Category Archives: Album reviews

This week’s featured artist: Gaelic singer Kim Carnie – debut album ‘And So We Gather’

Gaelic singer, Kim Carnie, launched her solo career in 2018 with the release of her EP, In Her Company. Since then she’s worked with the bands, Mànran and Staran, been much in demand as a session vocalist and in 2021 won the Gaelic Singer of The Year prize at the MG Alba Trad Awards.

In June this year she released her debut album, And So We Gather.

As well as Carnie’s own standout vocals the album features a stellar line-up of the brightest and the best from the Scottish folk scene, including vocalists, Julie Fowlis, Karen Matheson, Kathleen MacInnes, Megan Henderson and Calum MacCrimmon.

The album was written and arranged during lockdown on the Isle of Skye and features five of Carnie’s original songs, some sung in English and others Gaelic, alongside five of her own interpretations of traditional Gaelic songs and texts.

Kim Carnie: “Over the last two years, we have spent too much time apart from the people we care most about. We have had to learn how to show love through our physical absence and find calm in our isolation. This album is a celebration of where we are now: gathering loving and putting ourselves back together.”

“I spent the first few months of lockdown in Glenlyon. I would regularly walk a six-mile round-trip, sneak into our beautiful local church and play the baby grand piano – it was where I wrote most of the album.”

“The album brings together some of my favourite musicians, but most importantly some of my favourite hearts and minds. It’s been a real privilege putting this music together and hearing what others hear in both my songs and the songs of our ancestors.”

Musicians:
Kim Carnie – Vocals
Donald Shaw – Piano and harmonium
Innes White – Guitar, mandolin and vocals
James Lindsay – Double bass
James MacIntosh – Percussion

Guest vocalists:
Calum MacCrimmon
Julie Fowlis
Karen Matheson
Kathleen MacInnes
Megan Henderson

Guest musicians:
Alyn Cosker – Percussion
Charlie Stewart – Fiddle
Iain Hutchison – Electric guitar
John Lowrie – Piano
Kadialy Kouyate – Kora
Matt Carmichael – Saxophone
Scottish Session Orchestra

And So We Gather was released on 17th June 2022 by Càrn Records

https://www.kimcarnie.com/

Folk/jazz/classical: album review – Seonaid Aitken ‘Chasing Sakura’

Encompassing jazz, classical and folk influences, Chasing Sakura is a crossover album from classically-trained and award-winning jazz musician, Seonaid Aitken, her first album of entirely original material.

There have been no shortage of albums conceived during the recent pandemic that have been released over the last couple of years, across all genres. Aitken’s is a lockdown album with a difference, however, as it came about while she was recovering from a riding accident. Inspired by the cherry blossoms she would see on her daily exercise walks and with a commission to produce new music for the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, Aitken was prompted to create Chasing Sakura.

“In the Spring of 2021, I was recovering from a serious horse-riding accident where I broke my pelvis, ankle, small vertebrae and ribs. I would go for walks around Glasgow chasing cherry blossoms and it reminded me of my time in Japan and how I was inspired by the way they celebrate the beauty and symbolism of the Sakura season with Hanami – the traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers. The record draws inspiration from the lifespan of the cherry blossom to symbolise overall themes of hope, optimism and impermanence.”

As a versatile and much in-demand session musician, Aitken’s CV has included work with the likes of Deacon Blue, Carol Kidd, Hamish Stuart (Average White Band), Blue Rose Code, The GRIT Orchestra, James Grant and Eddi Reader. She also played violin and viola in the 2019-2020 touring production of Disney’s ‘The Lion King’. As a jazz musician and singer, she was awarded ‘Best Vocalist’ at the 2017 and 2018 Scottish Jazz Awards and, specialising in Gypsy Jazz, she performs extensively with her Scottish Jazz Award-winning ‘Best Band’ (2018) Rose Room, and as a guest with the Tim Kliphuis Sextet, Tokyo Django Collective, Swing 2020 and top jazz fingerstyle virtuoso, and former guitarist of Stephane Grappelli, Martin Taylor MBE.

