Music Reviews | 2023

Joseph Decosimo | While You Were Slumbering | Album Review | Sleepy Cat Records | 06.01.23

Reminiscent of some of Sam Amadon’s work, Joseph Decosimo further explores the Old Time repertoire with similar authority.  With the fiddle and the banjo at the heart of While You Were Slumbering, it’s the relaxed vocal that holds it all together.  Recorded at several locations, the fourteen songs and tunes spring from a deep understanding of the Appalachian South and in particular, the music of the Cumberland Plateau, his own stomping ground of Tennessee.  An award winning musician, Decosimo has studied under some of the musicians steeped in the past, their traditions and their music and the songs and tunes collected here, demonstrate a deep respect of those traditions.  The better known songs, such as “Shady Grove” and “Man of Constant Sorrow” might leap out initially, but the lesser known songs are gems of equal importance.  Having recently delved into the treasure chest that is Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard’s Pioneering Women of Bluegrass: The Definitive Edition, it’s rewarding to find Gerrard on a couple or so of tracks here, notably “Apple Brandy” and the haunting “Come Thee Fount”.  Other musicians involved include Cleek Schrey, Stephanie Coleman, Matthew O’Connell, Joe O’Connell and Alec Spiegelman.

Carrivick Sisters | Illustrated Short Stories | Album Review | Self Release | 13.01.23

We don’t have to wait long for the sibling harmonies to kick in on this latest release by the Carrivick Sisters, five seconds to be precise as the twins deliver the opening song “In the Odstock Churchyard”.  Illustrated Short Stories, the duo’s seventh studio album features a dozen such songs and tunes, each making good use of their distinctive voices, but also their exceptional musicianship on various acoustic instruments, including the fiddle, dobro, lap guitar, mandolin and at one point at least, an electric guitar, good heavens.  However clear it might be that these musicians are entrenched in the bluegrass and old time music of America, they never hide their own roots, much of the material here based on the stories and legends of the Westcountry.  Charlotte and Laura have been at this for some time now and it has been rewarding to see their musical chops develop, both through their collaborative work, such as Midnight Skyracer, an all-female Anglo/Irish quintet, the bluegrass quartet Cardboard Fox and Charlotte’s own side project partnering up with fiddle player Kieran Towers, as well as through their now well established duo work.  Recorded, mixed and mastered by Josh Clark, Illustrated Short Stories is a fine addition to the Carrivick’s already impressive canon of work.

Ruth Angell | Hlywing | Album Review | Talking Elephant | 27.01.23

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

Harbottle and Jonas | Saving the Good Stuff Vol 1 | Album Review | Brook View Records | 03.02.23

In an effort to remain active during the difficult lockdown period, Dave and Freya frequently shared some of their favourite songs via social media, with a good few surprises among them.  The two musicians began with Richard Thompson, whose songs the duo admire, and soon stretched out to deliver interpretations of songs by other well-known and not so well known writers, which in effect showed us another side of Harbottle & Jonas.  Anyone familiar with such songs as “Hall Sands” and “The Beacon” will know that this duo can hold their own with their own exquisite material, yet there’s something inviting about their treatment of the work of others.  Natalie Merchant’s “Motherland” is faithfully rendered here as too is Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, albeit presumably inspired by the singing of June Tabor rather than Ian Curtis.  The duo’s reading of “Wild Mountain Thyme”, which opens this collection, could have been included on their previous album Songs of Love and Death, a collaboration with singer songwriter Reg Meuross and therefore serves as a suitable link between the two projects.  Iris Dement’s “Our Town”, which many of us first heard on the first series of the Transatlantic Sessions back in the mid-1990s, is a welcomed inclusion here, a country inflected song very much suited to Freya’s delivery.   Considered by the duo a mini-album, the eight selections on Saving the Good Stuff Vol 1, coming in at just over thirty minutes, constitutes a full album in my book and well worth the listen.

