FolkWorld #69 07/2019

CD Reviews

Le Vent du Nord "Territoires"
Borealis Records, 2019

www.leventdunord.com

A new album of the Québécois powerhouse Le Vent du Nord is always something to look forward to. And indeed, „Territoires“ is yet again superb. The five musicians seem to have boundless energy and enthusiasm which is well reflected on the album. The line-up of hurdy-gurdy, two violins, nouzouki/guitar and melodeon/bass and not to forget the percussion of the ever moving feet creates a powerful, full and energetic sound. The majority of tracks are French-Canadian songs - traditional and new - often featuring attractive harmony singing of the five musicians. Some of the ballads are calm and reflective to calm down the listener (and the foot percussionist) after the out-of-breathly fast tracks. While an album can never capture the live energy of these Canadians, this one certainly does a fair attempt towards it.
© Michael Moll


Le Vent du Nord "Territoires"
Borealis, 2019

www.leventdunord.com

Artist Video

The usual turbo-charged trad from this Quebec quintet: fiddles, acordion, hurdy-gurdy and strong singing. The songs claim two-thirds of this album, more than my preference, but most are joined to punchy instrumental breaks in the delightful French Canadian style. Gurdyist Nicolas Boulerice wrote the swaggering polka which accompanies the miraculous tale of Pierrick in Adieu du Village. Zoukist Simon Beaudry does the honours for Le Soir Arrive, a traditional love song whose gentle sweetness melts into a catchy crooked jig. Foot percussion, thumping bass, turlutes and twin fiddles are fitted as standard of course.
The inuendo of Le Jardinier, the powerful historic harmonies of Louisbourg with its vivid depiction of a 1758 siege, and the sad sory of La Mère à l'Échafaud, are leavened and fortified by traditional reels and cotillons, alongside compositions by fiddler André Brunet: I particularly enjoyed Le Step à Alexis, a driving dance tune. Évolution Tranquille explores the tension between the peaceful change from subsistence farming to high-tech industries, and the struggle to retain language and traditions, which has swept across Quebec in the last century, all set to two stomping tunes by box-player Réjean Brunet. More tunes and songs, impeccably arranged and executed, bring us to the final dreamy Côte Nord by fiddler Olivier Demers, a beautiful finish to another great album from Le Vent du Nord.
© Alex Monaghan


Fran & Flora "Unfurl"
Own Label, 2019

www.franandflora.com

Violinist Flora Curzon and cellist Francesca Ter-Berg, with a bit of help from keyboards technomage Sam Beste, have assembled a collection of traditional pieces spanning European Jewish music from Arabia to Armenia. With long experience in the London Klezmer scene, and exposure to folk from around the globe, their arrangements are as varied as the traditions they draw on: Balkan, North African, Scandinavian, Mediterranean and more. Most tracks are instrumental, with just a couple of songs in Yiddish and Romanian. Fran & Flora's own compositions top and tail this album, the very contemporary almost-Asian Rockers and the hymn-like Arctic chill of Departures: in between is a smorgasbord of sad and soulful music, songs and dances, scenes from past and present times all across Europe.
Doina I sounds more Middle Eastern than European to my ears, its mode and ornamentation remind me of music on the Turkish oud or ney. Romanian Fantasies is a beautiful violin melody with plucked accompaniment. Curzon sings La Obreja, another Romanian piece, sweetly sad. Linde Timmermanns joins the duo for Geamporales, a classic Klezmer-style twin-fiddle dance in 7/8 with driving cello rhythms. Doina II has a Balkan gypsy feel to it, verging on Russian music with its melancholy bass line. Throughout Unfurl the playing is confident and controlled, the arrangements are thoughtful if somewhat Spartan, and the overall sound is rich and powerful. The whalesong-like Talking Trees, the electronic treatment of the Yiddish song Mayn Rue Platz, and the ancient percussive tones of Nubar Nubar bring fresh sounds and ideas with every track, but there is a unifying character: old, often simple, always moving melodies, made new on violin and cello.
© Alex Monaghan


Áine Heslin "The Tunes Foundry 2"
Own Label, 2018

www.aineheslinmusic.com

A second batch of tunes from a prolific composer, The Tunes Foundry 2 presents 30 new pieces, each recorded as a single track, making this CD more like a learning aid for a tunebook - and indeed there is a new book too, beautifully typeset, containing all 53 tunes from both Áine's albums, for those who prefer to read the dots or who like a little bit of background info. Check Áine's website for samples of audio and transcriptions - there's no audio from the second CD as I write, but I'm sure there will be before long. Eight reels, twelve jigs, and ten assorted dance tunes fill The Tunes Foundry 2, all nicely played on solo whistle, most with guitar accompaniment. Ms Heslin sticks to the friendly key signatures of G, D and A, with plenty of minor modes too: nothing that won't fit on a flute or a set of uilleann pipes.
You can hear the Clare tradition in many of the melodies here, particularly the jigs, some of which come very close to familiar tunes. Áine's march Rathbaun Farm reminds me strongly of a song air, and I am sorely tempted to tweak the first B part ending of O'Regan's Jig to fit what I expected. Other compositions are very distinctive, with their own character but still in keeping with Irish traditional music: The Mad Half Hour has a Stateside ring to my ears, and the crooked reel Ryan's Tea would fit the French Canadian style at a pinch. Of course, if it were Barry's Tea there'd be no doubting its roots. There's plenty of new and interesting material for any Irish musician, from simple polkas to complex hornpipes. The Tunes Foundry 2 ends with the attractive waltz Bláthú, the only slow piece here, written as a soundtrack for the Rose of Tralee competition: I'd say any rose would be delighted with it.
© Alex Monaghan


