FolkWorld #53: CD Reviews
FolkWorld #53 03/2014

CD & DVD Reviews

Roy Bailey, Robb Johnson, Barb Junr, Jude Abbott,
Jenny Carr, John Forrester "Gentlemen" [Double-CD]
Irregular Records, 2013



»The Definitive No. 1 of 2013 - A Rare Masterpiece!«

www.gentle-men2014.co.uk

A stunning double album of songs telling a family history of the First World War and its personal consequences, just in time for the centenary of World War 1. The album is not just about the War itself, but about the memories and mental health issues that those soldiers carried with them all of their lives. The songs depict not soldiers, but people who happened to be involved in the war, who were first and foremost individuals with their own lives.
The songs take the listener on a rollcoaster of emotions – there's fear paired with optimism, despair with hope, happiness with gloomy memories – and that quite often in a single song. Some themes are, to great effect, repeated in different songs – most poignantly the false promise “We will be home for Christmas after all”.
The music and songs are all written by Robb Johnson,. The lyrics are most powerful, telling poignant stories with a fine dose of irony and sarcasm, and are based on the stories of his two grandfathers who saw service on the Western Front. The albums tell the perspective of a war that history books don't tell – individuals who all have their own story – and the last verse of the second CD says it all “Tell me my enemy, tell me my friend – if we said 'I am nobody's enemy' can we make the war end?”
The music and the singing is of top quality – it's predominently folk music which cleverly weaves in music styles of the time. Roy Bailey, Robb Johnson and Barb Jungr masterfully provide the vocals, with music on trumpet/flugerhorn/euphonium, piano/accordion, double bass, guitar/banjo and percussion.
This double album is a rare master piece which deserves awards left right and centre. It certainly is my personal No. 1 of 2013. It is an album that draws you in, that despite its depressing subject is an enjoyable yet very thought provoking experience, that gives you always the satisfaction of listening to a true master piece.
© Michael Moll


Leon Rosselson and Robb Johnson
"No Gods No Masters: Live in Concert" [2 DVDs]
PM Press, 2014

Artist Video

www.leonrosselson.co.uk
www.robbjohnson.co.uk

Leon Rosselson is a noted British songwriter born in 1934, who came to prominence after his participation in the folk music revival singing his own topical songs.[37][42][46] He ist still on the road, often with other performers. Here it is Robb Johnson,[30] who began his musical career in the 1970s and is putting out one album after another.[25][27][30][31][41][44][46][48] Two generations, two dinosaurs in the music business who refuse to give up the fight. In 2011 they paid a visit to California to perform their show "The Liberty Tree: A Celebration of the Life and Times of Thomas Paine" (Paine being the English-American political activist and author of the "Rights of Man," 1737–1809). Two nights in Berkeley were recorded, 231 minutes of beautiful and brilliant singer-songwriter music. Disc 1 ("Turning Silence into Song") is a selection of their greatest hits ("Where Are the Barricades?" vs. "Be Reasonable") plus new unrecorded material. The 24 songs wind up with Leon's best-known and most-covered song (Dick Gaughan, Billy Bragg, ...) "The World Turned Upside Down", the story of the egalitarian Digger Commune during the English Revolution in 1649 (the song is often confused with the traditional "Diggers' Song," sung by Chumbawamba for example).[33] Disc 2 ("The Liberty Tree") is the story of Tom Paine's life, told in his own words and period documents. The 37 tracks feature 14 songs, including Leon's "Stand Up for Judas" (which Dick Gaughan has also covered) and Robb's "We All Said Stop the War". Once again, the grand finale is "The World Turned Upside Down".
© Walkin' T:-)M


Nua "Bold"
Own label, 2013

www.trionua.com

An energetic fiddle, a driving guitar and a bodhran – this is all that is to Nua and to this album – and you would not want anything more. “Bold” features mainly compositions of James and Graeme, primarily in a Scottish-Canadian trad style, presented with style and skill. Hats off to James Law (fiddle), Graeme McGillivray (guitar) and Jacob McCauley for this impressive debut album. The trio managed to master the art of pressing a live feel onto a CD. This music is pure energy – you cannot stop tapping your feet along. A real favourite!
© Michael Moll


