Category Archives: album reviews

Folk/rock/renaissance: album review – Blackmore’s Night ‘To The Moon and Back’

20 years and beyond – 2 CD compilation

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

In spite of being a long-time admirer of Ritchie Blackmore and in spite, also, of a real love of acoustic folk-rock, Blackmore’s post-Rainbow outfit is something that has largely passed me by. Incredibly, it has now been twenty years since Blackmore and his wife, Candice Night, started up the Renaissance outfit Blackmore’s Night. This 26-track double CD gathers tracks from across their various albums, together with some bonus material.

Blackmore and his band of merry minstrels have come in for quite a bit of stick from rock fans over the years, ever since he swapped his Fender for a mandolin. In truth, however, there is a huge amount of variety on this album: from lush, Enya-esque tracks with beautifully atmospheric vocals from Candice Night; to jolly, folksy sing-alongs; to renaissance-inspired instrumental tracks; to straightforward soft rock covers.

For me, some of the material works far better than others. I found songs like ‘Home Again’ a bit twee and cloying, satisfying neither my folk appetite nor my rock appetite. There are, however, plenty of highly listenable tracks in the collection, too. The ones that worked best for me included songs like ‘Somewhere Over The Sea’ which really showcase Night’s vocals in a lush musical setting, as well as some of the instrumental tracks which really showcase Blackmore’s musicianship. Tracks like ‘Minstrel Hall’ build on the baroque-inspired themes that he began to explore in his early Rainbow days. It’s not all acoustic, either. On tracks like ‘Fires at Midnight’ there are some stunning electric guitar solos that put one in mind of early Rainbow. Rainbow fans will also appreciate a nicely done cover of ‘I Surrender’.

Overall, there is much to like in this collection. Blackmore is an incredible musician, regardless of whether he’s playing a Fender, an acoustic guitar or a hurdy-gurdy; while Candice Night is a fine singer with a beautiful voice. I only wish they would exercise a bit more quality control on some of the more obvious material.

Released: August 2017

http://www.blackmoresnight.com/

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Related review:
Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow live at Birmingham 2017

Folk-rock: album review – Fairport Convention ‘Come All Ye: The First Ten Years’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

In the year of the band’s historic fiftieth anniversary a Fairport Convention box set, joining the long list of other compilations, box sets and reissued material from the Fairport family in recent years, is perhaps not entirely unexpected.

Titled Come All Ye: The First Ten Years this seven-disc anthology collects material from across the changing line-ups and evolving musical styles that characterised the band’s first decade in existence; from the US west coast-influenced beginnings in the late 1960s to exploring and ultimately defining English folk rock, with several journeys into diverse musical territories along the way.

What this box set does not do is deliver a full repackage and reissue of all of the albums from this period. Rather, while it does include a selection of songs from across the band’s first 13 studio albums (from 1967’s Fairport Convention through to 1978’s Tipplers Tales) the meat of the anthology is the myriad of out-takes, alternative versions, B-sides, sessions and live recordings. 55 of the 121 tracks are previously unreleased, albeit that most of the songs will be familiar to Fairport fans even if the exact recordings are not.

The first two discs span the period of the band’s first four studio albums. Not withstanding that at least a couple of these rank amongst some of the greatest albums ever recorded, the avid Fairport Convention collector could be forgiven for thinking that they are not getting a huge amount of new material here.

While there are some real gems, some of the tracks are BBC sessions that differ little from the album versions, and even where they do, a significant number of the less familiar versions of songs have previously been released elsewhere, such as the 2010 Sandy Denny box set or as bonus tracks on album re-issues. Some of the most interesting and unexpected moments come in the later discs.

Disc Three includes some alternative versions of songs from the Babbacombe Lee album. Performed live for a BBC TV documentary ’The Man They Could Not Hang’ on the life of John ’Babbacombe’ Lee, they have a much looser feel than the original versions and also include a song written especially for the programme: Farewell To A Poor Man’s Son.