On the album, Aitken (Violin and Vocals) is joined by fellow ensemble members: Katrina Lee (Violin), Patsy Reid (Viola), Alice Allen (Cello), Emma Smith (Bass) and Helena Kay (Tenor Sax and Flute).

The result is a richly evocative album from the lush, classically-inspired, jazz-infused track ‘Awakening’, whose delicate, dancing melody does exactly what it says on the tin, to the jaunty and far more folky ‘Hanami’, to the jazzy 1920s-themed ‘The Walk’. ‘Beauty and Wonder’, with its beautiful jazz-waltz theme is a track Aitken wrote specifically for a string quartet.

An album that will have huge appeal for jazz, classical and folk fans, I’ve come to it rather late to it this year but I can’t wait to put it on as the blossoms start appearing on the trees as I look out of my back window next spring.

Released: 29th April 2022

http://seonaidaitken.com/chasing-sakura/

Singer-songwriter: album review – The Electric Flea Show ‘Art Club of Paintings’

Art Club of Paintings is the debut album of The Electric Flea Show. Rather than a band, The Electric Flee Show is actually the pseudonym of an otherwise un-named singer-songwriter. “Unidentified, in the spirit of Banksy perhaps – or maybe just some anonymous bloke,” he writes in the accompanying press blurb.

As an album it’s got a slightly indie/experimental, lo-fi acoustic vibe to it but the songs are accessible, the melodies hummable and the lyrics thought-provoking. It’s another of those albums that was seemingly conceived during the lockdown. However, the lyrical themes were “informed but not constrained by lockdown” according to their author: thoughts of love, heartbreak, life, death and dreams for the future fill the album’s ten tracks.

The vocals have that melancholy edge in the best of that ‘sensitive singer-song-writer’ tradition but he’s got a likeable and highly engaging voice that gently draws you in. The vocals and acoustic guitar are occasionally punctuated by some slightly other-worldly special effects, vintage keyboard sounds and drum samples.

A really interesting album. I enjoyed this one. Thanks Electric Flea Show, whoever you are.

Released: 4th April 2022 by FR Records

https://theelectricfleashow.bandcamp.com/

Folk: album review – Hannah Rarity ‘To Have You Near’

I had the privilege of reviewing Hannah Rarity’s debut EP, Beginnings, for the now defunct fRoots magazine back in 2016. I predicted hers was a name to watch, Rarity’s voice reminding me of a young Cara Dillon, a comparison it seems a few others went on to make along the way. Since then, she went on to pick up BBC Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year award  in 2018 and release her extremely well-received debut full album, Neath The Gloaming Star, that same year.

Four years later she returns with the follow-up, To Have You Near. The vocals are as captivating as ever and the songs, whether originals or Rarity’s interpretations of others’ material, are always both highly engaging and thought-provoking. With this new album, however, she brings in other influences alongside the expected Scottish folk, with touches of jazz and blues.

Hannah Rarity: “A second album is a daunting task for any artist, and To Have You Near has been born out of a turbulent, difficult time in the world. Which I think is reflected in  the freshly penned songs and my choice of poignant covers. Artistically and stylistically, I wanted it to be an intimate experience for a listener, tackling more complex subject matters along the way and experimenting further with production techniques and sounds – still grounded in traditional folk song but allowing space for other influences to permeate.”

Rarity’s own songs (whether her solo compositions or collaborations with co-songwriter, Gordon Maclean) explore themes such as home, friendship, insecurity and dementia, the latter taking the form of a touching song called ‘Kaleidoscope, based on Rarity’s work bringing music to residents in care homes through the Live Music Now initiative.

Covers include the 19th century parlour song, ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’, a cover of Tom Waite’s ‘Take It With Me’ and Julie Matthews’ ‘Comes The Hour’, originally written for a BBC Radio Ballads documentary.