Gwenan Gibbard "cerdd dannau"
Sain, 2013

Artist Video

www.gwenangibbard.com

An album of Cerdd Dant singing. In this old Welsh tradition, harp melodies are combined with poetry, with the poetry being sung in counter-melody to the harp tune.
Welsh harpist and singer Gwenan Gibbard is fully in the centre of this recording, with a few musical guests, particularly Maartin Allcock on a range of string instruments, as well as guests on fiddle, vocals and flute. I found that the counter-melody approach was not always easy for me to get into, and that at times, it felt like there were too many words in the lyrics compared to the harp counter-melody. While I found some material quite soothing, overall I could not get into this music.
© Michael Moll


Lors Landat & Thomas Moisson "An Tan Skornet"
Coop Breizh, 2013

www.thomasmoisson.com

On the face of it, this is a duo album of Breton singer Lors Landat and accordionist Thomas Moisson.. However, the album has very much a band sound – this is partly due to the full sound that Thomas creates with his accordion, but also as a result of the guest musicians on flute, guitars and double bass. This is a wonderful album of traditional Breton folk singing (in Breton language), with a powerful voice and great music. Other than one small exception (the very last number, provided as a bonus track, where the singing is backed by a strange soundscape instead of music), I like this album a lot.
© Michael Moll


Various Artists "The Leitrim Equation3"
Leitrim County Council Arts Office, 2013

www.leitrimequation.ie

German CD Review

If an album features the joint talents of Donal Lunny, Seamus Begley and John Carty, the expectations are high. In Leitrim Equation, these three stars have come together in a Residency, arranged by the Leitrim Arts Office, with an important element to support emerging musicians within this project. The album features on each tune the trio, or parts thereof, with one of two emerging local musicians – and on the last number, a whole range of musicians come together as an orchestra. Yes, there is a very high level of musicianship represented on the album, but I felt that somewhat the spirit is missing, with the music sounding a bit too formal and tame.
© Michael Moll


Ahlberg, Ek & Roswall "Näktergalen"
Dimma Sweden, 2013

Artist Video

www.ahlbergekroswall.se

Three renowned masters of Swedish traditional and folk music have come together in this trio: Emma Ahlberg from Sundsvall on fiddle, Daniel Ek from Lapland on harp guitar and Niklas Roswall from Skane on Nyckelharpa (Swedish keyed fiddle). This album fully justifies the trio being nominated for Group of the Year at the Swedish Folk and World Music Awards 2014. On the album, they masterfully play a mix of traditional and self composed tunes.
Music full of harmony, beautiful, gentle, magical – a delight for the ears.
© Michael Moll


Rant "Rant"
Own label, 2013

www.rantfiddles.com

Four very gifted Scottish fiddle players have come together in this new all-female quartet: Lauren MacColl, Bethany Reid, Sarah-Jane Summers and Jenna Reid. The album has been recorded in a Church setting, qhich gives the music both an enchanting and a “live” feeling. The album features pure fiddle music througout. Personally I would have like to have a guitar or other rhythm instrument to round off the music – but this should not be a criticism as the quality of the music stands for itself.
© Michael Moll


Chris Newman & Maire Ni Chathasaigh "Christmas Lights"
Old Bridge Music, 2013

FolkWorld Xmas

www.oldbridgemusic.com

This album by guitar maestro Chris Newman and harpist Maire Ni Chathasaigh arrived too late to be reviewed before Christmas. The tunes on the album feature many well known carols, such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Away in a manger”, as well as some that will be lesser known in England. Subtitled “A selection of Carols”, I was a bit surprised that all of the titles are fully instrumental – it would have been nice to hear Maire sing a few of the carols. Some tunes, those that feature primarily harp and/or guitar, are beautiful and manage to capture the spririt and magic of Christmas.
Other tunes have unfortunately not impressed me much – and this is primarily due to the not very imaginative drumming featured on those tunes, giving them a flair of easy listening. I missed in these tunes also that Chris' virtuosity has not come to the fore (with the exception of the last number where Chris' virtuous playing finally comes alive).
I do have the greatest respect for this duo and usually love their music, and I would have loved to be able to write more enthusiastically about this album.
© Michael Moll


Ashley Hutchings "By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept"
Talking Elephant, 2013 (1987)

www.folkicons.co.uk

A re-release of the album that is celebrated as Ashley Hutching's masterpiece – and that is quite something to say for the giant of the English folk revival. The album tells a personal love story – with a mix of rock, folk and short poetry. There's Dire Straits type rock, gentle folk songs, morris tunes and spoken word – a rather eclectic mix. You can hear traces of the various bands that Ashley has created – Steeleye Span, Albion Band, Fairport Convention, Albion Country Band, Morris On – and several of the musicians from those bands are featured on this album. The songs feature the vocals from Ashley and from Polly Bolton.
I can appreciate the musical quality on this album but find it a bit too eclectic.
© Michael Moll


