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MAY 2023




Ímar are an amazing Scottish-Irish-Manx alliance with deep roots extending into the now-dispersed Welsh band Jamie Smith’s Mabon, Talisk, Rura, Manran and Isle of Man musicians Mec Lir and Barrule – and now they have released their third album in a long-awaited five years. The personnel consists of irrepressible concertina ace Mohsen Amini, fiery fiddler Tomás Callister, rock-solid bouzouki player Adam Rhodes, Irishman and uilleann piper Ryan Murphy, who doubles on whistle and flute, and Norfolk-born Adam Brown on bodhrán and guitar. The band takes their name from a Norse king who was leader of Scotland and Ireland in the late ninth century; his descendants went on to rule the Irish Sea for hundreds of years. The cover artwork, by Bruno Cavellec, shows the becrowned hero with sword in hand, gazing out upon a sunlit loch.

The five band members met as teenagers through the Irish traditional network Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, which also stages the famous Fleadh contests. The trophy cabinet must be groaning now; as well as the BBC Folk Awards, they have stacked up nine All-Ireland and eight All-Britain titles between them, while Ryan is also a double winner at the prestigious Oireachtas competion.

Mohsen, Tomás and Ryan composed all the slides, jigs, reels and polkas, which are pretty tornado-like and played as only Ímar can. The only exceptions are the traditional reels ‘Maids of Mitcheltown’ and the Manx stormer ‘Jerrey yn Teihll’, ‘Paddy Kelly’s’ and ‘Rose In The Garden’, the last reel in the album – but surely nobody could dance to tunes played this fast! You begin to suspect that some gleeful prankster has speeded up the recordings to a very-high degree – but no, the band are unquestionably masters of their art and absolute world-class vituosos, and their performance is so teeth-grittingly tight and razor-sharp that it’s really impossible see the join. Andrea Gobbi laid the tracks down at GloWorm Studios in Glasgow city centre, and Alan Douches mastered the tracks in New York; and it’s a roaring whirlwind of a jaw-dropper.

Awakening kicks off with the three-tune ‘Bangers’; Mohsen and Tomás write the lion’s share and Ryan contributes three to the album. The percussive ‘Splinter O’Neill’ is dedicated to sound engineer Kevin O’Neill, also flautist with Treacherous Orchestra, and Tomas’s delicate ‘Waterhorse’ (also known as a glashtyn in Manx folklore) brings Ryan’s flute and pipes to the fore. ‘Eoghainn’s’ is dedicated to fellow musician Eoghainn Beaton, who suffered a road accident; Ryan created the tune, and his pipes steer the melody with a melancholy atmosphere. Tomàs creates a heartachingly beautiful air, called ‘Fenella’s’; and the band finally wrap up with a trio of written tunes (‘Legal Tǿnder’) and the roaring ‘The Tree of Life’, in which Callister and Amini swop exhilarating self-written material before the band climax with the sizzling ‘Rose In The Garden’.

If you’re looking for Ímar: file under Exceptional Celtic Music, cross-referencing with Leading Inspiring Innovators, and you won’t go far wrong!


► Prolific songwriter and gravelly-voiced acoustic guitarist Malcolm Holcombe was born in North Carolina in 1955 and is a cancer survivor; following his diagnosis, both he and multi-instrumentalist Jared Tyler decided to make the impressive album Bits & Pieces (independent label, no catalogue number), recorded in country capital Nashville. He doesn’t let up at all, and he attacks all 13 tracks with positive energy and conviction with Jared multi-tracking dobro, lap steel, guitars, percussion and tenor banjo – it’s highly entertaining stuff. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!    

Andrew Hawkey, based in London but moved to rural Mid Wales in 1973, has celebrated his 80 years as a writer, solo performer, blues band member, producer and promoter with his compilation album Hindsight (Mole Lodge Records, MLCD003). All 17 tracks, from the 1969/1970 ‘Between Two Horizons’ to the same reprise song revived in 2022, is his musical life in a nutshell; the best track is ‘Help Me’ by Paul Grover’s Blues Zeros (1994) and the absolute nadir is ‘Take Me’, written by Jane Gilbert and himself (1984). All in all, a very patchy and uneven collection. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down

► Now, this is an unusual, peaceful one; Sheffield cellist and composer Liz Hanks has recorded a 10-track album as she visualises her city before the houses, roads and steel foundries were built. Land (Hudson Records, HUD034CD) is touched with birdsong, bright water and stirring wind, her solo instrument creating soothing aural colours in beautiful simplicity. She names the tunes with one-syllable descriptions, such as ‘Meer’, ‘Keld’, ‘Carr’, ‘Ley’ and ‘Brier’ – it’s gentle nourishment for contemplative thought. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► The album A’ The Way To Galloway (JOM1CD) is a rare and lovely gem of traditional and composed songs and tunes from a part of Scotland whose music reserves wider recognition; singer and fiddler Jo Miller surrounds herself with Dalry fiddler Amy Geddes, Wigtownshire singer Robyn Stapleton, Jo’s son Neil Sutcliffe on piano, concertina and accordion and her husband Steve Sutcliffe on bass concertina. The 14 tracks are brimming over with local dances, beautiful airs and sought-after song material; ‘The Braes of Galloway’ is thought to be the source of the well-known ‘Gallowa’ Hills’, while the aptly-named ‘Miss Jo Miller/Barrow New Brig’ and ‘Polka Mazurka’ are bound to put broad smiles in everyone’s faces. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Acoustic fingerstyle guitarist Jude Edwin-Scott is based in the north-east of England and releases Rambling Rose (Bellyhead 9 Records, BH9RCD09) as his seventh album; his playing is flashy, but his uninspiring songwriting and monotone voice leave a lot to be desired. Sorry, but it doesn’t float my boat at all. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down


Stolen From God

Hatsongs HAT025

Many years ago, when I worked for the Swansea Evening Post, I strolled through The Picton Arcade without realising that this parade of shops, and the named lane behind it, was dedicated to a man who became a hero – but he was branded a villain as well. Thomas Picton was born in 1758 in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, and he was the first high-ranking officer to die in the Battle of Waterloo. However, as Governor of Trinidad, he maintained control through brutality, adopting the philosophy of: “Let them hate so long as they fear”. He horribly tortured Luisa Calderon, a 14-year-old mulatto girl who stood accused of being involved in the theft of £500, to get her to confess. But his name is celebrated in schools, pubs, on the streets and even in towns around the world – and there’s even a South Island ferryport and settlement in New Zealand which is named Picton.

The British State has a long-standing bad reputation of suppressing and smothering the history of the conquered lands; after all, how many people in Stoke Poges or Bexhill-on-Sea have heard of the grim scandal of the Welsh Not, which was systematically designed to rub out the Welsh language? Reg has an admirable reputation of songwriting and performing, but he admits: “How little I knew about Black History in Britain; how little I’d been taught growing up; how little I knew of Empire and how it was made; how little I knew of the grand mansions and the sprawling estates and the enormous handed-down wealth and the great men and women of history who symbolised greatness and colonial and racial superiority and to a large extent how their greatness was achieved, and at what cost to others.”

Stolen From God is a 10-track song cycle, conceived by Reg and revealing how the British Empire was built up – and it wasn’t just Britons who made the wealthy fabulously rich at the expense of Africa. The Dutch, the Portuguese, the French, the Americans were all complicit. The song cycle is a collaboration involving the Southern Senegalese virtuoso kora player and griot praise singer Jali Fily Cissokho, concertina wizz and member of the amazing trio Granny’s Attic, Cohen Braithwaite-Kilcoyne, singers Jaz Gayle and Katie Whitehouse and bass and percussionist Tom Jobling.

