FolkWorld Issue 40 11/2009
FolkWorld CD Reviews
Ewan McLennan "Ewan McLennan"
Own label; 2009
is a young Scottish folk musician based in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
Growing up in Edinburgh, he started studying classical guitar.
In 2005 he moved to Leeds for a three year degree course in music at Leeds University School of Music.
His three passions - music, history, social change - led him to the huge repertoire of
industrial songs. Hence he did two
major studies on folk songs of the American and British labour movements in the early 20th century.
Ewan also became a regular at the Grove Folk Club. Last year he
moved out of his local playground and began performing across the British Isles.
One voice, one acoustic guitar, that's all he needs to plough the musical fields
somewhere inbetween fellow Scotsmen Dick Gaughan (FW#36)
and Jim Malcolm (#39).
And Ewan does a marvellous job on instrumental tunes such as "Flowers Of Edinburgh",
traditional songs such as "I'm A Rover" and "As I Roved Out" (twice),
and newer material such as Ewan MacColl's "Jamie Foyers" and Alex McDaid's "Jarama Valley".
For his original "To The Hunting Go" Ewan robbed the tune of "Lord of the Dance".
The grande finale is an instrumental version of "Auld Lang Syne",
which brings the Robert Burns 250th birthday bash to a close (#40),
and Ewan's career to a first climax.
Doğan Mehmet "Gypsyhead"
The lad is not yet 20, and though Brighton born and bred, a second generation Turkish Cypriot.
So what kind of music singer and fiddler Doğan Mehmet should play?
The finalist in 2008's BBC Young Folk Awards chose to
perform both traditional English music and his own heritage.
Now imagine Turkish folk pop (indeed, some Turkish songs are included)
and the brittle vocals of Pressgang's Damian Clarke
(sometimes the sound is reminiscing the Pressgang sound too -> FW#34).
Doğan's debut album "Gypsyhead" features English and Turkish folk songs and dance tunes, some self-penned.
Morris meets Çiftetelli, it is no clash of cultures, but cross-cultural harmony.
The backing of piano accordion, keyboards, mandolin, guitar, bass and drums creates a nice folk rock sound.
Let me mention some of the songs: there is
the traditional English "Wraggle Taggle Gypsies" (with an added verse) and "Seventeen Come Sunday",
the original "Raging Seas" inspired of his father's stories about Cyprus,
the improvised Turkish slow air "Ozun hava" and the popular Turkish/Greek "Çeftetelli",
the traditional Turkish Gypsy song "Ozman Aga" (including percussionist Tom Wright's tune "Eighteen Months"),
and finally, "Royal Oak", a folk song about a Turkish ship attacked by the English.
Who won? The music for sure!
Fiona J Mackenzie "A Good Suit of Clothes"
Mo mhallachd aig na caoraich mhor ... my curse upon the great sheep!
During the 18th and 19th centuries the population of the Scottish Highlands was driven away to make way for sheep and profit.
This is known as the Highland Clearances,
or Fuadach nan Gàidheal (the expulsion of the Gael), and meant mass emigration to the Americas and Australia.
The poet sighs: cha chluinn mi Gaidhlig latha neo oidche ...
I don't hear Gaelic day or night, all I hear is English and Maori,
tongues so knotty, rough and twisted, none in Lorne would want to hear them.
Tiree bard John MacLean felt the same in Nova Scotia:
Gu bheil mi 'm onrachd sa choille ghruamaich ...
I am alone in the gloomy forest, my thoughts uneasy, I can't sing a chorus,
I can't get around to creating a song here,
whenever I start, I become depressed.
However, they did anyway. Creating songs I mean. In this Scottish Year of Homecoming,
"A Good Suit of Clothes" is a collection of 12 songs of the emigrant Gael,
a mix of both well and lesser known, both traditional and contemporary songs (e.g. Blair Douglas
Gaelic singer Fiona J Mackenzie
put it together with support from Fraser Fifield (whistles, pipes -> #37)
and singer Cathy Ann MacPhee (#29), amongst others.
One thing strikes me very much: the melancholic if not sad lyrics go with lively if not joyous melodies,
as if this CD release is trying to make a point: fortunatly this is all over,
the clothes are better and better, it is a triumphe about the course of history.
