Category Archives: album reviews

Americana: album review – John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies ‘Divine Life of Punarvasu’

Swedish singer-songwriter-instrumentalist, Peter Danielsson, had spent time on the road performing in a variety of different outfits. Around a decade ago he felt it was time to go solo and that a change in musical direction was in order. He bought himself a banjo, taught himself to play clawhammer (the distinctive banjo playing style common to a lot of old-time American music) and reinvented himself as bluegrass performer, John Edwin.

As well as old-time standards he also began introducing more of his own material into his live act and, over time, he’d picked up a group of collaborators and reinvented himself once more, now as frontman of John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies playing a new country/folk sound based on fretless banjo and electric guitar.

Divine Life of Punarvasu is the outfit’s debut album, showcasing eleven original songs written by John Edwin (Peter Danielsson). Irresistibly catchy melodies, pleasing vocals and that distinctive trademark blend of fretless banjo and electric guitar serve to make this and instantly likeable album and one worthy of repeat playing.

Lyrically, the album explores decidedly the non-redneck themes of Vedic astrology and yoga philosophy but are delivered with a sincerity and down-at-home ease that effortlessly rolls with the music whatever your spiritual (or non-spiritual) leanings.

A highly enjoyable debut.

John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies are:

John Edwin alias Peter Danielsson: five string banjo, fretless banjo, vocals & acoustic guitar
Kenneth Bakkelund – electric guitars
Pedro Blom – Ukuele bass
Jörgen Andersson – snare drums

Released: 15th November 2020

http://www.johnedwin.com/pages/se/hem/john-edwin-the-banjodasha-hillbillies.php

Folk-rock: single review – Merry Hell ‘When We Meet Again’

That early January post-seasonal lull can be a bit of a downer at the best of times. With a Covid second wave biting hard and restrictions on normal life set to continue for the foreseeable people could be forgiven for not feeling too optimistic. However, folk rockers Merry Hell always seem to have that knack of turning out a suitably uplifting anthem when the occasion requires it. And just as many of us are taking the decorations down, preparing for a return to work and wondering what these next few months are going to be like up pop Merry Hell with a brand new anthem.

‘When We Meet Again’ is the latest single from Merry Hell and the lead track on a newly released three-track EP.

“When We Meet Again is a song of hope for 2021 and beyond. Written by John and Bob during the second lockdown period of 2020, it is born of our strange and difficult times but looks forward to the pleasures of being with the people whose company we enjoy, whether it be spending time with friends and family, or simply getting back to gigs and festivals and sharing our music and joy with audiences.”

“In addition to the band, the song reflects its theme of togetherness by featuring the combined voices of our 300 strong Social Isolation Choir. All the members recorded their parts individually and submitted them remotely to the band. Our production maestro John Kettle, assembled everyone into a harmonious whole. The single also includes two tracks from our album Emergency Lullabies – both also featuring the choir.”

Both rousing and poignant ‘When We Meet Again’ is a celebration of optimism and hope and togetherness and recording it remotely has clearly not diminished the band’s ability to come together to deliver another of their memorable anthems. You can bet that when the opportunity does finally come to start performing it live it’s going to be one hell of a crowd sing-along.

The other two tracks on the EP are ‘We Are Different, We Are One’ and ‘Beyond The Call’ – both taken from the excellent Emergency Lullabies album released last November.

