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Mick’s Picks – Book and CD reviews


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JUNE 2024


MICK’S QUICKS

► Fiddler Eilidh Steel and multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter Mark Neal are coming to Llantrisant Folk Club on August 28 this year. Mark has played in a number of Scottish traditional music bands, but this Helensburgh-based physics and musical acoustics graduate decided to go it alone on his solo debut album, Cool Waters (Eh Records EHCD08). All ten songs were written, produced, recorded and mixed by himself, including all instruments and vocals; the set varies between ear-catching and very melodic acoustic food-for-thought and straight electric rock. Definitely an artist to watch… FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Revered singer/songwriter Linda Thompson’s latest project, the aptly-named Proxy Music (Storysound Records) features artists handpicked by Linda and her son, album co-producer Teddy Thompson, to sing her tunes by ‘proxy.’ Linda, who Rolling Stone magazine hailed as having “one of rock and roll’s finest voices,” has limited singing capabilities now due to a rare vocal condition, spasmodic dysphonia. Proxy Music brilliantly showcases her impressive songwriting skills through sparkling performances from Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Eliza Carthy, The Proclaimers, The Unthanks, John Grant, Dori Freeman, Ren Havieu and many of talented family members, including her children Teddy and Kami and her ex-husband Richard Thompson. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Old-time string trio Sweet Joe Pye were originally founded in Den Haag, the Netherlands, but now are based in the French capital of Paris and Morganstown, West Virginia; the personnel is lovely singer and songwriter Annick Odom (fiddle, guitar), Henri Colombat (guitar, mandolin) and Lucas Henri (banjo, guitar, bass). Their EP Rise Early (independent release, no catalogue number) comprises ‘Blote Voeten & Blue Crab’, Annick’s Dutch song and Henri’s extremely hummable tune; the beautiful ‘Moonwalk’, about a student of Annick’s who was killed in a drive-by shooting; and the pretty ‘Rise Early & Sweet Joe Pye’, satisfying pieces that nail down Appalachian down-home music just perfectly. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Irish tenor banjo virtuoso Elaine Reilly comes from County Longford and is much sought after as a performer and tutor; her debut album Epiphany – Irish Traditional Music on the Tenor Banjo (Bandcamp or 17 Euro compact disc) contains 14 uplifting and inspiring reels, jigs, hornpipes barndances and a set dance, from the opening ‘Leddy from Cavan / Tim Fitzpatricks’ through ‘The Kiss Behind the Door / Bonnie Annie’ to the closing set ‘The Bunch of Keys / Hughie’s Cap’. She is ably accompanied by pianist Brian McGrath, bouzouki player Brian Mooney and accordionist/melodeonist Daithí Gormley for a completely joyous set; the whole thing was recorded, mixed and mastered by Tommy Doherty of Currinara Studios in Foxford, County Mayo. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!


LAURA JANE WILKIE

Vent

Hudson Records HUD049CD

www.hudsonrecords.co.uk/

 This is a truly beautiful album. Laura Jane Wilkie hails from the royal burgh and parish of Tain in the county of Ross, Scottish Highlands; she possesses a striking fiddle style which has its roots in the Highland fiddle traditions but is influenced by a vast range of music from all genres. Vent is centred on women’s waulking songs, or work songs; not being a Gaelic speaker, Laura studied these to adapt them for the fiddle, immersing herself in the Scottish archives as well as having them passed on from friend, tradition bearer and one-woman ceilidh, Rona Lightfoot. Indeed, Laura was inspired by Rona’s late mother, the wonderful Maggie MacDonald: “She encouraged everyone to engage and take joy, meaning and a sense of ‘belonging’ from the Gaelic traditions, particularly as I got older and started becoming involved with teaching traditional music,” she says. “She was wonderfully generous and kind. I had so much fun working with her, as did so many throughout her life.”

Laura’s album includes the respected Ian Carr on guitars and harmonium, Sarah Hayes on keyboards, flutes and vocals, Joe Rattray on bass, Rachel Sermanni on vocals, Hannah Read on electric guitar and Alice Allen on cello; Laura and Sarah produced the whole of the nine tracks, which was recorded by Stuart Hamilton at Castlesound Studios in Pencaitland, East Lothian, and mixed by Andy Bell at Hudson Studios, Sheffield.

Vent is entirely instrumental; Ian and Laura trade and juggle beautiful and delightful vignettes, and all the musicians contribute their inestimable talents – a kiss of piano, a soupςon of keyboards, a hint of vocal samples from Pippa Blundell, Hannah Findlay, Gillian Fleetwood, Rona Lightfoot and Imogen MacLeod. The songs possess their hypnotic, proud Gaelic language, and Laura names her composed title tracks plucked from the Gaelic tradition: ‘I Am Sad in the Braes of the Glen’, ‘Lift Up My Love’, ‘I’m Not Alone’ and ‘Mermaid’. In ‘A Man Ran Off’, both guitar and fiddle float and dance with each other, very reminiscent of classical styles, until the climax comes and all the instruments pile in so sweetly and strongly together; in ‘Albatross’, mysterious and otherworldly voices draws the listener to the waulking tradition; and in ‘The Sailor Has Good Chat’, Laura reverently doffs her cap to the rich Highland culture.

The final track is ‘Try’, which Laura says is “not a Gaidhlig song at all – a tune that I wrote to vent my worries, fears and frustrations about with outdated attitudes and damaging patriarchal ideas about ‘strength’ and ‘dignity’, particularly surrounding ill-health.” It’s a gorgeous fiddle melody, with her producing sparkling showers of notes and Ian expertly empathising on guitar; what a tremendous flourish to finish the album.

I’ve been playing Vent time and time again, and I never will tire of it – what a glittering gem.


M G BOULTER

Days of Shaking

Hudson Records HUD050CD

www.hudsonrecords.co.uk/

This is just a lovely set. M G Boulter is a musician and poet living on the Thames coast in Essex, in the city of Southend-on-Sea; the opening title song in his fourth album hints strongly at the paranormal and revelatory warnings of the future: “It hovered above my house, I was maybe twelve, there were triangles of red and green…maybe it was a trick of the night, unknown movement in the atmosphere; maybe it was a hope for something bigger than ourselves.” Then the chorus: “These are the days of shaking / where pillars will fall to the ocean / we’ll lie in the long grass in the garden / in speak in dead tongues we are blind to ourselves.” Or the second verse: “Eyes open in a tragedy, bow your head boy for the comet is coming.”

In fact, M G has been around the block for quite a bit. He played in many bands in Southend’s burgeoning pub rock scene, where local hopefuls who made it big included Procol Harum, Dr Feelgood, The Kursaal Flyers and Eddie and the Hotrods. He was lead singer and guitarist with the country rock band The Lucky Strikes, who Q Magazine once likened to “The Waterboys on trucker pills”. The Lucky Strikes made five albums, and M G formed a close working relationship with New York native and songwriter Simone Felice, touring the UK and the US. M G recorded his debut album, The Water or the Wave, in 2013; he worked on long term projects with Scottish folk artists Blue Rose Code and Samantha Whates, as well as BBC Folk Award winner Emily Portman as part of her Coracle Band. In 2016 he was one of eight artists picked to join the Estuary Songwriting Project, which sought to create a show’s worth of material inspired by the Thames Estuary; and in that year he released his second solo offering, With Wolves the Lamb Will Lie, produced by Andy Bell. The success of the album led him to sign with Hudson Records, and the EP Blood Moon, the themed project Clifftown and the EP A Shadow Falls Over New Brighton swiftly followed. Now M G is a regular member of Jon Boden’s Remnant Kings, and he has worked with Shetland artist Jenny Sturgeon.

Days of Shaking is just exquisite; M G adds guitars, pedal and lap steel guitar and percussion, and his dreamy, calm high-tenor voice is enhanced by delicate chamber-folk sounds. The musicians are cellist and percussionist Harriet Bradshaw, M G’s collaborators Lucy Farrell (vocals, saw and percussion) and Neil McSweeney (guitars, bass and vocals), Tom Lentall (piano) and Helen Bell (violin, viola). Jenny Sturgeon and M G co-wrote ‘Talk to Me of Water’, and she applies harmony vocals and keyboards on this song. His lyrics and thoughts reveal themselves into freeform, tumbling verses. The second track is titled ‘Quiet’: “I’m an early dawn riser / burnt sugar in my veins / orange streetlights fizzing / Silvia, goddess of the grove / through orchards devils creep / in this light I can see them coming.”

M G nails his colours to the mast and bares his soul; in ‘Silver Birches’, he sings: “I don’t watch the news, I sleep sometimes / at night I go out walking / when all the houses are quiet.” In the final track, ‘Blonde Pine’, he muses on death, funerals and the grim reaper: “We carry our grandparents’ names / and stutter though a darkness / my neighbour used to water / her garden azaleas / then she passed and now / no-one cares to remember.” And the great question: “Will these memories die when I am gone? / Skulls with perfect teeth will chatter to no-one.” All the time, he draws the listener in with his hypnotic, otherworldly philosophy and sincere beliefs.

Days of Shaking was recorded, mixed and produced by Andy between March and November, 2023, in the Red Kite Studio in the village of Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire, in Hudson Studios, Sheffield and in Jenny’s home on the Shetland Isles. As I said: what a lovely set.


RACHEL NEWTON

Sealladh

Hudson Records HUD048CD

www.hudsonrecords.co.uk/

Sealladh, pronounced shall-ugh, is a Gaelic noun which is translated as sight, spectacle or view; other meanings are the compass of vision and the extent to which one can see, a vision, dream or supernatural sight. This lovely new album from singer, harper and composer Rachel Newton – member of The Furrow Collective, The Shee and The Emily Portman Trio – began as a commission for the National Galleries of Scotland, celebrating over 80 years of live music programming at their gallery in The Mound, Edinburgh. The commission also coincided with the opening of the new Scottish Galleries, home to the vast collection of artworks by Scottish painters, which inspired Rachel’s music. Each of the 13 tracks is based on a particular painting and draws on the mythology, language, history, culture and landscapes that originally set the scene for these artworks. A deluxe full-colour booklet, featuring all of the paintings, accompanies Rachel’s album – and as well as the compact disc, it’s available in purple or black vinyl.

Sealladh contains sound recordings from Grant Anderson, Alice Allen’s cello plus Rachel’s voice, harp, piano and synth, with expert production from Hudson Records wizard Andy Bell; the main artist was Gaelic speaker William McTaggart, born in Kintyre in 1835, whose Scottish seascapes formed many of the works on Rachel’s album. Her compositions, such as ‘Machrihanish Bay’ and ‘Quiet Sunset, Machrihanish’ are further developed by her journeys to the places in Kintyre, where McTaggart painted some his most famous works. Grant joined Rachel on these visits and recorded the sound of waves, birdsong and the harp singing in the wind to catch the serenity of McTaggart’s brushstrokes.

Another major influence for the album was Phoebe Anna Traquair; she was born in Dublin in 1852 and moved to Edinburgh, while she became one of the first women artists to achieve mainstream recognition in Scotland. Fired by the four tapestries which make up The Progress of the Soul – which outline the soul’s journey from birth through the trials of life to ultimate salvation – Rachel conjures stark and stunning music on Traquair’s bold, arresting images of ‘Entrance’, ‘Despair’, ‘Stress’ and ‘Victory’ into improvisational harp pieces which bind Sealladh together.

The third artist featured on the album is John Duncan, born in Dundee in 1866 and one of the leading lights of the Celtic Revival; Rachel has delved into Celtic mythology and merged traditional Gaelic songs with newly-made vignettes of new music. She transports the listeners to places near and far with her serene and dreamy musicality; the name of the painting and the work is ‘Angus Og, God of Love and Courtesy, Putting a Spell of Summer Calm on the Sea’ – which surely must be a record for the longest title that ever there was.

Thanks to the National Galleries of Scotland, we can view the paintings and revel in Rachel’s visionary originality – and to Andy’s Hudson Records for bringing the project together.


NARAGONIA & GUESTS

Live – 20th Anniversary Concert

Trad Records TRAD033

www.naragonia.com

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

Naragonia are the inspirational and daring Belgian diatonic accordionists Pascale Rubens and Toon Van Mierlo; they have played together since 2003, putting down nine beautiful albums in their wake. Their twentieth anniversary could not pass without a big celebration, and it became an unforgettable feast. The dazzling concert was at the lovely Shouwburg Leuven theatre in December 16, 2023, where 13 musician friends celebrated in fabulous music, playing late into the night – including the inestimable Andy Cutting, French hurdy-gurdy maestro Gilles Chabenat and Maarten Decombel, guitarist/mandolinist member of sizzling combinations including MandolinMan, Snaarmaarwaar and the Naragonia Quartet. Family members included Veronique Rubens on the piano, Charlotte Van Mierlo on vocals and Mathijs Van Mierlo on trumpet; the theatre was sold out in less than a week and was filled to the brim with fans from all over Europe. What a party!

