Category Archives: album reviews

Singer-songwriter: album review – A Choir of Ghosts ‘An Ounce of Gold’

A Choir of Ghosts is the alter-ego of Swedish singer-songwriter James Auger and An Ounce of Ghosts is his debut album. Written over a three -year period this highly personal album is influenced by both the thick forests of the Scandinavian landscape and the experiences and feelings he went through over that time.

Right from your first listen of the album a number of things become immediately apparent. First, Auger has a fantastic voice – with that slight Americana vibe that makes for perfect singer-songwriter territory. Secondly, he’s really got a good ear for catchy memorable melodies – even after an initial couple of plays this album feels like it’s been a much-loved part of your collection. And finally, this is a really well-constructed, beautifully-produced debut album – from the epic orchestral soundscapes that dominate tracks like the grandly-titled ‘Sinner In Rapture’ (also released as a single) to the warm, introspective feel of stripped-back acoustic numbers like ‘Driving Home’.

Beautiful melodies, thought-provoking lyrics and gorgeous production An Ounce of Gold is an extremely impressive debut album and one well worth seeking out.

Released: Greywood Records 3/4/20

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Available from: https://greywoodrecords.bigcartel.com/product/a-choir-of-ghosts-an-ounce-of-gold-cd

http://www.achoirofghosts.com/

Folk: album review – Siobhan Miller ‘All Is Not Forgotten’

All Is Not Forgotten is the fourth solo album from Scottish folk singer Siobhan Miller, three times winner of MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards and a 2018 BBC Folk Awards recipient. Featuring a mixture of new arrangements of traditional songs and newly-composed original material, Miller has drawn together a stellar team of supporting musicians from across the Scottish folk scene. Lau’s Kris Drever plays guitar, Miller’s husband and musician/producer Euan Burton plays bass (both of whom also collaborate in the song-writing), while Braebach’s Megan Henderson plays fiddle, Innes White plays acoustic guitar, John Lowrie plays piano and Kim Carnie contributes backing vocals.

A more stripped-back slightly less commercial affair than her 2018 album, Miller reflects:

“After releasing Mercury I really wanted to create something reflective of our live shows, mixing original songs with new arrangements of traditional songs I’ve learned and making it as raw and as honest as possible.”

A beautifully pure voice that is just made for Scottish folk along with some exquisitely lovely musical arrangements and some instantly appealing songwriting ‘All Is Not Forgotten’ commends itself to you as a stand-out album as soon as you put it on.

Among the album’s nine tracks highlights include ‘Selkie’ a lovely arrangement of the traditional song immortalising the Scottish legend of those beasts that are seals in water but human on land. The gentle beauty of ‘While The World Weeps’, co-written by Euan Burton with Findlay Napier, is another real highlight, while a complete contrast comes in the shape of the music hall feel of the wittily tongue-in-cheek ‘Cholesterol’ that closes the album.

A string of tour dates were announced to promote All Is Not Forgotten, sadly and inevitably now all cancelled. So if you want to support Siobhan Miller while at the same time adding some thoughtful songwriting and creative arrangements of traditional Scottish folk to your collection then do visit her website and purchase a copy of this beautiful album.

Released: 3 April 2020 by Songprint Recordings via Proper Music

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https://www.siobhanmiller.com/

News: 40 years of Thunderstick celebrated with limited-edition live album – released 20/3/20

Something Wicked This Way Came – Live in France

Released 20/3/20 on Roulette Records

Order from: https://www.roulettemedia.uk/thunderstick-store

By way of marking forty years since the emergence of the infamous masked drummer ‘Thunderstick’, who became the iconic figure for the then burgeoning ‘New Wave Of British Heavy Metal’ movement, his eponymously-named band are ready to release their first ever official live album. The limited-edition CD will be released by Roulette Records on 20th March.

Thunderstick’s alter ego and creator Barry Graham Purkis announces: “I am so happy to announce that after 40 years of ‘Thunderstick’ a live album will be released this month to celebrate. Comprising both Thunderstick and Samson material with the odd ‘cover’ thrown in for good measure, there has never been any official recordings of the band in concert before so for us this is pretty damn special..!!”

