FolkWorld Issue 41 03/2010
FolkWorld CD Reviews
Paul Brady "Welcome Here Kind Stranger"
PeeBee Music; PBMCD018; 1978/2009
Way back in the 1960s Paul Brady
joined the popular Irish folk band The Johnstons. He
left them despite considerable success to tour with Planxty (#27).
When Planxty dissolved he played as a duo with Andy Irvine (#23).
In 1978 Paul recorded his solo debut album "Welcome Here Kind Stranger", which
immediately was chosen as Folk Album of the Year by the English music magazine Melody Maker.
Paul sang and put down layers of guitar, mandolin, bouzouki, whistle and harmonium.
He was backed up by fiddler Tommy Peoples (#38),
concertina Player Noel Hill (#40),
Andy Irvine (mandolin, hurdy gurdy) and Donal Lunny (bouzouki).
Some of his arrangements and interpretations such as
"Lakes of Pontchartrain" or "Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore"
became THE definite version for many, and inspiring even today, e.g.
"I am a Youth that's Inclined to Ramble" has only recently unearthed by
the American band Childsplay (see review above).
Yet Paul didn't stand still, the 1980s saw him taking songwriting very serious
and delving into pop and rock music.
I have memories of having him seen on a German open air festival,
but having no clue at the time about his previous efforts.
Why review this now, you might ask? "Welcome Here Kind Stranger" was
originally released on vinyl on the Mulligan label in 1978.
Through a license deal with an English label it had been put out on CD
in the mid 1980s. However, Paul didn't know about it and he never got any royalties for it.
Meanwhile, Paul got back the rights for his recording,
and remastered and released the album on his own label.
Coincidentally (well, probably not coincidentally) I have a copy of the Mulligan edition.
So what's different - apart from the nice, modern-looking digipack design?
It's a sonic revelation, the sound quality is almost perfect - opposed to
the bootleg lifted from a worn vinyl, slightly muffled, including annoying needle noise.
And the songs? I said it before, they are classics - in terms of song selection,
Paul's rendering and his guitar playing.
(Any outtakes or bonus tracks would have been interesting, if there were any.)
So here's the opportunity for me to get rid of the old copy,
and if you haven't know him yet, I recommend to make a time travel to the late 1970s.
No need to stay a stranger for today's folk music afficionados. Welcome back, Paul!
Michael McGoldrick "Aurora"
Virtuoso flutist and piper
(he still has no website) is a Mancunian of Irish ancestry.
His musical career took him from Celtic rockers Toss the Feathers way back in the 1990s,
to a founding and short-time member of Flook (#38) and Lunasa (#5), to eventually
joining Scottish folk pop band Capercaillie (#36).
"Aurora" is a resume of his illustrious musical career, it is at the same time very traditional
and rootsy, but clearly belonging to the 21st century. The tunes are mostly McGoldrick originals,
tunes written and inspired after a bunjee jump and other traditional Irish pastimes.
There are only a few (not so well known) traditional tunes plus offerings by
Asturian piper Roberto Suarez Rigu, Louisiana's singer-songwriter Dirk Powell
(co-sung by Heidi Talbot -> #35)
and his collaborator and keyboard player Donald Shaw (of Capercaillie).
The rest of his band is fiddler Dezi Donnelly, bodhran player John Joe Kelly and guitarist Ed Boyd (of Flook),
plus luminaries such as accordionists Alan Kelly (#40)
and Dermot Byrne (Altan -> #37),
bouzouki players Manus and Donal Lunny,
fiddler Colin Farrell (#40), etc etc.
Though the flute (and sometimes Mike's uilleann pipes) is in the front mix most of the time,
it is a band effort. Especially trumpet (Neil Yates), tablas (Parvinder Bharat)
and saxophone put the record firmly into today's multic-cultural and cross-genre Britain.
However, so contemporary it feels like,
I will certainly place it under folk / trad and not under folk rock
when I'll have to shelve it. I suppose this must mean something.
Cherish the Ladies "A Star in the East"
Three kings came riding from the East, a fiery star it guided them ...
American-Irish trad band Cherish the Ladies
does an annual Celtic Christmas show, their guitarist released a holiday album way back in 2001
Indeed, the all-female group has a "On Christmas Night" album already to their credits
(officially released by Rounder Records in 2004,
but recorded and sold at shows a couple of years earlier).
The follow-up "A Star in the East," which takes a line
from the Afro-American spiritual "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow,"
is a superb collection of both tranquil and more fast paced seasonal music.
There's more than "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "In the Bleak Midwinter,"
"The Frost is All Over" and the "Christmas Eve" reel
(a composition by East Galway fiddler Tommy Coen who played this on RTÉ radio on Christmas Eve):
songs by Robbie O'Connell, Don Stiffe and Boo Hewerdine,
the Cornish carol "The First Noel," Patrick Kavanagh's poem "A Christmas Childhood,"
and not to forget good old "Jingle Bells" (which is played as a polka in Connemara).
