Issue 30 01/2005
FolkWorld CD Reviews
Blackthorn Band "Far from Home"
HOBCD1002; 2003; Playing time: 43:02 min
ThingumaJig "Ceilidh Party"
HOBCD1001; 2003; Playing time: 55:21 min
The Blackthorn Band plays the Southern
England folk circuit since 1995. Multi-instrumentalist husband and wife Fergus
(aka Pete, bouzouki, mandolin, banjo, fiddle) and Mannie McClelland (concertina)
are also members of the ceilidh band ThingumaJig
(see below) and proprietors of the Hobgoblin music business in West Sussex. Add
daughter Sarah (flute, uilleann pipes, guitar), Philippe Barnes (flute, whistle,
guitar) and flute maker Phil Hardy on low whistle (as special guest). "Far from
Home" is the Blackthorn Band's debut album, concentrating on the group's Irish
repertoire. A fine mix of dance tunes, let me mention Charlie Lennon's hornpipe
"Dance of the Honeybees", Mark Kelly's slip jig "Snowy Path" (not that much recorded
apart from Altan but becoming increasingly popular)
and the haunting "Women of Ireland" (Mna na hEireann) arranged by Sean O'Riada
(-> FW#28) that leave a greater impression
on me. Two of the tracks had been released previously on the Hobgoblin Music 25th
Anniversary CD (-> FW#24).
Thingumajig means something that is hard to classify, but this band is
not the great unknown but a recreation of entertainment in days gone by. ThingumaJig
was founded at New Year's Eve 1998, the group's concept is a complete evening
of ceilidh entertainment including dances, tunes and songs. But Pete & Mannie
McClelland, Philippe Barnes, David Sheldon (keyboards), Tom Phelan (bass) and
Ollie Boorman (drums) are not your typical ceilidh band (-> FW#26,
FW#27), it's a delightful listening pleasure,
though this album may cause involuntary physical movement. The ten dance
tracks (plus two songs - "Wild Mountain Thyme" and "Whiskey in the Jar" - which
are rather on the weak side) come with suggestions for dances to go with the tunes
and a set of instructions. A book with all the music and dances is due to be published
If you should be in the locality, the ThingumaJig Winter Warmer Ceilidh is held
in Edenbridge on 5th February 2005 for a great night of music and dancing.
Frank Ferrel & Friends "Fiddledance"
Meadow Music; GMM 2018; 2004; Playing time: 59:13 min
V/A "Contra Roots and Branches"
Meadow Music; GMM 2017; 2004; Playing time: 74:35 min
The folks at Great Meadow Music
(-> FW#27) are champions of contra dance
music, and here's another offering from New England.
Boston fiddler Frank Ferrel is regarded
to be one of the leading Yankee fiddlers. And he certainly is. His family originally
came from Co. Longford, Ireland, thus he plays contra with an Irish flair.
Frank's fiddling has been influenced first by traditional music from Ohio and
West Virginia, later he took an interest in Irish, French-Acadian, and Canadian
fiddlers in Boston in the 1960's. Frank plays Northern Yankee style, in his
own words, there is an austere, straight-backed, purely expressed melodicism
that differentiates this genre from the sliding, shuffle-bowed, double-stopping,
ornamental techniques common to southern fiddle styles. A fiddle style that
might be quite unknown to many. Frank is accompanied by musician friends Peter
Barnes (piano), John McGann (guitar, mandolin) and Joe Derrane (button accordion),
the latter has recently been awarded the US National Heritage Fellowship from
the National Endowment for the Arts.
New England's special music now belongs to America. To the world indeed.
Besides Frank Ferrel, 14 of North America's best contra bands demonstrate the
state of the art and the mix of tunes that can be found at contra dances these
days on the compilation disc "Contra Roots and Branches", featuring recordings
from 1988 to 2004. Let's have some look at the tunes and the approach: Swallowtail
offers a jig learned from a Bothy Band album (see article in this FW issue)
plus adding a hammered dulcimer. FootLoose performs the "Finnish Polka" introduced
to Irish music by Kevin Burke, followed
by a Northumbrian tune. Grand
Picnic, featuring clarinet and tuba, diddle an Romanian improvisation before
settling in a jazzy version of an old-timey number. KGB
experiment with the russianization of "Habanera" from Bizet's "Carmen". There's
more: A Band Named Bob,
Hillbillies from Mars, Portland
Selection, The Berea Castoffs,
Guys Can Talk, Contratopia,
Domino. I said it
before, contra dance music is developing like other genres from dance music
into listening music. In the end, the whole purpose of this music is to have
Great Meadow Music
Frank Harte & Donal Lunny "The Hungry Voice"
HBCD0034; 2004; Playing time: 78:41 min
Those in power write the history, those who suffer write the songs. Still true.