As well as the diatonic accordions, Pascale plays elegant violin and vocalises, and Toon blows thrilling bagpipes and soprano saxophone. Both individually compose glittering gems of jaw-dropping music that blossom and grow from the beating heart of traditional culture – and Live just explodes with the opening ‘Naya / Castor’, a proud and joyous branle that Toon has written so exquisitely; all musicians – including Gilles, Andy, Maarten, Veronique, soprano saxophonist Philippe Laloy, double bassist Vincent Noiret and percussionists Jo Zanders and Simon Leleux – absolutely jell and swing together as if their lives depended on it. What a marvelous tight band, and what a stunning experience.

Swooping and diving diatonic accordions dominate Pascale’s works ‘Mira’ and ‘Calimero’, and Charlotte adds vocals in ‘Is het Nog Ver’ (Is it Still Far). One of my happiest and most memorable weekends was Calennig being invited to the Gooik international folk festival, west of Brussels, and Toon salutes and doffs his virtual cap with his composition ‘Gooik’; and Gilles fires up his hurdy-gurdy with Toon’s red-hot melody ‘Hellebore / Too Late to Sleep’. Guy Swinnen joins Pascale in her serene song ‘We Map the Stars’, from a lyric by Reineke Van Hooreweghe; it’s just like a wonderful acoustic orchestra with its magical swelling sounds, ebbing and flowing like waves on a sandy beach – and Toon has the last flourish with his entrancing and hypnotic dance tune ‘Gij Met Mij’ (You with Me), the uproarious applause echoing loud and long.

This album captures the joyous and incredibly charged atmosphere of the celebration brilliantly. Hearty congratulations to Pascale and Toon; may you conjure heart-stopping and beautiful music for ever and always.


MICK’S QUICKS

► Stunning fiddler and Irish singer Sinéad McKenna comes from the village of Augher in Co. Tyrone and was born to a family steeped in Irish traditional music. Her limited edition album, Faoi L​á​n Ceoil (self-released, no catalogue number) soundly points to her North Monaghan roots and draws its inspiration from her two grand-uncles, Tommy Peoples and Ed Davey; twelve jaw-dropping tracks sizzle and bubble their raw and joyous way, from the opening ‘McIllhattons Retreat / House of Hamill / Music in the Glen’, through the pretty song ‘Fuigfidh Mise an Baile Seo’ to the final belter ‘The Bunch of Green Rushes / Declan Folan’s’. This is solid gold stuff which I’ve had the greatest pleasure to listen to and savour. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► A very long EP or a very short CD? Exciting fiddle virtuoso and composer Neil Ewart combines with Ali MacQuarrie’s intricate guitar work, bass lines and beats in the amazing Inverness duo Church Street Shuffle; in the seven-track album, The Five Day Weekend (CCS001, independent release), they join forces with seasoned recording engineer and producer Barry Reid, resulting in a meticulously crafted sound that delights audiences both live and on CD. Neil demonstrates superbly the rich heritage of Scotland’s west coast, mixed with infectious grooves – I like it a helluva lot. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Harpist and composer Tasha Smith Godinez hails from San Diego, California and releases her new album A New Day (Ennanga Records, ENN20004); she’s joined by master musicians Domenico Hueso on viola and bass, percussionist Christopher Garcia and jazzy soaring vocals from Leonard Patton for 50 minutes of soulful melodies and heady creative sounds. Nine of her latest of her latest spacey compositions are included, from the opening ‘Passion Flower’ and ‘When the Word Began His Work’ to ‘Lament (for a world right-side up)’; well, it’s sort of folk, Jim, but not as we know it… FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Singer-songwriter and impressive guitarist Jon Budworth was born in Leigh, Greater Manchester, but he moved over the border and became an honorary Yorkshireman. His album, In Sight of Home (Flying Folkie Recording Company, FF002CD) deals with the HMY Iolaire disaster; an overcrowded Admiralty yacht sank in exceptionally bad weather conditions at the entrance to Stornoway harbour on January 1, 1919 with the loss of 201 Lewis men out of the 283 on board, costing the Isle of Lewis almost the whole of its young male population. The talented Edwina Hayes harmonises with Jon; Unfortunately, his voice is completely masked by his guitar, drums and echoey pop-production, and his words and meaning are totally lost. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down


TANGLEJACK

The Ragged Edge

Self-released album

No catalogue number

Tanglejack are acoustic guitarists and contemporary songwriters John-Paul Davies and Duncan Leigh, who are based in the Swansea Valley – Pontardawe and Glanaman, to be precise. Both are in their mid-forties now, but they met up as teenagers, playing in the Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen brass band with the miners who worked in the now-closed Abernant Colliery. The Ragged Edge is their debut album, which is taken from the title song; Tim Hamill, recording engineer and owner of Sonic One Studios in the village of Llangennech, Carmarthenshire, produced the 11 self-composed tracks.

John-Paul and Duncan’s fresh and gritty attitude is extremely appealing. The opening track consists of proud and bold a capella harmonies in the song ‘In the Light of the Setting Sun’, with dire warnings about climate change; slide guitar cuts through the hummable melody. The valleys and the whole of Wales has been battered and bruised by 14 years of the Westminster Government’s arrogant, uncaring and downright shameful austerity, and Tanglejack unleash their eloquent venom on the third track, ‘You’ve Never Had It So Good’: “Do as we say, not as we do;” or: “You’ve never had it so good, just don’t be sick or ill…” The only thing that starts rocketing in this brave new world is wild parties in Number 10, price hikes and the proliferation of food banks and greedy millionaires.

Above all, it’s Tanglejack’s voices – and messages – which ring loud and clear. ‘The Garden of Your Heart’ is pleasingly poppy, ‘Wild Roses’ and ‘Brockwell’ are absolutely gorgeous and ‘Draw Another Breath’ is a rallying cry for the valleys soul and spirit. The dizzy final track, ‘(This Is Not) The End’, marks the maturing in their writing; John-Paul’s and Duncan’s guitars help considerably, creating urgency and zing. This is a really promising first album; I’ll look forward to the next one.


MAY 2024


SAM LEE

Songdreaming

Cooking Vinyl COOKCD915

www.samleesong.co.uk/

The worldwide traditional folk movement, far from being a static and dying breed which antiquarians would rather preserve in formaldehyde and dump it in a glass cage, is remarkably and proudly alive and kicking – so says Sam Lee, folk pioneer, song finder and shaper whose plaudits include the Radio 2 Folk Awards, Songlines Magazine’s Artist of the Year award and shortlisting for the Mercury Prize. His fourth album is a continuation of Sam’s work with producer Bernard Butler, who works with pop artists like Suede and Duffy; it’s a dazzling world of instrumentation including the core players, long-term collaborator and pianist James Keay, the producer himself on electric guitar, double bassist Misha Mullov-Abado, percussionist Josh Green and Joseph O’Keefe on violin. The Arabic Qanun, Scottish smallpipes, the Swedish Nyckelharpa, French horn and trombone also crop up in the deep, dark well of pulsing organic energy; and Trans Voices, the London-based transgender quintet, contribute Songdreaming by singing on four tracks.

Sam is well known as a prominent climate activist and a complete nature lover; he’s a founding member of Music Declares Emergency and has been closely involved with Brian Eno’s Earthpercent charity. Indeed, the album states that a percentage of proceeds will be donated to Earthpercent. Sam completely rewrites and turns around all nine traditional songs, starting with the opening ‘Bushes and Briars’; what is supposed to be a familiar and well-loved folk chestnut has a dazzling fusion for its endpiece, an unnerving maelstrom with Bernard’s searing electric guitar biting deep and building up to a wall of sound. It’s extremely beautiful and quite unsettling, and Sam somersaults the lyric: “Sometimes I’m uneasy / And troubled in my mind / Sometimes I think we’ve gone too far / To turn it round in time / Sometimes I’m plagued / By all I should and must / And what we’ll leave behind.”

‘Meeting is a Pleasant Place’ is an old Devon Gypsy folk song, but Sam enhances it by his retouching; and he learned the third track, the 1745 lament ‘McCrimmon’, from his teacher and Scottish traveller Stanley Robertson, who described it as one of his “thoosand calorie ballads”. The respected Gypsy singer May Bradley was born in Chepstow in the ancient county of Gwent, and she settled in Herefordshire; Sam adapted her apocryphal and mysterious song ‘Leaves of Life’, deleting seven virgins and replacing seven children. ‘Green Mossy Banks’ is almost a new song; he learned ‘Black Dog and Sheep Crook’ from Dorsetshire Romany Gypsy Queen Caroline Hughes and ‘Sweet Girl McRee’ from Irish traveller Nan Connors. Incidentally, ‘Sweet Girl McCree’ and ‘McCrimmon’ featured in the 2023 film The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, starring Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton.

Above all, it’s the ancient songs that shine through, and Sam polishes up the verses and the startling arrangements. Songdreaming marks a further stamp of Sam as a revolutionary artist at the height of his creative powers.


MOLLY DONNERY & THE CIDERHOUSE REBELLION

A Little Bit Slanted

Under The Eaves UTE009

THE CIDERHOUSE REBELLION

And Even the Sheep Shall Dance

Under The Eaves UTE010

JESSIE SUMMERHAYES & THE CIDERHOUSE REBELLION

Tales of Colonsay (double CD)

Under The Eaves UTE011

www.theciderhouserebellion.com/

Outstanding fiddler Adam Summerhayes and mesmerising accordionist Murray Grainger are very well known and completely respected for their jaw-dropping folk-improv collaborations and their considerable recording output; and the postman has just delivered a startling tryptych of The Ciderhouse Rebellion’s collaborations with entrancing Irish singer Molly Donnery, a double album with Adam’s daughter, Jessie Summerhayes, and a nine-track set, created extemporaneously without any thought of planning, just genuine spontaneity.

Why The Ciderhouse Rebellion? The story goes that Adam and Murray baulked at all the trendy full-on craft ale products which are being thrust to the thirsty public, and decided to simply drink cider instead. All three albums are very different; they give free rein to Molly’s and Jessie’s talents, but it’s the same delicious free-and-easy attitude and fresh inspiration that filters throughout and casts a bright sunshiny spell on the listening crowd.

With A Little Bit Slanted, it’s Molly’s gorgeous voice entwined with Adam’s shivering pyrotechnics and Murray’s accordion mastery; all three are musicians with Anglo-Irish quartet The Haar, who are quickly gaining recognition and an admiring reputation. The band was founded in 2019 when Adam and Murray found themselves totally transfixed by this red-haired girl’s singing in a traditional session at Craiceann Bodhrán Festival in Inis Oírr, the most easterly of the Irish Aran Islands; and Molly quickly agreed to join the ranks. The Haar recorded a promising 2022 debut album, When Old Ghosts Meet; and sure enough, Molly comes up shining brilliantly on the latest offering while Adam and Murray rise to the occasion. The result is breathtaking and ambitious. From the wonderful and wild tones of the opening track ‘My Buachaillín Donn / My Brown-haired Boy’, the soulful fiddle and accordion heralding ‘Where the Mulcair River Flows’, through the exhilarating shower of notes in ‘The Cabin With Roses Round the Door’ to the closing finale ‘The Town of Ballybay’, this is a really lovely album.

For the first time, Adam and Murray employ a stomp box in And Even The Sheep Shall Dance, which Adam confesses is an entirely made-up biblical quote: “As the apocalypse comes and the end times are upon us, cider should be drunk and even the sheep shall dance.” Recorded in 24 hours in the Rosedale Studio in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, it’s their tongue-in-cheek answer to the current state of the world – the post-covid aftermath, global political turmoil, austerity, Putin, climate change. Murray elucidates: “We’re confirming for ourselves in that there’s a choice in how we respond to the doom and gloom around us.” The stomp box changed The Ciderhouse Rebellion’s method of performing and added a new, integral energy: “It’s essentially pogo-folk music, but somehow we transformed our malaise into something worth dancing to.”

And Even The Sheep Shall Dance includes virtual tsunamis of devastatingly beautiful playing, matched only by the silliness of the titles. The first track is called ‘As We Party Oblivious’, with accordion spelling out the morse code; suddenly the fiddle bursts upon the scene with a glittering array of notes. Adam and Murray possess what must be termed as an uncanny solid-gold sixth sense when it comes to each track being forged-in-the-moment; Adam rightly earns his nickname as “the Paganini of the violin”, and he magically summons up a plethora of a bright onslaught of heady arpeggios and semi-quavers; Murray is always there, and his empathetic accompaniment is seamless and watertight.