Téada "In spite of the storm"
Gael Linn, 2013

www.teada.com

German CD Review

Now this is traditional Irish music at its very best. Téada' music has real spirit and drive: solid traditional music, without modern tricks, just superb musicianship, a great range of instruments and a very tasteful mix of traditional songs and tunes. Latest addition to the band, Seamus Begley, adds his stunning singing to the mix (his melodeon playing is apparently only featured in one tune), on three Irish Gaelic songs presented in a beautiful, plain, traditional way, and a pleasant folk version of “Saddle Tramp” by American country song writer Marty Robbins. The rest of the band combines the mighty musicians Oisin Mac Diarmada (fiddle, piano), Paul Finn (button accordion, concertina), Damien Stenson (flute), Sean Mc Elwain (guitar, bouzouki, bass guitar) and Tristan Rosenstock (bodhran).
This is the kind of Irish folk album I love – it's music that makes you happy and makes extremely satisfying listening. The best new Irish album I have heard for a while – an album that strongly reminds me why I fell in love with Irish music all those years ago...
© Michael Moll


Rosalind Gregory "Sheath and Knife"
Own label, 2012

www.rosaleengregory.ca

Canada based singer Rosaling Gregory presents on her second album of English and Scottish Traditional Ballads from the Francis James Child Collection. Rosalind's voice is overall pleasant enough although it does sound sometimes slightly out of tune. And some tunes feature Northumbrian Small Pipes which, on this album, sound rather unmelodic and shrill. As a result, I could not get into this album.
© Michael Moll


Las Hermanas Caronni "Vuela"
Broken Silence, 2013

Artist Video

German CD Review

www.lashermanascaronni.com

The two Argentinian sisters Laura and Gianno Caronni, now based in France, bridge on this, their second, album Argentian songs with French chanson and some Algerian and classical influences. The songs on the album are mostly written by the two women in Spanish language, yet there is also an hommage to their new home with three French songs – they sing one Brassens Chanson, and the album features two French songs written and sung by Denis Pean. The Algerian influence comes from the Algerian Gwana musician Farid Chouali.
Laura Caronni, the lead singer, has a beautiful voice, and the music throughout the album is focussed on the sisters on cello, violin and clarinet. Pleasant.
© Michael Moll


Ensemble Eriu "Ensemble Eriu"
Raelach Records, 2013

Artist Video

www.ensembleeriu.com

An album of Irish ensemble music, based on traditional Irish with influences from classical and jazz music. When the music goes into full swing of traditional Irish tunes, I enjoy the music – but the album has quite a few sections where the music is slow, low level and not quite finding its direction, which is why this CD will probably not often find its way back into my CD Player.
© Michael Moll


Alias Means "Light Matter"
Own label, 2013

www.aliasmeansmusic.com

German CD Review

A solid blend of country, blues and rock music from Tennessee singer/songwriter/guitarist/pianist Alias Means. All the songs are written and sung by Alias Means, featuring a band with guitars, piano, drums, pedal and lap steel and dobro. Folk or World it ain't be but I did enjoy this music a lot.
© Michael Moll


Blues Point "Simply Blues"
Own label, 2013

www.bluespoint.pl

Folk / World this ain't be either – but it is jolly good Blues from Poland. This album features English versions of songs which were published on previous albums of the band in Polish language. The English songs are sung with a Polish accent and a bit of a macho touch – which I have to say really appeals for this album. The most outstanding feature of the Blues Point trio is the wonderfully groovy saxophone playing.
© Michael Moll


Pete Huttlinger "McGuire's Landing"
Own label, 2013

Artist Video

www.petehuttlinger.com

A bit of a curious combination of a small fiction book and a music CD, written and composed by American guitarist and singer Pete Huttlinger.
The music is an attractive blend of Celtic and Country music with a dose of classical and some film score style music. The album features many very decent instrumentals, with some great fingerpicking from Pete, and instrumentation of guitars, fiddle, strings, oboe, French horn, harp, percussion and more. Some of the songs are sung by Pete in a Country style, while two feature the vocals of Mollie Weaver, in style more aligned to pop which works well.
The little book (58 pages of less than A5)is a well written fictional story of the emigration of McGuire from Ireland to the USA and his settling down there, its storylines have not fully convinced me.
What was there first – the music album or the fictional story? Apparently the story is built around the tune “McGuire's Landing” - and the CD is kind of a soundtrack of the story. While there are some linkages between the music and the book, I did not find that the CD sounds like a sound track of the book – or the book telling the full story of the CD. However, both can stand up to critics in their own right.
© Michael Moll


