello and bass and you’re simply tripping over talent.
The songs of this professional, self-assured duo can transport you through history, countries and time. They can get audiences singing epic, anthemic numbers and then spill out some raw-edged relationship song or a witty number for good measure.
To see them live is an unforgettable and uplifting experience, whether the “hall” they are playing is of the village or Royal Albert variety. But the next best thing is to buy this album, which doesn’t have a lacklustre song on it. Their most ambitious, exciting and keenly awaited project to date it boasts 10 new titles from the mighty Knightley repertoire plus his arrangements of two traditional folk songs and Kelly Joe Phelps’s harrowing “Tommy” - the tale of a misfit.
This is music on an inspired and intelligent level. The title track is a stirring, defiant and finely-honed rant about the desecration of British country life and contains some of Knightley’s finest lyrics - the “agri barons CAP in hand” line is a gem. An accompanying promo CD shows this track recorded in a Devon barn with a full band line-up including one time Rolling Stones keyboard player Matt Clifford. Only a diehard townie could fail to be moved with the imagery this acoustic rock number creates of cattle burning in the foot and mouth pyres and village cottages turned into empty shells of holiday homes. “ No trains, no jobs, no shops, no pubs - what went wrong with country life?” bawls Knightley as Phil Beer turns up the tempo with some dazzling fiddle playing.
From this “in your face” number (and Show of Hands are never afraid to be political) they set off to strut their showcase of music as the mood changes instantly to the sweet song about long standing friendship “Hard Shoulder” followed by the sublime Spanish guitar playing of Beer in the wonderful “Suntrap” and the poignant and gentle Smile She Said which tells of the journey of a relationship in five “ exposures.”
The traditional lyrics of Reynardine (Fairport did a memorable version of this song akin to the werewolf legend) are set to the haunting music of Knightley. He is a past master of the shiver-down-the-spine song (as heard in Widecombe Fair) and this is no exception as he starts his hallmark finger drumming, this time on the cuatro (an instrument he was taught by exiled Chilean musician Vladamir Vega). The fine voice of young West Country singer Jenna Witts complements Steve’s in the easy on the ear ballad Seven Days before the mood changes once again to the raw song of Tommy featuring Beer’s unusual voice. The first half of the album is probably the strongest but that’s not to detract from more jaunty tracks like Be Lucky, the traditional folk song Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy(another vehicle for Beer), the gentle I Promise You and the reflective concert closer Don’t Be a Stranger. And then there’s the upbeat Red Diesel - many people must know a man like the Yuppie-hating, wine-making, car-mending Terry of this song and it contains another brilliant Knightley lyric “He says he sang a folk song once but he didn’t inhale!”
I have racked my brains for a way to describe this band and failed. And therein lies the “riddle” of Show of Hands. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on them and decided it’s “acoustic with attitude” or out and out English folk they’ll throw in some rock, shades of country, a reel of Celtic, a bit of bluegrass and then recreate the sitar sounds of India in the blink of an eye. They are without a doubt the coolest chameleons I’ve seen….and the release of Country Life proves they just get better and better.
For tour dates and ordering information visit the site at www.showofhands.co.uk
Laurie McClain - "The Trumpet Vine"
Whilst McClain is a resident of Nashville these days her origins are in Nebraska where as a teenager she was first exposed to the acoustic Country-Folk of artists such as John Prine, Merle Haggard and Kate Wolf etc and by the time she was 17 she was performing covers in local bars. Over the next two decades or so she combined parenthood with local gigs in Nebraska until lifes journey took her to Nashville in the mid 90's. 'Twas here that McClain (re-)established herself in the local music community.
As mentioned above one of McClains early influences was the late Kate Wolf, which lead to her recording "The Trumpet Vine", a collection of Wolf's songs taken from the late 70's and 80's before Wolf's untimely death. Guesting on this recording are a number of familiar names including Anne Hills and Carter Wood, being two perhaps that people this side of the pond will more readily recognise. As well as the above mentioned McClain's vocals are accompanied by a range of harmony vocals, guitar, fiddle, mandolin, accordian, cello, however McClain's singing and interpretation of the songs is very much centre stage. Its often the case with a tribute album that the recording might fail to do justice to both artists, missing something of the original and failing to bring out the individuality and originality of the artist making the recording. This is definately not the case here, whilst McClain has done justice to Wolf's songs she also clearly sings them with a genuine heartfelt connection to the lyrics, combining clarity, compassion and a tenderness in her delivery. This is immediately obvious with the opening track of the CD "Eyes of Painter" and is in evidence throughout the album, whilst it is difficult to indicate any highlights on what is a thoroughly enjoyable release (pretty much each track could be defined in such a way), however perhaps the above mentioned "Eyes of a Painter" and "Cornflower Blue" both of which are available to listen too on her website are good examples of the album as a whole.
Both as a compilation and an introduction to Wolf's music (and McClains) "The Trumpet Vine" is well worth the investment having a listing of 14 tracks and clocking in at somewhat over an hour. This is one CD that is not going to move far away from my deck in the foreseeable future and its certainly inspired me to make the effort to discover more of Wolf's music.
It is worth mentioning at this point that McClain has also released an album, "the child behind my eyes", of her own music, again on this recording McClains own songwriting and music abilities are very clear along with the influences of Wolf etc.
For further information about McClain, clips and forthcoming releases visit her website at www.lauriemcclain.com
ROSINATORS - The Rosinators PDC Music CD0503 www.rosinators.com
THE ROSINATORS – The Rosinators
PDC Music CD0503
Playing Time - 39:25
Songs – 1. Old Joe Clark, 2. In My Time of Dyin', 3. Blue Ridge Mountain Blues, 4. Looking for the Stone, 5. Joli Blon, 6. Cindy's Breakdown, 7. Port Arthur Blues, 8. I Saw the Light, 9. J'etais au Bal, 10. Orange Blossom Special, 11. Oblivion, 12. Poncho's Lament
As “Old Joe Clark” jump starts The Rosinators’ album, twin fiddlers Will
Sneyd and Fliss Premru clearly have plenty of rosiny pine sap on their bows’
horsehair. The friction on their strings imparts a fiery rhythmic intensity
that sets the stage for this entire project that also includes Paul Castle
(guitar, banjo, bass), Leigh Gordon (bass on 5 tracks), Stuart Crosbie
(drums on 6 tracks) and Clare Gilliam (triangle on 3 tacks). Apparently,
Castle, Sneyd and Premru perform frequently as a trio, they provide the
vocals, and the others are guest artists. These musicians from the United
Kingdom take an eclectic (and sometimes even slightly unorthodox) approach
to their music.
Besides a few traditional Appalachian fiddle tunes, they also cover various old-time styles including blues (“In My Time of Dyin’”), bluegrass (“Blue Ridge Mountain Blues”), gospel (“Looking for the Stone”), country (“I Saw the Light”), and Cajun (“Joli Blon,” “Port Arthur Blues,” and “J’Etais au Bal”). While better recorded versions of “Orange Blossom Special” exist, these Brits give us a charged-up rendition with plenty of hustle, albeit a fairly standard and conservative arrangement. The same can be said about the oft-played “Old Joe Clark,” while “Cindy’s Breakdown” pushes the envelope a bit by incorporating Earl Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” into their leisurely breaks. An original which Sneyd helped pen called “Oblivion” is described as “21st Century gospel country.” This forgotten sinner’s plea for forgiveness and salvation comes with a caveat in the liner notes that it contains strong language. I understand that Paul Castle is also a songwriter, and it might have been nice to include one or two of his originals as well. The Rosinators close with Tom Waits’ folky “Poncho’s Lament” that proclaims, “I’m glad that you’re gone, but I wish to the Lord that you’d come home.”
The Rosinators create many musical moods, presumably as a result of their backgrounds and experience in Cajun and country rock bands (such as Ti-Fer, Joli Blon, The Larry Love Showband and Alabama 3). While some might claim that these pickers are searching for an identity, it is, in reality, their eclectic nature and versatility that define their sound. In the U.K., this resourceful multi-hued flair should win them a goodly number of fans who share their appreciation for many flavored polygenric music. The Rosinators’ most natural inclination seems to tend towards Cajun music, but they do a commendable job with other spiritually-tinted and mountain tunes. Don’t expect a lot of hot flashy licks from The Rosinators. Instead, look for honest-to-goodness straightforward and heartfelt playing with decent harmonies and above average musicianship. Their spirited music is infectiously likeable, and, as such, it rosinates loudly for eclectic traditional music fans with adventurous tastes.
The Rosinators - Live at the Ulster American Folk Park
I had the great pleasure last week of
meeting the Rosinators, hearing them play, and
observing the reaction of the crowd inside a
rustic barn as they entertained on a rainy day at
the Ulster American Folk Park in Northern
Ireland. They have very eclectic tastes -
Bluegrass, gospel, blues, Cajun tunes, and
more, put together imaginatively and with lush
harmonies and a wonderful spirit.
I've about burned laser grooves in their CD since I arrived home. It's a testament to the power of traditional American music that it resonates (no pun intended, but could be!) so strongly on the other side of the pond. But that's what grabbed the attention of Clapton, Lennon, et al., after all. The Rosinators adhere more closely to the original sources while infusing their own thoughtful interpretive twists. They do "flat got it." Bill [Monroe] must be smiling as he gazes toward London alongside Blind Willie Johnson, Dewey Balfa, Keith Whitley, and Chubby Wise. Oh - and I love the name!
Jack Bernhardt Durham, NC
For further information about The Rosinators visit their site at www.rosinators.com
The Gemma Ray Ritual - Live at the Union Chapel 21st October 2003
And now for something slightly different ...... The Gemma Ray Ritual is centred around the music and songwriting of Gemma Ray along with whichever musicians are backing her at a particular time.
Over the last year or so Ray has made a significant impact on the acoustic scene in the London area, gigging regularly and on this occasion she was playing her largest venue (so far). Ray is not your usual acoustic singer songwriter for a number of reasons, her music is described as "original progressive blues" this doesnt quite do justice to the originality or mixture of influences clearly at play, neither does it do justice to the sheer intensity and emotion of her live performances.
As mentioned above most of those present were waiting to see Silver play and to be honest were somewhat taken aback by Rays style which was certainly a contrast to what was to come with Silver but it would be fair to say that after the first song the majority of those listening were won over and caught up her web of emotional turmoil, this was certainly reflected in the queue to obtain the small number of Cds she had available at the end of the concert.
Ray was on this occasion supported by her band including percussion, keyboards, upright Bass and Cello, however Rays vocals and considerable skill on her guitar were the main force at play. Rays style of playing clearly displayed the "progressive blues" style mentioned on her fliers and at times provided a senstivity to counteract the intensity of her singing and subject, whilst at other times she seemed to want to extract every last ounce of energy from the instrument.
The subjects of her songs varied from drawing the listener into her own vision of personal emptyiness in "Blackheath Snows", to a slightly more furious "Bury my Bones" 'tale' of personal betrayal and then allowing the audience a slight relief when a softer tone was provided by material such as "Shiver me Timbers" recalling her memories of a visit to the Welsh Valleys and a bluesy number "Just need a baby by my side".
As said above Ray isnt your usual singer-songwriter, what she is however is refreshing, talented and clearly someone who will make her own distinctive mark, this writer is certainly looking forward to hearing more over the years to come.
To find out more about Gemma Ray visit her website at www.gemmaray.co.uk
Liz Ryder - "On the Neon Highway"
"On the Neon Highway" is the second release North Wales based Singer-Songwriter Liz Ryder. Ryder is a North Wales Singer-Songwriter who clearly has had a number of influences, both musical and otherwise that have affected her style. Her early years were spent in Long Beach, California but she moved to Britain at an early stage, and in my opinion it would be fair to say that her early influences played a role in her musical direction and choices.
Certainly as Ryder says herself folk and early music was a very early family influence and this is reflected in her writing and singing style. However Ryder does have a distinctive style of her own, her vocals have a slightly torch like character about them which even provides a new touch to some favourites. If a comparison has to be made, the only one that comes to mind is London based Rebecca Hollweg, certainly on tracks such as "The Waves" there is a distinct comparison in the character of their singing if not influences.
The CD itself consists lasts for just over fourty two minutes and consist of 10 tracks, the bulk of which were self penned by Ryder. The exceptions to this are "Sailing in the Boat" and "Black is the Colour", respectably tracks 1 and 8 on the CD.
Ryders own lyrical style can have a poetic edge and slightly abstract element to them which is reflected on tracks such as "Atlantis" and "House of Changes". There is also considerable variety on the cd which comes to a close with "44th Street" which in my opinion is possibly one of the strongest of the collection in so far as it brings out a strength and depth to her voice isnt utilised in the same way on the more "upbeat" (for want of a better description) tracks, not because of a lack of skill on Ryders part but a reflection of the difference in style of the songs.
I must admit I didnt initially recognise Ryders version of "Black is the Colour", her vocal styles come into their own however and she interprets the song in her own way adding her own interpretation to it, rather than being the same as youve heard on numerous other cds and live no doubt. The CD has much to offer in the way of variety as well, both in terms of her songwriting style and her singing which clearly has considerable skills to offer.
Aside from Ryders on guitar, harmonica and percussion she is joined by guest musicians on fiddle, slide guitar and bongos, although her singing and guitar playing clearly dominate the tracks.
The only criticisms that Id make of the CD would be the lack of inlay details, and perhaps in places the production could have done slightly more justice to the music. Whilst Ryder is clearly at the beginning of her career it would be surprising if more isnt heard of her in the next few years, to build on her increasing presence on the acoustic and folk scene.
For further information on Ryder visit her website at www.lizmusic.co.uk which includes some mp3s, some lyrics and ordering details.
Tony McManus at MANCAT Lever Street centre, Manchester, 4th July 03
Manchester College of Arts and Technology runs a Musical Instrument Technology course on which students can learn to make a variety of acoustic fretted stringed instruments. David Lim, the course tutor, felt that an end of year gig would be a good showcase for the students' instruments and consequently booked the exceptionally gifted guitarist Tony McManus. Tony is the ideal man for the job being both an astonishing flatpicker and fingerpicker. The talents of two of the students were also utilised: - Kirsty McGee, a singer-songwriter with a growing reputation, and Joe Shields, Liverpool's legendary bluesman.