Disc Four holds some of the biggest surprises. It includes a number of hitherto unheard tracks from an abortive album from the time when Dave Pegg and Dave Swarbrick invited Canadian singer-songwriter David Rea into the band. The result is a laid-back kind of Americana rather than English folk rock. Indeed, few would ever guess that a track like Maverick Child could be Fairport Convention until, that is, the unmistakable sound of Swarb’s fiddle cuts in about two thirds of the way through. Nevertheless, it provides a fascinating insight into a short-lived and little-known line-up.

Disc Five includes Sandy Denny’s previously unreleased original demo of After Halloween from the Rising For The Moon album. It was recorded at her home in Byfield during her second stint with the band and captures her voice beautifully. This disc also gathers together some previously unreleased live recordings from 1976 after Denny had left the band for the second time and Simon Nicol had rejoined.

The final two discs are devoted to two full concert recordings. The first of these, with the line-up that recorded the Nine album performing at Croydon’s Fairfield Hall in 1973, has lain unreleased for over four decades and shows the band in cracking form with some excellent guitar from Jerry Donahue.

The second heralds Sandy Denny’s return to the band with a performance from the LA Troubadour in 1974. Although, unlike the previous disc, most of this material has been previously available, it is a superb concert that notably captures the band performing some of Denny’s solo material as well as a version of Richard Thompson’s post-Fairport Convention song Down Where The Drunkards Roll.

Although there is some repetition with other anthologies, overall Come All Ye: The First Ten Years has plenty to offer the dedicated Fairport fan and includes some thrilling material that has not been released before.

However, for the less committed it should be seen as something to complement the purchase of the classic early albums, not to act as a substitute for them. No-one is advised to even contemplate buying this box set, therefore, until they have at least picked up the What We Did On Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking, Liege & Lief and Full House albums and enjoyed the full magic of them in the way they were originally conceived.

Released July 2017

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DISC ONE
1. Time Will Show The Wiser
2. Decameron
3. Jack O’ Diamonds
4. One Sure Thing
5. I Don’t Know Where I Stand (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 2/6/1968)
6. You Never Wanted Me (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 2/6/1968)
7. Fotheringay
8. I’ll Keep It With Mine
9. Mr Lacey (from the Sandy Denny box set)
10. Eastern Rain (Previously Unreleased)
11. Nottamun Town (Previously Unreleased)
12. Meet On The Ledge
13. Throwaway Street Puzzle (B Side on What We Did On Our Holidays remastered)
14. Reno Nevada (David Symonds radio show 6/1/1969)
15. Suzanne (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 1/9/1968)
16. A Sailors Wife (from the Sandy Denny box set)
17. Genesis Hall
18. Autopsy (Previously Unreleased)
19. Who Knows Where The Time Goes? (Previously Unreleased)

DISC TWO
1. Dear Landlord
2. Si Tu Doir Partir (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 6/4/1969)
3. Percys Song (John Peels Top Gear programme 1/9/1968)
4. Ballad of Easy Rider
5. The Deserter – Rehearsal version (Previously Unreleased)
6. Come All Ye (from the Sandy Denny box set)
7. Reynardine
8. Matty Groves (from the Sandy Denny box set)
9. Farewell Farewell
10. Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood (Take 1 edit, Liege & Lief Deluxe Edition)
11. Tam Lin (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 27/9/1969)
12. Sir Patrick Spens (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 27/9/1969)
13. The Lark In The Morning medley (John Peel’s Top Gear 27/9/1969)
14. Bonny Bunch Of Roses (Full House Out-Take)

DISC THREE
1. Walk Awhile (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
2. Dirty Linen (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
3. Sloth (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
4. Journeyman’s Grace (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
5. Sir B.McKenzie (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
6. Flatback Caper – Live 1970 (Previously Unreleased)
7. Doctor of Physick – Live 1970 (Previously Unreleased)
8. Poor Will and The Jolly Hangman
9. Bonnie Black Hare (Previously Unreleased)
10. Lord Marlborough
11. Banks of the Sweet Primroses
12. Breakfast In Mayfair
13. Little Did I Think (Previously Unreleased)
14. John Lee (Previously Unreleased)
15. Cell Song (Previously Unreleased)
16. Time Is Near (Previously Unreleased)
17. Dream Song (Previously Unreleased)
18. Farewell To A Poor Man’s Son

