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CD Reviews – Mick’s Picks

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I have to declare an interest here – in the days of yore, I booked up-and-coming Caldicot-based band One String Loose for Tredegar House Folk Festival. One String Loose metamorphosed into the butt-kicking South Wales indie-roots band Rusty Shackle, and the original members – amazing fiddler and banjoist Scott McKeon and bassist Baz Barwick – are still firing on all cylinders and creating enjoyment and mayhem wherever they go. The band have released a red-hot single, ‘Sam Hall’, as a storming prelude to their forthcoming album, The Raven, The Thief And The Hangman, which will be out in February; the old familiar ballad gets shocked alive with crazy bowing, crashing drums and howling guitars. The band will do The Album Tour in Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff (February 8) and The Exchange, Bristol (February 15) – It’s folk, Jim, but not as we know it! FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

Norwegian vocalist Anne Marie Almedal creates her own magical dream-world on the third album, Lightshadow (i+47 18/012 CD); her lovely, flowing voice inhabits 10 ambient folk-pop songs, which she co-wrote with acoustic guitarist, keyboards player and co-producer Nicholas Sillitoe, and the whole album was recorded at the southern Norwegian town of Kristiansand. This is music to float serenely byFolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

Me And My Friends are an English quintet consisting of the West African guitar and elegant vocals of Nick Rasle, cellist and vocalist Emma Coleman, five-string bassist James Grumwell, clarinettist and vocalist Sam Murray and percussionist Fred Harper; they joyfully combine the heady sound of English folk colliding head-on with the golden-era music of 1970s West Africa and the Caribbean in the album Look Up (Split Shift Records MAMFCD001). Gloriously danceable! FolkWales verdict:  Thumbs up!

What and where are the SnowRoads? the answer lies in the Cairngorms National Park, located in the North East of Scotland; composer, singer and guitarist Calum Wood has created an EP called She Wynds On (Magic Park Records SRCM1018), including many noted musicians such as fiddler Charlie McKerron, bagpiper Ross Ainslie and Scottish accordion champion Robert Black – Calum spent six months playing alongside him and other accordion champion Matthew MacLennan at The Taste Of Scotland show. The project was commissioned by Visit Cairngorms to promote a new must-do scenic tourist route, and it leads you on spectacular journeys from Blairgowrie and Braemar, from Breamar to Ballater, from Ballater to Tomintoul and then on to Grantown-on-Spey. Like the Cairngorms, it’s grand and it’s beautiful. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

The Scottish trio Birichen consists of vocalist Catriona Sutherland, fiddler and guitarist Iain-Gordon Macfarlane and dobro player Robert McDonald; their EP Hush (CLS786BIR, independent release) is a heart-warming and varied quintet of written songs, composed by Robert (‘Hold On To Each Moment’), Gillian Welch and David Hawkridge (‘Scarlet Town’), Catriona herself (‘Gonnae Get Good’), Guy Charles Clark (‘LA Freeway’) and Jim McLean (‘Smile In Your Sleep’, stark verses and a beautiful tune about the Highland Clearances.) An EP to savour. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

London duo Dave Ellis and Boo Howard have been together since 1979, and Great Pleasure (Doghouse Records DGHCD529) is the ninth album they have recorded; 14 faultless tracks, masterful guitar and harmonious voices that are bang on target; however, they tend to align themselves with the commercial cabaret-style scene. This is one for the easy-listening crowds, who will be bound to snap up the product in droves; others will make out that the songs and the performance are just too sweetly saccharine. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs so-so…

The golden-voiced and pretty wonderful Jim Causley has released a Special Commissions EP (Hrôc Music, no catalogue number) in which he records seven one-off written projects based in Devon and Cornwall, accompanying himself solo on accordion and piano. ‘City of Trees’ is for Common Ground’s Exeter Tree Tales project, ‘Diamond On The Moor’, ‘Green Lanes’ and ‘On The Border’ was written for Tony Deane, Valerie Belsey and the Charles Causley Trust and ‘Pride Of The Moor’ was for Simon Pope’s Dartmoor Stannary project. ‘Glorious Devon Morning’ was for Martin Rooney and ‘Unearthed Theme’ was written for Villages In Action; all in all, it’s a gloriously satisfying feat and very well worth it. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

The excellent fiddler Alastair Savage, born and raised in Ayrshire and still a Scottish Symphony Orchestra member, has released a marvellous compendium of self-composed tunes and the classic fiddle repertoire including the legendary James Scott Skinner, Neil Gow and William Marshall called When Barley Reaches Shore (Woodland Records SAV005CD). The album features ‘Islay Wedding Music’: part 1, commissioned by friends for a 2013 wedding on that island and Part 2, which includes tunes written by Alastair for his 2016 wedding on the same island. Ewan Drysdale (piano and guitar) and double-bassist Iain Crawford accompany him to perfection. FolkWales verdict: Thumbs up!

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