On Record | 2018

Midnight Skyracer | Fire | Album Review | Self Release | 01.01.18

I was well aware as I faffed about with the settings on my Nikon D5100 that we were steadily losing light on the opening night of the 2017 Cambridge Folk Festival, just after Midnight Skyracer left the club tent, following their rather tastefully rendered Thursday evening set.  We missed our opportunity during the afternoon at the duck pond, the predictable and overused haven for publicity snaps, due to the pre-festival traffic chaos across town.  With the light fading fast, I almost resigned myself to the fact that we’d missed the boat on this occasion but as luck would have it, the five musicians of this newly formed all-female bluegrass outfit left the stage just as the evening light decided to play fair with my camera’s limited capabilities.  I quickly assembled the musicians in a line just behind the stage, asked them to pick up their instruments and to pretend that I had just told them the funniest joke in the world.  After no more than half a dozen snaps, there it was, the photograph that now graces the back of this lovely debut album.  If this describes adequately the extent of my involvement in the making of the album sleeve, then the word that describes my contribution to the material contained within would be ‘zero’, clearing my conscience in order to write a few words of how I feel about the music.  The 45-minute set that the packed Cambridge audience witnessed on that Thursday evening back in the summer, provided a clear indication of what these gifted musicians were capable of doing when it came to the recording of a studio album.  The Carrivick Sisters after all, had been here before and were no doubt thinking to themselves, wait ‘til they hear this!  A few months earlier, Charlotte and Laura had slipped me an early nod and a wink as to what they were up to and this performance at the Cambridge Folk Festival had been very much anticipated.  I wanted this debut album to be good and I’m delighted to say that it has exceeded my expectations tenfold.  Fire is actually a great record, with some fine performances, both in terms of its instrumental prowess and its vocal delivery.  Described as a ‘hard driving Anglo-Irish Bluegrass band’, Midnight Skyracer features the talents of Leanne Thorose on mandolin, Tabitha Agnew on banjo, Charlotte and Laura on guitar and fiddle/dobro respectively and Eleanor Wilkie driving things along on double bass.  A ‘supergroup’ of sorts made up of musicians who have served time in such outfits as the Absentees, Cup O’Joe, Cardboard Fox and Reckless Abandoners, Midnight Skyracer has all the vital components to compete with other bluegrass outfits not only in the UK but also on an international scale.  If the dexterous playing and fine arrangements are all perfectly in place – just listen to their treatment of Hazel Dickens’ “Working Girl Blues” and the traditionalSusan Anna Gal” for proof of that – then the cherry on top of this proverbial cake, must be the two lead voices of Leanne and Tabitha; the former who injects a hard-hitting and determined country-inflected growl, whilst the latter provides a smooth, breathy, delicate alternative, which brings to the album a beautiful contrast.  Added to this, the sibling harmonies of the Carrivick twins, with Laura also providing the lead vocal on Bill Monroe’s “Sitting Alone in the Moonlight”, the whole thing dovetails together with seamless precision.  Fire hasn’t been off the player throughout the festive season and I dare say it’ll stick around until the spring, and then no doubt beyond that.

Ben Morgan-Brown | Cold Rooms | EP Review | Self Release | 07.01.18

Having just lent my thoughts to the debut album by Midnight Skyracer, the recently formed Anglo-Irish all-female bluegrass quintet, we turn to another Josh Clark-produced release, this time the third EP by Exeter-based singer-songwriter and guitar player Ben Morgan-Brown.  Ben’s fluid acoustic guitar sound is put to good use here on these five self-penned songs, one of which is a delicate instrumental.  There’s shades of Nick Drake here and a little Nick Harper there, and probably one or two other Nicks along the way, together with a certain Bert, yet Ben manages to inject enough of his own personality and delicate style to give these songs their own identity.  I’m reminded of Elliott Smith for some reason, possibly in the personal treatment of such songs as “Sunken Treasure” and “No More Fooling”.  Seen as a turning point in his musical endeavours, Ben reflects on the last few years of his life, which have seen him marry, divorce, lose several important people and spend a month in hospital after being poisoned in Morocco, all of which would make anyone catch their breath for a moment, and with Cold Rooms, Ben appears to have done just that.

Winter Wilson | Far Off on the Horizon | Album Review | Self Release | 09.01.18

This may or may not be the right time or place to pick up on a few niggles, but there again, when is a good time and where is a good place?  Recently, the British folk scene has been awash with an almost relentless parade of themed projects, recordings and shows of the Full English Elizabethan Transports of Child Migration variety (musicals basically), together with a more widespread outbreak of collaboration fever, each usually commissioned by this, that or the other festival (or a certain house in Camden) with much intermingling amongst a finite bunch of young (and old) musicians, often fresh out of folk college and each project set to meet an ambitious deadline.  Although there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this – in fact they’re rather popular I hear – I do have my reservations about whether the songs are sufficiently ‘worn in’.  Musicians who work together over longer periods of time tend to take their time in order to work up a repertoire that allows the songs to grow and develop and eventually change into something unexpected and special.  Having said this, Miles Davis’ modal experimentation that turned up as the seminal album Kind of Blue, was basically a jam with one or two guidelines, yet it has been for some considerable time my favourite album of all time.  The music journalist Pete Frame would have to invest in an ocean-deep inkwell to keep up with those aforementioned folk collaborationists in his detailed family trees, yet with Kip Winter and Dave Wilson, we have just the two names to consider, both of whom continue to deliver high quality material and with as little pomp and fuss as is necessary.  Thoroughly content to mark their niche on the British acoustic music scene as a semi-pro duo, their trajectory was recently skewed when redundancy forced them to make unexpected and difficult decisions, which resulted in the duo establishing themselves as a fully-fledged and hardworking professional musical partnership.  Believe it or not, Far off on the Horizon is Winter Wilson’s eighth studio album and once again showcases Dave’s fine song writing credentials.  There can’t be many around who have not heard at least one Dave Wilson song or indeed seen the duo at some point, possibly at a local folk club, or at one of our many festivals, some as far as New Zealand and Australia.  Many more are about to become familiar with the duo (and their songs) as they support Fairport Convention – Mr Frame coincidentally had his work cut out on this band’s extensive family tree if memory serves – on their imminent winter tour.  Songs likely to prick up the ears of those attendant Fairporters, those they successfully entice from the rowdy theatre bar that is, could quite possibly be “The Ship That Rocked”, “The Old Man Was a Sea Dog” and the poignant “Ghost”, each of which appear on this latest release.  Alluding to various hot topics such as migration, growing old and how it’s possible to go from a girl to a ghost at just eighteen years of age, Kip and Dave tell stories that continue to resonate.  I’ve always enjoyed Dave’s songs and continue to do so, especially in the way that Kip sings them and particularly if the song calls for her to fall helplessly into that distinct soulful blues mode, exemplified here on “Tried and Tested”.  There’s passion involved, as well as a clear understanding of each of the songs.  You tend to instinctively know from the start, that Kip and Dave don’t have the sort of deadlines to meet as mentioned above, instead they take their time to ensure their songs are ‘worn in’ and ready to go.

Josie Duncan and Pablo Lafuente | The Morning Tempest | Album Review | Oakridge Records | 21.01.18

This rather splendid and tasteful debut by the award winning Scots/Spanish duo Josie Duncan and Pablo Lafuente, sees a musical partnership that finds little difficulty traversing the wealth of Gaelic and Scots traditions with nine immediately accessible songs.  Whilst their handsomely printed press release recommends the opener “The Night Visiting Song”, my attention is immediately drawn to Josie’s own beautiful “The Great Escape”, which fortunately has no tunnel digging scenes here, nor any ‘Cooler Kings’ scurrying down the hillside on their Triumph TR6 Trophy.  Instead, what it does have is a delicate melody that suits Josie’s and guest vocalist Colin Macleod’s voices, and is well worth putting on repeat for a play through of several times.  As well as the original material, we are treated to some rather satisfying readings of traditional songs such as the portentous “King Orfeo”, the galloping “He Called for a Candle” and the ethereal closer “Potato Puirt”.  It’s quite possible, or should I say it’s a dead cert, that the Gaelic songs will define Josie’s singing career and it’s quite easy to see why.  There’s a certain clarity in her voice on such songs as “Thug Mi ‘n Oidhche” and “Uamh An Oir”, which resonates long after the songs have finished. A beautiful debut and a duo to watch out for this coming festival season.   

Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band | Live | Album Review | Self Release | 23.01.18

I have to confess right from the start that Peter Knight’s violin work whilst in his former band Steeleye Span somehow passed me by.  Perhaps I was just distracted by the band’s stripy tank tops and flowery shirts or Maddy Prior’s exhausting cavorting, or perhaps – and more than likely I hasten to add – it was just me being utterly inattentive, but whichever way it was, I clearly missed it.  The first time I noticed, I noticed in a sudden head rush that had me reaching for the hand rail.  It was a moment of clarity, almost an epiphany, when I first saw Peter Knight’s Gigspanner on stage, curiously enough at a Butlins holiday camp.  Stranger things have happened, but possibly not as noteworthy as that particular moment.  I had the mosh pit to myself, seated on the floor with my eyes closed as this beautiful music washed over me, courtesy of Peter on violin, Roger Flack on guitar and Vincent Salzfas on percussion.  Three studio albums and countless shows down the line, the trio are still performing albeit with a new percussionist (Sacha Trochet), and the deed of capturing their newly formed ‘Big Band’ live was not only an obligatory requirement but something of an essential necessity.  Teaming up with the hugely popular duo Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin (now Edgelarks), creates a winning formula, with Henry’s distinctive Dobro dovetailing with Flack’s acoustic guitar, notably on the album opener “The Butterfly”.  Add Hannah Martin’s unmistakable voice to proceedings and we’re onto something special before the end of “Silbery Hill”, the second song in.  The shimmering Eastern flavoured “Last Broadcast” is a highlight, which features Phillip Henry’s Chatturangui (Indian Classical Slide Guitar), beautifully complemented by Peter Knight’s flittering fiddle and Hannah Martin’s alluring vocal.  This is an album best served with the lights down and the volume turned up to match that of a live performance.  With no visual distractions, save for the pretty sleeve, put together incidentally by Tim Mars and Kate Stretton with Deborah Knight’s photography, the ‘closed eyes’ routine works best.  One of those rare occasions that a live album works really well.

Matthews Southern Comfort | Like a Radio | Album Review | MIG | 25.01.18

If you were to hear a conversation between Iain Matthews and Martin Simpson you would struggle to identify which one was speaking, so similar are their voices and accents.  This probably has something to do with the fact that they are both from Scunthorpe, born seven years apart in the North Lincolnshire town and having no doubt shared some of the same stomping ground.  Another key point is that they have both spent a good deal of time in America, made loads of albums and both prefer six strings to a punch in the face.  Here we concentrate on the elder Scunthorpian, Scunthorponian, Scunthorper or whatever the collective noun is, as he releases his latest album with his second most famous outfit.  We know Iain has historically befuddled us with his name – Ian/Iain, Matthews/McDonald – that he was an original member of Fairport Convention, his name (minus the ‘i’) being the second name beautifully calligraphed by Pete Frame on the cover of the ’72 compilation set History Of, and that he also scored a number one hit with Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” the year after the iconic festival in upstate New York with the first incarnation of Matthews Southern Comfort.  Cut to the new line up of the band and we find Iain joined by his Dutch pals Bart Jan Baartmans, Bart de Win and Eric De Vries, who release a generous offering of no less than fifteen songs, mostly originals with the odd Carole King, James Taylor and Ian & Sylvia song thrown in. Actually, the Gillette/Campbell song Darcy Farrow was recorded widely yonks ago by such artists as Ian & Sylvia, John Denver and Linda Ronstadt, not to mention MSC on their Second Spring album almost 50 years ago.  If “Darcy Farrow” (or “D’Arcy Farrow”) still identifies Iain Matthews as a fine folk storyteller, his humour is also captured in “Jive Pajamas”, which also indicates that the latest incarnation of MSC are remarkably adept at having fun.  Another song revisited here by the new band is Carole King’s “To Love”, originally recorded by the band on their debut LP Later That Same Year back in 1970, which here in its slightly slowed down groove still sounds as good as ever.  For those who prefer a good old moan at the state of the world, “The Age of Isolation” and “Bits and Pieces” seem to do the trick.

Crayon Angels | Postcards | EP Review | Submarine Broadcasting Company | 03.02.18

Named after the old Judee Sill song, Crayon Angels are a trio consisting of Natalina Castiglioni on Vocals, Del Halpin on Guitar and Ian Montague also on Guitar, whose latest EP Postcards is chock full of melodies in just four songs.  Unlike Judee’s claim, this trio’s songs are hardly out of tune nor is anyone to blame, they are very definitely in tune and their acoustic/electric guitar base provides a fitting canvas upon which Natalina’s colourful textures are splashed.  The opening song “The Last Leaf” is bright and breezy, immediately accessible and is topped off with an infectious lilting refrain.  The title song “Postcards” is almost McCartney-esque in its melodic simplicity.  Although hardly teenagers, the trio sound so refreshingly youthful.  To be perfectly honest, when I first heard “The Last Leaf”, I imagined the singer to be a 17 year-old male with his fringe in his eyes.  Just goes to show how our assumptions work.  “Your Sorry Self” is another highly melodic song, along the lines of Extreme’s memorable “More Than Words”, filling the EP with colour and sound, which coincidentally is the title of the final song.  I’ll be watching with keen interest at which direction Crayon Angels take.  Now excuse me, while I listen to it again a few times.

Zoe Boekbinder and Dustin Hamman | Among Horses II | EP Review | Kudos Records | 04.02.18

The story apparently goes that the New Orleans-based singer songwriter Zoe Boekbinder and Portland’s Dustin Hamman, also a singer songwriter, were dropped off at a farm ‘in the middle of nowhere’, actually a solar powered farm house in Northern Spain, surrounded by endless pine tree covered hills, scattered with Spanish horses, and were given seven days to get to know one another and come up with some music.  One can only imagine what would have happened had things gone horribly wrong, but fortunately, with the help of a bunch of vintage microphones and a handful of instruments, things went rather well, the result being the six original songs on this EP.  The ‘Among Horses’ concept is rather a good idea, where complete strangers are put together to make music.  Based in Barcelona, this collaborative enterprise released the first in the series as Among Horses I, which saw a collaboration between Withered Hand and Singer of Songs and we are told that there is already a third combination in preparation.  In this idyllic setting, both Zoe and Dustin pooled their creative resources to create these songs, one or two of them sounding very much a part of their surroundings, “Celebrate” for instance, which utilises convincing mariachi-styled trumpets, whilst the opening song, “Sixty Spanish Horses”, relates directly to the farm’s most notable feature right outside the temporary studio door.  What the songs may lack in polish, they gain in both energy and immediacy; a sort of Antony (and the Johnsons) meets Madeleine Peyroux, leaving the listener breathless by the end of the 26-minute EP.    

Ady Johnson | London Songs | Album Review | Self Release | 06.02.18

It came as little surprise when New Year’s Day was chosen for the single release from Ady Johnson’s second full-length album.  The London-based singer songwriter has a knack for writing memorable songs, not just for their infectious melodies, but also for their down-to-earth subject matter.  Ray Davies has been mentioned in the same breath as this Suffolk-born musician and it’s not difficult to relate to this; an album entitled London Songs could quite easily be the title of a Davies release.  Wrapped in a sleeve depicting a misty skyline viewed from Hampstead Heath, or for that matter, a panoramic view of Old Father Thames winding serpent-like in an easterly direction, picking up reflections the Shard, the Gherkin or any of the other prominent landmarks in its murky waters on its way, would have been un-Johnsonlike.  Instead, a cover reflecting austerity, the singer sitting outside a rundown used furniture establishment just happens to fill the cover with character.  It also reflects the songs within perfectly, whilst at the same time paying homage to Johnson’s former profession, an antique furniture restorer.  These songs grow on you with each repeated listen.  The punchy “Put the World on Standby” almost kicks into “Itchycoo Park”, another notable London song, before we see Johnson withdraw from the world momentarily.  Johnson refuses to hold back on the personal stuff with two notable songs dedicated to his ‘Nan’ and his ‘Granddad’ respectively in “Bring You Back” and “Thank You for the Good Things”, each gently acoustic and tender.  If the tender numbers begin to take command towards the end, then “Whale Song” comes along just in time to remind us of the high energy skiffle Johnson is known for; think along the lines of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”.  What can I say, London Songs is one of those albums you like to keep handy, not necessarily in the car or in the shed, but in that special place where you like to dream.