The first track, ‘The Jesus Of Lubeck’, describes the Devonian naval commander John Hawkins, who was determined to break into the slave trade, which was controlled by the Portuguese. ‘The Way of Cain’ focuses on Sir Francis Drake; the history books concentrated on the hero who vanquished the Spanish Armada, but left out his slave-trader dealings. ‘England No More’ is about Bristol, who grew fabulously rich on the slave trade; and ‘Good Morning Mr Colston’ centres on Sir Edward Colston, benefactor of Bristol but was a horrific murderous slave-trader too. After his death, Colston left the modern equivalent of £13-and-a-half million to the city, and at least six million of that to the poor and disadvantaged; ‘Stolen From God’ just about sums it all up.

‘Stole Away’ is a about Olaudah Equiano, written by himself in 1789; he bought his freedom from his Quaker owner from the age of 20 for today’s equivalent of £5,500. He married an Englishwoman and became a leading activist in the abolition movement. He died at the age of 52, 10 years before the slave trade ended, and is buried in Whitfield’s Tabernacle in London. ‘The Breath of England’ pinpoints the trial of James Somersett, who was bought in America by Charles Stewart and took him to London to be his servant. James escaped but was recaptured, forced onto a transportation ship and resumed life as slave in Jamaica. His English godparents took the case to Lord Mansfield, who ruled that laws in the colonies did not apply to Britain; by British law, you could own a man abroad but to own a man in Britain was a crime.

‘I Bought Myself an African’, ‘Bridgewater’ and ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ complete a dark account of the age of slavery, and Reg instils a sobering and contemplative mood. You might think that the slave ships are past and gone – but modern-day slavery still exists. When will it ever finish?


O Sun O Moon

True North Records TND811

Respected Canadian songwriter and exceptional guitarist Bruce Cockburn can look back with complete satisfaction on a glittering 50-year career in which he has generated over 350 songs on 34 albums. His song styles range from folk to jazz-influenced rock and his lyrics tackle a broad range of topics including human rights, environmental issues, politics and Christianity. While other singer-songwriters of his age slowing down, Bruce has recorded a dozen new compositions as powerful as any he’s written – and on the eve of his 78th birthday as well. The opening song is ‘On A Roll’, and he attacks a resonator guitar with all the vigour of veteran blues heroes: “Time takes its toll, but in my soul I’m on a roll.”

Recorded in Nashville with his long-time producer Colin Linden, Bruce focusses on a newfound and simplicity and clarity, subjects more spiritual than topical; on ‘Orders’, he sings: “The just, the merciful, the cruel / The stumbling well-intentioned fool / The deft, the oaf, the witless pawn / The golden one life smiles upon / The squalling infant in mid-squall / The neighbours fighting in the hall / The list is long – as I recall / our orders said to love them all.” Or the quiet and gentle ‘Us All’: “Here we are faced with choice / Shelters and walls or open embrace / Like it or not, the human race is us all.” In ‘To Keep The World We Know’, Bruce hands out a stark warning about the growing threat of global warming: “Ashes and mudslides all around / Is this the way to go? / Got to think past your bank account / To keep the world we know.” For the hymn-like title track, he visualises the day when he will slip his mortal coil: “O sun by day, o moon by night / Light my way so I get this right / And if that sun and moon don’t shine / Heaven guide these feet of mine / to Glory.”

The final track, ‘When You Arrive’, is a slinky, lazy, gorgeous jazz tune, clarinet and saxophone to the fore with a memorable singalong chorus to beat them all – You know how you wake up in the middle of the night, and the melody and lyrics just won’t go away, no matter how you try to erase them from your mind? My friends, That definitely is an ear-worm…

All 12 tracks are out-and-out crackers, from ‘Push Comes To Shove’, ‘Colin Went Down To The Water’ and ‘King Of The Bolero’ to ‘When The Spirit Walks In The Room’ and even the delicate instrumental ‘Haiku’. I sincerely hope that it’s not Bruce’s last album; he’s got many more songs to give to mesmerise and delight his audiences around the world. But, as he said: “I’m on a roll” – Cockburn’s not retiring yet!

APRIL 2023


  • The long-lost and well-loved Aberjaber albums are thankfully back again, courtesy of the Spotify digital platform. Composer and musician Peter Stacey, harper Delyth Jenkins and fiddler Stevie Wishart are releasing the 1985 debut album Aberjaber, followed by Aber-dau-jaber (1988) and their swan song Y Bwced Perffaith / The Perfect Bucket. It’s a full-to-overflowing cauldron of traditional and composed Welsh, Galician, Breton, Irish and Scottish tunes – hours of listening heaven. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!


  • When the big pandemic hit in 2020, Maine-born and Boston-based Americana songwriter and guitarist Ellis Paul turned to the internet to rescue the considerable drop in his earnings, doing livestream video shows and composing an impressive 40 new songs. The second hammer-blow was more serious; he was turning 55, and Dupytren’s contracture – a disease that tightly closes fingers into a fist – had settled in both his hands, making performing impossible. While he still had the time left, he recorded song after song; and this album (55, Rosella Records, ROSELLA002) combines 12 intelligent and thought-making tracks. The final one, ‘A Song To Say Goodbye’, is especially poignant. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!


  • English folk pioneer, composer and diatonic accordion player James Kerry surrounds himself with a bunch of friends and leading instrumentalists – James Delarre (Mawkin, Topette!!), Tom Kitching (Pilgrim’s Way, Alberio) and Danny Tonks (Foot Down, Hilltop Band) – in a thoroughly sparkling and bouncy Source (JK2022CD). Eight tracks, from the proud opener ‘Brighton Camp’, the well-loved ‘Blue Eyed Stranger’ to the breathtaking jig ‘Verticulos’, run the gamut of traditional and Morris dances and James’ own hypnotic pieces; it’s a stonking little album, and well done! FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!      


  • The Furrow Collective member and sophisticated songwriter Lucy Farrell releases her beautiful debut album We Are Only Sound (Hudson Records HUD035CD); the Kent-born and Canada-based musician has the audience well and truly hooked with her odd, unconventional melodies and the bewitching clarity of her voice, enhanced by her sparse, hypnotic tenor guitar and viola. Orcadian guitarist Kris Drever, M J Boulter and bassist Ben Nicholls assist assist with Andy Bell producing the 12 tracks, from the opening and very wonderful ‘Paperthin’ to the closing album title song; Andy stamps brilliant perfection in all his work. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!


  • Northumbrian siblings Sam and James are The Brothers Gillespie, who have released the third album The Merciful Road (First Original Music TBGCD003), recorded in their grandma’s cottage on the banks of the River Tweed. They say that the eight tracks were “inspired by the grace of life in these troubled times.” Sam and James write a quiet, beautiful and completely relaxed collection, with only acoustic guitars and appealing vibrato harmonies left to themselves. The only traditional song, ‘When Fortune Turns The Wheel’, is so moving and completely timeless. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
  • Ville & Tommie are Finnish-Swedish fiddler Ville Syri and Helsinki-based Cornish accordionist Tommie Black-Roff, who met while studying at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki; Stuffed Pockets (Penny Fiddle Records PFR2308CD) is their wonderful and promising nine-track debut album which displays an instrumental cross-border music that is steeped in dialogue and tradition, and it’s also a tribute to the Ostrobothnian fiddler Otto Hotakainen. From ‘Rikorpi #1 efter Carl Lindblad’ and ‘Slangpolska från Morko efter Anders Gustaf Andersson’ to the finishing ‘Barockullet’, both musicians never let up on the sheer enjoyment that they get while researching the culture of this western-coastal Finnish region and the Swedish Gastrikland; it’s thoroughly absorbing. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
  • Glasgow-based twenty-something Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduates Gnoss are Orcadians Aidan Moodie (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Graham Rorie (fiddle, mandolin, electric tenor guitar) Perthshire’s Connor Sinclair (flutes, whistles) and Clackmannanshire’s Craig Baxter (bodhran and percussion); Stretching Skyward (Blackfly Records BFLY05CD) is their third album, and it’s a rip-roaring nine-tracker. While saluting Orkney’s rich history and tradition, they are increasingly moving out of their comfort zone into a contemporary and more boundary-breaking music. From the thrilling instrumental ‘Stroma’ to the restless song ‘Hard Times’, this one’s a little cracker. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
  • Three-time Canadian Folk Music Award winner and blues musician Michael Jerome Browne plays resonator guitar, 12-string guitar and gourd banjo with an expert finesse and hollers magnificently; Gettin’ Together (Borealis Records/Stormy Plain Records, BCD278) is a 14-track down-home delight, with his rough-and-ready vocals steaming and a-storming. The album just sizzles and bubbles, from the opening ‘Monday Morning Blues’ to the closing ‘Living With The Blues’ – in fact, the song titles mention ‘Blues’ eight times! FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!