DISC FOUR
1. Sweet Little Rock n Roller – Live at the LA Troubadour
2. That’ll Be The Day
3. Think It Over (Previously Unreleased)
4. Maverick Child (Previously Unreleased)
5. Sad Song aka As Long As It Is Mine (Previously Unreleased)
6. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John (Previously Unreleased)
7. Rattle Trap (Previously Unreleased)
8. Sheep In The Meadow (Previously Unreleased)
9. Rosie (Previously Unreleased)
10. Country Judy Jane (Previously Unreleased)
11. Me With You (Previously Unreleased)
12. My Girl (Previously Unreleased)
13. To Althea from Prison (Previously Unreleased)
14. Knights Of The Road
15. The Plainsman
16. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John (Old Grey Whistle Test)
17. Brilliancy medley (Old Grey Whistle Test)
18. Polly On The Shore
19. Fiddlestix (The Devil In The Kitchen) (Previously Unreleased)
20. Possibly Parsons Green (Previously Unreleased)
21. Bring Em Down

DISC FIVE
1. Sloth – Live in Sydney
2. John The Gun (John Peel session 6/8/1974)
3. Down In The Flood (John Peel session 6/8/1974)
4. Rising For The Moon (John Peel session 6/8/1974)
5. After Halloween (Byfield Demo – Previously Unreleased)
6. Restless
7. White Dress (Live on LWT)
8. Stranger To Himself
9. Dawn (from the Sandy Denny box set)
10. One More Chance (Previously Unreleased)
11. All Along The Watchtower (Live in Oslo 1975)
12. When First Into This Country
13. Sandy’s Song aka Take Away The Load
14. Royal Seleccion No 13 (Previously Unreleased)
15. Adieu Adieu (Previously Unreleased)
16. Reynard The Fox
17. Poor Ditching Boy (Previously Unreleased)
18. Flowers Of T

Folk: EP review – Molly Evans ‘Deep Time and Narrow Space’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

For those who were captivated and/or terrified by the novels of Alan Garner as a child this six-track EP from Molly Evans should be of particular interest.

Evans is a young, Cheshire-born singer who has been immersed in folk since early childhood. However, for this, her second release, rather than interpretations of traditional songs she has reworked material from the children’s fantasy author, folklorist and fellow Cheshire resident, Alan Garner.

Traditional tales and poems collected by the author, along with extracts from Garner’s novels, have been given a new creative setting. ‘Deep Time and Narrow Space’ magically transports us to a world of faery kings, hobgoblins, mysterious woods and running hares.

Evans has a strong and distinctive voice with lovely flat northern vowel sounds that are a perfect fit for this type of material. She is accompanied by two-thirds of the award-winning folk trio Moore Moss Rutter.

Jack Rutter plays guitar, bouzouki, banjo and duet concertina whilst his colleague, Archie Churchill-Moss, applies his distinctive melodeon-playing. Both talented instrumentalists, they provide wonderfully atmospheric musical accompaniment to Evans’ vocals.

This is an enchanting and fascinating collection of songs but particular highlights include the brooding Maggotty’s Wood, based on one of the stories from Garner’s Collected Folk Tales; and Yallery Brown, about a boggarty creature that Garner describes as “the most powerful of all English fairy-tales.”

With ‘Deep Time and Narrow Space Evans’ has produced something unique and rather special. She deserves heaps of praise both for her singing and her writing as well as the overall creativity of this project.

https://www.facebook.com/MollyEvansMusic/

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Related reviews:
Molly Evans and Jack Rutter
Moore Moss Rutter 

Metal: album review – Liv Sin ‘Follow Me’

My review was originally published on the Get Ready To Rock website here

Formed in Gothenburg in 2002 with a musical agenda promising and delivering “old-school metal” Swedish band, Sister Sin, made six well-received albums before calling it a day in 2015.

However, two years on, lead singer Liv Jagrell (now rebranded as Liv Sin) is back with a new project in the form of “Follow Me” her debut solo album. “For me, it is has never been an option to stop singing,” says Liv. She reassures fans that she has no intention of mellowing as she moves into solo territory. “This will not be some soft pop rock,” she warns. “This is going to be metal deluxe because that’s who I am.”