After Frank Harte's "1798 - The First Year Of Liberty" and "My Name is Napoleon
Bonaparte" (-> FW#7), he studied the Song
Legacy of Ireland's Great Hunger, the Great Famine of 1845-50 when the potato
blight and the laissez-faire politics of the British government struck the country,
God's punishment on the lazy, indolent Irish. John Mitchel later declared,
the Almighty indeed sent the potato blight, but it was the English that created
the Famine. Two million people emigrated in the decade afterwards, many
more following in the fever ridden coffin ships. The memory is retained to the
present day; fiddler Junior Crehan (-> FW#21)
could recall his grandmother being born in a field when the family was evicted
from their home by the local landlord. The worst year, Black
47, gave its name to a Celtic rock band (-> FW#20),
Luka Bloom (-> FW#29)
wrote "City of Chicago" (-> FW#19) to
commemorate the 150th anniversary. In the country of song, and dance, and
laughter, there was not heard one note of music, only the mourner's melancholy
wail. The Great Hunger itself led to only a few songs, the actual hunger
seemingly being too horrible. Only afterwards people recovered their voice and
put down their thoughts, often leading to sentimentality while reflecting the
past. Of course, there's the well-known "Skibbereen" (-> FW#13,
FW#18), a rare exception. The tune of
"Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore" (-> FW#23)
has been used for a Gaelic song celebrating the area of Gweedore in Donegal
(-> FW#2, FW#29);
in fact, Frank Harte heard the English original in 1968 taken from the Gaelic-speaking
area of Glenfin west of Ballybofey in Donegal too and gave it to Paul Brady
who recorded it with The Johnstons and so the song found a wider public. Most
songs are about eviction, emigration overseas, unwelcomed and facing WASP prejudices,
loneliness and home-sickness. Some are sung and recorded from time to time,
see e.g. Mick Moloney's book
and CD "Far From the Shamrock Shore" (-> FW#24)
for "No Irish Need Apply" or "Lone Shanakyle". Some can be found in songbooks
but were rarely recorded ("Lough Sheelin Side"), others are rarely heard at
all, e.g. "Rigged Out" telling about attempts to embrace the Protestant religion
to Irish Catholics in exchange for food. It's a quiet album, a few songs are
a capella, the livelier ones accompanied by Donal Lunny on bouzouki.
So if you travel open-eyed through Ireland and you see the memorials dealing
with 1845, this is the soundtrack, and don't forget to pay a visit to the Famine
Museum in Strokestown House, Roscommon.
Pauline Scanlon "Red Colour Sun"
Discs; DLCD010; 2003; Playing time: 42:11 min
Pauline Scanlon's CD "Red Colour
Sun" starts with a pop-folk to rock turning original; "Churchyard" tells the
story of a young girl meeting the devil, inspired by the traditional ballad
"False Knight on the Road". When the child answers the devil's questions without
telling a lie, she is saved from eternal damnation. Pauline is taking no prisoners
with her interpretations of traditional Irish and British songs such as "What
Put the Blood" and "Molly Ban", folk songs as "Sally Free and Easy" and Sigerson's
"Boys of Barr na Sraide" (-> FW#28,
actually Pauline's from near Cahersiveen, Kerry), and contemporary ditties from
Don McLean and Willie Nelson (-> FW#29),
and Peggy Seeger's "Springill Mining
Disaster" (seemingly the right choice for folk rockers -> FW#28).
Pauline is the singer of the Sharon Shannon band, so accordionist Sharon gives
a helping push and draw (-> FW#17, FW#28),
as did Lunasa guitarist Donogh Hennessy
(-> FW#29). Plus electric guitars, keyboards,
programming and percussion, that's always a quest and a challenge, and we poor
reviewers wonder if it's doom or revelation. I'd say, Pauline met the devil
and is saved from eternal damnation.