Rydvall Mjelva "Vårvindar Friska"
Own Label, 2019

www.rydvallmjelva.com

A third album of breathtaking music from Swedish keyed fiddle player Erik Rydvall and Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Olav Mjelva, Värvindar Friska also cunningly completes the triptych of album covers for a very pleasing visual effect if you have all three! About half of this material is traditional, mostly from Hallingdal in Norway but with some old Swedish tunes too. The other half is all Rydvall and Mjelva originals, so this collection is a true meeting of Swedish and Norwegian music old and new. There's even a new bridal march in the old style.
Many of the tracks here are dance music - polskas, waltzes, and the more distinctive Norwegian springar, gangar and laus. The boundary between old and new is blurred, with the playing style and compositions of Rydvall Mjelva respecting traditional forms and techniques. There are exceptions - Rydvall's Kaffemonstret gets a Casey Driessen treatment for instance - but much of Värvindar Friska could have been heard a hundred years ago or more. There's a resonant depth to this recording which may come from the extra strings on both instruments, but also a brightness and purity which is almost unbearable at times when the nyckelharpa nears the top of its range. The icing on a superb cake is the final Stout's Waltz, composed by Olav for the great Shetland fiddler Chris Stout, with a bit of help from the trows. Värvindar Friska goes on the shortlist for my 2019 Top Ten.
© Alex Monaghan


Aoibheann & Pamela Queally "Beyond the Bellows & the Bow"
Own Label, 2019

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German CD Review

Two young stars steeped in West Clare music, the Queally sisters have come up through the ranks with generations of great players behind them, and their performances are already well known in their home place. Beyond the Bellows & the Bow sees them branch out - not in terms of material, which remains firmly Irish traditional, but in reach and arrangement. Pamela's fiddle and Aoibheann's concertina are joined here by Eoin O'Neill's bouzouki, Gearóid McNamara's keyboard, Shane Creed's guitar, and a spot of accordion from Nuala Hehir, creating a full and varied sound across almost an hour of tunes sweetly played.
Sweeney's Buttermilk, The Roscommon Reel, Short Grass, The Flax in Bloom, Miss Thornton's and many more classic reels and jigs trip lightly off these girls' fingers. There's no rush, no running of notes together, no race to the finish: every tune is given space to breathe, and every track is taken at a sympathetic pace. Slower pieces such as Miss Galvin's Barndance and The Groves Hornpipe give a refreshing change of tempo, but there's none of the frenzy or fatigue heard on more hurried albums. Aoibheann and Pamela have chances to shine individually, although their duets are so pleasant that it's almost a shame to hear a solo. There's a handful of pieces by named composers - Finbarr Dwyer, Mick O'Connor, Liz Carroll, Niall Vallely, Caitlín Nic Gabhann, in no particular chronological order - and of course there's Paddy Fahey's and Sean Ryan's and a few other stalwarts of the tradition. Fresh, fun, and fiercely traditional, this CD will win the Queally sisters many friends. Email queallysistersmusic @ gmail . com for more information.
© Alex Monaghan


The Schmoozenbergs "Awaken"
Own Label, 2019

www.schmusic.co.uk

Artist Video

Americana is a vague term - America is of course a melting pot of cultures, so it's not surprising to hear hints of Russian, Arab, Balkan and other Old World music in what is essentially an early jazz album. Think Django, Goodman, Perlman perhaps. What's more surprising is that this quartet operates from Bristol - that's Bristol England - and every piece on Awaken is their own creation. It's all instrumental, and as catchy as influenza - in a good way! Babyfoot is just a delight, and the heavyweight gypsy jazz of the cunningly-named Finale provides a dramatic conclusion.
The Schmoozenbergs are four extremely talented musicians, but they cook for six, and many tracks here are simply sublime. The individual players strut their stuff in a series of solos on Runaway: violin, double bass, and two guitars. There are a few timing issues - particularly on the challenging polyrhythmic Wren and Iseult's Bees. Maybe the new tunes need to bed in a little. In places the guitar sound is a little muddy, whether through recording or performance, but otherwise this recording is crisp and clear. The Schmoozenbergs are certainly worth hearing, on a par with groups like the Boxcar Boys but still a step or two behind Brishten or the Hot Club of Cowtown.
© Alex Monaghan