Lead singer Raven Blackwing adds: “I am really excited about the upcoming release of our live album ‘Something Wicked This Way Came’ Thunderstick live in France. The whole gig was a blast from start to finish with so many new friends made, a beautiful way for me to cherish that memory of that performance. It’s my first album with the band and I’m really hoping that people listening to it will pick up on the enjoyment that I and the guys had on stage that night. Much love Raven xx”

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Recorded live in France in November 2019 the album features a full concert with the following track listing:
Riding With The Angels
Go Sleep With the Enemy (I Dare Ya)
Earth Mother
Buried Alive
Dark Night Black Light Monologue Teenage Suicide)
Dark Night Black Light
Vice Versa
Witches Trial
Blackwing …… The Curse
Dark Princess Thunder
Thunder Thunder
Time Warp

Best known for his time with Samson and an early Iron Maiden Barry Graham Purkis (AKA Thunderstick) has been the legendary icon for the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) scene since the late 70s. His eponymously named band, renowned for its female fronted power rock and theatricality, have a considerable heritage. The band played live and recorded for six years both in the UK and in the United States until playing their last gig in October 1986.

Then In 2016 former lead vocalist, Jodee Valentine, tragically died. In recognition of her memory Barry decided to record some songs that Jodee had performed live. This became the ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ album, the first new Thunderstick product in over thirty years. It was released in July 2017 to enthusiastic reviews worldwide. Following the success of the album Barry put a live band together who have brought the Thunderstick magic to a series of festival dates and live gigs. Now signed to Roulette Records an eagerly-anticipated follow-up studio album is currently being recorded and is scheduled for release in July 2020.

Baz Crowcroft, the band’s resident artist has, once again, delivered spectacular artwork for the album. He was responsible for the artwork on the last album as well as the recent single ‘Go Sleep With The Enemy’. He will, of course, also be creating artwork for the forthcoming new studio album in the summer.

The full Thunderstick band line-up is:

Vocals – Raven Blackwing
Drums – Barry Graham Purkis aka Thunderstick
Guitar – Vinny Konrad
Guitar – Lee Quenby
Bass – Rex Thunderbolt

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thunderstickofficial/
Roulette Records: https://www.roulettemedia.uk/

Folk: album review – Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band ‘Natural Invention’

Initially starting out as a side project from his work with Steeleye Span, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner rapidly began establishing itself as the folk rock fiddle maestro’s main creative outlet. Steeleye Span were consequently left to find a new fiddle player and Gigspanner’s reputation grew with a string of albums and an almost permanent touring presence around the country’s arts centres, village halls, churches, pubs and theatres. It’s not only reputations that have grown, however, but the size of the band, too. Forming first as a violin-guitar-percussion trio creating a wonderful fusion of traditional English folk and a beguiling blend of international influences, the duo of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin subsequently joined for occasional tours and a live album under the delightful Gigspanner Big Band moniker. Now, the big band has got even bigger – with former Bellowhead legend John Spiers joining.

Natural Invention is the first studio album of this six-piece collaboration. Of course you’re going to have exquisitely good musicianship with such a line-up. One niggling question for fans who have grown to love the vastly varied yet utterly unique sounds of the trio format, with its perfect interaction between violin, percussion and guitar, is whether having six musicians in the studio starts to over-complicate the unmistakable Gigspanner formula. It absolutely 100% doesn’t. This new album is pure Gigspanner through and through. Spiers’ melodeon, Henry’s slide guitars and Martin banjo and vocals all sound like they were forever destined to be part of the Gigspanner sound. Moreover, with beautifully creative arrangements of ten traditional songs (from the Child ballad ‘Betsy Bell and Mary Grey through to ‘Daddy Fox’ whose origins go back as far as the fifteenth century) the six have produced something absolutely magical.

Obviously, during the unfolding crisis of the pandemic musicians have been finding every gig and every forthcoming tour cancelled and their income rapidly disappearing. Bands will be reliant on album sales now more than ever before and, obviously, if you’re stuck in the house for weeks on end you’ll maybe want some new stuff to listen to. So buy buy buy buy. But don’t just buy to be charitable Natural Invention is a stunningly good album. Even if you’re stingy enough to only buy one folk album this year make sure it’s this one.

Released: 10th April 2020

https://www.gigspanner.com/gigspanner-big-band

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Previous reviews:

Gigspanner at Hastings 2017
Gigspanner Big Band at Hastings 2016
Gigspanner ‘Layers of Ages’ album
Steeleye Span in London 2015
Gigspanner at Hastings 2015
Gigspanner at Whitstable 2014

News: Cladaich Loch Iù – debut album from Gaelic folk singer Steven MacIomhair

Cladaich Loch Iù is the debut album from Gaelic folk singer Steven MacIomhair. In English meaning ‘Shores of Loch Ewe’ his album has been inspired primarily by songs from his own part of the world combined with other well-known Gaelic songs that he has picked up over the years.

“It was a great experience to come together with such brilliant musicians and take some of my favourite Gaelic songs and breath new life into them. Everyone involved in the album brought a different element with them which created a final product of which I’m very proud,” Steven tells Darren’s music blog.

