FolkWorld Issue 42 07/2010
FolkWorld CD Reviews
Dervish "From Stage to Stage"
Whirling Discs; WHRL014; 2010; 22 tracks; 70 min
Celebrating 21 years of this excellent Sligo band with a live CD and a high-quality bonus DVD, this release shows why Dervish enjoy such enduring popularity. From festival stage to studio floor, Eurovision exposure to webcast innovation, Dervish have covered the world in their two decades of music. The line-up has been pretty steady throughout: Michael Holmes and Brian McDonagh on fretted strings, Shane Mitchell on button box, Tom Morrow on fiddle, Liam Kelly on flute, and the indescribable Cathy Jordan playing a triple role as singer, percussionist and raconteuse extraordinaire. One of the things I most admire about Dervish is that they have not become a backing band for Cathy's vocals: there are eight sets of great tunes on this album, and only six songs. That makes fourteen tracks, plus eight amusing and informative introductions to some of these selections. The bonus DVD is more biased towards songs, more focused on Cathy as an iconic performer, but there are still plenty of good tunes.
The first half of From Stage to Stage was recorded in Sebastopol, California: not perhaps the first place you'd think of, but the crowd certainly seems to appreciate Irish music. Dervish treat them to a rattling good set featuring The Swallow's Tail, Lord Levett, some lovely slip jigs in The Bealtine Set, and another batch of reels before they are joined by Swedish supergroup Våsen for three showstopping numbers. Våsen were featured on Dervish's Live in Palma recording, and Roger Tallroth's composition Josefins Waltz has been a firm favourite ever since. Here it is again, sandwiched between the Irish ballad I Courted a Wee Girl and a lively Swedish polka.
The second half sees Dervish on home ground at the Sligo Live festival, joined by Seamie O'Dowd for a selection which includes more modern songs: Dylan's Boots of Spanish Leather, Sonny Condell's The Cat, and Ron Sexsmith's Gold in Them Hills. Cathy gets plenty of help on the vocals, but her sweet and salty tones still come through strong. The first of several finales is the wonderful song Red Haired Mary which grows more theatrical every time I hear it. The boys are in fine form for The Coolea Jigs, John Blessing's Reels and the final Apples in Winter medley, with Cathy shaking the bones for all she's worth. I'm not totally sold on the singer-songwriter material, but Dervish's performance here is magical as ever. Even after 21 years, they haven't lost their spark. Dervish are at their best as a live act, and if you can't get to see them this recording is probably the next best thing - plus you can watch Cathy shaking her old bones on the bonus DVD!
Paul Dooley "The Harper's Fancy"
Own Label; PDCD003; 2010; 15 tracks; 58 min
Album number three sees harpist Paul Dooley back to the material which impressed me on his exquisite first album Rip The Calico. Irish dance music and harp pieces are sprinkled with Scottish and Swedish melodies, with one big Breton set. The great thing about Paul's music is the liveliness and enthusiasm, the spark which he puts into his playing. Not every fingertip falls perfectly, but the pulse of the tune stays true. Even though this is a real solo album, a lone harpist throughout, the sound is always full and absorbing.
Paul's repertoire happens to include many of my favourite tunes. Fred Finn's Reel, The Humours of Ennistymon, Jenny Dang the Weaver and The Wild Irishman are among the up-tempo reels and jigs here. In slightly slower mood, the two ancient slip-jigs Port an Deoraí and An Phis Fhluich belong to the body of great Irish modal tunes which chill the spine and grip the viscera. Slower again, the popular Carolan planxty Loftus Jones is joined by lesser-known pieces The Fairy Queen and Mr Malone. All these tracks still have a drive and beat which keeps the head nodding or the feet tapping: Dooley reserves his lowest gears for the 400-year-old Lamentation of Youths and the equally venerable Moll Dubh an Ghleanna, two melodies marvellously suited to the harp.
Roughly two thirds of The Harper's Fancy is dance music at dancing tempo. The Boys of Tanderagee set of jigs, ending with Paul's own composition which furnishes the title for this CD, is a massive six and a half minutes long, enough for the most demanding dancers. It's followed by a trio of popular reels: The Corner House, The Ash Plant and The Roving Bachelor at a very brisk pace. The slow strathspey Rothiemurches Rant accelerates to become The Grand Spey, or The Graf Spee as it's known in Ireland. Dan R MacDonald's oft-recorded strathspey Lime Hill is taken rather quicker, and Caber Feigh is played as a slow reel to complement Neil Dickie's oddly-named reel Patti. Any stylish performance of Miss Monaghan will get extra marks from me, but even without this The Harper's Fancy is an exceptional album, highly recommended for all harp fans.