Don't forget to mention, this is a beautiful album too.
Real World Records;
are four musicians from Bristol in the South West of England that came together in 1993.
The quartet of accordion (Jason Sparkes), mandolin (Alex Vann), guitar (Jon Hunt) and fiddle (Jane Harbour)
combine individual backgrounds of classical music, folk and punk. They avail themselves of
folk music, but their particular arrangements transport the listener into wide open spaces
and grand landscapes and soundscapes. It is sophisticated instrumental music.
Guitarist Jon Hunt: We've got more to do with minimalist
classical and dance music than we have with folk. Even though we use folk tunes, they're raw
materials that the rest of the sound is built around.
Repetitive tunes build up, tightly arranged, while let time and place for
exceptional harmonies, dissonances and counter rhythms.
But there's no way for improvisation and solos: Everything is totally arranged, right down to the last note, the last semi-quaver.
Spiro's third album has been recorded live with no overdubs over four days at
Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios and is
largely produced by Simon Emmerson (Afro Celt Sound System -> FW#10,
The Imagined Village -> #35).
"Lightbox" would make a great film soundtrack, well, more than one I suppose.
And though quite complex and sounding regal, it has a down-to-earth approach to it.
You should never get bored.
Lluis Gómez & Joan Pau Cumellas "Barcelona Bluegrass Band"
Monde Green Records; KWCD234; 2009
The Barcelona Bluegrass Band
is the brainchild of five-string-banjo player Lluís Gómez
and harmonica player Joan Pau Cumellas. They
assembled a cast of Spanish instrumentalists such as
Ricky Araiza and Albert Bello (guitar),
Oriol Saña (fiddle),
Maribel Sánchez (double bass) and
Robbie K.Jones (cajón)
to realise their musical vision.
The CD is kicking off with Earl Scruggs' "Blowing Groundspeed,"
followed on the heels by the traditional "Angelina the Baker" (a Stephen Foster song turned into an old-timey instrumental,
compare -> FW#39)
There's self-penned pieces by Gómez, more from Grisman and Monroe, plus the famous
"Orange Blossom Special" and "Cluck Old Hen" and some traditional Irish jigs and reels.
The playing is excellent, the arrangements imaginative.
The overall sound is fresh, stretching bluegrass music into a new acoustic sphere.
Sometimes it needs outsiders such as these Spaniards to show them Yanks on which side the bread is buttered on.
If you don't believe my word, the excellence has been recognized by Alison Brown and Tim Carter
who contribute some duelling five-string banjos (#18,
Harry Bradley & Michael Clarkson "The Pleasures of Hope"
Own label; HBMC09; 2009
Despite a hundred years old marching band tradition in the north of Ireland,
only a few traditional Irish music flutists came from Belfast.
Eventually in the 1970s and 80s there were Dessie Wilkinson (see review below),
Gary Hastings (FW#23) and Frankie Kennedy (the late Altan flutist),
followed by another generation of flutists.
Michael Clarkson is one of them,
Harry Bradley is another
The tunes on "The Pleasures of Hope" came from a lot of sources,
from (what is today) Northern Ireland as well as from County Clare in the south of Ireland and from Scotland
beyond the Irish Chanel. Not necessarily flute tunes, but also the theme tune of the Suffering Ducks flute band
from the 1920s and a composition by flute player Hammy Hamilton (#23). There is a distinctive Belfast
flute playing style, very staccato and rhythmical, said to relate to the Belfast accent.
Garry O'Briain (mandocello, guitar) and Seamus O'Kane (bodhran) deliver the strong rhythm,
both Harry and Bradley have their solo piece. Brilliant playing, it had been a pleasure to do this review.
Distribution: Claddagh Records
Tommy Sands "Let the Circle Be Wide"
Let's keep it simple. Seems to be the motto of Tommy Sands
(FW#13). It helps of course having a couple of great songs and tunes.
Here they are, 15 of them on the seventh or so solo album of the Northern Irish singer-songwriter-activist.
All but one are his own. The CD kicks off with "Young Man's Dream," a reworking - part
translation, part transcreation - of the 16th century Gaelic song that became the sentimental mid-19th century "Danny Boy".