Mike Reinstein | Acts of Love | Album Review | Irregular Records | 07.02.18

I’ve always found that a good opener is almost guaranteed to keep you listening, even if the title utilises one of Oxford University’s top ten most irritating expressions.  “24/7 Care” is simply a beautiful pop song celebrating the most important people in our society, those who care for us, all wrapped up in an arrangement of a Ray Davies standard.  It’s actually such a good opener that you tend to stall getting on to the second song.  It’s important though that you do though, otherwise you just might miss “The Gardener of Aleppo”, a poignant comment on war, from the perspective of a thirteen year-old Syrian boy, lamenting the death of his father; a simple song, delivered on ukulele, but with an extraordinarily powerful message.  Acts of Love is Mike’s fifth album to date and is one of those albums by a singer songwriter who cares, in that he cares about the songs that he writes, making sure there are no throw away songs.  Pick any of the songs here and it will mean something to you; whether it’s the lazy lounge jazz arrangement of the title song “Acts of Love”, or the joyful optimism in “Everything’s Going My Way”.  Then there’s “Seaford Song”, which recalls a holiday when “Little Eva sang on the house PA” to a thirteen year-old Mike Reinstein, which further references some of the most important names of the era, Stevie, Marvin, Martha and Sam and Dave, no prizes for guessing who Mike’s referring to here.  If this wasn’t enough, this latest collection of songs includes a gorgeous tribute to Billie Holiday, from the angle of a young fan by the name of Peggy Lee, set to a melody based around “Strange Fruit”, Holiday’s most poignant song.  “I Love Everything You Do” is a highly accomplished song, which really should be recognised for what it is, a song written almost definitely as act of love.

Alash | Achai | Album Review | Smithsonian Folkways | 09.02.18

Newcomers to Tuvan throat singing might at first feel slightly alienated by its harsh guttural tones – think Tom Waits after swallowing a pneumatic drill with the on switch pressed – but once you imagine those vocal affectations as musical instrumentation, it all becomes infinitely more palatable.  I first became aware of this style of singing through a Frank Zappa documentary, whose televised soiree, filmed just prior to the legendary musician’s death, saw purveyors of this particular style jamming with Frank, members of the Chieftains and Johnny Guitar Watson amongst others (that must’ve been a good night) and the sound of those voices seems to have stuck with me.  The three Tuvan musicians known as Alash, Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, Ayan-ool Sam and Ayan Shirizhik, treat this tradition with respect, dedicating this album to Kongar-ool Ondar, the father of a generation of throat singers, with the title Achai, which is Tuvan for ‘father’.  Despite the highly idiosyncratic singing style being an integral part of this record, there are some fine moments of standard singing, together with some beautifully delicate instrumentation courtesy of the two-stringed Igil or ‘horsehead fiddle’, the Doshpuluur (Tuvan lute), the Xomus (mouth harp), as well as accordion and flute, together with some surprising beatboxing courtesy of special guest Shodekeh, the Baltimore-based beatboxer.  If at first you don’t succeed with Tuvan throat singing, then try again, it can be most rewarding.

Camarao | The Imaginary Soundtrack to a Brazilian Western Movie 1964-1974 | Album Review | Analog Africa | 10.02.18

When we think of the Forró parties that took place at the Caxangá neighbourhood theatre in the 1960s, its windows flung open wide, the infectious music dancing out onto the balconies in the hot tropical breeze, we might think of Reginaldo Alves Ferreira, otherwise known as Camarão, the originator of the first band playing in the Forró style.  Opening with rowdy dialog, this album soon erupts into highly infectious dance rhythms from the Brazil of 1964-74, with the accordion very much at the forefront.  Camarão, the name meaning ‘shrimp’ – not because he was particularly small built, but because he always arrived late and with glowing red cheeks – brings some of the raw energy of the dance music of Northeastern Brazil, with no less than sixteen mostly instrumental tunes.  The addition of horns to this music was largely due to Camarão, who introduced the fatter sound to Forró, marking him and his band out as important figures in this genre.  Compiled by Samy Ben Redjeb, founder of Analog Africa, this compilation was five years in the making, bringing together a showcase of music captured from six albums made during ten years of activity, which not only showcase Camarão’s musical ingenuity but also his sense of humour. 

Gem Andrews | North | Album Review | Self Release | 11.02.18

Following Scatter and Vancouver, the first two full-length albums by Gem Andrews, both incidentally awarded an approving thumbs up in the pages of Northern Sky, comes North, Gem’s third release to date.  The LP sleeve shows a sunburst Gibson hanging precariously from Gem’s shoulder, the Liverpool-born singer songwriter standing ankle deep in sea water, a snow white lighthouse and neighbouring coastal cottages looming large behind.  With no title or name printed on the front cover, we are presented with this ambiguous, almost melancholy image of someone in deep thought, which is reflected on “Two Lighthouses”, one of the two Julia Darling poems here arranged for song.  The songs fall effortlessly between acoustic folk stylings and country-flavoured pop, often guided by an air of optimism.  There’s some delightful interplay between pedal steel and mandolin in places, especially on “Two by Two”, courtesy of Chris Hillman and Bernard Wright, whilst the mostly self-penned songs remain uplifting in their simplicity.  Gem’s hand-picked band drives along the lilting “Medicate”, which continues to offer a sprinkling of good cheer. There’s certainly a feel-good spirit at work here, even on the brassy gypsy fiddle arrangement of Lungs, despite its hard-hitting message.  With an early indication of the Kate and Anna McGarrigle influence on “Sing Your Song”, Gem once again pays direct homage to the Canadian siblings with a fine reading of Anna McGarrigle’s “Come a Long Way” before the close of the album. Such songs demonstrate strength, yet there are also moments of vulnerability; “Bare” for example, with Gem’s slightly fragile vocal, crucial and most fitting for some of the more emotional moments.  A lovely album.

You Are Wolf | Keld | Album Review | Firecrest Records | 15.02.18

You Are Wolf, is a collaboration between singer Kerry Andrew, multi-instrumentalist Sam Hall and percussionist Peter Ashwell and Keld is the title of their new album release.  The album is chock full of folk songs, some you may have heard before, some you may not.  I would at first venture to describe the opening song as unaccompanied, but nay, ‘tis accompanied by a variety of clicking, tapping and clapping, with a brook babbling along in the background.  The Baffled Knight neatly introduces Kerry’s voice to us (new to me at any rate), whilst also taking us back to nature, a reflection of the album’s title “Keld”, which is an old word for ‘the deep, still, smooth part of a river”.  The album’s theme is indeed freshwater, illustrated by the cover shot of an almost submerged Kerry, surrounded by a ripple.  I’m assuming much of this album was considered whilst swimming in the wild, one of her other passions, and some of it is very much reflected in the material here.  I often wonder how I would feel if I was hearing some of these familiar folk songs for the very first time.  I would probably be just as astonished with some of the melodies as I initially was, yet the songs being revisited and re-shaped by today’s young folk singers impress me by the virtuosity of their voices and of the highly inventive arrangements.  Oh she just sounds just like Lisa Knapp thought I when I arrived at “The Weeper”, but then realised it was in fact Lisa Knapp guesting. Kerry has that sort of ‘otherworldliness’ we find in such singers as Lisa Knapp, Emily Portman and Bjork even.  Folk songs are often obsessed with drowning and there’s plenty here to submerge oneself in, not just the investigation of ordinary human beings and their relationship with water, but also the spirits and myths, the mystical and magical, the ethereal and the supernatural.

Cath and Phil Tyler | The Ox and the Ax | Album Review | Ferric Mordant Records | 16.02.18

It seems rather a long time ago since Cordelia’s Dad was going at it full throttle, delivering their message ala grunge to Nirvana audiences across the globe.  Well, something like that at any rate.  Since relocating to the North East of the UK, from the north east of United States, New Jersey-born Cath Tyler (formerly Cath Oss) has become something of a local folk authority whilst forming a musical partnership with Newcastle-born husband Phil, the duo delivering stories in the most stripped-down form, accompanied by a clear, crisp, drone-like guitar and occasional banjo and fiddle.  The songs are almost eerie in their delivery.  The story of “The Two Sisters” is told as if delivered from the pulpit, the sprawling ballad coming in at a little under eight minutes, but riveting throughout.  Cath’s long-time experience and knowledge of the Sacred Harp singing style, serves her well in her almost organic vocal delivery, matched by Phil’s empathetic accompaniment.  The duo’s voices on such as “Rainbow” and “Talk about Suffering” are emotive, almost grief-stricken and wonderfully authentic at the same time.  This is how folk songs should be treated.  Although I plainly hear the sound of Cath and Phil from just up the road, I see Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson; I see misty mountains and log cabins, I see the history of ordinary people unfolding before my ears and eyes.  This is the real deal revisited.

Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman | Personae | Album Review | Iscream Music Records | 19.02.18

Georges Braque once said of his artistic relationship with Pablo Picasso, that they were like “mountain-climbers roped together” which is in a way reflected in the dramatic Romantic-period cover photo on Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman’s latest album release.  Personae, the duo’s fifth album release to date, sees the two musicians similarly bound, not just through their fine music, but in everyday life too, the husband/wife team so completely as one.  Much of the material on the album is co-written by the duo, with a couple of traditional song arrangements and the one non-original, Sandy Denny’s memorable “Solo”, familiar to those who were fortunate enough to catch Kathryn recently in the revived Fotheringay, Sandy’s early Seventies folk rock band.  There’s one or two surprises here, including the playful “The Poison Club”, which is the duo’s equivalent of the “Magical Mystery Tour” but in reverse; it’s not a club one would be in such a hurry to join.  There’s also a couple of familiar guests popping up, firstly Sam Kelly, who duets with Kathryn on the rollicking opener, the traditional “The Knight’s Ghost”, a song with as much drama as the Géricault-like cover shot, and later, brother Seth adds fiddle to “Old, Old, Old”, a song about a Seychelles giant tortoise who lives in the shadow of his own mortality, much longer than most of us have to endure.  Kathryn, one of the most cherished voices on the British folk and acoustic music scene is on top form throughout, here roped together once again with her perfect accompanist, whose production is lovingly realised.

Park Jiha | Communion | Album Review | Glitterbeat | 20.02.18

This experimental debut solo album by minimalist South Korean musician Park Jiha, known for her work with fellow musician Jungmin Seo in the group 숨[suːm], is rich in atmosphere from the start.  Park Jiha’s tonal adventures are composed and performed on such traditional Korean instruments as the piri (double reed bamboo flute), saenghwang (bamboo mouth organ) and yanggeum (hammered dulcimer), revealing some groundbreaking and individualist music based on the traditions of Korea.  The piri’s distinctive sound is reminiscent of the crumhorn, the Renaissance period German instrument, although it looks more like a small bamboo whistle about the size of a regular tin whistle.  The instrument’s ebbs and flows work particularly well alongside the bass clarinet as exemplified on the title piece, “Communion”.  Involved in traditional Korean and classical music from an early age, Park Jiha takes bold steps with this instrumental album in collaboration with Kim Oki on tenor sax and bass clarinet and John Bell on vibraphone, whilst various percussion is added courtesy of Kang Tekhyun.  If “Throughout the Night” is reminiscent of the type of sounds you might hear through the sound system that accompanies an art installation in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, “The Longing of the Yawning Divide” provides us with a beautifully melodic piece, reminiscent of the sort of music Stomu Yamash’ta was producing in the early 1970s.  Originally released locally in the winter of 2016, Communion is set to be released through tak:til and Glitterbeat in March 2018.

Roger McGuinn | Peace on You | Album Review | Retroworld | 23.02.18

The second solo album by The Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn, which was first released in 1974, could quite easily have been re-issued as a companion piece to the earlier Roger McGuinn (1973).  Both have a similar sound in places although Peace on You seems to be a little more focused, rather than the almost shambolic eclecticism of the former.  Once again surrounding himself with choice musicians, including Tommy Tedesco, Leland Sklar, Al Perkins and Russ Kunkel, Peace on You has much more of a Californian singer songwriter vibe going on, rather than the jingle-jangle folk pop investigated by his previous band.  Having said that, the old Rickenbacker does make a cameo appearance on the rock-a-bluesy “Gate of Horn” with a tongue inserted in a certain cheek.  Mostly self-penned in partnership with Jacques Levy, some of the other songs covered are from the pens of Al Kooper, Dan Fogelberg (both songwriters who also appear on the album) and Charlie Rich, who penned the title song.  If the crisp acoustic guitar on “Going to the Country” falls very much in line with the sort of playing of contemporaries such as Stephen Stills, the Tex-Mex feel on “Together”, courtesy of Tommy Tedesco’s flamenco guitar, offers another, rather agreeable aspect.  The arrangement on Dan Fogelberg’s “Better Change” borrows heavily from CSNY, with not one of them present, despite Crosby and Nash making an appearance on McGuinn’s previous record.  Although quite suitable as a single re-issue, my money would’ve been on a double featuring the first album alongside.     

Jez Lowe | The Dillen Doll | Album Review | Tanobie Records | 25.02.18

Released purely as an accompanying soundtrack to Jez Lowe’s novel The Dillen Doll, the songs on this CD, released under the same name, appear as a suite, featuring several familiar songs from the North East, each joined in one continuous piece of music.  The songs, some of which have been re-written to suit, serve as a reminder of days gone by and I dare say we see the collection both as a nostalgic trip down memory lane, whilst also being a reliable document of the lives and times of the working classes in the industrial North.  Those unfamiliar with this particular region may have to reach for a glossary of terms in order to work out what “As me an’ me marra was gannin’ to wark” means, but those of us with familiar links to Tyneside will no doubt find it all music to our ears.  The book is Jez Lowe’s first novel, set at the turn of the 19th Century and the people who inhabit the songs find a new place within the context of the story, adding a further dimension to their respective characters, such as the book’s heroine Dolly Coxon, herself featured in the song “Do Li A”, which closes the collection.  Tyneside shines through the story and indeed through the songs, a character in itself and one that is celebrated through the distinct voice of Jez Lowe, a key player in the endeavour of keeping alive the social and cultural traditions of the area.  Anyone who has followed Jez’s career will know him as a writer of songs, which reflect the social history of this particular neck of the woods, songs that often sound as if they could have been traditional songs themselves.  Here, Jez performs the songs that would no doubt have been an influence to him when he first picked up his guitar and bouzouki way back in time, songs like “Here’s the Tender Coming”, “Byker Hill”, “Broom Bezzoms” and “Bobby Shafto”, each song awarded the treatment they justly deserve, helped along by regular bandmates Kate Bramley on violin, Andy May on Northumbrian pipes and David De La Haye on bass among others.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a book to read..

Commander Cody | Flying Dreams and Rock n Roll Again | Album Review | Retroworld | 02.03.18

It’s difficult to think of the early Seventies Country Rock scene without at least one mention of the man known as Commander Cody (George Frayne), whose Lost Planet Airmen provided the perfect vehicle – in this case a truck or open top Cadillac or even an assortment of airplanes for that matter, judging by the LP sleeves – for some of the most notable good-time licks of the period.  This probably had as much to do with guitarist Bill Kirchen, whose flamboyant style was exemplified mostly in the extended live versions of “Hot Rod Lincoln”, where the guitarist ‘does’ everyone from Link Wray to Hendrix.  Although the band never quite matched the success of their debut 1971 LP Lost in the Ozone, with the possible exception of their eponymous release of 1975, Commander Cody has continued to work as a solo artist, releasing several albums over a 40 year career.  The two albums re-issued here are from the late 1970s after the Commander had ditched the Lost Planet Airmen and had begun working under his now well established pseudonym.  Although the running order of this re-release is presented as Flying Dreams first and then Rock ‘n Roll Again, they were in fact originally released in reverse order, both on Arista, which is slightly confusing.  With a voice that often resembles that of Alice Cooper, albeit without the snakes, swords and shock stage shows, Commander Cody sings in an authoritative manner, occasionally with a touch of Dr John’s southern voodoo, notably on “Take the Fifth Amendment”.  The two notable covers on Flying Dreams are still surprising today, The Band’s “Life is a Carnival” probably not so much as The Beatles’ White Album period “Cry Baby Cry”, which has Lennon’s acoustic guitar and George Martin’s harmonium surgically removed, to be replaced by sultry sax and gospel choir.  Not Commander Cody’s best work, but notable mid-Seventies albums nonetheless.