So what of the results? Certainly, there’s some great tracks on here and Liv’s vocals are as strong and powerful as ever. As with Sister Sin themselves, the album follows in the vein of classic bands like Judas Priest and Accept; combining catchy, memorable choruses with hard, uncompromising, screeching, crunching heavy metal.

Notable tracks include ‘Let Me Out’ with its anthemic chorus, grinding riff and superb guitar solo. ‘Killing Ourselves To Live’ (featuring a guest appearance by Schmeir of Destruction) is also another stand-out and has been released separately as a single. The album ends in power ballad mode with ‘The Beast Inside’ which starts off slow and mellow with some atmospheric keyboard flourishes before really cranking up as it mutates into a full-on metal work-out. A really great finish to the album.

It’s co-produced by former Accept and U.D.O man, Stefan Kaufmann, and U.D.O. bass-player Fitty Weinhold. The band itself is made of Liv Jagrell (vocals), Patrick Ankemark (lead guitar), Per Bjelovuk (drums), Tommie Winther (bass) and Chris Bertzell (guitar).

‘Follow Me’ is an album of good, hard-rockin, memorable metal tunes and a welcome start to a post-Sister Sin solo career. ***1/2

https://www.facebook.com/livsinmusic/

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Folk: album review – Ross Couper & Tom Oakes ‘Fiddle & Guitar’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Ross Couper is from Shetland, known for his incendiary fiddle-playing with Peatbog Faeries amongst others. Tom Oakes is from Devon but has settled in Scotland, too, and as well as being a much-celebrated flautist is also a noteworthy guitarist who has played alongside a number of the big names in contemporary folk.

The two have been playing with one another for almost ten years now and clocked up many, many gigs together but, surprisingly, this is their debut album as a duo. Fiddle & Guitar is exactly what it says: an instrumental album comprising ten tracks of Couper’s fiddle-playing and Oakes’ guitar.

In spite of only two players, two instruments and all tunes (no songs), the first thing to stress is what a varied selection of playing we get on this album. There’s brooding and melancholy, there’s fast and furious, there’s delicate and reflective and much more besides. It means that where other albums in a similar vein start to run the risk of being a little repetitive and samey, however excellent the musicianship, this one never suffers from that.

Not only is the album full of inventive musicianship the duo have got to earn some points, also, for inventive song titles. Sunburn, Man-flu and the Shits has got to be up for some sort of award in this regard, and whatever horrible images it may conjure up it’s actually a very beautiful tune.

The Last Gasp is described as a song without words and the slow, sorrowful fiddle against some gently expressive guitar-playing certainly allows the listener’s imagination to soon formulate a dialogue in their head about what it might be telling us.

Those who have been following Couper & Oakes live will at last be pleased that they finally have something to take away with them. And for anyone else who admires virtuoso musicianship delivered with genuine passion and feeling this is definitely an album worth exploring.

Released: May 2017

http://www.rossandtom.com/

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Bernie Tormé and Dublin Cowboy – story of a phenomenally successful pledge-fund campaign

Former Gillan guitarist Bernie Tormé had pretty much turned his back on the costly business of making albums prior to the making of Flowers and Dirt in 2014 and Blackheart in 2015. Both of these were released as a result of successful pledge-funding initiatives, whereby fans rather than record label bosses stump up the cash to finance the making of an album through placing advance orders.

In October 2016 Bernie unveiled plans for an ambitious new triple-album that would similarly be financed through pledge-funding. On the day the pledge campaign was announced Bernie engaged with fans directly on social media and through the special pledge-fund page that had been set up here.

Meanwhile, I worked to secure external coverage with the aim of letting as many people as possible know about the album plans and directing them to the pledge-fund page. In this we were helped by positive coverage from the likes of BlabbermouthMetal Shock Finland,  Vive Le Rock!,  Rockchickenz,  Rock Guitar Daily,  Pure Rock USHeavy Metal ITEmpire Extreme  and many others who all helpfully provided links to Bernie’s pledge-fund page as well as news about the project.