Duncan Chisholm "Canaich"
Copperfish Records; CPFCD004; 2010; 12 tracks, 41 min
This album is the second in Duncan's Strathglass trilogy, showing an altogether gentler side of Wolfstone's fiddler than some people might expect. Duncan's work with Ivan Drever and his four previous solo albums demonstrate the delicacy and sweetness of highland music which exists in parallel with Wolfstone's rock band sound. Farrar, the first part of Duncan's trilogy, was a truly magical album full of beautiful melodies. Canaich is simpler perhaps, but no less striking. Starting with a soulful Gaelic melody, Duncan's exquisite fiddle dominates this musical landscape. Donald Shaw's slinky slip-jig Camhanaich air Machair joins the pipe march Captain Carswell to form one of the livelier tracks here. Isaac's Welcome to the World is a rather more rumbustuous slip-jig, veering towards Wolfstone territory with whistle and brass harmonies.Craskie, another of Duncan's compositions, sets a much gentler mood: a sweet and captivating air. The third Chisholm tune on this CD is yet another slip-jig, a sauntering lyrical melody named for Loch Mullardoch and followed by Niall Vallely's punchy Oblique Jig.
The same easy swing infuses Chasing Daylight and Desert Road, by Gary Innes and Mike McGoldrick in turn. Other great contemporary composers whose work gets the Chisholm treatment on Canaich include Allan MacDonald, Phil Cunningham and the much missed Gordon Duncan. Californian MIke Katz and Canada's Mark Stewart provide the tunes for The Exile Reels, probably the most up-tempo track on this recording, a gloriously energetic piece of fiddling. For me, Duncan's interpretations of slow traditional airs are still the highlights: the well-known haunting song Mo Run Geal Og, the brooding Illean Aigh, and the final brief but sublime Mar a Tha. In the playing of highland music, fast or slow, new or old, there's few who can match this man. Canaich is a concentrated dose of Duncan Chisholm's music, a delight for fiddle fans, and another testament to one of Scotland's finest musicians: www.duncanchisholm.co.uk is the place to find out more.
Rachel Davis "Rachel Davis"
Own Label; RDCD09; 2010; 12 tracks; 65 min
I'm impressed. Big on quality and on quantity, this debut recording from Cape Breton student Rachel Davis has all the hallmarks of brilliance. Davis isn't a name I associate with fiddlers, but Rachel's main influence comes from a long line of Longs. Her grandparents, Clarence and Anna Long, fiddle and sing respectively on the CD, and Rachel has picked up both skills from them. Her talent is remarkable: reels, jigs, strathspeys, marches and airs stream from her assured bowing, and those big dance medleys beloved of Cape Breton crowds are effortlessly delivered by this youngster. There are two seven-tune monster medleys of march, strathspeys and reels here, each over eight minutes long.
Picking favourites from Rachel's music is tough. There isn't a bad track in the round dozen, so instead let me pick some favourite tunes. Memories of Fr Angus MacDonnell is one helluva good tune, and Rachel handles it superbly: it opens one of the big medleys. Miss Admiral Gordon is another great melody, a big strathspey written by William Marshall a couple of centuries ago, demanding good technique which is not lacking here. The Rights of Man is much more recent, frivolously named despite its menacing minor cadences, and Rachel plays some lovely variations. The Marquis of Huntly's Snuff Mill is a fabulous title, and the air it belongs to is simply beautiful, delivered with expression and understanding as well as wonderful tone. The other slow air on this CD, Hector the Hero, irritates me slightly because of Rachel's unusual use of the 4th note in the scale, but it's still a stunning performance.
The opening track on this recording gives considerable prominence to Rachel's accompanists, and rightly so. Buddy MacDonald on guitar and Tracey Dares on piano are key components of the album's exceptional quality. I'd also like to draw attention to Brona Graham's inspired banjo, particularly on the medley ending with Highway Reel: powerful playing and a very tight duet sound. Rachel is lucky enough to have her grandfather Clarence join her for a set of timeless jigs, and grandmother Anna backs Rachel's very pleasant voice on a Gaelic song learnt from Hector MacNeil. Family and friends join in for the final MSR set, full of life and lift, finishing with another great favourite of mine, The Famous Bridge. There are so many good things to say about this CD, but I'll have to stop: www.rachel-davis.ca has more information and samples.
Susana Seivane "Os Soños Que Volven"
Own Label; 2009; 14 tracks; 65 min
Galicia's first lady of the gaita marks ten years since her debut album with this recording which she describes as "the original soundtrack to my life." That's translated from Galego, obviously: the sleeve notes are in Galego, Spanish, French and English. (The website even has a Breton translation!) Susana was born into a strong piping family, her father is a respected pipemaker and she picked up the gaita at an early age: much of the music here is from pipers she met as a youngster. Os Soños Que Volven means something like The Sounds which Endure. Although Susana has applied her talent for modern arrangement to many of the tracks here, there is no mistaking the pedigree of this music. The piping style remains traditional, grace notes based largely on trills and doublings: none of the cranning and complex cuts which many young Galician pipers have adapted from Scottish and Irish music. Some of the arrangements are fully acoustic, some add electric bass, and others are more high-tech.