May Erlewine | Mother Lion | Album Review | Earth Work | 17.03.18

It’s taken a while to get around to this one and I’m not entirely sure why.  Maybe it’s the sparse cover artwork – just the name of the artist and the title on a white ground – I’m not sure, but I do know that once I had it on the player, I was moved to keep listening.  Never judge a book by the cover they say.  It’s the voice that draws you in first and foremost, matched by the quality of the songs.  May Erlewine has the ability to keep us listening, certainly on songs as soulful as “Shake the World” and as pretty as “Paint the Town”.  Seen recently as one third of The Sweet Water Warblers, along with Lindsay Lou and Rachael Davis, May treats us here to fourteen songs of astonishing beauty, certainly on such as the delicate “Mountain Top” and the album closer, “Grateful”, a gospel anthem if ever there was one.  This album confirms that May is not only a key player on the local Michigan scene, but also should be considered a contender on the world circuit.  That good.

Anne-Marie Sanderson | Book Songs Volume 1 | Album Review | Self Release | 19.03.18

Anne-Marie Sanderson’s third EP release is inspired by a handful of books the singer has devoured over time, books like Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible and Sarah Hall’s Haweswater for instance.  Celebrating literature in such a symbiotic way is quite novel (no pun intended), Anne-Marie herself referring to the project as ‘cross-pollination between art forms’, going on to cite the practice as a very natural thing to do.  The mysterious Holloways of South Dorset’s sandstone, as investigated by Robert Macfarlane, Dan Richards and Stanley Donwood in their compelling study of the subject, is hauntingly captured in “Holloway”, a thoroughly atmospheric opening song.  The same could be said of the EP closer, which sees Anne-Marie traversing the adventures of Doris Lessing’s literary siblings Mara and Dann, with the alluring “Mara’s Song”, which I would assume will have listeners unfamiliar with the book scurrying down to their local library with haste.  Accompanying herself on multiple instruments including guitar, cello, viola, clarinet, flute and percussion, Anne-Marie’s songs are performed with an assured confidence, her voice very much a focal point and her subject matter tenderly executed.

Keith James | Captured | Album Review | Hurdy Gurdy | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 23.03.18

For many years now, Keith James has been regarded as a leading interpreter of the songs of Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen and John Martyn, together with selected poetical works of Dylan Thomas, William Blake and Federico García Lorca, to name but a few.  Although there might be a question mark over why anyone would want to slave over the variety of open tunings and complex arrangements of Nick Drake’s idiosyncratic songbook, we have to concede that Keith James puts this musical knowledge to good effect on some of his own songs as well.  Collected from Keith’s back catalogue of recordings and releases, Captured, sub-titled The Best of Keith James, operates as a fine introduction to the sheer variety of influences the singer, songwriter, poet and producer has taken on and subsequently mastered.  Drake’s highly prophetic “Fruit Tree”, Cohen’s “Anthem” (you know, the one that contains Lenny’s oft quoted line about cracks that let the light in), a smattering of beat poetry with Kerouac’s “Daydreams of Ginsberg” and Ginsberg’s own “Blue Angel”, set to rather trance-like acoustic accompaniment, are all included here to rub shoulders with a selection of other contemporary songs and poems set to music.  The songs are indeed poetic and the poems are melodic whether borrowed from some of our iconic literary figures or indeed from Keith’s own pen; almost half of the selections here are Keith’s own compositions, including the notable “Decorated Cardboard Human Shapes”.  If the Drakes, Blakes and Lorcas were predictable in this double CD set, then the surprises came in the form of Portishead, Cream and Suzanne Vega covers with fine interpretations of “Glory Box”, “White Room” and “The Queen and the Soldier” respectively.

Low Lily | 10,000 Days Like These | Album Review | Mad River | 27.03.18

One of the most important aspects of successful roots music is to make the songs appealing and accessible, something that usually comes through fine performances, convincing arrangements and thoroughly good singing.  Low Lily appear to have ticked all boxes with 10,000 Days Like These, the trio’s debut full-length album release.  Liz Simmons, Flynn Cohen and Lissa Schneckenburger combine their respective roots credentials, which includes Bluegrass, Irish, Scots and Old Time Appalachian folk songs and tunes together with the odd rock classic, in this case Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms, whilst maintaining quality sound throughout all eleven selections.  Vocally, the trio excel in places, such as on “Dark Skies Again”, which sees the three singers interweaving their voices almost angelically.  Reminiscent of the sibling vocal pyrotechnics of the Rankin Family, the entire album is full of surprises, beautiful melodies and super fine performances throughout.  A lovely record.

Birds of Chicago | Love in Wartime | Album Review | Signature Sounds Recordings | 30.03.18

Back in February 2011, the Wheelhouse in Wombwell, a house concert venue located just a stone’s throw away from Barnsley town centre, was enjoying its usual cheerful gathering of regulars, guests and curious travellers from far and wide when JT and the Clouds arrived in town, their UK tour manager also being the owner of the venue.  It was indeed a night to remember, a night of discovery and a night that I unexpectedly gained a pal from Chicago.  Up until that point, I don’t think I had any of those.  On that occasion JT was joined by his Chicago-based band The Clouds, made up of Dan Abu-Absi, Chris Neal and Mike Bruno, who between them performed a totally acoustic set of songs from their current Caledonia album, together with one or two from JT’s new rootsy side project Mountains/Forests under the guise of JT Nero, the Chicago-born singer-songwriter’s solo alter-ego.  Little did we know back then that JT would soon join forces both musically and romantically with another huge talent on the American/Canadian roots scene, one Allison Russell, the leading voice behind the hugely popular Po’Girl, one of the brightest stars in a star-filled Galaxy.  Once JT and Allison joined forces, sparks flew all over the shop and Birds of Chicago was born; born to spread their love, their infectious personalities and their utterly gorgeous songs to the world.  Love in Wartime is the duo’s third studio album, following on from their self-titled debut, their last album Real Midnight as well as a live album Live from Space.  Those who were knocked out by Po’Girl’s “Kathy”, JT and the Clouds’ “Fever Dream” or indeed Birds of Chicago’s sublime “Sparrow”, will no doubt immediately fall in love with these eleven songs.  Through songs like these, certainly the title song “Love in Wartime”, the funky “Never Go Back”, the astonishingly exquisite “Superlover” and the soul-filled Baton Rouge, Birds of Chicago manage lift your spirits to places your spirits need to be lifted in these sour times.  Utterly soulful, rich in texture, beautifully arranged and highly melodic throughout, Love in Wartime is an essential addition to any record collection, whether you’re into this sort of stuff or not.  For this album, which was produced by JT and Luther Dickinson, JT and Allison are joined by Chris Merrill on bass, Nick Chambers on drums, Joel Schwartz on lead guitar, brother Drew Lindsay on piano and keys, Dan Abu Absi on guitars, Javier Saume-Mazzei on percussion and Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor providing harmony vocals.  This year, the organisers of the Cambridge Folk Festival have had the good sense to ask Rhiannon Giddens, a friend of JT and Allison, to accept an offer to act as guest curator at the festival, essentially to invite a bunch of first rate performers to the celebrated annual event and amongst those invited are Birds of Chicago; a huge opportunity to open doors to new audiences.  I sense that a great number of music lovers still unaware of Birds of Chicago will be suitably impressed and will no doubt add this couple from Chicago and Montreal respectively to their Christmas card lists.  I see absolutely no reason why not.

Sarah McQuaid | If We Dig Any Deeper it Could Get Dangerous | Album Review | Shovel and Spade Records | 19.04.18

Produced by Michael Chapman, who sees his role not unlike that of a film director, in his pursuit of getting “more out of Sarah than she thinks is in the tank”, Sarah McQuaid’s fifth album showcases the Madrid-born, Chicago-raised singer songwriter’s idiosyncratic approach to song writing.  The songs here are well thought through, highly measured and beautifully captured in all their moody splendour.  Accompanying herself on both electric and acoustic guitar, with some piano and in one case, a totally percussion-based backdrop (“One Sparrow Down”), the dozen songs capture both her distinctive voice and her mature musicianship.  The songs here cover a range of topics, such as mortality, or more importantly, what exactly is the most eco-friendly way of disposing of oneself after the Grim Reaper has made his inevitable house call.  The subject matter of “Break Me Down” is perhaps something most of us would rather not think about – but probably should.  There’s a couple of instrumentals, a medieval chant and a cover of Jeff Wayne’s memorable “Forever Autumn”, yet the album really focuses on some of Sarah’s most enchanting songs to date, including the first single release from the album, the ethereal “The Tug of the Moon”.

Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage | Awake | Album Review | Sungrazing Records | 01.05.18

Most who stumble upon the voice of Hannah Sanders agree that there’s a purity to it, which is a rare thing.  You believe every word she sings, whether the songs are from the tradition or whether they’ve been thought up and written down by contemporary minds.  The effect is very much the same.  Dylan once said “know your song well before you start singing” and you know instinctively, with a voice like this, Hannah knows these songs inside out.  Ben Savage skitters around with extraordinary empathy both in his vocal textures and instrumental prowess. Sitting down to listen to anything by this duo is as easy as making a cup of tea, opening a book or nodding gently in an armchair.  Awake reminds us of something we tend to sometimes forget, the reason why people do this, why people sing and why people listen.  There’s eleven songs here, six of which are Hannah and Ben originals, whilst the others are either arrangements of familiar traditional songs or songs written by folk song royalty, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger for instance.  A pretty faithful reading of Woody Guthrie’s “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key”, with Billy Bragg’s Mermaid Avenue tune still attached, feels very much like the definitive version, and it may well be.  Likewise, Pete Seeger’s “One Grain of Sand” comes across as both beautifully arranged and hauntingly sublime, whilst “7” takes a wander through nursery rhyme territory, revisiting the ‘One for Sorrow’ motif in a most touching way.  Then there’s the instrumental side of this duo’s repertoire, with “Every Night When the Sun Goes Down”, featuring Ben’s seasoned command over the Dobro.  Accompanied by a series of monochrome Tarot cards, the twelve-page booklet perfectly illustrates the songs that appear on this truly gorgeous album. 

Old Crow Medicine Show | Volunteer | Album Review | Columbia | 14.05.18

Twenty years on the go and the Old Crow Medicine Show release their sixth studio album to date, which once again demonstrates the band’s own unique blend of bluegrass, traditional mountain music and twangy country to great effect.  Some of the band’s trademark live sound is captured in the likes of “Shout Mountain Music”, “The Good Stuff” and “Elzick’s Farewell”, with one or two moments of tenderness, including the homage to homesickness, “Look Away”.  If Ketch Secor, Critter Fuqua, Cory Younts, Morgan Jahnig, Chance McCoy and Kevin Hayes, sound like characters from an old B movie western, their music belongs to the main feature.

The Salts | Brave | Album Review | Braccan Records | 14.05.18

As both the band’s name and the album title suggests, the music here is of the high seas, shanties given an injection of folk rock, with an unmistakable Englishness.  Even their recent festival bookings seem more than just suitable, such as the Tall Ships Festival in Greenwich and the Pirate Festival in Brixham.  The song titles confirm the band’s raison d’être, “Haul Away for Rosie”, “Running Down to Cuba” and “Fire Marengo”, even “Drunken Sailor” gets an airing.  Have your Kwells with you for this voyage.

The Lonesome Ace Stringband | When the Sun Comes Up | Album Review | Self Release | 15.05.18

Chris Coole, John Showman and Max Heineman make up the Lonesome Ace Stringband, with banjo, fiddle and bass under their respective command.  The Canadian trio’s third album takes old-time music and gives it a modern twist, taking the tradition to new places, whilst mixing their own original songs with established material, notably “Pretty Boy Floyd”, with a nod to both John Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie.  Despite some stellar playing, the trio’s vocal prowess ought not to be overlooked, especially on “Life’s Treasure”

John Statz | Darkness on the San Juans | Album Review | Why River | 15.05.18

The Denver-based singer-songwriter pours his heart out on this fine album of personal songs, the production of which make the songs sound even more personal and intimate.  Highly prolific with eight albums under his belt, John Statz writes in a fluid style, with uncomplicated arrangements and engaging stories.  Surrounding himself with close musician friends, the intimacy of these songs allow the listener to feel very much a part of the team.

Robert Lane | Only a Flight Away | Album Review | Self Release | 15.05.18

With commendations from the master of English song writing Ray Davies, Robert Lane exercises his craft once again in this third release, an album of self-penned songs ranging in style from the folk/pop leanings of “The Instigator”, to the rock solid band arrangement of “Man of the Moment”.  Impressive in its scope, Only a Flight Away is almost a compendium of styles, all of which demonstrate Robert’s versatility as a songwriter and tunesmith.  The bluesy “Baby Knows” could not be more different from “Hoping for Anything (But You)”, yet they’re both distinctly Robert Lane through and through.

Ry Cooder | Prodigal Son | Album Review | Fantasy | 16.05.18

I can actually remember a time when we used to look forward to the new Ry Cooder album, just to see where this man’s impeccable taste would take him next.  Questions would invariably arise, such as, would there be any trademark bottleneck guitar wizardry, or any mandolin driven spirituals?  Would Flaco Jiminez be there with the frills and thrills of his Cajun accordion or would Bobby King and Terry Evans be around to deliver their soulful harmonies?  For a good while it seemed to be nothing but soundtracks and collaborations with world musicians, devoid of the core sound that made us listen to Cooder’s music in the first place.  Well, some of that seems to have been revisited, reorganised and revitalised on Prodigal Son, Cooder’s first album in six years.  Incredibly, we seem to be hearing the voice of a youthful Ry Cooder once again, not the voice of the 71 year-old we fully expected.  Even on the haunting “Nobody’s Fault But Mine”, Cooder’s voice is weathered but strong.  The slide accompaniment is reminiscent of the familiar Paris Texas motif, once a Cooder staple and certainly great to hear once again.  The famous Cooder eclecticism is evident here once again, much the same as during his Into the Purple Valley period, dipping into Chuck Berry during the album’s lead track, the funky “Shrinking Man”.  It’s also rewarding to hear Cooder revisit the Woody Guthrie legend with the gorgeous “Jesus and Woody”, one of the album highlights, with echoes of “Vigilante Man” back to haunt us.  Cooder’s chief collaborator on these songs is Joachim Cooder, his son, whose flair for drums and percussion is evident throughout.  There’s a relaxed atmosphere on this album, which is both refreshing and delightful to hear.  Although there’s no Flaco, there is the slide guitar, the voice, the mature taste in songs and yes, we also get a bit of Bobby King and Terry Evans, doing what they do best.

Scott Matthews | The Great Untold | Album Review | Shedio | 16.05.18

This album, made up of stripped-back songs, holds our attention through its poetic beauty, its simplicity and its restrained atmosphere throughout.  The Wolverhampton-born singer songwriter has shown remarkable progress since he arrived on the scene twelve years ago with his debut album Passing Stranger and his sound is very much now established.  There’s a warmth and honesty about Scott’s vocal delivery, which is unmistakably his own.  Yes, there are comparisons to those who went before, and I have to concede that were Island still making sampler LPs like Bumpers and Nice Enough to Eat, then Scott Matthews’ songs would be placed precisely where the Nick Drake songs were on the 1970 records.