The Ciderhouse Rebellion roll through many tunes, the names of which are ‘And We Shall Float Like Sheep’, ‘Until the Rabbit Warriors Dance’, ‘And the Last Pineapple Goes’ and ‘White Islands Sink’. ‘To Storm the Cucumber Castle’ can only be described as simply jaw-dropping, with Adam firing off a blazing volley of sounds and Murray stoking up the intense heat; it’s a mighty diamond of a collection.

Adam and Murray have been inspired by the landscapes of their surroundings in the past, and the double album Tales of Colonsay is their fourth collaboration with Adam’s daughter, Jessie. She’s an award-winning and spoken-word artist, and the album is 11 poems she wrote for her father’s birthday; Jessie has visited Colonsay many times before, but this one was a 10-day journey drawn from the remote Inner Hebridean island, tracking her movements from Oban on the Argyll and Bute mainland, across the sea and then along the pristine Atlantic shoreline of Colonsay. There’s an intense reciprocity between the trio, even though they recorded the album in three separate rooms, with Jessie reciting her verses in one room and Adam and Murray weaving together to create an intricate and stunning piece of work. When it’s all said and done, it’s Jessie’s written pieces that take command with the two musicians intuitively and expertly extemporising; the tracks consist of fascinating snippets of ‘Arrival on a Grey Day’, ‘At Kiloran: Mists to Sun’, Uragaig Set’, ‘Red Stripes and Razor Clams’, ‘Dreams in the Islands of Green’ and ‘Gannet Point’. The eleventh track is ’Hangman’s Rock’, a 26-minute tour de force which takes up all of Disc Two, with Adam’s dramatic fiddle and Murray’s hypnotic accordion highlighting Jessie’s burning words like a blazing beacon. Tales of Colonsay will be released as a double CD on June 7, along with a book featuring Jessie’s poems and illustrations.

I never ever get tired of The Ciderhouse Rebellion’s free-flowing and fiercely-creative music; may Adam and Murray’s unfailing enthusiasm, masterful musicianship and exhilarating professionalism shine on for a very long time.


HARBOTTLE & JONAS

Wild Goose

Brook View Records BVR004

www.harbottleandjonas.com

Devon duo David Harbottle and Freya Jonas recorded this pretty eight-track album in their home in South Brent, Dartmoor, with Cornwall-based producer Josh Best-Shaw (who also produced their acclaimed offering, The Beacon.) Harbottle & Jonas enjoy writing and recording at home: “There is no time pressure and we can tend to our daughter Rosalie and our dog Murphy with ease… Working in a studio can sometimes feel a bit mechanical with the repeated takes, but Josh allows space to pause, listen and reflect.”

Wild Goose, their fifth album, feature full-band arrangements of mystical, spiritual and supernatural material; indeed, the producer has given David and Freya free rein to transform the songs into proto-pop commercial product, with beautiful shimmering closely-intertwined harmonies to boot. Freya uses harmonium, piano and concertina, and David juggles with acoustic and electric guitars, cittern, synth, banjo, bass and glockenspiel. The session musicians are trumpeter Andy Tyner, fiddler and vocalist Richard Trethewey, drummer Jamie Gould and oboeist and singer Jenny Jonas.

Unfortunately, David and Freya’s vocals are masked by this right-on sound, and the meaning is unclear and lost. First up, Freya’s strong voice finds words of encouragement in ‘Carry On You Fishermen’, while the second track praises the Norse god of mischief, ‘Loki’. The album title song is a vivid portrait of a skein of geese, and ‘As I Walk into the Day’ is one of David and Freya’s best. ‘I Am the Captain of My Soul’ starts off with close a capella vocals and eases into cool drumbeats, and the final song, ‘Where Do You Stand?’, is a complete closer. It looks as if Wild Goose has taken off…


THE JAKE LEG JUG BAND

Some Glad Morning

Green Bullet Records GB2401

www.thejakelegjugband.com

Hallelujah – Duncan Wilcox, Liam Ward and Warren James have quit the demon drink and have finally seen the light! Why The Jake Leg Jug Band? One of the foremost purveyors of vintage American roots music took their name from this home-distilled Caribbean hooch, locally nick-named Jake; whenever an imbiber swayed drunkenly, fellow drinkers outlined what was the matter with him: “He’s got Jake Leg.” The band was born in the crazy Prohibition era when speakeasies and illegal alcohol mushroomed and criminal gangs flourished – and now they have released twelve gospel shouters, strident hymns and popular and obscure spirituals, all packaged up with a shining throng of jazz, folk and blues singers and musicians to cheer them on to glory.

All three Jake Leggers harmonise and vocalise hotly and passionately, as if their souls depended on it; frontman Duncan pounds double bass and mandolin, harmonica wizard Liam also juggles with jug, saw, comb and paper and jaw harp (and he’s an ex-member of Swansea-based trio The Rumblestrutters, which sadly broke up when he moved to Stroud) while Warren is extremely adept on guitar and banjo. Incidentally, Warren possesses what can be described as manic and shrill Lonnie Donegan lungs! The muso congregation summon up some uplifting jazz, and the personnel comprises Paul Shotton (saxophone and clarinet), Gabriel Garrick (trumpet), Mike Owen (saxophone), Ciaran Algar (violin), Toby Wilson (dobro) and Cohen Wilcox (washboard on two tracks). One ex-member of The Jake Leg Jug Band, Bryony Rose, makes a welcome appearance as one half of a belting female chorus; Helen Ward harmonises with her fine voice.

Some Glad Morning lights the blue touchpaper with the opening ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee’ and explodes with ‘Ezekiel Saw the Wheel’, ‘Light from the Lighthouse’ and ‘I’ll Fly Away’; the mighty two-song finisher concludes with ‘Down By the Riverside’ and ‘The Old Rugged Cross’. If there is a God, you can bet that he’s smiling down on the band; and as an afterthought, I’ll take the collection!


APRIL 2024


SPILAR

Vandaag en Alle Dagen

Trad Records TRAD031

www.spilar.be/en/home

 The remarkable Belgian quintet Spilar are made up of two magical voices of sister and brother Eva and Maarten Decombel, drummer and vocalist Louis Favre and Trad Records maestros Jeroen Geerinck and Ward Dhoore. Maarten also plays for the Belgian trio Snaarmaarwaar, Mandolinman, Naragonia Quartet, Tondo and a duo with Jim Boyes (singer with Coope, Boyes and Simpson, who emigrated to Belgium); Jeroen plays guitar and synths, and he’s the Trad Records producer and Snaarmaarwaar member; mandolinist and keyboardist Ward also plays for Snaarmaarwaar and the impressive triumvirate of brothers, Trio Dhoore.

Spilar got off to a flying start with their 2020 debut album release, Stormweere, which saw them nominated for the Flanders Folk Awards two years in a row. Their follow-up album translates as ‘Today and Every Day’; it’s a marvelous, appetising cooking-pot of 16th-century verses from the Antwerp Songbook, Bèla Fleck and Richard Thompson material, a nod and a wink to the Occitan singers of Lo Cor de la Plana and poetry from the late Kamiel Top. All nine tracks are inspiringly and delightfully fashioned to the greatest of heights – what’s more to the point, they proudly sing in the Flemish language, their instruments scored with an amazingly super-cool attitude.

The band pile in with the 1544 piece ‘Zoete Leif’ (Sweet Leif), and immediately the stunning arrangements start to flood through and absolutely jell. Next up, Kamiel Top was born in 1923 and died in 1945, and ‘Ijslandvaader’ is his arresting story of fishing off the cold seas of Iceland; and the third track is the sombre climate-change problem. ‘Wa Ga Je Cie Doen’ is Spilar’s interpretation of Bela Fleck’s ‘What’cha Gonna Do’ angry plea when future catches up and the waters cover the land. Eva and Maarten’s voices are complete harmonious heaven, and the quintet’s compelling sound rises head and shoulders above many contemporary commercial acts.

‘Acht Soldaten’ (Eight Soldiers) is Spilar’s tribute to the Marseilles-based singers Lo Cor de la Plana; Eva and Maarten voice some beautiful harmonies on ‘Verleifd & Verdwaald’ (Lost in Love), a translation of Richard Thompson’s highly memorable song ‘Waltzing’s For Dreamers’, and ‘Z.582’ recounts the tragic sinking of a Belgian fishing boat off the coast of Ramsgate, Kent. ‘Rug Naar ‘t Land’ (Back to the Land) is the late folk singer Wannes Van de Velde’s aserbic comments on nowadays, humanity still messes things up; and the the band sign off with ‘Duf Duf Duf’, a gleeful composition by Ghent singer Walter De Buck (1934-2014) and his wonderful but incident-rich trip to London. It doesn’t matter if you find Vlaamse too challenging; Spilar boast the absolute cream of Belgian musicians, who grab your ears and enquiring minds with intelligent, heads-on energy. I’ll give Vandaag en Alle Dagen a resounding thumbs up!


JACK BADCOCK

Cosmography

JKBC003CD

www.jackbadcock.com

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

Dallahan frontman and founding member Jack Badcock is set to release his solo debut album on May 3, 2024, fulfilling a long-held ambition and putting his wonderful and arresting songwriting skills centre stage. Lead vocalist and guitarist with the acclaimed quartet – dubbed “the flying aces of Scottish folk” by BBC Radio’s Mark Radcliffe – he was born in Ireland’s County Kilkenny, raised in Yorkshire and now lives in Glasgow. A former finalist in the BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year, Jack has toured around the world with the multi-award-winning band he originally started the band with banjoist, mandolinist and fiddler Ciaran Ryan. His songwriting has increasingly come to the fore, most recently when he penned songs for Dallahan’s 2023 album Speak of the Devil (which was awarded a five-star review in FolkWales Online Magazine).

Known for his standout soulful tenor voice and his enigmatic and thought-provoking writing, Jack is on the brink of bringing out this evocative and eloquent album, produced by Ewan Burton at Glasgow’s Gloworm Studios – and it’s real corker. On Cosmography, Ewan plays bass with Louis Abbot on drums and percussion, Conor Smith  on pedal steel, Roo Geddes on violin, Ryan Murphy on uilleann pipes and Dallahan bandmate Andrew Waite on accordion. Apart from a bunch of pretty impressive voices, fine female songwriters provide backing and additional vocals and include Joy Dunlop, Siobhan Miller, Josie Duncan and Beth Malcolm.

Jack has fashioned 10 tracks of utterly rich melodic bliss with his soaring, crystal-clear vocals; first up is ‘Life In Three Dimensions’, an eight-minute tour-de-force in a trio of astonishing segments, ‘World of Worlds’, ‘Remind Me to Breathe’ and ‘All These Moments’. The next track slips into a lazy, cool tone with wonderful drums keeping time; ‘The English Samurai’ is based on an imagined letter written by 16th-century navigator William Adams, the first Englishman to reach Japan. Adams became recognised as one of the most influential foreigners at that time, a Western samurai known in Japan as Miura Anjin who advised on trade and naval matters. When the time came for him to leave, the shogun demanded that Adams stay; and despite having a wife and children back home, he made the most of his new life in Japan.

Jack is an incisive songwriter and a hypnotic storyteller also; however, ‘The Ghost of Leland Birch’ is another song based on a poem, and the poet is Micheal Creagh, Jack’s cousin. Jack explains that on a family trip to Ireland, Michael was introduced to a whole gang of relatives he didn’t know existed and taken to a clan gathering where everybody had to do ‘a turn’. Michael’s party piece was a ode to a local late poitín distiller called Leland Birch. Jack set the poem to his striking music, and he says: “It serves as an obituary to Lely in the small town of Rathdowney, County Laois, where many of my Irish family live.” ‘How You Raise a Child’ is Jack’s lyrical condemnation of the many young people around the world who do not choose the circumstances they were born into; a whole raft of voices join him in a powerful demand: “Make our world a home / Raise them as your own.”

Jack writes a whole albumful of incisive and catchy songs – and he often finishes his gigs with ‘Entropy’, a clever vision of humanity’s all-too-brief life compared with the aeons of a galaxy: “Every animal and flora / and every planet’s bright aurora / and all the life was lived on every world / was ever gonna be a fleeting blink of history / of which I’m glad I’ve laid my humble eyes upon.”

Jack’s album launch tour fills out the month of May in Scotland and England, but sadly not Wales. My suggestion that you buy and listen to Cosmography is only a small consolation – but come on, let’s do it!