John Blek | Until the Rivers Run Dry | Album Review | We Are Rats Recordings | 10.02.23

Until the Rivers Run Dry is the Cork-based singer songwriter’s eighth studio album to date and features ten songs recorded over a ten day period in early 2022.  After a somewhat disastrous couple of years, in terms of various lockdowns and forced down time, John Blek found some of that time to expand his musical horizons and create a much more sophisticated sound, with lavish production and mature string arrangements, certainly on the title song, courtesy of Colm Mac Con Iomaire (The Frames).  Surrounding himself with first rate players, notably Kit Downes on piano, Davey Ryan on drums and Chris McCarthy on double bass, Blek’s lyrics and airs seem to pour out of the speakers with a force similar to that of Phil Spector’s notable productions from an entirely different era.  These songs deserve lavish handling and with Brian Casey on hand, who continues to explore this fine musical partnership, the songs get the treatment they certainly deserve.  The highly melodic “Lyric and Air” is reminiscent of Emitt Rhodes or Ron Sexsmith, if not McCartney himself, a perfect marriage of both lyricism and musicality, further enhanced by a convincing duet with Cathy Davey, whose further contribution to the songs on this album is essential.

Kimi Djabaté | Dindin | Album Review | Cumbancha | 17.02.23

Raised in Tabato, Guinea-Bissau, and now based in Lisbon, Kimi Djabaté fuses his own West African griot roots with a contemporary sound that feels immediately warm, highly melodic and easily accessible.  The balafón (African xylophone) is the first instrument we hear as “Afonhe” invites us into Djabaté’s third album, which follows Teriké (2005), Karam (2009) and Kanamalu (2016).  He knows this instrument inside out, having been given his first at the age of three.  Now an accomplished guitar and kora player, in fact a multi-instrumentalist,  Djabaté also has a convincing voice, which comes over loud and clear throughout this album.  Each of his albums represents the music of his griot heritage and this continues with Dindin, which translates from Mandinga as ‘Children’.  The eleven songs concentrate on the current situation in Africa in terms of its social and political place in the world, addressing such issues as poverty, women’s rights, religion and education, with some authority.  Living in Lisbon has placed the musician in the gravitational sphere of such notables as Madonna, now also resident in the city, one of many collaborations Djabaté has discovered in his career so far.  Dindin once again gathers several fine musicians together, each of whom easily fits in with Djabaté’s musical and political vision, from the exhilarating “Alidonke”, the first single release from the album, to the sublime “Na”, which finds the musician in contemplative mood.  The versatility of the balafón is evident on such songs as the aforementioned opener as well as “Mana Mana”, which provides the songs with their fine percussive qualities but also their melodic credentials.

Larkin Poe | Blood Harmony | Album Review | Tricki-Woo | 24.02.23

Perhaps the two most important components that makes up what we now know as Larkin Poe’s instantly recognisable sound, is Rebecca Lovell’s raunchy southern bluesy vocals, together with Megan Lovell’s magnificent lap steel guitar playing, sometimes smouldering, often sneering, always exciting and neither of which ever trumps the other.  Their gutsy, soulful, driven and consistent approach to music continues, as the duo release their sixth studio album as Larkin Poe, a band that has been on the road now for thirteen years, though their musical journey began even earlier, playing alongside their elder sister as the Lovell Sisters.    Loved by their audience and peers alike, Larkin Poe is still growing, the two musicians equally at home in the studio as on stage, with some of the fire of their live performances finding its way into the grooves of this record, certainly the ballsy “Bad Spell” and the infectious opener “Deep Stays Down”.  Their southern drive is once again very much present on such songs as “Georgia Off My Mind”, “Southern Comfort”and “Kick the Blues”, whilst “Might As Well Be Me” draws out a more soulful younger sibling, who delivers a mature vocal performance, which wouldn’t be out of place on a Bonnie Raitt record, or indeed one by Amy Winehouse.  Though known as a formidable and powerful duo in their own right, their sound is further fattened by Kevin McGowan on drums and Tarka Layman on bass.  I’m not overly keen on the sleeve artwork, which looks like a bargain bin release, though the worn and tattered edges suggest that this is precisely the intention. 