Ben Reel | Land of Escape | Album Review | B Reel Records | 18.05.18

Ben Reel’s eighth album features a dozen new songs by the Irish singer songwriter, recorded at Ben’s home studio in South Armagh, the songs being treated to lush arrangements throughout, with Ben’s fine vocal at the helm.  Soulful in places, Land of Escape provides the sort of escapism we currently crave, especially on such songs as “Some Mercy, Misty Morning Rain” and the tender “Paradise Found”.

Milton Hide | Little Fish | EP Review | Howdy Records | 19.05.18

Convincing performances by Eastbourne-based husband and wife team Jim Tipler and Josie Tipler, with six choice songs, the themes ranging from Brexit, Japanese carp migration, ideal locations for enduring cerebral hypoxia and a touching homage to home, each obviously revealing something rather more poetic than their title would suggest.  This is a surprisingly enchanting EP.

Mischief Afoot | Mischief Afoot | Album Review | Wild Goose Records | By Allan Wilkinson | 20.05.18

Cotswold-based trio Becky Dellow, John Davis and Jeff Gillett, otherwise known as Mischief Afoot, present a diverse collection of songs and tunes from the English, Irish and American traditions, with one or two self-penned compositions included.  Highly listenable and engaging, the songs and tunes have a freshness, despite the age of some of the material.  Nice to see that we never seem to tire of such ballads as “The Deserter” and such beautiful melodies as “Bridget O’Malley”, both treated here to fine arrangements.

Barefoot Jerry | Watching TV/You Can’t Get Off With Your Shoes On | Album Review | Retroworld | 21.05.18

The third and fourth albums by Nashville-based country rockers from the mid 1970s, reissued in one package.  Barefoot Jerry has become the pseudonym of multi-instrumentalist Wayne Moss, as exemplified in his appearance in the landmark country outlaw film documentary Heartworn Highways (1976), although the name was originally applied to Moss’s ever changing band in the early 1970s.  The two albums represented here demonstrate the band’s versatility as top Nashville session musicians, with such material as their impressive signature workout “Two Mile Pike”, the Arabian themed “Ali Babba”, a suitably stomping take on Little Richard’s “Lucille” and especially for Lord of the Rings aficionados, the highly sentimental synth-led “Hero Frodo”.

Carlene Carter | C’Est C Bon | Album Review | Retroworld | 24.05.18

An enormous amount of love and attention has been paid to the accompanying booklet for this difficult to listen to re-issue of Carlene Carter’s highly synthetic 1980s pop drivel album.  Once dubbed Country Music Royalty, Carter encapsulates the irritatingly programmed sound, the songs of which in all fairness probably couldn’t be improved upon even with the help of a Gibson Hummingbird.  Meanwhile, we are left with some highly forgettable video age nonsense.

Charlie Daniels Band | Epic Trilogy Volume 4 | Album Review | Retroworld | 25.05.18

Known widely for the hit single “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, Charlie Daniels has traversed various musical styles since he arrived on the Country music scene in the 1950s, from Blues, Cajun, Western Swing and Outlaw Country.  Here we have three albums, originally released over a ten year period from 1972, reissued as a 2-disc set on Retroworld.  As a multi-instrumentalist, Daniels has been a much sought after session figure during the 60s and 70s, and the three albums included here, TE John, Grease and Wolfman (1972), Whiskey (1974) and Windows (1982) provide a fine introduction to the Charlie Daniels Band in their prime.

Gothard Sisters | Midnight Sun | Album Review | Self Release | 26.05.18

Despite hailing from Edmonds, Washington, the Gothard Sisters (Greta, Willow and Solana), appear to have most of their influences very much grounded in the Irish tradition, the siblings being equally at home with Irish dancing as they are with their Celtic fiddle tunes.  Midnight Sun finds the trio in fine fettle both in their tunes and in their song choices, with some fine storytelling in “Mermaids”, “Bells on the Hill” and “Rose, Marie and Heather”.

Poco | The Songs of Paul Cotton | Album Review | Retroworld | 27.05.18

Some claim Poco to be one of America’s most underrated bands, largely due to the phenomenal success of The Eagles, a band that recruited at least two former members of Poco during their early years.  Alabama-born singer songwriter and guitarist Paul Cotton replaced founder member Jim Messina in 1972 and has since played a major part in the survival of Poco over the years, eventually leaving in 2010 to pursue other things.  The ten songs here represent some of Cotton’s finest moments with the band during their Epic years, including such familiar fare as “Ride the Country”, “Keeper of the Fire” and a live recording of “Bad Weather”.

Yonatan Gat | Universalists | Album Review | Glitterbeat | 29.05.18

New York City-based guitarist, producer and experimental composer, originally from Israel, Yonatan Gat seems to be on an urgent quest to explore as many influences as he possibly can on this his second album release.  With plenty of light and shade, garage noise and tranquil delicacy, punk sensibility and ethnomusicological curiosity, Universalists delves deep.  Joined by Gal Lazer on drums and Sergio Sayeg on bass, the trio’s sound is enhanced by a 1950s field recording from Genoa, together with a powwow drum combo from Rhode Island, not to mention some fine vocal delights during the almost epic Chronology.  Throughout, Gat’s confident and distinctively brutal guitar playing shakes each arrangement to life, with little room for fillers.

Malphino | Visit Malphino | Album Review | Lex | 30.05.18

This London-based Cumbia collective encourage us to visit their Utopian island on this their debut album.  We need look no further than their collective moniker to discover their origins, ‘Mal’ from tuba player David Aird’s Malay background and ‘Phino’ an indication of accordionist Alex Barrow’s Filipino roots.  Together, David and Alex along with DJ Yu Sato, percussionist Antonin Voyant and organist Graham Mushnik, Malphino have created a multi-faceted environment for musicians and visual artists to explore their collective ideas with intriguing results.  Difficult to describe but easy to understand once you are acquainted with it, the rhythms and textures of cumbia are infectiously explored on this generous 17-track debut.

Various Artists | Kinder Shores | Album Review | Rees Care Leavers | 30.05.18

A bit futile reviewing a charity compilation as the point is to put your hand in your pocket and give to a good cause, regardless of how good the album is.  Fortunately, this compilation of a generous 19 tracks by the likes of, okay let’s start with the biggies, Ralph McTell, Fairport Convention, Show of Hands, Oysterband and Home Service, is highly listenable, despite the fact that you may possibly already have most of the tracks included in your own collection, most of the tracks being already available on other albums.  The compilation possibly introduces some of us to lesser known, yet equally important contributors including Eric Sedge, whose song “She’s the One”, was the inspiration for this project.  The brainchild of retired Cromer based social worker Jenni Randall, Kinder Shores aims to raise funds for a new project in East Anglia that will provide ongoing support for those who have previously been in care.  Other artists involved include Chris While and Julie Matthews, Fraser Nimmo, Edward II and annA rydeR (!?)

Wolfe Jackson | Nobody Knows Me (Better Than You) | EP Review | Self Release | 30.05.18

The press release for Wolfe Jackson’s debut EP Nobody Knows Me (Better Than You) boasts a click-free, tuning-free and headphones-less live off the floor performance during the recording of these seven songs, however it all sounds pretty polished to me.  The London-based singer songwriter discovered himself as an artist during his stay in New York and has subsequently honed his sound through the slick production of Leo Sidran.  The sparsely arranged acoustic pop songs, such as the soulful John Martyn-like single “Comfort Love”, mark Jackson as a talent on the rise.

Steve Tilston | Distant Days | Album Review | Riverboat Records | | 24.06.18

We tend to wait in eager anticipation for any new Steve Tilston album, not least for the likelihood of discovering a bunch of new songs, each of which will almost definitely be well-thought through and well-written, they will no doubt be treated to a fine guitar accompaniment and will definitely be delivered in an instantly recognisable, reliable and distinctive voice.  Now and again though, this may not be the case, in that Steve occasionally collaborates with others, sometimes re-working older songs in a new collaborative setting, and very rarely a ‘best of’ compilation might appear; The Greening Wind in 1999 for instance, which is as good a ‘best of’ you’re likely to get.  In 2007, those good people at Free Reed also produced a five-disc retrospective, which is a must for Steve Tilston completists.  Here though, is something very special.  Distant Days sees Steve looking back once again, this time at some of the songs that he may just have almost forgotten about.  There’s a sense of ‘now, how does this one go again?’ especially when it comes to re-visiting songs written almost half a century ago.  Anyone familiar with exclusively Steve Tilston’s current work, will probably be astonished at just how youthful he sounds on his early albums, on such songs as “Time Has Shown Me Your Face” and “I Really Wanted You”, yet hearing these songs performed once again in the context of a mature singer all these years later is a joyful thing.  I once heard Steve introduce “Let Your Banjo Ring”, by recalling his own father using the word ‘banjo’ as a generic term for any stringed instrument, and here Steve performs the song on the instrument it was first intended.  Other songs are just as familiar today as they were back then when they were first written as they have remained in Steve’s set, his biggest ‘hit’ for instance, “Slip Jigs and Reels”, here performed with the same enthusiasm present as in its very first airing.  Others appear here as stripped down versions of songs originally treated to lush arrangements, such as “Is This the Same Boy?” which gives us the opportunity to appreciate the song in its rawest form.  With informative sleeve notes for both the casual listener as well as the curious guitar player, the nineteen songs on Distant Days, subtitled Solo Acoustic Recollections, is another confirmation that this songwriter just keeps on giving.   

Alden Patterson and Dashwood | By the Night | Album Review | Self Release | 03.07.18

Once you twig that Alden, Patterson and Dashwood are in fact three people, the name tends to roll off the tongue a little easier.  The three people in question are Christina Alden who sings a bit and plays guitar, Alex Patterson plays the fiddle and also sings a bit and finally Noel Dashwood adds splashes of Dobro and sings a bit too.  This ‘singing a bit’ lark is especially noteworthy when it comes to Christina, who has a fabulous voice, very distinctive, full of character and just right for the songs this Norwich-based trio choose to sing.  Their second album comes hot on the tail of the trio’s debut release Call Me Home and begins with not one, but two songs inspired by contemporary novels, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Travellers Wife and secondly Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus providing the inspiration for the title song.  This brings a literary perspective to their song writing credentials from the start.  The a cappella “Red Rocking Chair” on the other hand borrows from the tradition and demonstrates the trio’s flair for vocal arrangement, with some fine harmonies.  A fine blend of traditional and self-penned songs, which are almost impossible to separate.

Stick in the Wheel | Lemady Arise | EP Review | Self Release | 04.07.18

Slightly different to what we normally expect from Stick in the Wheel, but equally engaging nonetheless.  The two tracks on this limited edition 7” demonstrates the band’s experimental credentials, with a haunting take on “Lemady Arise”, featuring the voice of Wolf People’s Jack Sharp, whilst the band create the essence of the pipes’ drone.  The flip side on the other hand, sees the usually stoic-faced Nicola Kearey putting aside her angry voice temporarily, for an almost ethereal reading of the traditional “As I Roved Out”, with EAN fiddling, twiddling and faffing in the drum and bass box.

Amanda Shires | To the Sunset | Album Review | Silver Knife Records | 01.08.18

When I was first given the opportunity to speak to Amanda Shires back in 2012, I felt I was talking to an artist entrenched in what we know as the sound of Americana, but I soon discovered her desire to make radio-friendly pop songs too; “if they don’t have drums on the track, nobody’s gonna hear it” admitted the singer at the time.  Amanda had already released a couple of albums and has since released a couple more.  With this fifth release, the Texas-born, now Nashville-based singer songwriter has moved into a refreshingly new phase, taking a new direction with some of her most personal songs to date.  More confident as a songwriter, performer and musician, the ten songs sound contemporary enough to enable them to straddle the borders between mature song writing and radio-friendly pop.  Amongst the new songs is a new reading of an older song, the song that opened her 2011 release Carrying Lightning, giving the record its title.  The whistled intro on “Swimmer” has been revamped and replaced by a slick arrangement, yet the song still stands out as the most accessible, commercial, radio-friendly song on the album.  Produced once again by Dave Cobb, who also plays bass, the album also features contributions by Jason Isbell on guitar, Peter Levin on keyboards and Jerry Pentecost on drums.  Having travelled the road widely, playing ‘first’ fiddle to Rod Picott amongst others, and more recently with husband Jason Isbell, Shires has pretty much established herself as a solo artist in her own right with songs that are both varied and accomplished, notably “Parking Lot Pirouette” and the ballsy “Break Out the Champagne”, written after an air disaster ‘near miss’, and with an already suspicious attitude towards the safety of air travel.  Fortunately, Amanda Shires was spared and was determined to get on with the show.

Kila | Tóg é go Bog é | Album Review | Kila Records | 14.08.18

If we were to gather together each Kila release along with all the various solo records and side projects, we would have a rather prolific collection to behold and Tóg é go Bog é would probably gleam as the band’s stand out statement.  Originally released on CD and cassette back in 1997, the album has now been re-issued as a double LP set, due in no small part to popular demand from vinyl revivalists.  The Dublin-based band perform most of their songs in Gaelic, with the exception of the plaintive “Tip Toe” and present the sleeve notes in the same manner, leaving us in no doubt to the band’s origins.  Unlike many contemporary Irish traditional bands though, Kila fuse their own particular Celtic roots with musics from all over the world, notably Africa.  The mixture of African-inspired drums and percussion on the title song, provides a unique canvas for its Gaelic lyrics to splash their colours, likewise the a cappella “Bi Ann”, which blends beautifully the Gaelic song with Ladysmith Black Mambazo-like harmonies.  It’s world fusion with subtlety, which even at that time provided the band with a chart single, “Ón Taobh Tuathail Amach”, sung in their native tongue with a Cuban/Afro influence, which was pretty much unprecedented at the time.  If “Double Knuckle Shuffle” demonstrates the band’s playfulness, Dee Armstrong adds beauty through her sublime fiddle playing, notably on “Charlotte’s Web”, the opening tune to the “Dusty Wine Bottle” set.  Then there’s the sheer energy of the band in full flight, such as the opener “Gwerzy” and the steady build of “Rusty Nails”, which makes the album just as important as it was back in the mid-1990s when it was first released.

A Different Thread | On a Whim | Album Review | Self Release | 09.09.18

Staffordshire’s Robert Jackson and North Carolina’s Alicia Best make up the formidable team of A Different Thread, a duo who blend their own particular roots with quite pleasing results.  The dozen songs included here are all self-penned apart from the traditional “The Prickly Bush”, but it’s difficult to tell them apart.  Having first met two years ago in Ireland, the duo have honed their craft through busking, performing and now in the studio, with a style they refer to as British-Americana, which is as good a description as any.  There’s a maturity in Robert Jackson’s voice, which sounds like it’s done some travelling, put to good use on such songs as “Honey and Fire” and “Charlotte”, complemented by Alicia Best’s empathetic harmonies.  Then, when Alicia takes the lead, the roles are reversed with equal merit.  It’s when the duo share verses that the magic starts, again on “Charlotte”, one of the album highlights, and again on “Chairs Instead”, with a perfectly placed trumpet solo, courtesy of Rusty Smith, one of the choice musicians involved in making this really lovely record.  The worst disservice you could do to A Different Thread, is to not check them out.

Rachel McShane and the Cartographers | When all is Still | Album Review | Topic | 10.09.18

Some delightful arrangements of traditional songs each with a contemporary feel. Rachael’s voice may not be quite as distinctive as Kate Rusby or Ruth Notman (for instance), but clearly her arrangements fall along similar lines.  It’s been almost ten years since Rachael’s debut album No Man’s Fool, which is largely due to her long time commitment to Bellowhead, for which she was a founder member.  Working with such an outfit would no doubt have prepared the singer, in terms of touring, stagecraft and studio work and with these songs and tunes, we find a confident artist poised to take the spotlight once again.  The material chosen for this project deserves a good home and it’s with Topic Records that Rachael now finds herself, one of the oldest independent folk labels, not only in the UK, but in the world.  Songs such as “Ploughman Lads”, “Green Broom”, “Two Sisters” and notably Rachael’s reading of “Lady Isabel”, clearly demonstrate a natural flair for storytelling.  With fellow ex-Bellowheaders Paul Sartin and Andy Melon on board, along with a fine cast of musicians, notably Matthew Ord and Julian Sutton (The Cartographers), When all is Still should see Rachael emerge as a British folk music ‘A’ lister with little fuss whatsoever.