  • Sister Ray is the moniker of Canadian songwriter and storyteller Ella Coyes; her debut four-track EP is called Teeth (Royal Mountain Records), but her lazy, drawling style of suspect diction, influenced by the commercial rock scene, just doesn’t float my boat at all. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down


  • I favourably reviewed the 2018 Sarah McQuaid title album If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous; but now Sarah has released the single ‘If We DUB Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous’ (Shovel and a Spade Records), a new remix by Tim Norman of 1990s acid and ambient dub duo UVX. Huge mistake; Sarah’s beautiful lyrics are absolutely drowned out by irritating digital noise. I could go further, but I won’t. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down



Linus Entertainment 270787

***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****

 Award-winning fiddle sensation Natalie MacMaster from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, and rip-roaring violinist Donnell Leahy were married in 2002; it was a match made in heaven. Their cumulative sales topped one million – and Donnell is from the legendary Leahy Family of Ontario, an intergenerational musical act that toured the world. This is only their third album together; but when the pandemic reared its ugly head, they were forced to stop working for two years.

They planned the album as a blank canvas. “Creativity comes when there is space for for it,” Natalie says. “One thing Donnell and I were given in 2020 was the space and time to be creative to think and focus and find out what was inside of us. Like an empty canvas, our minds were clear – open for the music that was about to flow. There were no restrictions, rules, agendas, considerations. As Donnell said: ‘Let the music decide.’ With a few musical challenges along the way, it was a delight from beginning to end.”

Canvas is big, brash and utterly beautiful, and husband and wife poured themselves into writing a completely original and colourful new music. There’s a minute-long introductory piece with echoey voices inviting the listener to come and join the dance – and then Natalie and Donnell’s fiddles just explode in the utterly stunning tune ‘Colour Theory’, featuring Flook’s whistle and flute player Brian Finnegan. Rhiannon Giddens is there, too, singing in Gaelic on ‘Woman Of The House’ (Natalie says that her grandmothers were very inspiring women, not only raising many good children but also sheared the sheep and tended the livestock when their husbands had to leave home to work for long stretches of time. They did it with peace and love, and this song is dedicated in their native language.) In fact, guest musicians and the couple’s children pop up in all the 13 tracks; American-Chinese cellist Yo-Yo Ma takes the lead in the serene and moving ‘So You Love’, The Macmaster-Leahy Children raise in chorus on the stirring ‘Galicia’, and Spanish guitarist Josemi Carmona stamps his magic touch in ‘Caramelo’. Their 17-year-old daughter, Frances Mary Leahy, not only plays piano on ‘Colour Theory’, ‘So You Love’, ‘Caramelo’ and the frenetic ‘Dance Arnold Dance’, but fiddles away on ‘Choo Choo’ – and she step-dances too.

Natalie and Donnell take their 11-strong musicians on a crazy helter-skelter ride through all the 13 tracks, from ‘Canvas’ to the weird and wonderful ‘Voice Memo’. The list includes five-string banjo, guitar, trumpets, saxophones and drums, and they co-produced a completely jaw-dropping full-on sound. You might not be able to discern the difference in their two styles, but it really doesn’t matter; either way, you’re listening to two of the best fiddlers on the planet. True-life stories in the entertainment world don’t come more remarkable than that.


Jim Ghedi & Toby Hay

Topic Records TSCD615

Twelve-string guitarist and composer Toby Hay lives in the market town of Rhayader, or Rhaeadr Gwy in the Welsh language, and he has already recorded his solo album New Music For The 12 String Guitar. He says: “I am fascinated by the connection between landscape and music. My own music is inspired by the landscapes of the Cambrian Mountains, where I have lived all of my life.” Jim Ghedi comes from the South Yorkshire city of Sheffield and is something of a torch bearer for a new generation of experimental performers. Together they weave a bright, shimmering shower of mesmeric music that fascinates and delights their elated audience. This eponymous album is the second collaboration after The Hawksworth Grove Sessions in 2018. It was originally to be recorded in 2020, but the pandemic intervened; the album was eventually released in the end of May this year.

The album was recorded live in three days at the Giant Wafer Studios in rural Mid-Wales, which is located just half a mile from the A483 and the hamlet of Llanbadarn Fynydd, and the result is a beautiful collection of streams of consciousness; it’s spiced with human warmth but it’s also tinged with desolate wildness, just like Toby’s compositions when he is inspired by the lonely mountains. The opening track, ‘Bright Edge Deep’, was taken from a Seamus Heaney poem entitled ‘Digging’ and was released as an introductory single. It was the first track that Jim and Toby wrote for this album, after an almost two-year break from playing together because of the pandemic; the tune is a immediate, tumbling waterfall of sound of only two guitars, Jim on the six-string and Toby on the 12-string, and they have a magic knack of blending, blossoming and combining with each other – a ringing, singing, sparkling and unique sound.

‘Moss Flower’ and ‘Bridget Cruise: 3rd Air’ are heartachingly gorgeous; ‘Bog Cotton Jig’ just makes you want to dance. Toby wrote the shining and delicate ‘With The Morning Hills Behind You’ for his late grandmother, and ‘A Year And A Day’ is syncopated and totally hypnotic. The unsettling ‘Skeleton Dance’ and the booming, growling ‘Seasoned By The Storm’ shakes many listeners awake, and ‘Suo Gân’ salutes the rich Welsh tradition. Last but not least, Jim composed ‘Gylfinir’ for the duo’s mutual friend, the artist Keith How.

Jim and Toby are embarking on a four-show promotional tour, starting with Cardiff’s Chapter Arts Centre on June 10, 2023, The Lost ARC in Rhayader on June 11, The Greystones, Sheffield on June 12 and The Old Church in Stoke Newington, London on June 13.



Sradag Music SRM008

***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****

Whenever I hear that Joy Dunlop is performing, it’s as though spring has sprung, birds are tweeting and the beaming sun is spreading benevolent warmth on everyone. This happy, wonderful album is no exception; according to the dictionary, Caoír is Scots Gaelic for a firebrand or a “blaze of fire, fiercely burning, accompanied by noise.” Soprano-voiced Joy leads the sparkling way, and she’s accompanied by some assured musicians who must possess the coolest sounds in the whole galaxy; super guitarist Ron Jappy, Mhairi Warwick’s singing, dancing fiddle, bassist Gus Stewart, drummer Ifedade Thomas and Euan Malloch on jaw-dropping electric guitar – a really impressive and fine bunch, perfectly showcasing a really impressive and fine vocalist.