Tarneybackle "The Diamond"
Label: Own label; TBMCD003; 2004; Playing
time: 57:19 min
Ladies and gentlemen, this is pure! Tarneybackle
[-> FW#25], a three-piece Scottish band
based in Perthshire, have just released their third album, "The Diamond", borrowing
the title from the famous nineteenth-century whaling song "The Bonnie Ship 'The
Diamond'". Tarneybackle are John Davidson (voc, guit, mand, fl, whistles), Sandy
Marshall (voc, guit, bouz) and Lorna Davidson (back voc, bodh, other perc),
all of whom have sprouted up from their regional folk-club scenes. On "The Diamond",
they once again celebrate their deep folkloristic roots, performing over a dozen
songs both traditional ("Bonnie Ship", "I'm a Rover", "Dainty Davie") or Burnsian
("Ye Jacobites", "Ae Fond Kiss") and modern (e.g. Robin Laing's "Isle of Eigg").
Tarneybackle blend strong vocal harmonies with a wide range of string, wind
and percussion instruments. At face value, there seems to be nothing special
to be said about "The Diamond". But maybe this is only because Tarneybackle
come across as both proficient and 100% authentic -- and for good reasons at
that, for their interpretations have become hugely popular among the northerly
Celts. So, drawing on a classic Dire Strait song, I reverently suggest they
be shortlisted for a possible future "Sultans of Trad" award.
V/A "Diamond Mountain Sessions presents ..."
Label: Diamond Mountain Records; DMRCD1001;
2004; Playing time: 49:16 min
A couple of years ago, the Irish accordion and fiddle player Sharon Shannon
gathered a bunch of friends together in an out-of-the-way recording studio at
Letterfrack, Co. Galway, recording cuts of their pastoral playing-along which
eventually led to a CD appropriately titled "The Diamond Mountain Sessions"
[-> FW#18, FW#17].
Though this may have been madness, there has now become method to it. Lately,
the "Diamond Mountain Music" label has released an album which seems to come
along as the follow-up to the much-acclaimed first record. Yet, this is not
wholly true. Rather, the "Diamond Mountain Session Presents…" album proves to
be a "mere" ordinary compilation of roots/folk music from all parts of the English-speaking
world (UK, USA, IRL, AUS, NZ). The idea for this collection arose during the
original Diamond Mountain Sessions, and four years later it has finally been
realised. Even though the album thus proves only a "virtual" trad session, a
few points ought be noted in its favour. Once again, the collection of artists
is a good pick, joining together Sharon Shannon [-> FW#28]
and her sister Mary, Natalie Merchant, Karan Casey [-> FW#20,
FW#25], Declan O'Rourke, and many others.
Funnily, the record initially seems to possess the same "American flavour" as
its predecessor. But the first impression soon wears off. The tunes range from
the old to the new, and from country & western to rock & pop to folk. Among
the many gems on this album, it is, interestingly, the traditional ones which
stand out as the real diamonds, above all Pauline Scanlon's seemingly effortless
rendering of "Molly Ban" [see CD review above] and Sinéad O'Connor's breathtaking
version of "Paddy's Lament" [-> FW#24].
All in all, a sparkling record, but will it ever outperform its four-time platinum
Own label; XM3337; 2004; Playing time: 64:16
Listening to Balkan music, you sometimes have to go as far as Australia. A lot
of immigrants went down under taking their music with them (-> FW#28),
but Melbourne's Xenos band (-> FW#5,
FW#24) has no Balkan or Roma roots but
consists of Anne Hildyard (saxophone, gaida, zurna, vocals), Lee Hildyard (defi,
vocals), Rob Bester (bass, tulum, davul, strings) and Philip Griffin (laouto,
guitar, bass). But I wonder if you would recognize the difference to the original.
No, this is the pure drop though. Trance-like Gypsy songs and round dances from
the Balkan, Greece and Romania, enigmatic and entrancing. Çirikli is
the little bird, and these songs are full of birds, symbols of the beloved
and of the soul, in ecstatic flight and longing for homecoming. Trusting the
rock-solid rhythm under the feet of the dancers, passionate solo improvisations
take flight, mirroring the bird's wandering journey and soaring exuberantly
through the sky.