Some folks will think of such a collection as pure sentimentality, however, the album
features virtuoso performances by a couple of stars from the west:
flutist Joanie Madden, guitarist/mandolinist/banjoist Mary Coogan,
accordionist Mirella Murray, fiddler Roisin Dillon,
pianist Kathleen Boyle, singer Michelle Burke, and half a dozen of guest musicians.
I also guess that not less than half of the tunes and sets will serve all year through.
Big Mammy Records; 0004; 2010
Kerfuffle "Lighten the Dark: A Midwinter Album"
The English traditional folk band
has been formed way back in 2002; its current line-up is in existence for about 3 years:
Hannah James (accordion, lead vocals) also clog-dances with the Demon Barber Roadshow
(#38) and has appeared on many albums (e.g. fellow
Derbyshire-singer Bella Hardy's debut album -> #36);
Sam Sweeney (fiddle, concertina) is also member of Bellowhead
furthermore there is Jamie Roberts (guitar) and Tom Sweeney (bass).
Kerfuffle's 5th album "Lighten The Dark," featuring guest appearances from
American harpist Lily Neill (#32)
and English piper Andy Letcher, is a collection
of traditional English Christmas and Winter themed songs and music:
both popular and not-so-well-known Yule carols from the Middle Ages until recent times,
as well as dance tunes such as a set of bransles
(which is a 16th century French dance style, however, it was rarely danced in England).
The album kicks off with the familiar "Three Ships," followed by the
"Cherry Tree Carol," which not only is a Christmas carol but also
Child ballad #54. Both songs may date to the 15th century.
Before the album closes with the toast "Gower Wassail" and the folk song
"The Bitter Withy" (with the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" on bagpipes woven in),
we are treated to a couple of lovely melodies, Hannah's bright vocals and some
haunting harmonies. Kerfuffle's performance is unsentimental and never boring; while
still preserving the spirit of Yuletide, it is both fresh and lively.
RootBeat Records; RBRCD08; 2009
Robb Johnson & The Irregulars "The Ghost of Love"
It's Father Christmas, Sir Cliff, Bing, angels sing, church bells ring ...
Meanwhile on Planet Earth tanks roll into somewhere else and kids strap bombs around their bodies.
In Feltham, West London there's no fairytales too: Mary's pregnant from a married guy
and her mum advises her to marry the carpenter Gary; seeking asylum where
the M4 traffic is roaring and Heathrow jets are howling overhead;
only the 3 wise social workers are passing by;
you're thinking Oh God, another Christmas I can't afford,
some crap made in China no-one ever asks for.
Plastic Christmas tree, plastic star up above, plastic flakes of snow, fake plastic mistletoe.
English singer-songwriter Robb Johnson
(accompanied by The Irregulars) is romping in his unimitable way through a 12 song cycle of misery, desperation, hopelessness - and the ghost of love.
When Christmas isn't the time to make you think, what else is it good for?
Julie Fowlis "Uam"
Bhiodh a' chuthag 's an smùdan a' gabhail ciùil duinn air chrannaibh ...
The cuckoo will sing its song to us from the trees ...
These are words from the Scottish song "Bothan Àirig am Bràigh Raithneach" (A Sheiling on the Braes of Rannoch);
I heard it once from the band Deaf Shepherd (FW#2).
However, only 10% of the material spread out here was familiar to me.
Hebrides singer Julie Fowlis
just gave birth to a baby girl (congratulations from the FolkWorld team!),
another baby was delivered shortly before. Her third album "Uam"
(meaning from me in Scots Gaelic) is passing on songs from the Gaelic tradition,
not only amongst her own people but all over the world,
and folks anywhere are eager to listen to this rich Scottish tradition.
There are both tender ballads and rhythmic waulking songs.
Julie sings exclusively in Scottish Gaelic, well, besides the one exception,
the macaronic "Wind and Rain" (compare her version to ->
It is the well-known story of the jealous girl who kills her sister.
Julie translated the Irish-American version into Gaelic.
It is followed by an unusual version from the Hebrides (Thig am Bàta = The Boat Will Come,
see also -> #20).
She also sings the Breton song "Me zo ganet é kreiz er mor"
(I was born in the midst of the sea), learned from the pipe band Bagad Kemper (#34)
and translated into Gaelic as well.
These are not the only highlights, just the specials.
Julie sings and plays whistles and oboe, her
partner Eamon Doorley of Danu fame (#27) plays the bouzouki and wrote some tunes.
There is furthermore fiddler Duncan Chisholm (#37), guitar player Tony Byrne
and bodhran player Martin O'Neill. Let's not forget to mention
guests such as piper Allan MacDonald (#21), accordionists Phil Cunningham (#24) and
Sharon Shannon (#40), and singer Eddi Reader.
Though "Uam" may not outrank Julie's two preceding albums
it is a collection of songs which are moving and earthy,
the opposite of plastic. Julie might have a stylish new haircut, but
the music doesn't change that much. Probably for decades and centuries.
And if so, only for the better.
Na Bodach "Knickers Down Bottoms Up"
Na Bodach means something like
not old men in Irish or Scots Gaelic, as in (or rather opposed to)
Bodachan cha phò mi (I shan't marry an old man),
which has been recorded on Julie Fowlis' new album for example (see above).