“It was important for me to include, in the album, some songs from my own village and bring these excellent works to a wider audience’s attention.”

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Born in a small village in the West Coast of Scotland, Naast, near Poolewe, he grew up in a musical home where he developed a love for singing. During his school years his interest and passion for the Gaelic language grew and lead him to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig where he completed a course in Gaelic broadcasting, and most recently, an Honours Degree in Education and Gaelic. Steven started competing in both local and national Mòds when he was 12 years old and won the James C MacPhee Memorial Medal in 1999, just 10 years later he went on to win the coveted An Comunn Gàidhealach Gold Medal. He is currently a Gaelic primary school teacher in Dingwall.

Initially launched on the 28th of August 2019 at a gig he organised in Dingwall and available digitally the album is now also available on CD.

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The CD, Cladaich Loch Iù, is available to buy from:

Glasgow: Gaelic Books Council Shop, Mansfied Street, Partick.
Stornoway: An Comunn Gàidhealach Office
Online: www.BirnamCDshop.com

The album can also be downloaded through:

iTunes
Spotify
Amazon Music
Google Play Music

News: Comfort Zone – debut album from Prophecy Playground released on Friendly Folk Records

Prophecy Playground is an alternative-folk project founded by guitarist singer-songwriter and composer Or Izekson. They combine gently-written melancholic songs and instrumental themes with a carefully-arranged string section, taking elements from classical European chamber music. The melancholic nature of the songs combined with Izekson’s distinctive guitar means comparisons have often been made with the likes of Nick Drake.

Founded in 2018 in Tel Aviv, Prophecy Playground started performing in local bars and small music venues with the band’s live setup consisting of a cellist, violinist and percussionist plus singer-guitar player Izekson surrounded by his four acoustic guitars, each tuned differently.

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Released on the Dutch International folk label Friendly Folk Records, Prophecy Playground’s debut album Comfort Zone is something of a concept album. Izekson’s lyrics deal with themes such as the struggle for inner-self embetterment, the lack of purpose in the virtual age, and a perpetual longing for a home, both in the physical and the spiritual one. The album contains three instrumental pieces and two cover versions – a tribute to 60’s British folk-rock pioneer Kevin Ayers and legendary blues guitar player Mississippi John Hurt, two of Izekson’s most influential musical figures.

A single from the album ‘Politely Polluting’ was released in December with this experimental video filmed in Wales.

The instrumental arrangements for the album include the violin, cello, upright bass, harp, trumpet and flute, and were written by the Tel Aviv pianist/composer Yasmin Raviv. The aim behind the album’s production was to combine skillful acoustic guitar playing with carefully-written arrangements for string section and other orchestral instruments, whilst taking care not to harm the gentleness and fragility of the songs. The album was recorded with producer Gil Smetana, one of Israel’s leading and most experienced music producers, who contributed his distinctive touch.

The band is currently touring Israel in different venues and festivals and will hold album launch mini-tours in US and UK this coming spring, followed by a full European tour in the summer.

Comfort Zone released 15th February 2020 on Friendly Folk Records

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https://www.facebook.com/ProphecyPlayground/

News: Kankou Kouyate’s ‘Kuma’ album – when the Mali singer-songwriter met the Scottish folk-rock guitarist…

Back in 2017, Kankou Kouyate a singer and songwriter from Mali from a renowned musical family, met Scottish musician Mark Mulholland. A collaboration ensued which led to a batch of original songs fusing both African and western influences. The ten-track album Kuma (meaning “words” in Bambara – Mali’s most common language)  is the result of that collaboration.  Parisian musician Olaf Hund adds electronic beats and on a couple of tracks Vincent Bucher provides some beautifully evocative harmonica. Combined with the rock, blues and folk influences of Mulholland’s guitar work and Kankou’s enchanting voice they have created something altogether special.

Mali. Bamako. 06/2017. Kankou et Mark Mulholland.

In Mali, Kouyate has worked with musicians such as Toumani Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate and Cheick Tidiane Seck. She’s collaborated in Africa Express and also contributed to the soundtrack for a 2015 documentary about musicians displaced by Mali’s civil war while internationally she has worked with the likes of Damon Albarn, Brian Eno and Nick Zinner.

Released: Cannery Row Records 6th December 2019

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https://www.facebook.com/Kankou-kouyate-Malian-music-300084397563791/

Folk: album review – Atlantic Union ‘Indulgence’

Not the bank but rather a folk trio from Newfoundland, Indulgence is the fourth album from this long-running Canadian enterprise. Formed in 1997 Atlantic Union has seen various line-up changes along the way but Sally Goddard, originally from England, has been at the heart of the trio since its inception and she brings with her one of those classic English pure folk voices that immediately make you sit up and listen.