There are several well-known Galician pieces on this recording, starting with Foliada do Quinteiro and the muñeira Maruxa. Other favourites can be heard on A Moxenas, dedicated to a grand old piper, and on Susana's tribute to Milladoiro which features the captivating Marcha do Bereino. There are also many tunes new to me: a Latin-sounding Fox-Trot, a charming set of mazurkas, the muñeira Reviravolta which gets a funk rock treatment here, and Pernas Pra Riba which has perhaps the most contemporary arrangement despite being one of the oldest melodies on this album. The whole project has an appealing laid-back familiar feel, a sense that Susana could have gathered all her friends with a couple of phone calls, and recorded the whole thing in her kitchen. It's hard to quantify - the occasional exuuberant octave jump, some rhythmic effects. Even on a challenging piece like A Fraga, clearly arranged with great care, there seems to be that casual spontaneity which enchants audiences, the touch of a great musician.
Ms Seivane certainly lives up to her reputation as an enchantress with this release. The music she has chosen is both beautiful and memorable, and her playing is relaxed but still superb. As well as pipes in various keys, she provides her own vocals and percussion throughout the album. Impressively, after ten years as an iconic player, Susana still has enough humility to leave the last track to some of the many pipers she has played with and learnt from over the years: Pasodoble de San Roque features half a dozen of these pipers, with Susana on bass drum, a touching tribute to Galician traditional music and a fitting end to this fascinating CD. SusanaSeivane.com has more information. Well worth checking out.
Gary Innes & Ewan Robertson "Shouts"
Own Label; PDP001; 2009; 11 tracks; 47 min
Piano accordion and vocals, the kiss of death for some people, but Shouts is a bit different as you might guess from the title. Gary Innes is a young iconoclastic box-player - if you don't count Sandy Brechin as an icon - and most of the tunes here are Innes originals. Ewan won the BBC Young Scottish Traditional Musician award in 2008: he mostly provides accompaniment on this album, and sings four songs. In Gary's hands, the accordion is a musical chameleon. At times he weilds it almost as a weapon of war, forcing percussive power from its pearloid frame. Rough as a Badger's is one such track, a swaggering hornpipe which suddenly becomes an armed assault. This frenzied attack is all the more effective as it follows the very poignant and gentle air Little Niamh MacDonald. Gary Innes is a master of both extremes, and of everything in between. Camanachd Cup is a lilting slow reel, Kilmonivaig reminds me of the last waltz at a West Coast ceilidh, and I Can't Sing Tonight is a medley of dramatic modern reels. The final Kazakh Ceilidh Commandos owes something to the Russian steppes, and possibly to Borat.
Ewan's delivery may have had some influence on the title. His first song, the well-pickled conker Beeswing, flattens out the familiar melody to create a more conversational version. The same straight-talking style applies to the traditional ballads Bonnie Bessie Logan and Magdalene Green. The surprising choice of Auld Lang Syne, a song which is conventionally shouted across crowded pubs everywhere, is treated with care and affection here: a sweeter melody, lyrical fiddle harmonies, and backing vocals from Emily Smith make this a song to listen to for a change. Combined with Ewan's versatile guitar, plangent and punchy by turns, and some supremely sensitive accordion from Gary, Shouts goes some way to restoring the reputation of Scotland's box-toting balladeers. Add the exceptional charm and vibrancy of Gary's instrumentals, and Shouts can hold its head up in any company.
Mike Vass & Dave Wood "Wait What?"
Averaging almost six minutes per track, Malinky fiddler Mike Vass and guitarist Dave Wood have produced an album of big numbers. It's smart, it's smooth, and it's probably going to win them a lot of friends. Mike plays in a sweet, unhurried style, seriously graceful fiddling, following the lead of such solo stars as Duncan Chisholm, Anna-Wendy Stevenson and Lauren MacColl. Occasionally the groove grows a little stale - the fourth time through Covering Ground, the fifth time through St Kilda Wedding - but mostly the music just flows fresh and clean.
CDTRAX349; 2010; 9 tracks; 51 min
42 Beech Avenue is a microcosm of this recording. One of seven Vass tunes here, it's a gentle slow reel handled superbly by both fiddle and guitar. The opening arpeggio riff is held for thirty seconds, just longer than is comfortable, and Mike pulls the same trick in the middle of this five-minute track: challenging, effective, and memorable. Vass and Wood are masters of understatement, letting their music simmer on a low heat. They also know how to mix the new with the old, setting some sparkling traditional gems alongside their own material.