Dur-Dur Band | Dur Dur of Somalia Vols 1 and 2 | Album Review | Analog Africa | 11.09.18

Analog Africa continue in their endeavour to introduce new audiences to the authentic sounds of Africa, bringing to our attention what could possibly be described as the musical treasures of the continent, with the reissue of the first two volumes of the Dur-Dur Band of Somalia’s back catalogue.  Originally released in the mid to late 1980s, the album is presented as both a triple LP set and a two-disc CD, the two volumes augmented by a handful of additional tracks including a couple of previously unreleased items, “Salkudhigey” and “Haddi Anan Gacaloy”, two lengthy numbers of note.  It should perhaps be pointed out that Analog Africa founder Samy Ben Redjeb went through an unusual set of procedures in order to obtain the material here, allegedly having an armed escort accompany him during his visit to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.  A little scary granted, but the rewards are abundant.  With Redjeb referring to the music as “some of the deepest funk ever recorded”, the young band’s enthusiastic take on Muqdisho Funk, Disco, Soul and Reggae is very much evident on these 18 tracks, the initial release in an intended three-part series, although I could take issue with the producer of Saafiyeey Makaa Saraayeey, which had me checking the disc for fault more than once.

Thabang Tabane | Matjale | Album Review | Mushroom Hour Half Hour | 15.09.18

Deeply spiritual music from the Mamelodi township area of South Africa, on the outskirts of Pretoria, as Thabang Tabane continues the musical traditions set by his father, the late Philip Tabane, a leading force in the malombo style, who died earlier this year.  The ten songs that make up this, Tabane’s debut album, are infused with a richly percussive feel, with dance rhythms that can be equally enjoyed seated or up on your feet, although Bengheko could very well challenge those still sitting.  Named after his grandmother, the album has a familial feel, with such song titles as “Father and Mother” (composed by his father) and “Thuli” (Mama), yet as a whole, the focus on these songs is the spirit of malombo and its contribution to the traditions of South African music.  The highly rhythmic percussive songs are complemented by Tabane’s confident vocal delivery, augmented with some fine contributions by fellow musicians Dennis Moanganei, Sibusile Xaba and Thulani Ntuli.

Chris Thomas | Bound to the Ocean | Album Review | Self Release | 15.09.18

Having previously honed his craft in several local bands as well as a successful Pink Floyd tribute show, Devon-born singer-songwriter Chris Thomas has concentrated his solo song writing credentials into this, his debut album, which showcases his flair for writing accessible folk/pop melodies, especially on such songs as “Don’t Follow Me” and the lilting “Whenever I Sing Georgia”, a song clearly important to Thomas, in that it relates to his late step mother’s love of Ray Charles and the fact that he performed “Georgia on my Mind” at her funeral.  It doesn’t take long to warm to these highly personal songs, including the punchy “Gwendolyn Rose”, a song written for his own daughter, or the optimistic “Wake up Smiling”, which is sure to bring out the sunshine on a dull day.  There’s nothing throwaway on Bound to the Ocean, with each song, each melody and each performance nicely settling into the top drawer.

Edwin Hawkins Singers | The Buddah Collection | Album Review | Retro World | 16.09.18

Between 1969 and 1998, the Edwin Hawkins Singers released a string of gospel albums and enjoyed at least one smash hit with “Oh Happy Day”, a song that resonated in popular culture during the late 1960s, inspiring George Harrison’s similarly sounding “My Sweet Lord”.  Three of those albums, It’s a Happy Day, Live at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and Peace is Blowin’ in the Wind, each originally released on the Buddah label, are collected together here as a two-disc set, featuring some of the choir’s most enduring songs such as the aforementioned “Oh Happy Day”, featuring soloist Dorothy Combs, very definitely residing exclusively in the left speaker for some unfathomable reason, whilst a good part of the Peace album, features seasonal songs such as “White Christmas”, “We Three Kings” and “Oh Holy Night” as well as rather soulful take on Bobby’s classic.

Mark Harrison | The Panoramic View | Album Review | Self Release | 19.09.18

A curious release this time from country blues devotee Mark Harrison, with each of the songs prefaced by a spoken introduction by the familiar voice of Gail Porter, who effectively saves us the bother of reading the sleeve notes.  There’s a demo feel to each of the songs, as if they haven’t been quite worn in yet, something that will no doubt happen after several outings.  Still good though, quite unconventional in places, with direct references to such blues luminaries as Son House, John Lee Hooker, Mississippi John Hurt and Eddie ‘Guitar’ Burns and at one point assuming the role of one of the old blues masters himself, being rediscovered after several dormant years, and how that might have felt imagining what it must have been like to be confronted in old age by a curious white college boy clutching a microphone on his front porch on “Rediscovery Blues”.  With Charles Benfield on double bass and Ben Welburn on drums and percussion, together with additional help from Paddy Milner, Paul Tkachenko and Ed Hopwood, the songs are fattened out and brought to life.

Ruston Kelly | Dying Star | Album Review | Rounder Records | 19.09.18

Carolina-born, Nashville-based Ruston Kelly’s debut full-length album release and UK tour, which are both now very much upon us.  Not only does Dying Star boast a lead track “Jericho”, a first single release “Mockingbird”, a video release “Big Brown Bus”, but also, none of these are indeed the title track, so already we have four good things to think about.  The album is also released on one of America’s most cherished Americana and Bluegrass labels.  If Robbie Robertson and Co chose to employ a ‘father figure’ in the band (Garth Hudson), then Kelly goes one step further and has his actual father and mentor Tim ‘TK’ Kelly in the band, taking care of pedal steel duties, one of the album’s strong points.  The album follows Kelly’s initial EP release Halloween, released last April and continues to showcase a very promising new talent.  Co-produced by Kelly and Jarrad K and recorded in El Paso, Texas, the album forms a strong initial statement, which will serve Kelly and his band throughout their imminent tour of the UK.

Stella Chiweshe | Kasahwa: Early Singles | Album Review | Glitterbeat | 21.09.18

For world perspective, if we consider that the biggest UK single of 1973 was Dawn’s ever-so-twee “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree” and by 1983 we had arrived at the dazzlingy colourful Karma Chameleon, courtesy of Culture Club, then Stella Chiweshe’s run of singles, released exclusively in her homeland during this period, seem positively raw.  At just 16, the young Zimbabwean Mbira master shone in her field, that of the ancient mystical music of the Shona people, yet she endured a fair amount of irritation along the way, not least the reluctance she found in her male contemporaries, none of whom would teach her the instrument and being refused by Mbira makers to build her an instrument.  The upside to this archaic attitude towards women is that it made her even more determined and she soon became known as the ‘Queen of Mbira’ and remains so today as a 70 year-old rebel.  With a keen command over the thumb-picked instrument, together with an almost mournful, yet determined vocal delivery, the songs here remind us of the raw power of the music produced during the rise of the Chimurenga revolution and the time when some of us first became aware that there was more to life than Tony Orlando and Boy George.  With shakers providing the rhythm, these eight captivating songs serve as a good introduction to Stella Chiweshe’s music and as a fine collection in lieu of those ever-so elusive 45s.

Two Niles to Sing a Melody | The Violins & Synths Of Sudan | Album Review | Self Release | 24.09.18

All the capital cities of the world are in possession of their own rich cultural heritage and Khartoum is certainly no exception.  In this release, we find some of the Sudan’s own musical highlights from the period between the 1970s and 1990s.  Some of the titles reveal the struggles ordinary people endured through the period both before and after the 1989 coup, such as Kamal Tarbas’ “Min Ozzalna Seebak Seeb” (Forget Those That Divide Us), Zaidan Ibrahim’s “Ma Hammak Azabna” (You Don’t Care About My Suffering) and Hanan Bulu Bulu’s “Alamy Wa Shagiya” (My Pain And Suffering).  The violin and accordion sparring can be hypnotic in places, with some haunting orchestral arrangements, conjuring an almost brooding feel, though tinged with optimism.  Plenty of scope in terms of the sprawling “Al Mursal” (The Messenger) by Mohammed Wardi to the fleeting instrumental “Elhabeeb Wain” (Where is My Sweetheart) courtesy of by Ibrahim El Kashif.  Worth investigating.

Richard Thompson | 13 Rivers | Album Review | Proper | 25.09.18

If the young songwriter of the early 1970s was concerned about what might be at the end of the rainbow, then it stands to reason that the fully mature songsmith of forty-odd years on would be concerning himself with the ‘rattle within’.  The life cycle isn’t over yet by any means, though an artist of Thompson’s standing would perhaps be leaning on the periphery fence looking inward at a life well lived at this point.  The recent Thompson has been hugging his acoustic guitar rather a lot, whilst revamping his past glories, but on 13 Rivers, the guitarist once again brandishes his trusty Stratocaster for a ride hardly ventured since Mock Tudor perhaps, just prior to the turn of the last century.  There’s some superb performances here from the start, “The Storm Won’t Come” immediately draws the listener in with a song of expectant change disguised as impending doom, accompanied by a determined tribal beat.  It’s an unexpectedly long opener, but totally spot on the mark for Thompson.  The aforementioned “The Rattle Within”, is actually a wry look at the God problem posing the all-important and oft repeated question, basically who’s going to save us from the inevitable?   There’s the obligatory biblical references also in “Bones of Gilead”, then there’s the equally obligatory guitar motifs, blistering and glistening on such as “Her Love Was Meant For Me”, “Do All These Tears Belong To You” and “The Storm Won’t Come”, together with one or two bluesy moments, notably “The Dog in You” (a Thompson title if ever there was one) and the mandolin even comes back out to play on the folky “No Matter”.  True to form, Thompson leaves us with a reflection on the bigger questions in “Shaking the Gates”, a song that confirms that some of us remain dreamers, through and through.  Produced by Thompson and engineered by Clay Blair, 13 Rivers sees the guitarist collaborate once again with regular musicians Michael Jerome, Taras Prodaniuk and Bobby Eichorn on what could very well be his finest album in several years.

Besides Daniel | Teeming | Album Review | Self Release | 27.09.18

All references point to this album being correctly entitled T E E M I N G, rather than just plain old Teeming, a term defined by Danny Brewer as being ‘in motion with life’, which pretty much reflects how the Georgia-based musician known as Besides Daniel sees himself at the moment, and which apparently requires spaced capitals.  The songs are personal, reflective and in places emotionally charged, centred round his now settled status as a husband and a father, each delivered in a highly versatile vocal style in the Jeff Buckley tradition.  It’s difficult to single out highlights here, but it wouldn’t be far off the mark to cite “French Braid”, “Apologise” and “If You Ask Me To” as little gems in their own right.

Andrew J Newall | Reflections from an Airport | Album Review | Self Release | 30.09.18

It’s been a while since a song brought a tear to these hardened eyes, but Andrew J Newall’s “Everyday”, a song for his son, lost to a road traffic accident at a very young age, did just that.  Perhaps it’s due to the song’s absence of sentimentality that affected me most, just a simple love letter to the son he obviously misses, tenderly captured in an accompanying video included on the disc.  This is as good a starting place as any to begin a subsequent artist/listener relationship and yet it doesn’t stop here.  Reflections from an Airport is packed with great songs, each delivered in a confident voice reminiscent of the much missed Jackie Leven, each song, a story desperate to be told.  To make this album work as well as it does, Andrew surrounds himself with the right people, Sandy Jones for instance, whose production is sumptuous and Graeme Duffin whose warm textures add to the atmosphere.  Despite the emotional turmoil of re-visiting very real life changing events, Andrew offers some optimism in such songs as “Raise Your Head”, “Go On, Go On” and “This New Dawn”.  A fine album.

Kitty Macfarlane | Namer of Clouds | Album Review | Navigator | 02.10.18

When I first heard Kitty Macfarlane’s debut EP, Time and Tide, in the spring of 2016, it was immediately obvious to me that we had a major new talent on our hands, a singer, songwriter and importantly, a new nature conscious presence on the British folk and acoustic music scene.  The unaccompanied opening verse of “Wrecking Days” was almost enough to confirm this and immediately made me to sit up and listen.  Here, Kitty revisits the song midway through her much anticipated debut full-length album, with Jamie Francis’ banjo replaced by his Folk Rock inspired electric guitar.  The song is joined by ten others, mostly self-penned with a couple of traditional songs and one adapted poem.  Once again, Kitty’s material is drawn from the landscape, notably the vast wetlands of her native Somerset, not only from the land but from the sky above it, with a song about the pharmacist who gave clouds their names, which in turn gave the album its title.  Then there’s the unlikely setting of the Mediterranean island of Sant’ Antioca, just off the South West coast of Sardinia, which centres around the ethereal ancient world of sea silk spinning, in fact Kitty’s notes on meeting the last surviving sea silk seamstress Chiara Vigo are utterly enchanting, as are the field recordings made by Kitty and co-producer Sam Kelly especially for this project.  Joined together with the sounds of laughter, birdsong, the lapping of waves and the ripples of streams, the songs are allowed to breath alongside nature, effectively lifting the songs to a new level of enjoyment.  You feel as though you are at one with nature, with the starling murmurations, the sea, the eels, the ancient crafts of the Med and the Atlantic castaways and cuttlefish bones.  This is everything we expected from Kitty and more.

Young Waters | Young Waters | Album Review | Monokrome Music | 03.10.18

With comparisons already made to such acts as the Incredible String Band and Fleet Foxes, this young five-piece outfit describe their music as ‘twisted neo-folk’, which provides us with something of an idea of what to expect prior to hearing them.  When we do hear them, there’s something quite alluring about the band’s overall sound, ethereal and dreamlike in part and if indeed twisted, then twisted in all the right places.  Recorded in parts at the famed Real World studios, Peter Gabriel’s place, their compositions have been taken seriously enough to be rewarded with sumptuous production, with attention paid to getting the vocals just right.  Young Waters consists of singers Theo Passingham and Kerry Ann Jangle who also play guitar and percussion respectively, with Liam O’Connell on double bass and vocals, Calum Smith on violin and Rowen Elliot on viola and violin.  Though the empathetic voices of Theo and Kerry Ann are the main focus throughout, we should acknowledge the startling interplay between the instruments, with some feverish violin work, especially on the masterful “Weary Soul” and the beguiling “Swimming Pool”.  Emotionally charged, this fine debut is likely to make a big splash on the current acoustic music scene.  Be prepared to wade in at your earliest opportunity.

Phillip Henry | True North | Album Review | Dragonfly Roots | 06.10.18

Saving the right moment to sit down and listen to Phillip Henry’s debut solo album has been well worth the wait.  I held off until its release date with an hour of undisturbed quiet in order to absorb the material and soon realised 11 songs and 54 minutes later, that I’d written nothing but a bunch of superlatives, which seemed to describe the cover artwork, the liner notes and most importantly, the beautiful music within.  Phillip Henry is a familiar face on the British folk and acoustic music scene, along with Hannah Martin, now collectively known as Edgelarks, but also as a fine accompanist to a variety of projects.  True North is Phillip’s moment alone.  Travelling the world in search of the roots of the slide guitar, the styles have been totally absorbed, from the old blues masters such as Blind Willie Johnson on “I Can’t Keep From Trying Sometimes” and “Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya”, whose influence can be heard on both “Reverence Revisited” and “Kalyan Variations”, by way of the Indian Chaturangui, a 22-stringed instrument.  The title song “True North”, written by Phillip with Hannah and inspired by a touch of homesickness whilst in Tasmania, sees Phillip in good voice, whilst “O’Carolan’s Welcome” demonstrates how well the chaturangui adapts pretty Irish Harp music from one of the tradition’s finest exponents.  Good also to hear a fine reading of Tim O’Brien’s “Brother Wind”, a song this reviewer heard the author sing at the 1995 Cambridge Folk Festival.  A fine meditative album.