Released: 1st January 2021

http://www.merryhell.co.uk/when-we-meet-again.html

Related posts:

Album review – Merry Hell ‘Emergency Lullabies’

Album review – Virginia Kettle ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’

DVD review: Merry Hell ‘A Year In The Life’

Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

Folk: album review – Mossy Christian ‘Come Nobles and Heroes’

Traditional musician, singer, dancer and researcher, Mossy Christian won plaudits for his album of fiddle duets with Jim Eldon a year ago and now releases his debut solo album. Come Nobles and Heroes is an album that primarily focuses on tunes and songs from Christian’s home county of Lincolnshire. His frames of reference are very much source singers like Joseph Taylor, Harry Cox and Walter Pardon along with those of the early post-war revival

As a writer and researcher, Christian has published numerous papers exploring the folk tradition, on subjects such as ‘The Midwinter Traditions of Lincolnshire’, ‘The Musical Pennock Family of Goathland’, and the folk-song collectors Frank and Ethel Kidson. What it means is that as a singer and musician Christian brings passion and knowledge to his interpretations that is perhaps unrivalled on the folk scene, certainly in a performer so young. And what a performer he is.

From the sprightly tune-set of the opening track, combining two tunes sourced from a manuscript compiled in the 1820s by Lincolnshire papermaker Joshua Gibbons, to the poignant ‘The Way Through the Wood’ a Rudyard Kipling poem originally set to music by Peter Bellamy, to the final rousing song celebrating the music hall comedian and champion clog dancer Dan Leno, Christian takes us on an exhilarating journey through eighteenth and nineteenth century life.

This is not an album for those who insist on their folk being packaged with a contemporary twist. The only concession to modernity is the clarity of the modern recording equipment which allows the talented singer and player, his equally talented supporting musicians and, importantly, the wonderful material to take centre-stage. In addition to Christian (fiddle, vocals, concertina, melodeon) the album features Tim Walker (percussion, cornet), Gina Le Faux (mandolin), Johnny Adams (trombone), Jon Loomes (guitar, hurdy gurdy), Edwin Beasant (bass bugle) and Ruth Bibby (clog dancing).

Assembled with love and meticulous attention to detail and performed with verve and vitality Come Nobles and Heroes is a fine collection of songs and tunes and an impressive solo debut from Mossy Christian.

Released: 1st January 2021 by One Row Records

http://nicksites.net/mossy/

Singer-songwriter: album review – Beth Lee ‘Waiting On You Tonight’

Waiting On You Tonight is the latest album from Texas-based singer-songwriter Beth Lee and the follow-up to her 2016 album Keep Your Mouth Shut released in the name of her roots rock ‘n’ roll band Beth Lee & The Breakups. This time it’s a solo album recorded not in Texas but in California.

Having toured with the support of Texas blues guitarist Chris Duarte over recent years, for her latest album Lee consciously set out to explore other avenues of her song-writing abilities. While the Americana influences that characterised previous releases are still very much alive and present, here she gives voice to a much wider set of musical influences. These range from her nineties love of the ethereal vocals 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. 

Lee’s soulful, heartfelt vocals and evident song-writing abilities are equally well-served by a top-class team of musicians in Julie Wolf, Vincent Rodriguez, James DePrato – the latter two being drummer and guitarist respectively for Chuck Prophet. Rodriguez also produced the album.

With Waiting On You Tonight, Beth Lee 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/

Folk: album review – The Chair ‘Orkney Monster’

The Chair are an eight-piece folk band from Orkney. Formed in 2004, Orkney Monster is the band’s third album. Based around twin fiddles, banjo, accordion, guitar, drums and bass and this album, although recorded in the studio, aims to capture some of the energy and exhilaration of their live performances and promises their unique brand of ‘Orkney Stomp’.

Do they pull it off? Certainly. In Orkney Monster the band deliver an album that’s full of zest and joie de vivre while digging deep into their island heritage. There’s reels and jigs aplenty, with a slew of original compositions from band members as well as a handful by contemporary Scottish writers and a few traditional tunes, too.

As an eight-strong outfit the band are able to really go some on those infectiously rollicking reels and the interplay between the musicians is a wonder. But there is a more sensitive side to the band, too, as we hear on tunes like the wonderfully poignant ‘Wee Davie’ written by the band’s guitarist, Gavin Firth.

