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2022

Iona Lane | Hallival | Album Review | Hudson Records | 01.04.22

With one or two EP releases and dozens of gigs behind her, the Leeds-based singer songwriter Iona Lane takes bold strides forward with the release of her debut album Hallival, named for one of the mountains on the Isle of Rum.  Atmospheric from the start, Hallival indicates clearly a confidence in songsmithery, an album that places the singer alongside her contemporaries, rather than beneath them, a confidence that also places such material as “Western Tidal Swell”, “Humankind” and the title song, firmly within the new folk canon.  “Mary Anning” looks at one of our criminally overlooked heroines in the world of Paleontology, a scientist based in Lyme Regis in the nineteenth century, recently depicted by Kate Winslet in the Francis Lee film Ammonite.  Iona makes no secret of her admiration of the women around her, both contemporary and historical, and Hallival features a handful of such creative forces, with appearances by Jenny Sturgeon, who provides backing vocals on “Humankind”, and both Lauren MacColl and Rachel Newton on both fiddle and harp respectively on the evocative “Schiehallion”.  An inquiring mind is at work with each lyric.  With Andy Bell at the helm, Iona and her band make a bold statement here, with an album they can be proud of.

Kevin Buckley | Big Spring | Album Review | Avonmore Records | 08.04.22

Ordinarily, we would probably expect the tunes on this album to have sprung from the deep musical wells of County Clare, yet Kevin Buckley is a St Louis native, albeit steeped in the roots of places some four thousand miles away.  After two fine opening instrumental pieces though, “Sweeney’s Wheel” and “Ryder’s Block”, Buckley leans on influences closer to home, with the old time sensibilities of “The Blackest Crow” and later, “Never Tire of the Road”, each undoubtedly with Tim O’Brien not too far from his mind.  Possibly the most engaging of the songs is “Miss Bailey”, a noted song from the repertoire of The Kingston Trio, given a sort of Welch/Rawlings treatment.  Throughout the songs and tunes, there’s a certain ‘swing’ to be detected, especially on the bouncy “Marcelle et Marcel” and “City of Savannah”, together with classical elements, notably on “La Rubia”, which can only add to the folk fusion aspect of the album and which keeps it all interesting to listen to.  Kevin Buckley’s talents are extended to that of producer, arranger and singer songwriter, with his fiddle not far away at any time, though despite having released a handful of indie albums under the guise of Grace Basement, this is the first time that instrument has taken centre stage, making the most of his early training in traditional Irish music especially for his debut solo release.

Chris Brain | Bound to Rise | Album Review | Big Sun Records | 15.04.22

It’s difficult not to make the Nick Drake connection once we hear Chris Brain’s delicate finger-picked guitar, a notion confirmed by an equally delicate and breathy voice to go with it.  Chris fesses up to the obvious influence, though he makes the sound his own, a sound firmly planted in the ground, a little like a fruit tree.  Leeds-based, the singer, songwriter and guitar player has nothing of the plummy Drake mannerisms, nor does any of this come over as doomed melancholy, the songs are strangely uplifting, with a meditative, immediate delivery, enhanced by the live setting of each performance, recorded straight to analog tape.  With almost subliminal contributions from Simeon Walker and Mary Jane Walker on piano and violin respectively, the songs are treated to sparse arrangements, leaving Tom Orell’s production clean and uncluttered by further fancy embellishments.  Reluctant to use a thinly-worn cliche, but in this case it’s pretty apt – if you like Nick Drake, you’ll definitely appreciate this.

Katie Spencer | The Edge of the Land | Album Review | Lightship | 13.05.22

Somehow, it seems like half a lifetime since the release of Katie Spencer’s debut LP Weather Beaten, though it’s actually only a matter of three years, much of the ensuing months affected by enforced downtime, which perhaps makes it feel longer.  This second album has therefore come with a great deal of anticipation and we can immediately hear the extra attention to detail, the refinement of craft and the artistic control in the performances, which effectively transforms this young singer, songwriter and guitar player into a bone fide artist.   The Edge of the Land, evokes the terrain of Katie’s East Yorkshire home, as does its predecessor, with nature once again playing a key role in her music, offering solace in uncertain times.  Like witnessing one of Katie’s live performances, these songs comfort the listener with soothing acoustic sounds and graceful, meditative vocals, leaving no jagged edges, no intrusive cowbells or awkward and unnecessary tangents.  Katie found her voice some time ago and now it’s time for us to enjoy it.  The album opener “Take Your Time” has echoes of Happy/Sad period Tim Buckley, which demonstrates a confident command over jazz-tinged acoustic arrangements, while the opening few bars of “Roads” references Katie’s understanding of traditional folk tunes, something echoed later on the album with a pretty faithful reading of the Anne Briggs song “Go Your Way”.  You feel this is Katie’s time, and not too soon.

