Category Archives: Album reviews

Folk: album review – Peter Knight & John Spiers ‘Both In A Tune’

First brought together for a one-off performance at the FolkEast festival back in 2016, the pairing of Peter Knight and John Spiers proved to be an inspired match. An album and a tour followed and Spiers’ famed melodeon even made its way into the expanded version of Knight’s acclaimed Gigspanner project. The pair are now back with a second duo album, however.

Both In A Tune, taken from a line in Shakespeare’s As You Like It (“I’ faith, i’ faith; and both in a tune, like two gypsies on a horse”) is the follow-up album to 2018’s Well Met.

While no-one would have expected these two to have played it safe, the inventiveness of this latest album is simply stunning. Even though the album starts off with something as widely known as that old favourite in the repertoire of every pub folkie ever since the revival, namely ‘Scarborough Fair’, within a few bars they’ve taken us to places we’ve barely even contemplated.

Peter Knight: “Since recording our first album, John and I have far more experience of playing together. With Both In A Tune I felt it was important to push the boundaries further, without forsaking the integrity of the tune itself. Combining my interest in folk music and free improvisation is not always easy, but I feel the endeavor is absolutely necessary for the world of music. It’s probably more risky but I believe it’s a risk well worth taking.”

The risk-taking has certainly paid off. Like the previous album it’s an entirely instrumental affair, containing a mix of the duo’s interpretations of traditional tunes and their own compositions. But whereas the previous album provided a platform for the pair to let rip on a number of jaunty Morris-inspired tunes, this one is an altogether darker, broodier and more experimental affair. It’s all rather magnificent and acts as an exhilarating showcase for the breath-taking interaction between the world-class fiddle-player and the world-class melodeon player. Wonderful stuff.

Released: 11th February 2022

https://www.peterknight.net/shop/details/both-in-a-tune

Gigspanner at Hastings 2021

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

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

Witches have been in the news of late, with Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, issuing a formal apology to those who were executed under Scotland’s sixteenth and seventeenth century witchcraft laws.

Sturgeon’s apology was in response to the ‘Witches of Scotland’ campaign which has sought to obtain an official pardon for those, mainly women, who were persecuted as witches. The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft has pulled together a comprehensive database of known prosecutions taking place, between the first execution in 1479 and the final one in 1727, revealing that at least 2,500 people were killed.

It’s not only in the Scottish Parliament where the plight of those persecuted has resonated. Acclaimed Scottish traditional musicians and composers, Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl, have been equally moved by this dark period in Scotland’s history. Collaborating with author and academic, Mairi Kidd, Heal & Harrow is an album of original music, songs and readings drawn from Kidd’s specially-commissioned writing.

Kidd writes in the accompanying booklet: “Heal & Harrow is a dream project for a writer, but a challenging one, too. Choosing ten women from the thousands persecuted for witchcraft was a daunting task, never mind selecting also from the legion of sister who experienced less extreme versions of the same forces.”

The result is a haunting but compelling album that honours the memory of women who fell victim to that lethal combination of misogyny, superstition and paranoia which gave rise to the witch-hunts. Women like Lillias Addie, who is commemorated in the opening track. She was accused of witchcraft after being shopped by a neighbour but died before her trial. Escaping the horror of being burned to death she remains the only person in Scotland that was accused of witchcraft to have a known grave.

Newton’s  harp, stark and slightly other-worldly, and MacColl’s fiddle, brooding and melancholy, are the dominant sounds on the album, providing a beautifully evocative backdrop for Newton’s pure yet fragile-sounding vocal or the duo’s soft, gentle spoken-word interludes.

Sorcery and witchcraft have been a recurring theme in folk for centuries but amidst the melodramatic, cartoon-like portrayals it’s sometimes easy to forget the horrendous human tragedies that resulted from society’s obsession. Heal & Harrow redresses that balance and gives a voice to those so accused. A stunning album.

Released: 4th February 2022

https://www.healandharrow.com/

Singer-songwriter: album review – Garnett Betts ‘Moonlight Door’

Following his 2020 album Highfield (reviewed here), Canandian singer-songwriter, Garnett Betts, has a new album out. Like its predecessor, this latest offering Moonlight Door is another pleasingly eclectic selection of original songs rounded off with a couple of instrumentals.