To Have You Near is produced by long-time collaborator, Innes White, who also provides acoustic guitar, alongside John Lowrie (keyboards), James Lindsey (bass) and Scott McKay (drums and percussion). Lush strings courtesy of Seonaid Aitken, Katrina Lee, Patsy Reid and Alice Allen give the album additional depth and sensitivity.

Still a name to watch and still as captivating as ever, Hannah Rarity has created a thing of beauty with this, her second album.

Released: 3rd June 2022

https://www.hannahrarity.com/

Related reviews:

EP review – Hannah Rarity ‘Beginnings’

Album review – TMSA ‘Young Trad Tour 2018’

Folk: album review – Fraya Thomsen ‘Release’

Harpist, singer and award-winning composer, Fraya Thomsen’s musical roots lie in the Scottish traditional music scene  but she’s equally at home in the world of film and TV, where she has composed music for a number of award-winning short films as well as pieces for contemporary choreographers and multimedia artists.

Release began life as a piece of work entitled Community & Stardust, commissioned for the 2017 Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, but then evolved into a lockdown project with the album being recorded in the participating musicians’ own homes and studios during 2020.

The team of musicians who had originally devised and performed the piece have similarly contributed to the album: Sarah Allen (flute), Shanti Jayasinha (flugelhorn), Colette O’Leary (accordion), Louise McMonagle (cello), James Maddren (drums/percussion) and Cameron Maxwell (bass). Artist, Lucy Cash, has also written the lyrics to one of the songs on the album, ‘Just This Sky Line’ which was also used for a film called A Song For Nine Elms.

Featuring tracks with titles like ‘Save The World’, ‘For The Water Protectors’ and ‘Connected’. It’s perhaps no surprise that there is a strong ecological theme to this album. The twelve tracks are a mixture of songs and tunes and while, unsurprisingly, there are obvious Celtic influences from the folk world, other musical influences make the presence felt, too. ‘Tiger’, for example, is jazz-influenced while other tracks take on a more experimental feel, again perhaps unsurprising, given Thomsen’s work in the world of film as well as folk.

There’s much to appreciate on this album with the contributions of the guest musicians perfectly complimenting Thomsen’s beautiful harp and vocal. What’s more there seems to be more to discover with each repeated listen. Put it on, sit back, soak it all in and quietly contemplate the future of our world  and our connections to one another.

Released: 9th April 2022

http://www.frayathomsen.com/

Folk-rock: album review – Julie July Band ‘Wonderland’

First catching the Julie July Band some five years ago at Warwick Folk Festival and immediately being drawn to their Sandy Denny tribute, I’ve been keeping a keen eye on this band’s progress ever since. Now on to their third album, their first (Who Knows Where The Time Goes) committed the band’s Sandy-themed tribute to disc, while the second (Lady of the First Light) was an album of all-new original material. This latest sees the band writing and performing new material, once more.

The driving duo of Julie July (vocals) and Steve Rezillo (electric guitar/vocals) remain as they have from the very start, with Rezillo also contributing a significant bulk of the songwriting duties. However, there have been a few changes along the way, too. The pair are now joined by Caley Groves (guitar) whose father was Steve Groves, a contemporary of Sandy Denny’s late partner and ex Fotheringay and Fairporter, Trevor Lucas on the Australian folk-rock scene. Also joining them is Dik Cadbury (bass/vocals) who has an impeccable folk-rock pedigree stretching back to his days in Decameron in the 1970s and who has also worked with Steve Hackett. Joining on drums is Mick Candler who began playing in local beat groups in his home city of York back in the early 1960’s, prior to joining the Roll Movement and going on to work with the likes of Decameron, Phil Beer and Steve Knightly. Finally, there is keyboard player and singer-songwriter, Carol Lee Sampson, who contributes keyboards and vocal harmonies on the album.

As with the previous album, all twelve tracks on Wonderland are original songs.

Julie July: “This album is a bit different because the new line-up has five voices so we decided to make more use of these in the songs with harmonies.”