Spöket i Köket "Château du Garage"
GO Danish Folk, 2019

www.madskh.dk

German CD Review

Excitement, adventure, and really wild things! That's pretty much what Spöket i Köket deliver on their second album, combining Danish heritage with a large helping of Francophone folk and a few odds and ends from east and west. This ten-piece concert band kicks off with a set of killer tunes that mixes John Spiers' powerhouse F**k the Tories with a traditional Quebec reel, as well as touches of '70s folk rock, Cajun dance music, and burlesque brass. Lööf Actually is more identifiably Scandinavian, a raucous drinking song and a couple of driving polskas. Light is Dim takes us on a trip to steamy South America for a jazzy song about rough romance and rougher food. The Danglish lyrics are intriguing, almost as bad as the puns, and the instrumental breaks are superb.
More music in the Scandinavian tradition - the bewitching En Varmare Sol which reminds me distressingly of the song from the movie Babe, and a lovely waltz with an over-long name, both written by band leader Nisse Blomster - bring us to a Quebec turlutte, a lilted melody with podorhythmie, jaw harp and more. When the hurdy-gurdy buzzes in, the mood darkens to a troll-style Finnish polska which justifies the band's name "Ghost in the Kitchen". A pair of reels give the brass section a chance for some improvisation, and include an impressive melodeon solo: Reel à la Carte is a highlight, another Blomster blockbuster, this time in the Quebec style. A couple of gentler tracks - an air, and a song about Canadian voyageurs - lead to another highlight, the gorgeous lullaby Ninos Vaggvisa, a simple little tune with its own soothing beauty. More Danish dance music, a stupendous set of Celtic and Canadian music, and that's almost the end - a great album of big band folk music which I highly recommend.
© Alex Monaghan


Various Artists "The Thursday Sessions: The Cobblestone Pub"
Own Label, 2018

www.cobblestonepub.ie

German CD Review

A wide range of fine traditional Irish music is performed here by the surprisingly young crowd who play in the Cobblestone pub in Dublin on a Thursday night. A score of musicians are featured - Galvins, Kennedys, McCarthys and many more. I've never known a Cobblestone session with so few reels, or so many highlands and waltzes, but this CD does provide great variety as well as some excellent performances in small and large groups. Fiddles, flute and concertina kick off with a classic trio of reels: Love at the Endings, Dublin Porter of course, and The Master's Return. A fiddle duet on another couple of reels is followed by a meaty pair of slip jigs on pipes and fiddle. Two Donegal waltzes keep us away from reel time a little longer - the notes explain that there's a strong Donegal association with The Thursday Sessions, and a fondness for waltzes seems to be part of that.
It's back to reels for Martin Wynne's and The Widow's Daughter, superbly played on flute and fiddle by rising stars Deirdre Hurley and Jacqui Martin, before the first of two songs from Antaine O'Faracháin: Brockagh Brae, in the popular vein of emigration songs, with a twist. One more rake of reels, this time from the McCarthy family led by piper Nollaig, ends with a driving version of Miss McLeod's as Deirdre's concertina fills in with the pipe regulators and Sinéad's fiddle drops an octave to provide extra depth. Waltzes, jigs, a bouncy set of polkas featuring the ever-young Paul O'Shaughnessy on flute, and two tracks of Donegal highlands are squeezed around another song from Antaine, this time in Irish: Sheáin Bháin Beir Orm. The final pair of reels brings all hands to the pumps - and then back to their instruments for The Ashplant and The Galtee Rangers. Lovely tunes, informative sleevenotes and an attractive design make The Thursday Sessions a CD worth seeking out - the only problem is you may have to visit the Cobblestone pub to get your hands on a copy! (It's on King Street, just off the old Smithfield market, it has Cobblestone written on both sides.)
© Alex Monaghan


Elephant Sessions "What Makes You"
Own Label, 2019

www.elephantsessions.com

Artist Video

It turns out that fiddle and mandolin can be a very exciting sound, and a very Scottish sound, at least in the hands of Euan Smillie and Alasdair Taylor. The third album from these mould-breaking musicians is a maturing of their music, a step beyond the CD which won Best Album awards in 2017, and an affirmation of the performance skills which scooped Best Live Act in 2018. In short, it's another triumph for Elephant Sessions.
There's more to it than that, of course. The duo who front this five-piece folk-funk-rock combo share the composing credits with prolific bassist Seth Tinsley, and between them they create modern dance music in the footsteps of Moxie, Millish, Mànran and probably other bands beginning with M. Glasgow's ceilidh-clubbing fusions have had an influence too - think Niteworks, Treacherous, Sketch. Much of What Makes You can be treated as acoustic folk - from the Balkan rhythms of the title track to the swinging punchy reel Colours, the Shooglenifty echoes in Search Party to the laid-back cultivation of Loft Crofter - but Elephant Sessions is actually far more complex.
Guitar and drums, synths and programming, weave a rich cloth which shifts and shimmers the more you look at it. Tyagarah mixes West African kora sounds with wild jig rhythms, undercut by synthesiser effects. We Out Here Now pits Alasdair's mandolin and Euan's fiddle against a big-band backing which I half expected to break into a Blues Brothers number. After a chilling pause, the 2-part finale Riverview shows the subtlety and splendour of this band: an eerie solo violin air slowly builds into an industrial anthem, cue cleverly concealed drum roll, and suddenly we're raving and jiving with jeans and hoodies, horns and strings, strobe lights and heavy backbeats, anything but folk, all driven by fiddle and mandolin. That's the magic of Elephant Sessions.
© Alex Monaghan