Things do hot up in places, but fireworks are thinly spread on this album. There's a spark or two in Gion's, and the Strathfleet March kicks off three lively compositions by Pipe Major William MacDonald ending with the impressive reel The Colonel. You'll find humour and joie de vivre too in Michael Rankin's, one of many great pieces by the late John Morris Rankin. Wait, What? finishes with a truly beautiful pipe march, The 24th Guards at Anzio, and a couple of explosive Scott Skinner tunes. Mike and Dave enlist a few friends, particularly Damien O'Kane whose tenor banjo adds guts throughout and who sings a stylish version of The Hills of Donegal at half time. Exceptional control, enchanting melodies, and exemplary arrangements: this is one for repeated listening.
Gráinne Murphy "Short Stories"
I occasionally wish there weren't quite so many talented young fiddlers in the world, partly because it's hard to tell them apart, and partly because it doesn't leave enough room for other instruments. Then along comes someone like Gráinne Murphy, and I regret my wish. Gráinne is definitely a talented young fiddler with a difference: New York based, a distinctive sound and a compelling approach to Irish music. There are some small technical imperfections on this debut CD, but the whole thing is so full of life and musicality that it's impossible not to enjoy it.
Own label; GRA010; 2010; 13 tracks, 56 min
The New Mown Meadow and Tree Gap are outstanding among the reels here, the latter being a composition by Gráinne and box-player John Redmond. John is among Gráinne's guests on Short Stories, as is the mighty fluter Isaac Alderson who complements the fiddle wonderfully on To Limerick We Will Go and Sailing In amongst others. There are some particularly fine jigs on this recording - regular ones such as The Monaghan Jig, Gavin Marwick's Sky City and Gráinne's own Misbegotten Grandchild, as well as two great sets of slip-jigs including The Drunken Ganger and The Night Before Poor Larry Was Stretched. I should also mention Gráinne's interpretations of the big reels Colonel Fraser and Farewell to Ireland, both high points of this recording.
If I had to be totally objective, I'd say Gráinne is not so hot on the slower numbers. She doesn't attempt any airs here, but even the moody hornpipe Bill Flanagan's Birthday and the slow reel Through the Woods show signs of impatience. There are also a couple of places where Miss Murphy could have chosen more appealing material: The Barony is a pale reflection of another well known slip-jig, and Touching Cloth falls slightly flat as the climax of an excellent medley. Gráinne seems slightly unwilling to stray up the fingerboard too, playing instead to her exceptional strength on those growling back strings. Mountain Dew and Finbar Dwyer's Reel rumble along delightfully, as does Sebastien Parent's rich dark jig Douce Amelia. There are several catchy new tunes on Short Stories, and no shortage of vintage melodies either: a powerful mix, and a most enjoyable album.
Gráda "Natural Angle"
Almost a decade ago, I reviewed Gráda's first album - it was pretty good, and I predicted they'd stay the course. Well, here they are with album number four, now a well-known international act: still playing traditional Irish music, still a five-piece but with only two of the same members. Natural Angle features old-timers Gerry Paul and Andrew Laking on guitars and bass, and each of these guys takes a song, but the lion's share of the vocals goes to percussionist Nicola Joyce. The melody line is shared between Stephen Doherty on flutes and accordion, and David Doocey on fiddle and concertina.
7 4528 2; 12 tracks; 41 min; 2010
Gráda cover a wide range of material on this CD: seven songs and five sets of tunes. They lead with a powerful pair of reels, The Templehouse and their own May Cottage, flute and fiddle both first rate. Tim O'Brien's song John Riley is next up, a gritty tale sung with gusto. The body count rises steadily through the songs: The Butcher Boy, Pretty Polly and Louis Collins are all despatched by Ms Joyce. Noboday actually dies in No Linen No Lace, but with the exception of John Riley the vocal numbers are all rather downbeat. Panama is probably the weakest song here. Bottom of the Hill, another of Gráda's own, is a vocal highlight - intriguing and absorbing, but it comes too late in the album to make much impact.
The instrumental side of Natural Angle is rich and varied, and with a little more oomph it would counterbalance the understated vocals. In addition to the excellent opening track, there's Doocey's charming slow reel Farewell to Sandy, a fine set of more up-tempo reels which starts with a funky five-four tune, a restrained little medley of jigs and reels by Colin Farrell, and the final Salthill Bugalúsa in the style of Sharon Shannon meets Jerry Douglas. All highly entertaining, but not quite enough to dispel the sombre mood of the songs. Gráda have their own website at www.gradamusic.com, and with this recording they get the acceptable face of Nashville behind them in the shape of Compass Records, so Natural Angle should be easy to find.
With an established reputation as superb entertainers and pioneers in the choppy waters of Gaelic new-age pop, Kila have now also proven their credentials as Irish traditional musiians and composers. This recording follows their 2007 album Gamblers' Ballet which concentrated on up-trmpo dance music. Soisín focuses on slower pieces: "music to rest, to reflect and even to cry to." All ten tracks are composed by band members, with a wide variety from the almost Eastern mysticism of St Germain to the techno effects on the title track. Although Soisín is billed as an instrumental album, there are vocals on a couple of numbers - but no words.