"The People Have Spoken" is about the opposing political catchphrases the day will be ours (by Ulster Protestants)
and our day it will come (Catholics).
"The Song Sings On" is for the late Tommy Makem (#34),
not a lamentation of his death but rather a celebration of his life:
He sang of joy and sorrow, of justice and of peace, and even in the final days his music never ceased.
The concert may be over but I still can hear the song. The people keep on singing and the song sings on.
"You Will Never Grow Old" is for his brother Dino who died in a carcrash in 1975
when touring with the Sands Family (#9,
"Send For Maguire" ends the reflective mood and takes you into the pub.
"Rovers of Wonder" is featuring Mongolian throat-singers, Tommy
is concerned with his troubled homeland as much as with the rest of the world.
Tommy Sands plays guitar, whistle, five-string banjo and dotara (a stringed Indian instrument).
His new band consists of his children
Moya (vocals, fiddle, bodhran, whistle) and Fionán (mandolin, banjo).
Remember, one of Tommy's finest songs is "Daughters and Sons". Additional help comes from
his siblings Anne, Ben and Colum, plus guitarists Arty McGlynn and Steve Cooney,
fiddler Sean Maguire, piper Brendan Monaghan and accordionist and keyboarder
APR CD 1114; 2009
Brad Reid "The Conundrum"
Own label; 2008
seems capable of nearly anything. He plays saxophone, flute, clarinet and bagpipes.
Jazz, rock, salsa, country. In the theatre, on cruise ships.
One should think, ok a bit of everything and nothing really at all. Wrong, Brad Reid makes you wonder.
The Halifax man explores his Cape Breton roots with some Celtic music (ancestry from Scotland -
one was the chief piper to the MacNeils of the Isle of Barra -, and French Acadians). Furthermore, he plays the fiddle and guitar.
"The Conundrum" is a traditional album with some of Brad's favourite Cape Breton
tunes plus some of his original ones. He plays an apt fiddle, and
both guitar accompaniment (thanks heaven for modern recording technology) and solo guitar.
It is a decent album. More than decent.
Hot Griselda "Hot Griselda"
APR 1317; 2009
Two musical Dutchmen travelled south and made friends to two musical Belgians.
The talk is of Toon Van Mierlo (uilleann pipes, saxophone, diatonic accordion, etc)
of Naragonia (FW#38)
and EmBrun fame (see review below),
Stijn Van Beek (uilleann pipes, whistle),
guitar player Jeroen Geerinck of Snaarmaarwaar (#39)
and bouzouki player Kaspar Laval (bouzouki).
Two Dutchmen, two Flemish, two pipes and two stringed instruments.
And the result is something different and unique:
seem to start out with Irish music, but it isn't.
It seems Irish in the end, but actually never really was.
And inbetween it is a tour de force of original music. A crossborder Flemish melange,
musically at home in Western Europe in an imagined territory that probably only exists in the minds of
Van Mierlo, Van Beek, Geerinck and Laval. Playing, performance, the arrangements and the tunes are top-notch.
No doubt, Griselda is hot, and it is getting hotter ...
APR 1316; 2009
This is not about the French city of that name, neither the place in Canada, but
a Flemish band consisting of Bert Leemans (chromatic accordion),
Toon Van Mierlo of Naragonia (FW#38) and Hot Griselda (see review above)
(bagpipes, whistles, saxophone), Harald Baeweraerts (electro-acoustic hurdy-gurdy),
known from helping out Twalseree, AedO and Lais (#15,
Jonas Scheys of Transpiradansa (bass guitar and double bass -> #40)
and Ludo Stichelmeyer (all sorts of percussion). Plus there is a famous guest on guitar:
Philip Masure (#15,
EmBRUN's second recording is pure bal folk music:
the tunes are scottishe, bourrees, andros, mazurkas, polkas and waltzes -
original compositions but in the traditional vein.
EmBRUN is a tight musical outfit, the playing powerful. However, is it only music for the dancers?
Or is it convenient for listeners too? For the dancers it is all what you could want to get.
You can dance to, and the sound is fresh and up to date. For listeners only I'm not so sure.
Though the band covers a large spectrum of dance types, it became a bit uniform
after a couple of tracks, and my thoughts were straying away instead of listening.