Lydia Ievins & Juha Kujanpää "Koivu"
Own Label, 2019

www.lydiamusic.org

This duo is united by a love of the slower Scandinavian repertoire, and of birch trees. Koivu is the Finnish word for a birch tree, and both American fiddler Lydia Ievins and Finnish pianist Juha Kujanpää have seen thousands on their travels. The music here draws on Scandinavian traditions, rather than the more unusual rhythms and cadences of rural Finland, and much of it comes across as almost classical, but it is all either traditional or written by these two musicians. There are a few recent compositions where the composer is known, but they are firmly in the traditional idiom. Melodies from Finland, Sweden and Norway are performed on five string fiddle and nyckelharpa, concert piano and harmonium, and many tracks are simply beautiful. A Swedish bridal march is bewitching on harmonium and fiddle. The well-known Till Far is achingly played on nyckelharpa. Lydia's own Belle of Greensboro is worth the price of this CD on its own, a gorgeous graceful waltz, and the Swedish waltz Till Havs i Motorbåt comes a close second. Juha's Sälskär with its 5-bar phrases is a catchy little piece. Polska efter Schedin and Aurora's Schottis both lean towards the classical, but are still among my favourites here. You'll have your own, I'm sure: try Lydia's website, or google Ievins and Kujanpää for more information.
© Alex Monaghan


Pauanne "Pauanne"
Nordic Notes, 2019

www.pauannemusic.com

I don't know too much about this young Finnish trio, except that their music is amazing and the sleeve notes for this debut CD are fascinating. A mixture of acoustic and electronic, old and new, archive recordings and their own compositions, Pauanne play fiddle, keyboards and percussion with lots of extras. Crazy singing and chanting, shepherd calls, programming and spoken words are mixed through some glorious melodies: the hypnotic Rauta, the troll dance Maakillinen Voima, the comic Mäntiin me Kerran Markkinoille, and the frankly disturbing Taivallahden Pohjalla. Evry track is a surprise and delight.
Themes such as magic, dementia, feminism, religion, tolerance and generosity towards others, aliens, animal husbandry, people power, and of course dead lovers, are explored in mainly instrumental music with snatches of song and some longer vocal passages. I laughed, cried, danced and sang - in my head at least. With prodigious musical prowess and great creativity in their compositions and arrangements, Pauanne have created a remarkable album. Their name comes from an old Finnish thunder god, and boy do they brew up a storm! This CD will be in my 2019 Top Ten, I'm sure.
© Alex Monaghan


Jean-François Bélanger "Les Entrailles de la Montagne"
Own Label, 2017

www.jfbelanger.com

A most intriguing album, highly entertaining but hard to describe. The first piece is a mix of Balkan and Indian sounds, mixed rhythms on tabla and several stringed instruments. Raukar/Drakkar seems more Scandinavian, nyckelharpa over muted accompaniment on a stately slow march. Later tracks bring tastes of French, Irish, and classical styles. Bélanger has composed most of the music here, although there is a large traditional influence: he plays a wide range of strings, plus concertina, flute and percussion. Jean-François is joined by Yann Falquet on guitar and jaw harp, and by several other musicians on woodwind, brass, strings and percussion for a very full sound on many tracks. There are some vocals, but no real words: Les Entrailles de la Montagne is almost a tone poem, with a poetic narrative in the notes. The chill of Nordic music, and the mysticism of trolls and ice giants, are the main charecteristics of this album for me. Contemporary moods such as Une Meute d'Hivers and La Route Vivide contrast with more traditional pieces Pitou's Trip to Norway or La Broussaille. The title track puts me in mind of Greig's Peer Gynt suite, and the final atrocious pun Horreur Boreale is in the same vein as Martyn Bennett's Joik or Trolska Polska's trance-like compositions. Flawlessly played, endlessly varied and fascinatingly complex, this CD makes the music of Jean-François Bélanger very accessible. If you like Les Entrailles de la Montagne, there's plenty more to hear on his website.
© Alex Monaghan