MICK’S QUICKS

► Award-nominated Canadian indie folk quartet The Fugitives will be touring Britain from June 27 to July 15, but not Wales; if you’re travelling, you can see them in St Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury or Bristol Folk House. Songwriters Adrian Glynn and Brendan McLeod head the acoustic roots band, joined by banjo player Chris Suen and violinist Carly Frey (The Coal Porters). Their sixth album is called No Help Coming (Fallen Tree Records, FTRC0135); Adrian and Glynn wanted to write the title song about an environmental disaster, and catchy harmony songs pinpoint fraught friendships (‘Dead Money’), career changes (‘Wing and a Prayer’), coping mechanisms (‘Not Burning Out’) and romance (‘It Might Just Rain Like This For Days’). FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Wonderful British-Kurdish Alevi singer Olcay Bayir lives in her adopted home of London and gives voice to the people of Anatolia who, despite innumerable injustices, continue to preserve their language, culture and customs. Tu Gulî (You Are a Rose, Bendigedig EUCD2967) is 11 powerful Kurdish Alevi songs which honour her multicultural and multilinguistic background; she tributes the strong and devoted women of her Anatolian geography, including her own grandmothers and her mother. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Outstanding instrumental duo Airboxes are from Ghent, Belgium and consist of Guus Herremans, who plays Castagnari diatonic accordion, piano and electric bass, and Bert Leemans (Saltarelle chromatic accordion, accordina and hybrid bandoneon). Confluence (Trad Records, TRAD032) is a gorgeous 11-track album, from the opener ‘Valentino’ to the final ‘Salle à Manger’, where they compose bright and beautiful tunes; it’s all fabulous nourishment for the mind. Guest musicians are Studio Trad maestros Jeroen Geerinck (guitar, flugelhorn) and Ward Dhoore (guitar); Ludo Stichelmeyer adds  percussion. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Beside Trawbreaga Bay in County Donegal, in an old schoolhouse with a suitcase full of borrowed recording gear, Irish singer-songwriter Oisin Leech (one-half of folk duo The Lost Brothers) strums gently on an acoustic guitar for his nine-track album Cold Sea (Outside Music/Tremone Records). Despite the help of musicians like Dónal Lunny, his compositions are so laid-back that they’re horizontal – totally yawn-inducing. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down

► Texas singer-songwriter, acoustic guitarist and international troubadour Keegan McInroe has brought out his seventh album of covid-lockdown Americana, Dusty Passports and Empty Beds (self-released, no catalogue number); with gigs totally wiped out and no money coming in, the title-track song begins: “If hindsight is 2020, I hope to never look again.” Never mind; with a snorting barrelhouse band fronting hot guitarist Matt Tedder, Keegan lays down nine numbers and playfully tributes John Prine’s death: “He’s got his rock ’n’ roll band in heaven, and I’ve got you.” Yee-hah! FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► American musicians Andy Cahan and Joseph Decosimo hail from North Carolina and have brought out a digital album, Rare Old Fiddle & Banjo Duets (Bandcamp, no catalogue number.) They have recorded a whopping 19 tracks including Appalachian reels, waltzes and schottisches, all for the bargain price of $12. Both play fiddle or banjo in different tracks, and most tunes feature Andy on fiddle and Joseph on banjo; they always spark energy and enthusiasm, from the opening ‘Snowbird’ through ‘Billy In The Lowground’, ‘Phyllis in the Ballroom’, ‘Little Black Dog Come A’Trottin’ Down the Road’ and ‘Po Black Sheep’ to the final ‘Great Big Taters in Sandyland’. Definitely two to watch. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!


UFQ

True Story

SAECD22

www.theufq.com

UFQ stands for Birmingham-based the Urban Folk Quartet, launched in 2009; the glittering line-up is comprised of spectacular fiddlers Joe Broughton (guitar, mandolin, bass) and Galician Paloma Trigás (vocals), amazing banjoist, guitarist and singer Dan Walsh and cajon and percussion wizard Tom Chapman (vocals). Their fourth album sparks incredible energy and fire from track to gorgeous track, and it’s arguably their best yet.

The opening song is the Peter Gabriel classic ‘Solsbury Hill’; solo banjo traces the melody, Dan’s soulful voice outlines the story and every member of UFQ piles in. Fairport Convention legend Dave Pegg performs wonders with the bass, and the whole mood of the album considerably shifts up a gear; Joe and Paloma’s nine-year-old daughter, Sabela Trigás Broughton, plays along with Dave and is already an accomplished fiddler.

On the second track, ‘One Day You’ll Be Right’ Joe composes what he calls a more laid-back happy jig, and suddenly the band jumps into a giddy reel entitled ‘The Clock’. The fierce lament ‘Coal Mining Man’ was written by Ricky Skaggs’ banjo player, Jim Mills; Dan sings for all he was worth, Chris and Kellie While voice stunning harmonies and brother Ben Broughton adds slide guitar. On a more poignant note, this set features the last performances on bass of Joe’s other brother, Sal Broughton, who passed away in December 2022, aged just 30.

‘Before Your Eyes’ is a beautiful Paloma instrumental, with solo fiddle coming to the fore; immediately after, the band segues into Dan’s ‘The Whiplash Reel’, with the angry banjo spitting red-hot lava and all UFQ having a crazy ball. Roger Wilson wrote ‘Indian Tea’, and Joe says that his verses are closely based on San Francisco-born Robert Frost’s most famous poem, ‘The Road Not Taken’; and Paloma’s fiddle and Dan’s banjo have a brilliant field day on the breathless ‘Turning Point’ set. Meanwhile, the band inspiringly turns around Elder Edmund Dumas’ hymn ‘Long Time Traveller’, with Chris While’s vocals and Dave Pegg’s bass giving it some dap. Joe’s ‘Circus Tunes’ is the last track of True Story, and the sizzling twin fiddles, the eye-popping percussion and the wondrous guitar and mandolin finally break out of their dizzy helter-skelter ride – what a magnificent and totally amazing album.

UFQ all possess this crowd-pulling attitude of superb, constantly surprising musicianship, joyous harmonies and never-ending full-on sheer power. Joe and Paloma’s jaw-dropping fiddles, Tom’s ridiculously good percussion and Dan’s burning banjo and guitar have left a scorching impression in the folk scene, and I’ll reverently raise a welcome glass to that.


BEN NICHOLLS

Duets

Hudson Records HUD042CD

www.bennicholls.net/home

Ben Nicholls is extremely hirsute around the facial regions and is widely acclaimed as a double bassist, singer, arranger and composer working with British folk traditions and beyond. When he’s not with his own band, the Kings of The South Seas, he’s in demand as a musician and collaborator recording with a glittering array of stellar talent, including Martin Carthy, Maddy Prior, Billy Bragg, Peggy Seeger and Jarvis Cocker. He’s played in an absolute plethora of albums – but for his solo debut offering, he wanted to turn things around and make the bass the focus. He asked several musical friends to play with him on a series of duets, and says: “It was a magical journey with everyone bringing something different to the record, all held together by the voice of my old upright bass.”

First up, here’s a sizzling song to make you sit bolt upright; slinky bass notes herald the unearthly voice of Nadine Shah in the traditional favourite ‘The Cuckoo’. Then, Tim Eriksen double-tracks the shape-notes in ‘Corydon’, and John Smith tributes the magnificent musician and songwriter Richard Thompson in the classic ‘Down Where The Drunkards Roll’. Chris Vaillard and Ben play the tinkly-sounding ‘Rolling Hornpipe’; Jon Boden polishes off an impressive job in the soaring ‘Polly Vaughan’ and the lovely vocals of Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman’s reed-organ perform ‘I Wonder What’s Keeping My True Love Tonight’, with Ben accompanying them. Ben’s bowed bass and Patsy Reid’s sulky fiddle brilliantly hit off the blues tune ‘Tibby Fowler’, Kris Drever does ‘The Greenland Whale Fisheries’ in his own inimitable fashion, while Chaim Tannenbaum and his banjo interpret the dramatic ‘Munchhausen’. Martin Simpson’s amazing guitar and his individual voice light the blue touchpaper on the well-known ‘Flash Company’, and Sam Sweeney’s stupendous fiddle and Ben’s bass delicately dance around each other in ‘Northern Frisk’. Seth Lakeman injects venom in ‘The Fire’, Fay Hield tells a dark tale in ‘Bloody Gardener’, while Evan Jenkins’ cello and the bowed bass bring the proceedings to a perfect end with ‘Elfen Waltz’.

Duets is a fascinating and completely surprising album; Ben’s musicianship brings a completely satisfying and solidly anchoring depth to all his recording sessions far and wide.


LAUREN COLLIER

Uddevalla

CPRCD001

www.laurencollier.co

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

Lauren Collier is a young and very impressive Scottish fiddler and singer who comes from Irvine in North Ayrshire and now lives in Glasgow; her debut album, which is named after a coastal town in Sweden, is extremely beautiful and a breath of fresh air. Her band is composed of Calum Muir (guitars, synths), Paul Jennings (drums and percussion), Breabach member James Lindsay (bass, Moog) and the amazing Ross Ainslie (bansuri, whistles), who regularly plays for many musicians including Treacherous Orchestra, Salsa Celtica, Ali Hutton and Brighde Chaimbeul. Lauren takes her audience on a delightfully unconventional magic carpet ride around Europe and the world on a discovery wonder-tour, and her appetising menu is alluringly international in a distinctively super-cool and thoroughly defiant way.

Uddevalla opens with ‘Padangbal’, a Lauren composition which firmly raises the bar; it quietly steals up on you, with spacy synth, rippling acoustic guitar and luscious smoky fiddle that prowls and probes. Paul’s percussion solidly anchors the band as the gorgeous tune breaks out and magnificently swells in many a giddy and a totally fascinating rhythmic episode. The second track immediately follows after; her sweet soprano voice casts sunshine and shadow on the traditional Haitian song ‘Kouman Nou Ye’ while the band melts into a delicious and very hip French branle. On a different note, the Shetland fiddler Leonard Scollay co-wrote the lovely reel ‘Myrakle’ before he was tragically drowned in a fishing boat accident, and Ali Hutton penned the exhilarating ‘Psychopomps’ to make a perfect set; and Lauren soundly scores with a stunning version of the Indian traditional song ‘Talariya Magariya’, her assured vocals forming a complete likeness of the great Bollywood artists, Paul’s drums striking a vivid impression of bhangra sounds and Ainsley’s bansuri is absolutely bubbling over.

Her fiddle darts to Macedonia and Greece (‘Horo’) while she celebrates the estimated talents of the Norwegian traditional violinist and composer Gjermund Larsen (‘Reiseslått’); and Lauren, Calum and Paul have an absolute field day when they put their heads together and create the swaggering and thoroughly impudent ‘Rhesus Macaque’, with her mighty fiddle and the band soaring away with flights of fancy. In the two-set ‘Traktor’, Capercaillie musician and Celtic Connections director Donald Shaw pens the gay jig ‘Islands On The Edge’, while ‘Lompa Køyre Traktor’ is composed by Hardanger fiddler Olav Luksengård Mjelva (who comes from the town of Røros in the Sør-Trøndelag region of Norway and plays in the Norwegian-Swedish ensemble SVER, The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc and The Lodestar Trio).

The final ‘Uddevalla’ set is made up of two Swedish traditional tunes, ‘Marsch Från Nås’ and ‘Magdalenapolskan’, with Lauren’s elegant fiddle urging them on and Calum, Paul, James and Ross just soaring and swooping – what a perfect way to end the collection. I was utterly transfixed by the wonderful nine tracks; she firmly embraces the traditions of the world, while saluting and acknowledging the many inspiring musicians who help to keep global music very much alive. Needless to say that I just cannot wait for her follow-up album.


MARCH 2024


MICK’S QUICKS

► Once a veteran of the San Fransisco rock scene, Michigan native Bart Moore located to the Lancing area, eschewed his Les Paul for an acoustic guitar and made himself a presence in the local clubs. His third album, Wild Flora (Self-released, no catalogue number) is really something else; crazy, impudent singing and genius writing, a love for Ireland and nine tracks to make you laugh and shout with joy, from the opening ‘Molly Bloom’, ‘The Railyard Ghosts’, ‘God Is Just Plain Lazy’ and the beautiful closer ‘Mattie’s Song (She’s Walking On Time)’. His excellent band is to die for and Grant Flick executes some jaw-dropping violin – what an absolute corker. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Singer-songwriter, frenetic fiddler and multi-instrumentalist Will Page collaborates with Show of Hands’ Steve Knightley in his debut solo album Still Standing (Union Music Label UML024); with Cormac Byrne (bodhran, percussion) and Jack Hosgood (bass guitar, piano, keyboards), he summons up a super-energetic maelstrom of sub-pop sounds that just sizzles and spits fire. Whether he’s cruising with the band or he’s completely alone with his acoustic guitar, these 10 tracks cry out to be heard. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Smithsonian Folkways Recordings artist Charlie Parr comes from Duluth, Minnesota, writes songs and totes guitar and harmonica; his album, Little Sun, is an eight-track hotch-potch of mid-west snarling and growling Americana which really doesn’t come off on this side of the Pond. For example, audiences may adore his work in Colorado or Utah, but 10 to one says he might bomb in Cardiff or Carmarthen. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down

 ► Shipshape and Bristol fashion! Jonathan ‘JD’ Darley, Andy Yates and Robbie Sattin met and bonded over sea shanties across a kitchen table in their native city a decade ago, and The Longest Johns have reimagined many of maritime folk’s classics while adding their own unique style of songwriting to the melting pot to keep the flame of the tradition alive. Their fifth album, Voyage, is brimming over with 14 salty tracks of frantic fiddle and banjo, crashing percussion and glorious harmony, from ‘The Llandoger’ and ‘Whisky Is the Life of Man’ to ‘Shawneetown’ and the closing ‘Paddy West’ – it’s all good fun. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!