Andy May "Happy Hours"
Andy May (FW#25)
is a young but very skilled performer on the Northumbrian pipes.
He began learning the pipes around 1987 and won his first piping competition at the tender age of 10.
Recently he joined Jez Lowe's Bad Pennies
as well as Finnish-British collaboration Baltic Crossing (#36).
In addition to playing the pipes, Andy May started making them.
"Happy Hours" is Andy's second album, featuring both traditional tunes,
contemporary tunes from the Shetlands to Britanny and Galicia,
and some self-penned pieces. There are fiery reels as well as poignant airs,
both played with dexterity and skill.
Furthermore, Benny Graham sings Ed Pickford's "One Miner's Life,"
a very solemn rendition to piano accompaniment (Andy) and fiddle (Sophy Ball).
Also featured are Julien Batten (accordion), Ian Stephenson (double bass, guitar) and Andrew Davison (Northumbrian pipes).
All in all it is supposed to give you many a happy hour.
Battlefield Band "Zama Zama"
Strange title for a traditional Scots music album. Zama zama is a Zulu expression for try your luck.
It is the Battlefield Band's
40th anniversary and their 31st recording
#35, #37). Seniors in their league, but always adding fresh blood:
with Alan Reid (vocals, keyboard) being the only founding member left,
Mike Katz (bagpipes, flute, whistle -> #31),
Alasdair White (fiddle -> #33) and
Sean O'Donnell (guitar, vocals).
The idea seems to be sounding fresh and anew, without changing the overall concept of the band too much.
And yes, I wasn't that enthusiastic of the Batties since some time.
Besides concept ... "Zama Zama" was planned as a concept album that should have songs and tunes on it
with the common theme Gold. Gold it is, but different than scheduled.
Sign of the times, it didn't become the heroic story of the gold washer in beautiful Yukon
but the recording was overshadowed by the world's financial crisis with the
greed and disasters of modern day politicians and bankers.
Okay, that means instrumental sets have at least one tune which has a 'gold' connection by its name
The Batties are self-aware and self-ironic: lets admit the only connection these tunes have with the album concept
is they come from a great wealth of Scottish music. So let's better talk about the songs: there is
Norman Buchan's coal minig song "Auchengeich Disaster",
ex founding member Brian McNeill's (#40) "Greenland's Icy Waters" on whale fishing
(which has the words of "Auld Lang Syne" woven through it),
American jazz singer Nina Simone's "Plain Gold Ring," and
Allan MacDonald's Gaelic "Uamh an Oir" (Cave of Gold).
Alan Reid's own "Robber Barons" had been inspired by the medieval robber-knights of the German Rhine valley
but is clearly pointing to today's con men. The final verse is commenting on the greedy British MPs.
Unfortunatly the song lyrics are not in the booklet but on the website only.
"Zama Zama" is no retrospection on the jubilee,
the Batties are a force to reckon with. Indian summer - they call it.
Belshazzar's Feast "Frost Bites"
Daniel 5:1-4 describes Belshazzar's Feast in which the sacred vessels of Solomon's Temple were profaned.
During the festivities, a hand was seen writing on the wall the mysterious mene mene tekel upharsin,
meaning literally numbered, weighed, and found wanting.
Shortly after, the city of Bayblon had been conquered and the empire divided between the Medes and Persians.
The writing on the wall became an euphemism for impending doom. But let's forget all that,
Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat. Well, for some Christmas is impending doom.
named after the last Babylonian king, are Paul Hutchinson (accordion) and
Paul Sartin (vocals, fiddle, oboe, cor anglais), the latter being a member of Bellowhead
and Faustus (#28).
They celebrate a musical Christmas, and though sounding very English,
the songs and tunes related to Yuletide are from England as well as from continental
Europe and North America. There is an Appalachian version of "Cherry Tree Carol" collected by Cecil Sharp (#26),
and the Canadian "Lonesome Scenes of Winter". Other songs have been collected in England:
a "Hampshire Mummer's Song" or "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day".
Paul Sartin sings in a no-nonsense way, somewhat hoarse and raw.
That's a rather unsentimental Christmas, but all for the better.
Own label; 2009
I've got the opportunity to listen to Irish band
at the Tønder festival ceilidh (#40).