The Lumber Jills "The Lumber Jills"
Own Label, 2019

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This CD is an absolute joy. Four young ladies from New Brunswick on Canada's east coast are supported by Stacey Read and Danny Bourgeois on strings and percussion. Three fiddles and a piano, four stepdancers and four voices give The Lumber Jills a lot of musical options. They kick off with an ambitious piece, picking up from a vintage recording of Ivan Hicks playing Shingle the Roof, matching him note for note on reels old and new before capping the set with the New Brunswick classic Mouth of the Tobique. Read's Step Assis is another instant winner, a great melody with powerful stepping and honky-tonk piano. New Brunswick Waltz is the first of a few slower moments, and a sign of the pride this quartet feels in its province's tradition. Highlights are too many to mention them all, but the Autumn's Amber trio of Stacey's tunes is a delight, the pair of Ned Landry classics Bowing the Strings and Ontario Swing shows another side of Canadian fiddle showmanship, and the French Canadian tradition is beautifully represented by the Jigue de Pointe-Sapin medley which ends with a great grinding Andy DeJarlis reel.
Pianist Machaela Osowski shines in a few places - the gorgeous air Mae Rose and the following jig Cottonwoods, the storming Reel du Pont de l'Étang, and the more contemporary Stickney Way for instance. It's harder to tell who's playing which fiddle, but all three fiddlers are flash and feisty, and the three-part arrangements in many places ensure nobody is left in background. Amélie de Arcos and Machaela each lead a vocal number, the Acadian nonsense song Le Grain de Mil and the modern country Farthest Field, but despite strong backing from all four girls these tracks didn't wow me like the instrumentals. Janelle Melanson and Martha Pitre add their fiddles to Amélie's for Osowski's jig The Break and de Arcos' Reel Galicia, both cracking compositions. Polished performances, punchy arrangements, deadly tunes and a deep appreciation of the Canadian fiddle tradition make the Lumber Jills a really fresh and exciting group, great to have on CD and equally good in concert judging by their one live track here. Check out their Facebook page - The Lumber Jills - and don't be surprised if you see them on my 2019 Top Ten list!
© Alex Monaghan


Paul Anderson "Beauties of the North"
Own Label, 2019

www.paulandersonscottishfiddler.com

If you had to choose two dozen Scottish slow airs, what would they be? There are some which spring to mind instantly, and some I'm sure we would disagree on. Tarland fiddle master Paul Anderson has made his selection here, and I have to say it's pretty good! Recorded in Shetland, Perth, Elgin and Aberdeen, all key locations in the Scottish fiddle tradition, Beauties of the North not surprisingly concentrates on highland music from around Aberdeen and Inverness, and ventures as far west as St Kilda, as far north as Unst, and as far south as Pentcaitland. Paul's fiddle is reinforced at times by George Donald on piano and Tony McManus on guitar, and the final Loch Tay Boat Song revives the wonderful combolins of the Corries, invented by Roy Williamson and played here by Dave Sinton. Some of the nuances of this CD require a quiet environment: I've listened in the car and found it unsatisfactory, but on a good pair of headphones or decent indoor speakers the tone and richness is stunning.
Neil Gow's Lament for the Death of his Second Wife is the first piece here, an obvious choice, beautifully played. I never found out what happened to wife number one. Gow, Marshall and Skinner crop up on several tracks, only outnumbered by Anderson's own compositions which for the most part hold their own in such exalted company. Luskentyre, for the beach on the west coast of Harris, and The Stone of Destiny for a significant chunk of Scottish rock, show two sides of Paul's composing muse, the intricate and the dreamy. They are separated by Hector MacAndrew's Gight Castle, one of a handful of old tunes which were unfamiliar to me. The Braes of Auchtertyre, a big meaty strathspey, is the first piece associated with Skinner: others are the wonderful Hector the Hero and the elegant Bovaglie's Plaid. There are five Paul Anderson originals here, all fine tunes: my favourite is The Beauty of Cromar Before Me which is simply stunning with multiple fiddle harmonies.
Several airs might claim to be the saddest in the Scottish fiddle repertoire - Donald Riddell's powerful Lament for King George V, the unattributed Prince Charlie's Last View of Scotland which marked the end of Jacobite attempts to reclaim the Scottish throne, or Captain Simon Fraser's lament for the death of the great Neil Gow. All these poignant melodies are here, but for me there is only one choice for ultimate sadness: Neil Gow's 1799 lament Farewell to Whisky. (His joyful Welcome Whisky Back Again is not on this album, needless to say!) Every track on Beauties of the North is a gem, from the singalong Macpherson's Rant to the earthy Scandinavian harmonies of The Unst Wedding March. The one that stands out for me, and has done since I heard Aly Bain play it a long time ago, is Mrs Jamieson's Favourite by Charles Grant who lived among the great distilleries of Speyside in the early 1800s. You'll have your own favourites, of course: I wonder if they are among Paul Anderson's Beauties of the North.
© Alex Monaghan


Emilyn Stam & Filipo Gambetta "Shorelines"
Borealis Records, 2018

www.emilynstam.com
www.filippogambetta.com

Article: I Liguriani

Playing button box, fiddle and piano, this duo produced a blend of Italian traditional and contemporay tunes with transatlantic folk from the west coast of Canada. Their music ebbs and flows like the coastal waters which inspired it. Polkas, bourrées, mazurkas and waltzes are among the forms which wrap around Stam and Gambetta's creativity. A traditional Ligurian polka precedes Filippo's nostalgic Mazurkona. Stam's Spontaneous Zucchini is altogether more urgent, one of several pieces reflecting the speed of life in urban Canada. The title track was composed by the late great Oliver Schroer,, and bears his hallmark quirky rhythms. Another mazurka, two traditional Alessandrinas and a new tarantella bring us to the final track, a surprisingly gentle piece by Stam, a contemplative note to end this varied and intriguing album.
© Alex Monaghan