Phenomenally, the pledge target was reached in less than nine hours. Thanking fans Bernie said:

“I’m absolutely blown away by this, can’t believe it, 100% of what I needed in 8 hours 45 minutes! Man, I’ve truly got the best fans in the whole damn universe! This is going to be a great album.”

MetalTalk captured the moment nicely here. However, it was not just the rock and metal sites that were showing an interest. Roots Music Journal No Depression made it one of their pledge-fund campaigns of the week:

“On its surface, Bernie Torme might seem an odd choice for a column about roots music campaigns. This is, after all, the guitarist who is best known for his work in the hard rock realm with acts like Gillan, Ozzy Osbourne, and Desperado with Dee Snider. But Torme’s recent works have melded his hard rock roots with a love of psychedelic and blues rock and he plans to up the ante even further with his new triple-album Dublin Cowboy. The triple album will consist of a harder edged electric album, a live album, and the part of most interest to a roots fan, Torme’s first acoustic album.”

Dublin Cowboy cover

Throughout the process of making the album Bernie kept fans up to date via social media and the pledge-fund page. Explaining the approach on his pledge page Bernie told them:

“When I made the last two albums, Flowers & Dirt and Blackheart, I really loved the fact that I was able to be hands on and communicate directly to fans, as an independent musician that was a really positive experience, so much better than the past when the cold, dead, (and also pretty judgemental) hand of the corporate music industry (in the shape of a record company) laid over everything you tried to do.”

Not only is it a great way of keeping in touch with current fans, the pledge-funding process can actually be a great way of re-connecting with old ones, too. This quote from a long-term Gillan fan is a classic example:

“Thanks for this. I’m a big fan of Gillan with Tormé but never heard Bernie’s solo stuff so I’ve bought this one now!”

Pledgers got early access to the album via download at the beginning of March ahead of the official CD release date in April. Fan reaction was immediately and overwhelmingly positive:

“This acoustic one cuts me to the core. Can’t stop listenin’…Love it!!” DP

“What I’ve heard is sounding great, and Janus is just awesome!” PW

“Beyond the obligatory 5 stars!” OBN

“My favourite is the live one where it can be seen if an artist still has the “beans”. U certainly do dude, u absolutely rocked it. RS

I worked to secure a further round of publicity ahead of the official album release on April 7 as well as the accompanying UK tour. Anti MusicBlabbermouthEmpire Extreme.  Vive Le Rock,  Totally Driven EntertainmentUltimate Guitar,  Heavy Metal Overload , The Rocktologist and many others were all extremely helpful in providing preview features on the album and the UK tour.

Meanwhile, Bernie carried out a series of interviews for the likes of Music LegendsRockgig and Just For The Record as well as for a number of radio stations and magazines. MetalTalk made Bernie’s London Borderline gig on 7th April their recommended Gig of the Week with an exclusive pre-tour interview, while Ultimate Classic Rock would publish an emotional and brutally honest interview with Bernie that marked 35 years since he stepped in to help out Ozzy Osbourne following the tragic death of Randy Rhoads. You can read the full interview here.

As well as preview pieces and interviews the reviews were also starting to come in and again these have been very favourable:

Get Ready To Rock:  “The word essential can often be overused in reviews, however this album really is that and then some. Two albums to rock out to and then one to wind down and chill out with, perfect.”

Eternal Terror: “Dublin Cowboy is a stunning and fascinating release that perfectly encapsulates everything that I love about Bernie Tormé.”

Sea of Tranquility: “Fans sure as hell get plenty of music with Dublin Cowboy, a varied and enjoyable collection of material that shows off every aspect of the talented Bernie Tormé. Don’t miss out!”

Equally, fan reaction to the gigs has been fantastic and I can certainly vouch for a superb show with fantastic new bass player, Sy Morton, joining Bernie and drummer, Ian Harris, at London’s newly-refurbished Borderline venue on 7th April.