RUTH MOODY

Wanderer

Blue Muse Records BMRCD/LP005

www.ruthmoody.com

Maybe it’s her butterfly-fragile, otherworldly soprano voice or her inspired songwriting, but singer and award-winning musician Ruth Moody has worked amazing wonders with her third solo album. She was born in Australia but grew up on a goat farm near Winnipeg in the Canadian province of Manitoba; Ruth, who is founder member of the harmony trio The Wailin’ Jennys, co-produced Wanderer with Dan Knobler in Nashville, Tennessee. Exquisite artist Roberta Landreth designed the striking front cover of a boot which is transformed by a crescent moon, streams, plants and mysterious mountains, and the CD booklet is peppered with song lyrics and magical images. Perhaps it’s just as well; producer Dan masterfully and majestically creates a shimmering half-world where Ruth’s vocals are well mixed down and her words and meaning are lost and unclear. Still, she maintains a soothing, dreamy atmosphere; and the most upbeat piece in the set, ‘Seventeen’, is caressed with bitter-sweet memories of unrequited love and is utterly gorgeous.

Ruth plays guitar, plus banjo on two tracks, and the core musicians are Sam Howard (upright bass), Anthony da Costa (guitars), Jason Burger (percussion) and Kai Welch and Will Honaker (piano and keyboards). A dozen sessioners drop in to lend a hand, including Canadian roots music standout Joey Landreth, who duets with Ruth on ‘The Spell of the Lilac Bloom’, Russ Paul (pedal steel), Nat Smith (cello), producer Dan (acoustic guitar) and Ruth’s older brother Richard (violin, viola, mandolin).

Ruth spends her time between Vancouver Island and Nashville, where she’s busy night and day on the road with her band or The Wailin’ Jennys. Her windswept, desolate vocals and her song-sculpturing really set the seal on this 10-track album, from the elegant but alluringly complex opener ‘Already Free’, the sorry break-up of ‘Michigan’, the homage to her Winnipeg home in ‘North Calling’, finishing with the hopeful optimism of ‘Comin’ Round The Bend’. She’s made it into a work of immaculate beauty; it’s captivating, tempting and oh-so sweetly feminine. In short, I like it one hell of a lot.


MALIN LEWIS

Halocline

Hudson Records HUD051CD

www.malinlewis.co.uk

Malin Lewis hits on a description as “a pioneering queer bagpiper, instrument maker and composer”, and requests that personal pronouns should be addressed as “they/them”. Malin certainly is a remarkable musician and an inspiring arranger; strongly influenced by the pipes’ captivating sounds from a young age, growing up in Moidart and Skye in North West Scotland and now living in Glasgow, Malin began creating the instruments, starting with simple experiments of drilling holes in sticks and inserting chanter reeds. Aged 15, Malin discovered the innovative Lindsay System Chanter, a two-octave 3D printed smallpipe. Enthralled by the instrument’s possibilities, Malin collaborated with its inventor Donald Lindsay to create the world’s first wooden version of the instrument.

Drawing its name from the halocline, a visible layer of water in northern latitudes formed between saltwater and freshwater, this jaw-dropping album symbolises Malin’s existence as a trans person in a space of inspiration and individuality. Malin says: “I got my first halocline whilst swimming in an estuary in the Isle of Skye. I didn’t know what it was at the time but the image has stayed with me ever since. Appearing like a hazy layer of cloud under the water, it floats between two worlds and provides an environment which is home to a unique microbial system. As a trans person, I live in a space in between; this beautiful space between a binary with its own colourful and unique culture.” The striking front picture shows Malin bedecked with many sea and razor-clam shells, designed by photographer and mask maker Danielle MacLeod in the Isle of Lewis.

Malin darts between smallpipes, border pipes, fiddle and low whistle; Halocline is entirely instrumental, and the superb musicians are Luc McNally (bouzouki, acoustic and electric guitars), Cammy Maxwell (double bass, synth), Maija Kauhanen (kantele, voice), Matthew Herd (saxophones), Stuart Brown (percussion). Michael Owers (brass)   and Sally Simpson (additional fiddle). The opening track is ‘Hiraeth’, a Welsh or Gaelic translation for longing for a homeland, when the lone pipes plays a mournful, desolate air; almost instantaneously and band segues into ‘Trans’, and Malin works amazing wonders with the fingers. The lovely ‘Cycle Lane’ is Malin’s tribute to the magnificent lanes for cyclists when living in the Finnish capital of Helsinki; ‘Freshwater’ and ‘Saltwater’ describe the clear body of water and the murkier, denser water that sit above and below the halocline. ‘Luna’s’ is a lovable and slightly wonky rescue dog that Malin used to know, and ‘A Clearing’ is a tune that just emerged from times of feeling low. ‘Tune 51’ paints a picture of the awful pandemic and Malin’s notebook when writing a total of 50 tunes, and ‘The Old Inn’ is a wonderful pub in Carbost in the Isle of Skye, where Malin played many sessions. The ‘Elision’ set consists of two traditional Bulgarian Kokanitsas, lively tunes for dancing that Malin learned from James Ross; and the closing track is ‘You Are Not Alone’, a beautiful melody composed by Mark Talts, learned to Malin by Finlay MacDonald who learned it in Estonia. Malin says: “I love the way music travels the world when musicians share their work with one another; and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to learn this tune.”

Malin leads the 11 tracks of Halocline in a very subtle but completely masterful attidude, and the very accomplished musicians support the young player all the way. Malin and Hudson label owner Andy Bell co-produced the album at GloWorm Studios in Glasgow; Hudson has earned the enviable reputation of recording brilliant quality from the artists, and Malin has become the latest member of that stellar company.


ERIC BIBB

Live at the Scala Theatre, Stockholm

Repute Records SPCD/LP1486

www.ericbibb.com

Legendary blues troubadour Eric Bibb’s latest album is indescribably wonderful! Born on August 16, 1951 as an African American, Eric’s youth was spent totally immersed in the New York Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s. Names like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger were visitors to his home, and he was deeply influenced by Odetta, Ritchie Havens and Taj Mahal. His father was the late Leon Bibb, an activist, actor and folk singer who marched at Selma with Dr Martin Luther King. Eric’s 50-year career spans three Grammy nominations, many Blues Foundation awards and countless more accolades, and his new offering was recorded and cherry-picked in 2023 at the Scala Theatre in the Swedish capital of Stockholm. The delighted audience treasured that magic night, and for those of us who couldn’t be there, this precious ten-track collection is one to savour and really enjoy.

A glittering line-up of stellar musicians is featured, including Eric’s long-time collaborator, musical director and producer Glen Scott on bass, keyboards, drums and backing vocals, Olle Linder on drums and acoustic bass, Johan Lindström on pedal steel and electric guitar, Christer Lyssarides on electric guitar and mandola, Esbjörn Hazelius on fiddle and cittern, Greger Andersson on harp, Lamine Cissokho on kora and vocals, special guest vocalists Sarah Dawn Finer, Rennie Mirro and Ulrika Bibb, as well as string arrangements by Erik Arvinder and David Davidson, performed by Hanna Helgegren and Sarah Cross on violins, Christopher Öhrman on viola and Josef Ahlin on cello. The immediate effect is one of completely satisfying and spellbinding orchestral music, with Eric’s honeyed but appealingly strong voice and his fluent acoustic guitar rising above the swelling sound.

First up is the traditional blues song ‘Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad’, and the Swedes just lap up Eric’s sound; his compositions ‘Silver Spoon’ and ‘Along The Way’ come next, appetising aperitifs to appreciate, and by the time that he goes into Lead Belly’s classic ‘Bring Me Little Water, Silvie’, the crowd is just about eating from the palm of Eric’s hand. He interprets Walter Vinson’s rousing ‘Things Is ‘Bout Comin’ My Way’, and his bitter account of the destruction of his family home, ‘Rosewood’, is really moving. He co-wrote ‘Whole World’s Got The Blues’, and the shimmering string quartet magically enhances his ‘River Blues’ – it’s quite spectacular. Eric completes his triumphant performance with a brace of well-known and well-loved traditional songs ‘500 Miles’ and ‘Mole In The Ground’, and the fans came away from the theatre completely sated.

Eric is well respected for performing around the globe and touring all the UK arts centres and venues; he’s appearing at the Rye International Jazz and Blues Festival, East Sussex, and the prestigious Shrewsbury Folk Festival which runs to the long weekend of August 23-26.


MICK’S QUICKS

► Machynlleth harper Cerys Hafana turns well-known English and Scottish folk songs on their venerable heads as she (in the her own words) mangles and mutates five tracks in the digital EP The Bitter (Bandcamp, no catalogue number); Iestyn Tyne voices Dafydd ap Gwilym’s ‘Caru Merch Fonheddig’ poetry and Elaine Turnbull blows horns and cornetti as Cerys transforms ‘The Bitter Withy’, ‘Child Owlet’, ‘The Wife of Usher’s Well’ and ‘Willy o’Winsbury’ into a hypnotic and mesmerising brew – however, ‘Lyke Wake Dirge’ is a bit scrappy and unprepared. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► The Cape Verde volcanic islands lie about 300 miles off the bulge of Africa; wonderful singer Nancy Vieira releases an exciting new album of stories, dreams and longings entitled Gente (Galileo GMC107), Portuguese for People. She recorded these 14 moving and oh-so-passionate songs in Cape Verdean Creole and Portuguese with accompanying acoustic guitars, accordion, bass and percussion in Lisbon, Portugal, the city of Nancy’s work and life now. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► The unmistakable expressively-voiced Portuguese fado singer who answers to the unusual name of LINA_ releases her impressive album featuring the lyrics of Portugal’s most celebrated poet Luís de Camões, Fado Camões (Galileo GMC106), with Justin Adams’ expert production. She delights the armchair audience with 12 stunning tracks tributing the poet’s verses, starting with the beautiful ‘Desamor’ and finishing with the uplifting ‘Pois Meus Olhos Nao Cansam de Chorar’. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Composer, producer and enigmatic singer Esbe takes you on a starlit stroll around the back streets, alleyways and iconic bridges over the hundreds of canals of Venice, or as the 17th century Venetians christened the waterbound medieval city La Serenissima (New Cat Music NC241). Hypnotic and artfully clever, her ninth 12-track album mixes folk, classical and experimental sounds as she creates a vivid aural sketchbook, from the mysterious 1602 opener ‘Amarilli, Mia Bella’ to the final closer ‘La Serenissima Remembered’. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► At 67 years of age, retired railway driver, local councillor and songwriter Bill Dodds is a welcome floor-spot singer that should keep folk clubs warmly thriving in his Newcastle upon Tyne area. Unfortunately, his debut album (Closer, released independently, no catalogue number) clearly demonstrates Bill’s pedestrian performance, despite producer Dan Whitehouse adding accompaniment to enhance the atmosphere. Bill’s deadpan personality and voice masks his prolific compositions, which is a pity; still, better luck next time. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down


COWBOIS RHOS BOTWNNOG

Mynd â’r Tŷ am Dro

Sbrigyn Ymborth SY037

www.facebook.com/cowboisrhb/

Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog are one hell of a delightful enigma; three brothers, Iwan, Aled and Dafydd Hughes, grew up on the west of the Llŷn peninsula, where they experiment with alternative country, folk and heady rock with bewildering alacrity. They were formed in 2006 and released their first album in 2007; they recorded their follow-up 2010 offering Dyddiau Du, Dyddiau Gwyn (with producer David Wrench) to widespread acclaim and airplay. They released their third 2012 album, Draw Dros y Mynydd (again with David Wrench), and in 2023 the live album Yn Fyw! Galeri Caernarfon came out. They have just released their sixth album – in translation, Taking the House for a Walk – which includes nine tracks that honour the home in which they were born.