Kíla Records; KRCD014; 10 tracks; 41 min; 2010
The lion's share of the composing credits goes to Colm Ó Snodaigh, with two tracks each by Rossa Ó Snodaigh, Dee Armstrong, and Eoin Dillon. My personal preference is for the more conventional melodies: Dee's Bearna Waltz with its blend of traditional fiddle and jazzy sax, Colm's Cluainín combining low whistle and pipes, and the Galician sound of Eoin's Miles na bPíobairí which is probably the most stirring piece here. Rossa's Derry Tune also deserves mention, another Spanish-tinged melody with hypnotic guitar.
One number on Soisín rises head and shouders above the rest. The air 1st Ave is a stunner, an outstanding melody beautifully played on fiddle, with a strong arrangement which doesn't overpower the tune. Soisín is worth getting for this track alone, and I'm sure several of the other compositions here will appeal to Kila fans and Irish music enthusiasts alike. This gentle album reveals a neglected side of Kila's music, and should win many admirers.
Steve Mednick & Eddie Seville "La Collaborazione Dei Due"
Label: Cottage Sound Recordings 001; 2009
Everybody has the songs and albums they would take to a desert island. What about the ones you’d take on a long, lonely drive through deserts and over mountains? Steve Mednick and Eddie Seville’s “La Collaborazione Dei Due” would be one of mine. Their music longs for vast open space to fill with big sounds and even bigger feeling. “Ten Signs” yells out its name in the best tradition of country and pop, satisfied and sure. The drum intro on “Crash and Burn” and Mednick’s singing bring back the days of Bob Seger and music that drew you in with its voice and character. The slower songs never merge into melancholy; “Lone Star Serenade” has an accordion pressing the song steadily onward and the album’s slowest track, “Man On The Road”, does not manage to bring spirits down. Chiseled rock, soulful singing and broad, feeling ballads are the trademarks of this album. On my journey through lonely valleys and empty landscapes, with Mednick and Seville in my ears, I would sing as they do: “I want this journey of mine to last”.
Pistol Pete’s Dinosaur Truckers "Down This Road"
Label: Flowfish Records; FF0016; 2009
What is a dinosaur trucker? It brings to mind gargantuan scaled beings rolling down a post- (or possibly pre-) apocalyptic highway. The band’s MySpace page describes their music as sounding like “semi trucks crashing into dinosaurs”. But regardless of their name, Pistol Pete and his band mates from Germany play a mean mix of original country and bluegrass-inspired songs. They feature percussive, driving bass rhythms, tight mandolin and guitar solos, harmonizing voices and a relaxed but compelling vibe. The wonderful lap steel playing on the album proves they know where they are in country music. My only point of contention is that the album is a bit too long; the final songs seem to blend together to a certain extent. All this really means, however, is that the band has a great bunch of original songs. I wish them success in resurrecting the unjustly forgotten dinosaurs of North American music.
Jim Savarino "Sun Dreams"
Label: Own Label; JS-003-2; 2009
The nature-bound music of Jim Savarino makes me think about how songs can be “green”. Savarino keeps his album green by framing his homegrown lyrics in their natural environment of acoustic guitars and simple voices raised in harmony. The West Virginia-based singer and songwriter’s third album, “Sun Dreams”, is a cohesive effort that riffs on the intersection of humanity and nature. “Nature’s Song”, for example, contains the line “Give me the freeway and a six-pack on payday, you can keep the forest and the sky.” By the end of the song, however, the sentiment is reversed: “It’s really human nature for humans and nature to get along together”. Savarino’s strength is in songs that express a genuine message, and most of this album brings the listener close to Savarino’s yearning for nature. Personal touches, like the last mischievously philosophical line of “A Place To Go”, round out the otherwise uncomplicated album. And when was the last time you heard a song that lusts so simply and directly for death as “Dyin’ Day” does? Here is the last line of that song as an invitation to enjoy this wonderful album: “Just drink down the wine, then shatter the cup / Remember our friendship years!”
Marty Finkel "The Good Life"
Label: Own Label; 2009
Don’t you love a good mid-album surprise? It speaks of well-proportioned design and knowledge of how an album can start to lag somewhere around the middle. Even without having heard its predecessors, Marty Finkel’s fourth album proves he must be taking his music in the right direction. A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Finkel has written over 100 songs at his current age of 24. The first impression of “The Good Life” is a short, quirky track that reveals much about Finkel’s songwriting style without giving a good idea of how the album will sound. The songs that follow are good, but the album changes with the centrally placed “Annabelle Gentry”, which breaks the mold wide open. You really notice what Finkel is capable of: not only rollicking alt-country numbers, but also quintessential pop tunes. It makes you treasure the gems like “Oh My Little Darling” and “Under The City Lights” even more, because you know Finkel can work wonders both of the established and of the idiosyncratic variety. I’d be hard-pressed to decide which I like more: his slower pieces with a touch of melancholy, like “Our Last Dance”, or the grippingly rhythmic numbers like “Annabelle Gentry”. Here’s to more surprises and Marty Finkel’s next 100 songs.