Rob Bester and Anne Hildyard are also the publishers of "Gajda Tunes of Macedonia,"
featuring transcriptions of 52 dance tunes from northern Greece (see T:-)M's
Lyd; 2L23; 2004; Playing time: 47:52 min
Flukt (-> FW#26)
has been formed in 1998, since going from strength to strength and turning traditional
Norwegian music into an attractive remedy for the listening audience. Fiddler
Sturla Eide and accordionist Øivind Farmen exchanged the double bass player
for a percussionist, Håvard Sterten, creating an even bigger buzz, part meditative
sounds, part percussive beats and wild at times. Polskas, schottis, waltzes,
and ceremonial wedding music, but always great fun. A medicine for the short
and cold days of winter, I almost feel addicted to it.
Lindberg Lyd AS
Old Crow Medicine Show "O.C.M.S"
0 6700 30349 2 0; 2004; Playing time: 36:18 min
The Old Crow Medicine Show is a bunch
of five lads with youthful vigour from New York City to make a full string band:
banjo, fiddle, guitar, upright bass. Discovered by Doc
Watson while busking in front of a pharmacy, the Medicine Show played MerleFest
and the Grand Ole Opry. The self-styled rollicking, punkified old-time acoustic
band does something as did the Pogues
with Irish music (-> FW#22), except
that most of the Pogues' members stood outside the tradition, while the Old
Crows seem to be immersed in it. So imagine an outfit somewhere inbetween Johnny
Cash and Kurt Cobain, turning country blues, old-timey folk and jug band
music into a more urban sound beyond Appalachia. The better known songs include
"Tell It To Me" (aka "Cocaine blues"), "CC Rider" and Dylan's "Wagon Wheel",
but the Old Crows write their own brand of American music and "O.C.M.S" features
half a dozen of stirring originals. Both novel and long in the tooth.
Randy Kohrs "I'm Torn"
Day; LDR005; 2004; Playing time: 33:50 min
Randy Kohrs is torn. The sought-after
studio musician from Iowa is best known for performing with Dolly
Parton and playing one of the the hottest dobros around in bluegrass, country
and americana music but Randy is a master on different stringed instruments.
He is also a highly original songwriter and a passionate vocalist, examining
the entire spectrum of human emotions. Randy is staying true to the traditional
bluegrass sound, though not sounding that much anachronistic. In his own words:
I wanted to make a CD that would relate to the sixteen year old fans without
upsetting the delicate balance that the first and second generation have come
to know and love about bluegrass music. Another fresh take on the bluegrass
genre - aged but not torn.
Lonesome Day Records
Onion Creek Crawdaddies "Barn Burners & Bathtub
Label: Beergrass Records; BGR-001; 2003; Playing
time: 51:25 min
The Onion Creek Crawdaddies
are five lads from Austin, Texas, with guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, dobro,
pedal steel, upright bass, and washboard. One of a few young bluegrass bands
emerging from Central Texas in recent times. The Crawdads play original material
exclusively which is boisterous and exhilarating. It is no traditional bluegrass
by any means, they call it beergrass, and the alcohol-soaked lyrics blame
the band's young age. Their down in the mud heroes seemingly have a severe
drinking problem. Texan life experience, I suppose. A country where folks wish
the river was whiskey, or in the Crawdads' own words: There's too much blood
in my veins where the whiskey oughta be.
The Wailin' Jennys "40 Days"
Beach; JBM 0403; 2004; Playing time: 50:54 min
This is the sound of voices three, singing together in harmony... It
seems that every all-female group I encountered evolved from a one-time performance
(-> FW#10, FW#18),
and the Canadian Wailin' Jennys
are no exception to the rule. The three outstanding female singer-songwriters
Cara Luft, Nicky
Mehta and Ruth Moody combined forces
and are anything else but wailing. It is fine contemporary folkpop, delivered
in three-part harmonies. The traditional songs "Saucy Sailor" (something Steeleye
Span -> FW#25) and "The Parting Glass"
and their gorgeous version of Neil Young's "Old Man" from the 1972 "Harvest"
album expose the humble beginnings of the band. However, all three of them are
writing gorgeous songs of their own. The warmth and cordiality is creates will
certainly last more than 40 days.