Raised in the small village of Connel, north of the neighbouring town of Oban on the west coast of Scotland, Joy was steeped in the musical traditions of her native Argyll since childhood. She firmly sticks to these roots as well; she has risen steadily and lauded as an artist with a string of awards, including the Royal National Mòd Gold Medal and two consecutive nominations as Gaelic Singer of the Year. She has toured Europe, North America and New Zealand and performed at international festivals, including Glasgow’s prestigious Celtic Connections and the marvellous Celtic Colours in Cape Breton, Canada. A passionate ambassador of the Gaelic language and culture, Joy is also keeping busy as a television presenter, step dancer, journalist and educator; she’s a communicator renowned for her magical ability to spark new life into the most traditional of this ancient and proud music, and the emotive power of her shimmering voice needs no translation.

The first track lights the blue touchpaper immediately, and it explodes with a wild abandon; the two-part ‘Jigs’ combine ‘Nighean Ruadh Bhàn’ (The Auburn-haired Daughter) with ‘Chruirinn Mo Ghiollan a Dh’iomain Nan Caorach’ (I’d Send My Servant to Drive the Sheep), and she tempts the band to follow her on a gorgeous dance with her sweet, high voice; Ron, Mhairi, Gus, Ifefade and Euan are absolutely soaring and coasting, creating such mind-expanding arrangements to boot. Joy follows with ‘Ged Is Grianach An Latha’ (Although The Day Is Sunny), a traditional waulking song originally sung during the tweed and tartan-making process; the “O hao ri ri ho ro” chorus is pretty mesmeric. She first heard the wonderful singer Mary Jane Lamont performing ‘An Braighe’ (The Braes) when she spent six months living and working in Cape Breton, in the small village of Mabou; this beautiful melody was written at the beginning of the 20th century by Malcolm Gillis. Joy also heard the popular waulking song ‘Mo Nighean Donn Hò Gú’ (My Brown Haired Girl Hò Gú) from Kathleen McDonald, of the McDonald Sisters fame; she writes in the notes: “One of my favourite aspects of Gaelic song is the wealth of variations that you can find.” This version is markedly different, and Joy decided to include Kathleen’s verses; the interpretation really adds glitter. The relatively new song ‘Cadal Cuain’ (Sleep Of The Ocean) was written by North Uist bard Celtidh Morrison and composed by Skye singer Kenna Campbell, and Joy embellishes the heartbreakingly beautiful melody; while she copes brilliantly with the stunning medley of four mind-boggling tongue-twisting Puirt à Beul (or mouth music) songs, firmly anchored in the Scots Gaelic tradition.

One of the strangest legends consists of the Cailliche Bheur, a one-eyed giantess who lived on the island of Erraid in Mull; she had to go to Loch Ba to bathe and be rejuvenated, but she had to reach the loch without hearing a dog bark. One day she met a shepherd and his dog, and the dog certainly barked with fatal consequences for the giantess. As she lay dying, she sang a one-verse song, which was transcribed from the singing of Captain Dugald MacCormick of Fionnphort in Mull; this new melody and subsequent verses are original and composed by Alasdair Mac’illeBhàin, and Joy expands and develops ‘Bàs Na Cailliche Bèire’ (The Death of The Cailliche Bheur). ‘Duthaich Mhicaoidh’ (Mackay Country) was said to have been written by Euan Robertson shortly after the terrible clearances in Sutherland in 1819 and 1820; and Joy and her band neatly polish off the concluding two-part ‘Reels’ as a satisfying finisher. She says: “As a step dancer, there’s nothing that I like better than a set of reels, and these two have a great percussive feel to them.” She got the first reel from Gaelic powerhouse Kathleen MacInnes, and the second reel – ‘Siud An Rud Thogadh Fonn’ (That’s What Would Raise a Tune) is now a Mòd classic, thanks to a cracking choral arrangement by fellow Connel girl Sileas Sinclair.

I’m earmarking Caoír as a truly great album and one which I’ll play over and over again – in fact, her first name is a perfect epithet for an artist who brings so much life-affirming feel-good radiance to her audiences near and far. Diolch yn fawr, Joy!


Dusk Moon


***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****

Rura is one of the most exhilarating and exciting bands in the Scottish folk scene today. You quickly run out of superlatives when it comes to describing this four-man Glasgow-based quartet; my mind hovered over the wonderful atmosphere they create as describing a Celtic Coldplay, but it’s extremely wide of the mark. Rura’s musical set is entirely instrumental; these are really outstanding musicians, and the complex and complicated rhythms are a sheer jaw-dropping revelation. This album is their fourth studio release, and all four dive in with composing and help to shape this intoxicating wall of sound that Rura are so famous and respected for. Dusk Moon is a totally inspiring fusion of the old tradition and a new, brilliant spark.

The personnel list is piper and keyboardist Steven Blake, fiddler Jack Smedley, flautist and bodhrán player David Foley and guitarist and bassist Adam Brown, who comes from East Anglia. They have performed in more than 20 countries, won multiple coveted awards and thrilled audiences from Cambridge to Shetland and from Tonder to Winnipeg. Producer Euan Burton has teamed up with the band again, and the whole nine-track album was recorded in the Gorbals Sound Studio in Glasgow.

The opening tune – ‘Journeys Home’, composed by Steven – was the soundtrack on a short film commissioned as part of Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay celebrations; Rura were honoured to produce the film. The title track follows after, and Jack was inspired by the work of artist Calum E. McLure’s painting ‘Dusk Moon’, which is reproduced on this CD’s front cover. ‘Think of Today’ is Jack’s lovely tribute to his wife Fiona, written on their wedding ceremony; and David’s ‘The Soft Mist Over All’ was gifted on their wedding day to Graeme and Carly Armstrong, two great friends and wonderful musicians from the Scottish borders. Adam, Jack and Steven created the breathless, rip-roaring ‘The Grove’, dedicated to one of Adam’s favourite haunts in Glasgow’s West End, and ‘Rise’ is Jack and Steven’s two-tune medley marking the two-year lockdown of uncertainty and standing still and celebrating freedom and a busy year ahead. ‘The Crossing’ describes the infamous two-hour ferry journey Jack took to the island of Colonsay. The last track, a Foley-Smedley-written barnstormer christened ‘A Minor Emergency’ comprising three tunes named ‘Billy On The Bodhrán’, ‘The House On The Hill’ and ‘The Reel o’ Garten’, just finishes the set completely. And that was some album – pause for breath…

The pipes, guitars, bodhrán, flute, fiddle and assorted instruments masterfully jell and blend with such stunning precision and alacrity. Rura are certainly going places – this time, right to the top.



Trad Records TRAD024

***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****

Snaarmaarwaar is a trio of amazing Belgian musicians, made up of mandola player Maarten Decombel, guitarist Jeroen Geerinck and mandolinist Ward Dhoore. They have spent the best part of 20 years touring in Belgium and countries all over the globe, armed only with these three acoustic instruments – but whenever they perform, they strike a magical live spark with their invigorating and uplifting tunes. Their latest offering refers to the fascinating winding path where their music has taken them, just like the wonderfully meandering river Lys between the city of Ghent and the little town of Deinze.

Snaarmaarwaar’s sound is lovely, fat, bouncing melodies played with a proud, fierce energy. Maarten composes all the music, which is entirely instrumental; it’s a breathtaking, inventive mastery, and a lot of serious thought has gone into those brilliant arrangements. For Lys, it was definitely back to basics; their previous album, B.L.O.C.K, was pretty lavish with heavy overdubs and multi-tracks, but Lys was recorded in the simplest way. The three crowded round a single microphone in Studio Trad in the municipality of Erpe-Mere, located halfway between the cities of Brussels and Ghent. The studio is owned by Jeroen and Ward, and Snaarmaarwaar rediscovered that special thrill that musicians get when they play delicate instruments magnificently fashioned of wood, created from the fine art of a luthier.