It is the outfit of Andy Redmond,
here vocalist, guitar player and percussionist (and generally also rock drummer and
rope tension drummer performing 19th century military music).
The rest of the US-American band is Bud Osthaus (vocals, bodhran, whistles),
Casey Jones (pipes, whistles), George Zienowicz (fiddles) and
Glenn Owens (electric guitar, mandolin). Their debut album "Knickers Down, Bottoms Up"
features Irish and Scottish traditional music in a Celtic rock setting. I'd better say
somewhere inbetween Celtic rock and traditional folk music, for
you haven't heard such sights and sounds since the Irish came off the coffin ships.
There are four tune sets which are avoiding the usual suspects (well, most of the
time, the good aul' "John Ryan's Polka" is featured).
The song selection includes well-known ditties such as "Finnegan's Wake",
"Rambling Irishman", "John Barleycorn", but also "The Drummer",
"Maid of Aylesbury" and "Rakes of Kildare". Well done, boys, keep going!
There is also a project by two of the band members, Andy and Casey,
called "Kilted Warriors" featuring American Civil War music associated with the 79th New York
Volunteer Infantry. See www.celtboy.org
and the full review in the next FolkWorld issue.
Brett Lipshutz & Randy Lee Gosa "Night and Day"
Own label; 2008; Playing time: 48 min
What's in a name? Plenty! Messrs Lipshutz and Gosa hail from County Milwaukee, somewhat west of Galway, and they don't claim pure Irish ancestry but the music is most definitely in their blood - whether by osmosis or repeated transfusion, there's enough Irish spirit in this duo to stock a Dublin bar. Not that it iisn't tempered with distillations of other cultures - there's a pair of tasty French-flavoured waltzes, a challenging Klezmer gallop, and a charming Breton air on flute and bombarde. It's a while since I've found that combination on an Irish flute album, not since John Skelton's CD in the mid '90s, and Lipshutz plays a beautiful arrangement here. His own compositions vary in feel, from the Breton influenced Bed on Rice to the American immigrant Trip to the Deli.
The opening set pairs Miss Galvin's with Ran's Dirty Vans, a reel by Brett which could have come from any current Irish composer, well worth hearing. That makes eight totally Irish tracks, from old stalwarts like Cailleach an Airgead to the modern polkas Island Wedding #1 and Mimi and the New Generation by Charlie Lennon and Eoin Duignan respectively. The arrangements on Night and Day make every track memorable, with thoughtful guitar or striking harmonies. In fact, I've concentrated on the flute but the guitar is just as important here: driving, percussive, lyrical, gentle, dominant by turns. Randy Lee belies his name with some exquisitely delicate fingerpicking on several tracks, and a stunning solo performance of Bed on Rice. The contrasts are stark on this recording: old and new, fast and slow, stripped-down solo airs and multi-tracked arrangements. It could as well have been called Chalk and Cheese, and so could the duo themselves: one big and hairy, and the other less so. A combination of extremes, meeting perfectly in the middle, Lipshutz and Gosa are a class act and desrve to be widely heard. Very highly recommended. Check out www.randygosa.com, or blipshutz on Myspace.
Shoogle; 09010; 2009; Playing time: 76 min
A double album from these tweedy iconoclasts is a welcome treat, full of stomping string-band music with Shooglenifty's defining fiddle and mandolin frontline. Murmichan is mostly a little less earthy than their previous CDs, but the Shoogles have enlisted DJ Dolphin Boy to beef up a couple of remixes: Up All Night takes Angus M Grant's tune Glenfinnan Dawn on a stroll through the bright lights and dark alleys of an unknown city, while Dolphin Delta Dotteral is full of the familiar sounds of Mississippi blues and drunken Shoogle fans. Two more remixes grace Disc 2, bass player Quee McArthur's reworked First to Sleep, heavy on bass riffs and just generally very bassy, and the big finish track taken from a live recording with Ensemble Kaboul which draws Western and Eastern strands together into a hypnotic nine-minute tapestry.
Named after a malicious faerie, boggart or bogle in Celtic myth, this album is playful and serious by turns. The Road to Bled picks up the serious vibe from the end of Shooglenifty's Troots CD, but is soon in party mood. The Dancing Goose is a return to the cheeky swagger hallmarks of this group, and Ham in the Boiler Room is wickedly good. The Vague Rant is precisely that. The Wing and Johnny Cope show a softer side of Shooglenifty, contrasting with the punch of Chicken Devil and the wonderfully named Sulphur Mountain Cosmic Ray Station. Lots of good stuff here: Murmichan is available from www.shoogle.com and almost everywhere else where great acoustic music is appreciated.