Holy Moly and the Crackers | Solid Gold | Album Review | Pink Lane Records | 03.03.23

Holy Moly and the Crackers have pretty much established themselves as a top live band, equally at home on festival stages as they are in some of our theatres, halls and pubs up and down the country and further afield.  The band dominates any stage it steps onto, with both energy and charisma, especially in regard to the two key front players Ruth Lyon and Conrad Bird, not to mention Rosie Bristow and her wild accordion manoeuvres.  Solid Gold is the Newcastle-based band’s fourth album, if we’re to count their first outing First Avenue released back in 2012, which features “Bluebell Wood”, one of the band’s finest tracks and long time show opener.  Since then, the band have released two strong albums on Pink Lane Records, Salem (2017) and Take a Bite (2019), and as Solid Gold hits the speakers, it might possibly be considered the band’s strongest album to date, with a clear grounding in the rootsy rock licks associated with the kind of Americana the band has clearly adopted as their own.  The guitars are gutsy, the drums and bass punchy, whilst the vocals, courtesy of Ruth Lyon, are confident, contemporary and in perfect sync with the band’s musical ethos.  If you can’t take your eyes off Ruth on stage, then it’s likely that you won’t be able to take your ears off her throughout this album, not only during the driving title song that opens the album, or the rock stomper “Skyline Drive”, or indeed the sprawling closer “Angeline”, but notably the smouldering “Come on Down”, for which Ruth adopts some of Adele’s vocal inflections to great effect.  “Hot Red”, an early single release from the album, once again captures a bluesy performance by one of the UK’s best kept secrets.  Perhaps it’s time for Ruth Lyon (formerly Patterson) to step into an even bigger spotlight.

Rura | Dusk Moon | Album Review | Self Release | 10.03.23

Dusk Moon is the fourth studio album by the Glasgow-based quartet, once again entirely instrumental, with an emphasis on strong musical interplay between the fiddle, pipes and flute, with guitar, bodhran and keyboards providing that all essential canvas.  Steven Blake, Jack Smedley, David Foley and Adam Brown are no slouches when it comes to making non-vocal music, each piece superbly arranged and performed, with steady tension builds keeping everything alive and vibrant.  “Journey’s Home” captures this perfectly and provides the album with a fine opener, which effortlessly draws the listener in, from the simple pulse on the piano to an almost cinematic opus, more than suitable for the film soundtrack the tune was composed to serve.  “Think of Today” is a highly melodic fiddle tune written especially for Jack Smedley’s wife, its title borrowed from Journey, a poem by Christine de Luca,  which provides the album with one of its more dreamy moments.  Other tunes cover such themes as favourite haunts – “The Grove”, which includes some infectious flamenco-styled hand claps, infamous boating trips – “The Crossing”, the fiddle and pipes mimicking the rough passage over troubled waters, and the rest basically focusing on the sort of music one eagerly produces after such a horrendous couple of years.  Produced by Euan Burton, whose credentials as a fine producer are second to none, Dusk Moon encompasses in nine arrangements, the essence of contemporary Scottish traditional-based music, played to its highest standard. 

