Category Archives: album reviews

Folk / Americana: album review – Wren ‘Pink Stone: Songs from Moose Lodge’

Writer, artist and singer-songwriter, Laura Adrienne Brady, performs music under the name Wren. Pink Stone: Tales From Moose Lodge is Wren’s third album, inspired by a stay at a remote cabin in the woods at Methow Valley, Washington State, where she was invited to house-sit while recovering from a mysterious but debilitating illness.

The resulting album is a sumptuous ten-track journey through Americana-infused, Celtic-inspired folk. Wren’s pure, emotive voice, intimate lyrics and melancholic, rootsy playing – ably assisted by a talented bunch of guest musicians and additional layers of harmony vocals.

Wren says of her latest album:

“The years I was writing these songs were some of the loneliest years of my life, but they were also imbued with a palpable magic, and I’ve spent the period since obsessed with how to transport the listener to the warm cocoon of a cabin where I felt free to move at my own pace for the first time. Though I was often alone, I wasn’t unattached. My relationships merged with this greater experience of place and led to a collection of songs about the paradoxes of love and intimacy, where the land and the river often become other characters in the story.”

Pink Stone: Songs from Moose Lodge follows in the tradition of her two previous albums which were largely also inspired by a specific geographical place: her lifetime love of the Salish Sea, Canada, her year in Galicia, Spain and, now with her third album her journey to Washington’s Methow Valley.

The album was produced at Airtime Studios in Bloomington, Indiana by David Weber and features Jason Wilber (guitar), Krista Detor (piano, organ, accordion and harmony vocals and Gary Stroutsos (American Indian cedar flute).

To accompany the album, Wren has also published a 98-page Companion Book of essay vignettes, journal entries, illustrations, photos, and lyrics born from her time in the Methow.

Check out the album and embark on this emotive journey with her.

Released: 20th February 2021

wren-music.com

This week’s featured artist: Hastings-based folk duo The Limbs of Romney

The Limbs of Romney are a duo formed during lockdown by East Sussex musicians Andrew Myers and Chris Watkins. Although they are Hastings-based both have connections to Lancaster, where Myers is originally from. So, as a Hastings-based blogger also originally from Lancashire, this was bound to pique my interest.

The pair have just released a digital-only four-track EP Home to Shore.

Explaining how the duo came about, Andrew Myer explains:

“Chris and I met during one of the gaps between lockdowns. He literally knocked on my door one day and asked if I wanted to make music with him. Someone had told him I was a musician. We live in Hastings but we both have connections with Lancaster, where I’m originally from. So – we had a chat and started playing together. We immediately established a great rapport and working relationship. We write everything together, although Chris writes all the lyrics and so far has been responsible for the final mixes, laying up from the basic piano and guitar. We managed to play together regularly for a few weeks, then it was the second? third? lockdown and we had to resort to communicating by email and sending stuff backwards and forwards.”

The EP is very much inspired by tales of the sea. They weren’t trying to cash in on sea shanty craze, they are keen to assure me, as neither of them claim to be up to date enough with modern day culture to cash in on any new-fangled craze. The duo’s music is narrative folk very much driven by piano and guitar but they aren’t afraid to throw in some experimental touches, too, giving the EP a slightly ethereal, other-worldly quality. The maritime themes clearly provide a rich basis for the duo’s storytelling and down here in Hastings, of course, there’s no shortage of source material to provide inspiration.

“Our first effort ‘Home to Shore’ is a celebration of the sea – it’s three songs, with a ‘storm interlude’ which depicts a shipwreck. Chris likes to research a topic and base lyrics on that, so these songs are the fruit of many an hour spent at the Shipwreck museum in Hastings.”

All four tracks are available on YouTube here, as well as being available on Spotify.

And what next for The Limbs of Romney?

“Our current project is writing music for the ‘Town Explores A Book’ festival in St Leonards – all based on the life of Edward Lear. We should be getting some local exposure through the festival.”