Fred Morrison "Outlands"
Ridge Records; RR057; 2009; Playing time: 44 min
Outwardly, this looks more like a pop album than a piping CD: moody photography, muted reds and yellows, with track names like Downtown and Drumcross masking multiple tunes, and a single appearance by the noble instrument propped against a tourist signpost. Not entirely surprising, since Outlands is released on the Runrig label whose stock in trade is a blend of dark and desolate West Coast spirit with modern media. The slightly surreal feel of Fred's packaging is in keeping with much of his music: from the opening Train Journey North set, one of only two tracks of other people's tunes, there's more than a hint of modern mountain music - a sort of Red Dwarf rastabilly skank, if you will, with bluegrass banjo and fiddle, slide guitar and mandolin, and Martin O'Neill twanging away on upright bodhràn. The Wildcat brings the backwoods to the fore, with Leonard Podolak's version of Out on the Ocean followed by a whistle and uilleann pipes rendition of Fred's own Little River reel, before Deliverance and The Dukes of Hazzard are caught up in an Irish American piping tornado.
Where are the highland pipes in all of this? They feature on two tracks, the virtuosic Train Journey North and Fred's own Drumcross, a meaty medley ending with a solid pipe reel. The reelpipes (to a Fred Morrison design) lead three more tracks, and the other half of Outlands is shared between uilleann pipes and low whistles. Fred's technique on all these instruments is staggering, perhaps most obviously in the double-speed ending of The Hard Drive, and fourteen fine compositions here make him a possible successor to Gordon Duncan as a tunesmith. My only quibble with an otherwise flawless performance is a couple of wayward E doublings on the traditional Dannsa Rathaidh. Magic moments abound, including some inspired whistle variations on Fred's trademark Lochaber Badger which rival his Transatlantic Sessions performance with Mike McGoldrick. There's a beautiful nameless slow air on whistle too, and the reelpipes are at their best on Fred's wonderful composition Steve Byrne's Jig. For the broad-minded, Outlands is a feast of fine tunes and another testament to this master piper.
Karl Skaarup "Musiker"
GO 0209; 2009; 59 min
Accordionists have an advantage over fiddlers, pipers, fluters and singers, at least when they reach the age of eighty-five. The instrument keeps itself in tune, and all you have to do is press the right buttons. At least, that's the theory, but if reality were so simple there would be many more musicians like Karl Skaarup - still on top of their game after a seventy-year career. The music on this recording, almost an hour of accordion and fiddle tunes, was recorded in 2009 and shows no signs of age: it could easily be the first studio CD by a much younger player. In fact, it's the first studio CD by the oldest gigging accordionist I know. I'm reminded of an album I saw once: Jimmy Shand - the First Fifty Years. At this rate, there might be a second fifty in Karl Skaarup.
Karl Skaarup's music is the regular Danish fayre of marches, polkas, quicksteps and waltzes, in various tempos, for long dances and set dances. He doesn't give individual tune names, but the selections are well known: the jaunty Rask Kontra, galloping jigs for Trekantet Slojfe, and gentle waltzes for Sekstur and Hellesens Vals. Suites of figures, similar to Irish sets, are spanned by the 9-minute Sma Svot and the 16-minute Almindelig Totur Suite. This is all traditional dance music, played with plenty of lift and swing. Skaarup adds intricate ornaments and variations to these old melodies, providing a full sound with just the 5-row box and fiddle. Musiker is of course the Danish word for musician, a somewhat understated but perfectly accurate description of Karl Skaarup. Any aspiring dance musician could learn a thing or two from this man's music.
Sharon Shannon "Saints & Scoundrels"
Dasiy Discs; DLCD036; 2009; 42 min
Early Sharon Shannon was right up my street, but her recent flirtations with world and country music were too much of a detour for me. However, this latest recording sees her back on track, playing great box and fiddle, pumping out some really interesting tunes, and mixing it with just enough guests to provide variety without losing focus. This is a Sharon Shannon album first, showing what she can do, and advancing the cause of Irish accordion music on the world stage. Or something. Let's not get pretentious about this, but here is a young lady who has put the music we love on the mainstream agenda. Saints & Scoundrels achieves this with very few compromises.
Half and half tunes and songs, the instrumentals are all by Sharon and they're all memorable. Back to her trademark combination of reels, polkas and slower tunes, with a touch of calypso and a big dollop of Americana, we get a funky polka Howya Horse?, a cracking clever reel Wild West Wagon Train where Sharon rides shotgun on whistle, a pair of old-timey reels Hillbilly Lily and Buffalo Benji, a haunting jazzy air dedicated to Cape Clear, and a bit more reggae on the hornpipey Lady Luck. With excellent guest musicians, there's a full sound and lots to get your teeth into, but like I said the accordion stays centre stage.
The other half of this CD is the seven deadly songs. I'm not guessing who's a saint and who's a scoundrel, but Shane McGowan numbers open and close this album. His Mamma Lou is delivered by the fun-loving Cartoon Thieves, who also contribute the much less catchy Whitewash Station Blues. Imelda May, The Waterboys, and Jerry Fish are all highly entertaining on the theme of good and evil. Sharon teams up with Carol Keogh for the gentler Shifting Summer Sands. Shane himself steps up to the plate for the final Rake at the Gates of Hell, a cheerful little musing on suffering and damnation, before Sharon intercedes with a heavenly final reel - or the devil's music, maybe. Make up your own mind.