Malawi Mouse Boys | Score for a film about Malawi without music from Malawi | Album Review | Self Release | 08.10.18

“If money was available, I could do my best to make everybody in the world happy” – so says one of the musicians in a band so poverty stricken, that their own story could easily be made into a film in its own right.  Forced to sell grilled mice on skewers at Malawian roadsides, the four young musicians gathered together a range of homemade instruments, such as knocked together guitars and a drum kit that included a kick drum pedal built from coat hanger wire and an ingenious hi-hat cobbled together from the cog plates from an old bicycle. Despite the band’s Heath Robinson instrumentation, the musicianship shines through, more from determination than anything else.  Their usually highly melodic music and chant-like songs featured previously on such releases as He Is #1 (2012), Dirt is Good (2014) and Forever Is 4 You (2016), have been put aside for this project, produced by Ian Brennan, and originally intended for a film soundtrack but never used, made up of sound poems created from found objects such as old beer bottles, broken spokes, water buckets, trapped insects and children’s voices, to name but a few.  I don’t for one minute imagine this record will be popped on the player for much enjoyment, but the haunting sounds, just 15 short tracks, one at just 23 seconds long, certainly made me curious enough to look deeper into this incredible story of survival.

Winston McAnuff and Fixi | Big Brothers | Album Review | Chapter Two Records/Wagram | 08.10.18

French/Jamaican collaboration featuring 1970s Roots Reggae stalwart Winston McAnuff (Electric Dread, Inna De Yard) and French accordionist Fixi, who pool their respective influences in a hotpot of vibrant rhythms, including Cuban styled piano, reggae, electronica and a shimmering vocal contribution courtesy of Angola’s Pongo (aka Pongo Love) on the pulsating “One Note”.  Big Brothers, the second album release by McAnuff and Fixi, follows on from their debut A New Day (2013) and is awash with fine accordion flourishes courtesy of Fixi, with some thoughtful conscientious songs, such as “I Came I Saw, Crying For Love”, the poignant Think and the infectious Cuban-influenced title song, as well as some soulful moments, notably “Sweet Love of Mine”.

Ben Kunder | Better Human | Album Review | Comino Music | 09.10.18

This second offering from Ben Kunder follows hot on the heels (well almost) of his impressive debut Golden (2015) and once again showcases the Toronto- based singer songwriter’s knack of writing easily accessible indie-pop tunes, each written from the heart.  The title song, “Better Human”, gets right down to it from the start, an optimistic confessional and a personal pledge to try a little harder; a notion we should all endeavour to achieve, especially in times like these.  With lots of guest musicians helping out, including Sarah McDougall, Jim Guthrie, Carleigh Aikins, Maia Davies and Anna Ruddick amongst others, Better Human communicates through song precisely how Ben Kunder feels and in a manner we all understand.  Fuelled by a recent tour with fellow Canadian songstress Oh Susanna, Ben’s songs seem to appear well worn in and have in turn successfully helped him to negotiate the ‘difficult second’ obstacle with some confidence.

Storm Jameson | The Year of Orbison | Album Review | Flood Music | 09.10.18

There’s a brooding undercurrent to much of the material on The Year of Orbison, the new release by Matt Gold and Jim Tashjian, collectively known as Storm Jameson, presumably named for the 20th century Whitby-born novelist.  Whilst the Chicago-based duo’s treatment of “Jesus on the Mainline” retains much of its Ry Cooder feel, with funky electric guitar licks throughout, the dreamy Godzilla & King Kong demonstrates the duo’s flair for fluid and understated guitar motifs, befitting a homage to the silver screen.  With Gold and Tashjian’s previous catalogue of work in such outfits as Sun Speak, Hood Smoke, District 97 and Miss Remember between them, the two guitarists pool their respective influences well in order to create an informed collection of songs, both well-known and not so well known, including a contemporary arrangement of the traditional “Silver Dagger”, sounding for all intents and purposes like a hybrid of Bonnie Prince Billy and REM, as well as a poised acoustic rendition of Stephen Foster’s timeless parlour song, “Hard Times”.  Definitely worth checking out.

Bokante and Metropole Orkest | What Heat | Album Review | Real World | 09.10.18

From the first few bars of album opener “All the Way Home”, we detect that this bunch of musicians mean business, an outstanding collaboration between multi-cultural supergroup Bokanté and the Metropole Orkest, featuring the sultry voice of the Montreal-based Guadeloupian Creole singer Malika Tirolien.  These two hugely respected collectives, led in turn by Michael League and Jules Buckley, meet with mutual respect and a clear musical vision, with an impressively uncluttered sound, which in other hands might not have worked quite so well.  Retreating to Spain, with the intention of tracing the music of both Africa and the Arab world and giving the music a modern spin, both League and Tirolien worked on the songs, effectively creating an exciting body of work, which would prove to be both musically satisfying and culturally aware, then to top it all, you could also dance to it.  There are also some enormously satisfying moments for the listener, particularly in the slide guitar work on both “Fanm” (The Woman) and “Maison En Feu”, the syncopated rhythms and drums of “Bod Lanme Pa Lwen” and “Reparasyons” and the soothing melody weaving on “Chambre a Echos”.

Gren Bartley | Quiet | Album Review | Wooden Walls Records | 09.10.18

Gren Bartley has been enjoying a sabbatical over recent years, very much off the music scene, a scene that Gren has contributed so handsomely to over the years, therefore it has come as a pleasant surprise to see him return with a new album, which the singer, songwriter and virtuoso guitar player has been literally giving away (well almost) through Bandcamp.  Once again, Gren’s guitar playing is the focus on these nine songs and in particular, the instrumental pieces, such as the hypnotic “Missing You”, originally written for the kora by Seckou Keita along with the featured slide guitar work throughout.  The album opener, “Feeings of Mountain and Water”, is possessed of an utterly enchanting ambience, the Fuzai Jin composition perhaps reflected in the album’s title.  After being further drawn into the delicate ethereal nature of the two opening pieces, Gren delivers the curiously jaunty “Hukilau”, Jack Owens’ popular ukulele song covered over the years by everyone from Bing Crosby to Tiny Tim.  “Imperfect Love”, the only song on the album to feature another musician, Julia Disney, whose atmospheric contribution gives the closing piece additional depth and which rounds off what could be seen, with the possible exception of the delightfully quirky “Hukilau”, as a deeply reflective and meditative suite of beautiful music; but there again, we all need a little bit of Hukilau every once in a while.

Kelly Oliver | Botany Bay | Album Review | Self Release | 09.10.18

British folk singer Kelly Oliver returns with this her third full-length album to date, this time produced by Stu Hannah, featuring a selection of exclusively traditional ballads collected from her native county of Herefordshire.  With storytelling at the forefront, songs such as “The Trees They Do Grow High”, “Dark Eyed Sailor”, “Died for Love” as well as the title song are treated to fine arrangements throughout. Helping out are guest musicians including Phil Beer, Luke Jackson, Lukas Drinkwater and Jamie Francis amongst others, each fattening out the sound more than adequately.

Delta Ladies | Hillbilly Trance | Album Review | Self Release | 10.10.18

Vi Martin and Dee Stone, otherwise known as the Delta Ladies, no doubt named after one of Leon Russell’s finest songs, present their own take on deep and dark Americana in this remastered and expanded reissue of their Hillbilly Trance album, named for their own idiosyncratic style, which is a pretty accurate description.  The songs are indeed trance-like in places, each incorporating sweeping violin motifs, driving banjo and bluesy harmonica, with percussion provided by Danny Bryan.  Both “Rock of Ages” and “Thieving Boy” pretty much set out the tenets of their style, which has been described as ‘Old Time meets the Velvet Underground’, illustrated in the accompanying inner sleeve photograph.  With Eastern influences blending seamlessly into the mix, such as on “Trance Dance”, and the epic closer “Hear Me Calling”, the Ladies manage to straddle international borders with ease.  Strangely compelling.

Rick Kemp | Perfect Blue | Album Review | Fellside | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 11.10.18

Pretty much paired down to essentials, the songs on Perfect Blue are delivered with little fuss, predominantly on acoustic guitar, with only the sparsest additional accompaniment.  The former Steeleye Span bassist flexes his song writing muscles with a collection of self-penned songs, with the exception of Stars, written by daughter Theresa Kemp.  Theresa also duets with her dad on the torch-lit power ballad “Somewhere along the Road”, which features the Ewanrigg Community Choir, a gig closer if ever there was one.  With a CV that includes working with such illustrious bands as Jethro Tull, King Crimson and The Maddy Prior Band as well as producing material by folk acts The Johnstons and Swan Arcade, Rick has rarely taken centre stage, swapping his trademark bass for acoustic guitar.  Rick tackles the songs with a confident voice, often going for the falsetto and overdubbing his own harmonies, which keeps it all pretty much a solo record, although he does elicit the help in places of such musicians as Doug Morter on guitar, Ian Kellett on keyboards, Dave Langdon on pedal steel with Fellside’s Linda Adams providing keyboard, whilst Paul Adams takes his usual place at the production desk.

Weight Band | World Gone Mad | Album Review | Self Release | 18.10.18

I guess that when you’re associated with one of the most iconic bands of the rock era, there’s almost a sense of duty to keep the spirit of that band alive once the original members have either gone doing other things, or in the case of three members now, gone forever.  Jim Weider has been associated with The Band, the Woodstock-based quintet of musicians who between them released at least two landmark albums of the 1960s, toured with Bob Dylan during his most gruelling period, tolerating the wrath of disgruntled audiences throughout the world, and who went on to set an example for their many contemporaries to follow.  The Weight Band has gone to great lengths to keep the spirit of The Band alive, playing their now iconic repertoire, but also writing and performing material that falls well within the musical remit of the original outfit.  With Weider replacing Robbie Robertson in 1985, going on to contribute to three albums with The Band, Jericho, High on the Hog and Jubilation, the guitarist served his time with the band well. Now joined by other musicians with links to the original members of The Band, Michael Bram, Brian Mitchell, Matt Zeiner and Albert Rogers, Weider continues to write and perform in this vein, and with the release of this, their debut album, they come over as a tight band that shows no signs of flagging.  Occasionally sounding eerily like their mentors, especially on such tracks as “Big Legged Sadie”, with its almost identical Rick Danko vocal together with Robbie’s idiosyncratic dampened guitar licks, existing fans should take to this very well.  However, newcomers to The Band should start with Ronnie Hawkins and catch up first.

Raintown Seers | The Mermaids Pool | Album Review | Self Release | 11.10.18

Now into their sixth year, the Derbyshire-based folk quartet Raintown Seers present a new collection of songs, largely written by the band’s singer/guitarist Neil Fisher, with the exception of the traditional “Bonny Ship the Diamond” and Ewan MacColl’s “Champion at Keeping ‘em Rolling”, both of which are treated to fine arrangements here.  Neil is joined by Steve Hyde, Lisa Lovatt and Dan Hall, who between them create the sort of folk music once popular in the 1960s with the likes of the Ian Campbell Folk Group, which is not a criticism.  Unlike Ian Campbell and Co though, Raintown Seers venture into Folk Rock territory with such songs as “Peter’s Stone”, with its extra boost courtesy of Danny Walsh’s Rickenbacker bass, and I doubt Campbell would’ve dared reference Joy Division (“The Last Boat”), even if they’d been around in ‘65.   John Riley (Revisited) is a fine example of how well the band interprets Fisher’s original songs, a duet with a fine vocal courtesy of Lisa Lovatt, together with a touch of kalimba adding to the atmosphere.  With informative sleeve notes, including helpful map coordinates, The Mermaid’s Pool and Other Stories, is both well produced, well presented and well performed.  Jimmy Webb’s timeless “Wichita Lineman” is tucked away as a bonus track, reminding us once again what a fabulous song it is, even without Glen Campbell, the Wrecking Crew or indeed the sumptuous orchestrations; it’s just a folk song after all.

Alan Prosser | 5/4AP | Album Review | Rafting Dog Records | 11.10.18

If I didn’t so rigorously adhere to the old adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’, then I might just have missed this one, and that would’ve been a shame.  Dreadful cover aside, the songs are quite exciting, especially “Simple is Never Easy”, which tears into the running order almost from the start, after a rather melancholy instrumental opener “Ridingate”, named for the Roman landmark of Canterbury.  On “Simple is Never Easy”, the guitarist and founder member of the Oysterband, brings some of the band’s vitality to the arrangement, yet makes it all his own.  With each of the songs separated by instrumental interludes, the album manages to flow, allowing a breather between songs, a sort of moment for reflection.  Prosser introduces some quality songs along the way, including “Suicide Bomber”, with its uncommon time signature and Middle Eastern instrumental solo, which keeps our attention focused.  It doesn’t take the listener long to realise that much of this album, in fact all of it, is in 5 time, exemplified in Dave Brubeck’s classic cool jazz standard “Take Five” or Pentangle’s own folk/jazz version “Light Flight”, the theme from the 60s TV show Take Three Girls.  Here Prosser examines its potential further and creates some adventurous soundscapes, both instrumentally and through songs, including “Out of Kent”, “Five for You” and the beautiful “Amy Isn’t Waiting”.  Davy Graham fans will notice the homage in the title, based upon Graham’s mid-Sixties collaborative EP with Alexis Korner, 3/4 AD.  The Mike Oldfield-styled Tommy Atkin’s “March (5/2)”, which closes the album, is as good a closer as any I can think of.

Miles Hunt | The Custodian | Album Review | Good Deeds Records | 12.10.18

Revisited and well-rehearsed in preparation for his forthcoming UK tour, the Wonder Stuff frontman selects thirty songs from his prolific back catalogue and presents them in stripped down acoustic form.  The title of the two-disc set comes from a conversation with fellow singer songwriter Tom Robinson, who suggested that Hunt’s repertoire of fine pop songs actually belongs to his audience rather than to himself or indeed his publisher and that he should see himself more as a custodian of this impressive body of work.  The songs chosen from four decades of song writing includes such notable Wonder Stuff hits as “The Size of a Cow” and “Caught in My Shadow”, together with new material, including the title song “Custodian” and “Fits and Starts”, a video for which has just been released.  There are omissions, but none of them particularly glaring, unless of course we had any burning desire to revisit the band’s biggest hit, a cover of Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy” – though perhaps Vic Reeves wasn’t available for the tour, or indeed the legendary back flip!

Sharon Lazibyrd | Half Shame and Half Glory | Album Review | Self Release | 12.10.18

Somerset singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Sharon Lazibyrd cites both Julian Cope and PJ Harvey as influences, yet neither are really evident in her music and songs, which lean more towards her own idiosyncratic song writing and folk storytelling, in fact, “More for Less” comes more or less from the Leon Rosselson tradition of songwriting.  There’s an almost whimsical and lilting quality to some of her songs such as insanely cheerful “Don’t Worry” and the album opener “Mr Smilie”, a sad story delivered in a jaunty ukulele-strummed style.  “Opium of the Masses” on the other hand, tackles all our hopes and fears in these dodgy times, delivered in a style reminiscent of Australian singer Cath Mundy.  A thoughtful songwriter with a familial voice you soon warm to.

Bixiga 70 | Quebra Cabeca | Album Review | Glitterbeat | 12.10.18

Now well into their eighth year, the São Paulo-based 10-piece collective release their fourth album with no small fanfare.  Once again their Afro-Brazilian roots are explored in eleven exhilarating instrumental pieces, each a fusion of belting horns and driving percussion.  With their usual comfort zone being very much a live setting, both onstage or the studio floor, for this album Bixiga 70 utilise the studio more as a tool for exploring their richly melodic sound further with some sparkling results, building each piece carefully and precisely, a little like the colourful jigsaw puzzle featured on the cover, alluded to in the album title.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, to escape the influence of African music in Brazil and here the two cultures find mutual empathy with ease, the band having absorbed a diverse range of influences from Ghanaian highlife singer Pat Thomas and Nigerian saxophonist Orlando Julius, to the city of São Paulo itself, its vibrant music scene providing the pulse.  The hard driving rock arrangement of such as “Levante” suggests that Bixiga 70 is unafraid to take this music to the edge. 