Home to Shore is available on Spotify here

https://www.facebook.com/The-Limbs-of-Romney-100311922040915

Folk: album review – Various artists ‘Between Islands’

The Between Islands Project began life in 2014 with the aim of bringing together contemporary songwriters from Shetland, Orkney and the Hebrides and celebrate the rich musical heritage of those islands. In the years that followed a number of diverse individual projects emerged out of this, from joint song-writing ventures through to exhibitions, lectures, films and, of course, live performances.

Come 2020 and Covid was to throw a spanner in the works. Performances had been scheduled at both the Shetland Folk Festival and the Heb Celt festival in Stornaway but, undeterred, project co-ordinator Alex MacDonald sought to translate the project from the stage to the studio.

He explains: “As the project was based on live events, initially we were at a loss as to how it could be saved. Thankfully we were able to redesign what was planned, and this double CD contains both live work previously captured and a series of entirely new tracks recorded in lockdown.”

The result is a breath-taking thirty-track, two-disc collection showcasing some top-notch song-writing, exquisite singing  and inventive contemporary arrangements of traditional fiddle tunes.

The thirteen musicians featured are: Maggie Adamson. Louise Bichan, Williw Campbell, Kris Drever, Julie Fowlis, Neil Johnstone, Jenny Napier Keldie, Kathleen MacInnes, Linda MacLeod, Jane Hepburn MacMillan, Arthur Nicholson and Satfishforty.  

The ‘lockdown disc’ was created from sessions that paired up artists across the existing projects while also allowing the opportunity for entirely new remote collaborations and compositions. Consequently, the disc begins by introducing the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney musicians respectively over the opening three tracks before going on to explore a range of other pairings. The ‘live disc’ meanwhile was something that had long been planned and features performances from both Orkney Folk Festival and the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornaway. A detailed twelve-page booklet accompanies the two discs.

When live events do, once more, become possible this lovingly-curated CD will undoubtedly ensure the reputation of the Between Islands project will be stronger than ever and their return to the stage warmly anticipated.

Released: 11t December 2020

www.betweenislands.com

Folk: album review – Ninebarrow ‘A Pocket Full of Acorns’

Named after Nine Barrow Down in Dorset’s Purbeck hills, the English folk duo composed of Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere this month release their long-awaited fourth album A Pocket Full of Acorns.

Whatever unexpected challenges 2020 threw up for the music world it certainly provided many musicians with plenty of additional time for writing and recording. Ninebarrow were no exception, using the time to create the follow-up to 2018’s The Water And The Wild.

“It feels all the sweeter to be able to release this collection into the wild given all the detours we had to make in 2020,” says Whitley. “Our music will always be inspired by the incredible landscape and history of our native Dorset as well as our sense of home and belonging. But these days we can’t helped but be oved by the many changes happening to our planet and society – we hope this fourth studio album reflects that.”

With a mix of original song-writing, covers, traditional numbers and musical adaptations of classic poetry, the duo apply their trademark harmonies to produce eleven tracks of exquisite contemporary folk. Highlights include the haunting but utterly beautiful ‘Cold, Haily, Windy Night’ a song about migration inspired by the scenes of destitution at the Calais refugee camp.

The tempo is raised for an upbeat rendering of ‘John Barleycorn’ – just as you think you have enough versions of this in your collection they come along and do something different and suitably imaginative with that old homage to beer-making. The mood changes again for the rousing ‘Cry Unity’ inspired by William Barnes’ poem ‘The Dorset Rifleman’s Song’, its original fiery battlecry now re-purposed as a call for world peace and global understanding.

As well as the two vocalists’ sensitive, emotive harmonies Whitley’s equally sensitive piano playing is a prominent part of the overall sound. The duo are joined by band members Lee Mackenzie on cello, John Parker on double bass and Evan Carson on percussion, alongside Whitley, himself, on ukulele, guitar, mandola and reed organ.

Featuring the same original album artwork from Sarah Whitley, there is also a companion songbook available to go with the album, featuring lyrics, additional photography and inspirations behind the song choices.

A Pocket Full Of Acorns already promises to be one of the outstanding folk albums of 2021. Well worth the two-year wait.