Alistair McCulloch "4 Seasons in 1 Day"
Rostral Records; 014; 2009; 11 tracks; 48 min
A third solo CD from this popular Ayrshire fiddler, and another impressive collection of his own and other people's compositions. Starting with the old-time virtuoso piece Marco's Reel, Alistair launches into two of his own tunes and Steven Spence's Gibby Gray. The final Trip to Douglas is a great wee reel, upbeat with a catchy rhythm. Next comes the first of three slower tracks on this recording, a combination of Neil Gow's air Drunk at Night and Terry Tully's wonderful waltz The Ass in the Graveyard. Alistair has a delicate touch for airs, and this is one of the many highlights here.
Another set of great tunes, jigs this time, sees Alistair joined by Angus Lyon on box and Marc Duff on whistle, before a solo medley of march, strathspey and reel shows powerful competition-style fiddling. In complete contrast, John M Mason MBE is a sumptuous air with keyboard and string backing, one of two by Alistair on this CD. The other is A Hamnavoe Man, which finishes this album, written for George Mackay Brown and if anything even better.
Hornpipes and slow strathspeys, great session tunes including Fair Jenny and Alistair's own Desert Safari, grand old reels and modern showpieces: it's all here. Four Seasons in One Day indeed: less than one hour, in fact, which is unusual even in Scotland. With a fine array of guests and accompanists, Alistair McCulloch has produced another exceptional recording. This collection confirms him as one of the finest fiddlers and composers of his generation.
Desi Wilkinson, Mairtin O'Connor, Frank Hall, Lena Ullman "Buffalo in the Castle"
deas 002; 2009; 12 tracks, 53 min
Irish flute and accordion, American old-time fiddle and banjo - several things could have happened, and Buffalo In The Castle is not what you might have expected. Desi Wilkinson and Mairtin O'Connor have joined forces with Frank Hall and Lena Ullman to explore some neglected areas of mountain music: this is not your bluegrass standards or country hoedown tunes. Much of the material here is modal, with unfamiliar cadences. Some of it is influenced by native American music: until I read the notes, I thought these might be Asian immigrant melodies. John Riley the Shepherd and Indian Two Step are clear examples of this non-Western sound, quite striking to my ears. Other melodies are more typical of the fiddle-led old-time dance music at the heart of bluegrass and country styles: Breakin' Up Christmas, Late for the Dance, Durang's Hornpipe, and the popular Big Eyed Rabbit. The rabbit has a Hare's Paw attached, one of several medleys here combining American and Irish tunes. Lucy Farr's, Castle Kelly, Jackson's Craggy Jig and Jimmy Kelly's Reel all cosy up happily to their New World cousins, and add a modal note or two of their own.
There are several songs too, powerfully backed by front porch instrumentals. Desi sings Courting is a Pleasure in Len Graham's version, and the old American song The Frog's Wedding. Lena's rendition of Forty Four Gun is pure backwoods, while Frank sings along to fiddle tunes such as Breakin' Up Christmas and that darned rabbit. The American approach of combining songs with instrumental breaks is an instant winner for this all-star line-up. I'm still not sure whether Buffalo In The Castle is the name of the group, the title of this CD, or just an in joke. Whatever the reason, this music is fascinating and highly enjoyable. The sound is full, the playing is of course excellent, and the mood is full of infectious fun. Watch out for those modal tunes, though - they might just grab you.
Caladh Nua "Happy Days"
Own Label; CN001; 2009; 13 tracks; 46 min
A new young band, this time from the Midlands and County Waterford, an area with plenty of music these days it seems. Caladh Nua is a five-piece of two fiddles, button box, banjo, whistle, guitar, and the almost obligatory female singer. They set out their stall with The Windmill Set: Ciaran Tourish's storming reel on Derek Morrissey's B/C box, fine picking by Colm O'Caoimh and Eoin O'Meachair on guitar and banjo for the Paddy O'Brien reel Larry's Favourite, with the twin fiddles of Paddy Tutty and Lisa Butler boosting Billy McComiskey's popular composition The Commodore. The first of four songs is Craigie Hills, strongly sung by Lisa, with accompaniment in good Planxty style. There's a rousing Donegal Gaelic anthem to individualism, where Lisa is backed by some fine male voices, and a version of The Banks of the Lee which never really gets going. The final vocal track is Richard Thompson's Beeswing, neither Irish nor original, creditably sung by Colm but I doubt if this needed another recording.
The remaining eight tracks are all instrumental, all good or better, with bags of variety. The Lisnagun Set combines three grand old jigs on box and banjo, while the title track is a pair of twin fiddle hornpipes. By Heck is a '20s favourite from the Flanagan Brothers, a banjo showpiece which started out as a reel and ended up as a swing barndance. There are reels aplenty in The Templehouse Set, and in Paddy Tutty's solo spot The Humours of Westport. Colm contributes an exceptional guitar arrangement of piper Michael Rooney's jig Gort Na Mona and The New Century Hornpipe. Solo City ends with Derek's rendition of The Jolly Beggarman and Mayor Harrison's Fedora, two of my favourites powerfully played. There's no shortage of talent here, but the focus of this group is hard to find: maybe these young soloists haven't quite finished coalescing into a band. Caladh Nua sign off with another couple of jigs followed by the Donegal classic Gravel Walks, and I reckon they'll be back with more great tunes and maybe a bit more of their own character.