Maarten, Heroen and Ward’s music resembles a shower of exhilarating notes, and the whole album completely nourishes the mind. ‘Black Frost’ is the chunky opener; when Belgian fishermen set sail to Iceland, ice would form on the vessel’s mast and superstructure, leading to capsizing in as little as half an hour. The following ‘Planchemouton’, two gay and proud bourées, is the inspiration for the plateau de Millevaches in the French Limousin, and ‘Fleur de Lys’ is a fragile mazurka, reminiscent of the river. The hypnotic and andro-like ‘Kopstekker’ sounds like a kopstekker – in Belgian terms, a ship that sails right to its destination, ploughing through the waves. The quiet ‘Dubio’ piles string upon string in its serenity, and the pretty waltz ‘Julos’ is a tribute to the Walloon singer-artist Julos Beaucarne, who passed away. ‘Nomis’ is a memorable slängpolska, and the colourful ‘Davina Flor’ vividly illustrates the universe of the author Gabriel Garcia Marquez and one of his most striking characters. Lastly, the celebrative ‘Fugenzo’ marks the blossoming of the first cherry trees that herald the end of winter, and the guitar, mandola and mandolin are absolutely singing – a perfect finish.

Incidentally, Jeroen and Ward have joined forces to create Trad Records, an independent label who is proudly flying the flag for the go-ahead Belgian folk and acoustic community. I must confess that Trad is one of my favourites!

MARCH 2023


  • Iona is a very special island on the West Coast of Scotland; Dr Paul Anderson MBE, honorary fellow of the University of Aberdeen, is one of the most respected fiddlers, composers and teachers. The 19-track album Iona (Fingal Records, FINCD508) is his incredibly beautiful interpretation of the people, history and landscape, part of an artistic work called In The Footsteps Of Colm Cille; various musicians accompany him, including Steve Byrne (bouzouki), Brian McAlpine (keyboards), Dr Jack Taylor (Highland bagpipes) and Peter ‘Puma’ Hedlund (nyckelharpa). Francy Devine reads his own poems and Shona Donaldson sings the closing hymn ‘Light Of The West’. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!


  • The thoroughly delightful album Terra Kunda (Arc Music EUCD2963) showcases musical virtuosos Gao Hong and Kadialy Kouyate, and an exciting combination of two of the most mesmerising and captivating stringed instruments, the Chinese pipa and the West African kora. She’s a renowned pipa master, composer and performer, and he’s a Senegalese musician, singer, songwriter and teacher; they expertly weave 10 peaceful and oh-so-calming works, from ‘Kora meets Pipa’ to the closing ‘Joyful World’. It’s blissfully sublime, verging towards nirvana. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!


  • Indiana-based guitarist/singer Tim Grimm has built his 25-year music career as a storytelling balladeer in the tradition of John Prine, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan; his latest album, The Little In-Between (Cavalier Recordings, CR255632) is an absorbing nine-track work of penetrating writing that really grabs you and implores you to listen. From the opening song ‘The Leaving’ to the closing ‘Bigger Than The Sky’, his rugged voice opens many doors. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!


  • When she was just 21, Canadian singer-songwriter Meredith Moon taught herself to play banjo by listening to Youtube videos; her debut album, Constellations (True North Records, TND807) is a fabulous collection of really pretty but hard-hitting compositions, enhanced with her plain-and-simple voice, impressive dancing banjo (‘Needlecase Medley’ is a corker), acoustic guitar and lovely fiddle. Meredith has taken it upon herself to tour independently in Canada, Central America and Europe; She’s also Gordon Lightfoot’s daughter. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!


  • Midlands-based folk-Americana singer-songwriter Craig Gould has had his share of mental health issues, and he’s donating all the proceeds of his 10-track debut album Songs From The Campfire (independently released, no catalogue number) to the charity CALM, Campaign Against Living Miserably. He has a startling vibrato voice and a rippling acoustic guitar; but no matter how the folk and music media praise him, his work – from ‘The Campfire Song’ right down to the closing ‘Story Of Life’ – just leaves me cold. Sorry… FolkWales verdict: Thumbs Down


  • This one’s a little cracker! Fiddler and composer Gavin Marwick (Firelight Trio/ Bellevue Rendezvous/ Iron Horse) and cittern player Aaron Jones (Old Blind Dogs/ Litha/ Claire Mann) have recorded a six-track EP called Quarterdays: Candlemas (Journeyman Records JYMCD001) where the aspects of Candlemas are illustrated through fabulous jigs, reels and beautiful airs. These two can make their instruments sit up and beg; they soaringly fly by wire, with no session musicians to speak of. No voices, just breathtaking melodies – absolutely fabulous. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!


  • Born in London and raised in Leicester, Roopa Panesar is considered to be one of the finest sitar players to emerge on the Indian arts scene; her album, Atma (Indian Arts Agency AAA209) was recorded in Real World Studios, and the musicians include tabla player Shahbaz Hussain, double bassist Ben Hazelton, Parashanna Thevarajah and Kaviraj Singh Dhadyalla (santoor and tanpura). The seven tracks, from ‘Journey Home’ to ‘Farewell My Love’, just blend in magically to an intense and perfect degree; it’s strangely appealing and intoxicating. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!


  • Now, this is a totally weird one. Toronto-based and Nova Scotia-born musician, composer and holder in a Ph.D in Ethnomusicology from York University Pete Johnson and his quartet Stranger Still have released Stranger Still – The Songs Which Are (All-Set! Publications AS016) as a tribute to well-loved Nova Scotian poet Alden Nowlan (1933-83). Unfortunately, experimental music doesn’t jell at all well with the 11 poems to a jarring degree. Definitely not my scene. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs Down


What Are We Trying To Say?

EDJ Records EDJ033

It’s their first studio album in four years – and in a career spanning two decades, Teesside-born husband-and-wife Stu and Debbie Hanna have pooled their opposite backgrounds of punk musician and classically-trained singer and conjured their craft to emerge as the most original, charismatic and distinctive couples in the big wide world of folk music. They now live in Cambridgeshire, but they champion the songs of their native North-East – in fact, they stand head and shoulders above most acts in the commercial rock music scene as well. The Hannas grab you firmly by the whatsits with their in-your-face attitude, stunning harmonies, never-to-be-forgotten melodies and brilliant wordplay. They have mastered the art of being both gritty and sensitive, partisan and passive with material that resonates deeply and gets straight to the heart of the human condition.

Megson – named after a late canine friend – is their thirteenth album, written through the pandemic when they were faced with media headlines at every turn on mobile phones, radio, television and internet. The period of fear and uncertainty, not knowing what to believe, sewed the seed of this 10-track collection – for instance, the war criminal Putin and the right-wing Westminster Government are past masters of deceiving the gullible masses with media disinformation. What Are We Trying To Say? shows fellow musician Jess Morgan’s artwork of two people who have turned their backs on nature and the vivid sunset; their only interest is the mobile phone and computer. Stu explains: “Right now it feels like so much of the information we get about the world is from the media we listen to, watch, read, scroll through, get drawn into and sometimes find hard to forget. 2020 brough into sharp focus how important media was for keeping us informed of the constantly changing world. We needed it to keep us safe, but sometimes it made feel unsafe.”