Steve Dawson | Steve Dawson | Eyes Closed, Dreaming | Album Review | Black Hen Music | 17.03.23

Eyes Closed, Dreaming is the third installment of Steve Dawson’s ‘pandemic trilogy’, three albums released within a year of one another, and once again packed with quality songs.  The Nashville-based Canadian musician surrounds himself with quality collaborators, notably Allison Russell (Birds of Chicago, Po’Girl) and the legendary Nashville musicians Fats Kaplin and Tim O’Brien, both on mandolin.  “Long Time to Get Old” is reminiscent of any of those classic Ry Cooder songs from the early 1970s, with its assured slide guitar playing, its soulful duetting courtesy of Ali Russell and with a punchy Little Feat rhythm to boot.  The collaborations continue with four co-writes with old pal Matt Patershuck, “A Gift”, “The Owl”, “Hemingway” and “Polaroid”, each immediately rising to the status of album highlights and fighting for the top spot.  Traditional material is also treated with respect as Dawson turns in an atmospheric “House Carpenter”, keeping to the true tenets of balladry, with a steady tension building performance.  Throughout the album the bottleneck guitars, mandolins and fiddles lift each song to place of beauty, while the voices effortlessly hit every mark.  “Small Town Talk” is treated with the same sort of feel as the Bobby Charles original, with those upstate New York curtains still twitching as they were in 1972, whilst a laid back “Singing the Blues” instrumental captures a band of musicians simply enjoying the moment.  Eyes Closed, Dreaming is essential listening, even for those with but a marginal interest in Roots and Americana.

Mighty Poplar | Mighty Poplar | Album Review | Free Dirt | 24.03.23

Connoisseurs of all things Bluegrass will no doubt remember banjo player Noam Pikelny and guitarist Chris Eldridge from their work with Punch Brothers, rubbing shoulders with the mandolin genius Chris Thile and fiddler Gabe Witcher.  Joining forces with Watchhouse multi-instrumentalist Andrew Marlin, Leftover Salmon bassist Greg Garrison and fiddler Alex Hargreaves, Mighty Poplar make music as tall and lofty as the mighty poplar itself, the sort of sore fingers performances that leaves open mouths on those who are fortunate to witness it.  Reminiscent of some of Doc Watson’s later recordings, notably with his son Merle, Mighty Poplar deliver their rootsy music in keeping with a similar ethos, to keep it close to home, preferably right there on the front porch, as the cover shot suggests.  “A Distant Land to Roam”, recently heard on Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard’s Pioneering Women of Bluegrass release, is treated to a slightly sped up reading, a perfect opener for an album that manages to lose none of its vibrancy throughout.  Bob Dylan’s “North Country Blues” is likewise polished and buffed for this new outing, this time with a waltz time feel.  Surprisingly, the album closes with a superb reading of Leonard Cohen’s “Story of Isaac”, ditching the bleakness of the original, together with the irritating Jew’s harp and strings.  Marlin’s voice traverses most of this debut album, though it wouldn’t really be a true Bluegrass album without the obligatory instrumental workout, in this case the stirring “Grey Eagle”.  Try listening to that without moving one or two phalanges in time.

Reg Meuross | Stolen from God | Album Review | Hatsongs | 31.03.23

In light of recent developments in how a city like Bristol sees itself in the twenty-first century, it takes a leading songwriter to have a wander through the annals of history, not so much with the intention of putting the record straight, whilst avoiding the physical violence of tearing down statues and dumping them into a harbour, but instead, to take a more positive and user friendly step of gifting the world with one or two (or several dozen) poetic lines.  This is the sort of protest I always listen to and in most cases take something valuable from it.  Reg has a way with words, that’s for sure, and shares those words prolifically.  This song cycle brings to our attention some of the stories and injustices of our own part in the dreadful legacy of the transatlantic slave trade, from the unsavoury side of such historical figures as Sir Francis Drake, Sir Edward Colston, he of the aforementioned toppled statue fame, and the dreadful John Hawkins, a naval commander whose coat of arms actually included a chained black African slave. For Stolen from God, Reg collaborates with a handful of key musicians, notably Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne on concertina and melodeon and Jali Fily Cissokho on the Kora.  