Released: 5th March 2021

Online album launch: Saturday 13th March, 7pm at https://www.ninebarrow.co.uk/live

https://www.ninebarrow.co.uk/

This week’s featured artist: Elena Piras – new album of Scottish folk ‘Where The Wind Blows’

Where The Wind Blows is the second album from Elana Pira. Not unusually for a Scottish folk release it features a number of traditional Scottish and Gaelic melodies alongside familiar favourites like Francis McPeake’s ‘Wild Mountain’s Thyme’ and Tom Paxton’s ‘The Last Thing on My Mind’. It’s an album of Scottish folk with a twist, however. Hailing from Sardinia, Piras inherited her father’s love of singing from an early age and began performing professionally in Italy when young.

“I think when you begin on a path so young, it just becomes an unquestionable part of the fabric of your life and your whole being. Making music is as natural as breathing for me,” she says.

Piras moved to the UK aged 18, where she co-founded and toured with the London Bulgarian choir. It was in 2006, however, following a move to Scotland and a position at the Royal Scottish Academy of Art that her love of Scottish music really began to make itself felt. Immersing herself in the local music scene Piras became a popular fixture at festivals and released her debut album in 2010. Journey was predominantly an album of traditional Scottish music but also included songs from Ireland, Sardinia and Bulgaria

Being visually impaired since birth, Elena believes it has enabled her to impart a very special meaning to her folk music. She also feels a particular affinity to Scots, Irish and Gaelic folk and maintains that nothing can compare to it in terms of being able to convey the beauty and hardship of a land and its people and its ability to transport both performer and audience into its melodies and narrative.

Where The Wind Blows is Elena Pira’s second album and very much continues the journey she embarked upon with her debut release – exploring and interpreting traditional Scottish music. Recorded in a shed that was repurposed as a recording studio, the project has drawn in a number of talented musicians. As the pandemic threw up the now familiar range of logistical challenges, some of the album’s collaborators also contributed their parts from similarly unconventional locations. Perseverance has its rewards, however, and we are left with an exceptional album.

With a pure clear voice, a self-evident love for the Gaelic language and an instinctive feel for interpreting the material in her own unique way, Elena Pira brings something that’s both precious and meaningful to the Scottish folk scene.

Where The Wind Blows was released 20th November 2020

Visit the website of Elena Piras here

This week’s featured artist: Beth Lee – new album out ‘Waiting On You Tonight’

Making a name for herself fronting roots rock ‘n’ roll band Beth Lee & The Breakups, Texas-based singer-songwriter Beth Lee dips deep into a much broader range of musical influences for her latest album. These span her nineties love of Hope Sandoval, to the pop-friendly melodies of sixties girl groups, to the southern soul of Stax Records to contemporary Americana artists like Nicole Atkins. 

Waiting On You Tonight puts Lee’s soulful, heartfelt vocals and her evident song-writing abilities centre-stage. She effortlessly distils generations of musical influences, from country to blues to soul to 60s pop to rock n roll, to deliver this gorgeous set of original songs that captures so much of what’s great about American music in its most golden age.

Released: 12th February 2021

https://www.bethlee.net/

This week’s featured artist: Luke Jackson – new EP ‘Of The Time’ out now

Canterbury-based singer-songwriter Luke Jackson has scooped up numerous awards since first being nominated for the BBC’s Young Folk Awards back in 2013.

As a folk and roots-based artist he’s tapped into a school of song-writing that goes back many generations yet his songs always seem so effortlessly contemporary, topical and relevant.

This latest seven-track EP ‘Of The Time’ is no exception. Written during lockdown these songs take us on a powerful journey, not only of Luke Jackson’s own thoughts at various times over the months between March and November 2020, but feelings that many, many of us will immediately empathise with:

“The man in charge looks troubled on the TV. Doesn’t have a single thing to say” he sings on opening track ‘I Am Not Okay With This’.

The subjects are often bleak but the songs are never bleak, testimony to Jackson’s power as a songwriter and warmth as a performer. And he can be passionate and outspoken and uncompromising but avoids that temptation to get ranty – a trap that some singer-songwriters dealing with contemporary subject matter can sometimes fall into. Again, it’s a mark of his gift as a songwriter and the pure poetry of his lyrics.