Annie Dressner | Broken Into Pieces | Album Review | Self Release | 14.10.18

Since moving to the UK seven years ago, New York City-born Annie Dressner has been steadily building a reputation for herself as a fine new voice on the acoustic music scene.  Having made one album already, Strangers Who Knew Each Other’s Names  (2011), and receiving airplay along the way, along with some exposure at one or two major UK festivals, this singer songwriter is set to make her mark with this, her Nigel Stonier produced second album.  With a delivery reminiscent of a young Nanci Griffith and at times the late Dolores O’Riordan, Annie takes care to ensure each of these eleven self-penned songs maintains her own individual personality, especially on such pop-fuelled songs as “Don’t Go” and “Heartbreaker”, the heartfelt Kentucky and the wonderfully optimistic “Morning”.  With plenty of assistance from Nigel Stonier, together with Matthew Caws on guitar, Che Beresford on drums, husband Paul Goodwin on keyboards, with Polly Paulusma and Dan Wilde providing back-up vocals, Broken into Pieces should see Annie’s star rise.

Gary Stewart | Oh My Weary World | Album Review | Self Release | 15.10.18

There’s so many different sides to Gary Stewart that it’s difficult to keep up.  Not only is Gary the gun-for-hire drummer who beats the blue blazers out of Hope and Social’s kit as well as that of other bands including Ellen and the Escapades, he has also enjoyed a stint as one Rosie Doonan’s blooming petals, in her much missed acoustic quartet The Snapdragons.  Then there’s the spotlight that he often occupies as the diminutive figure of Paul Simon, taking on the entire Graceland album, possibly the greatest album of the 1980s, and he does it with such flair.  A Scot by birth, Gary is more associated with his adopted home of Leeds and the thriving local music scene that surrounds him, carving out a name for himself not only as a music ‘doer’, but first and foremost as a singer songwriter, whose opportunities to deliver his own unique songs is perhaps getting slimmer in view of all his other pursuits.  No matter, pen has once again met paper, chords have been developed, melodies constructed and here we have another solo offering from the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist.  Oh My Weary World is a brand new collection of songs, each of which are delivered in Gary’s own distinctive voice, a voice he reserves for his own songs and quite different from the one he uses for “Boy in the Bubble” and “All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints” and everything in between.  It’s a voice that fully suits the acoustic setting and the subjects he writes about.  Melodic, well-structured and immediately accessible, songs such as “Crossing T’s”, “Love to Jupiter” and “Escher Sketches”, each showcase Gary’s pop/folk sensibilities, songs you are likely to remember.  

David Messier | Time Bomb | Album Review | Self Release | 17.10.18

This impressive second offering from Austin-based singer songwriter David Messier has a certain urgency about it as the title suggests, with eleven strong and highly melodic songs, not least the opening track.  “Television is Better Than Love”, boldly asserts that this is indeed so, especially in the current Television Age, a thought we should perhaps consider as we rush back to our respective sofas in order to catch episode five in our latest gripping box set.  Better than love? Perhaps David Messier has a point.  There’s a certain confidence in the writing here, as well as in the arrangements, performances and delivery, which is all the more remarkable in that it took just 22 days for Messier to write and record the album.  Well-produced and maintaining a pop/rock sensibility throughout, Time Bomb is what we like to refer to as a ‘grower’ and after just a couple of play-throughs, the songs become quite familiar, even the adventurous title song, a multi-layered, multiple-key opus of considerable complexity, yet completely listenable, not unlike some of Jeff Lynne’s arrangements for ELO.

Bert Jansch | Just a Simple Soul | Album Review | BMG | 19.10.18

It was during the 1992 documentary Acoustic Routes, a film about Bert Jansch and his contemporaries, that fellow Scot Billy Connolly traced the career of this highly charismatic singer, songwriter and legendary guitarist, by taking a closer look at Bert’s various LP cover shots, which according to Connolly, illustrated the singer’s progress from the skinny young folk singer of the mid-1960s, sitting in a seemingly bare and empty flat, to the handsome caped elder statesman who looked as if he had “joined an obscure order of monks” on the cover of his 1982 LP Heartbreak.  This was as good a way as any to traverse the story of Bert Jansch, however, another way would be to listen to 39 hand-picked tracks from Bert’s prolific back catalogue.  Many of us are already familiar with Bert’s story, his contribution to British folk music, his status as a highly influential and highly regarded guitar player, his standing as a remarkable songwriter and the sheer wealth of music that he’s left us with.  His name alone is an enduring legacy, which pops up in just about any conversation concerning the acoustic guitar.  Some say ‘Yanch’, others say ‘Janch’, whilst his good pal of many years Ralph McTell says ‘Jance’.  If the streets of London were once scrawled with primitive slogans to the tune of ‘Clapton is God’ courtesy of rock fandom, then the very same honour might well have been simultaneously bestowed upon Bert from the folk community, had the folk community been daft enough to bother.  Fortunately, Bert’s music doesn’t just belong to the old guard and many new listeners are discovering his music every day and this collection makes a good starting place for the newbie.  The two CD set features just short of 40 tracks that spans Bert’s career, from “Strolling Down the Highway”, the opening song on Bert’s self-titled debut LP of 1965 to “High Days” from his final album The Black Swan of 2006.  In between, fellow guitarist and collaborator Bernard Butler has compiled a broad selection of Bert’s back catalogue, including his take on the Davy Graham instrumental “Angie”, the piece that every self-respecting guitar player felt they had to learn before considering themselves a guitar player.  There’s a handful of fine arrangements of traditional songs here, including “Reynardine” and “Rosemary Lane”, then the odd contemporary song of the time, Ewan Maccoll’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” featuring a duet with Mary Hopkin, together with the odd blues number, including Bert’s take on the old Walter Davies blues “Come Back Baby”, as well as one or two of Bert’s own songs, including “Fresh as a Sweet Sunday Morning” and the evocative “Daybreak”, lest we forget that Bert was also an excellent writer as well as an innovative musician.  The forty years covered here reveal that little has changed in Jansch’s vocal delivery, or indeed his idiosyncratic guitar style.  It’s as if time has stood still.  Though a very gentle man, Bert is known for the strength of his playing, his attack of the strings, which is always highly expressive.  Although this collection covers his solo work, rather than his Pentangle repertoire, there are a number of collaborators featured here, including John Renbourn, Danny Thompson, Rod Clements, Helena Espvall, Bernard Butler and others.  This is a fine representation of Bert Jansch’s best loved work.

Gecko Turner | Soniquete: The Sensational Sound of Gecko Turner | Album Review | Lovemonk | 01.11.18

The best of the highly infectious sound of Spanish-born singer songwriter and musician Gecko Turner, featuring fourteen tracks, each lifted from previous releases with exception of “Cortando Bajito”, a brand new track.  The combination of jazz, blues, samba, reggae, hip-hop and electronica, is seamlessly mixed with visceral Iberian grooves with guest appearances by UK vocalist Eska, Brazilian, flamenco percussionist Rubem Dantas and Cuban pianist Javier ‘Caramelo’ Masso.   In places reminiscent of Sly Stone at his most soulful and sultry.

Gypsyfingers | Stranger Things | Album Review | Self Release | 04.11.18

Released on the eve of their winter tour, producer Luke Oldfield (Mike’s son) and songwriter Victoria Coghlan, otherwise collectively known as Gypsyfingers, create an almost otherworldly soundscape, rich in both melody and lyrical content alike, and – let’s not beat about the bush here – highly listenable tunes.  It’s folk/pop at its most accessible, created in the rather impressive setting of Tilehouse Studios, built for Mr Oldfield Snr. complete with vintage equipment and analogue tape machines; a playground for sound if ever there was one.  Whilst “Hey Maria”, the first single release from this, their second album, demonstrates Gypsyfingers’ credentials as first rate songsmiths, it’s with such songs as the album opener “Half World”, the spirited “Quit the Game” and the title track “Stranger Things”, that Mike’s influence is most evident, especially in Luke’s fluid guitar solos, reminiscent of “Moonlight Shadow” (for instance), rather than anything tubular or bell-like.  We’re reminded here that having music in the blood ain’t no crime, in fact it’s a veritable quality.

Esbe | Mystra | Album Review | Self Release | 05.11.18

For her second album release, the London-based singer known as Esbe ventures into the Byzantine Empire, with a suite of engaging music that incorporates poetry and phonetic vocal sounds that relate to the Mystra Renaissance.  Composed, arranged and performed by Esbe, the twelve enchanting songs take us to another time, opening doors to a particular sonic experience.  With her Turkish/Algerian/Austrian/Polish background, Esbe creates an atmospheric, almost ethereal soundscape, which aims to take the listener on a journey through the dreams of Constantine, the voyage of Byzas and the mysteries of the era, reflecting on the stories and evoking the spirit of the past, keeping the music, literature, art and architecture of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages very much in mind.

Carr and Roswall | Time Flies | Album Review | Dalakollektivet Records | 06.11.18

It’s a rather unbelievable fifteen years since Ian Carr and Niklas Roswall dazzled us with their debut album Step on It, whilst at the same time confirming their respective instrumental prowess on such tunes as the punchy “Ghan Blenk” and the dreamy “Day on the River”, and now they return to the studio for another feast of Anglo/Swedish guitar/nyckelharpa magic.  The urgency in which the opener “The Asbestos Suite” is performed indicates that the time for this reunion hasn’t come too soon.  True to the album’s title, time has indeed flown by since their first collaboration and some of those initial sounds still resonate to this day and are further explored here with eleven cleverly crafted instrumental pieces.  Some are originals, whilst others draw on both the traditional music of Sweden as well as classical music (Cedervall clearly straddling those borders), each piece demonstrating Ian and Niklas’ dexterity on their respective instruments, whether that be the guitar, the nyckelharpa or the moraharpa.  This is one of those albums where you discover something new upon each listen.

The Trials of Cato | Hide and Hair | Album Review | Self Release | 07.11.18

Hide and Hair is the debut album release from The Trials of Cato, a young trio comprising William Addison, Robin Jones and Tomos Williams, who recently stormed the UK folk scene after honing their craft in the unlikeliest of locations, Beirut.  Originally from Yorkshire and North Wales, the trio have traversed a familiar route for adventure seeking British musicians, initially through busking and going on to play venues of varying sizes in Lebanon, where they were all working at the time, then returning to the UK supported by a strong and enthusiastic word of mouth following.  With interweaving guitar and bouzouki, together with sweeping tenor banjo and mandolin flourishes, the songs and tunes are supported by dextrous musicianship throughout. With such familiar material as Graham Moore’s “Tom Paine’s Bones”, as well comparatively less familiar fare sung in both English and Welsh, notably “Gloria”, “Haf” and “These are the Things”, together with a rather sturdy reading of “My Love’s in Germany”, the trio appear to be on the cusp of great things.

Mike Farris | Silver and Stone | Album Review | Compass Records | 12.11.18

Tennessee-born rocker Mike Farris keeps things tight and soulful throughout the dozen songs on Silver and Stone, an album named after his wife’s wedding ring.  That piece of jewellery has been on Julie’s finger for 23 years, through thick and thin and this album is a celebration of that enduring relationship.  Garry West’s production may recall the golden age of Stax and the vocal performances may be easily likened to those of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, but none of this appears to be forced, rather, the grooves come over organically, a reflection on a life well and truly lived.  Whilst the Bill Withers song “Hope She’ll Be Happier” showcases Farris’s sensitive side, delivered in a voice very much his own, “Movin’ Me” has Al Green and Curtis Mayfield written all over it; a fine vocal performance, augmented by a blistering guitar solo courtesy of Joe Bonamassa.  When Mavis Sings, another Farris original, is a fine homage to the Queen of Gospel herself, Mavis Staples, a close friend, whose story is told with informed authority.  Despite his rough and ready, slicked back hair, shades and leather image, the voice, performance, musical arrangement and overall production is more in keeping with black tie and Valentino suits, slick soul at its best.  Surrounded by a cast of musicians who have collectively served time with such artists as Dusty Springfield, Elvis Presley, Bonnie Raitt, John Hiatt, Patty Griffin and Delbert McClinton, to name but a few, Silver and Stone stands as a fine statement of Nashville Soul.

Fofoulah | Daega Rek | Album Review | Glitterbeat | 13.11.18

Upon first hearing the ‘dystopian electronics, sabar beats and shamanic chants’ of the London-based Afro-dub ensemble Fofoulah, I imagined this would be the sort of music you could possibly find in the deep cellar bar urbanism beneath an acid rain-soaked Blade Runner-type city as the residents wait for the oncoming apocalypse.  Of course, Fofoulah are more optimistic than this, as they release their second album, the follow up to their 2014 self-titled debut.  Highly dramatic, the rhythms of the Gambian sabar drummer Kaw Secka, together with the production of keyboards player Tom Challenger, hold nothing back in delivery, with some hard driving beats and Sci-Fi sound effects to keep things in order.  Delivered in Wolof, a West African language from such countries as The Gambia and Senegal, the tracks, such as “Seye” (Marriage), “Ndanane” (Star) and the almost tortured performance of “Kaddy”, written in memory of the Grenfell disaster, quiver with pounding futurist beats, whilst the title cut settles into an appealing groove.

JP Bimeni and the Black Belts | Free Me | Album Review | Tucxone | 14.11.18

There are certain hints of Otis Redding and Al Green in the singing style of Burundian-born, now London-based JP Bimeni, a soul survivor in the truest sense of the term.  Whilst fleeing his devastated home during the Burundian civil war in the early 1990s, Bimeni was shot, had his last rights read and remained on a wanted list, yet through all this has managed to survive, through convalescence in Nairobi, living as a refugee in Wales and then moving to London, where he has managed to carve out a niche for himself in the Motown and Stax grooves of the Sixties.  Written by musical director Eduardo Martinez and songwriter Marc Ibarz, the soul-fuelled album is very much about the dance floor, though the lyrical content is about survival, relating to the essence of Bimeni’s experience of living through civil war and the haunting legacy of the Hutus and Tutsis conflict, which included witnessing the murder of many of his schoolmates at the age of just 15.  With titles such as “Pain is the Name of Your Game”, “Better Place” and “Free Me”, we can only scratch the surface of Bimeni’s experiences.  The music though, is the key to personal survival – “When I sing I feel like I’m cleansing myself: music is a way for me to forget”.

Yves Lambert Trio | Tentation | Album Review | La Pruche Libre | 16.11.18

Very much inspired by The Temptation of Saint Anthony, the cheerfully smiling Yves Lambert is set amidst the Bosch-like serpents and fish-things on the cover etching of this latest release by Yves and his trio, Tommy Gauthier and Oliver Rondeau, who are equally pleased with themselves on the inner sleeve.  If this medieval setting is a little unfamiliar, then the music is immediately recognisable, or at least the style in which the trio play is.  The Quebec sound, essentially accordion, fiddle, guitar and busy stomping feet is very much the order of the day, with plenty of reels, a little call and response, the odd minstrel ballad and plenty of feisty musicianship.

Dan Fogelberg and Tim Weisberg | Twin Sons of Different Mothers | Album Review | Retro World | 16.11.18

Reissue of Dan Fogelberg’s collaborative album with Tim Weisberg.  Very deliberately out of Fogelberg’s recognisable style and with Weisberg’s flute taking centre stage for much of the very short album, coming in at just over thirty minutes, the album is highly melodic, so much so it could easily find itself in the easy listening browser bins.  Flutes were popular in the 1970s, most notably with Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) and Thijs Van Leer (Focus) and also a host of Prog Rock outfits such as Genesis, Traffic and Camel.  Here though, particularly on “Lazy Susan”, the arrangement is reminiscent of the pastoral sound of Nick Drake’s “Bryter Layter” of Seatrain’s “Flute Thing”.  Although voices are heard during “Lazy Susan”, it’s not until half way through the album that we hear the first song, the Moody Blues-influenced “Tell Me to My Face”.  Surprisingly, the mainly instrumental album did quite well at the time (1977) reaching number 8 in the US charts, an achievement only beaten by his earlier Phoenix LP and later with The Innocent Age in 1981, all three making the top ten.