Jericho Beach Music
Amy Fradon "Passion Angel"
Label: Own label; LEO100; 2004; Playing time:
In the winter of 2003/04, the American singer/songwriter Amy
Fradon released a new CD called "Small-Town News." -- However, it is never
too late to review her 1999 album "Passion Angel", so first things first! Having
collaborated and toured extensively earlier in her life as the fair half of
the well-loved duo Amy Fradon & Leslie Ritter, who recorded half a dozen albums
together, Fradon embarked on a solo career after the split-up with her partner
in 1995. As her solo debut "Passion Angel" testifies, this move has noticeably
enlarged her musical range and creativity. On the first track, she comes across
as a Connecticut Mary Black [-> FW#16],
but the following songs soon give evidence that there is infinitely more to
this versatile artist. Throughout her album she amply demonstrates that she
can play virtually all registers of "popular music" in the widest sense of the
term. Folk, country, swing, blues and a capella singing: Amy Fradon's got it
all -- and excels at it all, musically as well as lyricwise.
Moreover, critics unanimously praise her singing, which is not a bit less gripping
and adaptable than her songwriting. So it's little wonder to find that "Passion
Angel", all in all, is a treat -- and a must-buy for all lovers of singer/songwriters
who thrive when off the beaten track.
Clay Bartlett "Fixin' to Break Down"
Label: Lu Belle; LB101; 2003; Playing time:
Clay Bartlett hails from Washington
in the Northwest of the States. Clay's debuting eight songs are typical singer-songwriter
folk, with bits of country music and soft country rock. There's a Dylanesque
harmonica, some of the songs could actually be from the late 1960's Dylan folk
rock era; others are classic Townes Van Zandt (-> FW#23,
FW#24), transplanted from Texas into the
North West. "Fixin' to Break Down" is more than satisfactory, and as every fine
record, it's much to short (so is this review). But it's a beginning.
David Francey "The Waking Hour"
Beach; JBM 0404; 2004; Playing time: 38:25 min
Singer/songwriter David Francey puts
Canada on the songwriting map again. He was born in Scotland, but emigrated
to Canada at an early age. Now based in rural Quebec, he assembled a Nashville
backing band for his 4th album: Kieran
Kane (guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, percussion), Kevin
Welch (guitar, percussion), -> FW#20
(guitar, fiddle, mandolin, slide guitar, harmonica, accordion, banjo). David
is a fine singer, songwriter, poet and storyteller, and has a special rapport
with the audience (proven in Europe at Denmark's Tønder Festival -> FW#26).
His photograph-like, partly humorous observations embrace love songs as well
as social comment. Forget about Stan Rodgers, Gordon Lightfoot (-> FW#28)
and the like, here's the next thing!
Jericho Beach Music
Marc Breitfelder & Jack Cook "Feed My Body
To The Fishes But My Soul To The Lord Above"
Label: Rudolphon; RDP 106; 2000; Playing time:
Marc Breitfelder & Ryan Donohue "Take A Butcher´s
Label: JukeJoint Records; JJR005; 2003; Playing
time: 53:36 min
Marc Breitfelder is a German blues harp player of stunning virtuosity. He does
not sing, and so on this two albums he joins forces with two musicians who sing
and play guitar - Ryan Donohue, his companion on the newer album, prefers the
dobro, a wood bodied resonator guitar.
Jack Cook is a blues singer and player from Seattle. After playing together
on the street Marc Breitfelder had the idea to record an album and prepared
the sessions very spontaneously. On „Feed My Body ...“ we hear duos, two solos
by Cook and band sessions with drums, percussion and bass. The tracks come from
different blues traditions: delta (Ishman Bracey´s „Saturday Blues“), ragtime
(Speckled Red´s „Right String But The Wrong Yo Yo“), hokum (Papa Charlie Jackson´s
„Shake that thing“), but even jazzier tunes by Louis Jordan, and Nat Adderly´s
often played composition „Work Song“. This tune is a brilliant reason for Breitfelder
to show that he really is a master of the harp and is my favorite track on this
album. Beautiful is Jack Cook's solo of Peg Leg Howell´s „Coal Man“ and Wild
Child Butler´s „Put It All In There“; sounds great here as the protagonists
play it in Bo Diddley style. Only „Goin´ to Brownsville“ by Sleepy John Estes
is a little disappointing if you hope to get the magical chaotic drive of an
old Estes-recording. Nevertheless this is a quite good release, rounded up by
good sound quality, liner notes and innovative designed Digipack.