Corner House | How Beautiful It’s Been | Album Review | Self Release | 20.05.22

With a line-up that consists of Orkney-born fiddler Louise Bichan, mandolinist Ethan Setiawan, cellist Casey Murray and guitarist Ethan Hawkins, the Boston, Massachusetts-based quartet take their influences to new and interesting places, with an engaging album that seamlessly pulls together several musical strands, from both the band’s Irish and Scottish roots, to their broad Appalachian and bluegrass influences.  The songs and tunes here are certainly roots music at their core, yet the album is almost effortlessly infused with a distinctively contemporary feel.  The band is joined in places by Jordan Perlson on drums, Viktor Krauss (Alison’s bro) on double bass and minimoog, Maeve Gilchrist on clarsach and Eli Crews on nose flute.  After the release of the band’s first single “Mags’ 21st”, which came with a certain sense of familiarity, although sounding refreshingly new at the same time,  the vibrant instrumental effectively opened the doors to what was to follow shortly afterwards, an album of musical exploration and ingenuity that you will want to play again and again.

Bryony Griffith and Alice Jones | A Year Too Late and a Month Too Soon | Album Review | Splid Records | 27.05.22

A Year Too Late and a Month Too Soon has Yorkshire written all over it, with a collection of songs that don’t necessarily originate from God’s own county, but are directly associated with it in the form presented here.  The two Yorkshire-born singers collaborate for the first time on this project, Bryony from Skelmanthorpe near Huddersfield in West Yorkshire and Alice from Ribbonden near Halifax in the Calderdale area of the county, both very much steeped in their own local traditions.  Their two voices compliment one another in the same manner that June Tabor and Maddy Prior’s voices worked together on the Silly Sisters albums a few decades ago.  Predominantly traditional, with informed arrangements by the two musicians, the songs are brought to life by a duo passionate about this broad repertoire.  Alice makes no apologies for her infatuation with Frank Kidson (or specifically Frank Kidson’s mind), a song collector examined in a previous collaboration with Pete Coe, the double CD collection The Search for Five Finger Frank, which featured a collection of twenty-seven songs and tunes.  Here Frank is remembered once again with a further handful of songs, along with songs collected by Mary and Nigel Hudleston, Frank and Grace Hinchcliffe and Bert Dobson among others, and notably the repertoire of John Greaves.   Both musicians are in fine voice throughout, notably on the haunting “What is that Blood on Thy Shirt Sleeve” and the sprightly opener “Wanton Lasses Pity Her”.  Hopefully, this will not be a one off.

Jocelyn Pettit | Wind Rose | Album Review | Self Release | 03.06.22

The third album by this Canadian singer, fiddle player and step dancer begins with two strong instrumentals, both of which demonstrate an equally strong sense of arrangement and musical intuition.  The melody to the opening title tune is a stirring reminder that a good tune is just as important as a good song.  If it’s songs we crave, then we can’t go wrong with Dougie Maclean’s “Ready for the Storm”, which comes out to play once again, continuing where Kathy Mattea’s memorable reading of the song left off back in the 1990s, stirring up transatlantic memories of Scottish retreats and stormy highland coastlines.  Pettit’s roots are indeed Scottish, but also Irish, French and Malaysian, which gives the musician plenty of scope in terms of musical ideas.  Recorded over two continents, with the help of a select few hand-picked musicians in both Duncan, British Columbia and Glasgow, Scotland.  The distance between the two locations hints at the main theme of Wind Rose, that of home and travel, with each heartfelt melody faithfully rendered.  One one side of the Atlantic there’s Adam Dobres on guitar, Erik Musseau on whistle, Siew Wan Khoo on piano and Lauri Lyster and Joel Pettit on percussion, while over in the old country Pettit is joined by Martin O’Neill on bodhran, Ali Hutton on guitar, Chris Gray on piano and whistle and Ellen Gira on cello.  It’s quite possible that these songs and melodies will take you to all the places in between.  Gorgeous.