Kirsty started the evening off performing on her very recently completed eco-friendly guitar (no tropical hardwoods were used in its construction). Finishing the guitar was a bit of a race against time - it was only strung up two days before the gig. Also performing with her was Matt on mandolin, an instrument that Kirsty had also made. Kirsty has a beautiful voice and an obvious talent for songwriting and was very well received by an appreciative audience.
Next up was Joey Shields, also performing on guitars he had made himself. Joe regaled us with an entertaining mix of blues and folk songs performed in his inimitable way.
Tony had arrived about half an hour before the gig was due to start to be confronted by a stage packed with instruments of all shapes and sizes. "It's like being a kid let loose in a sweet shop," was his excited reaction. Through the course of his two sets Tony worked his way through ten or so instruments: - mostly guitars of all shapes and sizes including a tiny three-quarter sized one up to a nine string dreadnought, via an octave mandola and flamenco guitar. All credit to Tony who showed the measure of his talent by performing brilliantly on all the instruments. He demonstrated a wide diversity to his repertoire from amazing fingerpicking arrangements of Irish, Scottish, Breton and Israeli tunes to blistering flatpicking of jigs and reels with a number of sensitively arranged songs thrown in for good measure. And all this on instruments he had never seen before let alone familiarised himself with.
In choosing which instrument to play Tony asked for the audience's preference which led to him being required to play the nine string Dreadnought second - a kind of baptism of fire. "What's the history of this instrument?" Tony inquired. "You're looking at it, " came the reply from the audience! It could have been his undoing but he played a brilliant set of jigs for a rapturous audience.
So all in all an excellent evening. On stage that night were the fruits of many hundreds of hours of patient, meticulous work done to exacting standards. All credit to their makers. There were some very proud students in the audience that night. After all who wouldn't be to have their first guitar played on stage by a professional and virtuoso guitarist. And it must be said that Tony clearly enjoyed himself to and rose to the challenge admirably.
If you are interested in the Musical Instrument Technology course at MANCAT call David Lim on 0161 953995 ex. 4240 or look on the MANCAT website at www.mancat.ac.uk."
Information about Tony McManus can be found at his website.
Kerensa Newman - "Totally Hammered"
No the title of this release isnt a reference to partaking in too much of the Devil's Brew on a Saturday evening. 'Totally Hammered' is on the contrary the debut release by Kerensa Newman, a young Cornwall based dual-instrumentalist and occasional singer. Newman has been immersed in the folk scene for well over ten years, performing and running workshops as well as appearing on a range of recordings in different guises. At present Newman is a regular face and presence on the scene in Cornwall and the South East (and is playing a role in the administration of the Cornwall Folk Festival).
As mentioned above 'Totally Hammered' is Newmans debut release and the album consists of 12 tracks (42 Minutes), all instrumentals and 10 of them traditional, the other two being tunes being ones that Newman has picked up on her journeys, one of them from Maclaine Colston (who if you havent heard of him has worked with the likes of Eliza Carthy), the other a French tune she learnt from fiddler Emily Weir.
For the most part these are solo works by Newman, but she is joined on three tracks by fellow Dulcimar player Eleanor James. The only other instrument employed on the album are whistles, also played by Newman and where these are employed in unison with her main instrument the effect is to create a unique atmospheric sound which is hard to put over in words, but listening to the music on this album brings over very clearly Newman's skill in her art, employing sensitivity and flexibility in her playing.
The tracks Newman has chosen as mentioned are in the main traditional compositions which range in style from Morrisons Jig, Michael Turners Waltz, a rather graceful air "In the Wind" right through to some some traditional Cornish tunes on track three, a reflection of Newmans immersion into and knowledge of the Cornish trad scene. In fact these are amongst the best on the album, having listened to the album several times this track has never yet failed to make me stop and listen, this is one of the tracks on which Newman is joined by James and the two instruments weave in and out of each other sharply yet gently, and when this is combined with Newman's whistle the effect is a pure joy to listen too.
Overall this is a highly addictive, varied, polished, sharp yet sensitive debut that does Newman proud, it would be interesting (on the strength of the short tracks available on this release) to see further Cornish material on the follow up.
In order to find out more about Newman visit her site at www.myspace.com/kerensadulcimer.
Dale Ann Bradley - Cumberland River Dreams
Doobie Shea Records DS-CD-4005
PO Box 68, Boones Mill, VA. 24065 Tel. 1-877-362-7432
www.doobieshea.com Playing time - 41:51
Song Listing: 1.I Wish It'd Been You, 2. Thursday, 3.The Rockin Chair, 4.The Circle Is Small, 5.Granny Cat, 6.Passin' Thru, 7.Beyond A Shadow Of A Doubt, 8.Lonesome For The Mountains, 9.Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, 10.Piney Rose, 11.Cumberland River Dreams, 12.Gonna Move On Out
Dale Ann Bradley hails from Kentucky, the heart of bluegrass country, but she isn’t shy about branching beyond the traditional confines of the genre. Her signature sound has evolved to become a blend of bluegrass, folk and country that is both pleasant and mesmerizing. Bradley began performing at age 14, then in 1990, she joined the New Coon Creek Girls as lead singer and guitarist. Bradley’s first solo album was released in 1997, the same year she began performing as Dale Ann Bradley and Coon Creek. In 2001, Tom Adams (banjo) and Michael Cleveland (fiddle) joined her band. “Cumberland River Dreams” is a solo album that pairs her with some outstanding accompanists: Michael McLain, the late Eddie Miller, Barry Bales, Dan Tyminski, Aubrey Haynie, Rob Ickes, Steve Gulley, Ronnie Bowman, Alison Krauss, Dale Perry, Gena Britt, Don Gulley, and Jeff Taylor.
With her undeniable talent as a singer, Dale Ann taps her varied musical influences to present a splendidly delightful contemporary sound. From Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Circle is Small” to Randy Scruggs’ and Johnny Cash’s “Passin’ Thru,” Bradley sings in a polished, powerful manner. Five numbers penned by Bradley (and Vicki Simmons) are also included, with each song setting its own mood for the story to be told. The album opens with a love song, “I Wish It’d Been You.” “Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt” reveals her strong faith during her mother’s battle with cancer, while “Granny Cat” is a hard-hitting ballad of her great-great-grandmother, a pioneer woman who had the strength to leave an abusive relationship in search of a better life. Searching for the perfect place to soothe heartache is the topic of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.” Bradley’s title cut, “Cumberland River Dreams,” is an autobiographical account with its nostalgic reflections of home.
Dale Ann Bradley builds on her solid bluegrass foundation to embellish her presentation with modern sensibilities. Her singing is bright and breezy, and the accompaniment is first-rate. She’s a captivating and irresistible artist.
Billy Rawlett - "Time Stood Still"
Billy Rawlett is a Texas based singer songwriter with a career which has evolved since his school days, his musical journey has included time spent in rock and roll bands, taking a detour through country and blues roots and mixing the elements together along with his own songwriting style to create his own brand of 'Americana'. Recently Rawlett has been receiving much deserved attention both locally in Texas and much further afield, for example being featured in Australian and German publications.
"Time Stood Still" is Rawletts fourth solo release, and reflects the variety of both his musical roots and the path he has taken since starting down his road. The 11 track (42 Mins) release was apparantly influenced by the events surrounded a Georgian undertaker who disposed of his cares in a manner ill suited to his occupation. This influence is reflected in both the subjects and perhaps the intensity of some of the material on the album, this comes across most clearly in the feeling, and lyrics of the title track, "time stood still" perhaps referring to souls stuck in limbo. Having said that the material is varied, lyrically, in style and tempo with all the wide influences and musical experiences that Rawlett has gone through coming into play. The bulk of the songwriting on the album is Rawletts own with the exception of two covers, Dylans "Death is not the End" and "No Expecations" written by a duo by the names of Jagger and Richards apparantly.
As indicated above the material on the album varies from rootsy blues material such as "I got the blues down in texas", a rootsy blue track with the first instance of Rawletts considerable blues harp skills coming into play. The very following track "Cold as a Rock" stands as a marked contrast showing the flexibility and range of Rawletts skills, both his playing (guitar and harp) and vocals here are considerably softer and suitably sensitive with the harp almost reaching out with longing. Once again contrasting with this material are the 'spiritual' tracks such as the Dylan cover "Death is not the end" and self penned "Nourish the Spirit", the latter again bringing Rawletts sensitivity in his craft to the fore, along with vocal harmonisations. Another element of Rawletts skills that display his range of abilities is his song writing, which range from the more reflective material such as "4th Street Bridge", a tale of personal human tragedy to "They sailed in Wooden Ships", a historical rootsy tale written of times of sea-farers and pirates (and just to be different Rawlett inserted a hidden track "wrong side of the tracks" onto the end of track 10, rather than than ten minutes after the CD has 'ended' which is the usual practice, certainly made me double check the insert anyway.)
Whilst Rawlett has played with various bands and artists in his long career, this is a solo album in the true sense of the word. Unlike most 'solo' releases Rawlett is accompanied largely only by Billy Rawlett on guitar, Billy Rawlett on vocals and Billy Rawlett on blues harp and a darned fine result it is, mixing the best of Rawletts blues, country and folk influences into a melting point whilst retaining their individual flavours and adding a few more to futher season the offering.
Finally it should be pointed out that these short comments havent done justice to the variety of this damned fine album which can not be recommended enough - for further details, clips and the usual details visit Rawletts site at www.billyrawlett.com
Victoria Parks - "Wild English Rose"
Victoria Parks is a Cleveland based singer-songwriter here releasing her second full length album. The first "Sure Feels Like Home" released in 95 was a mixture of folk, folk rock and a sampling of "Celtic" influences. On this second release Parks has travelled further down the 'Celtic' road mixing those influences together with tales from her own family history, and esoteric influences (neo-pagan or slightly less accurate "new age" if you prefer).
All the tracks on the CD, with the exception of "Caroline of Edinburgh Town", are self penned by Parks and as mentioned above the contents of the songs range from celebrating celtic esoteric traditions, storys from her family put into ballad form and a number of other songs.
Aside from Park's vocals she is accompanied by a wide range of musicians playing among their number Mandolins, fiddle, scottish pipes, fiddle, guitar whistle and considerably more which embelish Parks balladry.
Parks song writing and singing cover a range of topics often covering aspects of her family's history written from the view of the very participants she sings about. These songs range in topic from the tale of her Grandfather Morris who befriended local bootleggers as a boy, a friendship that was to play an important role in events later in his life, "Dear Sister" which is a reflection on the journey (physical and otherwise) of those who left the British Isles for a new life in America, to the tale of her ancestors who originally left these shores and the anguishes they endured during the process of resettling.
As mentioned above the sole track on the album that is not self penned is "Caroline of Edinbugh Town", a traditional British ballad that made its way across the Atlantic, however the style of this song fits in well with Parks own style of balladry. The remaining songs on this release are celebrations of celtic festivals and spiritual traditions such as Samhain and Beltaine.
As a vocalist presents her ballads combining both a firm voice with a sensitivity whilst clearly identifying with the subjects at hand, personally however I found the 'historical' tales or stories derived from her family background to be the strongest on the album. That said the thirteen tracks on the album offer a fine and varied journey through Parks songwriting and personal journeys.
For further information and to access clips etc Parks Website can be found at :www.victoriaparks.com
Eddie and Martha Adcock "TwoGrass"
Pinecastle Records PRC-1128
PO BOX 456, Orlando, FL. 32802
www.pinecastle.com or www.eddieandmarthadcock.com
Playing Time - 33:58
Song List: 1)Let’s, 2)Something to Be Finding, 3)It’s Grand to Have Someone Love You, 4)Have Thine Own Way, 5)I Am a Pilgrim, 6)Pretty Redwing, 7)Nobody’s Darling but Mine, 8)Where Will I Shelter My Sheep, 9)I Got Wise 10)Uncle Joe, 11)My Destiny, 12)Gold Watch and Chain
Eddie and Martha Adcock produce a lot of sound together, but one can wish that they would have also included some guests for additional vocal harmony, as well as a few hot mandolin, fiddle and resonator guitar breaks on this project, their first in five years. Obviously, “TwoGrass” is meant to support and showcase just the dynamic duo, also known as “the biggest little band in bluegrass.” They’ve also been called "The Sonny and Cher of Bluegrass."
This lean approach is successful largely because of their choice of eclectic material that spans folk to Gospel, jazz to blues, and country to bluegrass. Half of the album is comprised of original material. “Let’s” kicks off the album on an uptempo note. “Something to Be Finding” is a contemporary song of optimism and hope. Martha sings a beautiful “Have Thine own Way.” Eddie’s original “Uncle Joe,” is a ballad of a song-carrying relative who lived in the mountains. Material from Don Reno, Jimmie Davis, Joe Grieshop, Carter Stanley, Helen Carter and A.P. Carter round out the offerings.
Eddie Adcock hails from Virginia, but he currently resides in Nashville. His first professional banjo-playing job dates back to 1957 when he played (at age 14) for Mac Wiseman. He then worked with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys that same year. In 1958, Adcock joined The Country Gentlemen (replacing Pete Kuykendall). In 1970, Adcock left the Country Gentlemen, moved to California, and played rock music under the pseudonym "Clinton Kodack." In 1971, he formed band with Jimmy Gaudreau called the Iind (Second) Generation. In 1976, he formed "Eddie Adcock and Talk of the Town", with wife-to-be Martha (Hearon) and Missy Raines (bass). Also toured with David Allan Coe. This group eventually became "The Eddie Adcock Band." In 1990-91, performed with "The Masters" featuring Eddie on banjo and guitar, Jesse McReynolds on mandolin, Josh Graves on Dobro, and Kenny Baker on fiddle. Although Eddie is considered one of the pioneers of new acoustic music, Twograss exhibits a distinctly traditional sound. In 1996, Adcock was inducted into the IBMA's Hall of Honor as a member of the "Classic" Country Gentlemen.