“The thread of story is always central to my love of songwriting, and often the twill is spun from my observance of a friend, the village that surrounds us, or a personal event,” says Betts. “Gone Like The Wind is my telling of a friend’s life with his band-mates, who would throw their gear and a generator in the van and head out to the Joshua Tree Forest, from their regular house gig at the Starwood in L.A., to play in the desert for a day or two. Though his recounting of those days was richly detailed, I found that I could only ‘speak’ of it from the point of view of my imagined and mystified listeners in the desert.

With his laid-back country-tinged, bluesy vocal delivery and influences that take in rock, jazz and blues, Betts makes for a compelling storyteller. He’s also a fine guitarist, too. Top-notch musical back-up courtesy of acclaimed jazz pianist Karel Roessingh (piano and keyboards), Rick May (bass) and Sascha Enns (hand percussion) makes for a highly listenable package. Beautiful original cover art is provided by Lorraine Thorarinson Betts. Once again, another fine album from Mr Betts and well worth checking out.

Released: December 2021

Available via: https://garnettbetts.com/

Related review:

Album review – Garnett Betts ‘Highfield’

This week’s featured artist: singer-songwriter Owen Moore – new sixteen-track compilation out

Based in Bournemouth on England’s south coast, Owen Moore is an Irish-born singer-songwriter. I reviewed his 2021 album Fireside Songs last year and Owen has kindly sent me his latest: Sixteen Easy Songs For Voice & Guitar.

A prolific songwriter with an extensive back catalogue, this latest album is actually a compilation with highlights drawn from Owen’s ten previous albums which span the period 2011-2021.

Doing exactly what it says on the tin, Sixteen Easy Songs For Voice & Guitar serves as a welcome introduction to anyone wanting to familiarise themselves with Owen Moore’s work. It’s just Owen, his voice, his songs and his guitar but it makes for a fine album.

Serving up folk-infused acoustic Americana, Moore’s wistful, easy-going delivery and thoughtful, introspective lyrics are allied with instantly catchy melodies that owe something towards pop sensibilities, too.  

The full track listing for Sixteen Easy Songs For Voice & Guitar is as follows:

  1. Round And Round
  2. She’s Still Wearing Blue
  3. Hang Around With You
  4. The Blue Notes
  5. Walking With That Girl Of Mine
  6. Voices In My Head
  7. All The Time In The World
  8. Home In The Rain
  9. I Don’t Play My Guitar On A Sunday
  10. Night Lights
  11. One Sweet Day
  12. Cruel Imagination
  13. In A Song
  14. Somewhere Near
  15. Unfaithful Moonlight
  16. Riverbank

Released: September 2021

The album, and others, are available via Owen Moore’s website in CD and digital formats.

http://www.owenmooremusic.com/

Related post:

Album review – Owen Moore ‘Fireside Songs’

Folk: album review – Beinn Lee ‘DEÒ’

Formed in 2013, Beinn Lee are a six-piece band from Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Two-and-a-half years in the making, the band’s second album, DEÒ, follows their debut, OSGARRA, released back in 2018.

While DEÒ contains a number of the band’s interpretations of traditional songs and tunes, it also showcases some brand-new original compositions, too, in both English and Gaelic. Musically, too, the album combines the traditional sounds of pipes, flute, fiddle and accordion with more contemporary influences. And the result is a stunningly vibrant synthesis of the traditional and the modern. Infectious modern beats jostle with the long-revered sounds of Gaelic folk to produce something that is fresh, vibrant and instantly moreish.

“The feeling of returning to music in 2021 highlighted the band’s roots with traditional tunes and bringing people together to dance,” say Beinn Lee. “That fundamental aspect of the band’s music is part of DEÒ and compliments lots of new material borne out of the band’s strong ambition to drive Gaelic music forward in new ways.”

The band are Micheal Steele, Pàdruig Morrison, Mairi Thérèse Gilfedder, James Stewart, Anna Black, and Seoras Lewis. They’ve been able to bring a strongly-held inheritance in Gaelic song and west coast pipe music with being open to more diverse contemporary influences, too, meaning they are now a much in-demand live act, from festivals to weddings.