Mostly instrumental, the album does also include a couple of songs. There’s a lively take on ‘Walk Beside Me’, written by bluegrass and country artist, Tim O’Brien, that the band make truly their own as well as a beautifully mellow cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Shiver Me Timbers’.

Superb playing, beautiful tunes and buzzing with energy, Orkney Monster is simply a delightful album.

Released: 4th December 2020 by Folky Gibbon Records

https://www.lovethechair.com/

Alt-rock/Britpop: album review – Supergrass ‘Live On Other Planets’

A pun on their similarly titled 2002 studio album, Live On Other Planets is a live double album from Supergrass celebrating the band’s long-awaited reunion. Supergrass (and their fans) were incredibly lucky that they were able to complete the majority of their tour (at least the UK and European legs of it) just prior to COVID-19 putting a huge spanner in the works for them and the rest of the music industry. Rather than capturing a single concert the sleeve-notes state the album was recorded at various locations. Moreover, the CD version comes with an additional bonus disc that was recorded at the band’s livestreamed Summer lockdown gig at Oxford’s Bullingdon Arms.

I was at Alexandra Palace back in March for one of the band’s two London dates. Indeed, it was my penultimate live gig before lockdown and this album definitely captures some of the excitement and buzz of those reunion concerts, not to mention pretty much the entire set-list. Beginning with a magnificent ‘In It For The Money’ all the obvious crowd-pleasers are included from across the band six-album career. However, as with the reunion tour there is a big emphasis on songs from the very first album I Should Coco which celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year. Gaz Coombes is in fine voice, there’s a ton of energy coming from all four members and the crowds sound just as enthusiastic as I recall they were at Ally Pally.

All live but with no live audience in the room the third disc, meanwhile, is a like a modern-day version of those old Radio 1 sessions that bands used to do for the BBC in the late 60s and early 70s. “Weird but like a good weird,” as Gaz says. It makes for a lovely bonus disc.

Released on the band’s own Supergrass Records label the album has been mixed by long-time collaborator John Cornfield who worked on the band’s first three albums. All proceeds from the album go to the #SaveOurVenues campaign.

Live On Other Planets is a brilliant memento for anyone who made it to the reunion tour – and if you are still awaiting the rescheduled gigs (including a much-anticipated slot at Glastonbury) it’s a great taste of what’s in store.

Released 27th November 2020

https://www.supergrass.com/

Related reviews:

Supergrass Live at Alexandra Palace 2020

Gaz Coombes at ULU 2018
Gaz Coombes at the Roundhouse 2016
Gaz Coombes – Matador
Vangoffey at the Social 2016

Blues rock: album review – Storm Warning ‘Different Horizons’

Another album of impressive blues rock from Storm Warning who have been a fixture on the UK live scene for over fifteen years now. However, this latest album Different Horizons is tinged with a note of sadness. Shortly after completing recording, guitarist, Bob Moore, sadly passed away. Different Horizons thus now acts as something of a tribute to Moore’s playing and song-writing. He was part of the band from its inception.

“Not flashy or fast, but clear, beautifully intoned and with exactly the right combination of effects. No one sounded like Bob, live or in the studio,” says vocalist Stuart Maxwell in the liner notes.

Although the band are also known for stamping their own mark on blues standards here they focus on nine new original compositions.

Commencing with birdsong before embarking on a classic slice of blues rock with title track ‘Horizons’, it’s a beautiful album and a fitting tribute. I particularly loved the moody, smouldering, bluesy guitar on tracks like ‘Can’t Sleep For Dreaming’ and ‘Long Road’ where Ian Salisbury’s soulful keyboards perfectly compliment Moore’s guitar playing. But there’s also lots to enjoy on the rockier tracks, too, like ’Questions’ with its Bad Company-esque riffing. ‘Come On In’, meanwhile, goes for some choppier Feelgoods-style R&B.

Different Horizons is an album that’s highly recommended for blues rock fans and a fitting tribute to their departed guitarist, Bob Moore.