Katy Moffatt | Katy/Kissin’ in the California Sun | Album Review | Retro World | 18.11.18

If Retroworld were to reissue any two of Katy Moffatt’s albums, then it might as well be the two that the Fort Worth, Texas-born singer songwriter made in the 1970s; her debut Katy and its hot on the heels follow up Kissin’ in the California Sun.  Like the Beatles, the Stones and Dylan (well almost) before her, Katy’s debut is made up of covers, her own song writing having to wait until her second album.  The ‘covers’ are well chosen though, which draw from a broad scope of styles, including the Hammerstein/Kern show tune “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man” and Ray Willis’ “I Can Almost See Houston from Here”.  It’s with the soulful ballads though that Katy really excels, with a gorgeous reading of “Easy Come, Easy Go” and her own Kansas City Morning from the second album.  The second album also begins with one of her own compositions, the title track, with a further three self-penned originals, though her temptation to rework other established songs is still very much apparent, with Carole King’s “Up on the Roof”, Curtis Mayfield’s “Um-Um-Um-Um-Um-Um” and a rather steamy “Walkin’ After Midnight”.

Gaye Su Akyol | Istikrarh Hayal Hakikattir | Album Review | Glitterbeat | 19.11.18

After establishing herself as one of Turkey’s most promising young performers with her last album Hologram Imparatorlugu in 2016, Gaye Su Akyol has in no way rested on her laurels, returning with an astonishingly well produced follow up.  The ten tracks that make up Istikrarh Hayal Hakikattir confirms the Istanbul-born singer, songwriter, producer and ‘audio/visual conceptualist’ is no flash in the pan.  Translated as ‘Consistent Fantasy is Reality’, the album’s mission statement is that of ‘pure freedom’ and an escape from the chaos of an increasingly conservative country on the border of the Middle East, Europe and Russia.  Though contemporary in its instrumentation, in its lyrical content and in its attitude, the melodies are very much in keeping with the traditional styles and classical scales of her native Turkey.  With these familiar motifs, the escapism alluded to in its title is an alluring concept; Gaye Su Akyol is indeed living the dream, living the fantasy, and it’s all very real.  Blending these ancient Turkish musical signatures with a sort of sneering Dick Dale Pulp Fiction guitar solo on such as Laziko works tremendously well, as does the synth pop peppering on the title track.

Hidden Cabins | The Hidden Cabins Band | EP Review | Pyrrhic Victory Recordings | 20.11.18

Originally conceived as a duo, this New Jersey/North Carolina partnership Hidden Cabins, consisting of Craig Cirinelli and Brian Hofgesang, soon expanded enough to include new members Rich Perry on drums and Jason Del Guidice on bass, bringing to the party a much fatter and edgier sound.  It was never just a guitar/vocal concept and the songs were invariably embellished with effects, added percussion, ‘split channel amp tones’, some of which are still present here, but the addition of the rhythm section certainly adds a bit of punch.  Recorded in rural New York State, the five songs “The One That Got Out”, “The Calming”, “News at Eleven”, “One More Slip” and “Bet it all on You”, sound pretty well worn in, whilst at the same feel rather new and fresh.  The overall EP actually sounds like this indie-folk rock band are thoroughly enjoying themselves and that feeling has every chance of rubbing off on their audience given half the chance.

Hickory Signals | Turn to Fray | Album Review | GF*M Records | 21.11.18

A fine collection of songs both new and old, original and traditional, each delivered in a clear and unpretentious manner with a clear and unpretentious message.  The songs, whether borrowed from the tradition, “Who Put the Blood”, “Bushes and Briars” or adapted from poetry, “Noise of the Waters” (James Joyce) or songs written from scratch, Rosemary, Kana, Zelda, each here receive the Hickory Signals treatment, featuring at the core, the distinctive voice of Laura Ward.  One or two of the songs here were first heard on the duo’s EP Noise of the Waters, the title track of course as well as the highly infections “Here I Am”.  Whilst husband Adam Ronchetti’s multi-instrumental prowess embellishes his wife’s vocal performances, there is a tendency to concentrate on Laura’s voice, notably her reading of Frankie Armstrong’s “Doors to my Mind”.

Larkin Poe | Venom and Faith | Album Review | Tricki-Woo Records | 24.11.18

Those who were lucky enough to be around at the beginning of Larkin Poe’s exciting ‘journey’, a journey that has been on an upwardly mobile trajectory since Rebecca and Megan Lovell first branched off from their elder sibling whilst adopting a name borrowed from one of their ancestors, will have noticed a much harder approach to their own idiosyncratic southern roots sound.  Though the hollow acoustic guitar and trusty Dobro have been pretty much replaced now by solid bodied instruments, Rebecca Lovell’s highly distinctive voice is still at the forefront of the duo’s immediately recognisable blues-based sound.  From day one the duo’s desire to create their own brand of bluesy grooves was very much evident, even at the time of their earliest ‘seasonal’ EP with the blistering “Principle of Silver Lining”.  Venom and Faith, the title taken from the sultry “Honey Honey”, is the third album by the Nashville-based, Georgia-born siblings, which sees the duo continue their search for their own infectious ‘Southern Gothic’ sound with eight new originals and a couple of covers, Bessie Jones’ soulful “Sometimes”, incorporating a sound previously explored by the duo on their live favourite “Black Betty”, here treated to a bold and brassy accompaniment, together with the old Skip James blues “Hard Time Killing Floor”, with some searing vocal/slide sparring.  No strangers to collaboration, having previously worked with the likes of Elvis Costello, Steven Tyler, Thom Hell and Blair Dunlop, the duo are joined by guitarist Tyler Bryant on the blues-drenched Mississippi.  Despite the duo’s endeavours to create a compelling contemporary blues sound, most notably on “Ain’t Gonna Cry” and consistently through the conduit of Megan’s brilliant slide work, the old instruments do occasionally come out and play, the banjo evident on the sizzling “California King”, keeping to the rootsy tenets the duo are known for.  

Afro Celt Sound System | Flight | Album Review | ECC Records | 25.11.18

If ever a band was to use a name that perfectly described what was in the tin, then the Afro Celt Sound System would be it.  From the outset on this, the collective’s latest album release, Griogair Labhruidh sets out their stall with a fine reading of “Marbhrannn do Shir Eachann Mac’illEathainn/Lament for MacLean”, leaving us with little doubt as to where the ‘Celt’ bit fits into the brand name, whilst N’faly Kouyaté and the Amani Choir swiftly follow with the show-stopping “Sanctus”, which shows us where the ‘Afro’ bit comes in on equal terms.  Just two tracks in and we’re fully up to speed about what this bunch of brilliant musicians are all about.. but then there’s so much more besides.  At the core of their eighth studio album, is Simon Emmerson, who along with N’faly Kouyaté and Johnny Kalsi are joined not only by the Amani Choir, but also Stone Flowers and the Johannesburg-based African Gospel Singers, each outfit bringing something rather tasty to the party.  If the restrained introduction to “Sanctus” has the power to lead the listener into a dreamlike state, then it’s not for long, as the heart-stopping power of the dhol drum kicks in, effectively bringing the Afro Celt Sound System very much to life.  This all works tremendously well in a live setting as anyone who has caught one of the band’s festival appearances or live shows will testify, but this extraordinary powerful sound can also been captured in the studio, and in this case, it certainly has.  Armagh’s Ríoghnach Connolly is here once again to lend her highly distinctive voice (and flute) to proceedings, notably on the four-part “Migration Medley”, a suite dedicated to the inherent comparisons between both bird and human migration, combined subjects close to the hearts of Simon Emmerson and Mark Constantine, who share an interest in bird-watching and for the work the Amani Choir musical director Emmanuela Yogolelo and Ríoghnach Connolly have done within the refugee community of Manchester and surrounding area.  “Night Crossing Part 1” from the medley is utterly gorgeous, as is the later “Rippling”.

John Meed | Never Enough | Album Review | Self Release | 04.12.18

The widely travelled John Meed delivers each of his songs in an uncomplicated and unpretentious singing voice, removed only slightly from an actual speaking voice, perfect for the sort of poetic songs he writes.  On this, his seventh album release, the Manchester-born, now Cambridge-based singer songwriter creates an inviting world in which to explore.  From the evocative opener “Side by Side”, a meditation on simple human encounters on a train, the Leonard Cohen influenced title track and the plaintive “Strange Thing”, featuring some pretty alto sax courtesy of Myke Clifford (friendly long time Cambridge Folk Festival MC) and on through to the epic Bordeaux, John maintains a distinctly stoic delivery throughout, creating something that is at once highly engaging and equally thought-provoking, with the occasional nod in the direction of the cafe streets of Paris.  Rather than being left with a sense of ambiguity, listening to Never Enough makes you feel that you know John Meed much better than before.

The Willows | Through the Wild | Album Review | Elk Records | 04.12.18

It’s difficult to put your finger precisely on what exactly constitutes The Willows’ trump card, it could be any of a dozen things.  Perhaps it’s their excellent choice of material or maybe it’s the cohesive nature of their arrangements.  It could be the clever interplay between Ben Savage’s informed Dobro fills and Cliff Ward’s guitar and banjo work, or alternatively Katriona Gilmore’s fiddle and mandolin playing.  Personally speaking, any of these examples work equally for me, but I suspect what gives this band their winning hand, is the distinctly breezy voice of Jade Rhiannon Ward, immediately recognisable and quite possibly the jewel in their crown.  Through the Wild is the band’s third full-length album release and features nine original songs credited to the band as a whole, together with an arrangement of the traditional “The Lovers’ Ferry”, which features a fine vocal performance by Jade Rhiannon and some tasty slide playing courtesy of Ben Savage.  Evan Carson’s sheer command over all things percussion is very much in evidence on the driving “Pearl Hart”, which evokes all the excitement of its subject, the famed highwaywoman who went off to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, whilst the band find such gentle and tender moments as “Out of Our Hands” and “Dear Lily” irresistible to play alongside the stompers.  Bringing the band’s rural Cambridgeshire into focus on such songs as “Perfect Crime”, “False Light” and “Gog Magog”, the Mark Tucker/Ben Savage production team have delivered a winner here.

Dawda Jobarteh | I Met Her by the River | Album Review | Sterns Music | 04.12.18

There’s always something immediately warm and soothing about the kora, and Dawda Jobarteh’s new release is indeed no exception.  The instrument is enough in itself, especially in the hands of such a remarkable musician, yet when placed amongst other instruments it truly comes alive.  I doubt there’s anything quite as cool as a guy meeting his girl down by the river, carrying his kora (without its case) as seen on the cover, a still from the promotional film that accompanies the title track.  I probably wouldn’t have guessed that the final track was a re-working of Adele’s “Hello” until at least the chorus, had I not caught a glimpse of the track listing first.  The piece settles in alongside the other compositions on the album, notably the spaced-out version of Mongo Santamaria’s bluesy 1958 classic “Afro Blue”, which is treated here to something along the lines of what Hendrix was remembered for during the final moments of the Woodstock Festival.  Another notable example of the rich Gambian kora/griot musical heritage and a fine addition to any serious record collection.

Me and My Friends | Look Up | Album Review | Split Shift Records | 05.12.18

With shades of Penguin Cafe Orchestra in places, notably on the instrumental title track “Look Up”, and with a wealth of Sade-like vocal inflections, Me and My Friends’ third album release seems to ooze joy from the start, with an infectious album opener “Another Lifetime”.  The UK-based outfit, namely Nick Rasle on guitar, Emma Coleman on cello, Sam Murray on clarinet, each of whom provide the band’s distinctive vocals, together with James Grunwell on bass and Fred Harper on drums and percussion, soak up the essence of a range of West African grooves, such as Afrobeat, Soukous and Highlife, together with their own take on roots reggae, resulting in a vivacious mix, which is immediately accessible both on and off the dance floor.  Once the groove is established, there’s a tendency to feel short changed if the song finishes too early, which is largely due to the delicate exchanges between the cello and clarinet and some of the most gorgeous harmony vocals.  Fortunately most of the selections are generously timed.  With all nine self-penned selections, save from the one cover, a sultry reading of John Lee Hooker’s bluesy Sometime, Me and My Friends create a warm and inviting sonic experience throughout, urging further investigation on this reviewers part with immediate effect.

Moonlight Benjamin | Siltane | Album Review | Ma Case | 06.12.18

A surprisingly adrenaline-soaked rocker of an album this, the opening track of which immediately alerts us to the energy-packed Voodoo inspired goodies to follow, as Haitian singer Moonlight Benjamin attacks each song with unmitigated authority.  Much of the album is delivered in Creole, Haiti’s official language, with some French included. There’s no translations included and neither should there be, as the songs pack so much of a punch, you almost instinctively know what is being passionately conveyed.  Now living in France and named for the luminescence that was expected to light her future according to her adoptive father, the Reverend Doucet Alvarez, the orphaned singer cut her musical teeth singing gospel in church, going on to join singer/guitarist Tines Salvant.  A period of hard work followed, in which the singer honed her craft, paving the way for her own spiritual journey into the music she describes as a mixture of Voodoo and Rock and Roll.  With a hard rocking blues undercurrent, exemplified on “Chan Dayiva”, the title track “Siltane” and the dramatic “Doux Pays”, together with such powerful performances as the album closer, “Met Agwe”, Moonlight Benjamin is in possession of an utterly commanding voice that should be heard by many.

Peter Hammill | X/Ten | Album Review | Fie Records | 08.12.18

This release is essentially a complete, yet sparsely performed live version of Peter Hammill’s last album From the Trees, which was released in 2017.  The songs are in the same running order, each performed on either acoustic guitar or piano and lifted from European shows recorded between November 2017 and May 2018 in both Italy and Germany, together with one song recorded in Bristol.  As idiosyncratic a performance as one might expect from the former Van der Graaf Generator singer, the songs are roughly hewn, so much so that the singer almost apologises in advance in his sleeve notes that accompany the release.  As he points out though, the errors could very well be “outweighed by moments of intensity and inspiration”.  The value of this collection is really their stripped down to basics form, presumably something possibly like they must have originally sounded when first written.  Those familiar with Hammill’s distinctive vocal delivery from the late Sixties on, will be little fazed by these performances, whereas newcomers might just be a little startled.  Packaged in a sleeve resembling something close to the old gatefold LP covers of Hammill’s formative years, complete with inner sleeve for the disc, X/Ten is certainly a must for fans and completists.

Townes Van Zandt | Down Home and Abroad | Album Review | Floating World | 09.12.18

These two live shows, recorded almost a decade apart, feature a selection of Townes Van Zandt’s finest compositions, with just four repeated songs over the two shows.  The two-disc release captures the enigmatic songwriter on fine form in both 1985 and 1993, the latter just three and a half years before his untimely death in January 1997.  The earlier show, recorded at the Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee reveals a troubadour wafting through town like tumbleweed, joined by flat-pick guitarist Mickey White and flautist Donny Silverman, engaging with a lively Tennessee audience, especially during the talking blues songs, “Fraternity Blues” and “Talking Thunderbird Blues”.  The second show was recorded in Helsinki, Finland, Townes’ first visit to the country, and reveals a singer with a more weather-worn vocal delivery, yet conversely a much harder and punchier guitar approach.  At times, the Texan songwriter drifts off into his own world between songs, tales of being chained to a tree and going to the hospital with war paint on, yet remains as beguiling as ever as a performer.  Despite struggling through some of the songs, Townes maintains the melancholy and overbearing sadness in such songs as “Kathleen”, whilst lifting the audience spirits with “If I Needed You” and “Tecumseh Valley”.  The recording is beset with a few minor squeaks and buzzes from the PA, but nothing as poor as the recently released double LP set from the American Music Hall in San Francisco from 1991 (with Guy Clark). It’s interesting to compare and contrast these two performances, both of which stand up as fine examples of a remarkable and much missed songsmith at play.