Taking a break from catching up with new folk releases these past few weeks while I finished my latest book, this has been a stunning album to come back to. I absolutely love it!

Released: 17th December 2021

https://www.beinnlee.com/

21st Century Exposé: New EP from Tim Izzard celebrates fifty years of Glam Rock

A year on from the release of his well-received debut album last year, Sussex-based singer-songwriter/musician, Tim Izzard, has a brand-new EP out. 21st Century Exposé builds on the themes explored in Izzard’s debut album, Starlight Rendezvous, an album of original songs inspired by David Bowie in at the height of his Ziggy period. 21st Century Exposé is a full-on celebration of the glam era in all its glory and the sparkling, luminous trail it has left across music of many different genres over the past fifty years.

Tim Izzard: “Starlight Rendezvous had its origins very much rooted in Glam-era Bowie. The follow-up EP, 21st Century Exposé further celebrates the man and the old and current glam scene, mixing up old school new wave, power-pop, glam, neo-glam, futuristic ballads and a slice of cabaret to muse on twenty-first century living.”

The lead song on the new EP is the wonderful ‘Glam Rock Star’, a tribute to glam rock’s first half-century – a genre that is still influencing music today.

Izzard: “Whilst it is recognised that T. Rex’s 1971 No.1 Hot Love gave birth to UK glam rock it was in 1972 that it escaped into the playground with Bowie, Roxy, Alice Cooper, Mott, Slade and many others pushing the musical and make-up boundaries! I still remember vividly watching an alien Bowie perform Starman on TOTP and later on the futuristic , 50’s throw-back of Virginia Plain by Roxy Music. Fifty years on and there are still many bands and artists producing new glam and neo-glam music such as the UK’s The Voltz, Sweden’s SilverGlam and, in the US, Creem Circus and Gyasi. Like the influence of Bowie on my music you can hear Bolan’s vocal, Mick Ronson’s guitar or the wall of sound of Slade and much more in the ‘New’ Glam sound.”

Released 24th January 2022

21st Century Exposé can be found on Bandcamp at: https://timizzard.bandcamp.com

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

Related post:

Tim Izzard and the new glammed-up Ziggy-esque album ‘Starlight Rendezvous’

Alt-folk: album review – The Daughters ‘Golden Shore’

Acoustic alt-folk duo The Daughters is a recent collaboration between two Scottish singer-songwriters Martha Middlemiss and Mary Moira McKay. Although the two had been singing together informally for a number of years, the quirks of lockdown and the arrival of socially-distanced walks into our day to day vocabulary led to things being taken a step further.

Songs began to materialise as the two shared their regular walks along Scotland’s Tyne River. An initial single ‘The Mountains’ was released in Spring 2021, which celebrated the beauty of Scotland’s landscape and the determination of those who sought solace, inspiration and escapism from conquering its peaks during the unsettling times as the pandemic took hold.

Soon enough songs began to materialise and Golden Shore is the result: twelve delightful original songs exploring themes around the great outdoors, love, faith and life dilemmas.

The duo’s charmingly quirky harmonised vocals are a real delight and Middlemiss and McKay have turned out to be the perfect fit for one another. Indeed, the pair’s voices are so alike that at times during the sessions even they found themselves struggling to tell one from the other.

The pair are backed by a talented collection of guest musicians each of whom deliver both charm and empathy to the collection of songs. These are Alice Allen (cello), Calum McIntyre (percussion), Chris Amer (acoustic and electric guitar), Duncan Lyall (acoustic and electric bass) and Martin Lee Thompson (euphonium).

An uplifting album and a new creative partnership borne out of the adversity of the pandemic Golden Shore has certainly helped put a spring in my step.

Released: 5th November 2021

https://thedaughtersmusic.com/

Album reviews: four recent solo releases from the extended Uriah Heep family

Going online to treat myself to the newly-released CD from former Uriah Heep singer, Pete Goalby, I ended up having one of those “customers who viewed this also viewed these” impulse purchase experiences. Before I knew it I had, not one, but four recently-released CDs from the extended Uriah Heep family popping through my letterbox, three of these being released posthumously.