This is also true for „Take A Butchers Knife“, another collaboration. Breitfelders
companion here is Ryan Donohue from New Jersey who lives in New Orleans since
many years. Like Jack Cook he is a street musician, but with a much starker
voice. The tracks here are even more old-timey than on the former album, adding
fiddle and banjo tunes to the mix, like Charlie Poole´s „Milwaukee Blues“ and
a number that is called „Muscrat Song“ and according to the liner notes hails
from the early 1900´s. Even „Jack O´Diamonds“ (the first tune I ever heard played
by my all-time favorite blues artist, Blind Lemon Jefferson) is played more
in a style between rock and old time music. But there are also the old hokum
tunes and risque songs („Tight Like That“, once a giant hit for Tampa Red and
Georgia Tom, „Good Gravy“, which here is quoted as a John Lee - the first Sonny
Boy - Williamson song but there is also a Tampa Red number dealing with that)
and numbers by Mississippi John Hurt, Fred McDowell and others. Tom Wait's „Ice
Cream Man“ sounds like a variation of „Sixteen Tons“, at least in the version
included here. „I Can´t Get Away“ by Lee Dorsey (another artist from New Orleans)
here sounds more like old time music than like pop music from the crescent city.
There are more „white“ influences here than on the Breitfelder/Cook album and
Donohue is clearly the dominating musician here, although there is more band
playing than on „Feed my body ...“. On the one hand this album seems a bit stronger
to me than the older one, but than again I would like to hear more of the great
harp playing. They both are good and quite different contributions to a lively
German blues scene.
Max Wolff "I´m Bonafide"
Own label; MWCD3; Playing time: 42:48 min
There are still some troubadours out there which once were infected by the folk
blues virus and never lost direction. Max Wolff seems to be one of them. This
is his first solo record, released after more than ten years on the road. There
are seven originals by Wolff that sound like originals from the thirties and
seven covers of mostly well known songs like „Goodnight Irene“, „San Francisco
Bay Blues“ or Jimmie Rogers´ „Peach Picking Time in Georgia“. The originals
could be from the old times too, „Make me your Brother“ could be by Son House,
„My Little Sugar Mama“ by Blind Boy Fuller. For Max all this music is a kind
of good time music (and indeed the blues musicians were mostly playing to entertain
people on dance events, medicine shows, in barrel houses and so on) and his
intention in concert as on record is to give the listener a feel of this. I
think this nearly live recorded album (there are only two selections with overdubs)
sounds like Max could sound playing in some bar or club with nearly no difference.
Of course his voice is not the voice of a black blues singer, but musicians
like him keep the blues alive in the only way it makes sense: by playing it.
Nevertheless, sometimes his approach could be a little bit more adventurous.
Mike Marriott "In Person"
Music; em 409805; 1999; Playing time: 53:42 min
Mike Marriott travels Europe up and down since decades, playing as a multi-instrumentated
one-man-band, mainly on the streets or in pubs but could also be heard on two
LPs. Now he seems to have a close relationship to Austria for his first CD was
published there and most of the radio presentations of the album also took place
there. The man from Essex plays everything from Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy
Waters, traditional folk song to Dylan, Ralph McTell, John Denver, but on the
album he presents a program of own material (12 songs) filled up with 5 more
pieces. Mike does some blues material but he doesn´t sound like the well known
one-man-bands from the USA like Jesse Fuller or Juke Boy Bonner. Even on the
well known classic "Trouble in Mind" with fingerpicking guitar, drums and kazoo
he sounds more like Ralph McTell as one of the aforementioned. He is a European
folk troubadour who uses a big instrumentarium but not playing his bass drum
and hi-hat on every song. On his strong "Devil´s Canyon" for example, he accompanies
himself only on a double stringed instrument, perhaps a mandola. "Infinity Blues"
is great, sounding like David Lindley and Wally Ingram replaced by only one
person with a little less twango and bango. Many songs are dominated by a strummed
acoustic guitar and mouth harp. This are no big arrangements, but Mike Marriott
always sounds very authentic, you really feel that he is living his music and
not just singing into a mike. The album closes with a song called "Walking Fast
to Tomorrow". Let's hope that this kind of musicianship endures.
Music; 001; Playing time: 63:28 min
Starting this disc, the first sound you hear comes from the keyboards, but soon
Phil Shackleton himself is in action with his acoustic guitar and a voice that
reminds on Paul Stephenson. What you get is gentle playing and songwriting dominated
by acoustic guitar with some electric guitar, keyboards, accordion (both by
Chris Parkinson) and fiddle (Charles O´Connor) thrown in for good measure. There
is only little percussion and more often a bass added. There are beautiful songs
by Phil like „Hannah Dreams“ or „A Fisherman´s Tale“, some covers which sometimes
are nice („Mhairu“ by Gallagher & Lyle, „Sally Free and Easy“) but sometimes
add nothing to the original (John Martyn´s often heard classic „May you never“,
which nevertheless is a great song but perhaps is better situated in a concert).