The album was recorded in Sain studios in Llandwrog, Llŷn; lead singer Iwan plays acoustic and electric guitars, mouth organ and keyboards, backing vocalist Aled does bass, electric guitar and keyboards while Dafydd is the drummer. A number of musicians enhance Mynd â’r Tŷ am Dro – Branwen Hâf Williams on vocals and piano, Llŷr Pari on electric guitar, Euron Jones on pedal steel guitar, Gethin Wyn Griffiths on organ and electric piano and Georgia Ruth Williams on vocals. The set is drenched with strolls down a sentimental path, full of memories – opening track ‘Clawdd Eithin’ is there, with standout banjo and pedal steel, and here is following album title song. Songscribe Iwan writes on love, such as ‘Defodau’ and ‘Magl’, and passionate voices ring out in beautiful harmony. The band keeps the audience guessing, with folk-like riffs somersaulted to full-on heads-down rock and guitars howling in feedback.

Two landmark tracks finish the album: A Iwan Llwyd poem, ‘Cyrraedd Glan’, and their respectful salute to Bob Delyn a’r Ebillion’s classic ‘Blodau Haearn Blodau Glo’. Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog are soaring mightily high on their mystery journey when they chuck the rigid labels out of the window – is it folk? Is it Americana? Is it rock? We will never know…


CRAIG JOINER

A Kind of Calm

Molano Music MM009

www.craigjoinermusic.com/

Although this wonderfully dexterous acoustic guitarist and prolific singer/songwriter has forged a career and won repute in the rock arena, folk music has always been his true muse and calling. Craig was a 15-year-old boy when he played his first gig at the Cellar Folk Club in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire; but it was in 1987 that his band, Romeo’s Daughter, signed with Jive Records and released an album a year later. The self-titled album spawned a whirlwind tour of the USA and saw one of the hit singles shoot up the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart there. From there on, the band’s successful and infectious sound has attracted the highest calibre of established artists, with various covers making huge hits. Craig’s songs have also been recorded by singers as diverse as Bonnie Tyler and Steps and featured in major Hollywood movies. His compositions have been used on programmes including Friends, Cold Feet, European Golf and by Disney. Craig is also the co-writer of the theme tune for the long-running BBC-1 comedy panel TV show Would I Lie To You?  – and as a session musician, he has played guitar for an impressive list of names, including Tom Jones.

He performs in intimate venues, such as arts centres and many folk clubs – and I really like his forthcoming 10-track album, which is released in May 26. Craig is a master storyteller, and his strong, passionate voice weaves hypnotic tales in his set. A Kind of Calm just explodes from the opening ‘The Wedding Day of Eliza May’ and the following traditional song ‘Mary and The Soldier’; his audience is hanging onto his yarn ‘Old Will’ – and ‘Fanny Adams’ unfolds the dreadful demise of that poor eight-year-old child, whose untimely death spurred the popular 19th-century phrase.

Putting aside his own material, he returns to folksong for the end of his album. Glaswegian and folk icon Harry Robertson, who died in 1995, retired to Australia and in 1971 he recorded his famous song ‘Ballina Whalers’ on his album Whale Chasing Men — Songs of Whaling In Ice And Sun. The original song was different, with Harry writing couplets of the verses which he then sang in shanty style; the legendary singer Nic Jones picked up on and altered Harry’s song, which he recorded from his 1980 Penguin Eggs album under the mistitle ‘The Humpback Whale’ – and Nic failed to credit Harry’s work. Craig chose to go for Nic’s interpretation, and ‘The Humpback Whale’ is a magnificently savage account of a hard and bloody life. Craig concludes his show with the beautiful chorus song ‘Row On’; this traditional lament was found by Gail Huntington in an 1864 New Bedford, Massachusetts journal, and the melody was composed by Tim Laycock. Craig is really in his element in this genre, and his intricate guitar puts a bright shine on his impressive repertoire. More, please!


FAR FLUNG COLLECTIVE

To a Sea Cliff

Far Flung Records FFC003

www.birnamcd.com/birnam-pr/sea-cliff

Far Flung Collective was formed in 2015 between the English Soundstorm Music Education Agency and the Scottish University of the Highlands and Islands and includes a quartet of folk troubadour Alex Roberts, traditional fiddler and composer Anna-Wendy Stevenson on fiddle and whistle, multi-instumentalist and jazzer Dan Somogyi and rising vocal star Mabel Duncan on guitar and fiddle. The project linked musicians in Southern England with peers based in the Gaelic Outer Hebrides and spawned a 2017 debut album called Far Flung Corners, followed up with Black Bay in 2020.

The third offering, To a Sea Cliff, was born in extraordinary circumstances following the international covid lockdown in 2020. Because of the ban on social gatherings, a short-burst creative residency was scrapped and the entire album was created online. Far Flung Collective used drums, samples and programming for the first time – partly, they say, out of necessity to enable in-time recording to be achieved across the digital ether. Rock, classical and jazz influences appear alongside folk.

The album comprises four sections: The South, Between The South and The North, The North and The Atlantic. The South has seven tracks in its homage to the Dorset coast: the opening ‘Durdle Door’, with a dreamy guitar-plucked riff and voices breaking out in quiet harmony; the Thomas Hardy poem ‘To a Sea Cliff’; Mabel whispers ‘The Edge of Nowhere’,  ‘The Sea, The Sea’ describes the mighty Jurassic Coast and ponders how miniscule humans are; the weird dissonance of ‘Butterfly’; the grandeur of ‘The Sussex Weald’ and the synthetic strings of ‘The Cliffs of Dorset’. To be quite honest, the tracks sound very like 1970s psychedelia; try as I might, I can’t get images of Mabel in a Laura Ashley long flowing dress out of my mind.

Between The South And The North waves goodbye to a brace of compositions; Liam Sutherland composed ‘Waves’, inspired from his rugged coastline, and ‘Thagadh Flodh/The Lives of Three Wattles’ molds Gaelic singing and Southern English dialect.  The North has a quartet of gay Highland jigs, airs and reels, but descends into the inevitable rock. The last part, The Atlantic, is a mind-blowing nine-and-a-half minute maelstrom of hypnotic dub, heady jazz, honking saxophones, synthetic pipes, fiddles and whistles. To a Sea Cliff is a bit of a curate’s egg; I‘ve listened to the album many times before deciding whether to like it or loathe it. Aw, shucks – it’s caught me in a good mood today, and I’ll have to give Far Flung Collective the grudging thumbs-up!


PHOEBE REES

Bring In The Light: Si Kahn’s Songs of Courage and Resistance

Strictly Country Records

www.phoeberees.co.uk

Years ago, young Phoebe Rees came down to Llantrisant Folk Club and amazed and delighted everybody with her sparkling fiddle and song repertoire. She was born in the Debatable Lands, in the shadow of Old Oswestry, a 3,000-year-old settlement just five miles from the Welsh border in Shropshire, England; but Shropshire has a bulge, which included Oswestry. The market and railway town still clings to the Welsh culture – indeed, Croesoswallt is its Welsh name.

Phoebe is now 31 years old, and her life was strongly influenced by music. Her mother worked in a music store and she bought home clarinet, concertina, accordion, recorder and ocarina. Phoebe grew up listening to Schubert, Bob Dylan and traditional Bolivian dance music; she worked in a community arts project in São Paulo, Brazil, and as a volunteer director for a choir for poor children in Mumbai, India. Phoebe also drew inspiration from various Celtic, English and American folk traditions, living and playing music in the Scottish Highlands, studying classical viola in Edinburgh and a growing and passionate commitment to social justice. It was no surprise that legendary long-time organiser, American musician and brilliant songwriter Si Khan was so impressed by her recording of his ‘Mississippi Summer’ that he invited her to record her first full-length album to celebrate his 80th birthday and to carry his music forward long after he is gone.

Bring In The Light was recorded and mixed at Studio Doornenburg in The Netherlands and has 14 tracks of Si’s wonderful songs, boosted with Pheobe’s assured voice, her viola, fiddle and her piano; Janos Koolen accompanies her with banjo, guitar, accordion and bodhràn, Lucas Beukers is on acoustic bass and Sophie Hanna harmonises on vocals. From the opening ‘High On a Mountain With Ola Bella Reed’ and ‘In Afghanistan’, through ‘When the War Is Done’, ‘Peace Will Rise’ and ‘Molly In the Mill’ to the closing ‘Freedom Is a Constant Song’ and ‘People Like You’ – and last but not least, ‘Mississippi Summer’ – the whole album is a sheer delight.

Phoebe’s performing style is energetic, engaging and quietly charismatic. She’s a lovely person; in these troubled times, she helps to lift up that light, giving us all a reason to believe. In fact, the respected hammered dulcimer wizard and American folk singer John McCutcheon gives us the finest compliment: “Phoebe’s considerable musicianship, both as a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, completely inhabits this project.” And that, folks, is really saying something.


MIGUEL GIRÃO

The Northern Isles Suite (EP)

MG001

www.miguelgirao.com/about/

Watch out for Miguel Girão, stunning Portuguese acoustic guitarist, tutor, member of Shetland quartet Tern and exhilarating accompanist to breathtaking piano player and Shetlander Amy Laurenson. Originally from the Midlands of Portugal and now based in Glasgow, Scotland, Miguel graduated on Classical Guitar at Lisbon’s Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa and is now studying Traditional Music at Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. As a young boy, Miguel concentrated on classical guitar – but he was introduced to traditional music in his first year of high school, where he met a local fiddle player who sparked his interest in folk music. From now on, Miguel’s love for Scottish and Shetland music just grew and grew.

The Northern Isles Suite is comprised of four movements of traditional tunes from Orkney and Shetland, arranged for solo acoustic guitar by him. First up, Miguel develops the lovely melody ‘Da Day Dawn’, and just as the sun rises, he interprets the striking ‘Deerness Reel’ and lights the blue touchpaper with the percussive ‘Da Sholders Geo’. Miguel’s solo instrument is a sheer delight; he rings the changes with the third piece, ‘The Standing Stones of Stenness’, and the final part is ‘Da Trowie Burn’, a beautiful air attributed to Friedemann Stickle, the legendary Unst fiddler. The ‘trows’ are Shetland’s faeries or little folk: “Dey come oot in mass aboot da end of November and go back again aboot da fower an’ twentyith night, what dey ca’ Up-Helly-A’.”

This EP was recorded by Bob Whitney at RCS Studio and mixed and mastered by Scott Turnbull. Miguel has extended his sincere thanks to his Kickstarter Crowdfunding backers and the Martyn Bennett Memorial Trust for supporting the project.


JULIE ATKIN

Blackbird

Independent release; no catalogue number

www.gavinatkin.bandcamp.com/album/blackbird

Julie Atkin lives with her musician husband Gavin in the village of Marden, Kent; both she and Gavin have amassed 15 well-known and less well-travelled traditional songs, and the album is a welcome treasure trove and reference point for any eager enthusiasts who have embarked on the magical journey of folk discovery. Julie trained as a classical singer, and her bright and clear soprano voice sparks and energises ancient and venerable songs; like a curator restoring an old portrait, she polishes off the dust and grime and gives the melodies a new, proud shine. Gavin accompanies her on acoustic guitar and diatonic accordeon, and his minimal empathetic playing is just enough to let her songs grow and blossom. In short, it’s exquisite.

Julie and Gavin take you on a voyage of interesting facts and folk stories; the album booklet makes great reading. The opening song, the minor-key ‘The Banks of Inverary’, was collected by Henry and Robert Hammond from carter Robert Barratt of Puddletown in the county of Dorset in 1905, one of a number of songs that are usually found in Scotland. This intriguing problem can be explained as a result of a Scottish regiment being stationed in the South Coast during the Napoleonic era, as collector and singer Nick Dow notes. The original song was called ‘The Banks of Inverurie’, and Julie leads the story on to its final conclusion. In contrast, the following story-ballad ‘Georgie’ comes from Scotland and England, but Julie and Gavin plump for the particularly lovely melody that Joseph Taylor sang to composer Percy Grainger in 1906. Taylor could only remember one verse, so author and ethnomusicologist Bert Lloyd cobbled together the narrative from different sources for Patrick O’Shaughnessy’s book 21 Lincolnshire Folk Songs, published in 1968. In his children’s book The Magical City, Lloyd believed ‘Polly Vaughan’ to be a magical tale about a young woman who transformed into a swan or a deer at night, but was killed by her lover when he was out hunting. Her ghost then appears in court to stop him being executed, and Julie’s mesmeric storytelling transfixes one and all.

‘Lavender’s Green’ turned up among the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould’s notoriously difficult to read notes, but Gavin made sense of the manuscript and fashioned it into a sweet little song; ‘The Waters of Tyne’ is included in the classic 1882 Northumbrian Minstrelsy; and Julie heard the enchanting singer Peta Webb performing the beautiful ‘If I Were a Blackbird’, which of course forms the title of her album. Both the Cork-born singer and banjo player Margaret Barry and the Shropshire troubadour Fred Jordan sang the ubiquitous ‘The Galway Shawl’, but surprisingly it was collected as early as 1936 by Sam Henry from Ulsterwoman Bridget Kealey of Dungiven, County Derry – and the macabre children’s song ‘Three Mice Went Into a Hole to Spin’ came from the 1912 book Little Songs of Long Ago. The track notes say: “If you enjoy cats biting the heads off mice, this is the song for you!”