The four albums are My Book of Answers by Ken Hensley (Heep keyboard player 1969-80), Eleventeen from Lee Kerslake (Heep drummer from 1971-79 and 1981-2007), Sail The Rivers by Trevor Bolder (Heep bass-player from 1976-81 and 1983-2013) and Easy With The Heartaches from Peter Goalby (Heep vocalist from 1981-85). If you’re simply looking for a replication of classic-era Uriah Heep, don’t expect that from any of these releases but there’s lots to like here for any dedicated Heep fan.

Taking them in turn, My Book of Answers was released back in March 2021 just a few months after Hensley’s sad and unexpected death in November 2020. A strong and consistent album it stands up well against Hensley’s other solo material. Showcasing some heavy, sweeping, majestic-sounding tracks, the genesis of the album lay in a collaboration with Russian poet and Hensley fan, Vladimir Emelin which came out of a chance encounter at an airport. Once Emelin’s words were translated, Hensley set about putting them to music. There’s a spiritual theme to many of the lyrics but it never gets too happy-clappy for an avowed atheist like me. I never believed in demons or wizards and that never put me off Hensley’s songs either. My Book of Answers is a classy album and a joyous farewell from a superbly talented songwriter and musician.

Similarly, I really wanted to enjoy Lee Kerslake’s album. Released in February last year Kerslake began work on Eleventeen back in 2015. In spite of battling terminal cancer the self-produced album was a labour of love and was finally completed in 2019. Sadly Kerslake passed away in September 2020 and, like Hensley’s, the album had to be released posthumously. Now, some drummers, such as Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, have proved themselves to be talented singer-songwriters. A singer the late Lee Kerslake was not, sadly. He really struggles on this album and it’s not a comfortable listen, particularly when he attempts to take on Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend. Ranging from soft rock balladry to lively rockers to a big emotive theatrical number and even a jocular Chas and Dave style singalong, Eleventeenth is an eclectic mix for sure. Making it was clearly very important to Lee Kerslake and his special way of saying goodbye. There’s a beautifully poignant, heartfelt tribute from Uriah Heep’s Mick Box in the sleeve-notes. For taht reason I’m really pleased that Kerslake was able to do this album even if it’s something I’m not likely to listen to very often.

Although Trevor Bolder passed away in 2013 Sail The Rivers, the solo album he worked on in the year leading up to his death, was finally released in 2020. With the blessing of his family, friends of his stepped in to complete it. Packaged in a very evocative Roger Dean-esque cover artwork, Bolder’s solo album is probably the closest to Uriah Heep of the four reviewed here – including, as it does, contributions from both Mick Box and Lee Kerslake as well as containing a number of Bolder’s compositions that had previously appeared on Heep releases. In parts it’s actually quite a bit heavier than the average Heep album and, unlike Uriah Heep, keyboards are avoided with the emphasis placed firmly much on guitars rather than the trademark Hammond-meets-guitar sound. In contrast to Kerslake’s album, Bolder’s makes considerable use of the vocal skills of a guest vocalist in Derk Gallagher, who sings lead on five of the ten tracks. Sail The Rivers is a wonderfully strong album and a fine tribute to the ex-Spider from Mars and long-time Heep bassist.

The most recent release of the four is Peter Goalby’s Easy With The Heartaches which came out towards the end of 2021. The album was recorded before any of the others here though, with tracks laid down in 1990 but lying unreleased until now. Sonically, it can be seen very much as a natural continuation to the trio of albums that Goalby released with Heep: Abominog, Head First and Equator. This was in the period when Heep had moved away from their signature early 70s, Hammond-heavy proggish hard rock and embraced a more modern, melodic 80s sound. You’ll find similar on this album and the songs were written just after Golaby left Heep. Unlike Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake, Goalby’s post-Heep life always enveloped in a degree of mystery. Rumours abounded that his voice was completely shot and he could perform no more. In truth, he had just decided to pursue a different career path. As Goalby says in the sleeve-notes: “I think that they are some of my best work. I hope you like them too… and just for the record, my voice did not give up. I did.” There are some really strong melodic hard rock tunes here with Goalby in fine voice. It’s good to have this album finally seeing the light of day. And, what’s more, after so many tragedies in the Heep camp in recent years (former singer John Lawton is another who passed away last year) it’s reassuring to still have Goalby here with us and releasing such excellent music.