Pharis and Jason Romero | Tell ‘Em You Were Gold | Album Review | Smithsonian Folkways Recordings | 10.06.22

When Pharis and Jason walk into their cluttered space in the video promo for this album’s lead song “Souvenir”, which itself contains the album’s title within its lyric, you get the distinct feeling that this is very much the duo’s comfort zone.  Jason is a builder of fine banjos and a workshop is very much home to him, a place where presumably many of these songs are born.  The sixteen songs and tunes sound relatively simple, but that’s the nature of good folk music, to make us feel it is flowing with little effort, when in reality, a lot of effort goes into making music sound this good.  For their seventh album, the duo take to their barn in Horsefly, British Columbia in order to record these songs in just six days and much of it sounds as live as possible, with little further embellishment, aside from the fuller band sound on such songs as “Sour Queen” and “Been All Around This World”, where the fiddles, pedal steel, mandolin and upright bass come out to play, courtesy of Grace Forrest, Trent Freeman, Marc Jenkins, John Reischman and Patrick Metzger respectively.  Pharis and Jason continue to make earthy American music, which feels like it grows right out of the ground beneath their feet.

Peter Rowan | Call You From My Mountain | Album Review | Rebel Records | 17.06.22

For over sixty years Peter Rowan has been a key player in the world of American roots music, a career that has seen the singer take on everything from Bluegrass, Newgrass and Country Rock to Jazz, Hawaiian, Tejano and in some instances, Reggae.  These various styles have been enthusiastically explored, either as a solo artist, as part of his family band The Rowans or with other collaborations, notably with Tony Rice, Flaco Jiménez, Jerry Douglas and as a member of the rock band Seatrain back in the early 1970s.  Throughout the years though, it’s been Rowan’s highly distinctive voice that has remained at the helm of each venture, a voice that is very much among those in Americana’s A list.  On the eve of his 80th birthday, Rowan sounds as good as ever, in fact not very far removed from his heyday over forty years ago, those ‘hey, hey, heys’ on the opener, Woody Guthrie’s “New York Town”, being very much reminiscent of earlier times.  Calling You From My Mountain began life as an extension of the Hank Williams character Luke the Drifter, but other aspects of the singer’s vivid curiosity came along to change this direction, bringing in Tibetan musical influences, inspired by Rowan’s friendship with Yungchen Lhamo.  The ever vibrant Molly Tuttle appears on the title song “From My Mountain (Calling You)”, as does Lindsay Lou, which has been released as a single.  Billy Strings, Shawn Camp and Mark Howard also add spice to Rowan’s already spicey multi-generational band, which features Chris Henry on mandolin, Max Wareham on banjo, Julian Pinelli on fiddle and Eric Thorin on acoustic bass.  Calling You From My Mountain stands alongside Rowan’s best remembered albums, Medicine Trail, Dust Bowl Children, Walls of Time and his 1978 eponymous debut.

Damien O’Kane and Ron Block | Banjophonics | Album Review | Pure Records | 24.06.22

There’s an old joke about the man who leaves his banjo on the back shelf of his car, only to return an hour later to find the windscreen smashed and another banjo left there beside it.  Two banjos together might be thought of as a ludicrous proposal, but in the hands of both Damien O’Kane and Ron Block, the instrument becomes alive with sparkle and spirit.  Banjophonics is clearly a demonstration of musical ingenuity and dexterity, with the added ingredient of fun, all rolled into one.   O’Kane’s Irish roots melt seamlessly into Block’s bluegrass chops, with brilliantly crafted arrangements throughout.  The six minute opener “Taxi Driver/Close Enough” covers a lot of ground in terms of musical twists and turns.  A reference to his own father, who would ‘taxi’ his six kids around from here to there, well into adulthood, “Taxi Driver” is a faithful nod to the man who Damien refers to as a ‘legend’, while the second tune in the set, “Close Enough”, shows the duo’s Jazz credentials in a more swing-oriented style of playing.   Family is key to some of the tunes on Banjophonics, notably “Daisy’s Dance”, written as a symbiotic gesture to one of Damien’s kids, after Ron received a piece of art from Daisy.  The younger sibling features in the title of “Happy Little Phoebe/Manny Mountain”, the set of tunes that follows, once again keeping things all in the family.  “The Fiddler’s Gun” sees the arrival of Sierra Hull adding her trademark mandolin playing into an already rich and vibrant mix.  Though predominantly instrumental, Banjophonics does feature a couple of songs, Ron’s own “Endless Wanderer” and Damien’s reading of Barry Kerr’s “Woman of No Place”, a song written about the legendary Irish singer Margaret Barry, the title alluding to her life as a traveller, with a guest vocal by Kate Rusby. If banjos are your thing, look no further. 