Maggie Adamson & Brian Nicholson "Back to the Hills"
Own Label; MB012; 2010; 17 tracks, 55 min
She's been a busy girl! I reviewed Maggie's first CD a year or so ago (FW#36), and the next thing I knew she had released number 3. Almost old enough to leave home now, Maggie Adamson has formed a great musical bond with guitarist Brian Nicholson and the pair of them will surely be taking their music far beyond the shores of their native Shetland. Back to the Hills contains a very broad range of fiddle music, from Shetland reels to slow drags, Peter Milne to Pee Wee King. The guitar accompaniment, with occasional solos, sits in that swinging Shetland groove somewhere between Memphis and Mid Yell.
Seventeen tracks is too many to go through, so I'll pick and choose. Maggie's own opening jig and reel are superb, full of life and surprises. Pottinger's Pineapple Polka is a good example of old-time Shetland dance music, perfectly played here with rhythmic bowing. The air Innisfree is at the other end of the fiddle continuum, smooth and sultry, simply gorgeous. That Shetland jazz comes through in Lady Be Good, and in a splendid version of Cottonpatch Rag with guitar and fiddle going for broke. The title track is a complex Scott Skinner piece, from his Paganini phase, top-speed technical. Tarland Memories comes from the same era, but in a very different mood: a beautiful nostalgic air.
Only about a third of Back to the Hills could be described as traditional Shetland music, and some of that is very new indeed: Maggie's own tunes, of course, but also a prodigious set of compositions by Bernard Smith whose reel My Best Tune Yet would fit the description for many older composers. The Cross Reel set is another trio of Shetland reels, but these tunes are a century or two older. Roaming further afield, Maggie and Brian throw in a selection of Danish dance music and a gypsy waltz by Bavarian violinist Gundula Gruen. The CD finishes with a set of Irish reels, played with remarkable panache by a prodigious teenage fiddler. Contact Maggie's mum
f.adamson [at] virgin [dot] net if you can't find this album.
Tom Byrne "Tom Byrne"
This Donegal moothie maestro has persuaded Frankie Gavin and others to back him on a debut CD which is a joy to listen to. There aren't many Irish harmonica players better than Tom Byrne, and he has an enviable combination of Scots snap with Sean Maguire showmanship and his own special swing. Don't write off Brendan Power just yet, but this recording is well worth hearing.
Own Label; 2009; 12 tracks; 39 min
Opening with Tom Ginley's Favourite, a jazzy little hornpipe recorded by Maguire, Tom Byrne follows up with an exuberant reel of his own and a pair of Donegal classics. Tom's father Paddy wrote Sliabh Ban Waltz in '50s dance hall style, and any lingering doubts about Tom Byrne's virtuosity are banished forever by the blistering blast of President Garfield's Hornpipe. The air Caoineadh na Neamh-Chiontach is another of Tom's tunes, similar in style to Dermot MacMorrough's Macushla which also graces this CD. The Coolfada Reel, Gavin McMullin's Reel, Trim the Velvet and one of the many Tommy Peoples reels recorded by Altan are all despatched with aplomb by Mr Byrne, but his harmonica is even more expressive on slower pieces such as Tommy Doucet's rich dark melody Shrip's Clog and John Doherty's showpiece Japanese Hornpipe.
Accompaniment from Carl Hession and Paul O'Driscoll fills the space behind the tunes, and keeps the rhythm and tempo on track. In the rather free-flowing Romanian piece Anniversary Song, their keyboards and bass harmonise deftly with Tom's harmonica and occasional accordion. Frankie Gavin's fiddle and viola are equally at home in the showband style or the traditional Donegal sets, leaving all bases covered on this album. Tom Byrne's debut release is a revelation to me, and a great addition to recorded Irish music: I hope you feel the same.
Tristan Le Govic "Awen"
Own Label; TCD02; 2009; 11 tracks; 43 min
We all know one Breton harpist, but can you name three? Harp music is thriving in Brittany, but is still little known outside the region, Tristan Le Govic has taken his harp to Glasgow, to broaden his horizons and ours. This is his second recording, pure harp with one song which I'll gloss over. Tristan draws material from Scotland, Ireland and Sweden as well as his own tradition, and he has composed half the material on this CD. One or two of the Breton melodies may be familiar: Kas A-Barh and Enez Eusa smack of Alain Stivell, and are beautifully handled here. Dan O'Keefe's Slide and Denis Murphy's Slide started at the right end of Ireland to join the Breton repertoire, but I was surprised to hear Mike McGoldrick's Whalley Range slip jig transferred to the harp. Fine as all these tunes are, the highlights of Awen for me are two of Tristan's own making: Le Songe D'Orianne and Piz Bihan.