They played near the end and had to compete with high-octane fusion bands such as Kila (#34).
That was a shame as they didn't stand the ghost of a chance. Though Mórga
isn't tiresome at all; what appeared to be weary isn't weary
but really mórga (an obscure Gaelic word which means majestic).
The band consists of button accordionist Barry Brady, fiddler Danny Diamond and
bodhrán player Dominic Keogh. Furthermore, Jonas Fromseier came over from Copenhagen to Ireland;
unlike his Danish Viking ancestors ravaging the Irish countryside a thousand years ago,
Jonas offered his string skills. Besides playing tenor banjo, he
took up the Greek bouzouki as a backing instrument inspired by De Dannan's accompanist Alec Finn.
That's why Mórga, founded in 2007, sounds just like the classic Irish
trad bands of the seventies. De Dannan is a prime example, sure. The four lads play
jigs & reels, but also barndances, hornpipes and Sliabh Luachra polkas. It is a fragile
and delicate sound but fast-paced instrumental music.
(Yep, no singer yet, here ends the De Dannan connection for once and for all. Well, lets wait and see.)
P.S: The photographs for the booklet were taken at Hughes' pub in Dublin,
where Danny hosts a regular session.
Larry Gavin, Micheál O'Rourke, Charlie Lennon "Two Miles to Tulla"
Own label; 2009
Larry Gavin and Mícheál O’Rourke are neighbours living in the townland of Caherlohan, just about
two miles from the small village of Tulla in the east of County Clare in the west of Ireland.
Clare as a whole and east Clare in particular are a hotbed of traditional Irish music:
Paddy Canny, Martin Hayes (FW#35), and many more. The Tulla Céilí Band is one of the finest céilí bands one can imagine.
This is the geographical space and musical environment Larry and Mícheál got together.
Larry Gavin actually was born in Tyrrellspass, Co. Westmeath, but moved to Clare when he commenced employment.
He plays a Paolo Soprani two row B/C diatonic accordion from 1956, having learned music and tricks by
the great accordion player Paddy O’Brien. Clare-born Mícheál O'Rourke is a generation younger than Larry.
He has been playing the fiddle and the piano from an early age, inspired by great fiddlers from the
locality such as Paddy Canny, but also from luminaries such as Andy McGann (#34).
After playing together for a couple of years and finding a common understanding,
they decided to put down their music. They are joined on "Two Miles to Tulla" by Charlie Lennon on piano
(#34). Jigs and reels, slip jigs, a set dance.
They came up with some familiar and some less-familiar tunes and versions, excellent all the same.
The sound is just as playing a session in a pub or in the kitchen. Sweet but powerful, with a tradition
of some hundred years behind.
Bella Hardy "In the Shadow of Mountains"
Noe Records; NOE02; 2009
In the shadow of mountains the time sails by, in dark places the stories hide ...
Bella Hardy is
only in her mid-twenties, yet she has already been nominated three times in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards and
reaching the finals of the BBC Young Folk Awards in 2004.
She presents herself as an apt performer (FW#40).
Her first album "Night Visiting" featured largely traditional songs and fiddle tunes
(#36), her second album "In the Shadow of Mountains"
reveals Bella as a gifted songwriter and storyteller too.
Bella draws on her heritage in Derbyshire's Peak District:
"Smoke & Ashes" is about the foot and mouth disease,
"Sylvie Sovay," one of the highlights of the album,
is a contemporary version of the traditional song "Sovay".
Besides four original songs and two self-penned tunes, "In the Shadow of Mountains" features
five traditionals such as "Ten Thousand Miles" and "Cruel Mother".
Well known, but quite beautifully adapted.
Bella sings in a bright and clear voice to her own fiddle accompaniment,
backed up by English and Scottish musicians such as Corrina Hewat
(harp -> #26), Anna Massey (guitar), and
Chris Sherburn (concertina -> #31).
Aarnihauta; AAH01; 2009
The Finnish band in question already had its origins way back in 1981 in an obscure outfit
calling themselves Balkanin Juhla (which means celebration of Balkan).
In the mid 1990s, its members from Turku and Helsinki changed their name to
(southeast) and changed directions too.
South-East European and Middle-Eastern inspirations were retained,
embracing now psychedelic and progressive rock music.