The Black Feathers | Angel Dust and Cyanide | Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | 01.07.22

It doesn’t seem all that long ago since the release of this duo’s debut album Soaked to the Bone, yet six years have managed to drift by in the meantime.  Songwriters Ray Hughes and Sian Chandler take their music to new heights here, certainly when it comes to the inspired choice of covering and breathing new life into the old Portishead staple “Glory Box”, the lead single release from Angel Dust and Cyanide.  The duo’s unmistakable harmonies can be detected immediately as “Lighthouse on Fire” serves as a perfectly placed opener, with both voices finding their dovetail with seemingly little effort.  Those voices continue to gel throughout the album, most notably on “Chemical Romance” and the lively “Golden Hour”, each complemented by some fine string arrangements.  It’s not just the close harmonies that make these songs work so well, in some cases it’s the vocal duets, most noticeable on the gorgeous “Strangers in the Dark”, another album highlight.  Phillip Henry’s familiar Dobro playing lifts “Hurricane” to an even higher status in the playlist, promoting the song to perhaps the highlight.  There’s plenty of soul here, not least on the title song, which once again emphasises the power and empathy in these two remarkable voices.

Vieux Farka Touré | Les Racines | Album Review | World Circuit | 08.07.22

Les Racines, or The Roots, appears to get straight to the heart of the matter, a fitting title for the latest album by the Niafunké, Mali-born singer and guitar player Vieux Farka Touré.  The son of the legendary Malian musician singer Ali Farka Touré,  Vieux continues to expand the family tradition, bringing a sense of urgency to the Desert Blues riffs we’ve become familiar with, which are all in place here, creating trance-like grooves that makes each of the songs so infectious. Originally a drummer and calabash player, Vieux soon followed in dad’s footsteps, picking up the guitar to further explore the work already started and to specifically take it further.  With the baton very much handed down, Vieux continues to create this distinctive style of playing, though subtly branching out in various uncharted areas, while exploring the political and cultural climate of his homeland in the lyrics of his songs.  For this album, Vieux returns to his deep roots, while tackling the pandemic and taking to his home studio, Studio Ali Farka Touré, named in honour of his late father. Vieux spars with one or two invited guests, including Amadou Bagayoko, who adds further spice to the highly infectious “Gabou Ni Tie”, a perfect opener for a not too far from perfect album.

Noori and his Dorpa Band | Beja Power: Electric Soul & Brass From Sudan’s Red Sea Coast | Album Review | Ostinato Records | 15.07.22

The familiar guitar solo at the beginning of “Saagama” provides easy access to this new and completely instrumental album by Noori and his Dorpa Band, effectively inviting us in.  With some infectious grooves from Sudan’s Red Sea Coast, Beja Power is a showcase for Noori’s instrument of choice, the Dorpa, a Heath Robinson concoction of electric guitar and East African tambour, which in itself creates an immediately recognisable sound, fusing regular guitar riffs with flurries of ancient lyre arpeggios, together with added splashes of brass and percussion.  The steady trance-like grooves on each of the six pieces, casually borrows from jazz, with a preponderance of almost subliminal breathy saxophone flurries.  “Jabana”, offers a moment of restraint, serving as a gentle meditation midway through the album, during which it wouldn’t be too difficult to imagine wafting leaves in the afternoon sun.  Named for the Beja people, an ethnic group that inhabits Sudan, Egypt, and Eritrea, the album title is a demonstration of strength in troubled times.  Tensions have been commonplace since the military coup of 1989, which resulted in the closure of many of Sudan’s music halls and the criminalisation of music in general.  The ‘power’ aspect of the title could also describe the bold rhythms created by the band itself, and if Noori is happy to go simply by his forename, then why not the rest of the band; Naji on tenor saxophone, Gaido on bass, Tariq on rhythm guitar, Fox on congas and Danash on tabla.