The inclusion of some instrumentals give this album a very special touch. There
are beautiful moody pieces („Evening Breeze“, „Gypsy Dance“), but also the unsuccessful
attempt to combine massive percussion and guitar synthesizer experiments in
one track („Cookin´“), and „Westwind“ with synthetic pan pipes, an enervating
piece of elevator music. Great are some backing vocal sounds on „Black is the
color“ and „Evening Breeze“ that remind me on some arrangements of the early
Genesis (the era of Tresspass). On his own compositions „Prayer to you“ and
„More than love“ Shackleton is a bit rockier and this is very welcome because
it adds some muscle to the record. Very good! Please more of this! The album's
closer is the stretched out instrumental „Kimono Heartbeat“ which seems to me
as humorous playing with Asian cliches. And don´t miss the hidden track - or
is it a part of the last piece? - at the end. This is a nice singer/songwriter
album with a special note, another prove that this scene lives on. Lyrics are
included in the booklet but a cover design is missed a little bit.
The Creekdippers "Mystic Theatre"
GRCD 605; 2004; Playing time: 39:14 min
The Creekdippers "Political Manifest"
GRCD 610; 2004; Playing time: 31:55 min
At the time being, the electoral race to US presidentship is over. Good fortune
for Corporate America, it wasn't the "End of the Highway" for "George Bush Industriale"
and his kin. Nevertheless, some would regard that information and education
is more necessary than ever before. Or rather call it rage. Rage is what Mark
Olsen and Victoria Williams, who are The
Creekdippers, drove to paint their "Political Manifest" against G.W. and
"Portrait of a Sick America" (is it any wonder that the record found a home
on the German Glitterhouse label?):
He represents everything wrong with America today: Between a war fought by
a disproportionate number of immigrants and the poor, and economic and environmental
policies that puts Corporate America over everything. This is what I want my
tax dollars to pay for: education, fireman, policemen, doctors, healthcare for
all individuals from the cradle to the grave. This is what I don't want my taxes
paying for: weapons and offensive war mongering. However, maybe rage wasn't
too good for the music. Musically more rewarding is the proper album "Mystic
Theatre", displaying acoustic hippie hillbilly singer-songwriter folk from the
Californian desert, far from any mystic and far from the rat race (for
presidentship or whatever). A timeless, intense alt.country record at unhurried
Robb Johnson "Tony Blair: My Part in his Downfall"
IRR054; 2004; Playing time: 68:13 + 46:18 min
The war is over, the Iraqi people are free, now everybody's really happy
now, as sure as there will be snow in Baghdad this Xmas... O.k., G.W. is
happy, Tony Blair still will be put to the test, and Robb
Johnson (-> FW#25, FW#27,)
is ready to do "My Part in his Downfall". 29 songs written since 1996 about
Tony Blair aka "Bliar" aka "Tonocchio" and Cool Britannia where no-one
writes political songs anymore. Robb still does: I didn't expect Jerusalem
overnight, but I didn't think Blair's Britain would be quite this awful.
So there's one CD of angry acoustic tracks and another of more angry electric
tracks. We find the original version of "We All Said Stop The War" afterwards
appearing on "Clockwork Music" (-> FW#27).
"Stop The War" originally was recorded for the Dutch album "Songs Not Bombs"
(-> FW#26). There's also a guest appearance
from Leon Rosselson,
who has been writing the sort of songs that no-one writes anymore, on
the song co-written about decommissioning Trident weapons of mass destruction,
and Robb comments on the New Labour decide to propose a new Licensing Act in
2003 that effectively prohibits most live music but allows you to watch as
much Sky Sport as you can afford (-> FW#21).
Honestly, apart from the political and social topics the songs are stronger
and the tunes better than on Robb's previous recordings. After all, folk
music's all about light entertainment. Well, not at all.
See also the Robb Johnson interview in this FW issue.