Josienne Clarke | Onliness | Album Review | Corduroy Punk | 07.04.23

For Onliness, Josienne Clarke has a little wander through her own songbook and returns to some of the material from a period the singer now possibly sees as a former life and puts her own idiosyncratic stamp on each of them.  Josienne appears to have found solace in her musical endeavours and emerges as a true artist in her own right, these songs reflecting a curious mind, an adventurous spirit and a survivor’s instinct.  The electric guitar is there on most of the songs, together with contemporary sonics, yet once again, it’s Josienne’s immediately recognisable voice that takes these songs to where they need to be, not only in the role of lead, but also in the ethereal multi-tracked vocal layers that enhance some of the songs, an echo here, a chorus there.  The songs cover some ground from the sublime “Silverline” and “It Would Not Be a Rose”, to the all-out rocker “Anyone But Me”, to the almost whimsical “I Never Learned French”.  Known for her melancholy songs and her wry sense of humour, Josienne presents herself as a bit of a one-off, a singular presence in this insane music business, an artist who perhaps sees herself alone and apart from other things.  To her listeners though, Josienne is neither alone nor on the margins of the music scene, but a foremost participant.  Josienne’s trajectory has been uneven, slightly wobbly, some even might say rocky at times, but through it all, her craft as a highly gifted singer, songwriter, arranger, producer, and musician, stands tall throughout this exceptional album.  Highly recommended.

Meredith Moon | Constellations | Album Review | True North Records | 14.04.23

Constellations is the first album by Meredith Moon to be released on True North Records, and one that might be considered her breakthrough record.  The songs are both mature and individual, with a nod towards her musical roots, with a fine reading of the traditional “Soldier’s Joy”, generally presented as an instrumental, but here delivered in song form.  A banjo stands beside her sister guitar on the cover, indicating that Meredith considers the two instruments equally; her playing on “Soldier’s Joy” confirms her musical prowess on the instrument.  Gently plucked on such songs as “Slow Moving Train” and the title song, the banjo becomes a feature of this musician’s repertoire, her abilities on the instrument demonstrated more fully on “Brokenwing Bird” and “Needlecase Medley”.  Having learned the banjo by tirelessly watching a plethora of moving fingers on YouTube videos, Meredith is only too willing to demonstrate her chops here.  It’s not all banjos and fiddles though, not by any means. “Mark Twain” hints at a very different side of Meredith’s musical seasoning, a highly individual performance, where voice and piano unite perfectly.  So glad Meredith wasn’t tempted to swamp the song with further musical embellishments, which would have taken away some of its perfection.  The same could possibly be said of the opening song “Starcrossed”, though the fiddle is essential to the feel of the song.  In the video that accompanies the title song, we see indications of a musical family background, an upright piano, a clarinet, an accordion, a slightly battered guitar, and a generous collection of LPs on the back shelf. Though the singer has traversed her own route through music over the last few years without shouting too much about her family lineage, her dad being the celebrated Canadian singer songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, Meredith has made her mark on music on her own merits and this album confirms this in spades.  While the room in the video glows with warmth, the exterior shots show the familiar snowy terrain of Northern Ontario, placing Meredith Moon in a familiar surrounding, a landscape we often think about when it comes to the rich musical heritage of Canada and the high standard it often brings. This album may be up with the best of them.

Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman | Almost a Sunset | Album Review | Iscream Records | 21.04.23

Five years on from the duo’s last album Personae (2018), Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman continue their fruitful musical partnership with an outstanding album, packed with mature songs, fine arrangements and second to none production.  Almost A Sunset is the duo’s seventh album, which sees them in fine form from the opening song “Eavesdropper”, which features backing vocals courtesy of Poppy, one of Kathryn and Sean’s daughters.  Poppy’s twin sister Lily is also involved in the artwork department, having taken the cover shot of mum and dad, almost at sunset evidently.  Something magical happens whenever Kathryn gets anywhere near a Joanna, and her playing is evident in plenty of places here.  Even the birds pop by to listen to “Pew Tor”, a gentle song celebrating the magnificent rock pile on the edge of Dartmoor.  “Fear Not the Mountain” is treated to an almost ecclesiastical choral opening, which could very week have been recorded in a Cathedral, though we find it was actually recorded, along with all the other songs, in the tranquil surrounds of the duo’s own Devon studio.  Dovetailing with the original material are a couple of traditional songs, the two-part “Red Rose and White Lily”, the latter featuring some distinctive fiddle from brother Seth, and “Night Visiting Song”, a gentle reading by Kathryn, once again seated at her piano.  There’s nothing overplayed here, each song given space to breathe, each note in the right place.  It’s been worth the wait.   