The opening title track blasts the tabloid press in their greedy hunt for headlines: “Watching the prince and his bride, bound to make a good story and must be something to hide.” ‘Keeping Him On’ follows, and explores the darker side of news gathering; the media’s relationship with world leaders can leave news consumers confused and in the dark: “Now he’ll never let go and we never will know quite where they’re pointed their guns till the damage is done.” The punchy ‘Before I Know It’ pokes fun at our time-wasting mobile phone scrolling and love of search engines at the expense of real life. ‘Next Year’ was written just before the 2020 lockdown, and it reminds all and sundry of our good intentions and resolutions to be ‘better’ – and ‘Anastasia and William’ is a true story of the Darlington Northern Echo editor William Stead, whose romantic dalliance with Russian writer Anastasia Romanova Krandievskaya was broken when she read attacks on him in the Russian revolutionary press. She later regretted spurning him, only to learn that he had died on the Titanic while on his way to a conference aimed at the cessation of all wars.

‘The Conspiracy Trap’ is very relevant at a time when wild ‘flat earth’ theories are multiplying like rabbits, and ‘We Are Better Than This’ turns into an upbeat singalong mantra. Stu and Debbie focus their attention on two North-East songs; ‘Canny Old Blind Willie’ is about the death in 1832 of famous Tyneside concert hall songwriter and performer William Purvis, and ‘The Barber’s News’ pinpoints the gossiping hairdresser who spread rumours about a sea monster swimming in the River Tyne. Megson sign off with ‘And Finally’, the end of the TV news where the sometimes bizarre but feelgood stories are generated; the song was influenced by an second-hand book they found, entitled Whitstable Mum in Custard Shortage – it contained classics like ‘Psychic show cancelled to unforeseen circumstances’.

What Are We Trying To Say? never lets up on sheer entertainment, coupled with razor-sharp politically-focused lyrics to boot. It might be their thirteenth album, but I’m crossing my fingers and betting a pound to a penny that it won’t be their unlucky one.



Hudson Records HUD033CD

***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****

One of the most worrying things about climate change and man’s meddling with nature – apart from raging forest fires, intense floods, deadly storms, total drought and the decimation of the entire human race – is the fate of the Atlantic salmon. The salmon are an incredible species, migrating thousands of miles during their lifetimes before returning to the rivers where they were hatched, to spawn the next generation. However, all is not well. Peter Cairns, executive director of the charity Scotland: The Big Picture, estimates that just three per cent of the young salmon who leave Scotland’s rivers are returning as breeding adults: “The reasons are complex and not fully understood – but we know that the health of Scotland’s rivers, and all the life within them, is dependent on the health of the landscapes through which they flow.” Peter’s concern is compounded by BBC News, which reported that salmon in Wales, England and Scotland could disappear in the next 20 years.

Scotland: The Big Picture launched Riverwoods in 2022, a feature-length documentary which is now complemented by the beautiful, evocative music of Salt House – Lauren Maccoll, Ewan Macpherson and Jenny Sturgeon. Salt House’s sound is a tone-poem of complete serenity, an echoey vision of peaceful, bright and pure streams and healing rivers – and Riverwoods is a rallying call to regenerate the woodland that once shaded the rivers and to rewet the peatland that has been drained and burned. The eight composed tracks are a delicate and desolate warning; ‘Her Silver Spine’, the opener, is the trio’s introduction to Scotland’s scenic, timeless grandeur; ‘The Dipper’ beckons you to follow, and ‘Unspoken Words’ is a work of great significance.

Lauren’s fiddle and viola blends with Ewan’s gentle fingerstyle guitar and Jenny’s keyboards and harmonium; Jenny and Lauren’s voices knit perfectly with Ewan’s gentle vocals in ‘Birch Lines’, and the instrumental ‘River Redds’ and the sung ‘The Loom o Morn’ just flow on, just as the striking tributary-like design in the CD cover. ‘The Salmon Run’ and and the poem ‘Headwater’ close the album to make perfect finishers. An array of instruments compliment Riverwoods; synths, mandolin, percussion, bass, piano. Andy Bell produced the album and conjured his masterful magic; just seeing his name and knowing that it’s a wonderful work is praise indeed.


Tiny Notes

Hudson Records HUD036CD

***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****

In 2018, 22-year-old Paige Hunter began tying handwritten messages into the railings on the Wearmouth Bridge in Sunderland, urging desperate people not to take their own lives. Her notes have been responsible for saving the lives of at least 30 souls, and they have inspired others to leave similar messages on bridges around the world – and the song ‘Tiny Notes’ began to take shape.

Stockton-based The Young ‘Uns – stunning songwriter Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes – pin you right back with their elemental acapella harmonies and important true stories of miniscule glimmers of life-affirming hope in a very dark world. For example, the opening song ‘Jack Merritt’s Boots’ was written in the The Guardian by his father, David Merritt, as a telling, loving and really incredible tribute to his son, murdered with his colleague Saskia Jones, in the Fishmongers’ Hall and London Bridge terror attack; he urged readers to “borrow his intelligence, share his drive, feel his passion, burn with his anger and extinguish hatred with his kindness” – and to “walk through the door he had booted down with his black Doc Martens”.

There are three vignettes, or tiny notes, by Anne Lamb, who sings ‘Book’, Lucy Farrell (‘Bird’) and Karine Polwart (‘Mountain’); the string quartet are violinists Liz Rossi and Natalie Purton, Helen Bell on viola and ‘cellist Liz Hanks, beautifully arranged by Jon Boden. The whole album was produced by Andy Bell; and Andy took the photos.

‘Three Dads Walking’ pinpoints Andy Airey, Mike Palmer and Tim Owen who had walked 300 miles from their homes in Cumbria, Manchester and Norfolk in memory of their daughters, Sophie, Beth and Emily, each one taking her own life. Since then, the dads have raised one million pounds for Papyrus, the charity which prevents suicide in the young, and are petitioning the Westminster Government to include suicide prevention on the school curriculum. The Young ‘Uns tribute ‘Richard Moore’, born in Derry which he describes as “a war zone”. He was blinded as a child by an Army rubber bullet; he slowly rebuilt his life and founded Children In Crossfire, the charity which helps vulnerable young people in developing nations. In 2007 he found, befriended and forgave the soldier who fired the bullet. The Dalai Lama wrote: “I preach forgiveness. Richard Moore lives it.”

‘Hand Over Hand’ is an account of nine members of a family who were caught in a rip tide on the Panama City beach in Florida; all was nearly lost, until 80 nameless strangers locked arms and legs and formed a human chain that saved the children, parents and a grandmother from drowning. The rescue lasted an hour until the entire family were safe; however, the 80 strangers had vanished. ‘Lyra’ is in memory of Lyra McKee, an investigative journalist from Belfast, who was killed when she was observing a riot in Derry; and ‘Trespassers’ is the last of the 17 songs which were written for The Young ‘Uns’ theatre show, The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff, which told the story of acts of civil disobedience, advocating the Right to Roam in the 1930s. The most famous trespass took place on Kinder Scout in Derbyshire in April 1932, which eventually led to the creation of the National Parks.

In 2018, Rachel Robertson asked The Young ‘Uns to write a song for her brother, one of 270 passengers killed in the PanAM 103 Lockerbie bombing on December 21, 1988 and 11 on the ground. ‘Tim Burman’ is the result; he was only 24 years old and was flying to New York to spend Christmas with his girlfriend. Rachel said she did not see it as sad, but a love song designed to keep the Lockerbie families’ campaign for justice alive. In contrast, ‘Roseberry Moon’ describes a photograph taken by Steven MacDonald in February 2021 of a couple silhouetted by Roseberry Topping, a famous hill on the North Yorkshire Moors; and ‘The Surgeon’ is an account of David Nash, volunteering in Syria. He was confronted by a group of Isis fighters in Aleppo, who led him to their young colleague who was clinging to life. The surgeon saved the fighter – and he said he would do it again.

The last song of this astonishing album is ‘Inventa’, a ship belonging to the Jugend Rettat youth rescue, a non-governmental organisation from Berlin, and their goal is to rescue those drowning in the Mediterranean. So far, the ship has saved 14,000 souls; but in 2017 Inventa was seized, and her crew are awaiting trial, accused of colluding with the people smugglers.