A remarkable snippet: when Joseph Taylor sang ‘Once I Courted a Damsel’ for Grainger, he remembered only two verses and sang a couple of lines which did not belong. Gavin and Julie’s friend, the folk scholar Ruairidh Grieg, noticed the rogue lines were from ‘The Brookside’, a poem by Richard Monckton Milne, later Lord Houghton, which was published in 1829 – and Julie sings Milne’s ‘Brookside’ verses to Taylor’s beautiful tune, with grateful thanks to Ruairidh. Many years ago, Gavin bought a battered old paperback copy of Colm O’Cochlainn’s Irish Street Ballads, and ‘The Tanyard Side’ has been a firm favourite ever since; and Julie performs ‘Cold Blows The Wind’, Romany singer May Bradley’s version of ‘The Unquiet Grave’. (Here’s an extra fact, which I can chuck in – May was born in Monmouth and she was fluent in the Welsh language and Romany. She married a Smith from Denbighshire and settled in Ludlow, Shropshire.)

Ralph Vaughan Williams collected ‘The Old Garden Gate’ from a wood-cutter, named in his notes as Mr Broomfield in East Hornden, Essex; his surname was actually Broomfield and he lived in East Horndon. ‘The Winter’s Gone and Past’, one of the ‘Curragh of Kildare’ family of songs, is a composite version made up of three verses from Joseph Vincent of Wareham, Dorset, and one verse from Mrs Marina Russell of Upwey, a prolific singer and great-aunt to the much-missed Paul Sartin, who lived only 20 miles from Mr Vincent. This wonderful song, ‘As I Roved Out’, came from Paddy Tunney, who inherited it from his mother, Brigid Tunney, her brother Michael Gallagher and a great-aunt who was also named Brigid; and Julie concludes her set with the folk classic ‘The Turtle Dove’, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1907 from Mr Penfold, landlord of The Plough Inn at Rusper in West Sussex – what’s more, The Plough is still going on still.

Julie and Gavin have selected an important volume of songs which have lasted for years and which, hopefully, will carry on for ever – but it’s her assured and strong voice which has revived them and instilled a glittering freshness. As I said: it’s exquisite.


FEBRUARY 2024


VÄRIVARJO

Courage In Colour

Sleight of Hand Records SOHR2401CD

www.varivarjo.com

Värivargo is a Helsinki-based experimentalist duo consisting of wonderful accordionist and piano player Tommie Black-Roff, musician and composer from Cornwall and member of the trio TEYR who commutes between Britain and the Nordic countries, and guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Joni Vierre. Their Finnish name translates as ‘colour-shadow’, and they liken Värivarjo to a music laboratory, a testing ground in which they bridge the divide between folk and jazz genres through composing and improvisation. The two musicians reveal: “The outcome isn’t always known from the outset, but the journey is what counts.”

Tommie holds a diverse background in folk music, electronics, classical music and improvisation. From a young age, he was immersed in local Cornish folk, classical and church music. He completed a BA in ethnomusicology at the University of London and then worked for a number of years on the UK folk circuit with other bands, including TEYR; in 2017, he moved to the Nordic countries to pursue the Nordic Master in Folk Music program, travelling and studying between Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway. Now Tommie works both in the UK and the Nordics; recent solo work saw him premier Human Movement, a piece for accordion and gestural electronics which blended music and dance. Current duo projects include Ville & Tommie, which launched its debut album, Stuffed Pockets, in 2023, and Värivarjo, who have just released this new album. Tommie is a musical director with Cornish company Cousin Jack’s, and he’s still a musician of TEYR and the Helsinki Cèilidh Band; he also teaches and runs a yearly Crean Folk Camp for musicians in the far west of Cornwall.

For Courage In Colour, Joni and Tommie write individually, culminating in their collaboration on track number nine; titled ‘Värivarjo’, it’s a fluid acoustic guitar and sultry accordion piece which breaks out into pretty musical florets. For all the album, Joni and Tommie take listeners by the hand and lead them into a magical dreamscape which is oh-so satisfying. The opening track is Joni’s ‘Havaintoja Lasipallosta’, a lazy and summery minor-key riff between accordion and acoustic guitar, which reaches out and explores a plethora of ear-catching and mind-bending chords; next up is Joni’s ‘Sorina’, with male and female dissonant voices hypnotically echoing and Devina Boughton taking in trumpet. Now Tommie takes his turn and composes the elegant ‘Idling’; his piano and the electric guitar lead a merry dance. ‘Piispanrannan Valssi’ is Joni’s tune, and it’s made of beautiful accordion sounds and entrancing acoustic guitar.

Joni’s and Tommie’s writing works wonders in the most spectacular fishion; they generate a magical sixth sense where their freeform playing just draws the audience in. Tommie’s ‘Anker’ is a fierce, throbbing accordion extravaganza, and his ‘Bells and Blossom’ is a over-six-minutes dizzy accordion reel with the harsh guitar fuzztone soaring away. ‘Listen to the Valley’ is just accordion bliss; and Joni’s ‘Make Me an Ending’ wraps the album up completely, with the duo’s acoustic instruments in perfect sublime togetherness. Värivarjo’s unique invention just inspires and excites me; it’s a satisfying blend of two superb musicians and the meeting of minds – what an exquisite album.


POLENTA

Karkelo

POLCD003

www.polenta.com

Polenta is a wonderful young fiddle-and-guitar quartet from Kaustinen, Finland, the traditional home of the fiddle; the band consists of fiddler Aino Kinnunen, five-string fiddlers Veera Kuisma and Olli Sippola and guitarist Mikko Malmivaara, and their gorgeously complicated performance is just amazing, inspiring and utterly joyful. In the Finnish language, polenta also translates as ‘a stomp’, dancing and grooving to the music – and these  fiddles create a fabulous, ringing sound which is also highly innovative but remaining true to Nordic tradition as well.

Their second album is just released, and it doesn’t disappoint in the lightest. Veera has composed the opening title tune, the marvellous ‘Karkelo’ – ‘Celebration’, in the Finnish language, and also the name for a Finnish quadrille –  and all the foursome contribute and write nearly all the 10 tracks (except for the giddy ‘Ykköspolska’ (Polska Number One), by the Finnish fiddler Jonna Lankinen.) ‘Karkelo’ throws down the gauntlet and sets the pace, and next up is Mikko’s inventive and shimmering ‘Skål!’ (Cheers!); the tension builds up until the band roar their way to the next party. Olli writes ‘Sippolan Ollin Katrilli’ (Olli Sippola’s Quadrille) and he and Aino share the beautiful and delicate ‘Polska Polun Varrelta’ (Polska Along the Path), while Aino explore the lovely acoustic guitar-and-mandolin duet melody, titled ‘Ikkuna’ (Window). Olli, meanwhile, pens the mammoth ‘Ikiliikkuja’ (Perpetual Motion), all six minutes and 18 seconds of it, and Polenta open their throats and sing in full voice – what a glorious sound.

Aino, Veera, Mikko and Olli are already discovering and firmly latching onto their musical path; they are the feted guardians of this proud Nordic tradition, and they even take it further by experimenting and probing the very outreaches. Mikko’s flowing but choppy guitar adds extra spice to the must-hear echoing sound of the fiddles. The CD cover shows the blurred musicians, boys and girls, abandoning the instruments in a hypnotic and happy dance; what a fantastic album, and Polenta can be well pleased with that. Here’s to the third offering!


AMY LAURENSON

Strands

AEL001

www.amylaurenson.com

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

Friends and companions, may I introduce you to Shetland Isles-born incredibly wonderful piano player Amy Laurenson, recently named BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2023 at the prestigious Celtic Connections festival. She studied both classical the traditional music at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and graduated with a first-class Honours degree in June 2022; now Amy is a Glasgow-based lecturer in piano and traditional music at RCS Juniors and has previously taught with Fèis Rois (the World Gaelic Week) and Shetland Arts’ Folk Frenzy. In short, she is a revelation.

Her debut album, Strands, is nine spellbinding tracks of utter joy. She tours with her band Tern, appearing at the likes of Shetland Folk Festival, Edinburgh TradFest and Cambridge Folk Festival, and it’s these three marvellous musicians who accompany her – must-hear Portuguese acoustic guitarist Miguel Girão, double-bassist Rhona MacDonald and bodhràn player Rea Sondergaard Larsen, whose fabulous percussion is a thing of wonder. The whole album was recorded by Tim Matthew at Mareel in Lerwick, the most northerly music, cinema and creative industries centre which is sited right on the edge of the North Sea on the historic Hay’s Dock quayside, beside the Shetland Museum and Archives.

Miguel goes out with Amy as a regular duo, and you can hear his introductory playing in the opening track, four traditional Shetland reels, ‘Tilly Pump’, ‘Ahint da Daeks o’ Voe’, Da Scallowa Lasses’ and ‘Donald Blue’. Right from the very start, her inspiring playing firmly hooks and mesmerises the delighted crowd; uniquely brilliant and highly compelling, Amy takes them on a magic carpet ride on an emotional journey. She darts between Shetland culture and her love of Scandinavian tradition; the follow-up is the beautiful ‘Bas-Pelles Eriks Brudpolska’, a fantastic three-two tune composed by the well-known fiddler Per Westberg, born in 1886 in Tosätter, East Sweden – and before it’s time for you to catch your breath, she’s off on a merry dance again with a brace of ‘Shetland Wedding Tunes’, developing and exploring the traditional ‘Papa Stour Bridal March’ and the gay ‘Du’s Bön Lang Awa an I’m Tocht Lang ta See Dee’.

The well-loved melody ‘Da Trowie Burn’ was composed by the late Unst fiddler Friedemann Stickler, and Amy demonstrates her considerable prowess and versatility; the three-tune set ‘Up Da Stroods’ has Amy, Miguel, Rhona and Rea absolutely flying, with Ian Lowthian’s artful ‘Shetland Fiddle Diva’ and the storming ‘Up Da Stroods Da Sailor Goes’ ending in the complete finisher. Amy trips off the piano keys triumphantly, her amazing chords carry a strong whiff of heady jazz, Rea delivers top-notch bodhràn and Miguel offers up some seemingly impossible but truly mind-expanding chords.

Amy pays tribute to tunesmiths from all over the world who have made music a colourful place, including Catriona MacDonald (‘Tune For A. Llen’), Jenna Reid (Four Filskettes On A Fiesta’) fiddler and composer Alasdair Fraser (‘Tommy’s Tarbukas’) and Colin Farrell (‘Trip to Miriam’s’). Above all, James Hill’s ‘Newcastle Hornpipe’ and Garden Johnston’s ‘’Da Boys o’ Da Lounge’ must surely be Amy’s and Miguel’s party piece – stunning, crazy piano-and-guitar masterful duets astightasthis, which must have everyone and their several dogs cheering and barking madly. What magnificent artistry!

Her respect and love for the late Shetland fiddler and composer Tom Anderson shows in Tom’s desolate ‘Lament For Lowrie Ida Lea’, where she conveys passionate and mighty grand piano chords; her schooling in classical music sparked with her fiery, burning love of Shetland tradition is totally unique; may she amaze the concert crowds for a very, very long time.


JANUARY 2024


THE BLESSÈD CROW

Maiden Flight

Independent release – no catalogue number

www.facebook.com/theblessedcrow

The Blessèd Crow is father and daughter Tim and Iona Crahart from Risca, South-East Wales; Maiden Flight is their new debut album, and Tim and Iona have recorded 10 tracks at Cwmcarn’s Snake Mountain Studios, engineered by Sam Andrews and Mason Bradley. Tim wrote all the songs, and it’s a heady mixture of storytelling, folklore and some he has made up along the way, a burning sense of injustice and finger-pointing barbs against the age-old uncaring establishment.

Ions plays bodhràn and percussion, and Tim plays guitar, bouzouki, reed organ and banjo; together, they create marvellous harmonies which will please and thrill the audience. ‘Newport Rising’ is a fierce commemorative opener and reminder of the November 1839 march on Newport, where 4,000 Chartists under the leadership of John Frost poured down Stow Hill but 21 were killed in front of The Westgate Hotel by the infantry. ‘The Beekeeper’ is a cracking chorus, and ‘The Hollow Yew’ and ‘The Mystery’ deserve their places as memorable songs.