Released: Autumn 2020

https://www.facebook.com/stormwarning.co.uk

Folk/acoustic: album review – The Lost Notes ‘Lowlifes and High Times’

From Moseley in Birmingham, The Lost Notes are a five-piece acoustic outfit who fuse folk, jazz and bluegrass influences to create their own unique but accessible sound with their gorgeous three-part harmonies taking centre-stage.

Lowlifes and High Times is the follow-up album to the band’s well-received debut. Comprising eleven tracks plus a couple of bonus reworkings, the songs “celebrate the ups and downs of journeymen, despots, sleazeballs, fools, the planet and the consciously idle,” the band tell us.

The band are: Ben Mills: vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica; Oli Jobes: lead guitar, vocals; Lucy Mills: vocals; Silas Wood: double bass; and Max Tomlinson: drums. The key songwriters are Mills, a jazz fan, and Jobes, a folkie. Those creative differences clearly blend together well. There’s enough jazz on the album to really make it swing and instantly get your foot tapping but enough folk to ensure the songs are based around storytelling and catchy melodies. What it means is that things never get in the slightest bit self-indulgent but they never get worthy and dull either.

Notching up appearances at the likes of Moseley Folk Festival, Bromsgrove Folk Festival and Beardy Folk Festival, I can see exactly whey their irresistible blend of folk, jazz and Americana and those beautiful harmonies would go down a storm at festivals. Definitely ones to watch.

Released: 5th December 2020

https://www.thelostnotes.co.uk/

#FolkForChristmas the top 10 folk / acoustic / Americana albums of 2020 on Darren’s Music Blog

The hashtag #FolkForChristmas was dreamt up as a means of supporting artists whose income has been devastated by the impact of coronavirus and lockdown this year. People are encouraged to support independent artists and their wonderful music and shop with them this Christmas rather than heading off to Amazon. In putting this list of recommendations together I’ve used nothing more than the totally scientific method of ranking them in order according to the number of hits each of these reviews received on my website.

No. 1: The Longest Johns – Cures What Ails Ya

If no-one has done more than Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends to repopularise sea shanties in recent years, then surely no-one has done more than Bristol’s Longest Johns to give them an alt-folk makeover, pull them into the twenty-first century and make them cool. Cures What Ails Ya is the Longest Johns’ third album. A brilliant album from the men who made shanties sexy – buy it!

Full review here

No. 2: Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band – Natural Invention

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. A stunningly good album, even if you’re stingy enough to only buy one folk album this year make sure it’s this one.

Full review here

No. 3: Jenny Sturgeon – The Living Mountain

Inspired by Nan Shepherd’s memoir, once described by the Guardian as “the finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain,” Sturgeon’s album of the same name celebrates Shepherd’s nature writing and the Cairngorms mountain range in the eastern Highlands. Each of the twelve songs on the album take their titles from the chapter headings in Shepherd’s celebrated volume. Beautifully sung and exquisitely played The Living Mountain is a captivating celebration of the natural world and timeless and inspirational nature writing.

Full review here

No. 4: Lorraine Jordan – Send My Soul

Send My Soul is the fifth studio album from singer song-writer Lorraine Jordan. Memorably described as ‘Celtic soul’ her music builds on her family’s Irish roots while also embracing more contemporary influences. It’s a combination that works fantastically well and from the moment you put it on the album oozes soulful sophistication and captivating musicality. Indeed, such is the powerfully understated beauty of the title track that I had to double-check that this was a brand new song and not a modern interpretation of a long lost gospel soul classic.

Full review here

No. 5: Tom Fairnie – Lightning in the Dark

An Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter whose writing cuts across a number of styles, encompassing Americana, folk, country and blues – Tom Fairnie and has built up a considerable reputation on the Scottish folk circuit. Over in Austin, Texas, Grammy-nominated producer, Merel Bregante, came across Fairnie’s music, was inspired by his songs and invited him over to Austin to record. Friends, family and fans rallied round to make that happen, courtesy of a crowdfunding campaign and a series of benefit gigs and Fairnie pitched up in Texas. An absolute gem of an album.