The Wilderness Yet | What Holds the World Together | Album Review | Self Release | 22.07.22

There’s something decidedly assured about The Wilderness Yet, both in the trio’s instrumental prowess and in their confident vocal delivery.   The a cappella performances are rich in range, with a clear bottom end that suitably complements the top and mid range, notably on “Old Brock” and “The Banks of the Bann”.  Rosie Hodgson, Rowan Piggott and Philippe Barnes are a tight team, whose performances are equally confident on record as they are in a live setting.  These dozen songs and tunes further demonstrate the trio’s flair for arrangement, with some fine fiddle and guitar interplay, a perfect ground for Rosie’s earthy voice to flourish.  “T Stands for Thomas”, “Wild Northeaster” and “Love Holds Our World Together” and are each treated to strong melodic arrangements, a showcase for all three musicians.  Interestingly, “The Last Shanachie” features the voice of Rowan’s great-great-grandfather, who was a traditional Irish storyteller, taken from a wax cylinder recording, adding a moment of rich authenticity to the music that his future descendant continues to explore today.  With Joe Danks providing some percussion, The Wilderness Yet continue to hold their own in well populated field.

Bush Gothic | Beyond the Pale | Album Review | Fydle Records | 29.07.22

Jenny M Thomas, Dan Witton and Chris Lewis make up this artsy trio from Melbourne, who immerse themselves in traditional folk song, adding extraordinary arrangements to fresh ideas.  Having previously worked together in the band Circus Oz, the three musicians gel musically, almost as a jazz trio, and for Beyond the Pale, the trio’s third album, their collective talents are further honed.  There’s so much originality involved here, with inventive arrangements and fine performances throughout, reminiscent in places of those of The Unthanks, one of the UK’s most progressive folk outfits.  No surprise then that the band have made an appearance at one of the Unthanks’ Home Gatherings a few years ago.  Bush Gothic take a fresh look at some of the songs from the Australian tradition, treating them to major work overs, not least “Streets of Forbes”, which here is almost unrecognisable from more familiar versions.  The bass part alone on “Andy’s Gone with Cattle” leaves the listener searching for a musical precedent, unless we delve deeper into the world of jazz.  Despite the album having been around since 2019, it really seems to have come along not a minute too soon.

The Movers | Vol 1 1970-1976 | Album Review | Analog Africa | 12.08.22

On paper, this compilation initially sounded like it might very well linger on the ‘leave till later’ pile; the thought of ‘rolling organ grooves and elastic rhythms of American soul’ didn’t immediately fill me with anticipation.  However, once loaded into the disc machine, it stayed there, providing a soundtrack to these otherwise dreary politically-driven, poverty stricken, Love Island-obsessed days (and nights) and a few days later, it’s still there.  The organ-driven grooves are precisely what the doctor ordered and despite the fourteen songs coming in at just under forty minutes in total, there’s enough here to brighten anyone’s day.  The Movers formed in South Africa in the late 1960s, going on to make the sort of infectious rhythms that would in one moment fill a dance floor, then the next, have listeners clambering for the most comfortable futon in the house.  Laid back comes close to describing the opener “Give Five or More”, its organ and guitar interplay immediately at work, moving swiftly into the subtle grooves of “Tau Special”, an album favourite, with mandolin-like guitar flurries and infectious organ riffs.  It’s actually far too short for its own good.  Voices appear for the first time on “Soweto Inn” led by Sophie Thapedi, which perfectly complements the township grooves and provides this collection with an obvious single.  Sadly, despite the band being hugely successful during the time of these recordings, the majority of the band is no longer with us, the musicians having passed away in obscurity.  The music that the band has left behind is just as vibrant now as it was during the time of three day weeks, black outs and strike action and though the economic and social problems are virtually the same now as they were back then, it’s good to know that this sort of music is much more available and accessible these days, providing a tonic for us all.