The current line-up is Daniela Fogelholm (vocals)
Jaakko Isojunno (oboe, recorder), Janne Mäkelä (bouzouki, baglama),
Johanna Schwela (violin), Pasi Nurmi (oud, electric & acoustic guitar),
Pekka Rappu (bass) and Jaakko Tolvi (drums).
Their fourth album "Kulo" (fire) presents original songs in uneven time,
Balkan rhythms and Finnish roots. Daniela chants Finnish language songs with a
powerful voice. Transkaakko's psychedelic folkrock is
such a mix-up that they are able to play rock stages, medieval festivals and Balkan events as well.
One of the coolest things to come out of Finland for a long time. What do I say? One of the hottest!
Heurekord; HEU200908001; 2009
The band Danar wryly
named themselves after the Irish word for a foreigner or barbarian.
OK, they are from Poland. For sure, Danar is not the only Polish band
performing traditional Celtic music (FW#18), but here is a unique sound,
and I guess not only for Polish bands but Irish-music playing groups throughout the universe.
Singer Małgorzata Mycek, flutist Ewelina Grygier, as well as
percussionist Patrycja Napierala, guitarist Tomasz Biela and double bass player Adam Stodolski
take traditional (Irish) tunes and songs as their starting point, but free themselves very soon from
any straightjacket and start to improvise and jazz things up.
The arrangements are quite imaginative and pretty fancy. Being it
instrumental tracks, both traditional and compositions by Biela, Grygier, Napierala and Stodolski,
or interesting versions of songs such as "Newry Highwayman", "Bellaghy Fair", "Uncle Rat",
"The Maid That Sold Her Barley". The swinging "Black is the Colour" has a somewhat Jimi-Hendrix-like
guitar solo (at least it reminds me of a Hendrix tune, can't recall which).
There also might be a Polish musical influence after all; sometimes I'm reminded of
Wait for the hidden track and you know exactly what's hidden before.
Conclusion: no cliches or constraints, but clever and cool.
Pipeline "The Red Line"
Equal Music; EQ2412; 2009
is the exquisite duo of Dermot Hyde and Tom Hake, both based in Munich, Germany.
With his brothers, Dermot (uilleann pipes, small pipes, whistles) once founded the band Malin Head,
at one time featuring the likes of Tony McManus (#38) und Lorraine Jordan (#23).
Bavarian Tom Hake (bouzouki, guitar, harp) came from Viennese song and cabaret,
having spent many years involved in theatre-related projects.
They met at a folk festival in Austria several years ago (probably Gutenbrunn I'd guess)
and launched a musical friendship. Their second album "The Red Line" presents tightly
arranged dance music and slow airs, performed with virtuosity and skill.
Dermot's own compositions in the Irish, Scottish and Breton vein
make up a large part of the repertory. I wasn't surprised
when I heard that he is a studied architect.
His tunes and arrangements are well-crafted, I for sure wouldn't regret it that he
gave up architecture to become a professional musician.
"The Red Line" also features three of Dermot's original songs, with themes such as
witchcraft, the Great Famine, and the sweatshops of Chicago.
Not bad, but I personally prefer their instrumental music.
Desi Wilkinson, Mairtin O'Connor, Frank Hall, Lena Ullman "Buffalo in the Castle"
deas 002; 2009
When the English folk collector Cecil Sharp (FW#26) visited the Appalachians in 1916, he found
songs and tunes virtually unchanged for decades or even centuries. American old-time music
largely has its roots in Scotch-Irish music,
what is nowadays sometimes called Ulster Scots music (#40).
Belfastman Desi Wilkinson, who started this exploration inspired by the traditions of Irish
and American old-time music, is one of the best traditional Irish flutists around. He recorded
four albums with his band Cran (#4) and two solo albums.
His collaborators here are Irish button accordionist Mairtin O'Connor
Swedish Lena Ullman playing clawhammer-style five-string banjo (#30),
and American old-time fiddler Frank Hall,
both residing in Ireland for a couple of years.
The musical connection between Irish and American traditional music is made clear in the very first track,
"Jack n Biddy's Son John," a tour de force from the northern Irish County Antrim ("Jackson's Coagy") to
Kentucky ("John Riley the Shepherd") to a Sliabh Luachra polka ("Biddy Martin's").