Full review here

No. 6: Johnny Steinberg – Shadowland

With a name like that, songs that tell tales of heartbreak, cheap whiskey and Jesus, not to mention some deliciously effortless musicianship that just seems to ooze Nashville, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Mr Steinberg hails not from Nashville but from Norfolk (at least these days – although he’s from Yorkshire originally). What surprised me even more, however, was learning that Shadowland is, in fact, Steinberg’s debut album. Outstanding songs, exquisitely well-played and beautifully sung this album radiates such class that I’m still getting my head around the fact it’s a debut album.

Full review here

No. 7: 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. 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.

Full review here

No. 8: Virginia Kettle – No Place Like Tomorrow

Virginia Kettle’s vocals have been a key element of of Merry Hell’s sound since the band’s inception a decade ago. Before joining her husband John, brothers-in-law Bob and Andrew, and sundry others in the eight-piece folk-rock outfit, however, she’d established herself as a singer-songwriter in her own right. A mellower and more personal offering than a Merry Hell release No Place Like Tomorrow is a charming album that showcases Virginia Kettle’s obvious talents as a singer-songwriter.

Full review here

No. 9: Judy Fairbairns – Edge of the Wild

Edge of the Wild is a collection of original songs from Hebridean-based author and artist Judy Fairbairns. Drawing inspiration from several decades spent living on the Isle of Mull and celebrating the wild beauty of its dramatic Atlantic shoreline, Edge of the Wild can be seen as something of a companion piece to Fairbairns’ acclaimed 2013 memoir ‘Island Wife’. An immensely satisfying listen and a fine musical debut.

Full review here

No. 10: Adam Amos & Noel Rocks – Back Up To Zero

Both Amos and Rocks are each accomplished song-writers and their reflective, thoughtful but easy-on-the-ear lyrics align nicely with some gentle, catchy melodies. The Americana as well as the Celtic influences shine through and it makes for a very pleasing mix. An engaging and likeable album from this duo let’s hope there’s a good few more gigs and a few more albums in them yet.

Full review here

Soul/pop/rock: album review – John Wallace Wheatley ‘Spent the Morning Watching TV and Looking Through My Phone’

Having made a noteworthy impact on the UK Americana scene and garnering many favourable reviews as part of Suburban Dirt, their frontman John Wallace Wheatley is open about seeking out a complete change in musical direction for his first solo album: Spent the Morning Watching TV and Looking Through My Phone. “I got bored of mandolins, banjos and hipsters wearing cowboy shirts and singing about mountains, trees and birds,” he confessed to one interviewer recently.

The acoustic guitars and cowboy shirts are out and, picking up his electric guitar, Wheatley delivers an album of perfectly crafted, bitter-sweet, soulful pop-rock.

With ten self-composed songs, including one co-written with cousin Donald Wheatley, John Wallace Wheatley’s tender, soulful vocals and warmly evocative guitar and piano playing instantly transport you back to some of popular music’s most memorable eras. It’s immediately evident that Wheatley is well-suited to this change in musical direction and he’s come up with the songs to boot. Moreover, the team he’s assembled for this solo project, particularly Andy Fairlough’s work on the mellotron, provide for some lush, exquisite, multi-layered, musical textures.

As a lyricist Wheatley doesn’t do either lightweight or upbeat. Themes include death, self-doubt and existential crisis and two of the songs are inspired by a visit to a cemetery and the chance discovery of a gravestone bearing his own name. For soulful pop-rock with intelligent song-writing, sincere vocal delivery and gorgeous instrumentation, time spent immersing oneself in this album could prove immeasurably more satisfying than a morning spent watching TV and looking through your phone.

Released: 27th November 2020

https://www.facebook.com/johnbumbag/