So, what conclusions can we draw from all this? Certainly, Dublin Cowboy is an incredible album from an incredible artist.The music industry has changed beyond recognition and crowd-funding in the form of pledge campaigns can provide a way financing an album. The biggest artists are never going to need it, of course. Whatever changes the music industry goes through next the likes of Ozzy Osbourne or Ed Sheeran are never going to struggle to find companies willing to finance their albums. But for smaller artists with a dedicated fan-base pledge-funding can be hugely effective. You do need to have built your fan-base first, though. It’s not much use trying to crowd-fund without a crowd. There are still hurdles then for artists just starting out their career. However, Bernie Tormé has shown that if you have the talent and you have the fans, then a pledge-fund campaign can be a phenomenally effective way of getting a superb new album into their hands.

And for me? Doing the album and tour publicity for a guitarist I’ve been following since I was at school has been a pretty amazing experience as well!

http://www.bernietorme.co.uk/

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Bernie with drummer Ian Harris and new bass player Sy Morton on stage in Brighton
Photo credit: Jaideep S Jadav

A version of this article also appeared in Totally Driven Entertainment magazine 

Folk: EP review – Hannah Rarity ‘Beginnings’

My review was originally published in the April 2017 issue of fRoots

Beautifully engaging vocals, thoughtful interpretations of traditional songs and some highly promising song-writing, Scottish folk singer Hannah Rarity makes a very strong début with this six-track EP Beginnings.

She is supported by Innes White on guitar and keyboards, Sally Simpson on fiddle and viola and Conal McDonagh on whistle. Together, they provide sensitive, empathetic accompaniment that delivers a clean, uncluttered sound and some beautiful melodies, while rightly leaving Rarity’s voice very much at the forefront.

There are two originals. The lead track, Anna’s Lullaby, does exactly what it says on the tin but is in the same league as the likes of Cara Dillon when it comes to softly-sung tender emotion. The dreamily enchanting and inventive Stevenson’s, meanwhile, has some lovely string arrangements and utilises some of the words of Robert Louis Stevenson (who gets a co-write alongside Rarity) in the lyrics.

Of the traditional material, Rarity’s interpretation of Erin Go Bragh, the tale of a Highlander mistaken for an Irish immigrant and mistreated at the hands of an Edinburgh policeman, is a definite highlight. Rarity’s clear but impassioned vocal delivery draws you in so that you end up hanging on to every word of a story song like this.

At six tracks this debut certainly gives good value and shows exceptional musical promise. Having already begun making her mark in her native Scotland, Beginnings will certainly help bring Hannah Rarity’s captivating voice to wider public attention. Hers is definitely a name to watch. I cannot wait for a full album to appear.

Released: November 2016

https://www.hannahrarity.com/

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Folk: album review – Inlay ‘Forge’

My review was originally published in the March 2017 issue of fRoots

Formed in 2010 while studying music at the University of East Anglia, Norwich-based band Inlay released their well-received debut album in 2012. A wait of over four years for a follow-up seems like an age and, according to the sleeve-notes, various other ideas have been tried out and lain unreleased. However, with a collection of self-composed tunes and songs and a few traditional numbers thrown in as well, Inlay have come up with a folk album that is fresh-sounding and coherent, and, most importantly, something that is worth waiting for.

Built largely around fiddle, banjo, guitar and accordeon, Inlay have developed a trademark sound but one that doesn’t risk becoming predictable. Classically trained but with a shared and long-standing passion for the folk tradition, the band have not been afraid of bringing a wide variety of influences both to their playing and to their compositions.

The Road To Varanasi is inspired by a north Indian ‘Kalyan’ rag following a trip around India by two of the band members, with suitably evocative sounds played on a bansitar (a cross between a sitar and a banjo) and melded with some lovely accordeon playing. Other tracks draw their influences from closer to home, whether it’s the Norfolk landscape, the Pembrokeshire coast or the London tube.

Choral influences are evident in much of the singing which, again, helps to make Inlay more than simply one more talented folk band on the scene. Subtle but beautifully atmospheric percussion also adds to the mix making Forge a fine album.

This second album from Inlay helps showcase both their considerable musical talents as well as the breadth of their musical influences. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another four years for the next one.

Released October 2016

http://www.inlaymusic.co.uk/Inlay_Folk_Music/About.html

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Folk: album review – Top Floor Taivers ‘A Delicate Game’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

The dramatic piano introduction that opens A Delicate Game instantly tells the listener that this is going to be something slightly different to the numerous, admittedly excellent, début albums that are coming out of the Scottish folk scene these days.