And Did Those Feet "Best of 1997 – 2007"
Label: Osmosys Records; OMSMOCD042; 2007
And Did Those Feet is a group that places the human voice at the center of their music. Original compositions by the group’s founder Richard Ellin provide the defining character of all of the English pastoral group’s pieces. These range from hymn-like slow ballads to soaring and contemplative traditional-oriented melodies. Welsh singer Ina Williams shapes many of the vocal pieces with her airy yet strong voice. When vocals are conspicuously absent, as in “As We Speak,” the result is a striking melodic composition for acoustic guitar. This is almost a welcome change from the consistently dulcet female voices; “As We Speak” is a straightforward yet profound melodic meditation. Yet the vocals are often irresistible, as when they ascend above the measured accompaniment of “Hymn for a Glad Tomorrow.” The sheer harmonious balance of And Did Those Feet will enchant and thrill all lovers of contemporary light classical music.
Roger Watson "Past and Present"
Label: Wild Goose Records; WGS367CD; 2009
Folk singer Roger Watson’s album “Past and Present” presents a mixture of old and new melodies from the English tradition. Watson is a part of the folk development organization Traditional Arts Projects (TAPS), for which he teaches and performs English traditional songs, music and dances. His strong voice shapes the character of his songs, accompanied by his melodeon and English concertina. In the best folk tradition, Watson takes traditional and original songs and sets them up with lyrics based on his own life and experiences. One of his original songs, “The Manager’s Daughter”, is based on the experiences of his mining grandfathers and the “entrenched social attitudes towards them.” Another track fits the traditional song “Lovely Joan” with new lyrics and a modern setting. The instrumental tunes from the English tradition are based on Watson’s accordion playing, which is featured mainly in solo settings on the album, except for some spare but well-played contributions by viola, flugelhorn and cornet. “Past and Present” is a great album for lovers of traditional music with a twist of imagination.
ABAK Projekt "Aufbruch"
Label: Prudence; LC07235; 2009
Experienced club guitarist turns to ambient settings of German poetry? An unlikely headline, but one that describes Andreas Krause’s recent project “Aufbruch” (“Break of Dawn”) fittingly. The most unexpected thing about the album is that it manages a stunning integrity of style while setting old German poets like Goethe and Schiller against backdrops of turbulent rhythm and electronic pop. “Hoffnung” (“Hope”) features a Schiller poem spoken in rough but melodic German, relaxed but pushy drums and a simple piano line, all mixed and designed by sound technician Krause. Krause’s gift for evocative sound mixes becomes especially clear on the title track, “Break of Dawn,” based on a poem by Karl Stamm. In spite of the fact that some of the tracks seem designed to be a sort of lounge music, they truly convey a unique and contemplative feeling without cutting out emotion and intelligence. The album’s beginning and ending instrumental tracks especially reveal the strength of Krause’s musical vision with piercing melodies and pop-inflected arrangements. This album is definitely worth a listen for those interested in new soundscapes and fascinating musical combinations.
Ray Hearne "The Wrong Sunshine"
Label: No Masters; NMCD31; 2009
Ray Hearne’s voice has a lot of strength to it, a satiny growl laced with steel. He is just as capable of soulful hums as light-footed melodic twists and turns. The first song of his wonderful album “The Wrong Sunshine” will so spoil its listeners that they may not last through the rest of it, instead turning back again and again to “Manvers Island Bound” and its combination of muscular ballad and soulful folk chorus. But the rest of the album does not disappoint either, made up mainly of folk-style songs on a variety of up-to-date subjects, from modern wars to learning self-expression. “The Collier’s Elegy”, taking up a famous melody, benefits from Hearne’s new lyrics and updated tune and deals with the time-honored people of coal and steel. All of Hearne’s songs, in fact, take up older traditions and inject strengthening steel, in the form of crisp guitar sound and Hearne’s granite voice. A line from the album’s “Navvy Boys” sums up Hearne’s music best: “And the songs he sang told stories…”
Terrible Lizard "Terrible Lizard"
Own label; 2008
When the opening song, “Sweet Rock’n’Roll” began with a chorus comprised of “sweet rock’n’roll is gonna save my soul”, I summoned up all the patience I could muster to not change the CD. The first song was as clichéd an early 1970s rock song as you could ever find. I stayed with the CD and was not quite as turned off as it progressed. In fact, “Forever Blue” had some smoking guitar work that reminded me of Thin Lizzy. The eight songs do not vary from the classic rock sound and just do not offer much to make one desirous of future listens. They do sound like a really good bar band and I would not mind seeing them, but this release seems best positioned at a merchandise table and not something to seek out otherwise.