Wonderland represents an evolution of the band in a number of ways. Although the previous album, Lady Of The First Light, was categorically not a Sandy Denny tribute album, her influence was never really very far away. In some ways it felt like a long-lost companion to Sandy Denny’s handful of post-Fotheringay ‘70s solo albums. With Wonderland, however, the band spread their wings further and a more eclectic range of influences are apparent.

It still taps into that rich vein of ‘60s and ‘70s folk rock. But there’s layer upon layer of other influences, too, from prog to blues to polished singer-songwriter to straight-ahead hard rock, and even a hint of Latin here and there. This is a band growing in confidence, reaching into its huge well of collective experience and delivering some fine music, exquisite vocals and harmonies and striking songwriting.  

Lyrical themes range from proggy mystical fantasy (‘Labyrinth’), to grappling with the strange realities of human interaction, post-lockdown (’Wonderland’) to the values of a certain former (thankfully) US President (‘Smoke And Mirrors’). It all adds up to a very pleasing third album from the Julie July Band.

Whether performing Sandy Denny’s songs or their own material, this is a band I always enjoy listening to and, after Covid messed up my usual summer festival plans these past couple of years, I now very much look forward to reconnecting with them live again, too.

Released: May 2022

https://www.juliejuly.co.uk/music

Related posts:

Folk-rock: album review – Julie July Band ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – A Tribute To Sandy Denny

Folk-rock: album review – Julie July Band ‘Lady of the First Light’

This week’s featured artist: East Sussex folk singer-songwriter, India Blue

Drawing inspiration from spirituality, history, folk tales, nature and the complexities of “being human”, India Blue is a folk musician and singer-songwriter based here in St. Leonards, East Sussex.

Introduced to the piano aged five, India says she began writing songs about faeries from those very first lessons, with help from her teacher Carla Smith. Aged eleven she began performing her first ever gigs as her support act, at places like Revelation in Ashford and the Sinden Theatre in Tenterden. Then came opportunities on the festival circuit, playing at small eco, pagan and hippie festivals in 2015. Prior to lockdown she was playing around eleven festivals each summer. She was awarded winner of the Equator Music Contest  in 2014, was shortlisted for Young Songwriter of the Year in 2015 and was area finalist of Open Mic UK in 2016. As well as festivals, she’s supported Jo Beth Young for her ‘Strangers’ album launch and Guy Chambers on his ‘Into The Light’ tour.

India Blue’s debut studio album, The Circus Came And Left, released earlier this Spring features thirteen self-composed songs written over a two-year period.

“The Circus Came and Left is titled from the final single, which I toyed with actually including on the album or not. It’s a very personal song, about the transience of life. But I felt in some way whilst structuring the album: this is the journey I wanted the listener to go through, as it’s the one cycle every living this also goes through (in some way or another) It was also a major reason I wanted my first solo release to be an album, rather than a single: to walk the listener through a landscape.”

“I recorded the album in the home studio of my producer and fellow musician Tom Clarkson. Recording was a heart opening experience, intertwined with cavalo nero pasta, deep yogic breaths and dances with his two-year-old daughter.”

“My favourite part of the process was recording the piano on a magnificent old Steinway in an old original Burton manor (the man who built St Leonards!) ‘We’re Free’ was the only song fully recorded in this space, it was my rendition of a Mantra, and we got it in maybe one or two takes. I feel that songs are capsules, containing the energy of their words, the time when they were written, and also recorded. I feel this album truly holds support, insight and creative power for all who listen to receive.”

While she’s mainly self-accompanied, playing piano, harp and other instruments, the album also features some talented local musicians including Bev Lee Harling (violin), Tom Clarkson (bass/electric guitar), Tom Uragallo (bodhran) and Sarah Vincent (trombone).

