Monthly Archives: August 2019

Folk: album review – Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer ‘Twelve Months & A Day’

This review was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of fRoots magazine

Now on to their eighth album as a duo, Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer said they considered a number of possible themes for this, their latest offering but in the end it evolved into a celebration of everything they do. There are folk songs written in traditional style, tune-sets of Swedish polskas, William Morris verse put to contemporary music, a fifteenth-century Christmas carol and two songs from thirteenth-century continental Europe. Adding to that is a whole array of instruments that are set to work on the album including a selection of nyckelharpas, the bouzouki and the harmonium, not to mention ‘early music’ instruments the citrole, the cornu and the carnyx in addition to the more obvious guitar, flute and piano.

This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink could have resulted in an album that was interesting but somewhat erratic and lacking focus. However, such is the distinctive feel and verve that Swan and Dyer bring to their music that rather than getting in the way of building a clear identity, the sheer breadth of influences, material and instruments that make up the album very much help define it.

Normally, an album with such an extensive range of instrumentation would also have an equally extensive ensemble of guest musicians but, save for some additional percussion from Evan Carson guesting on a couple of tracks, it really is all the duo’s own work, an impressive testimony to the duo’s talents as multi-instrumentalists.

From the mad, irresistible, quirkiness of Grandpa Joe to the slow, haunting beauty of Ai Vis Lo Lop the inventive arrangements and superb musicianship, together with the duo’s lovely harmony vocals, serve to make Twelve Months & A Day a compelling album that will continue to cement Swan & Dyer’s reputation.

http://www.swan-dyer.co.uk/

Released: March 2019

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Folk: album review – Na-Mara ‘Sisters & Brothers’

Na-Mara have built a formidable reputation for bringing their translations of songs from the Breton, French and Quebecois traditions to English-speaking audiences, alongside their original and captivating interpretation tunes from the Celtic regions of Spain and France. There’s more to them than that, of course, and their repertoire has always included self-composed material written in the style of the folk tradition.

With Sisters & Brothers Na-Mara’s Rob Garcia and Paul McNamara return with a fine mix of each of these three elements. The self-penned title track gives a nod to the proud history of songs about economic injustices in the past while providing us with a rallying call for the present: “What was done to our fathers and brothers is now being done to our sisters and brothers.” We also have new translations of songs from France and Quebec, such as long-lost soldier/returning sweetheart story The Recompense, and there is an elegant tune-set, including the lovely An Dro from a collection of Breton folk tunes.

Garcia’s mandolin and McNamara’s guitar work and gentle, sincere vocals give the duo their trademark sound and it’s clear throughout the album there is no shortage of inspiration for new material.

Na-Mara continue to make a vital and distinctive contribution to the UK folk scene and Sisters & Brothers is another highly-accomplished offering.

Released: March 2019

http://www.na-mara.com/

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Folk: album review – Odette Michell ‘The Wildest Rose’

While there is never any shortage of debut albums from folk singer songwriters being brought to the attention of fRoots reviewers, for endearing melodies and evocative song-writing in the English folk tradition Odette Michell presents us with a really rather impressive debut here. It helps, of course, that she has one of those beautiful voices that’s just perfect for English folk but with so many releases from emerging artists, being in possession of a beautiful voice, alone, is not necessarily a stand-out quality on the contemporary folk scene these days. Michell is clearly a talented musician and gives us some lovely guitar and bouzouki playing on this album, too. What really sets The Wildest Rose apart from many of the other debut albums that will undoubtedly be released over the course of the year, however, is Michell’s knack for writing songs that could easily have been collected over a hundred years ago. She does seem to have a gift for this and gives us nine original songs plus one interpretation of a traditional number without ever falling into the cliche of twee pastiche.

Lyrically, Michell’s songs cover a range of historical, romantic and pastoral themes from ‘folk fairytale’ The Banks of Analee to Light Up London Town exploring the Gunpowder Plot. Besides Michell herself, the album features Stu Hanna on mandolin, violin, bass and percussion who also does a suitably empathetic job on on production duties. In addition, none other than Show of Hands’ Phil Beer contributes to a handful of tracks as does Toby Shaer who has played with Cara Dillon and Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys.

Beautifully written, beautifully sung, beautifully played and beautifully produced The Wildest Rose deserves acclaim as one of the stand-out debuts of 2019.

Released: April 2019

https://www.odettemichell.com/

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Folk: album review – Thea Gilmore ‘Small World Turning’

This review was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of fRoots magazine

After several albums exploring a variety of musical pastures, Thea Gilmore returns to her folk roots with Small World Turning – and what an album of brilliant, classy, exceptional contemporary folk she has given us here.

The breath-taking beauty in her vocals combines with equally breath-taking musicianship from the supporting cast. The now twenty, thirty and early forty-somethings who make up latter-day folk royalty, the likes of Cara Dillon, Seth and Sam Lakeman, Ciaran Algar and more, line up to back Gilmore on the album .