This is a a vital, meaningful collection that shines a bright searchlight on acts of caring concern, of bravery and loving deeds that help to make the world a better place. Full marks to Cooney, Eagle and Hughes for showcasing the unpublicised stories of basic humanity – and those inspiring three-part voices are the solid bridge to make it a really classic album.



Tell Me World

Shimi Records SHIMICD0028

Singer-songwriters Lowri Evans and keyboard player Sarah Zyborska live many miles and a good few hours’ drive between North and West Wales – but a chance encounter at the 2019 Festival Interceltique de Lorient sealed the musical bond. They were both booked as solo artists at the Welsh Pavilion in this enormous August celebration on the Breton coast, and it only took a moment for these two to actually meet. Lowri and Sarah both clicked, and the idea of forming a female-fronted duo was quickly taking shape. However, the long pandemic and the year-long covid lockdown intervened. They kept going by releasing three Welsh and English singles, and now their debut album is ready; it’s chock-full of folk-influenced roots and Americana, and those lovely, perfect  harmonies bear the impressive Tapestri trademark – it’s true magic indeed.

Tell Me World is so-o-o beautiful and beguiling; the album looks at the world from a woman’s perspective, and the opening title focuses on the complex nature and the impact of domestic abuse, and ‘Waiting In The Background’ tells the story of women patiently biding their time. ‘Save Your Love’ and ‘Workshop’ are heart-achingly delicate, and ‘She’s A Lover’ was inspired by Lowri’s ‘once met, never to be forgotten’ mam! ‘Come Alive’ shows re-emerging into the world after the pandemic;  ‘Y Flam’ describes the allure and all-consuming nature of being in love, and the closing song ‘Atgofion’ homes in on the bittersweet feeling of hiraeth, being far from home.

The album was recorded at StudiOwz, Shimi Studios and Penhesgyn Studio in Wales; a band of musicians keep the 10 tracks bubbling and fizzing, including Lowri’s partner Lee Mason, George Whitfield on accordion, Henry Priestman on Hammond organ and David Hartley on gorgeous pedal steel. No doubt about it – Tell Me World grows on you!


  • In Indian tradition, ghazals are amatory poems caused by the pain of love, and thumris are highly sensual pieces derived from a Hindi verb which means “to walk with a dancing gait in such a way that the ankle-bells tinkle.” Composer and violinist Deepak Pandit teams up with stunning female singers Kavya Limaye and Pratibha Singh Baghel in an inspiring European fusion made by the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, in the wonderful digital album Ghazals and Thumris – From The Musical Heart of Budapest (Sufiscore); it’s amazing, so beautiful and uplifting. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
  • Scottish singer-songwriter Colin Macduff recently emerged through the Bird On A Wire mentorship fostered by Boo Hewerdine and Findlay Napier; The Past and The Sky (CNM20221) is his debut album, and he infuses his story-driven songs with a distinctive blend of humanity and humour. His gentle voice and rippling guitar stands alone, and leading musicians Angus Lyon (accordion) and Jenna Reid (fiddle) provide the lightest touch of accompaniment. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
  • Gaelic singer and composer Gillebride Macmillan displays his second album, Sèimh: The State Of Calm (Independent release, DEALA003); it’s a wonderfully crafted collection with powerful songwriting and subtle arrangements, and a host of singers and musicians including Karen Matheson, Maighread Stewart, Mairi Macmillan, Fraser Fifield (whistles, soprano saxophone), Mhairi Hall (piano harmonium), Ewan Macpherson (guitars, mandolin) and Deirdre Morrison (fiddle) all contribute to the sénse of quiet peace. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
  • Canadian country singer and award-winning songwriter Lynn Miles surrounds herself with a spectacular array of stand-up bass, mandolin, dobro, banjo and violin in her latest lovely album TumbleWeedy World (True North Records, TND802). Her performance sparkles from start to end; her emotive voice always remains central, carrying each lyric with a breathtaking clarity and a heart-wrenching emotion. It’s just superb. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
  • Now, this is so beautiful; Swedish folk/Americana artist Sofia Talvik teams up with German ‘cello genius David Floer to create the duo Hansan and the album Blod eller Bläck (Blood and Ink – independent label.) Sofia smooths a flurry of self-written songs with her little-girl voice and David paints a shining rainbow with his instrument. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!
  • Singer-songwriter Chris Cleverley releases his fourth 11-track album, Broadcast The Secret Verse (Opiate Records 003), with his complex fingerstyle guitar always a familiar and well-loved trademark. The problem is that his verses are too secret; his tenor voice is absolutely drowned in a welter of instruments, and his words are unclear and indiscernible. The last song, ‘If I’d Have Listened’, saves the day, and his lyrics come shining through. FolkWales verdict: Undecided…
  • Veteran singer-songwriter Ian Walker’s compositions have been covered worldwide, but the 18-track album We Come To Sing (Vangel Recordings VANCD016) by the three-strong The Ian Walker Band is very much a curate’s egg; nice harmonies, a mix of Ian’s material, familiar oldies (‘Will Ye Go Tae Flanders?’ ‘The Water Is Wide’) and a few Scottish stellar session men, including ex-Battlefield Band member Alan Reid, John Graham of The Clydesiders and The Red Hot Chilli Pipers’ Stevie Lawrence). Unfortunately, American country crooner Jimmy Scott lets loose on Sandy Denny’s ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ and Richard Thompson’s ‘Dimming Of The Day’ – most embarrassing. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
  • Peach & Quiet, aka Jonny Miller and Heather Read, release their second album from their log cabin on Canada’s West Coast (Beautiful Thing, Peach & Quiet Music, P&QCD002); unfortunately, Jonny writes nine Americana-influenced songs with a barrage of ear-battering harsh electric guitar. Heather does save the day with her three beautiful voice-enhanced creations – but if they do tour across the pond, I wouldn’t mind betting that British audiences will dismiss them as just another transatlantic rock band. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down
  • Is Nighttime a female singer-songwriter or a band? Even so, her album Keeper Is The Heart (independent label), her uninteresting voice and so-samey spacey creations isn’t worth getting out of bed for. With trendy echoing engineering and her suspect diction, what is she singing about? FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down


Bric-a-Brac Box

Independent release: RUFUS6

Frank Lee began to learn what he calls the melodeon – the instrument that I call the diatonic accordion – in 1977 after his then wife Angela brought one for him to play in Sue Allan’s morris team in Wigton, Cumbria: “Neither of us could make much sense of it until until I had a light bulb moment about how the left hand worked!” From then on, he began to try to arrange all the tunes he knew for it: “I started going to the Newcastle Folksong and Ballad Club in 1958, smuggled in underage – so I had a headful of music, mostly from the North of England.” Frank had to learn lots of tunes for him to play for the Carlisle, Hexham and Black Gate morris teams – and he recorded this 21-track debut album, which is a right little cracker.

Bric-a-Brac Box is bursting with tuneful and very hummable melodies; Frank plays a C/F two-row eight-bass Castagnari Ilary, a D/G two-row eight-bass Castagnari 1914 and a two-and-a-half-row 12-bass Mengascini, with seven accidentals; He is accompanied by Steve Tyler on hurdy-gurdy, guitar and cittern, and his Dutch wife Connie Lee-Schrijver who plays violin and recorder. The whole thing is just wonderful; the button-boxes seem to sparkle and shine to his expert touch, and Steve and Connie are so empathetic.