Dana and Susan Robinson "Big Mystery"
Threshold Music; 2009
Dana Robinson is the chief songwriter/singer playing many stringed instruments while his partner adds guitar, banjo, harmonies and the occasional lead vocal. Their sound is classic Americana/folk with a very light touch. I would not call it laid back with any negative connotation that may imply, yet it has a pleasant rural feel without slipping into country music. Although the vocals are good, I found the two instrumentals stood out as Dana Robinson’s fiddle was a highlight for me with its rich melodic lead. “Gone but Not Forgotten” also stands out with its darker British Folk feeling. Overall, this is a solid set of songs.
Own label; 2009
The Evangenitals third release is a seven-song EP clocking in just under 27 minutes. Although I agree their sound may be described as alt-country, I would further call it a California based Americana with lots of blues and folk moves within a structure that easily glides into an indie-rock format. So basically, this band could play with about 90% of the bands touring America these days. They have two female voices harmonizing well and which lead the songs steadily with the vocals front and center in the mix. I enjoyed “Work Song” with its garage rock guitar beginning, which moved into a long bluesy rhythmic passage before some psychedelic guitar snuck in and veered it back and forth between light and heavy sounds. This creative arrangement and some of the other songs on this EP are strong enough to keep me listening to this record and to keep an eye out for a live show in my town, some day soon I hope.
Steve Howell "Since I Saw You Last"
Out of the Past; 2009
Steve Howell is a guitarist playing blues country roots music here. This is his third CD and is comprised of twelve cover songs. There is a nice mix of songwriters you probably have not heard of along with Blind Lemon Jefferson, John Lee Hooker and Taj Mahal. There are extensive liner notes that give a little history of the song or Howell’s personal experience with it. This may sound a clinical, but I found it a pleasure since the music is very engaging. The guitar and vocal work is clean, but with good playing, a clean sound works. It also works when the rhythm section is good and they do keep a nice punchy thrust behind the guitars and mandolins. The highlight for me was “Charlie James”, a Mance Lipscomb song. There is good finger style guitar work and lots of inventive accompanying instruments. When in Shreveport, I would recommend catching a Steve Howell set, as I think this would sound good in a nice club setting or grab this release.
Meg Hutchinson "The Living Side"
Red House Records;
Growing up in rural Massachusetts, Meg Hutchinson did not have TV or the internet which left her with much quiet time to spend with her thoughts. That seems apparent in many of her songs as there is a lot of spaciousness within them. She has a quiet, near whispering vocal style that is pleasant without becoming cloying. The arrangements are mostly acoustic lead with some electric undercurrents. There are many quality songs here, although it became a bit too similar late into the listening. Still, there are some highlights such as “Hopeful Things” which evoke a quiet rural setting with a songwriter in command of her poetry inviting the listener in to her most intimate thoughts.
Pieta Brown "Shimmer"
Red House Records;
We have a female guitarist/vocalist performing the usual singer songwriter material that is a little closer to traditional folk, but leans to country on occasion. The most interesting item for me is seeing legendary producer, Don Was at the helm and contributing string bass. Although he may have been quite helpful at the sessions, there isn’t much production magic in this mix. And that is not a complaint as there is plenty of room for Ms. Brown’s nice voice and acoustic guitar plucking. The songs stand front and center with the subtle bass in the background. There is some infrequent electric guitar providing spacey western soundscapes, not unlike what Jimmy Wilsey provided for Chris Isaak. But everything is subtle and successful in this seven-song ep. This is a quality release and a good way to get acquainted with this young songwriter. She will be opening for Mark Knopfler on a US tour shortly, so there may be good opportunities to see her live capabilities as well.
David Gogo "Different Views"
Cordova Bay Records; 2009
Decent enough blues-rock is quickly evident on this record. Gogo sings and plays all the guitars. He has a full band with a nice Hammond organ sound in the mix. His guitar playing is solid and he rocks out when he wants. Two covers are added to his ten originals—mostly co-written with several others. His John Stewart (Kingsmen Trio) cover of “Gold” is quite engaging. “Where the Devil Won’t Go” has a bit of a boogie flavor broken up by some nice wild leads. Some of the songs veer toward bland blues fare, but then Gogo will roar back with a nice rocker reminding me of the many late 1960s/early 1970s blues rock releases that dominated the airwaves. Hearing this gives me confidence in the quality of the live show, which has thus far covered his native Canada along with a few trips to Europe.