The production nicely captures that mood, too.

“The songs lend themselves to a more sparse, acoustic production so the obvious person to do these recordings with was Elliott Norris at his ‘Good Neighbour Records’ studio,” he tells us.

I first saw Luke Jackson at Cecil Sharp House five years ago and was hugely impressed. His ‘This Family Tree’ album that I picked up that evening has frequently been on my stereo ever since – but it has been a treat to get fully up to date with Luke Jackson’s more recent output and familiarise myself with his wonderful 2019 album ‘Journals’ as well as this year’s brand new EP. As soon as I heard it I had no hesitation in making him this week’s featured artist.

Released: 29th January 2021

Available for download via http://lukepauljackson.com/shop/

Related review:

Luke Jackson and Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at Cecil Sharp House 2016

This week’s featured artist: Tim Izzard and the new glammed-up Ziggy-esque album ‘Starlight Rendezvous’

Based in Hailsham in East Sussex, Tim Izzard is a musician who has worked across a variety of musical genres but Starlight Rendezvous, released last month, is his debut rock album. Taking glam-era Bowie as its starting point the album makes nods in the direction of pop, prog, rock and garage, and delivers something that is both creative and original yet unashamedly wears its influences as unselfconsciously as Mick Ronson in his golden Starman costume.

Izzard tells us: “It’s a play-it-loud, 40 mins concept album (remember them!) where the time is 632 AF, we are in a Brave New World and ‘The Visitor’, Thomas Jerome Newton, is still alive and still waiting to find his way home after nearly 200 years.”

Izzard adds: “I wanted to write an album that sounded like what first and still excites me musically and that I’d want to listen to once finished. So back to Bowie playing Starman on TOTP and the album, Ziggy. Roxy Music’s first two albums, Transformer/Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Bowie’s live Beeb version of Waiting For The Man still does it for me.

The chords and melody for Man Who Fell To Earth came easily to me one day, and just sounded immediately like it should be a tribute. So the title Man Who Fell To Earth I chose as he appeared like an alien on TOTP and left us so dramatically two days after Blackstar, almost as if his mission had been accomplished. The lyrics name-check his songs but also the impact they had on me ‘listening in my room’.

That self-penned Bowie tribute, the excellent ‘Man Who Fell To Earth’ has already been picking up airplay including here on BBC Radio Sussex and in the US on glam rock internet station Dandy’s Stardust Dive.

Tim Izzard’s album Starlight Rendezvous is available on Bandcamp here:

https://timizzard.bandcamp.com/

Released: 13th January 2021

https://www.facebook.com/TimIzzardMusic/

Progressive folk / experimental: album review: Steve Tyler ‘The Enduring and the Ephemeral ‘

Steve Tyler is a renowned hurdy gurdy player and from early music to traditional folk to industrial electronica he is at home playing within a variety of genres. He currently performs as a duo with Katy Marchant, as well as in the medieval-inspired trad folk band Woodwose (again with Marchant) and as part of the cross-cultural outfit Meridianum Ensemble.

The Enduring and the Ephemeral, however, is Tyler’s first album comprised fully of his own original material. The unique, utterly mesmerising sound of the hurdy gurdy takes centre-stage in this album of rich, layered, experimental prog-folk subtitled ‘Hurdy gurdy based multitrack music for the end of time’.

“The intention was merely to render in sonic form some patterns from the imagination, rather than following any particular theme or genre. However, as many of the pieces arose from contemplation of the passage of time and the juxtaposition of different chronological perspectives, a theme of sorts has arisen.”

Tyler’s main creative drive is his interest in patterns and rhythms and the resulting interweaving of different components into a sonic structure. Tyler’s infectiously hypnotic hurdy gurdy playing is thus textured by his use of numerous other instruments, namely cittern, reed organ, psaltery, guitar, bass guitar, hammered dulcimer, gothic harp and percussion. However, the album also features guest musicians: Katy Marchant who plays, variously, bagpipes, recorder, shawm and vocal on several tracks) and Jane Harbour, from the Bristol-based band Spiro, whose vocal and violin-playing can be heard on the final track ‘Lullaby’.