The title track "Buffalo in the Castle" is made up of an
"Indian Two-Step" (by way of the playing of John J Kimmel, New Yorker melodeon player of German ancestry ->
the mid western "Hunting the Buffalo," and the Irish reel "Castle Kelly" sandwiched in between them.
There are jigs and reels, step and square dances,
and there's polkas, which reminds us that American old-time music is not purely Scotch-Irish
but interacting with Scandinavian and German music.
As gorgeous as the instrumental music is, there is Celtic mouth music and there are songs too, sung by Desi, Lena and Frank:
for example "The Frog's Wedding," a version collected in County Fermanagh, but the song has been around
the British-Irish Isles and North America since the 17th century.
Le Vent du Nord "La Part du Feu"
The sound of Quebec's Le Vent du Nord
hasn't changed that much over the past six years, four recordings and hundreds of live shows
You might interprete this as consolidation or stagnancy. But why change a successful formula?
Their playing is tight than ever, the arrangements never dull,
and the choice of songs quite imaginative, including an original tune written for Mamzelle Nuala Kennedy
and one of Canada's oldest songs, "Montcalm," written inside General Montcalm's tent after the Battle of Carillon in 1758.
Listen carefully there might be new things to discover,
maybe a bit more reflective moments than before.
Having heard the band live at this year's Tønder Festival (#40),
the concert being a high-octane joy ride from beginning to end,
"La Part du Feu" (literally the fire's part, i.e. to cut one's losses) is much more
varied, but with as much fun.
Torben Kaas "On the Other Hand"
Gateway Music; 2009
He came into town with the falling rain. He picked up his guitar and then he started playing.
His heart was humming a simple tune .. (from "Dark and Dirty Blues").
Danish singer-songwriter Torben Kaas presents
eleven tracks on his debut album "On the Other Hand". With just vocals, acoustic guitar and
harmonica interludes he recreates the early Bob Dylan (minus the traditional songs Dylan sang),
though Torben might even sound like Irish band's Kila frontman Ronan O'Snodaigh
on one track. Odd comparison maybe. Torben penned a couple of excellent folk ballads,
reminiscing the sound of the sixties.
Mr Zimmerman could be proud of this one, or maybe it takes him to an early grave,
because "On the Other Hand" makes a better Christmas present than
Dylan's own soulless and uninspired Yuletide album (#40). Torben Kaas
brings back the spirit of the folk songsters 40 years ago.
You might even forget that this is from a place called Sandved in Denmark,
not Greenwich Village, New York.
Jamie McClennan "In Transit"
White Fall Records;
is best known as the guitar player of the
Emily Smith Band
However, he also is an awesome fiddle player.
A short biography: Jamie grew up in Hamilton, New Zealand, where his parents run
a folk club and folk festival during the seventies and eighties.
He got interested in the violin and took up classical lessons, later
forsaking it for folk and blues music. In New Zealand’s capital
Wellington he formed a traditional Celtic group called The Last Drop, featuring
Gerry Paul (guitar), Andy Laking (bass) and Alan Doherty (whistle, flute).
Whereas his bandmates left for Ireland and formed the band Grada
Jamie moved to Scotland and eventually joined Emily Smith and became her lead guitarist.
On his debut solo album "In Transit" Jamie is back at the fiddle.
It is a collection of original tunes written while on the road (hence the album title).
The CD kicks off with "Emily's Wee Tune," a nice swinging jig, leading into
the title tune "In Transit," a reel positioned somewhere mid Atlantic with some jazzy, bluegrassy interludes.
The next set of tunes ("The Sunspot/Fun With Colin/Tune for Eilidh")
would fit into any traditional Irish session, including some distorted twin
whistles (one by Jamie himself). And so forth, there's fiery dance tunes as well as bucolic airs.
Highlights are the funky "Demon Ducks of Doom" (not just because of the title),
the poignant "Road to Bennan" with Jamie on fiddle, mandolin and guitar,
and the final air "Horizontal Living" (another interesting title,
Jamie generally give no hints about his nomenclature).
The selection and performance draws on both traditional Scottish and Irish fiddle music
and Jamie's fondness for American blues and bluegrass.
