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Featured Album | Ruth Angell | Hlywing | Talking Elephant | 2023

There’s nine new and original songs on this, Ruth Angell’s debut album (as a solo artist), plus one borrowed from Joni Mitchell’s back catalogue, the poignant “Magdalene Laundries”, which fits in neatly with the others.   Released on Talking Elephant Records, Hlywing, which translates from the medieval English word as shelter or refuge, focuses on atmosphere, with slick arrangements throughout.  The songs are for the most part gentle, yet each is infused with a powerful punch, Ruth’s violin weaving in and out of focus, allowing the orchestral passages and Knopfler-like guitars plenty of scope, notably on the sublime “Little Boy Blue”.  Ruth’s voice is consistently her own, the voice of a convincing storyteller, but also a voice of elegance, demonstrated midway through “Shipyard Fairy”.  It’s easy to drift away to these songs, their smooth calming timbre leaving any sharp edges out of harm’s way.  The country-infused “Treasure” allows a momentary peek at another side of Ruth’s multi-layered approach to song.  Drawing on her classical background, having studied the violin and composition Birmingham Conservatoire,  the rich orchestral arrangements complement the piano and guitar conversations with apparent ease, certainly on the gorgeous “No Roses”.  Once again, Ruth teams up with husband/producer Sid Peacock, the team who made their earlier duo album Love Forgiven so memorable.  

Choice: Castle on the Hill, Magdalene Laundries

Flick the Dust Off | Robin and Barry Dransfield | Popular to Contrary Belief | Free Reed FRR018 | 1977

Oh the amount of times I’ve played tracks from this album on my radio show, only for listeners to say later, you got that the wrong way around.  Damn those North Yorkshire pranksters.  Sadly, the once popular Harrogate siblings Robin and Barry Dransfield are rarely mentioned in folk circles these days, though they left a huge impression on me when I first heard their debut LP Rout of the Blues, a good few years ago.  The two brothers were Ashley Hutchings first choice of musicians invited to join him on his new Steeleye Span venture but turned down the offer.  Instead, the brothers continued to perform as a duo throughout the early 1970s, gaining a reputation as folk brats among the established folk community, at one point forming a folk rock outfit simply called Dransfield and made their concept album Fiddler’s Dream shortly afterwards, which was received with mixed reviews and with little help from the record company in terms of marketing.  Photographed outside a pub, raising their glasses, the brothers looked set for a come back in 1977 when they released Popular to Contrary Belief for the Derby-based Free Reed Records, performing the sort of traditional songs they first found fame with seven years earlier.  There’s little difference between the opening song on their debut album seven years earlier, and “The Talcahuano Girls” and fans of the duo would have been pleased to hear the boys return to this sort of music after the more experimental Fiddler’s Dream the year before.  “Bogie’s Bonnie Belle”, “The Holmfirth Anthem”, “Peggy Gordon” and “The Conscript’s Farewell” are among the very best performances by these much missed brothers.

Choice: The Holmfirth Anthem

Singled Out | The Move | Fire Brigade | Regal Zonophone RZ 3005 | 1968

Written by Roy Wood and performed by The Move, “Fire Brigade” is one of those memorable pop songs from the late Sixties.  It was the band’s fourth single release and is loaded with twangy Duane Eddy styled guitar licks together with a great chorus, just the thing to guarantee chart success, but also it adheres to the Summer of Love sensibility, particularly in the middle eight, where there are rainbows in her hair, pretty standard fare for the previous year.  ‘Cast your mind back ten years to the girl who’s next to me in school, if I put my hand upon her leg, she’s hit me with a rule’ was perfectly true of the era, only in my case with one Lorraine Bailey, it was a sharpened pencil, for which fifty-odd years on, I still have a mark.  It may also be worth noting that the guitar lick inspired the Sex Pistols “God Save the Queen”.

Choice: Fire Brigade

Fifty Years Ago | Little Feat | Dixie Chicken | Warner Bros K46200 | January 1973

Like many UK fans of Little Feat, my introduction to the band was via the Old Grey Whistle Test, where they performed one of the tracks from this album, “Fat Man in the Bathtub”, together with “Rock and Roll Doctor from the band’s next album Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.   Failing to catch the band on that tour is one of life’s little regrets, though seeing them on the box in our family living room on that occasion was almost as good.  I still sit in wonder at the British audience reaction to Little Feat going on as a warm up for the Doobie Brothers.  The Dixie Chicken Little Feat was still very much led by Lowell George and therefore endowed with one of the finest and most soulful voices of the 1970s, if not the entire history of rock and roll, together with one of the hottest slide players around.  This very much comes across throughout Dixie Chicken (or are we expected to just call it ‘Chicken’ these days?)  Once again the sleeve artwork was produced by Neon Park, who was responsible for the band’s previous album Sailing Shoes. This third album also saw the departure of original bassist Roy Estrada, who was replaced by Kenny Gradney as well as the addition of Paul Barrere, who would become a key player in the band for the years to come.  The album also featured contributions by both Bonnie Bramlett and Linda Ronstadt as well as Malcolm Cecil, the synth pioneer responsible for Tonto’s Expanding Head Band and his work on some of Stevie Wonder’s finest albums.

Choice: Fat Man in the Bathtub