Trapper Schoepp | Siren Songs | Album Review | Rootsy Music | 28.04.23

For the cover shot of Siren Songs, the Milwaukee singer songwriter Trapper Schoepp dips his toes in the pond where Johnny Cash used to read and dispose of the letters Bob Dylan sent him, the content being pretty much between the two of them; what secrets these waters might share and what powerful influence the very thought of these conversations might have on a young song maker.  The dozen songs on the album were recorded at Johnny Cash’s Cash Cabin, yet the opener concerns a world far removed from the rural landscape of Hendersonville, Tennessee, namely a war in faraway Iraq and the quintessentially English white cliffs of Dover.  “Cliffs of Dover” is a powerful opener for such a record as Siren Songs, as is the song that follows, the Celtic-infused “Secrets of the Breeze”, a song that ponders upon Schoepp’s own near demise under the surface of Lake Michigan on one of his more adventurous jaunts.  Despite the array of subjects that concern the far flung corners of the globe, from the southern coastline of England (“Cliffs of Dover”) to Annie Edson Taylor’s white knuckle joyride over Niagara Falls in a barrel at the turn of the century (“Queen of the Mist”), it’s difficult to shake off the Cash influence, certainly once we discover that the musicians involved here had exclusive access to Johnny’s 1930’s Martin and June’s Steinway piano as well as an old harmonium, whose distinctive drone-like qualities are used to good effect on the hymn-like “Good Graces”.  Another Cash family member, grandson Joseph, can be heard playing the Dobro on one of the album’s showcase songs, the swampy blues “Devil’s Kettle”, a song set around a mysterious location along Highway 61, with connections to the underworld, as well as providing the album with its photography and video promos.   Siren Songs is one of those albums that deserves several plays.

Bruce Cockburn | O Sun O Moon | Album Review | True North Records | 05.05.23

In a period of time when we are beginning to lose some of the great Canadian songsmiths, most recently the hugely popular elder statesman Gordon Lightfoot, we can be thankful of the few we still have around.  One or two of them still have a fight on their hands; social injustice, the chaotic world of politics, those ever changing cultures, some fellow countrymen removing their work from music platforms and the like to make a pointAmid the chaos, singer songwriter Bruce Cockburn releases the latest album in a series of extraordinary output, around 38 albums and counting, spanning a career of over half a century.  The dozen new songs here are testament to the quality of writing that continues to keep Cockburn at the top of his game.  Surrounding himself with first rate musicians provides further colour to Cockburn’s palette, notably Shawn Colvin, Buddy Miller, Sarah Jarosz and Allison Russell.  Prior to reading the credits, Allison Russell’s highly distinctive voice popped up and gave the game away during the gospel-tinged “Colin Went Down to the Water”, confirming once again the quality of this woman’s extraordinary voice.  The album opens with the bluesy “On a Roll”, delivered on a resonator guitar, indicating that the musician is certainly in good spirits.  The haunting “Orders” reminds us of the power of words in the hands of a poet, a song that resonates with our times.  Picking up the dulcimer, Cockburn duets with Susan Aglukark, the Inuk music star, on their collaborative song “To Keep the World We Know”, another song of social concerns.  “Haiku”, the sole instrumental on the album, reminds us what a fine guitar player Cockburn is.  Produced by long-time collaborator Colin Linden, O Sun O Moon devotes itself to songs of a mature nature, Cockburn confessing that “these are exactly the kind of songs that an old guy writes”.  Joined by Linden on guitar, Janice Powers on keyboards and Gary Craig on drums, the album also features Viktor Krauss on bass, Chris Brown on drums, Jeff Taylor on accordion, Jenny Scheinman on violin and Jim Hoke on a bunch of other instruments.  Adding their soulful embellishments are Ann and Regina McCrary, daughters of Rev. Samuel McCrary, one of the founder members of the Fairfield Four. This really is a superb album.