Folkabola "Jolla Pipiola"
Felmay, 2013

A Sicilian quartet playing Tarantellas and ballads, mostly either traditional or traditional style. Distinctive features of the band are the small Italian whistle Friscalettu with its intensive sound, accordion, tamburella, guitar and four strong male voices. A lot of lively and intoxicating music – even if I found that sometimes the sound of the little whistle gets a bit much.
© Michael Moll


La Talvera "Cancons del Cap del Pont"
Own label, 2014

www.talvera.org

Another album of this very productive French-Occitan band around multi-instrumentalist Daniel Loddo.[49] This time, these ambassadors of French-Occitan culture play songs from a collection of a 19th century mayor of the town of Albi. The band features a wide range of traditional, from bagpipes and accordion via violin to flute and oboe, and more contemporary instruments such as clarinette, saxophone and percussion. The singing, from Daniel Loddo and Celine Ricard, is in my view the strongest in the slower songs, as in the faster ones, particularly the female singing tends to get a bit shrill.
© Michael Moll


Basco "The remarkable return of Old Man Basco”
Go Danish Folk Music, 2013

www.bascoband.com

Basco is a Danish band playing predominently self composed instrumental music, with a mix of Scandinavian and Celtic (and some other) musical influences. The tunes are very accessible, and generally on the calm and reflective side, with some energetic sections. The four-piece band create a lovely sound with accordion, violin, mandolin and percussion. To add interest to the CD, they are joined on two numbers by “Big Basco” with a three-piece brass section – one of those is the English song “Two Sisters” with some groovy jazzy brass contributions. There is a second song, this time in Danish, sung by guest singer Jullie Hjetland. And finally a surprise – on “The Old Man Basco” the band is joined by wonderful French-Canadian David Boulanger of La Bottine Souriante fame, contributing his amazing violin, footpercussion and La Bottine style lilting.
© Michael Moll


Basco "The Remarkable Return of Old Man Basco"
GO Danish Folk Music, 2013

Artist Video

www.bascoband.com

Words like zany, quirky, wacky and edgy are over-used and under-valued, so I won't describe Basco as any of those things. This is folk music brought up to date, played acoustically on fiddles, brass, accordion and mandos, with added extra humour. Basco are a quartet who combine Danish, British, Jewish and other music and song in an unpredictable and highly entertaining way.
Take March of the Frogs, for instance - written as an apology for one of those unavoidable moments of natural carnage. Not only is it a cracking tune, more of a reel than a march, comfortable in either Scandinavian or Celtic repertoires: it also manages to evoke the charming and comical croaking of scores of baby frogs hopping across the road. Then take Batshit Polka, presumably named after an unrelated natural disaster, a totally bonkers tune played with skill and genius, guaranteed to bring a smile to the listener. Finally, for illustrative purposes, take. Bison Grass and Rye, a piece which sounds as though the band have had too much of one or the other, a mix of mandolin mayhem and Scandinavian circus music. The bluegrass blast which follows it has a title which is almost redundant at this stage: Naughty Boys.
It's not all smiles and silliness. There are three serious songs, versions of the classic ballads Prince Heathen and The Cruel Sister, and the versatile shanty Hog Eyed Man. Basco enlist a guest singer for one number, and a few guest musicians, but fiddler Hal Parfitt Murray sings in perfect English. He also writes a mean tune: most of the non-traditional material here is his, including the beautiful Tune for Fiona and the dark twisting 80's Waltz. Scandinavians are miserable badgers as a rule, especially when they're sober, and there's some of that icy Nordic gloom in one or two tracks here, but I'm pretty sure Basco are most at home with the lighter mood of the final Old Man Basco. This album certainly seems to belong alongside the lively music of Frigg, Baltic Crossing, Saltfishforty and the like: superb musicianship, very enjoyable, with more twists than a wet Viking's beard.
© Alex Monaghan


Anja Praest Trio "Resonans"
Go' Danish Folk Music, 2013

myspace.com/anjapraest

This is one of the greatest Danish albums I have heard for a while. Clarinet player Anja Praest Mikkelsen is joined in her trio by the great accordionist Jesper Vinther and double bass player Peter Marquard Sjersen. All material is written by Anja, in a Danish folk style. The music of the trio (alongside guests on violin, cello, mandolin and drums) dances at ease through the tunes, it swings in a way that makes it difficult for the listener to sit still. To round the album off, there are three wonderful songs – one sweetly sung by Rikke Lundorff, two by Mikkel Thomas.
This is a harmonic album with a great combination of instruments, beautiful tunes and excellent musicians and voices. Simply wonderful.
© Michael Moll