Carla Ulbrich "Live from Outer Space"
Romantic Devil Records; 2009
31 tracks of chatter, intro, jokes and many, many songs and song fragments. Many of the songs are parodies of known songs in the folk-Al Yankovich style. There are a lot of jokes and comedy in the lyrics and chatter delivered with ferocious pace at times. Some of them fall a bit flat, but most are sardonically amusing if not overly funny. A very entertaining CD, but probably something you would not want to listen to repeatedly. But a live show where Ms. Ulbrich is unleashed on an audience? That would be a good evening, I would think.
Dan Hubbard and the Humadors "Dan Hubbard and the Humadors"
Own label; 2008
Once you get beyond the nice paintings on the cover and back, the inside shows four guys sitting at a bar. Based on the look, I figured I could guess within 95% of what this would sound like. And I was correct. This is a basic rock band that you could catch at a bar in your college town. They are a bit better than average, but do not stand out from a very crowded field. There are exclusively original songs here and there are a few pleasant ones. Some rock a bit harder than others. Some have some funk rhythms in the bass and keyboards. There’s more than a bit of Americana in the mix. It is all a pleasant excursion that I think will work better in the live atmosphere, which it appears they do quite frequently in the Illinois area of the USA.
Luka Bloom "Dreams in America"
Skip Records; 2010
I had planned to see Irishman Luka Bloom play in Virginia last year on his tour of America. Unfortunately, I could not get through the road blockages in the District of Columbia as just before my trip, some lunatic decided to kill a security guard at the Holocaust Museum near my home. So it is both a pleasure and a bit ironic to be able to listen to his latest offering which is another fine album in his long career. I actually have most of his early work when he recorded under his given name of Barry Moore. The name change was to avoid comparisons with his brother, Christy Moore who is also a successful musician. The early work is excellent as is this album. Bloom is a guitarist mostly working in the DADGAD tuning which is a comforting place for player and listener. His vocal work is evocative with great feeling and sensitivity, while his guitar work is all the background needed to cover his vast emotional range. The recording is clean and the songs are deep, even in this stark setting. There are a couple of the standards, “Lord Franklin” and “Black is the Colour”, that are done well and blend in with his excellent original songs. And to top it off, there are three bonus live songs with three accompanying musicians.
Get the Cat "I Sing You the Blues"
ZYX Music; 2010
Electric Blues Rock with a female vocalist is the basic formula here in this release from Germany. The singing is stylish enough and the Hammond organ sound is almost always a good thing for me, but there was just a bit too much of a “by the numbers” approach. All the songs are original, so credit is due for moving beyond a rehash of the standards. There are hordes of blues bands and this one, while decent, simply does not rise above the basic foundation.
Kev Boyle "Palestine Grove"
Blue Sky Music; 2009
Kev Boyle is a teacher in the UK who is breaking into the music business in his fifties. This is a mediocre record of original songs and some folk standards, some times with his lyrics on top of the traditional melody. He is assisted by a bassist, and a Producer/Engineer who appears to be able to play any instrument needed. I made the mistake of reading Boyle’s blog with some of his conspiracy theories that instantly turned me off, sort of like what has often happened with guitarist, Ted Nugent. But at least Nugent can play. This musical mediocrity is not worth my support and I am happy to avoid people like this.
The Brilliant Mistakes "Distant Drumming"
Aunt Mimi’s Records; 2008
Lightly likable mid-tempo rock music is my simple description of this record. The vocal harmonies are quite good and well thought out which helps bring the material to a higher level of interest. At times the keyboards and guitar interact well to create a more memorable song such as “Let’s Pretend”. Not much folk present, but good pop hooks and nice melodies delivered at a steady pace should appeal to many folk fans. Not much makes me jump to attention on this album, but I find it quite nice to listen to all the way through. I think these songs are good enough to grow on me.
Patrick Crowson "Finito la Comedia"
Own label; 2009
If you enjoy deep feeling and thoughtful folk music, I would easily recommend this album. Vocal-wise, I get a feeling of early Dylan and Tom Rapp (Pearls Before Swine) in these songs. They are rather sparse on the arrangements but thick with attitude and feeling. The acoustic guitar creates the atmosphere, while his voice haunts it. There is judicious use of other sounds such as a harmonium-like drone in the last cut that builds and ebbs ever so slowly, creating a fragile setting. Lo-fidelity, perhaps, but this album’s production is very effective for these excellent songs. Highly recommended.
Michael Miller "I Made You Up"
Shiny Shiny Records; 2009
Michael Miller is a singer/songwriter from Los Angeles. This collection of all original songs begins with the title cut which is one of the finer cuts on the album. It has a lush production with several ace studio musicians backing Miller’s voice and guitar. One can easily call it pop music, but it is thoughtful and heavy on texture especially as the songs progress into more of a shoegaze style. There are a few subtle twists and turns, but the lush production dominates, maybe a bit too much at times. Still, these are good songs that should find an audience. And with an extensive coast–to-coast USA tour of the USA, Miller is giving audiences that chance.
© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 07/2010
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