Tim’s writing turn much sharper and political as Maiden Flight progresses; ‘Highway Robbery’ is directed to the Tory Government and incredibly-Richy Sunak, and ‘Heave Ho’ celebrates the statue of slave trader and Tory MP Edward Colston being unceremoniously rolled through the streets and dumped in Bristol Harbour. Tim describes the anguish of a First World War widow, who blames ‘The King and The Kaiser’ for her lover’s death; and ‘The Pwca’ is a Celtic sprite or goblin, created by Shakespeare as Puck in The Midsummer Night’s Dream. The album finishes with the chorus song ‘Walk With You’ – what a finale, and Tim and Iona can feel very satisfied with their efforts. Well done, both!


RANT

Spin

Make Believe Records MBR12CD

www.rantfiddles.com

The sensational fiddling quartet RANT are scattered widely across all corners in Scotland; Bethany Reid was born in Shetland, Anna Massie and Lauren MacColl hails from the Highland peninsula of the Black Isle and Gillian Frame is on West Coast Isle of Arran. However, music studies drew them together in Glasgow in the early 2000s – and on their latest album, the foursome celebrate a decade of musical excellence by paying tribute to the bands and the inspiring players who have influenced them during their formative years.

Spin is a bold and exciting re-interpretation on every one of all 11 tracks, sounds which pricked up the ears and inquiring minds of Bethany, Anna, Lauren and Gillian. It’s a potted history of really respected musicians, both Scottish, English and from other countries across the globe; the album opens with the Capercaillie classic ‘Dr MacPhail’s Reel’, pizzicato strings heralding the tasty meat of the tune, and elegantly switches into the multi-string brainstormer ‘Hale-Bopp’, courtesy of the celebrated Finnish band JPP.  ‘Boda’ is from the English-Finnish duo Karen Tweed and Timo Alakotila, while RANT rips into the amazing Solas tunes ‘The Big Reel of BallynaCally’. The chamber-folk quartet doffs several caps to Máirtín O’Connor and Natalie MacMaster (‘The Road West’ and ‘New York Jig’). Alasdair Fraser and Tony McManus’s ‘Roslin Castle/Miss Gordon of Gight’ by Alasdair Fraser and Tony McManus, chosen by Lauren, is breathtakingly beautiful; Michael McGoldrick’s ‘James Brown’s March’ breaks out into a dazzling shower of delicious notes while the Swedish band Väsen (‘Hasse A’s’) and the brilliant Irish fiddler Liz Carroll (‘The Dadda/Fly and Dodger’) are given a whole new revealing interpretation by the quartet.

The last and final flourish is the super-fast ‘Hangman’s Reel’; Aly Bain must have cracked a wide grin when he acknowledges the masterful musicianship and the spot-on accuracy of these fiddlers. Bethany, Anna, Lauren and Gillian have taken the sound to new, soaring heights – and a legion of musical movers and shakers will stoutly and lovingly applaud them for that.


LAUFORD CRIPPS

Live at GBFM Nantyglo

Steam Pie Records 1020S

www.lauford.co.uk

 Wynford Jones, Laurence Eddy and Geoff Cripps first met and started playing music together at the legendary Islwyn Folk Club, ensconced in the Sirhowy Valley mining village of Ynysddu, in the late 1970s. They were one-half of the folk-rock band The Chartists, drawn together at the request of local MP Neil Kinnock to help him commemorate the Chartists’ march on Newport in 1839. The live shows in 1979 finally translated into the first release of Geoff’s independent Steam Pie label in 1981, eponymously called The Chartists, and they recorded the follow-up album entitled Cause For Complaint.

Wynford, Laurence and Geoff performed as The Chartists until 1991, but didn’t reconnect until 2022 when they began concentrating on the songs composed by Wynford. The chance meeting with Daniel James at an open mic in Crickhowell last year led to his inviting them to perform on his folk programme on local community radio station GBfm, based in Banna Park in Nantyglo. It produced Lauford Cripps’ debut album and the first Steam Pie release in seven years, after Allan Yn Y Fan’s full-length offering Newid in 2016.

Daniel recorded Live at GBfm Nantyglo and he and Wynford produced the nine-track album. Lauford Cripps possesses what must be described as the complete South Wales string sound, with Wynford delivering gruff but passionate lead vocals and performing guitar and mandola, Laurence supplying guitar and harmony vocals and Geoff adding accompaniment on bass guitar, octave mandola, guitar and bouzouki. Wynford composed all six songs, except for Ewan MacColl’s ‘School Days Over’ and the traditional ‘Eerie Canal’; however, the greatest and worst disaster happened in 1913 in the mining village of Senghenydd, when a record 439 miners and one rescuer were killed at the Universal Colliery, near Caerphilly. Everyone lost loved ones and young sons; it left 542 children fatherless made widows of more than 200 women, and 90 boys and young men aged 20 or less were slaughtered, with the youngest being just 14 years old. But any accounts or ballads which told of the disaster disappeared or were just not there; so Wynford decided to write a song, ‘The Universal’, a tribute echoing through all those years.

However, just prior to releasing this album, Laurence decided to part company with Wynford and Geoff, but the record commemorates his contribution. Steam Pie Records says that Wynford and Geoff will carry on as a duo and songs of this album will feature strongly in their performances.


NORTHERN RESONANCE

Vision of Three

Trad Records TRAD029

www.northernresonance.se

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

Northern Resonance are an exciting and stunning Scandinavian string trio, based in Järvsö in Sweden; they release their second and latest album on January 19, and they are embarking on their first Australian tour. The personnel are highly skilled and accomplished musicians, rooted in traditional music; Anna Ekborg Hans-Ers performs with her principal instrument, the viola d’amore, Petrus Dillner on the beautiful and strikingly visual nyckelharpa and hardanger fiddler Jerker Hans-Ers. The band was created in the autumn of 2017, when Anna hit on the notion about forming an unlikely combination of viola d’amore, hardanger fiddler and nyckelharpa, which was a previously untested combination. She pitched the idea to Jerker and Petrus – and so the breath-taking and super-individual mesmeric sound of Northern Resonance was born.

This is an album to really savour and enjoy. Anna, Jerker and Petrus daringly compose all the 10 original tracks, from the opening gay chimes of ‘Fasterud’, through the lilting rhythms of ‘The Quarantine Waltz’ and the busy cascade of notes of ‘F*ck That Car’, concluding with the grand elegant closer ‘Nobody’s Marsch’. Just listen to the gorgeous ringing atmosphere of ‘Brittas Polska’ and marvel to the tumbling shower of bright tones; in ‘Route 83’, the nyckelharpa weaves, ducks and dives through a wonderland of melody.

Northern Resonance are very eloquently dancing on a high-wire between traditional  folk music and brilliant innovation; they have forged what amounts to an utterly unique soundscape. I can thoroughly recommend Vision of Three. Anna, Petrus and Jerker have invented a new listening experience; they produce great life in all their tunes, and the trio know how to bring out that definable magic. My dream is that some enterprising agent will organise a Welsh, English and Scottish tour before too long.


MICK’S QUICKS

► Penetrating Scottish singer-songwriter Colin Macduff has created his second album concerning 12 songs of parting, lost loves and relationship break-ups called Separations (Independent release, CNM20231). As well as solo acoustic guitar, the crafted lyrics and fine melodies include three piano-based tracks co-written and arranged by Maria Quinn; it was produced by Blazing Fiddles’ Angus Lyon and features the fiddling of his bandmate Jenna Reid. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► From the family-run music pub on Clare Island, County Mayo, to Music City in Nashville, Tennessee, Irish strong-voiced singer and acoustic guitarist/banjo player Niall McCabe has developed his own individual style with some wonderful songwriting, partly led by Irish and Americana influences, in his impressive solo debut album Rituals (Graggy label, no natalogue number). From ‘Stonemason’ to ‘November Swell’, the stirring but delicate sound is really pleasing; the final song, ‘Valhalla’, draws greatly of the Mayo culture. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Mesmerising and oh-so-fiery songwriter Alun Parry has made his triumphant return to the stage after five years away; his Bandcamp digital album, Speak Easy, Sing Hard (no catalogue number) is packed with 22 live tracks, performing with his band in front of a crowd at the Prohibition Studio in Arrad Street in his home city of Liverpool. It’s a ‘Best-Of’ list, including for starters ‘The Football Song’, the favourite ‘I Want Rosa To Stay’, the Spanish fascist era true story ‘The Train From Barcelona’, We Can Make The World Stop’ and finally the rousing ‘The Internationale’. Great, stand-up-and-be-counted stuff. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Glasgow-based harpist and enchanting singer Gillian Fleetwood has independently released a wonderful cross-genre 13-track album called Together With Yourself At Sea Level (no catalogue number), in collaboration with Mercury Award nominee and multiple Scottish Album Of The Year nominated composer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist C Duncan. Gillian plays a 210-year-old Erard Grecian harp, housed at the Hospitalfield House arts centre in Arbroath, and she blends chamber pop and Scottish traditional influences to magical and stunning effect. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► Americana singer/songwriter/acoustic guitarist Alice Di Micele has released 16 near-original albums since 1988, but this New Jersey-born turned Oregon resident has recorded her 17th offering, Interpretations Vol 1 (Alice Otter Music, AO117), which she tributes songsmiths including Neil Young, Kate Wolf, Reverend Gary Davis, Christine MacVie, The Grateful Dead and Sting. She serves up a heady mix of folk, jazz and blues that not inspires and entertains as well. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

► South West England-based Luke Philbrick & The Solid Gone Invasion’s eponymous album (independently released, no catalogue number) storms through blues, jazz and folk genres with saxophone, clarinet, banjo, harp, violin and mandolin included, but these 12 tracks do not float my boat in the slightest little bit; Luke possesses a ear-pounding chain-saw of a voice and the more he shouts, the more his lyrics become unintelligible. Sorry, but no. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs down


MARTYN JOSEPH

This Is What I Want To Say

Pipe Records PRCD039

www.martynjoseph.net

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

My admiration and complete respect for guitarist, singer and prolific songwriter Martyn Joseph knows no bounds. His musical career has spanned an incredible 40 years, and he conjures a unique and magical performance that is mind-blowingly unforgettable; whether he’s playing for a couple of hundred packed-out people in his home town in Penarth or thousands of delighted fans on a worldwide tour, Martyn always delivers the goods and comes up trumps without question. His impressive recording prospectus lists 27 studio albums, including his self-released debut offering I’m Only Beginning in 1983, 15 live collections and a plethora of EPs, compilations and collaborations. And to crown his achievements, he won the best artist category in the BBC Welsh Music Awards.

For all his eloquent, incisive and ear-bending melodious songcraft, his first release of the New Year stamps the seven-word label that firmly lays down the questions and answers, the injustices and the callous corporate scandals, the hopes and the fears that are churning and tumbling in his mind. This Is What I Want To Say is quietly introspective and is remarkedly different; Martyn selects a handful of accompanists and performs on his dazzlingly intricate acoustic guitar, pump organ, piano, bass, dobro and chimes. The first track – ‘Folding’, with cellist Liz Hanks enhancing the sound – he depicts the fragile relationship between the artist and the fickle public: “I’m folding like a kite that’s lost in the wind / I’m holding to the remnant of these sins / To a vast goodbye a small hello / I’m folding, folding slow.”

He professes his wonder and love for the mountains and coast in ‘Pacific Northwest’ and his absolute certainty that the musician is not alone: “We are the hope, we are the ones / And we stand in the light of a thousand suns.” Bassist Andrew ‘Wal’ Coughlan and pianist Nigel Hopkins accompany ‘Albert’s Place’, which describes the harsh, hopeless poverty of the 13-year reign of austerity and the comforting gestures of compassion; and the atmosphere relentlessly builds up in ‘Grateful’: “I’m grateful for the Thomas boy, his epic habitat / The song of Polly Garter and the dreams of Captain Cat.” In ‘Take Me To Love’, Martyn duets with German-American songwriter Antje Duvekot; and in ‘Waiting For The Rain’, hiraeth invokes the meaning of a sense of place and belonging, verses which imagine a new kind of home in Wales for those forced their home in Syria: “Let Cymraeg chime with Arabic to form a new dialect / May your children grow secured and sutured to the land.” ‘You’re Still Here’ is a tribute of love for those who constantly travel with the artist, and the final single-stanza song ‘Without You’ succinctly wraps up the meaning of true togetherness: “And the day won’t be right / Without you.”

There can be no doubt about it: with a sizable armful of albums which represent the best part of Martin’s breath-taking career, this seven-word title is likely to be the key to his thoughts, hopes and desires to shape and mould the world into a better and fairer place to live. I very much hope so, and I hope you will too – it’s an absolute corker of a gem.

 


Reviews for 2023 and earlier have now been archived and can be found on the CD Reviews Archive (from 2020) page

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