Tagelfar "Murbräckan"
Own Label, 2019

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Nyckelharpa, bass nyckelharpa, guitar - and that's it. With these three instruments, Tagelfar produce a fabulous mixture of traditional and new music, well worth hearing even if Swedish strings are not usually your thing. The title track is a wonderfully funky dance tune by Einar Zethelius, Scandinavian swing: Murbräckan means battering ram, and this piece is certainly a smash. The gentler Pilates Blå is another of Einar's compositions - there are five of his tunes here, and three by fellow nyckelharpa master Johan Lång. Anton Larsson provides guitar accompaniment and tasty picking: you can hear his fingerwork on two traditional polskas, before the dreamy Vals 50, apparently the 50th Zethelius composition.
Johan's Hallving has an insistent rhythm, merging the traditional Swedish Halling with modern dance music. The menacing minor melody of Vilse i Stadsskogen and the very traditional-sounding Tibben bring us to another track which combines two tunes: a Lång original and a charming old waltz from the Byss-Kalle manuscripts, showing how close Tagelfar's music is to the Swedish tradition. The final pair of tunes underlines this with two polskas by Einar which he has named Muntergöker 1 & 2, meaning happy chappies. They certainly bring a smile, and fit perfectly into the polska repertoire. Every track on this album is carefully crafted and superbly played. I highly recommend you listen to Murbräckan, and it may make well my 2019 Top Ten list. Tagelfar don't seem to have a website, but there are some online videos to whet your appetite. You can find Tagelfar on Facebook, or email them: tagelfar . music @ gmail . com should work.
© Alex Monaghan


Out of Hand "Too Young to Drive the Bus"
WildGoose, 2019

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Springing from England's National Youth Folklore Troupe, this six-piece ceilidh band averaged just 21 years old at the time of launching their debut CD, but have already toured major festivals with both dance and concert performances. Their line-up is unusual - no big driving melody boxes, but a solid folk-rock back line of bass, guitar and drums, fronted by fiddle, recorder and mandolin. Penny Kempson on fiddle is certainly able to hold the attention on jigs and reels: when she drops out the melody line is impoverished, but for dancing this is not crucial. (I've seen English ceilidh bands with no melody at all!)
There's a good mix of old and new here, mainly Irish and Scottish with smatterings of French and American, not much English except what the band write themselves. Padraig Rynne's jig Bye a While nestles between tunes by McCusker and Barou, and in fact between two other sets of jigs. Reels are rarer here, although there is a fine up-tempo take on Roslyn Castle joined to the oldtime classic June Apple, and Canoer's Reel by Kempson is a catchy little number. There's a charming waltz of Penny's too, and a plucky version of The Butterfly with some striking chords.
Comparisons are always difficult, but I feel it's only fair to say that while Out of Hand is a good example of current English instrumental bands, it is not anything like the young bands coming out of Ireland or Scotland. Don't expect the same technical prowess or polished performances as Cúig or Eriska, let alone the likes of Eryn Rae or Haley Richardson. When this outfit turns to challenging pieces such as The Silver Spire or The Road to Errogie, there is a big difference between the English version and what you'd hear in a Scottish or Irish session. That said, Too Young to Drive the Bus ends with a very respectable rendition of Mike McGoldrick's Farewell to Whalley Range, so maybe the reels will come good next time.
© Alex Monaghan


Mads Hansens Kapel "Mor Dig Først, Spørg Bagefter"
Go Danish, 2019

www.madshansenskapel.dk

Two years ago this Danish quintet released a very appetising EP,[67] five tracks of dance music daringly played. Now their full album is out - no repeats from the EP either - and we can really appreciate an exciting young band who understand how to play for dancers and how to keep things interesting for listeners too. A word of warning though: don't try to listen to this on low volume or in a noisy environment. It was only when I took it out of the car stereo and put it on my PC with headphones that I heard all the things I'd been missing! Oh, and by the way, Mor Dig Først, Spørg Bagefter is also available on vinyl, whatever that is.
Mads Hansens Kapel is led by fiddle and clarinet, with guitar, bass and piano providing all the rhythm the dancers need. Jonas Clausen, Martin Lorenzen, Sebastian Larsen, Emil Nielsen and Julian Jørgensen work their magic, fine Danish names all. Information on the tunes is sadly lacking, at least on the CD version, so I can only assume that most material is traditional, although there are at least three pieces I recognise from the British Isles. På den Sikre Side, a play on their EP title, includes two traditional Firetur tunes (rather like reels), plus the Scottish/Irish reel Mason's Apron in its basic form, and Andrew Gifford's recent reel Calgary Fiddlers' Trip to Shetland. På den Lyse Side starts with a clarinet version of that great English/Canadian jig The Champion. Æ Hollænder is also familiar, but most of the Danish material here is new to me.
Each track can contain four or more tunes, although the names are not provided. Polkas, waltzes, mazurkas, reinlænders and other forms are executed with rare skill and sensitivity, and often with humour. Snaldervals opens on a bass guitar solo, and Skibet der Ikke Kunne Synke comes close to swing or honky-tonk dance music from the southern USA, whereas Pruhest Mazurka has a more classical feel. There's a bit of jazz, a bit of Klezmer, a lot of Teutonic oompah, and plenty of variety: good music, glorious musicianship, and great fun!
© Alex Monaghan