Fara | Energy Islands | Album Review | Fara Music | 19.08.22

With a slight change in line-up, Jennifer Austin having moved on to other projects and the recruitment of the Highland pianist Rory Matheson, Fara makes giant strides forward with this new album Energy Islands.  Matheson’s presence is immediately felt, with some assured keyboard work, notably throughout “Broom Power”, named for a community hydro system near Loch Broom, Ullapool.  Matheson joins an already formidable team in the form of founder member and Orkney frontwomen, Jeana Leslie, fiddle player and arranger Catriona Price and fiddle player and ‘stomper’ Kristan Harvey.  With three fiddle players and a pianist, assumptions can be formed around the sound we might expect, but you may be surprised.   The songs benefit enormously from Matheson’s contribution, especially “Fair Winds” and “Merry Dancers”, with the fiddles taking not only second place, but third and fourth.  The fiddle of course comes into its own on the instrumental pieces such as “The Hampshire”, “Excess Electric” and the inventive opener “Solar”.  The song titles hide little of the themes covered, with each related to power in its various forms and varieties, the tide, the wind and the sun, yet significantly Orkney’s role in its ground-breaking endeavours in creating renewable energy.  That power is echoed in the vibrant music these four musicians continue to make.

Jackie Oates | Gracious Wings | Album Review | Needle Pin Records | 26.08.22

There’s never a single moment of disappointment involved with anything Jackie Oates releases, each project not only well received initially, but they invariably go on to pop up time and again on the player well after review attention.  This is Jackie’s eighth solo album in sixteen years and once again contains both traditional and contemporary material, as well as one or two self-penned songs, with little separating the three, stylistically speaking.  Tom Waits’ “Time” (or in this case “Time Time Time”) sits alongside the traditional fare in just the same manner as the Sugarcubes’ “Birthday” sat alongside “Young Leonard” on Hyperboreans or “Alexander Beetle” to “Bi Bi Og Blaka” on her Lullabies album.  Jackie’s duet with Megan Henwood on “La Llorona” just might be this album’s show stopper, two voices seemingly made for one another.  Down the country from Cheshire to Staffordshire to Devon was Jackie’s physical trajectory during her growing up, while upwards has always been her musical direction, with plenty of collaborations along the way.  Best served solo in my opinion, this album goes some way to prove this notion.  With Richard Evans at the helm, the album features further contributions from John Spiers, Mike Cosgrave, Jon Wilks, and John Parker, and is handsomely packaged with the delicate artwork courtesy of Jo Elizabeth May. A must for Jackie fans and music lovers alike.

SykesMartin | Unquenching Fire | Album Review | Self Release | 02.09.22

There is genuine excitement surrounding this duo’s imminent tour, a collaboration between two of our finest female singers and musicians, Miranda Sykes and Hannah Martin.  Both Miranda and Hannah are no strangers to the British folk circuit, known for their many collaborative endeavours, notably Miranda as the long time singer and bassist with Show of Hands and Hannah being one half of the explorative folk duo Edgelarks, with Phillip Henry, who also produces this album, among other projects, notably as part of Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band.  Miranda and Hannah’s highly individual voices are known throughout folkdom, yet Unquenching Fire places an emphasis squarely on the unique blend that these two voices make together, with remarkable results.  Some of the songs are familiar, taken from our rich traditional musical heritage, songs like “Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies”, “Dark Eyed Sailor” and “Sweet Lemany”, each of which are treated to carefully considered arrangements, utilising the various instruments at the duo’s disposal.  Miranda’s double bass and Hannah’s fiddle and banjo make their presence known from the start, but never overshadow these two distinctive voices, which dominate these songs.  Strong voices are always much stronger when they are given sensitive material to work with, a certain fragility emerges that is neither weak nor brittle, but firm, confident and utterly convincing.  Each voice takes its turn to shine, with the other providing rich harmonies or part singing to achieve a unified whole.  The Anne Briggs song “Go Your Way” is treated to an inviting arrangement, losing little of the original’s ethereal quality, emphasised by both Briggs and Bert Jansch from a different era.  The song lives on, as do the others on this enchanting and beautiful album.