Steve Tallis and the Holy Ghosts "Loko"
Label: Zombi Music; ZOMBICD5; 2003; Playing
time: 71:41 min
Imagine Bob Dylan or Tom Waits planted in the Australian desert, a mysterious
prophet and seer preaching his gospel. If it comes to songwriting, Steve
Tallis has the same abilities to write a perfect song as Bob and Tom. The
griot from down under with Macedonian ancestors is grown up with ethnic music
and the blues and rock'n'roll of the 1960's, but his "Loko" transcends pop,
blues, jazz and folk. Music is more than entertainment, people must be spiritually
moved by the songs. Steve is an unique artist with a cracked voice, the music
is flowing, dark and hypnotic. His band, the Holy Ghosts, adds the finishing
touch to Steve's acoustic guitar riffs with fiddle, harmonica and percussion.
Call it voodoo blues, zombified acid blues, it sends shivers down the
spine and drives the demons out.
Zombi Music/Steve Tallis
John Wesley Harding "It Happened One Night
& It Never Happened At All"
APR CD 1083; 2004; Playing time: 69:34 + 49:43 min
John Wesley Harding was a friend of the poor, he travelled all along this
countryside..., so the 1968 Dylan song goes. Singer-songwriter John
Wesley Harding, born as Wesley Stace in Hastings, England, adopted the name.
At a time they talk about in 1988 the self proclaimed bastard son
of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez took a stand at The Wheelhouse Club in West
London and - though he was never known to make a foolish move - decided
to record the show for his debut album: It shows me exactly as I was at a
very typical show, singing (sometimes in tune), full of words, perfecting my
"strum and drang" guitar technique, doing everything very very fast. However,
at the time JWH was writing in every style possible and was recording in the
studio, tracks which never saw the light of day. Finally, here comes both, a
remastered and expanded reissue from a parallel world where you can have
two debut albums. Well, I like the live performance, though raw it has great
songs, the studio recording is lacking some power. But again, all across
the telegraph his name it did resound.
Tracey Curtis "If The Moon Could Talk"
UNLaBEL006; 2004; Playing time: 29:43 min
I'd like to say I'm proud to be British but I'm not, feels Tracey Curtis,
instead I love our rivers, love our coastline, what's left of our green,
but I won't wear the Union Jack or sing God Save The Queen. This sets the
tone for half an hour of singing songs that present the human faces behind
the political issues of the day. "If The Moon Could Talk" has been published
on Robb Johnson's Unlabelled label (see CD review above and interview in this
FW issue), introducing up and coming contemporary acts singing about something
worth saying, and is the solo debut of the young Englishwoman based in South
Wales that once fronted the cult anarcho pop band Shelley's Children. It's just
voice and acoustic guitar and catchy tunes and her feelings about such things
as patriotism, war and animal rights. If the moon could talk, what would it
say: you should listen anyway.
B.B. & The Blues Shacks "Blue Avenue"
CCD 11079; 2003; Playing time: 59:41 min
If you are a lover of the blues as it was played in the big cities after the
war, often dominated by harp and electric guitar, you don´t need to cross the
ocean to look for fine musicians. One of the best bands in Europe is located
in Hildesheim, a town where perhaps you wouldn´t expect it. Led by brothers
Michael (vocals/harp) and Andreas Arlt (guitar) who are quoted as composers
of 14 of the 16 tracks on this CD, they give an example of straight rhythm and
blues on their new album. Playing with nearly the same line up since the mid-1990s
they are no newcomers. Henning Hauerken on upright bass, Andreas Bock on drums
and young Dennis Koeckstadt on piano complete the quintet. References like B.
B. King („Good Night´s Sleep“), Jimmy Rogers („Rambling Kind“) or T-Bone Walker
(„Can´t Hide Love“) are named and you can easily add Sonny Boy Williamson, who
shines through on some of the included numbers. There are no unnecessary thrills
on this album, but the guitar duels between A. Arlt and guest Alex Schultz recalls
the „battles of the guitars“ that were not unusual in blues circuits, and inclusion
of Jürgen Magiera on organ was a good idea too. To include „Someday you´ll ant
me“ by New Orleans mastermind D. Bartholomew and E. King is also a good choice
for it adds a slightly different color at the right place as the penultimum
track before the records closes with another instrumental. This is a very good
album. And you should really watch out if you can catch them live, as they managed
to record this album live in the studio!
More English CD Reviews: Page 1 - Page
2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page
More German CD Reviews: Page 1 - Page
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