Raised in a musical family from South Carolina cotton country, Martha has classical music training but started teaching herself stringed instruments since age eight. After a long folk and fingerpicking phase, she fell in love with bluegrass in her late teens. Bluegrass festivals in North Carolina and Virginia introduced her to guitar players like Charlie Waller, Jimmy Martin, Bill Harrell and Dan Crary. After moving to Nashville in 1973, Martha met Eddie. She started running the sound for Eddie’s group, II Generation, then joined the band shortly thereafter. Since then, they’ve worked with up to a seven-piece newgrass band, with David Allan Coe doing country rock, and now as a duo called “TwoGrass.” Martha calls this her favorite configuration yet. “We always try to put out 120 percent,” she once said. “If the music and the show work, you can congratulate us ; and if it doesn’t, you can blame us, just us. There’s nobody else to hide behind. We love working together and know we’re very fortunate to be able to spend our time together. And since there’s just two of us, we can stop for supper wherever we want on the road without having to consult other opinions. Minimum people, minimum problems. It’s so easy and satisfying like this. We’re enjoying the heck out of it.” Husband and wife duos are rarely as solid as the Adcocks, with their vocal blends accentuated by tasty banjo breaks.
Jim Moray – Low Culture (NIBL007)
The first thing that strikes you about this album is when you’ve finished playing it from beginning to end is that each track is ‘treated’ differently. Starting with the gentle use of Kora and Thumb-Piano to colour “Leaving Australia” the song acts as the prelude for many fascinating excursions as how to combine contemporary techniques with traditional culture. From the string indulgence of Bella Hardy’s “Three Black Feathers” to Andy Partridge’s “All You Pretty Girls” with its Melodeon/Horn section and seriously sing-a-long chorus each number proves a gem. But wait just a minute though, my thoughts have strayed to the track I’m listening to at the moment for surely that’s none other than Steeleye (circa Storm Force Ten) on “I’ll Go List For A Sailor”.
Funny that, how the mind plays tricks on you when you’re least expecting it. Well dammit more power to Moray’s overused elbow utilising as he does; guitars, mandolin, double bass, drums, concertina and verse violin (whatever that is – although I’ve got a good idea) and that’s only the half of what proves a real musical journey. If you’re a self-confessed ‘folkie’ (much like oneself) then indulge your senses and let rip with a bit of punk it’ll wash over you like that advert for shower gel on TV…OK, minus the scantily clothed woman but what the hell (?) it’s my dream. The unusual use of David Owens old style book covers to illustrate each song is a master-stroke and don’t forget to check the final track (a hidden one at the end of “Valentine” timed at approximately 6:00mins) about Adam Ant…it’s a wonderfully understated song that should really get a better hearing.
Hot off the press is ‘Sweet England’, the first release from Jim Moray, one of the hottest talents to emerge on to the British folk scene in recent years. This collection of mainly traditional folk songs, interspersed with two of his own compositions, has been brought right in to the third millennium with Moray’s distinctive interpretations. ‘Sweet England’ is sure to build on his burgeoning reputation as his talent is honed at major festivals and on radio.
Living up to the title, ‘Early One Morning’ opens the c.d. very sweetly, with more than a hint of 1960’s Donovan in the voice and an early Elizabethan sound. This comes in to the age of Elizabeth II in the middle of the song, with a funky beat backing. The music continues to surprise with an eerie echo in Jim’s superb rendition of the happy love song ‘Lord Bateman’. ‘Gypsies’ is a personal favourite and the evocative horn playing makes this version outstanding. It is traditional and recognisable, but with a totally new twist.
I like any c.d. to have a defining track that stands out as worth the purchase price on its’ own. ‘Sweet England’ yielded two such tunes. The impact of Moray’s collar voce intro on ‘The Week Before Easter’ was brilliant and reminiscent of the Flying Pickets in their heyday. However, ‘The Suffolk Miracle’ topped even this. It is a real spinetingler, sung with great emotion and enhanced by amazing sound effects. A self-penned, powerful declaration of love for a tragic figure, ‘Longing For Lucy’, rounded off this collection in dramatic style.
‘Sweet England’ was produced and recorded by Jim Moray in his student digs. It blends music ranging from orchestral to garage sounds, harmonising a wide vocal range with innovative sound effects. This makes it a true concept album a la Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. Any performer who dares to be so different is bound for a brilliant career, as he changes and evolves the direction of folk music, to appeal to both folk traddies and a whole new generation of music lovers.
Released on 30th June on Niblick is a Giraffe Records, ‘Sweet England’ is certain to become a collector’s edition. It is available at all good music stores, including H.M.V. and Virgin and can be ordered on the Internet at www.amazon.co.uk.
By Mike Elliott – 22 July 03
Morays home on the web can be found at: www.jimmoray.co.uk
Various - Merlefest Live! The 15th Anniversary Jam
www.merlefest.org or www.mfstore.org
Total Playing Time - 73.35
Song Listing: 1)They’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone, 2) Bury Me Beneath the Willow, 3)Doc’s Medley: Any Way You Want Me/Blue Suede Shoes/Tutti Frutti/Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin On, 4) Sittin' on Top of the World, 5) You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive, 6) Lonesome Pine, 7) A Mountaineer is Always Free, 8) A Good Woman’s Love, 9) Blue Moon of Kentucky, 10) Careless Love, 11) Cattle Call, 12) Midnight Moonlight, 13) Sweet Georgia Brown, 14) Summertime, 15) Patrick Meets the Brickbats, 16) Shady Grove, 17) Paul and Silas, 18)Shake Rattle & Roll, 19)Amazing Grace
Capturing the energy and spirit of an eclectic music festival like Merlefest on a 74-minute album would truly be a formidable task for any producer. Rising to the challenge, Jim Barrow and B. Townes succeed with this project which was recorded in April, 2002 at the 15th annual festival in Wilkesboro, N.C. dedicated to the memory of Eddy Merle Watson (1949-1985). This live compilation sampler CD includes cuts from an all-star lineup of Doc Watson, his grandson Rickard Watson, Sam Bush, John Cowan, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, Patty Loveless, Albert Lee, Tim O'Brien, Peter Rowan, Earl Scruggs, Nickel Creek, Blue Highway and more. The 19 tracks are lively and are largely drawn from a number of standards that we are familiar with from bluegrass, country, gospel and old-time rock and roll repertoires. Doc Watson appears on ten tracks. Some of the songs come off as hot jam sessions with some occasional bouts of instrumental pyrotechnics from the musical collaborators. Doc’s comments are a joy to hear as he guides the arrangements and expresses his glee and appreciation to his accompanists. Doc directs “Sweet Georgia Brown” by exclaiming, “I’ll holler the instrument, and whoever plays it, grab it.” The sound quality is good, but remember that this album wasn’t recorded in a studio. We hear Earl Scruggs tuning his banjo prior to picking “Careless Love.” The applause can be distracting. Some of the guitars clearly have pickups on them, and eight of the tracks also include drums. Doc also sounds like he was fighting some hoarseness and vocal exhaustion on “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and a festival closer, “Amazing Grace.”
Some of the tighter offerings are Patty Loveless’ rendition of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive”and Blue Highway’s “Lonesome Pine” and Tim O’Brien’s “A Mountaineer is Always Free.” Also, John Cowan singing “A Good Woman’s Love” is a song I never tire of hearing, but I have heard better versions of “Sittin’ on Top of the World” and “Midnight Moonlight.” We have to expect some tradeoffs with live albums that also attempt to capture that energy of groups on a large festival stage. Besides the CD, Merlefest has DVD and VHS products with and even larger (27) number of performances. Merlefest Live! makes a good souvenir for festival attendees and for folks who want a sampler of historic and special moments from one of our nation’s premier music festivals.
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MERLEFEST LIVE! The Best of 2003
Vanguard Records 79766-2
Amosspromo [at] aol.com OR rob [at] welkmg.com OR artmenius [at]
TEL. 800-343-7857 or http://www.merlefest.org
Playing Time – 74:31
Merlefest, the annual Bluegrass and Americana festival held in Wilkesboro, NC, is a tribute to Doc Watson’s late son, Eddy Merle Watson, who died as the result of tractor accident in 1985. Doc and Merle had toured and performed together for about 20 years before Merle’s passing. With the help of Ralph Rinzler, the first Merlefest took place as a benefit concert in 1988. Today, the festival has a reputation as being one of the best bluegrass, country and Americana festivals in the world.
Jam packed with nearly 75 minutes of diverse music, “Merlefest Live! The Best of 2003” gives us a taste of the great multi-day premier event with a stellar lineup ranging from Asleep at the Wheel to Guy Clark, Don Edwards to Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Ricky Skaggs to Hot Rize. Of the eighteen tracks on this sampler, Doc Watson is featured on three (Roll in my Sweet Baby’s Arms, Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor, Match Box Blues). The latter is one that Doc learned from Blind Lemon Jefferson. We’re given traditional bluegrass (Ralph Stanley performing “A Robin Built on a Nest on Daddy’s Grave”), Gospel (Mountain Heart’s “John”), country (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band doing Rodney Crowell’s “An American Dream”).
I have eclectic musical tastes, and I enjoyed nearly every one of the songs presented with the unique character of the performer featured. Those with more clearcut musical preferences may tend to favor some tracks over the others. Some may like the Texas groups; Others may perk up at more traditional sounds. I’ve never cared a lot for acoustic guitars with pickups that don’t preserve their acoustic tonal qualities. Any day, give me the clean crisp sound of Bryan Sutton’s flattop over the electrified acoustic sound of Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s instrument. Doc’s guitar also exhibits some of this buzziness that slightly annoys me. I reckon such pickups are needed for adequate sound reinforcement at festivals like Merlegrass that attracts 80,000 participants over a 4-day run.
As with many live albums, the songs open and close with applause. This conveys some of the crowd’s energy, but a little bit goes a long way on a CD. If any artists steal the show, my votes go to Rhonda Vincent (“Caught in the Crossfire”), Vassar Clements all-star Jam (with a nine-minute version of “Orange Blossom Special”), and Doyle Lawson (“Hard Game of Love”). Vassar’s jam was a celebration of his 75th Birthday and included Vassar, Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, Tony Rice, Bryan Sutton, Mark Schatz, and Peter Rowan. And how can one not like Ricky Skaggs’ snappy version of “How Mountain Girls Can Love”? A couple surprises are from some groups I wasn’t very familiar with – Red Stick Ramblers (with an original “Main Street Blues”) and Donna the Buffalo (“Conscious Evolution”). I’d buy the former’s album, but the latter’s music isn’t really my cup o’tea.
Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC was again the site for MerleFest
2004 (the 17th annual) on April 29 – May 2, 2004. Did any of you make it
there? From the sounds of this 2003 CD, it was the happening place to be,
and Merlefest is a festival that offers a little something for everyone. The
festival also has some CD, VHS and DVD products available from their 2002
event, as well as some "Fresh Faces at Merlefest" CDs from 2003 and 2004.
The Letterpress Opry - "Americana Gothic"
Well I guess the first thing to say about this CD is its better late than never, this recording has been a long time in the coming (or so it seems to me). We first came across The 'Letters' under their previous title (The Mayflies of Johnson County) when they released their first EP and they were in fact one of the bands we featured on this very site all that time ago. We were impressed then and we're impressed now, Since then the band have changed their name and consolidated their musical direction. However for those that arent familiar with the band under either of their names they are an Americana Band based in Iowa and have made a presence on the scene in that state, whilst playing in support of the likes of Robbie Fulks and Alejandro Escovedo whom readers this side of the pond may have heard of. At the time of the original EP being released we enquired when the full release was due out, well this is one release that was worth the wait, a 17 track and nearly 70 minutes in length. Whilst Americana Gothic builds on the same building blocks of the previous release, it does more than that as well, the title track of the Album "Americana Gothic" is more of a recurring theme than a title track as such. The "track" is split up into four short versons of the same instrumental composed by fiddler Annie Savage. This is by no means to indicate that they merely repeat each other, far from it. One of these opens the offering and provides an ideal introduction for what is to follow with its dark and slow yet thoughtful fiddling by Savage weaving through the support from a guest Pianist and Accordionist, guitar and bass. Whilst the remaining three versions have a similar feel to them, each has their own quality bought by a guest including pedal steel, accordion and the second offering being the turn of guest Banjo player Bob Black. The quality of these snippets alone would almost be enough to recommend the album, but the 13 full length tracks offer far more, both in variety and quality.
The bulk of the rest of the material is written by bassist Patrick Bickel and I have to say this is one of the few times Ive actually found myself unintentionally engrossed in the lyrics on the inlay book. Bickel's style varies from his own observations of routine human interaction translated into poetic lyrics such as Iowa to more upbeat and perhaps singalong such as "the fishing song", written to traditional tunes.
The lead vocalist on most songs is guitarist Stacy Webster whose vocal styles fit perfectly and meld themselves around Bickels songwriting. From the dark but mellow "Branches of Willow", to the upbeat bluegrassy feel of "Water of Love" to the more pensive offerings such as "Junk Barge" and "Sparrows", right through to the supernatural elements in the story of Sadie Goode in "Wapsipinicon". Through the combination of Bickel's writing, Websters vocals and some darned impressive fiddle, guitar and percussion playing, the figures and elements featured in the songs are given meaning content and practically bought to life.
"One of these days" the old Neil Young song is the only track to feature fiddler Annie Savage on lead vocals (shared with guest Amy Finders), and you cant help feeling its a shame that its the only one, however that might detract from her considerable fiddle skills which would in itself be a darn shame as Savage's fiddling add a crucial element to many of the tracks.
Overall "Americana Gothic" is a thoroughly enjoyable blend of the essentials of Americana, and they must present an equally enjoyable and varied show live. Visit the bands site for more information at www.themayflies.com/, where a reasonable selection of clips from the album in question are available on the samples page. All being well one day they'll make the trip over this side of the pond, like this release that would be well worth the wait..