Aside from the fresh, engaging voice of Claire Hastings, who won Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 2015, the piano of Tina Jordan Rees is very much the dominant sound on A Delicate Game.

It gives this young female foursome, and the album itself, a very distinct identity. Hastings and Jordan Rees are joined by fiddler Gráinne Brady, with Heather Downie on the clàsrsach, the Gaelic triangular harp.

Material-wise the album is dominated by covers, including some very well-known ones, with a couple of traditional songs and two originals thrown in. In terms of covers they don’t beat about the bush, choosing iconic songs like Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows and Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning.

While the tune and lyrics of the latter are always going to be instantly recognisable, transforming the guitar maestro’s famous vintage motorcycling death-disc into a pacey, keyboard-driven track is an ambitious and genuinely interesting treatment that works well.

Other covers include Andy M. Stewart’s Ramblin’ Rover, while the traditional material includes The False Bride.

Of the two original tracks, one is by Heather Downie and her brother Alasdair, in what the sleeve-notes reveal to be their first foray into writing together. Called Jeannie and the Spider it’s a tongue-in-cheek look at relationships and the roles each partner plays within them. While it’s perhaps not the most memorable song on the album it is fair to say it is up against some stiff song-writing competition. It has a catchy, easily likeable melody and shows promise for song-writing that captures the spirit of the tradition.

The other original track, 10 Little Men, is Hastings’ re-imagining of the old nursery rhyme, and offers something a little different from the band’s usual style with electronic percussion and swirly atmospheric soundscapes. This track does, however, also offer an opportunity for Brady’s beautiful fiddle playing to really shine.

This is a band who have established a sound and a clear musical identity for themselves. At the same time they are not afraid to experiment and as a début A Delicate Game is an excellent showcase for the combined talents of the Top Floor Taivers.

Released 2016

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Daria Kulesh at Cecil Sharp House 23/2/17 (Album launch: ‘Long Lost Home’)

Folk singer Daria Kulesh, Russian-born but British-based, has not chosen an easy subject matter for her newly-released solo album Long Lost Home, which is being formally launched at Cecil Sharp House tonight. But it’s an absolutely fascinating one and, as we find throughout the performance of all twelve songs from the album tonight, it is also a deeply moving one.

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Long Lost Home tells the story of Ingushetia (or the Ingush Republic). It is now a republic within the Russian Federation, bordering Chechnya, but it’s one with a dark and tragic history. On 23 February 1944 (exactly 73 years ago from tonight’s performance) Ingush civilians were falsely accused of collaborating with the Nazis and the entire population were either deported or shot under the orders of Stalin. Ingushetia was the lost homeland of Kurlesh’s maternal grandmother. And it was through her grandmother that Kulesh was to learn so much of her ancestral home and the tragedies within it but also the everyday lives and loves of some of her ancestors, a number of whom are brought movingly to life once more in Kulesh’s songs.

Possessing a beautiful clear voice that is both powerful and pure, Kulesh is immediately able to connect emotionally with her audience as the lives of the characters in her songs unfold. Musically, she’s supported by a fine cast of musicians, both on the album and on stage. Kulesh herself plays the shruti box (Indian drone instrument) but we also have a rich tapestry of sounds from traditional Russian/Kulesh stringed instruments through to the dulcimer and the double bass and even, for one song, the Scottish bagpipes.

Yes, much of the subject matter has a darkness to it. However, as Kulesh herself emphasises there’s also a spirit of hope and humanity and kindness to these songs. The last song of the album Only Begun ends on a very optimistic note. It’s not quite the end though. Kulesh and her colleagues are called back on stage for an encore. As an added bonus, Timur Dzeytov, a traditional Ingush musician who accompanies Kulesh on the album and here tonight, also plays a couple of Ingush dance numbers, complete with some impromptu Ingush dancing, to round off the launch of Long Lost Home.

Daria Kulesh can be proud of what she’s achieved here, both through her very unique contribution to the UK folk scene and through this perfectly fitting and timely celebration of Ingush culture and history.

http://www.daria-kulesh.co.uk/

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