A lovely touch, particularly for ELO fans, is the inclusion of the late Mike Edwards – the cellist from the original line-up of Electric Light Orchestra who was tragically killed in 2010. Tyler had previously worked with Edwards and an unaccompanied improvisational sample of his was located and, by chance, fitted perfectly into the dark, haunting piece on the album entitled ‘Tethys’.

A rich, fascinating and uniquely other-worldly album, Tyler creates some utterly compelling sonic textures and fans of experimental music, prog and folk will all find much to draw them in here.

Released: Autumn 2020

http://www.stevetyler-hurdygurdy.com/

Folk/acoustic: album review – Milton Hide ‘Temperature’s Rising’

Hot on the heels of Lancashire-based folk-rockers, Merry Hell, who released their eco-themed Emergency Lullabies album last November comes Temperature’s Rising, another environmentally-conscious album title from another act immersed in the UK folk scene: East Sussex’s Milton Hide.

I’ve much enjoyed seeing this husband-and-wife acoustic duo, Jim and Josie Tipler, out on the live scene here in East Sussex on a number of occasions. Their thought-provoking, observational and often humorous self-written songs were always a treat to witness and it was a delight, therefore, to get my hands on their debut album.

While their acoustic-driven melodies are at the heart of Temperature’s Rising there’s plenty more to the album besides. The dozen songs here are all ones that the duo have performed live over the years. However, a cast of guest musicians, their contributions all recorded separately and expertly weaved into the album within the necessary constraints imposed by life in lockdown, add rich texture to the duo’s melodies.

Bruce Knapp from Moltenamba provides some deliciously Americana-flavoured guitar on several tracks, Fred Gregory and Phil Jones from Hatful of Rain come in on mandolin and string bass respectively, while Ian McIlroy from Rough Chowder plays accordion and Simon Yapp from Ian Roland Subtown Set adds some distinctive fiddle-playing. The whole album is produced and engineered by John Fowler of Dandelion Charm who also utilises his multi-instrumental talents on guitars, bass, keyboards and drums while Clare Fowler, the other half of Dandelion Charm, adds some backing vocals.

The title track ‘Temperature’s Rising’ utilises the full band set-up to deliver a rousing modern-day folk-rock anthem. Josie Tipler: “Greta Thunberg was making news and climate activists were very prominent in the media. Also, there was a lot of protesting going on – anger over US elections and Brexit. “

Meanwhile, ‘A Little Piece Of Mind’ sees Jim and Josie in classic acoustic duo mode. With a more than a nod to the melody of Elizabeth Cotton’s evergreen skiffle favourite ‘Freight Train’ the lyrics here similarly utilise train metaphors but the song is actually Josie’s ode to the menopause and mid-life crisis.

The poignant ‘Littlefield’, inspired by Jim spotting a welcoming light in the window of a house that had been empty for many months, channels the spirit some of those classic English folk-inspired singer-songwriters in the vein of Sandy Denny et al and is beautifully sung by Josie.

‘Say It All The Time’ is another highlight. Quite unlike anything else on the album, the song was initially prompted by a bleak mood that came over Jim during a walk on the South Downs one day and the subsequent death of a musician friend who had tragically taken his own life. It was originally released as a charity single back in 2019 to raise awareness of suicide prevention. Remixed for the album the spiky, slightly eighties, slightly goth-sounding keyboards from producer and multi-instrumentalist, John Fowler, really make this track and perfectly capture the mood of the song.

Mention should also be made of the beautiful packaging including fold-out lyric sheet featuring original artwork by Hastings artist Helen Bryant.

Anyone who is already familiar with Milton Hide’s live act will want to buy this album but hopefully ‘Temperature’s Rising’ will also help bring the duo’s unique talents as songwriters, singers and musicians to a much wider audience. A very welcome full-length debut from Milton Hide with some superb musical guests.

Released: 5th March 2021

Website: www.miltonhide.com

Related posts:

‘Say It All The Time’ – East Sussex duo Milton Hide release fund-raising single to raise awareness of male suicide

Saturday Unplugged – live review Hastings Fat Tuesday 2020