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Frank Wakefield "Don’t Lie To Me"
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (Tom Mindte)
Playing Time – 37:53
Songs – El Nino, Don't Lie to Me, Early Morning Train, I Thought I Heard You Calling My Name, Miss Marsha, My Aching Heart, Banks of the Ohio, Two Lonely Hearts, Bluegrass Mandolin, White Silver Sands, Daughter of Midnight, Danny Boy
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Wakefield is a one-of-a-kind mandolin player who
proves, at 70 years old in June, 2004, he’s still brimming with expressive
musicality. His trademark has always been melodic expression and a keen
traditional bluegrass stream of consciousness. Originally from Emory Gap,
Tennessee, he now lives in upstate New York. He learned to play music in
rural pentecostal “snakehandling” churches of east Tennessee. While his
earliest musical instrument was a guitar he played with a butter knife,
Wakefield took up mandolin at age sixteen after moving to Dayton, Ohio.
There, he met Red Allen and formed the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys. He had
grown up on a farm and had never gone to school, but he eventually learned
to read and write by age 28. In the fifties and sixties, he worked with
Jimmy Martin, Red Allen and The Kentuckians, The Stanley Brothers, and
Greenbriar Boys. In 1972, he began performing and recording as a solo
artist, as well as with his own Frank Wakefield Band.
Encouraged by Bill Monroe to form his own style, Frank set out to develop a reputation as an innovative mandolin master with his 1922 Gibson Lloyd Loar F-5. His album, “Don’t Lie to Me,” demonstrates some of his unique melodic inventiveness on seven instrumental and five vocal numbers. Don’t expect everything to be perfectly in place as you might hear on some of the slick bluegrass products coming out of Nashville’s studios. “Don’t Lie to Me” was engineered and produced by Tom Mindte of Patuxent Records, an independent recording label based in Rockville, Maryland that specializes in American roots music. Wakefield’s project emits a charming and rustic sort of purity.
His original mandolin tunes use fairly standard arrangements with lively instrumental interplay, usually alternating the mandolin breaks with banjo, fiddle or even some occasional lead guitar. “Daughter of Midnight” and “Miss Marsha” get my votes for favorites. “Early Morning Train” is a novelty number that would’ve been enhanced by some hot breaks from his accompanists. At four minutes long, the bluesy and tritely named “Bluegrass Mandolin” gets a bit tedious and comes off like a mandolin study from one of his lessons. “Banks of the Ohio” suffers by being only presented as an instrumental.
The album closer, “Danny Boy,” however, is played solo and is Wakefield’s opportunity to shine. I can’t help but wonder how someone like Radim Zenkl could have blown us away with his rendition of the Irish lullaby. Five vocal numbers round out the project, and the repertoire draws heavily on traditional bluegrass and country covers from the 50s and 60s. The versions of these same songs recorded by the Osborne Brothers with Red Allen, Porter Wagoner or Hank Snow are hard to compete with. Standouts include the two songs written by Dorothy and Earl Sloan, “My Aching Heart” and “Two Lonely Hearts,” with Bryan Deere’s lead vocal, Dede Wyland’s tenor, Frank’s baritone, plus Mike Auldridge’s cameo appearances on dobro.
The primary band for this project includes four regular members of The Patuxent Partners, a regional traditional bluegrass group that’s been together since 1975. Singer Bryan Deere, from southern Maryland, appears on three tracks with a voice that is clear and passionate. Besides writing the liner notes (which unfortunately lack song-by-song credits), Jack Leiderman lays down some solid rhythm guitar and/or soulful fiddle on nine tracks. Bassist Victoria McMullen, from Georgia, is a consummate musician. While Tom Mindte doesn’t play his mandolin on “Don’t Lie to Me,” he does sing harmony on two numbers.
A strength of this album are some impressive guest artists from Maryland or New York, including Bill Keith (banjo, 11 tracks), Jon Glik (fiddle, 9 tracks), Dede Wyland (vox, 2 tracks), Mike Auldridge (dobro, 2 tracks), Billy Kemp (lead guitar, 2 tracks), and Craig Vance (guitar, 1 track). All of these players are perfectly attuned to Frank Wakefield’s eclectic musical mannerisms, with Keith and Glik really strutting their stuff. Keith’s innovative chromatic banjo playing needs little introduction. Glik plays regularly in a band called “Bluestone” and has worked with Del McCoury, The Basement Band, and Footworks.
Frank Wakefield once said that he’d like to be remembered as “the greatest mandolin player that ever lived, and the one who wrote more mandolin songs than all the mandolin players put together.” He is certainly among the greatest and has been very influential on the multitude of mandolinists who have followed in his footsteps. Unfortunately, some people seem more impressed by his unique and humorous ability to talk backwards. So, in closing, all I can say is, “Hello! Thank this for reading you. As a masterful instrumentalist, Wake Frankfield is right there up with Mill Bonroe and Woc Dotson. Listening to his new album has been your pleasure. Bless Me.”
Two Tall Women - Out of the Woods
'Two Tall Women' are Canadian Mother and Daughter duo Pam and Beth Southwell, whilst both have considerable experience both of performing and recording, under their own names this is the first duo release they have made.
It reflects and expresses a number of things about the duo, firstly Pam Southwell's experience of the folk scene in the UK clearly had an impact on their musical style and direction. Southwell spent a number of years on this side of the pond in the late 80s during which time she developed her singing skills, was introduced to the British folk scene along with a range of artists and songs. It would be fair to say that this is reflected in the material presented on this debut release.
Southwell took some of her experiences and influences back with her to British Colombia where she immersed herself back into the trad and childrens music scene (Southwell is also an accomplished Childrens entertainer). Not surprisingly Beth Southwell grew up submerged by music, both her Mothers and others on the folk scene, which she got involved in from an early age. From the age of 18 Beth Southwell started touring herself both solo and as part of "Revealing Graces".
The Cd itself consists of ten tracks, which include a mixture of Pam Southwells arrangements of traditional tunes/songs, a cover of an old Thompson and Swarbrick song and one of their own compositions. As mentioned above the recording reflects not only the influences Southwell experienced during her foray into the folk scene in Yorkshire (the inclusion of the Swarbrick/Thompson cover) but their own interpretations and influences which make the tracks their own. As well as the duet vocals featured they are accompanied by their own multitude of skills on the guitar, accordian, sax, whistles, djembe and further contributions by guests include Scottish small pipes, all used to good effect bringing out the essence of the tunes, Indeed on "the river runs wild" you can almost feel the essence of the elements referred to in the words. However what really holds the CD together is the duets vocal skills, whether acapella on "sorrows away" & "Blackwater Side" on accompanied by instruments, the singers tackle each song with the individual care they deserve. The highlights of what is a thoroughly enjoyable release are probably the one self composed tune/song "the river runs wild" and the closing track "the straight river", a fine finish to a fine album with the singing come across clearly with each word emphasised and supported by gentle keyboards in the background. Beth Southwells Penny whistling is also worth a mention in its own right, not least because it provide a "quality" end to the album.
A slight shame that theres is a lack of information in the inlay card on the origins of the material, lyrics etc but that aside hopefully the follow up will be sooner rather than later, and Id hazard a guess we will be hearing more of them in the not too distant future...
The duo are visiting the UK for the first time (as a duo) during July (2003), someone save me a seat at the bar, this is one I'm looking forward too!
Michela Musolino - Songs of Trinacria: A collection of Sicilian folk music Alfa Music, no number www.alfamusic.com
Playing Time - 34:12
Songs - 1. La Siminzina, 2. Matri Ch'Aviti Figli, 3. U Metiri, 4. Oli Oli Ola, 5. Abbobbo, 6. Quantu Basilico, 7. La Vo, 8. Acidduzzu, 9. Figghia di'n Massaru, 10. Mi Votu e Mi Rivotu, 11. Santa Luna, 12. La Nota di Li Lavannari, 13. Vitti 'na Crozza
Trinacria, a word meaning “triangle,” is the ancient name for Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean and which happens to be shaped like a triangle. The Italian island is home to beaches, mountains, forests, vineyards, olive groves, wheat fields, and orchards of lemons, oranges and almonds. It’s also home to a rich folk music tradition with many multicultural roots. Michela Musolino is a New Jersey-based Italian singer who presents an interesting program of lullabies, love songs, work chants, and folk melodies. The former member of the Italian music and theater group I Giullari di Piazza is also a percussionist, and she plays tamburello on two cuts. Most of the percussion (tamburo and tamburello), however, is very ably handled by Alfio Antico, who was born in Sicily and who worked there as a shepherd until age eighteen. This album also features classical and steel string guitarist Wilson Montuori, who has performed for the past decade in an eclectic duo with Livio Guardi. Their duo’s CD entitled “Diomedee,” is a nice song collection inspired by the Mediterranean Sea.
“Songs of Trinscria” is a bright and breezy showcase of Musolino’s impressive talent as a singer. Her voice is the center of attention on this project. The guitar and percussion accompaniment is perfect for songs of this nature, and Musolino’s vocalizing displays an emotional and honest appreciation for music that is clearly “a very big part of her heart.” Montuori provided background vocals on three tracks, while a bonus song (“Vitti ‘na Crozza) is sung by Antico. That particular piece is an old, well-known and beloved folk song about a person who sees a skull sitting atop a corner cabinet. When asked what it is doing there, the skull replies that it had the misfortune of not having heard bells ringing at its death and so it’s consigned to this unhappy state. The album’s liner notes state that “it expresses the very human desire to be able to meet the end of life with the comfort that comes from prayers, a proper funeral and a decent burial.” It might have been nice to include some mandolin, harp or bifera in the mix, as such folk instruments often accompany such songs. Also, I wish that the CD jacket would have have provided more than just a line or two of translation for each of the folk songs. I understand that eventually all lyrics with translation will be available on Michela’s website at www.michelamusolino.com
The folk songs of Sicily are engaging, and Musolino interprets them with a bouyant, smooth, relaxed style. Some, like “U Metiri” and “Figghia di’n Massaru,” are even sung a capella, presumably in a traditional way that emphasizes the story and message of the song. Another, “Quantu Basilico,” is sung only with percussion and is described as “a love song?…or a teasing chant between a man and a woman?” Straightforward instrumental work enhances the lyrical nature of this folk music.
The earthy roots music of Sicily is enthralling, and it was a pleasure to discover it on this album. Michela Musolino’s debut album shows that she is consummate performer, as well as folklorist. The efforts of her research have paid off with bountiful rewards on “Songs of Trinacria,” an album that celebrates the Sicilian people and their way of life. While folk songs such as “Abbobbo” and “Mi Votu e Mi Rivotu” have been also interpreted and recorded previously by such artists as Cecila Pitino, one should never tire of these beautiful melodic favorites sung to tastefully-rendered nylon-string guitar.
The full trio of Musolino, Antico and Montuori hopes to tour in 2004 to bring Sicilian roots music to audiences throughout the U.S. Michela feels that this music belongs to the whole world, and she is a performer who is proud of her heritage, and she is working hard to perpetuate her musical traditions. A Sicilian proverb states, “Cu gaddu e senza gaddu, diu fa journa,” which means to “give credit where credit is due.” Michela Musolino deserves much credit for her efforts.
Every so often a new talent comes along on the broad folk/acoustic/roots scene that demands to be heard. "the-low-country" definitely come under that category, despite their having been together for considerably less than a year they are already making an impact and have been noticed on the strength of their first promo and live performances.
Despite not having yet released an album or any singles for that matter they have had air play from the likes of John Peel and Virgin Radio. Now some of you might be put off by the "alt-country" label, sometimes it appears that bands these days who have picked up that label (or its alter-ego "Americana") seem to have little connection with the tradition that you might expect from the label - or if they do its damned hard to hear it.
However in the case of the-low-country that is clearly not the case, not only do the band play classic American songs such as Stephen Fosters "oh Susannah" as well as any other versions I've heard, adding their own styles and skills, listening to it you'd be surprised to learn that the band are based in Cambridge (UK), they also perform fine songs of their own making which easily sit well next to the more "traditional" material.
On the basis of listening to their demo I made the effort on a sunday afternoon to catch one of their London performances at come down and meet the folks, in Camden. On this occasion the band were providing an all too brief support slot for the excellent local cajun/bluegrass trio The Rosinators. Whilst the set was a short one, the band provided the same mixture of covers, and their own material that has been aired, however Emily Barkers vocals combined with the backing fiddle, and guitar quickly won over an audience that were by and large present for the main act, the only drawback of their set was its length (they played their allocated time), however you cant complain too much about the support act at a free event really.
However don't take my word for it, the band have put a number of mp3's up on their site download them and have a listen, and if they are playing anywhere near you go see the real thing. At the moment the quartet are working towards their first release which hopefully should be accompanied by another tour closer to the summer - watch this space and expect to hear more about this band.
N.B Come Down and Meet the Folks is a free event held on an early evening in Camden, despite being held in a crowded pub its even had the likes of Laura Cantrell popping in and doing a few songs on her way past. If your free on a sunday afternoon good music is garunteed - Country/Bluegrass/Cajun/Singer-Songwriters and more..
Due West "These Boots"
Native & Fine Records 906-6
1185 Solano Ave., PMB #157, Albany, CA. 94706
www.nativeandfinerecords.com Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Total playing time - 40:07
Song Listing: 1). These Boots Were Made For Walking 2).Virginia Rose 3).Dakota 4).The Heart That You Own 5).The Good Times We Never Had 6).Sandy Marsh 7).Fast Ruby (The Slowest Mule) 8). Does My Ring Burn Your Finger? 9).Gotta Travel On 10).Mexicali Moonshine 11).Are You Alone 12).Cumberland Furnace 13).Traveling The Highway Home
Due West is a contemporary bluegrass band with some hot pickers: Jim Nunally (guitar), Erik Thomas (mandolin), Bill Evans (banjo), Chad Manning (fiddle) and Cindy Browne (bass). They open this project with a bouncy rendition of Nunally singing “These Boots Are Made For Walking,” a classic rock song made famous by Nancy Sinatra. Nunally probably does his best vocally on his own self-penned and bluesy “The Good Times We Never Had” and hard-driving but folksy “Gotta Travel On.” The band’s other lead singer is Erik Thomas who sings five of the songs. He offers a contemporary love song (Virginia Rose), a Dwight Yoakam country cover (The Heart That You Own), a haunting modal tune (Does My Ring Burn Your Finger?), and some traditional numbers (Are You Alone, Traveling the Highway Home). Nunally and Thomas both have pleasant bluegrass voices, with Nunally singing with considerable energy and oomph, but I wouldn't call either of them knock-your-socks-off singers.