He is accompanied by his former bandmates Gerry (both acoustic and electric guitar)
and Alan, plus double bass player Duncan Lyall of Emily's band,
Emily herself on piano on one track,
percussionist Fraser Stone of Old Blind Dogs
#36), Canadian newgrass mandolinist Andrew Collins
and cello player Adelaide Carlow.
If we're lucky, the voyage has only just begun ...
Rhythmnreel "The Crossing"
Own label; REELCD3; 2009
Rhythmnreel is a folk rock band from
the Scottish Highlands, featuring triple fiddles (that share duties between their live gigs),
bagpipes, accordion, plus electric guitar, bass and drums. "The Crossing" is kicking off
with an infectious set of four tunes: the first tune is "Merrily Danced The Quaker's Wife"
(substitute Dance with Kissed, that's the better known title, and Rhythmnreel
is leaving out the third part). The last track is a live recording of CCR's "Bad Moon Rising,"
including Dougie Pincock's "Rising Moon Reel;" so that's more or less the Battlefield Band
(FW#40) version here from the mid nineties.
What strikes me most is that singer Dave Fleming comes close to John Fogerty. However,
Rhythmnreel almost never leaves safe ground: Steve "Earle's "Galway Girl", Neil Young's "Harvest Moon", Jimmy MacCarthy "Ride On",
tunes such as "Hector the Hero" (by James Scott Skinner -> #25),
"Drowsy Maggie", "Ze(e)to the Bubbleman" (by the late Highland piper
Duncan Gordon -> #25;
and, yes, the sound is reminiscing Ceolbeg and/or Wolfstone here ->
"The Banshee Reel" (Rhythmnreel is one of the few bands who are aware of its composer, one James McMahon).
Taking no risks saves the band from greatness.
If this sounds much too negative, let me tell you that this studio recording is
beautifully performed, the arrangements are quite imaginative, and Rhythmnreel certainly is a tight live band.
I'm also sure that they are funny and witty lads and lasses, if only
naming a set of tunes "See You Jimi", featuring certain electric guitar riffs by the great late Seattle guitarist.
Orion "Strawberry Town"
RSCD 295; 2009
Orion is a prominent constellation located on the celestial equator.
Because of its multitude of bright stars, it is the
most conspicuous and most recognizable constellation in the winter sky
and has impressed mankind since time began.
The same can be said of the band which members named themselves
Not for millennia but at least for the past 22 years, when this outfit took off of the ground.
Since then the band has undergone a number of line-up changes.
Besides a couple of guest musicians on "Strawberry Town" to give it a fuller orchestration where needed,
the core group these days consists of five fine and innovative instrumentalists:
Belgian accordionist Raquel Gigot and fiddler and nyckelharpa player Rudy Velghe were
founding members two decades ago. Breton keyboard player
Gwenaël Micault has already played with Orion in the early nineties;
he rejoined the band after having played with folk acts such as
Amorroma (#20), Lais (#31), Ialma (#25) and Camaxe (#38)
in the intervening years. His fellow-contryman Erwan Berenguer is a young guitarist
who also plays in several fest noz groups (e.g. Spontus -> #23),
and stood in for guitarists Gilles Le
Bigot (#24) with Skolvan (#30) and Nicolas Quemener (#27) with Skeduz.
Finally, Irishman John Faulkner, best known for his work with Dolores Keane
(#10), is responsible for the vocals.
Here he contributes an original song (a variant of the well-known "Bruton Town"), who gives the album its title,
and a set of mouth music. "Strawberry Town", Orion's fourth album in two decades and itself seven years in the making, features
almost exclusively original tunes by Velghe and Gigot
(except a set of traditional Flemish dance tunes and, thanks to the arrangement, a musette-type waltz by one Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (KV 421)):
jigs, reels, hornpipes, airs, a menuet, blending Irish and Scottish music with different influences --
not only Flemish and Breton but from the Balkans to Scandinavia, and Paris to Pennsylvania.
Thus they produce a totally unique sound which is at the same time sophisticated and catchy.
Sure Velghe, Gigot & Co are no shooting stars, but quite evolved on the main sequence, as astronomers would say.
Orion still shines bright. Just as their namesake does on the firmament.
© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 11/2009
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