Moreover, Gilmore’s writing is as sharply perceptive as her voice is enchanting. While some stabs at modern folk addressing contemporary themes can end up coming across a little jarring and contrived in their execution, Gilmore’s vocals are so perfect and so natural and so unforced that that even when she’s singing about foodbanks or Jägerbombs it’s delivered with the same timeless eloquence as if she were singing about shapeshifting demons or the peasant’s revolt.

Indisputably one of the best folk albums released this year so far, Gilmore holds up a spotlight to the modern world while embracing the storytelling and musical traditions of the past and bottling up that spirit of defiance and resilience that has kept the best folk music alive across many generations.

Released: May 2019 Shameless Records

https://www.theagilmore.net/

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Folk/Americana/Bluegrass: album review – Wood, Wire & Words ‘The Boy With The Smile’

Wood Wire & Words are a three-piece from the south of England formed around 15 years ago. The trio are David Rozzell – songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist; Clare Rozzell – harmony/lead vocals, double bass and melodeon; and Pat Francis – Dobro, mandolin and guitar. Now on their third album, the band’s sound has been described as a blend of folk, bluegrass and acoustic Americana.

While their previous album (2015’s It’s a Barbecue Day) was a nice slice of home-grown Bluegrass/Americana, with this latest album ‘The Boy With The Smile’ I detect a much broader range of influences coming to the fore. Indeed, they kind of remind me of a Bluegrass-tinged interpretation of the modern-day incarnation of Fairport Convention. David Rozzell’s deep, rich vocal delivery is not unlike Fairport’s Simon Nicol’s, by the way.

Eleven of the twelve songs are Rozzell’s own compositions. He clearly has a fine ear for melody as well as being a forthright lyricist – with themes covering war, love, depression, politics and poverty amongst others. It’s not all sharply-observed social commentary, however. A couple nod to more pastoral themes in the folk tradition. ‘Toast The Harvest’ was written for Ely Cathedral’s harvest service, while ‘The Oak King Rises’ was originally written for a local pagan yule ceremony. The one non-original song is a beautifully mellow cover of Richard Thompson’s ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightening’.

Much as I enjoyed their previous album The Boy With The Smile feels like a significant step forward in the band’s creative journey. Anyone with an interest in folk or Americana will find much to like in this album.

http://www.woodwireandwords.com/

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News: Blackbeard’s Tea Party celebrate ten years with anniversary tour

Blackbeard’s Tea Party, who have set many festivals alight with their folk-rock inspired blend of nautical madness, celebrate their tenth anniversary this year. I first caught them about seven years ago not long after the charismatic Stuart Giddens had taken over as lead singer. They immediately appealed, not least because they got the crowd singing along to ‘Tomorrow We’ll Be Sober’ a song I was taught at primary school. Back in 1975 for some reason this was deemed the perfect song to introduce a bunch of 9 year-olds to folk music, but I still know all the words! Since that memorable first time I’ve caught Blackbeard’s Tea Party on a number of occasions – from absolutely storming Fairport Convention’s Cropredy festival to packing out my former south London local in New Cross.

The band celebrate their tenth birthday with a lengthy autumn-winter anniversary tour and a special re-release of their best-known single, ‘Chicken On A Raft’.

Front man and chief rabble rouser, Stuart Giddens, says: “It’s not every day your band
makes it to ten years. We’re so pleased that we’re still here, playing gigs and festivals, getting people dancing. It’s a difficult business, especially for a band that plays the kind of music we do, so we’re delighted at the generosity and support of our fans.”

“We’ve had some brilliant moments in the band over the last ten years. At Cropredy in 2014, we were voted “best band” and the queue for our merch had to be moved because it was too long! In fact, 2014 was a particularly good year, as that was the year we were invited to perform at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Borneo – an incredible experience!”

Cheers Blackbeard’s and here’s to another ten years.

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Confirmed tenth anniversary tour dates:

Fri 20.9 Telford’s Warehouse, Chester
Sat 21.9 Penallt Folk Festival, The Inn at Penallt, Monmouthshire
Fri 27.9 Hackness Music Live, Hackness, near Scarborough
Sat 12.10 The Cookie, Leicester
Sat 19.10 Manchester Folk Festival
Fri 25.10 Cafe INDIEpendent, Scunthorpe
Wed 30.10 Red Lion Folk Club, Birmingham
Thurs 31.10 The Crescent, York – Hallowe’en Show
Fri 1.11 Otley Courthouse Arts Centre, Otley, West Yorkshire
Fri 8.11 The Adelphi, Hull
Sat 9.11 The Old Fire Station, Carlisle
Fri 15.11 The Isis Farmhouse, Oxford
Sat 16.11 The Globe at Hay, Hay-on-Wye
Sun 17.11 The 1865, Southampton
Sat 7.12 The Crescent, York – Christmas Show
Thurs 12.12 The Lantern, Halifax
Fri 13.12 National Forest Folk Club, Moira, Leicestershire
Sat 14.12 John Peel Centre, Stowmarket, Suffolk

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https://www.blackbeardsteaparty.com/

Related reviews:

Blackbeard’s Tea Party at Cropredy 2014

Blackbeard’s Tea Party at New Cross Inn 2015