The band is quite successful by virtue of their instrumental prowess and journeyman attention to technique and arrangement. All the band members pick cleanly and with a togetherness that strives for a good cohesive band sound. Guitar playing has been in Nunally’s family for three generations. Jim was awarded a Grammy certification for his playing on the 1996 bluegrass album of the year “True Life Blues: The Songs of Bill Monroe.” He also plays with John Reischman and the Jaybirds. From Virginia, Bill Evans is one of the nation’s top banjo players, having established his reputation playing in such bands as Cloud Valley, Dry Branch Fire Squad, and Bluegrass Intentions. He also does a solo show called “The Banjo in America.” Evans’ unique style exhibits creativity and innovation. California native Erik Thomas is known for his work with Feather River, The Bluegrass Philharmonic, Brushy Peak, and the Erik Thomas Band. He’s won several mandolin contests and has recorded on albums for various bay area bluegrass musicians. Chad Manning first learned to play fiddle in Spokane, and subsequently won numerous contests. Chad has been a member of the Scott Nygaard Band, and he has played gigs with many others. Manning, Nunally and Evans all currently play in the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience. Finally, bassist Cindy Browne has performed and recorded with several well-known jazz artists, and at festivals throughout the world. She also performs with guitarist Mimi Fox, and tours with Wake the Dead. She holds a Masters Degree in classical/jazz performance from Washington State University, gives private lessons, and teaches at Las Positas College in Livermore, California.
Despite the high quality of bluegrass out west, that region has often had somewhat of an image problem within the eyes of the national bluegrass community. Due West is yet another example that shows that Californians are quite capable of skillfully picking as well as the players Back East. Due West’s greatness and technical credibility are most apparent when one tunes into their multi-hued instrumental palate. Original compositions like Bill Evans’ “Dakota” and Erik Thomas’ “Mexicali Moonshine” really allow these string wizards to shine. Chad Manning’s medley of a Celtic-sounding “Sandy Marsh” followed by new-timey “Fast Ruby (The Slowest Mule)” is another instrumental highlight of this project.
The White Book (Inside Communications)
The first time I saw The White Book I thought I’d gone to Heaven. I was working at Stage One Music alongside Johnny Jones putting together tours for Fairport Convention and Capercaille etc. To say that this particular publication was God sent would be more than an understatement. OK so there are other publications of a similar nature but for all round coverage The White Book is the British music industry equivalent of the Bible. If you’re an agent then you’ll know what to expect - if you haven’t got a copy then you’ll be cruelly ignoring your clients. On the other hand, if you’re an artist looking down the road at trying to make you’re first million then I suggest you purchase a copy of this handsome tome. There’s 974 pages (!) packed with every detail of ‘the business’ you could wish to encounter. A quick glance at the contents will leave you drooling in gibbering delight as you run your beady eyes over the concise and easily accessible sections which include contacts for Arts Councils, Associations, Agents & Managers, Artistes, Radio Stations, Record Companies, TV Stations and Venues…the list is endless! In fact, there’s not a stone unturned in The White Book’s quest to provide their customers with the best ‘event’ reference source in the country. If this review hasn’t sated your appetite for more knowledge and, I know it’s a lot of money to invest in one purchase (£90.00) then the extra bonus of The Little White Book (a handy pocket size telephone and E Mail address book with all the contacts) plus the members only access to The White Book website which is regularly updated will be enough to persuade you to part with your hard earned dosh. Seek out and you will be enlightened! For more details check out the website at www.thewhitebook.co.uk
Kane's River "Same River Twice"
Playing Time – 53:40
Songs – 1. Same River Twice, 2.,This Little Town, 3. A Far Cry, 4. Let It Slide, 5. Richmond, 6. Foisted Possum, 7. Wind In The Wires, 8. Jerusalem's Choir, 9. So Long, Sally Johnson 10. Stars And Stones, 11. Hey Spikedriver, 12. Upstream, 13. Listening To The Rain, 14. Sailing Nowhere, 15. False Hearted Lover's Blues
Original songs from four of the five members of Kane’s River make up the
majority of their third album, “Same River Twice,” a title inspired by a
quote from Greek philosopher Heraclitus who used paradoxes to demonstrate
that the world is in a constant state of flux. He argued that even the hills
were changing, just too slowly for people to readily notice. His “same old
river” metaphor can also be applied to bluegrass music. Because bluegrass is
flowing, growing and in a state of flux, it is impossible to ever step into
the same river of music twice. Kane’s River’s approach has been fluid, and
each of their three albums have built on their last. The Kane’s River
channel and direction have remained, although the water that flows within
has developed continually. Those who study the principles and laws of the
universe will agree that this Montana-based band’s cosmic balance is moving
them quickly towards bluegrass stardom.
Kane’s River is John Lowell (guitar), Julie Elkins (banjo, guitar), David Thompson (bass), Ben Winship (mandolin), and Jason Thomas (fiddle). All but Thomas are the band’s vocalists and songwriters. Other featured songsmiths on this project include Mike and Jan Dowling, David Francey, Donald Devanney and Tony Furtado. Formed in 1994, the band, originally known as “Deep River,” changed their name in 1999 to avoid confusion with another band calling itself “Deep River.” Kane Fisher, an eccentric Montana mountain man, is the band’s namesake, and its members have previous experience with such notable bluegrass groups as Loose Ties, Wheel Hoss, and New Vintage. Since their last album, Kane’s River’s mandolinist, Jerry Nettuno, appears to have left the band and has been replaced by Ben Winship.
Kane’s River has a contemporary bluegrass sound with influences of folk, blues, Celtic, jazz and world music. “Hey Spikedriver” has a driving classic bluegrass feel while “Sailing Nowhere” incorporates Winship’s octave mandolin and a lyrical Celtic melody. “Richmond” is a folksy ballad with a common theme of longing for home. Just when you think you’ve got them pegged, a twisted instrumental like “Foisted Possum” is slyly inserted into the program. Impressively, the band showcases three lead vocalists with Elkins, Lowell and Winship.
Kane’s River has a knack for innovative bluegrass. Their original music is skillful and clever, and the five musicians demonstrate a superior ability to present it in an intelligent, listener-friendly fashion. I just hope that this band’s eclectic nature doesn’t, in fact, hurt them from developing a prime signature sound that is immediately recognizable as Kane’s River. They clearly can do it all, and “Same River Twice” emphasizes the fact that Kane’s River is a total package. They’re on the move, and despite the laws of gravity, Kane’s River is flowing upward to new heights. If they gain inspiration from philosophy, we should recall that Heraclitus also argued that fire was the primal substance from which the universe and all matter formed. We see that fire still burning today in the music of Kane’s River.
Kane's River - Kane’s River
Doobie Shea Records DS-CD-4003
Playing time - 38:36
Songs: 1. This Whole World, 2.Billy Austin, 3.All That's Left For Me, 4.Talk to God, 5.The Sea of South Dakota, 6.The Calm Before the Storm, 7.Take Me Back Home, 8.Pray For Rain, 9.Cole Younger, 10. Scowlin' John, 11.In Your Hands
Montana may not be considered a bluegrass hotbed, but that is home for a quartet calling itself Kane’s River. Originally known as “Deep River,” the band was formed in 1994. They changed their name in 1999 to avoid confusion with another band performing under that name. Kane’s River refers to an eccentric Montana mountain man named Kane Fisher. The band now includes four veteran musicians who have cut their teeth with some fine groups. Guitarist John Lowell played with Loose Ties and Wheel Hoss. Mandolinist Jerry Nettuno was formerly with Highstrung. Banjo-player Julie Elkins has professional performance experience with Wheel Hoss and New Vintage. Along with John, bassist Dave Thompson is an original member and co-founder of Kane’s River. Once the group’s lineup was solidified, they decided to get more serious and expand their horizons. Doobie Shea Records’ Tim Austin heard the band and asked them to record this project for his label. Guest artists include Rob Ickes (dobro-4 cuts), Jason Thomas (fiddle-9 cuts), and Dan Tyminski (conga-1 cut, rhythm guitar-1 cut)
Besides having highly proficient musicians, the trick to a band creating a signature sound is to find good new, refreshing material, and then to arrange and present it in a creative way. Of the album’s eleven songs, all but two are originals. The album’s optimistic opener, “This Whole World,” is a driving song that challenges one to seize the day. “All That’s Left For Me” has a catchy bluegrass melody, and Julie Elkins’ delivers it in a fine workmanlike style with her delicate and airy voice. The band is equally comfortable with original bluegrass gospel material, “Talk to God” and “In Your Hands.” A smooth rendition of “Sea of South Dakota” is an excellent showcase of the band’s vocal harmonies, while their sizzling instrumental prowess shines on “Scowlin’ John.” Being from the wide open west, it seems appropriate that John Lowell sings a couple tunes about outlaws, Steve Earle’s "Billy Austin" and the traditional ballad, "Cole Younger." The original, “Take Me Back Home,” presents a common bluegrass theme, but from the perspective of residents of the Bitter Root State (Montana) with its images of fence posts, hills, a barn, tractor, wind, trees, family and the big sky. Lowell’s low tenor and Nettuno’s baritone lay in nicely below Elkins’ lead vocals on this folksy piece. And perhaps the strongest original is Lowell’s “Pray for Rain,” in which a failing relationship and burning bridges are in need of rain to heal the wounds.
Kane’s River is an excellent band with a lot of imagination stemming from the band members’ varied influences. With the same pioneer spirit of Montana’s early settlers, they are resourceful in their approach to music. Their songs are clever, and the band’s presentation of them is exhilarating. Clearly, Kane’s River enjoys writing, arranging and playing music as an artistic and creative outlet as much as their fans will thrill in listening to it on this well-produced debut album.
enq - "Tear Down The Barriers"
"enq" are a Bedfordshire based quintet who have been on the scene since 2000 having coming together apparantly on the basis of a chance conversation between two to be members, Vicky Brown and Brian Heywood. They describe their music as a fusion of funk, rock and folk with a dance orientation, quite possibly the source of their album's title "tear down the barriers". Certainly when hearing the description the band have for their music, I tended to doubt that the mixture would work or that one element or other would eclipse the others, this proved not the case at all and the band and the description more than do each other justice.
The Album itself consists of a mixture of traditional tunes given the enq treatment and self composed material (largely by Brian Heywood), and a combination of instrumentals and songs. The vocals mainly being provided by Sean Devlin, the exception being the solitary song "drunk on the moon" where Brown puts her fiddle down, a shame she doesnt display this talent a tad more often, but not at the cost of her fiddling eh?
The 12 track cd starts pretty much as it intends to continue with the self composed "rabbit out of a hat", with a steady funky build up to a sharp lesson in Vicky Brown's not inconsiderable fiddle abilities. These happen to much in evidence throughout the offering on tracks such as the traditional tunes "The open window" and "the musicial priest", which are contrasted slightly in style with the songs such as "the reverend sharpton" and "the wind is howling", tending to be slightly slower than the instrumentals, this was however rather a convenient moment to give the feet a rest.
On reflection some of the best material on the cd are the instrumentals, not because there is anything particularly wrong with the vocal tracks, either Devlins or Browns, but simply because they bring out what the band seem to be best at: good quality dance roots music, really something they should be far better known for as well - why arent they?
Quite why the band arent on the schedule of a number of festivals this year on the basis of some of this material escapes me, but I assume the band will be putting that right next year?
In the meantime I hope the band wont take so long to produce the follow up to this debut, however it is a shame that there is little information, source of tunes, lyrics etc on the inlay card but thats hardly crucial to enjoying the CD really.
For further information about the band, clips and dates etc visit their website at www.enq.org.uk
George Shuffler & Laura Boosinger - Mountain Treasures
Copper Creek Records CCCD-0217
www.coppercreekrec.com Email: email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org
Total Playing Time - 43:47
1. Lonesome Road Blues, 2. Little Annie, 3. Cluck Old Hen, 4. Will The Circle Be Unbroken, 5. Grave In The Pines, 6. Down In The Valley, 7. Rabbit In The Log, 8. Little Georgia Rose, 9. Sail Away Ladies, 10. Down In The Willow Garden, 11. Pass Me Not, 12. Red Rocking Chair, 13. Hop High Ladies
This is a pleasant duet album featuring two consummate traditional musicians. George Shuffler plays guitar and bass, while Laura Boosinger picks banjo using a clawhammer style. The songs are familiar favorites, many follow standard arrangements, but George and Laura also put their own signatures on some of these treasures by arranging “Little Annie” and “Little Georgia Rose” as instrumentals or serving up Clayton McMichen’s obscure version of “In the Pines” with their rendition of “Grave in the Pines.”
North Carolinian George Shuffler is best known as the man who made the guitar solo an integral part of the “Stanley Sound” when he was with The Stanley Brothers in the fifties and early sixties. After Carter’s death in 1966, he worked with Ralph for a short time, then joined Don Reno and Bill Harrell until 1970 when he formed the Shuffler Family Band with his brothers and children, playing traditional southern gospel music. In 1996, Shuffler received IBMA’s Distinguished Achievement Award. In 1999, he came out of retirement to work with Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys, playing bass (replacing Jack Cooke for several months, when Jack had health problems).
For nearly 20 years, Laura Boosinger has entertained and taught at concerts, workshops and schools throughout the east. As an indication of her avid interest and devotion to traditional music, Laura earned a degree in traditional music and old-time banjo from Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, NC. For thirteen years, Laura performed with the Luke Smathers String Band.