The album kicks off with ‘About The Bush, Willie’, which Frank learned in a Durham infants’ school, the Northumbrian tune ‘Green Bracken’, ‘Bobbin’ Joan’ from Playford, the Wheatley ‘Trunkles’ and a surfeit of morris dances, finishing up with Pyewackett’s fondly-remembered version of ‘An Old Man is a Bedful of Bones’. And all the time, Frank stamps his impressive talent in the barrelful of material; After a long drive, stick his wonderful instruments in the car sound system and just relax – you’ll see what I mean.


Volume 1

Lulubug Records CM2022

***** FIVE STAR CHOICE! *****

Oh yes! Two made-in-heaven, high-flying and totally respected musicians who have just come together and have struck a brilliant spark – mere words could not describe the electrically-charged and joyous atmosphere when Jenn and Will get their heads down and just magically strut their stuff. Hallelujah!

A chance meeting at a folk session in 2018 was the reason why these two should be out on the road and gigging together; Volume 1 is their debut album, and it’s an out-and-out complete stunner. The album brings their high-energy show to life in a nine-track dream of musical cat and mouse – they duck and dive, chase and hide in their intricate and intuitive question-and-answer conversations in an upbeat release perfectly designed to banish the winter blues. Produced by Jenn and Will alongside engineer Keir Long, it was recorded live at Glasgow’s GloWorm Studios in just two days.

Jenn’s astonishing and absolutely jaw-dropping guitar has linked up with a number of Scottish musicians including mandolinist Laura-Beth Salter, Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton and the incredible fiddler Ryan Young, while Will’s previous partnerships have been Dan Walsh and the Gwent-raised accordion maestro Eddy Jay. He’s also amazed the presenters on BBC Breakfast TV, and he even played harmonica on the Hillsborough charity single, joining a host of pop and football stars on the ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ 2012 number one hit.

The tracks are mostly abbreviated to snappy one-word titles; ‘Reckoned’ is the opener, and Will’s spectacular, cartwheeling harmonica and Jenn’s dancing, driving and gutsy guitar plunge headlong into a heady maelstrom of Liz Carroll and Martin Hayes-influenced reels (written by Will), Scottish band leader Addie Harper’s ‘The Barrowburn Reel’ and Ralph Stanley’s ‘The Clinch Mountain Backstep’. Phew… ‘Blackthorn’ is a brace of delicate Irish jigs, with harmonica and guitar slipping and sliding, and ‘Bourées’ is two Will-composed tunes, inspired by the French dance tradition, with the diatonic accordion and Jenn’s fabulous instrument swirling, swooping and playing ridiculous games of musical tag together.

Jenn’s clear and soulful voice leads the way to just one single song: ‘Better Things’, Peggy Seeger’s anti-nuclear weapons protest, which was written in 1958 for the Aldermaston marches and still resonates 64 years later, while Will opts to go for every incredible major scale on his three self-composed reels in ‘The Workout Suite’. ‘Sheba’ is Will and Jenn’s proud showpiece; Handel’s famous classical work ‘The Arrival Of The Queen Of Sheba’ is a firm favourite when they stage a live performance, and the squeezebox and guitar rise head and shoulders above all mere instruments and just soar. ‘Somme’ marks the death of piper and composer William Lawrie, who gave his life at the young age of 35 during the Battle of the Somme in The Great War; he wrote the solemn retreat march, and Will and Jenn instill and enrich every note with their empathetic and exquisite musicianship.

‘Beggarman’ melds a traditional brace of get-up-and-dance-around-the-kitchen fiddle tunes, the popular Appalachian reel ‘Soldier’s Joy’ and the ubiquitous ‘The Jolly Beggarman’, which Robert Burns was said to have used for the melody in his cantata ‘The Jolly Beggars’. Last but not least, ‘Speedy’ mixes two great tunes from the English tradition; ‘Speed The Plough’ was collected by Cecil Sharp from gypsy fiddler John Locke, and Will learned ‘The Hesleyside Reel’ from the playing of the late Northumberland harmonica legend Will Atkinson. The pair pick their thoughtful and delicate way in the first part, but Will and Jenn triumphantly blossom out and fly in the concluding reel; dizzying notes and supercool chords tumble and shower out like confetti in a wedding on acid. It’s an excellent and a very worthy finisher.

For four days in May, I’ll be going to Tredegar House Folk Festival in Newport where Jenn and Will will set the stage alight – figuratively speaking, I hasten to add. In the meantime, I will treasure this beautiful album – it has put a broad grin upon my face and it’s music to lift my heart. In short, it’s a right good ’un!



Eyes Closed, Dreaming

Steve Dawson Eyes Closed and Dreaming CD


Steve Dawson is a very talented Canadian guitarist, singer and songwriter, based in the Country music capital of Nashville, Tennessee; Eyes Closed, Dreaming is the third instalment of his ‘pandemic trilogy’, recorded in lockdown conditions with musicians contributing their parts from various corners of Nashville, Los Angeles, Toronto and Vancouver. As challenging as those restrictions were for an artist like Steve, who always thrived on the chemistry of creating sounds with fellow musos rubbing shoulders in the same room, this album rises above the previous Gone, Long Gone and Phantom Threshold – it mixes full-on Americana and age-old proud traditional folk genres at the same time.

Steve calls upon his circle of friends, which gels into a veritable Who’s Who of Transatlantic roots musicians; his old Birds of Chicago partner, Allison Russell, lends some stirring vocal support, while Nashville legends Fats Kaplin and Tim O’Brien add mandolin and various other strings to keep the cauldron bubbling. Drums, bass and keyboards form a rock-solid house band, together with a horn section, viola/violinist Ben Plotnik and cellist Kaitlin Raitz.

Four original songs – ‘The Owl’, A Gift’, ‘Hemmingway’ and ‘Polaroid’ – were co-written by Steve’s old friend and Black Hen stablemate Matt Paterschuk, and it’s a highlight on the album; the mysterious ’House Carpenter’, intricate Weissenborn guitar work and passionate vocals, Steve’s instrumental ‘Waikiki Stonewall Rag’ and ‘Let Him Go, Mama’, John Hartford’s ode to a quiet heroism of a life dedicated to music, are blissfully excellent. This is an album designed to keep you on your toes – every track is a winner.


This Land Of Mine

Daniel Laws This Land Of Mine EP

Independent release – no catalogue number

Daniel Laws was born in the tiny market town of Tregaron in the county of Ceredigion and lives on a smallholding near Aberystwyth. He has spent most of his life in agriculture, and says: “When I’m not composing songs I will be outside enjoying the everyday tasks that farming brings.” He takes his songwriting inspiration for the Welsh countryside, and co-runs Gwerin Aber Folk, the Wednesday Aberystwyth folk club which meets at Penparcau Football Club, as well as playing in the Brenig duo with singer, guitarist and mandolinist Mandy Martin.

This Land Of Mine, Daniel’s debut EP, contains six songs from ‘Whistle Up The Wind’ (about the Alder tree, which makes a whistling sound when the wind picks up, warning people that the weather is changing) to ‘Yr Wyddfa’ (the highest peak in the Eryri mountain range, the verses recounts the myths and legends surrounding the mountain.) ‘Fishing With My Brother’ tells the story of two boys who shared a passion for catching trout, and Daniel was commissioned to write the title song for the Welsh artist Aneurin Jones, which helped to raise funds to translate a book on his work and life from Welsh to English. ‘The Caron Trail’ is about his grandfather who was sent to fight in the Great War, but the true story of ‘Bob The Rooster’ pales a bit; the late genius Jake Thackray topped the lot with his outrageous song ‘The Bantam Cock’, and Daniel’s composition trails an unfortunate second.

With his six songs, Daniel sings and plays guitar on his own; Ian Vallin does the recording and adds bass, keyboards and harmonies.

Reviews for 2022 and earlier have now been archived and can be found on the CD Reviews Archive (from 2017) page

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