The trilingual sleeve notes describe Le Songe D'Orianne as "The lament of a queen, half woman, half fish", and you can see the problem right there: how would she get comfortable on the throne? It's a simple melody, mournful and haunting, with gentle bass notes and subtle ornamentation, and for me it's absolutely stunning. By contrast, Piz Bihan pulls out all the stops for a modern pan-Celtic virtuoso performance: funky rhythms, damped chords, modal harmonies, set off by a central slow passage. Tristan may have picked up some Scottish jazziness from Ailie Robertson and friends in Edinburgh, but he has certainly brought his own skill and soul to this album. Nicely presented, fresh and original, and powerful enough to need no accompaniment, Awen is all that harp music should be.
Beoga "The Incident"
Label: Compass Records; 7 4499 2; 2009
This well-rounded offering from Beoga mixes pop and traditional Irish music. With the energy the band brings to their playing, they seem hard to hold back, no matter what sort of music they are playing. And they sure do like to play a lot of different music, from pop and soul to traditional Irish and Klezmer-style tunes. Although they are capable of simple and powerful renditions of folk tunes, traditional tunes aren’t really in the limelight here; compositions by the band and its friends take center stage. Instead of featuring fellow folk musicians, the only big mention on the back of the album goes to Joe Echo, who collaborated with the band on the pop tune “On the Way” (the band does of course respectfully mention the other composers and guest musicians in the liner notes).
As often with well-produced, up-and-coming bands, the sound of the album is so clean and polished you feel yourself wanting more grit, a few wrong notes, anything to give the music and the musicians a bit more character. More traditional folkies might ask themselves if a beautifully simple tune like “The Bellevue Waltz” really needs an infusion of pop- and Hollywood-style drums and soaring strings near the end of the track. Mainly, though, Beoga’s listeners will be captivated by their impeccable and edgy sound.
The Askew Sisters & Craig Morgan Robson "The Axford Five: Songs Collected from five Hampshire Women"
Label: Wild Goose Records; WGS364CD; 2009
This collection of songs sung by five women in Hampshire, lovingly recreated by five singers and instrumentalists, features clear vocals and creative accompaniments by melodeon and fiddle. The songs, including “Bold William Taylor”, “An Old Man Came Courting Me” and “Abroad as I was Walking” stay lively and provide a window into a previously little know corner of English folklore.
Jimmy "Illyrian Sun"
Label: Wabi Sabi Music; WAB-026; 2009
Florida-raised singer and guitarist Jimmy’s story is an interesting one. He has traveled extensively, been a one-man band with his own drums on his back in many countries. But he resists the urge to dramatize his musical experience. For him it’s about a story, and that shines through in the songs he sings. His lightly scratchy voice tells stories, about himself and his music, in the time-honored fashion of a traveling bard.
Featuring covers of songs by Bob Dylan, John Prine, Neil Young and others, Jimmy’s arrangements favor direct versions of classic works, driven by his characteristic voice and framed with loving guitar work. His backing band is impeccable, bringing tasteful drum and bass to the mix. For lovers of classic folk, rock and blues tunes, Jimmy’s story-telling voice shouldn’t be missed.
Mary Humphreys and Anahata "Cold Fen"
Label: Wild Goose Records; WGS362CD; 2009
Long-time folk singer Humphreys is devoted to English traditional songs, and this collection of songs from the Cambridgeshire area, transcribed by Ralph Vaughan Williams, provides a fascinating cross-section of English folklore. The songs, mainly spare arrangements featuring instrumentalist Anahata’s cello, melodeon or concertina and Humphreys’ voice, are evocative and lyrical. While the lack of much guitar on the album is refreshing, the songs can sometimes seem lethargic. A welcome change is offered by “The Valiant Sailor”, a minor-key tale of press-gangs and war.
Humphreys and Anahata compliment each other to great effect on this album. The hypnotic sound of the duo always succeeds in taking the listener into a melodic world full of history and folklore.
Michael Graefe "Desert Blues"
Label: Relax Records; CD4; 2009
Graefe’s “Desert Blues” is an attempt to convey the feel of a place and time, a lonely expanse of sand translated into sound and rhythm. He is aided in this task by his percussive, articulate guitar playing and a fine sense for open space and distance. Slapped guitar strings on “Desert Blues” add a touch of drummed sand and heartbeat to a portrait of open desert. “Didgeriblues” similarly conveys a meditative trance over sparse landscapes. Graefe’s staccato technique is best represented on the melancholy but rhythmic “Thirsty for Water”, which recalls a staggering trek through the desert in search of water.
Most of the tunes on this all-instrumental album are Graefe originals, except for renditions of Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” and Stefan Grossman’s “Bermuda Triangle Exit”. Graefe’s originals are mainly wonderfully moody and blue compositions, featuring excellent finger picking.
Markus Segschneider "Woodcraft"
Label: Wonderland Records; WR9067; 2008
The first track on guitar virtuoso Segschneider’s new album, “Flying Carpet”, features an enchanting foundation of picked guitar with a misleading rhythm. His fluid use of harmonics on “Still in my Heart” leaves no doubt: Segschneider is an experienced and technically gifted guitarist. This collection of original instrumentals gives his listeners a panorama of modulating soundscapes that lead into all sorts of harmonic fantasies.