Shuffler and Boosinger have a nice sound together, their vocal and guitar/banjo/bass blend well-suited to traditional mountain music. This album conjures pleasant images of an evening of front porch picking at a cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Cliff Waldron & The New Shades of Grass "A Little Ways Down the Road" Rebel Records REB-CD-1791
Rebel Records, PO Box 7405, Charlottesville, VA 22906
Total Playing Time - 37:07
Track Listing: 1)You’re Not the Same Girl, 2)My Favorite Time of the Day, 3)A Little Ways Down the Road, 4)God Walks the Dark Hills, 5)An Axe to Grind, 6)My Sarah Jane, 7)Home, 8)I Would Like to See You Again, 9)She’s Gone Gone Gone, 10)Why Not Confess, 11)Only Trust Him, 12)A Little Past Little Rock
In the late sixties, Virginian Cliff Waldron began playing guitar professionally with Bill Emerson (as part of “Emerson and Waldron”), recording for Rebel Records, and having a bluegrass hit with Manfred Mann’s song entitled "Fox on the Run." Waldron worked briefly with The Shenandoah Cutups before fronting The New Shades of Grass from 1968-74, a group that recorded seven albums for Rebel. In 1974, he started a career with the National Park Service that would span 22 years. After retiring, he returned to playing, singing and recording bluegrass and gospel music, and Waldron has released two solo albums, as well as a gospel album with Paul Williams, in recent years.
Besides Waldron, this latest project features Nevin Lambert (mandolin and vocals), Steve Spence (bass and vocals), Billy Wheeler (banjo), Mark Clifton (dobro), Doug Bartlett (fiddle), and Dale Perry (vocals). These pickers all hail from Virginia, and Billy Wheeler actually played banjo in an earlier lineup of The New Shades of Grass from thirty years ago. Their rendition of “My Saro Jane” on this project shows that Wheeler hasn’t lost any of his chops. Waldron’s voice may have matured a little over the years, but he still sings traditional bluegrass with a great deal of heartfelt sentiment and sincerity. Nevin Lambert sings the lead on one cut, I Would Like To See You Again. The band’s choice of material ranges from the traditional (My Saro Jane) to a bluegrassy cover of Karla Bonoff’s “Home.” The title track presents a new song by noted bluegrass songwriter Leroy Drumm. And, of course, gospel material is always a large part of any Cliff Waldron album. Every track offers 3- or 4-part harmony, and it might’ve been nice to hear the band really tear up a hard-driving instrumental tune. These guys know how to lay it down right, and fans of traditional bluegrass reminiscent of the sixties will be especially pleased.
Tom Pacheco and Rosie Wilby - Live at the Spitz (28th April 2003)
Billed as an double bill night featuring singer songwriters Tom Pacheco and Rosie Wilby the Spitz excelled in this double booking of two outstanding singer-songwriters. For those who are unfamiliar with the Spitz it lies on the edge of the City of London, and the friendly candlelit venue is the ideal setting for acoustic acts, not least because the audience actually want to listen which makes a refreshing change from other venues that shall remain nameless.
Rosie Wilby the "support act" for the night probably lost out a little bit by the length by Tom Pachecos slot which took up the bulk of the evening. Despite the strength of Toms set that in and of itself was a shame. Wilby is an acoustic singer-songwriter who has been active on the scene in London and further afield over the last few years. During that time she has been compared to a range of artists including Thea Gilmore, Beth Orton, Kd Lang etc and I would add to those a slight dose of Christine Collister in Wilbys soulful and slightly silky vocal style. On the evening itself Wilby seemed slightly more confident when expressing herself through her songs than when addressing the audience, who she jokingly chided for a lack of rowdiness. Accompanied simply by her guitar and gentle but firm singing Wilby's songs delved into her insights into the human experience, emotions, relationships and simply being forming the subject matters of her songs. One thing that did come over through her set and through her recordings is that her style has changed over the last couple of years, not so much the upbeat summery pop that was more in evidence a few years ago, but more of a reflective style perhaps. The only downside of Wilbys performance was its length, no fault of her own I hasten to add due to the length of time Pacheco played, hopefully she'll be back at the Spitz before too long in the headline slot.
Wilby is at the moment working towards the release of her second album, and is previewing songs from that at the moment during her live performances, in the meantime her debut has found its home in very close promixity to my CD deck. Rosie Wilby should achieve the recognition of other British Singer Songwriters such as Boo Hewerdene, Eddi Reader as she continues to develop her career and the audience for her songs grows. As Tom Pacheco said as he finished his set Rosie Wilby is likely to be a name you will hear again and rightly so.
Tom Pacheco is a long standing US singer-songwriter who's career can be dated back to the mid sixties, when he started writing and performing his own material. Since that time he has toured across the states and Europe, written hundreds of songs, recorded numerous albums and collaborated with a wide range of artists.
Pachecos set on the evening opened up with a burst of acoustic guitar that was slightly reminisce of Springsteen's more folky offerings, with the song "One Heart" with nicely lay the scene for what was to follow. As well as being a story teller of ability there is also an underlying social awareness and conscience laying underneath Pachecos work, whilst constantly seeping into both his songs and tales which covered a range of issues ranging from injustices in the past (the US colonisation of Cuba), the situation that the working people find themselves in now to the tragic story of a race horse and its mistreatment. None of these songs were platitudes however, each were sung and treated with the sincerity (and intensity) that they deserved. Pacheco's style went from the simple (but to the point) style of the contemporary "Not in my Name", the song which got him arrested to the more reflective "There was a time", the title track of his latest album. It seemed at one point no issue would remain uncovered in Pacheco's set nor that he would finish his it before the venue had to close. Still having written around 2500 songs over his career he had plenty to choose from, how precisely he manages to remember that many, never mind write them escapes me!
One thing that is suprising is that Tom Pacheco hasnt "achieved" the same level of acknowledgement of some of his peers, but its quite possible he doesnt seek it, and his not inconsiderable recordings, songs and other achievements speak as well as any accolades from the "industry".
No doubt Pacheco will return to these shores with his guitar in tow in the not too distant future, catch him live when he does, live Pacheco is easily one of the best American roots singer-songwriters on the circuit and a damned fine entertainer. I doubt very much whether anyone left the Spitz that evening havent had anything less that a darned fine evening in the company of two fine singer-songwriters.
For more details of Tom Pacheco see his website at www.tompacheco.com and to find out where Rosie Wilby is appearing next and for details of her forthcoming release check out www.wilbymusic.freeserve.co.uk
To check the Spitz's forthcoming events check out the venues website at www.spitz.co.uk.
Open Book - "Out of Time"
Open Book are acoustic duo Michelle Rubin and Rick Gedney based in New York. As a duo they have been playing together for four years after meeting at an open mic in the City and since that time they have played in support for (amongst others) Buddy and Julie Miller, Lucy Kaplansky and Ian Matthews to name artists familiar to readers this side of the pond. Whilst both had been regular faces on the acoustic scene in New York for some time, their paths came together when Rubin asked Gedney to provide Mandolin backing for one of her gigs and a partnership was formed, over time. With Gedney developing his songwriting skills the duo balance and build on each others musical and writing skills, with both playing a part in writing and composing their own material.
"Out of Time" is the duos first release and is the result of the process of the pair coming together musically, a process that is very much in evidence throughout the 12 track CD. Rubin and Gedney share both lead vocals and songwriting throughout the recording whilst allowing their own individuality to come to the fore in the individual songs. In the case of Rubins song writing in particular (but reflected in Gedneys too) there are strong poetic and contemplative threads running throughout which is reflected in tracks particularly as "Everything has changed" and "Downstream".
The first and title track of the CD provides a gentle but firm indication of what is to follow, Rubins smooth and silky vocals weave well with the string backing and Gedneys backing vocals . The duo have a tendancy of making every word sound sincere, clearly the love the duo have of their craft comes through. The songs themselves are deceptively simple whilst at the same revealing hidden depths, all of which are self penned (the one exception being "Minstrel" written by associate Kris Barthelmess).
This is one of these CD's with hidden depths, and deserves to be listened to again and again to strip away the different layers, a reflection perhaps of how well the whole thing hangs together. Often writing about bands its helpful (to the reader) to provide some kind of reference point. However in this case I couldnt think of such a comparison, whilst there are clearly influences the duo are clearly their own artists. Sadly Open Book have no plans at the moment to visit the UK but hopefully they will pay a visit in the not too distant future.
The Jenny Kerr Band - "Itch"
Itch is the debut CD of San Francisco Native Jenny Kerr and her band. Over the last couple of years Kerr has been making an impression in the California area and on the European mainland where she has been a hit on the festival and venue circuit..
Multi-instrumentalist Kerr herself traces her musical roots and influences to the likes of Dylan, Muddy Waters and more. Certainly her style is a mixture of the above and Delta Blues, traditional country and country rock all of which are mixed to create a very pleasant blend.
The CD consists of 8 mainly self penned tunes ranging in style from upbeat country rock to blues tinged slower songs (the only track that is not one of Kerrs own is the Bobby Gentry song Missipi Delta). Despite the songs being self penned and contemporary they also have a a classic and traditional feel to them, a particularly good example of this is "Tijuana Waltz" that feels like that it wouldnt be out of place on any southern dancefloor.
Kerrs skills as a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, banjo and harmonica) are much in evidence on this debut along with her not inconsiderable writing skills, it seems highly likely that Kerr will be a "name" on the Americana/alt-country scene in the not too distant future and the audience she already has in her native California and elsewhere in Europe will spread to the UK.
Outstanding debut from what must be a thoroughly enjoyable and varied live show of which you can get a feel for on Kerr's website here. The only criticism is its length (we do tend to be greedy these days dont we!), but that said Kerr and the Band have produced this on their own label and clearly intend to remain true to the music rather be subject to the whims of a major label. Good for them and good for us. Check the website out for further details at www.jennykerr.com.
This is the second offering of Nick Burbridge's reformed McDermotts Two Hours accompanied by members of an outfit known as the Levellers, namely Charlie Heather on percussion and Jeremy Cunningham on bass guitar. For the McDermotts they are joined for this recording by Ben Paley who is well known in his right on the folk circuit (Ben Paley and Tab Hunter) on fiddle and backing vocals, they are also accompanied at various points concertina, banjo, trumpet, ukelele, whistle.
'Disorder' consists of 12 tracks and runs up an hour on the old CD display, the tracks are all written and composed by Nick Burbridge and whilst by no means identical follow a similar route to the 2003 release 'Claws and Wings', it certainly has both the same intensity and variety of both feeling and focus.
Burbridges songwriting is a mixture of putting contemporary events and not so contemporary into song and giving them a human feel, such as the recall of the events of a certain dark day in 1972 'Bloody Sunday' or 'Black Sun', an account of the killing of globalisation protestor Carlo Giuliani during the Genoa demonstrations, to less specific but no less to the point poetic songs such as 'The Old Man's Retreat', Paley's fiddling and guest John Brewins whistle provide an atmospheric backdrop to Burbridges vocal and story telling. As well as being able to put his perspectives and concerns for social justice to words and tune (an obvious and fully acknowledged influence for the Levellers), Burbridge is just a damned fine songwriter and some of those included on this CD are little short of classics, of all those included here worthy of mention 'The Madness of John Clare', 'Marys lying down with a soldier' and 'Watering the Wine' stand slightly above the others as testiment to Burbridges skills as a songwriter, easily one of the best offerings hencefar in 2004.
Apparantley the McDermotts will be accompanying the Acoustic Levellers on tour (2005), well worth make the effort to catch the tour even if you wouldnt otherwise think of doing so.
For more details visit www.burbridgearts.org which includes a couple of full length tracks.
McDermotts 2 Hours vs Levellers - Claws and Wings
First things to do here perhaps is to clarify the name of the "band", as you may have guessed (or not) those well known Brighton folk rockers are playing a role here, the other component of the name is made of Brighton based former folk outfit "McDermotts 2 Hours". Or to be more precise two fifths of the Levellers, Charlie Heather and Jeremy Cunningham, and the founding members of the McDermotts, Nick Burbridge and Tim O'leary.
Listening to the album you might think that twas the Levellers lyrical and musical style that influenced the McDermotts, tis not so, the McDermotts were writing and playing when the aforementioned were simply a glint in the eye of squat resident or two. Now most of the people reading this would have heard (I hope) the Levellers "Dirty Davey", easily one of their best - well it was in fact a cover of a McDermott song, and is probably a good indicator of some of the material on this CD. Now that is not to say say or indicate that it is composed of 12 tracks that are clones of each other far from it.
Barely has the CD itself been slotted into place than an enthusiastic burst of fiddle opens up with "Song of a Leveller", a belter of a folk song that surprisingly enough has the original levellers (not the band) as its subject. Yet at the same time as producing some of the best folk rock with a celtic twinge that Ive heard the CD also includes slower material such as "song of a brother", along with slightly haunting material such as "stor mo chroi" right through to more Irish material such as "travelling to cockaigne", reminding this writer ever so slightly of Goats Dont Shave. The CD closed almost exactly as opened with another strong dose of Irish tinged Folk Rock "Murphy's Wake".
Something else that flows right through the CD is the songwriting style which also reflects exactly the range of social issues that you would expect from a recording associated with the Levellers in anyway. From the plight and desperation of refugees as expressed in "Asylum", the impact of the loss of industry on working class communities and their lives in "North and South", hints of the "troubles" in Murphys Wake and expressions of human experiences. All the songs here were written by the McDermotts Nick Burbridge and its extremely easy to see how the Levellers style of writing and playing were influenced here (something they acknowledge).
In order to purchase a copy of the album you will need to visit the levellers site and click on the mercendise page. Well worth the investment, as the chance of seeing the band perform live also seems fairly slim too, on the strength of this the McDermotts are the band folk rock forgot - a tragedy, one can only hope that with the release of this they find the time to at least play a few gigs!
For further information or should you be unable to find the CD in your local Capitalist outlet email First Column Management.
NB Nick Burbridge has a new website at www.burbridgearts.org.