The Circus Came And Left is a delightful album. India Blue’s delicate yet expressive and slightly other-worldly vocal is the perfect fit for her song-writing and there’s plenty of lovely mournful piano and beautifully evocative harp to really bring these songs to life. Both Vashti Bunyan and Joanna Newsome are cited as key inspirations and there’s lots for fans of both of those artists to enjoy here.

Released: March 2022

https://www.indiabluemusic.com/

Folk: album review – Andy Martyn ‘Will We Give It A Go?’

A virtuoso of the button accordion and a notable figure on London’s traditional Irish music scene, Andy Martyn has been immersed in traditional music from a young age and has gone on to collaborate with many leading players. Appearing on a number of albums, past collaborations have included work with the likes of John Carty, Brendan Mulkere, Alias Ron Kavana and Gino Lupari, as well as with London-based bands, Le Cheile and Slip Jigolos. Will We Give It A Go? is Martyn’s debut solo album released under his own name, however.

Evidently, he may have taken a little persuading to have finally agreed to a solo release. Writing in the album liner notes, he observes: “Having been persuaded by a number of musicians and friends over the years to put down a new recording, I chose perhaps the most strange time to do so during a global pandemic which severely restricted our ability to meet, play and record together.”

Any logistical challenges presented by putting such an album together has clearly not impeded on its vibrancy and vitality, It really is a delight to listen to. Distilling the spirit of traditional Irish music from the streets of London while reaching back to Martyn’s own Galway family roots, he brings us an album that’s both highly inventive and one steeped in tradition.

Described as a landmark recording of traditional Irish music in London, the fourteen-track CD combines some of Marty’s own compositions with his own interpretations of Irish airs, reels and other traditional tunes.

Traditional airs like the ‘Lament Of The Three Marys’ jostle with traditional reels like ‘The Sailor’s Bonnet’ and several of Marty’s own compositions including three of his previously unpublished tunes: ‘Dream Maker’ (an air composed for the late Brendan Mulkere), ‘The Light of Home’ and ‘The Ballygawley Barndance’.

Martyn has drawn on his long-established connections on the scene to pull together an impressive line-up of supporting musicians: John Carty (Patrick Street), Gerry Diver, Gino Lupari (Four Men and a Dog), Matt Griffin (Seamus Begley Trio), Michael McGoldrick (Michael McGoldrick Band, Usher’s Island), Trevor Hutchinson (Lunasa), Elaine Conwell (The London Lasses), Sinead Egan (The Egan Sisters), Tad Sargent, Kevin Boyle (Le Cheile) and Barney Morse-Brown (Duotone).

Altogether, an impressive outcome for this long-awaited solo venture from the Irish button accordion virtuoso, Andy Martyn.

Released: 1 March 2022

https://www.andymartynmusic.com/

Hard rock: album review – Graham Bonnet Band ‘Day Out In Nowhere’

Much as I hugely appreciate Ronnie James Dio’s genre-defining mark as lead singer of Rainbow, Graham Bonnet’s own stint on vocals neatly coincided with my early teens and thus the time I was starting to get really into rock music. I’ve always had a real soft spot for Bonnet, therefore. Rainbow’s Down To Earth and Bonnet’s subsequent solo album, Line Up, are still albums I enjoy playing, along with his later output for MSG and Alcatrazz.

He continued to record throughout the 90s and into the early 00s but then it seemed to go rather quiet for Bonnet in terms of new material. In recent years, however, there’s been a prolific and energetic release schedule. As well two reunion albums with Michael Schenker and a new Alcatrazz release, he’s now also on to his third album with the Graham Bonnet Band. Day Out In Nowhere follows The Book, released in 2016, and Meanwhile, Back In The Garage released two years later.

This latest Graham Bonnet Band album sees him recording, once again, with long-time members, Beth-Ami Heavenstone  on bass and Conrado Pesinato on guitar, alongside newer members, Alessandro Bertoni on keyboards and Shane Gaalaas on drums. Day Out In Nowhere also sees a host of guest appearances, too: Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy, Nevermore), John Tempesta (The Cult, White Zombie), Mike Tempesta (Powerman 5000), Roy Z (Halford, Bruce Dickinson) and, most notably, Bonnet’s former Rainbow bandmate, Don Airey (now with Deep Purple, of course) who provides his trademark Hammond on one track, ‘It’s Just A Frickin’ Song’.