Keturah | Keturah | Album Review | Henhouse Studios | 12.05.23

There’s something immediately uplifting about the opening song on Keturah’s eponymous debut album.  “Ku Nyumba”, is basically six minutes of summer magic, a seasonal sound perhaps reflected in the cover shot, which features this confident looking 27-year-old Monza-born Malawian singer.  Recorded at Hen House Studios in Venice, California, by Harlan Steinberger, Keturah features ten songs, each of which is a treat for the listener, an inviting mix of Afro-folk-funk, with shimmering guitar licks and intoxicating driving rhythms, together with Keturah’s distinctively fresh and confident voice.  Like the opening track, “All the Way from Africa” is drenched in summer warmth, Jason Tamba’s tantalising guitar licks skittering throughout like a swarm of lake flies.  It’s taken Keturah well over a decade to make her mark in music, from her formative years in Monza, her journey on foot to Blantyre where she found her voice, taking the nickname ‘Naliyela, Local Girl’, to her most recent adventures on the west coast of California, resulting in this fine debut.  Hearing the children sing on “Samala” will bring a smile to even the most hardened listener. 

Tinariwen | Amatssou | Album Review | Wedge | 19.05.23

If you are already aware of the distinctive desert blues sound of this exceptionally vibrant Tuareg outfit, Tinariwen’s ninth album will come as no surprise, certainly in terms of its quality musicianship and those familiar and easily accessible rhythms.  What might surprise some though, is the involvement of famed Canadian musician Daniel Lanois, whose production helps drive some of this music along.  Originally conceived as a fusion between Sahara Desert musicians and those closer to the Sonoran desert, Tuareg meets Cowboy if you like, the project initially suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, namely Covid, which threatened top scupper the project, though the album finally came to fruition with more concentrated effort than convenience.  The western influence is most immediately felt on “Tenere Den”, which sounds familiar, a little like Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”, itself based on an old Carter family tune.  The idea of the desert blues meeting, essentially country music, has its rewards in these tracks.

Ciderhouse Rebellion with Kirsty Merryn | The Devil’s on the Mast | Album Review | Under the Eaves | 26.05.23

If you have ever been fortunate enough to attend a Ciderhouse Rebellion show, you will be fully aware that you are listening to an improvised set that is unlikely to ever be repeated. Such is the nature of Adam Summerhayes and Murray Grainger’s musical relationship.  The two musicians that make up The Ciderhouse Rebellion are no strangers to improvisation, nor are they strangers to collaboration, having already worked alongside the poet Jessie Summerhayes and toured with the Irish Gaelic singer Molly Donnery as well as making up half of The Haar quartet.  Now the duo has teamed up with noted singer songwriter Kirsty Merryn for an album made up of eleven songs, predominantly self-penned with a Yeats poem thrown in at the end.  The Devil’s on the Mast is musically masterful and lyrically engaging, created out on the wild and windy Yorkshire Moors and presented in book form, containing all the song lyrics, informative notes and illustrations courtesy of the multi-talented Adam Summerhayes, with the option to take a CD version or download code.  There’s not one moment during these performances where the music overshadows the voice, nor vice versa, a true collaborative effort where the stories take the lead and the uplifting musical passages evoke sustained atmosphere throughout. Particular kudos to Kirsty Merryn for her bold and inventive reading of “Becalmed”, from which the album title derives.