The only question that remains is, does Segschneider’s music lead back out of fantasy? His ability to mix and match all kinds of styles, from jazzy to countrified, doesn’t always make for a cohesive listening experience. Listeners may at times feel disconnected from any root style or direction to the music. Unfortunately, it seems like Segschneider is resting too heavily on the basis of his amazing technical ability, ignoring considerations of musicality. “Woodcraft” will appeal to fans of the virtuosic melting-pot approach to music, in which every ingredient is thrown into the cauldron in the hopes that something passable will come out.
Rob McDade "Terra Firma"
Label: Fossil Records; RMCD003; 2007
McDade’s opening track is a searingly simple electric guitar meditation called “Water Music 1”, which drips pure sound into listening ears. The next track, intriguingly and unexplainably called “Dickhead in a G String”, picks up the flow of water and spurts it into a fountain of rock-inflected harmonies. McDade’s tripped-out sound and Pink Floyd influences could make him easy to stereotype, but in fact he seems to be a genuinely talented guitarist and songwriter.
Kerry Kean "New River Guitarism"
Label: Own Label; 2009
Kerry Kean’s album stays primarily in the well-known territory of modern easy-listening compositions for finger-picked guitar, with smooth melodies and harmonies. An up-tempo version of the classic fiddle tune “Red-Haired Boy” with well-crafted improvisational passages alters the otherwise characteristic sound of the album. A strikingly beautiful rendition of the John Dowland piece “Flow My Tears” seems to bring out the best of Kean’s guitar playing, matched only by his original piece “After the Harvest”, for which Kean won the 2008 Kent State Folk Festival talent contest.
The album is inspired by Kean’s respect and awe for the beauty of the New River Gorge in West Virginia. His reverence for the natural world shines through in his mostly peaceful compositions, making this album a treat for lovers of melodic guitar.
Jean Redpath with Abby Newton "Will Ye No Come Back Again? – The Songs of Lady Nairne"
Label: Greentrax Recordings; CDTRAX334; 2008
This collection of peaceful and melancholy songs, sung in Jean Redpath’s breathy voice, features the compositions of Carolina Oliphant, who became the Lady Nairne in 1822. Redpath’s renditions, while often hauntingly beautiful, could benefit from some more daring arrangements. While the unaccompanied voice rightly has a central role in these songs, too many of them lack any characteristic differentiation from one another. This should not keep many lovers of traditional song from appreciating the haunting melodies of such well-known songs as “Will Ye No Come Back Again”.
V/A "Dhachaigh / Home: The Murdo Macfarlane Songbook"
Label: An Lanntair; LANNCD003
This collection of Gaelic songs about home and the pain of distance to one’s home is inspired by the songwriting of Murdo Macfarlane, poet and campaigner for Scottish Gaelic. The Gaelic singing is often painfully beautiful, as on “’s Fhada Leam An Oidhche Gheamhraidh” sung by Isobel Ann Martin, and most of the tunes are beautifully played, sung and arranged. Macfarlane, whose writing and work inspired bands like Capercaillie in the 70s, should be better known, and this album is a wonderful beginning.
V/A "People and Songs of the Sea"
Label: Greentrax Recordings; CDTRAX338; 2009
Shona McMillan’s multi-faceted compilation of songs deals with the history of the men and women who worked the Herring route from Ireland to Scotland and England. The songs, by many different bands, paint a fascinating portrait of a historic trade. Blackeyed Biddy’s version of “The Bonnie Ship the Diamond” is rousing and tenacious, bringing to mind a hard life at sea, beset by tragedy and hope. Cilla Fisher’s version of “Isle of May” recalls throbbing waves and long journeys. This album is an enthralling musical portrait of brave enterprise and hardship.
The Paul McKenna Band "Between Two Worlds"
Label: Greentrax Recordings; CDTRAX333; 2009
Paul McKenna’s smooth quintet presents a modern take on traditional Irish tunes and songs. As so many newer bands do, they attempt to make a place for themselves between older and newer music. McKenna’s main means for making older Irish tunes and songs sound more modern is the drumbeat. The traditional bodhran is often used to provide a rock/pop beat, which the band uses to produce their characteristic sound. The often downbeat songs, directed by McKenna’s articulate, changeable voice, as well as well-played tunes make this band a worthwhile listen.
Alan Reid & Rob van Sante "The Rise and Fall o’ Charlie"
Label: Red Sands Music; RSCD002; 2009
This mixture of traditional songs and Reid’s own compositions on the theme of Prince Charles Edward of the Stuart family in the 18th century consists of mainly standard arrangements for guitar, strings and flute. One standout is “Oran Do Phriunnsa Tearlach”, with an increasingly lively and moving progression throughout the song and a lovely, delicate finish. Some songs unfortunately stray into a sound that doesn’t quite fit, like the electric violin on “Charlie He’s Ma Darlin’”. All in all, though, this is a wonderful collection of tasteful and moving songs and tunes.
Katharina Hess & Tibor Szücs "Blockflöte und Gitarre"
Label: Own Label
Recorder and guitar approach world music from the classical end of the spectrum; this album by Hess and Szücs features an eclectic range of instrumental works. The constellation of melodies ranging from Bach to traditional Irish will appeal to classical lovers with an ear for folklore, and vice versa.
© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 03/2010
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