Bonnet: “Similar to the first two albums, it will reflect different eras of my career, but with a contemporary twist. I’m also delighted to be playing with original members of the Graham Bonnet Band, Beth-Ami Heavenstone who has been my constant partner (on and off stage) since meeting back in 2012 and guitarist Conrado Pesinato, who’s innate musical style elicits some of my best songwriting.”

Day Out In Nowhere is classy, polished, melodic hard rock, that proves to be just the vehicle for Bonnet’s distinctive and equally classy vocals. Bonnet claims that the albums fronting his eponymously-named band more accurately reflect his original vision for a reunited Alcatrazz, with the  guitar pyrotechnics dialled down just a little and more emphasis placed on well-constructed songs and intelligently-written lyrics. That’s exactly what we get here. It’s not to say there’s not some superb guitar from the ever-reliable, Conrado Pesinato, but it does show strong melody and well-crafted songs are at the heart of what makes for an essential Graham Bonnet album.

Bonnet’s lyrics across the eleven tracks tackle everything from alcoholism to the state of the world. The final track, however, the dramatic and theatrical-sounding ‘Suzi’, is something of a leftfield turn and a complete change of pace, with Bonnet backed not by a rock band but by an orchestra.

Now in his mid-seventies, Graham Bonnet is clearly on something of a roll at this late stage in his career. Whether you are the more casual fan of his most celebrated albums from the late 70s and early 80s or a dedicated fan who’s loyally followed each and every stage of his long career, there’s lots to like in Day Out In Nowhere. It deserves to do well.

Day Out In Nowhere – tracklisting:

Imposter

Twelve Steps To Heaven

Brave New World (ft. Roy Z)

Uncle John

Day Out In Nowhere

The Sky Is Alive

David’s Mom

When We’re Asleep (ft. Mike Tempesta, John Tempesta)

It’s Just A Frickin’ Song (ft. Don Airey)

Jester (ft. Jeff Loomis)

Suzy (Orchestra)

Released: 13th May 2022 by Frontiers

https://www.facebook.com/grahambonnetmusic

Related posts:

Michael Schenker Fest at Shepherds Bush Empire 2017

Graham Bonnet Band at Giants of Rock, Minehead 2016

Graham Bonnet Band at The Garage, Islington 2014

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow at Birmingham Genting Arena 2017

Folk: album review – Iona Lane ‘Hallival’

While she was born in Lancaster grew up in the Yorkshire Dales and graduated from Leeds Conservatoire, it is the Hebridean island of Rum that provides the inspiration for Iona Lane’s debut album. Rising 723 metres, Hallival, is one of the mountains on the picturesque Isle of Rum, the location of which is also the theme for the album’s opening track.

Iona Lane: “Spending my childhood in the Dales was wonderful but pretty much all our family holidays were north of the border so I’ve grown to love the Scottish as well as the English landscape.”

 As well as highland landscapes, Lane’s songwriting tackles such themes as eighteenth-century scientific discovery, nineteenth-century palaeontology and ancient Celtic myth. In her finely crafted songs, Lane demonstrates a real gift for storytelling and introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters, both real and imagined.

Lane’s delicate yet immensely expressive vocals accompanied by her own skillful guitar playing as well as a talented cast of supporting musicians (Mia Scott, Louis Bertoud, Jay Taylor, Sol Edwards, Jenny Sturgeon, Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl) all serve to ensure that Hallival is a very fine debut folk album indeed.

Released: 25 March 2022

http://www.ionalane.com/

Related reviews:

Folk: album review – Rachel Newton & Lauren MacColl ‘Heal & Harrow’

Folk: album review – Jenny Sturgeon ‘The Living Mountain’