Beverly Smith and Carl Jones - Moving Lightly Through This World
Old-timey musicians Carl Jones and Beverly Smith are regulars on the
traditional music circuit, and they even tour internationally with upcoming
spring tours to France and the United Kingdom in the works. This debut
project, recorded during the quiet late-night hours at Carl's Dittyville,
North Carolina farmhouse, gives the duo a chance to illustrate the breadth
of their instrumental and vocal talents on a combination of traditional and
some original material. Beverly sings, and plays guitar, fiddle, and
autoharp. Carl sings, and plays guitar, mandolin, fiddle and banjo. The
songs they chose to put on this collection range from the Carter Family to
Jimmie Rogers, Wade Mainer to obscure Library of Congress recordings by the
likes of Charles Ingenthron. Three rousing fiddle tunes in the key of A
originate from West Virginia. I especially enjoyed hearing Carl's four
original songs, new-timey tunes with old-timey personalities. The title cut
is a fingerpicked and bluesy call to love, give, and set your cares and
troubles aside. Their vocal duet is tighter on "The Last Real Kiss" with its
message to cherish special moments because it's said that all good things
eventually may come to an end. That song has a good potential for being
covered by country or bluegrass bands. Carl gives a heartfelt rendition of
his "The Queen of the Night," a song of encouragement and support when one
reaches their darkest times. "A.P." is a tribute to song-collector Alvin
Pleasant Carter and member of the famous Carter Family. Just as Sara Carter
might have done, Beverly Smith adds some beautiful autoharp accompaniment to
On this album, Beverly and Carl sing with pleasant close parallel harmony, staying true to this genre's form. Old-time music need not be considered a genre that is out of date, with obsolete sounds and messages. "Moving Lightly Through This World" shows how a couple of talented multi-instrumentalists can breathe some new life into this simple and quaint, yet powerful, music. They have an authentic rural sound that celebrates yesteryear, and their songs elicit nostalgic images or give us inspirational messages that simply make us feel good. For this, I thank them for keeping the old-time tradition alive. Lester Flatt once said, "It used to be that a band was just a fiddle and a banjo." There's no reason that it still can't be that way.
Over the last few years Old Time American Music/bluegrass and the like have appeared to have had a slight renaissance with numerous compilations based on "O Brother" etc, needless to say this doesnt in reality reflect reality. Needless to say those in the know would point out that Bluegrass/Old time Music has never gone away, and whilst it might not have been at the front of shelves in High Street stores its health has never been in doubt .
It is the likes of Beverly Smith and Carl Jones that show that clearly, both have been active on the Old Time circuit for a number of years, Smith has toured across the US and Europe as part of the Heartbeats Rhythm Quartet, as well as later playing in trad trio "Big Hoedown" with Bruce Molsky and Rafe Stefanini along with teaching, calling, songwriting and other activities on the circuit. Carl Jones has a similarly impressive background in the old time world as well as being increasingly known as a songwriter (some of his work is featured on the CD), has taught at Port Townsends Festival of American Fiddle Tunes amongst other places, as well as being well a well known figure on the old time festival circuit.
The above details should indicate the experience and knowledge of the duo in the old time genre which is also reflected on their first duo release "Moving Lightly through this world". The Album itself consists of 18 tracks and packs those tracks into just over an hours worth of largely traditional material. The material itself is varied and ranges from Carter Family songs, West Virginia Fiddle tunes, Jimmie Rodgers songs and four of Jones own compositions (which sit very well next to the traditional material). The duo accompanied themselves with fiddle, fingerpicking guitar, mandolin, banjo and vocals, including some fine duets and the material ranges in style from the bluegrass fiddle tunes to more bluesy songs as well as Jones inspiring offerings.
If you havent heard heard a great deal of Old Time American roots music then this is a darned good place to start, and if you are familiar with the area you will enjoy this offering by two fine musicians well schooled in their art and clearly inspired by it.
The duo are appearing at a few festivals (and other venues) in UK in mid to late August. Their confirmed dates at the time of writing are:
August 13-14th - Broadstairs Folk Week, Kent
August 22-25th - Towersey Village Folk Festival
August 29-31st - Debby McClatchy's Old Time Weekend, Matlock
Legends of the Incredible Lap Steel Guitar - Compilation
Tis often the case that folk/roots "compilations" tend to consist of a few nuggets, perhaps a few worthy of already known artists and little else of value, or alternatively they consist of a rehash of material that has been thrown together and easily accessible elsewhere. The first thing to be said of
this compilation doesnt fall into either bracket.
"Legends of the Incredible Lap Steel Guitar" is a compilation celebrating (as you might imagine by its title) the lap steel guitar and its influence on roots music.
The 14 mostly instrumental tracks consist of a range journeying from traditional old time blues to more contemporary country fare whilst detouring through swing and Hawaiian Hula, each a classic in their own right. In fact the CD is more than a celebration of the steel guitar but is also a journey through the acoustic and roots music of North America and further afield.
Now I plead guilty too not having heard of many of the artists featured on the album but the fact that between them the list of collaborations includes Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, Hank Snow indicates the quality of the material and of the artists included.
The two highlights of an excellant compilation were (as far I was concerned) were Ken Emersons "Ka Loke De La Corazon", Hawaiian style steel guitar and Cindy Cashdollars "Locust Grove", far too easy to drift off into distant landscapes and horizons during the course of this track. Indeed it has to said that as a whole the album is excruciantly easy to lose yourself into, many a dreamy sunday afternoon could be spent in its company.
The compilers have excelled themselves with this release and whether you already have an interest in the steel guitar or not this album would be an excellant addition to your collection. At the present time the CD is only available via mail order, for information check out Horse Rock Records for ordering information.
Liz Simcock - "Seven Sisters Road"
North London based singer-songwriter Liz Simcock has just released her debut album named after one of Londons busy arteries. Simcock has been a regular feature on Londons acoustic scene for the last six years making regular appearances at some folk clubs and Soho's Poetry Cafe. The album consists of 12 self penned songs, drawing on Simcocks reflections on personal relationships, the world around her, One of the highlights of the album is "Forty Years", Simcock accompanies her singing with some wonderfully atmospheric and sensitive penny whistling, a tale of betrayed and false love, of betrayed loyalties, deception and the complexities of human relationships, which brings to the fore Simcocks intelligent and insightful songwriting. Simcock cites a number of influences on her music from Christine Collister, to Bob Dylan via Billy Bragg, Richard Thompson Nancy Griffith and Eddi Reader, whilst some of these influences can be seen Simcock is a talent in very much her own right.
The album draws on Simcocks strength as a singer and guitarist (with guest appearances by Dave Ellis on Acoustic guitar, Jake Walker on viola and Gary Brady on percussion, but the album is very much Simcocks own), in these days when from time to time the label "singer-songwriter" can be pretty darned vague Simcock's debut offering is a fine contribution.
It would be interesting to see Simcock to put her clear skills to play on some traditional material, I suspect the results would be impressive, that aside this album is an excellant debut. This is an album that deserves to be played again and again, each listening will reveal further depth. Its going to be a good long time before my copy moves too far away from my player.
For more information and for details on ordering her Cd check out Simcocks Website, which includes some mp3's which should persuade you to part with some money.
"Dawnbird" Loscoe State Opera
So far I've not had the pleasure of catching this lot live, but having read a few reviews scattered around the internet and having received an email from the band suggesting that I might take the time to listen to their mp3's I took the plunge and lashed out what can only be described as a well spent cheque.
Loscoe State Opera are a six piece band based in the midlands who came together, a mere three years ago in 1998, apparantly as a lets get together and see what happens weekend.
The end result is pretty unique and thoroughly enjoyable, the album opens with an atmospheric and medieval tinged flute tune, the traditional "Brian Boru" given a LSO twist, the track is given depth and the instruments fused together. This again is one of those albums that whilst varied is best taken as a whole, certainly would be difficult to pick out a best part of what is a damned fine album in its own right. Would be nice to have more information in the cds insert though.
This lot should be headlining festivals and its a pretty safe bet they will be before too long, garunteed to cause muscle spasms and involuntary foot tapping.
LSO clearly deserve to be up there with the best of the folk rock genre and (a pretty meaningless label at times)no doubt in the near future they will. Clearly in the traditional "family" but with a modern edge and their own interpretations and energy. For more information and to listen to some mp3s visit the bands site here and if you read this guys and guyesses make a trip to the Capital sooner rather than later.
Blue Horses, The Brook, Southampton, 20.10.01
There was an air of nervous anticipation at "The Brook" on Saturday for the launch party of Blue Horses' new album, "Ten Leagues Beyond World's End". Long standing (excuse the pun) guitarist Martin Standing has left the band, and this was to be the first airing in Southampton for new boy, Neil Browning.
The first shock came from a quick glance at the CD sleeve. Its Roger Dean style artwork (remember all those 70's "prog rock" album covers?) was nothing to the shock that Nik Turner from Hawkwind was a featured guest on the album. What was happening?
After listening to an over long set by an earnest and enthusiastic singer songwriter - his name as forgettable as his material - the near capacity crowd perked up for a fine set by Mary Jane, a Celtic rock outfit from Southampton, that to my shame I'd never heard of - despite the fact they've already released three albums.
Then Blue Horses hit the stage, and from the first number all our fears were allayed - it was still pure quality, pure Blue Horses. The twin fiddles of Liz Prendergast & Debs Peake cut through like ice and fire, and Neil Browning seemed to have been with the band forever.
Liz's forays into harp playing (as befits a wild Welsh woman) and mandolin, and Neil's occasional switch from guitar to button accordion, gave the gig light and shade, and the powerhouse backline of Nic Waulker & Rob Khoo were, as ever, rock solid throughout.
As this was a new album launch, it's to be expected that a lot of the material would be new to the audience, but songs like "Mad Tom's Song" derived from a traditional song (once sung by Martin Carthy as "Boys Of Bedlam," in an early incarnation of Steeleye Span) are assured of their niche in the crowd pleaser category. Another great traditional song, "Molly Bond", had new life breathed into it in a way that only Blue Horses can. However, a lot of the older familiar material was played to great effect to the delight of the crowd, many of whom were obviously diehard fans from way back.
Southsea born Debs Peake, who replaced Emily Grainger on fiddle duties, no longer has the air of the "new girl" about her. She also has a fine voice, and a quiet but assured stage presence which is a foil to the wonderfully extrovert Liz Prendergast.
The new album is a classy piece of work, with 14 superb tracks - 15 if you include the hidden track which takes you by surprise at the end! An essential addition to any collection, with the best of all manner of genres coming together like the perfect jigsaw. There just isn't anyone else who play quite like Blue Horses; they just get better and better - number one in a field of one. Do yourselves a favour, rush out and buy "Ten Leagues Beyond World's End" now - and I'll see you at the next Blue Horses gig.
CD Review - The Mayflies of Johnson County One of the increasing in "popularity" genres of music is that which comes under the label "Americana", certainly over here in the UK the number of bands described as alt-country or Americana seems to increase by the week. As often as not its pretty hard to define what "Americana" is or means when you listen to some (but by no means all) that fall under that category. Not necessarily a criticism of those concerned but perhaps an indication of the flimsiness of some labels.
The 'Mayflies' consist of four members each of whom have a wide experience of their own which comes to bear on the bands sound, bringing their own strengths to a rounded and fullsome whole. The lead vocals are provided by Stacy Webster, also playing the electric and acoustic guitarist, Annie Savage plays the fiddle and provides backing vocals, James Robinson on drums and Patrick Brickel on Bass and backing vocals.
The tracks on the EP vary from the first track "I dont know" which is upbeat and includes a definate country/bluegrass influence and strong fiddle which shows continuously through the 5 tracks, whereas the second track, the title track "Sycamore Tree" is slower, with a waltzy background. Quite possibly the highlight of what is a pretty darned fine EP is the fourth track "Caroline", an epic song which brings out the bands talents, the flexibility of Websters vocals, the strengths of Savage's fiddling and an impressive atmospheric background (without the use of any sound effects) which gives the song real feel.
Very danceable in parts and in others you will find your fingers tapping to what is a very fine, varied and darned enjoyable debut EP from a band that performs Americana\Alt-Country or whatever Label you want to use in exactly the way it should be played and they do it darned well.
One of the benefits of living in London is the variety of bands and artists that are perform here both home grown and from further afield - with a little bit of luck some point in the future the Mayflies will make their way to this side of the Atlantic. Obviously Ive never had the good fortune to see this band perform live but if this debut is anything to go by it should be an enjoyable experience.
Further information can be found about the Mayflies at their website which is just in the process of being redeveloped. This is a band that deserve success and a larger audience - if you like Country, alt-country or just plain good old fashioned quality music and well written and sung songs then check them out!.
For that reason when I received the debut EP from the Mayflies of Johnson County I listened with an open mind, and I have to say within a short space of time my ears pricked up, Americana as its supposed to and should be.
Whens the follow up Chaps and Chapettes?
One of the increasing in "popularity" genres of music is that which comes under the label "Americana", certainly over here in the UK the number of bands described as alt-country or Americana seems to increase by the week. As often as not its pretty hard to define what "Americana" is or means when you listen to some (but by no means all) that fall under that category. Not necessarily a criticism of those concerned but perhaps an indication of the flimsiness of some labels.
The 'Mayflies' consist of four members each of whom have a wide experience of their own which comes to bear on the bands sound, bringing their own strengths to a rounded and fullsome whole. The lead vocals are provided by Stacy Webster, also playing the electric and acoustic guitarist, Annie Savage plays the fiddle and provides backing vocals, James Robinson on drums and Patrick Brickel on Bass and backing vocals. The tracks on the EP vary from the first track "I dont know" which is upbeat and includes a definate country/bluegrass influence and strong fiddle which shows continuously through the 5 tracks, whereas the second track, the title track "Sycamore Tree" is slower, with a waltzy background. Quite possibly the highlight of what is a pretty darned fine EP is the fourth track "Caroline", an epic song which brings out the bands talents, the flexibility of Websters vocals, the strengths of Savage's fiddling and an impressive atmospheric background (without the use of any sound effects) which gives the song real feel.
Very danceable in parts and in others you will find your fingers tapping to what is a very fine, varied and darned enjoyable debut EP from a band that performs Americana\Alt-Country or whatever Label you want to use in exactly the way it should be played and they do it darned well.