July Morning – a fifty-year-old British rock song and an annual celebration of summer in Bulgaria

Uriah Heep, London 2014

Uriah Heep at Giants of Rock 2018

Uriah Heep, Bexhill 2019

Douze Noëls – Twelve traditional Basque tunes for the Christmas season by Gwen Màiri

Douze Noëls is the latest album from harpist Gwen Màiri – twelve traditional Basque tunes for the Christmas season arranged and performed on lever harp by Gwen Màiri. The collection was published in 1897 as Douze Noëls populaires Basques en dialecte Souletin (Twelve popular Basque carols in the Zuberoan dialect). It formed part of the Archive de la tradition Basque, the result of musicologist Charles Bordes’s many years of documenting traditional songs and tunes in the Basque Country, Euskal Herria.

Gwen Màiri was brought up in a Welsh-speaking household in north-east Fife. Both her parents were keen folk singers – her father in Scots and her mother in Welsh – and Gwen grew up singing the songs of both traditions. Her Stirling-born father had learnt Welsh but Scots was often used with his side of the family (and in the playground, of course), while long holidays grandparents in Lampeter, Ceredigion kept a very strong sense of belonging on the Welsh side.

Gwen Màiri is a graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), BA(Hons) PGDipMus, where she studied pedal harp with Karen Vaughan (co-principal harp, LSO) and clàrsach (traditional Scottish lever harp) with Karen Marshalsay. Her career has been very varied, including work with professional orchestras (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Bangkok Symphony Orchestra and the orchestra and education department of Scottish Opera), chamber music, teaching, publishing music for the lever harp and her main passion; researching, arranging and performing the music of Wales and Scotland in a traditionally informed contemporary style.

Gwen brings her traditional and classical influences together in her arrangement of these beautiful and unique Christmas tunes from Zuberoa. This album was recorded at home in Glasgow and is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland.  The stunning artwork and animation is by Léa Sautin.

Douze Noëls is now streaming on all the usual platforms and the CD is available to buy from Birnam

http://www.gwenmairi.co.uk/

Folk: album review – Freedom to Roam ‘The Rhythms of Migration’

Drawing parallels between the age-old patterns of migration in the animal kingdom and the experiences of modern humans in today’s increasingly fraught world, acclaimed classically-trained flautist Eliza Marshall has brought together a collection of top-flight musicians to create the Freedom To Roam project. Under the banner The Rhythms of Migration the album comprises fourteen specially-commissioned instrumental pieces symbolising, celebrating and capturing migratory journeys.

Conceived as both a humanitarian and an environmental project it explores themes such as climate change, environmental destruction, rewilding, conflict and displacement.

Eliza Marshall: “This album approaches the interconnected challenges of climate change, environmental destruction and human displacement within the context of our needs for freedom, empathy and hopefulness. It’s the starting point to an all-encompassing project that aims to change our understanding of nature, wildness and our pivotal role in the future of life on this planet.”

Melding folk and classical influences to produce a collection of stunning and evocative soundscapes the project can boast a stellar cast of players:

 Kuljit Bhamra – Tabla, electronic tanpura

Joby Burgess – Percussion

Evan Carson – Additional bodhran

Catrin Finch – Harp, piano

Robert Irvine – Cello

Eliza Marshall – Flutes, whistles, bansuris

Andrew Morgan – Additional percussion and synth

Lydia Lowndes-Northcott – Viola

Dónal Rogers – Bass, guitars, piano, percussion, vocals

Jackie Shave – Violin, piano

Virginia McKenna, icon of wildlife conservation, and the project she founded the Born Free Foundation emerged as champions of the project and as well as the album it also includes a documentary film and a special launch concert at Cecil Sharp House on 18th December.

Gentle, stirring, dramatic, haunting and utterly immersive Freedom To Roam: The Rhythms of Migration is a wonderfully evocative collection of music that will take all but the most stone-hearted of us on a quite magical journey.

Released: 26th November 2021

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