Joining Goddard (vocals, guitar, bass, bodhran and concertina) are Dan Rubin (violin, viola, mandolin, octave mandolin, bouzouki, dulcimer, guitar and bass) and Jane Ogilvie (Celtic harp, piano and accordion). More than two years in the making Indulgence comprises nine original tracks and five covers, the latter ranging from the traditional ‘Star of the County Down’ to Bob Dylan’s ‘The Hour That The Ship Comes In’. The rich, Celtic-inspired instrumentation and lovely blend of instruments used across the album provides a fine setting for Goddard’s (and on some tracks Rubin’s) vocals.

The trio guide as through the album as follows:

“The opening track is a gentle reminder that we are not alone. The songs that follow reflect on unrequited love, loss of a loved one and memory loss. We emerge from this with a song for a beloved granddaughter, then move through pieces that share an oceanic setting: songs about transcending racism, surviving war and sailing out of St. John’s harbour on a fully rigged ship. After a piece written by Lord Byron and a nostalgic visit to Mallorca we come to a tribute to the loggers of New Brunswick who supplied masts for the British navy and a rather strange song about kayaking in the Queen Charlotte Islands. The collection concludes with a sonata inspired by Scottish themes and a Caribbean sing-along about the joys of living more simply.”

A pleasing album with some enjoyable songwriting, beautiful vocals and fine melodies, Indulgence will hopefully serve to help Atlantic Union become better known among folk listeners here in the UK. It would be well deserved.

Released: November 2019

http://atlanticunion.ca/

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Folk: album review – Seth Lakeman ‘A Pilgrim’s Tale’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

The latest album from folk singer Seth Lakeman marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower setting sail from Plymouth for north America. While A Pilgrim’s Tale showcases his distinctive vocal style and delivery precisely as his fans have come to love and expect, this is more than simply another Seth Lakeman album though. Comprising twelve songs that seek to tell the story of the Mayflower, the album is narrated by Dr Who actor, Paul McGann, and features a stellar cast of some of the leading lights in the contemporary folk world: Cara Dillon, Benji Kirkpatrick, Ben Nicholls et al.

“I didn’t have to go far for inspiration,” contends the Devon-based folk singer. “The Mayflower’s steps on Plymouth’s cobbled streets are twenty minutes away from me.”

Lyrically, Lakeman paints some vivid pictures for the listener and the songs come from a variety of perspectives. It doesn’t attempt to gloss over the brutality of this early adventure in colonialism. It deals with death, brutality and tragedy experienced by both sides but also examines the religious motivations of the pilgrims and their initial sense of optimism as they set sail as well as their trials and tribulations en route. As well as seeking to explore the perspectives of the pilgrims, however, Lakeman also attempts to look at things from the point of view of the indigenous Wampanoag tribespeople. Indeed, Lakeman visited Massachusetts to gain insights from the Wampanoag descendants who still live in the area.

A highly controversial chapter in both British and American history, Lakeman handles it with both sensitivity and creativity and the result is a fascinating and highly listenable album.

Released by BMG 7/2/20

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https://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/

Previous reviews:

Seth Lakeman at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 2019

Seth Lakeman at Folk by the Oak 2014

 

News: ‘The Final Trawl’ – 19th annual CD of the students of the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music

Situated in Plockton on the West Coast of Scotland, the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music first opened its doors to students in 2000. Uniquely, each year the Centre has produced a CD of material chosen and arranged by the students themselves. Featuring twenty-one musicians this year, The Final Trawl double disc CD features both traditional material and the students’ own compositions.

Writing in the album’s sleeve-notes Dougie Pincock, Director of the Centre, remarks:

“The student’s choice of Archie Fisher’s great but gloomy song as the title track is singularly appropriate given that the state of the Scottish fishing industry is one of the more contentious issues of the day. But while, as in the past, I’m happy to commend our young people for their political awareness, I’m always glad to be able to say that they counterbalance the doom and gloom with their creative energy and the joy they take, and give, in the creation and performance of their music.”

The Centre came about when, following devolution in 1999, the Scottish Executive established its Excellence Fund for education, and invited the 32 Scottish local authorities to submit bids for appropriate projects. Recognising the wealth of traditional music activity generated by the Fèis movement and others, the Highland Council submitted a bid for a residential Centre of Excellence specialising in traditional music. The bid was successful and the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music was established at Plockton High School in May 2000 with funding of £500,000 from the Scottish Executive’s Excellence Fund. The Centre is now directly funded by the Highland Council.

The CD is available for purchase via the Centre’s website

https://www.musicplockton.org/

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