Aidan O'Rourke "365: Volume 2"
Reveal Records, 2019

www.aidanorourke.net

The second part of this massive project sees this innovative Oban fiddler pass the 12% mark on his mission to compose and record 365 new tunes. Not just any 365 tunes either: each one is inspired by a one-page story in James Robertson's book 365. The titles - from For about a month to On this day the first recorded total eclipse of Scotland took place - are the opening lines of each day's story. I know this because the stories themselves are fully printed in the sleevenotes, and they are worth a read.
Aidan does have some help, from keyboards player Kit Downes who not only accompanies many tracks but also had a hand in the composition and arrangement. In fact, the opening piece is much more piano than fiddle, and the same applies to several others here. The first couple of compositions are slow, gentle, one might almost say dull. The spikiness of The film was preceded by a warning that it contained some moderate violence changes all that - it is frantic, hurried, threatening even - and That braggart has it coming to him continues the liveliness but with a more tempered cadence.
So it goes on, across two CDs, a change every two or three minutes as a new story unfolds. Acoustic fiddle, piano and harmonium, individually or in combination, reflect each mood, each narrative. There are some powerful pieces which stick in the mind - I met him only once, My father and I are reading the papers, and the beautiful Some stories are so good that they deserve repeating in every generation are ones which particularly impressed me. There are many to choose from, and many more to come.
© Alex Monaghan


Kristina Künzel "Leileckerland"
Own Label, 2019

www.kristinakuenzel.de

Artist Video

There's always something new to learn: this album has introduced me to Sorbian music, from an area on the modern German-Polish border which was part of the extensive Sorb kingdom stretching from the Baltic to the Mediterranean a thousand years ago. Little remains of Sorbia now, but there is still a rich culture shared by less than 100,000 people, and a body of written music from which Kristina Künzel takes her first selection here: two Sorbian song melodies on twin European bagpipes. Piper, fluter, and player of the Swedish moraharpa, Kristina is classically trained on the recorder and provides some fine examples of overtone-flute music on this debut recording. Her piping is equally accomplished, and her compositions are engaging, with many of them suiting folk dancers as well as listeners. With the exception of the opening and closing tracks, everything here is a Künzel composition, and her titles are memorable: The Strawb-Munching Dragon, The Cross Carrot, Baby Blueberry - all charmingly bucolic. Leileckerland translates as a Plattdeutsch version of Shangri-la, a land of milk and honey - or beer and dumplings more likely - where lazy monkeys can sit about all day playing pipes in the sun. Sounds good to me! Polkas, mazurkas, bourrées, airs and more fall from the fingers of Frau Künzel. She focuses on the pipes, and on music from around Saxony, but the sound is necessarily similar to Dutch, Danish, and even central French folk. Eene Meene Peene could come from Burgundy, Brabant, or Bornholm, but was actually inspired by the fascinating flatlands in the very north-eastern corner of Germany. Tante Erna is a similarly pan-European waltz for a well-travelled pet. 333 has a more contemporary sound, its modal cadences perhaps suited to the soundtrack of an Omen prequel. Kristina ends this hardcore piping CD with a Renaissance dance, Saltus Hungaricus, reminiscent of the Charpentier dances from 17th century France. Leileckerland is a work of imagination and flair, a fascinating glimpse of central European piping old and new.
© Alex Monaghan


Tristan Le Govic Trio "Dañs"
Own Label, 2019

www.tristanlegovic.eu

Artist Video

Tristan Le Govic has teamed up with bassist Tangi Le Hénanff and drummer Alan Quéré-Moysan to form a trio based around the music of the Breton harp - what else? In a selection mainly composed by Tristan, this threesome blends dance music and concert pieces, traditional and contemporary material, with styles from rock to jazz to fest noz. An acknowledged harp maestro, Le Govic launches into four of his own pieces: the experimental Harpo, and then a three-movement suite based on Breton dance rhythms which takes the delicate round dances of long festival nights and turns them into a cool jazz concerto. Adding to various percussive effects on the harp, Tangi and Alan contribute a backdrop of tones and rhythms to weave a colourful sonic tapestry. All three provide vocals on the cheery song of poverty and starvation J'ai Dix Sous Dans Ma Poche. The tinkling Polsakaille has a bittersweet feel before another Breton dance suite Heuliad Plin: a sequence of Ton Simpl, Bal and Ton Doubl. Le Govic plays in a very melodic, sparsely ornamented style, each melody note ringing out with minimal accompaniment, creating an eerie magical sound. The traditional Swedish Inte Sörjer Jag is rather different, as the flute of Markus Tullberg takes the lead, allowing the harp to extemporise. On the two final tracks, this trio dials up the jazz and adds a bit of Latin swing to finish with a flourish: solo breaks, cymbal smashes and plenty of surprises bring Dañs to a powerful conclusion. The Tristan Le Govic Trio brings something new to every track on this very enjoyable album.
© Alex Monaghan