One of the benefits of living in London is the variety of bands and artists that are perform here both home grown and from further afield - with a little bit of luck some point in the future the Mayflies will make their way to this side of the Atlantic. Obviously Ive never had the good fortune to see this band perform live but if this debut is anything to go by it should be an enjoyable experience.
Further information can be found about the Mayflies at their website which is just in the process of being redeveloped. This is a band that deserve success and a larger audience - if you like Country, alt-country or just plain good old fashioned quality music and well written and sung songs then check them out!.
Beskydy - Beskydy CD
One of the hidden treasures of London is the range of talent that exists on the folk and acoustic scene that rarely get the acclaim they deserve. Three London based bands that excel at performing Eastern European/Balkan Music are Szapora, Mukka and Beskydy, each of whom are worth looking out for.
Nine strong Beskydy perform songs and tunes from across Eastern Europe and beyond, in fact looking at the sources on their cd listing is almost like a tour around that part of Europe, from Macedonia to Hungary via Galicia and Bulgaria and taking a detour through Slovakia. The bands name itself comes from the range of mountains that run through the centre of former Czechoslovakia which according to the band has heavily influenced their musical choices whilst they turn their hand to music from a range of sources (excellantly). The first track is a Macedonian song, Jovano, Jovanke (click here to hear the song) and the range of Joanna Fosters vocal skills are further displayed in the three Slovakian songs that make up track 4, from the slow Janosik to the more up beat cheery Anicka Dusicka and A Ja Taka Dzivocka although Foster and the band manage to intertwine the tunes with sufficient skill so the songs merge as one. Again Track 9 is a duet with Accordian player, Peter Murphy, joining Foster on the Macedonian song Iz Dolu, along with some damned fine fiddling.
The range of Beskydys musical skills are illustrated well by the instrumental tracks ranging from the delightful Slovakian Waltzes (Track 5) to the slightly more manic Tropanka from Bulgaria (track 10) and onto the ordered upbeat and furious synthesis between sax, fiddle and accordian that is Tantz, Tantz Yiddelekh (a wonderful Galician Jewish tune), yet again garunteed to result in limb movement, a delightful fusion of fiddles and saxaphone, furiously creating a wonderful atmosphere one that demands a physical response.
One very minor complaint is the sleeve of the CD, it would be nice (or do I just lead a very shallow empty life) to have some information/lyrics or even translations of the songs, something about the origins of the tracks. That said its more than possible for bands with large bank accounts to produce nice extensive sleeves but not so easy for bands whose talents lie in their music rather than some slick marketing agencies.
It would be impossible to identify one part of this cd that could be said to stand out more than the rest. The band have produced an album that is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish - the question that comes to the fore when listening to this is when is the follow up going to be available?
The CD can be purchased via their
website. Needless to say
this wee treasure will be living in the small pile of over used discs close
to my Cd player for the foreseeable future. Check them out, go to see them
when you can and send them a cheque for the CD you wont regret it!
Visit the Beskydy website, for more details.
This self titled CD by the Italian band Nedd Ludd is a variety of styles. The band appear to have followed a similar route to British bands such as the Ukranians who started life in the Wedding Present and evolved in a folk rock direction. Nedd Ludd started out as a Rock band but gradually found themselves heading in a more and more folk direction employing the use of acoustic and traditional instruments along the way, making full use of the accordian, mandolin and bouzouki to full effect. The CD varies from the more upbeat to the reflective whilst incorporating their rock background with clear roots and folk influences from their native Italy, whilst incorporating social commentry including Italy 91 (bemoaning corruption and the influence of the Mafia, whilst offering a vision of another Italy) and the Jester of his Majesty which offers reflections on social inquality to "The Unemployment Dance", reflecting the hopelessness and injustice of unemployment.
The band makes full use of their musical skills, 'Guillari' for example incorporates impressive fiddle playing, subtle and gentle background guitar playing and upbeat and emotive vocals, whilst Ian Lawther guests with Northumbrian smallpipes on "Joseph Lawther" (Track 8) . The title track of the album, Ned Ludd offering angry and effective vocals alongside percussion and darned good fiddle and strings. Again the band make full use of percussion which acts as more than a backing instrument, on Nimmo E Walter coming into its own.
The final track on the album features Guest Ian Lawther from the UK on Highland pipes for instrumental "The Mist covered mountains" an atmospheric track that brings visions of the hills of the Highlands themselves. Folk rock with social attitude and talent and an album that demands to be listened to again and again, not least to catch the parts you missed the first few times, and for the sheer variety. Whats surprising is that the band havent featured at major folk festivals across the continent (or have they?), Womad could make a far worse booking for example.
For further information check out the bands website (unfortunately but understandably in Italian), from whence the Album can be ordered.
Bill Jones at the Bull Arts Centre, Barnet, North London (Sunday 15th July)
As I hadnt had the chance to catch Bill in concert since last years Otley Folk Festival (I kept having prior arrangements that annoyingly clashed with her previous London dates) I was looking forward to this evening. Bill has made an increasing impact on the folk world over the last 18 months or so, including being voted "Best Newcomer" at the BBC Folk Awards 2001. Correspondingly there has been a (not inconsiderable) press interest in Bill and I wanted to see how much the reviews had got it right. I must admit when I caught her in Otley last year I got the impression she was good but still finding her feet, not to say she wasnt damned enjoyable to listen too. Theres been more than a bit of speculation (sometimes from people who should know better) about Bill "the next big thing on the folk scene", the "next Kate Rusby" etc etc, It always strikes me that such observations tend to be unfair to the artist(s) concerned and to misunderstand the "folk" scene. In my opinion the "scene" works a little differently to the more mainstream music industry in so far as artists get where they are by their own abilities and not particularly (just) by the skill of a marketing industry. On the same basis the notion that somehow Bill would be (e.g) the next Kate Rusby seemed odd and I couldnt see why there shouldn't be room for two talented young female folksters. Right enough already back to the point in hand, the now Mrs Wright (but not whilst shes on tour thankfully), was actually an inspiration, playing a combination of her own self penned material and the traditional material. Her own songs including the title track of her second Album "Panchpuran" being extremely well written reflections on life and her (and her familys) experiences. Bill's Grandparents come from an Anglo-Indian Background and their experiences arriving in this country were reflected in the said song, the title of which means five spices, a reflection of this is perhaps the different influences Bill brings to bear in her songwriting and music. As well as the horrible futility of racism, something which is unfortunately very much in the media at the moment, Bill also touched on the pointlessness of war with the medley "Blood ; Gold"; "Universal Soldier" is poignant and to the point, not to mention very well sung. Bill's set consisted of a combination of instrumental and lyrical content and her own multi-instrumental talents were put to the fore when she played the keyboard and her accordion at the same time, a trick carried out by leaning to the left (or was it the right?), can't be good for the back!
The long and short of it is that in my opinion Bill has definately found her niche, shes where she wants to be and belongs and will be providing us with quality rootsy material for a long time to come yet (thankfully). Certainly judging by the artists Bill is working closely with (Karen Tweed, Coope, Boyes & Simpson, Kathryn Tickell, Kellie While all make an appearance in one form or another on her second album) and the forthcoming "Bill Jones Band" with whom she is hoping to work with Roger Wilson (who is currently touring with her), Miranda Sykes (who has been working with Rob Johnson recently) and Keith Angel in time for a tour at the end of the year. All being well London will be included in the schedule for that tour, its about time Bill ventured in the centre of the capital (would save me a train journey ;-) ).
Bill currently has two albums available "Panchpuran" and "Turn to Me", both of which are available from her website: www.brickwallmusic.com. One minor complaint about Bill is her website, in design its one of those annoying Flash based sites, not always the friendliest of sites in my experience - but then being slightly old fashioned I prefer straightforward html, nonetheless it is updated regularly and is informative (more than a lot of websites I could name).
Gary Leek "Sequoia"
Self-produced (no label or number) www.garyleek.com
Total Playing Time - 50:47
1. Needs No Introduction, 2.Up to the Sky, 3.Really Big Trees, 4.Newbee, 5.Grasshopper Dance, 6.Little Woods, 7.Deep Roots, 8.Old Man's Dream, 9.Family Tree, 10.Cornstalks, 11.Desert Blues, 12. Don't Leave Now, 13.Green on Blue, 14.The Monarch
With "Sequoia," accomplished string musician Gary Leek gives us an enjoyable acoustic set of original instrumentals that incorporate elements of Celtic, jazz, and bluegrass. There are even some country influences in numbers like "Old Man's Dream"and "Family Tree." Inspired by the giant trees of California, Leek’s material takes us on an ethereal journey through nature. While emphasizing guitar, Leek also arranges his songs with mandolin, mandocello, banjo and some keyboard patches that warm up the overall sound. This album offers a nice variety of rhythms and tempos that tickle the aural palate. Leek’s notes and phrases make coherent statements, as his musical vision is conveyed with emotional content and character.
Leek uses Taylor 714CE, Martin D1, and Godin ACS guitars. His mandolin is a 1912 Gibson A1, and Leek even uses it for some slide mandolin work on this project. His Amada mandocello was built in Romania. For a banjo, Leek uses a 1930s Leo Master banjo “merely to add color.” His keyboard patches, played either directly or through the Godin MIDI guitar, come from a Korg Triton, Yamaha EX5, and Roland XV-3080. Leek uses alternate tunings to develop different moods -- standard tuning, DADGAD, and a dulcimer-like CGDGGD tuning.
From Illinois, Leek began playing guitar at age 10, and studied several kinds of music including jazz.
After learning rock, country and bluegrass, he mastered fingerpicking, and played in various bands. A trip to Ireland led to Leek’s explorations into Celtic music. His eclectic background and tastes show up as influences in his original music. “Sequoia” is a magical sourjourn by a master who leads us through a stimulating musical journey of life, inspiration, and joy. I hear the rhythms of the forest, and “Sequoia” illuminates those natural surroundings. Whether the focus is up close on a butterfly or grasshopper, or wistfully floating with clouds, Gary Leek has managed to capture and share his arboreal thoughts and reflections in fine musical form. Some proceeds from the sale of this project are donated to Sequoia preservation.
Rhonda Vincent "One Step Ahead"
One Camp Street, Cambridge, MASS. 02140
www.rounder.com Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Playing Time - 34:42
1.)Kentucky Borderline 2.)You Can’t Take It With You When You Go, 3.)One Step Ahead Of The Blues (with Alison Krauss), 4.)Caught In The Crossfire, 5.)Ridin’ The Red Line, 6.)Pathway Of Teardrops, 7.)An Old Memory Found Its Way Back 8.)Missouri Moon, 9.)Walking My Lord Up Cavalry’s Hill, 10.)Fishers Of Men, 11.)Frankie Belle, 12.) The Martha White Song
Rhonda Vincent hails from Missouri where she grew up performing with her family band, The Sally Mountain Show. She began singing professionally at age five in 1967 on her family's weekly TV show. At that same young age, she began playing mandolin, and she can now play all the bluegrass instruments. This Missouri state fiddle champ recorded eleven albums with the Sally Mountain Show and six solo albums before age 30. For over a decade (about 1985-98), she was involved in the country music scene, performing with Grand Ole Opry Star Jim Ed Brown and recording two projects for Giant Records. In 1998, she returned to her bluegrass roots when she formed Rhonda Vincent and the Rage. The following year, Rhonda performed on Dolly Parton's award-winning album "The Grass is Blue." Rhonda then released bluegrass albums "Back Home Again" and “The Storm Still Rages.” Rhonda was three times the IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year (2000-2002). In 2001, she won the IBMA Entertainer of the Year Award, and in 2002, she was inducted into the George D. Hay Country Music Hall of Fame in Arkansas.
When Rhonda Vincent came to that fateful fork in the road in 1998, she made the right choice to take the high, lonesome road - the one she’d traveled many times before called bluegrass lane. Now, I believe that she’s has found her true musical home and niche as her stardom continues to build. She once commented that she had taken charge of the music she was playing. “One Step Ahead” showcases a confident, seasoned and committed artist with a great deal of talent and business savvy. Her brother, Darrin Vincent, sings soaring harmonies on the album. Stuart Duncan, Aubrey Haynie and Bryan Sutton are sterling session musicians who also assist. However, their flashy melodic licks never steal the spotlight from Rhonda’s soprano.
The banjo kicks the opening cut of Vincent’s original “Kentucky Borderline” which has the band driving for a bluegrass state of mind. Contemplative acoustic country is the best way of describing “You Can't Take It With You When You Go." The album’s bluesy title cut is a Rhonda Vincent composition with a theme that is commonplace in bluegrass music. The story of a child experiencing the divorce of parents is told in “Caught in the Crossfire.” A trucker’s song, "Ridin' the Red Line," is a homecoming song of pedal to the metal. Twin fiddles and vocal harmonies are the strengths of the lovely waltz "Pathway of Teardrops." Things you can’t even see sometimes reappear even after throwing away old love letter and photos in "An Old Memory Found Its Way Back." Nostalgically singing of love back home, Vincent’s rendition of "Missouri Moon" is acoustic country at its best. A moderate waltz-time is imparted to Wilma Lee Cooper’s gospel standard, "Walking My Lord Up Calvary's Hill." The band’s a cappella gospel quartet is nicely blended on "Fishers of Men." The album’s solid all-instrumental offering, “Frankie Belle,” showcases the band’s adroit picking with fiddle prodigy Molly Cherryholmes. The album closes with a 25-second version of the "Martha White Song," a tribute to her tour sponsor who has saluted Rhonda as one of the company’s "Legends of American Music."
The bottomline is that Rhonda Vincent has created a long-term vision for her music. She’s shared her view with others, assembled a band, and has translated her strategic thinking into action. This album clearly shows that she recognizes her major strengths lie in bluegrass. She’s a top-notch artist who is very easy to embrace. In fact, I’d like to give her a big hug for this latest project. “One Step Ahead” maintains that same focus and intensity of her highly-acclaimed bluegrass projects that have gone before.