Siobhan Miller | Bloom | Album Review | Songprint Recordings | 09.09.22

One of the joys of being involved in the folk music scene is watching a career bloom, from humble beginnings, through various collaborative successes, to what might be considered a mature talent.  Siobhan Miller is such a talent, whose immediately recognisable voice dominates everything she touches, from those early days partnering up with fellow Scot Jeana Leslie, her involvement with the first incarnation of the four-piece Salt House to her burgeoning and now fully formed solo career, which shows no signs of going in any other direction than up.  Bloom is Siobhan’s fifth solo album, following her debut Flight of Time (2014), Strata (2017), Mercury (2018) and her most recent All is Not Forgotten released during lockdown, and features appearances by some of the notable musicians Siobhan has previously worked with on earlier projects.  These include Kris Drever, Ian Carr, Aaron Jones and Louis Abbott, not to mention close collaborator, producer, bassist and husband, Euan Burton, who makes this album sound as good as it does.  The songs are familiar, each treated to fine arrangements, notably the opener “Queen of Argyle”, “Cold Blows the Rainy Night” and the timeless “I’m a Rover”.   Ewan MacColl’s “Moving On Song”, renamed here “Go, Move, Shift”, is delivered as forcefully as ever, it’s message as clear in 2022 as it was in 1960, when the song first appeared as part of the Radio Ballads series.  The surprise song on Bloom is perhaps “Open All Night”, from the pen of Rab Noakes, with some fine bar room piano courtesy of Tom Gibbs.  Concluding with “Wild Mountain Thyme”, which never wanes, never falters and never ages, Siobhan invites us to join the chorus, along with Kris Drever, Eddi Reader and others.  Gorgeous.        

Rob Heron and The Tea Pad Orchestra | The Party’s Over | Album Review | Teapad Recordings | 16.09.22

Anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra in action on stage will know that their set has ‘party’ written all over it.  You can imagine the band performing at weddings, birthday parties and bar mitzvahs and not wanting your money back.  The Party’s Over is the band’s fifth album and once again gets the party going from the first note.  Their music is possibly hard to explain but easy to understand; Western Swing, Rock n Roll, R&B (the original one), a Cajun accordion, a slapped bass, a bit of New Orleans sax, a few harmonica flurries and some confident yodeling, it’s all there, together with the appropriate popper buttoned shirts.  Nowhere is there any indication of Rob’s North Eastern roots, a musician who has managed to inhabit the very soul of this multi genre gumbo, nor his British accomplices, Tom Cronin on mandolin, harmonica and guitar, Colin Nicholson on keyboards, Ted Harbot on bass and Paul Archibald on drums.  “The Horse That You Rode On” is straight out of Rawhide or at least Blazing Saddles, complete with mariachi trumpet and horse whip.  It’s a movie soundtrack for people raised on The Searchers, best served with popcorn.  For the fireside, “Trouble Is” shows Rob’s sensitive side, with a fine ballad, joined by Ruth Lyon of fellow North East-based Holy Moly & The Crackers.   

Ellie Gowers | Dwelling by the Weir | Album Review | Self Release | 23.09.22

A rather impressive debut by the Warwickshire-based singer songwriter Ellie Gowers, whose delicate, almost ethereal voice draws the listener in from the very beginning.  For the title song alone we hear echoes of Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell, yet there’s a sense that Ellie Gowers owns her own place in the current folk and acoustic scene.  Her voice might be delicate, yet it’s strong and confident at the same time, a perfect vehicle for these songs.  “Woman of the Waterways” immediately lifts the spirits with its lilting chorus and sparkling arrangement, a song that deserves to be treated to several plays on repeat, and probably will be.  “A Letter to the Dead Husband of Mary Ball” demonstrates a darker side to Ellie’s repertoire, a song that invites us around the campfire in the twilight hours for a good old true life story of murder and retribution. Good storytelling, and in this case, full of tension and with a definitive closing line.   Ellie’s five minute or so “Poor Old Horse” canters along superbly, never plodding nor galloping but pitched perfectly to keep us with it until the end.   “Ribbon Weaver” would not be out of place on Ladies of the Canyon, a gorgeous performance by an artist on the rise.  This one comes highly recommended.