Sirus "Lummen"
Own Label, 2019

www.sirusquartet.com

Another of those all-star quartets made up of two duos, Sirus combines the amazing talents of fiddle-accordion pair Baltazar Montanaro and Sophie Cavez with the visceral virtuosity of Scandi soulmates Josefina Paulson and Jonas Åkerlund on nyckelharpa, fiddle, guitar, flute and Swedish bagpipes. Despite this variety of instruments, there is a consistent character to Lummen's music: it reminds me of the southern French group Concert Dans l'Oeuf, although their sound had more North African influence, but with the same almost-medieval feel as here, earthy and strong, simple yet seductive. The soundtrack of the French film Le Retour de Martin Guerre is another resonance, its gamba lines perhaps more similar to Montanaro's octave violin.
All the material on Sirus is original, roughly evenly shared, with the lads just outstripping the lasses in composing credits. Every piece is precise, powerful, even the delicate Molécule and Mazurka des Adieux - both by Baltazar incidentally. Jonas' Niké (no pun intended) opens proceedings with a clear Scandinavian flavour, polska-like, given a pleasant buzz by the nyckelharpa and low-strung fiddle. There's a swing to several pieces here - Viola is a good example - while others are straight dance rhythms that could come from any European tradition. The prettily piped Soffan and the more muscular Harald fit the Anglo-French canon perfectly. The gentler Louise and Marius are both delicious soothing tunes. The final two tracks show more of Monanaro's Hungarian roots, rhythmically and melodically, but stay true to the character of this very fine debut CD from an exciting new combination.
© Alex Monaghan


Skolvan "Ti Ar Seven"
Coop Breizh, 2018

www.skolvan.com

After thirty-something years of touring and recording, Skolvan's mix of Breton dance and bright jazzy tunes is still fresh and irresistible. The mix of jazz and folk is a popular one in Brittany - bands such as Barzaz, Bleizi Ruz and Ti Jaz have taken this road, and the Breton bassist Dan Ar Braz has gone even further. Skolvan combine bombarde and sax, accordion and guitar, for a very varied sound which can be almost pure tradition as on Lies Pevar, or fully contemporary like the mazurka Coquin Cherche Coquine, but is usually somewhere in between. There are some great examples of their music here: the opening Sous les Lampions, the toe-tapping Scottishs des Charrettes by guitarist Gilles Le Bigot, and the Rond de Loudéac by box-player Régis Huiban. Skolvan throw in a traditional Flemish air, and finish with a song by author Gildas Le Buhé set to another Huiban composition. You'll find plenty to enjoy on Ti Ar Seven, and plenty of previous Skolvan recordings to explore.
© Alex Monaghan


Topette! "Rhododendron"
Own Label, 2019

www.topette.co.uk

Artist Video

A second CD from these Anglo-Gallic funsters whose incredibly dance-friendly music has wowed concerts and ceilidhs across Europe (Brexit - don't go there) for the past couple of years.[65] Front line stars Andy Cutting and Julien Cartonnet on button box and pipes are joined by fantastic fiddler James Delarre. Behind these boys are the big bass sound of Barn Stradling and the brassy bodhran of the genteel Tania Buisse whose vocals are missing from this recording. That's the sound running through most tracks on Rhododendron, and my goodness does it work!
Topette's repertoire of French and English dance music is actually almost all recent compositions here, including several pieces by the band themselves. A pair of contemporary French ronds, introduced by Julien on banjo, is followed by tunes from English fiddlers Chris Wood and Tom Moore - the wonderful Archer Street - sounding much older than the reality. Stradling and Cartonnet provide the title track, although I suspect Tania may have influenced the name of the second tune. More from Turpault, Cutting, Gray and Cantonnet, all in traditional vein: waltzes, bourrées, mazurkas, each selection is marked with a dance tempo. The old Playford melody Bloomsbury Market is noted as a Schottische, and is a lovely tune however you dance it. Niall Vallely's Oblique Jig is something of an outlier in an otherwise non-Celtic selection, but it is sympathetically absorbed into another piece by Andy.

Rhododendron ends with two surprising tracks, a Balkan dance from Galicia via Poland, and a winter waltz helpfully titled Vintervalsen from Sweden. There's some fancy fingering on the French pipes to fit Galician Sher onto their pastoral scale, and the bass lead on the final melody is both contrasting and captivating. Maybe Toppette's next release will be a Scandi-Balkan skiing gypsy fest - or maybe not - but either way I'm sure it will be worth waiting for. In the meantime, wrap your eclectic ears around this album, and get out there to listen and dance at this band's many live performances! © Alex Monaghan



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