Anja Præst Trio "Resonans"
GO Danish Folk Music, 2013

myspace.com/anjapraest

A surprisingly short album, but a wee beauty: Anja Præst is a clarinetist and composer in the Danish folk and contemporary acoustic genre. The material on Resonans was apparently written between 2008 and 2012 by Anja, who has an earlier solo recording too. Her trio adds Jesper Vinther on piano accordion and Peter Manquard Sejersen on double bass. This CD throws in a few guests on vocals, percussion and strings, but the core of the music is still the trio. Anja's clarinet leads on most tracks, and the style ranges from Danish dance music through Klezmer into jazz and light classical, without losing the folk influence. The playing is gorgeous, particularly on clarinet and accordion - the bass stays pretty much in the shadows - but the most exciting thing for me about this album is the melodies Anja has written. Some of these tunes seem so familiar: the hornpipe-like second theme in Anne-Dorthes Sæt, the waltz Lånevalsen which incorporates a distinctive phrase from Josefins Dopvals, and the lullaby Sov Min Smukke which I'm sure has been recorded by someone like Karen Tweed.
But let's begin at the beginning. Rilly Rally has a hint of Eastern Europe, but is basically a cheery little swaggering march. Lille Mikkel sounds like an old Scandinavian fiddle tune, with odd rhythms and modal cadences, sad but not too dark. Sov Min Smukke is a delight, very distinctive, and immediately brings a smile. (Lovely double bass on this one, by the way.) Lånevalsen doesn't quite make my spine tingle like Roger Tallroth's tune, but it's not far off. Jørns Circuspolka sounds as you'd expect, a Germanic oompah tune with big top percussion, but Drømmen Brast is a complete change, Klezmer clarinet oozing sadness with lyrics to match the broken dream. Anne-Dorthes Sæt starts with a bittersweet waltz and moves into that catchy hornpipe. Mor Hannes Schottish reminds me of Cornish or Welsh dance tunes, another type of hop-step, while Autobahn Panik is more of a military march, clarinet and accordion sharing the German groove. The following song seems similarly set south of the Kiel Canal, but Fuglsøslænget brings us back to Denmark with a jazz clarinet break before the final gentle Blæs Mig et Stykke. Short and sweet, as I said, spanning pretty much the whole range of Danish folk music, full of great tunes.
© Alex Monaghan


Patsy Reid "The Brightest Path"
Own label, 2014

www.patsyreid.com

This Perthshire fiddler seems to be at the top of her game at the moment: fine albums with Vamm and Mhairi Hall recently, and now her third solo album which is simply excellent. Patsy shows her intentions from the first note: a thumping bass and percussion intro with banjo touches for the first of four original compositions here: Hooray Henry, a jazzy little romp on fiddle and saxophone. Fraser Fifield's sax is an important part of the sound on The Brightest Path, complementing the fiddle, and there are several other musicians involved in this recording, but Patsy is responsible for the arrangements and indeed plays viola and cello here as well as fiddle. There are two great sets of traditional Scots tunes, strathspeys and reels: I would have a liked a bit more snap on the slow lyrical Donside, but the power and precision of the fiddling is exemplary. Donald Shaw's slow air A Precious Place conjures up for me the rugged windswept beauty of the Scottish highlands, and Julian Sutton's Lost in Green is a gentle giant of a tune.
Patsy sings three songs on this CD, deliberately not mainstream folk. Ewan MacPherson's River Princess provides the album title in an allegorical lyric arranged almost as a rock ballad. Half Acre by Daniel R Messe is a soulful song of homesickness, beautifully sung. Patricia J Griffin's Kite Song is another dark-edged number with a spark of hope, gently delivered by Patsy. Although these vocal tracks are not in a folky style, they aren't out of place on this album. The Brightest Path is hard to classify - there are aspects of more traditional music, even of Patsy's former colleagues in Breabach, but this music also reminds me of Anna-Wendy Stevenson's Edinburgh blend of trad with jazz and classical elements, and even of more anarchic bands such as Bongshang or the wilder side of Skyedance. Patsy finishes off a very fine CD with her own Baby Tune, charming and vibrant, with a lovely mandolin line by Mr MacPherson, a suitably polished ending.
© Alex Monaghan



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