Category Archives: folk music

folk performers and music

Singer-songwriter: album review – Sheila K Cameron ‘River to Sea’

River To Sea is a collaboration by singer song-writer Sheila K Cameron and Johns Saich and Mags Russell of Wild Biscuit.

The project began life as seven tracks released in 2016 under the title More Like a River Than a Road, inspired by the Tlell River on one of the Haida Gwaii islands off the coast of British Columbia. The collaboration continued and another five tracks were recorded, this time with the inspiration moving to the the Tiree island, off the west coast of Scotland. Together both sets of songs form this album River to Sea.

There’s a depth and a maturity to Cameron’s lyrics and singing and in her biography she describes herself as being at the third stage of her work as a singer and performer. Some gentle and appealing musical accompaniment from Saich and Russell, particularly some beautiful piano playing, serves to make this a very appealing album.

I’ve previously championed the work of another singer-songwriter Marina Florance, another artist who emerged as a singer-songwriter later in life, and in their abilities to deliver heartfelt, passionate, authentic songs borne of lifetime’s experiences there are some obvious parallels. I am more than happy to recommend this album.

Released: 17th June 2019 by Glalell

https://sheilakcameron.com

http://www.wildbiscuit.com/

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Folk: album review – Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer ‘Twelve Months & A Day’

This review was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of fRoots magazine

Now on to their eighth album as a duo, Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer said they considered a number of possible themes for this, their latest offering but in the end it evolved into a celebration of everything they do. There are folk songs written in traditional style, tune-sets of Swedish polskas, William Morris verse put to contemporary music, a fifteenth-century Christmas carol and two songs from thirteenth-century continental Europe. Adding to that is a whole array of instruments that are set to work on the album including a selection of nyckelharpas, the bouzouki and the harmonium, not to mention ‘early music’ instruments the citrole, the cornu and the carnyx in addition to the more obvious guitar, flute and piano.

This everything-but-the-kitchen-sink could have resulted in an album that was interesting but somewhat erratic and lacking focus. However, such is the distinctive feel and verve that Swan and Dyer bring to their music that rather than getting in the way of building a clear identity, the sheer breadth of influences, material and instruments that make up the album very much help define it.

Normally, an album with such an extensive range of instrumentation would also have an equally extensive ensemble of guest musicians but, save for some additional percussion from Evan Carson guesting on a couple of tracks, it really is all the duo’s own work, an impressive testimony to the duo’s talents as multi-instrumentalists.

From the mad, irresistible, quirkiness of Grandpa Joe to the slow, haunting beauty of Ai Vis Lo Lop the inventive arrangements and superb musicianship, together with the duo’s lovely harmony vocals, serve to make Twelve Months & A Day a compelling album that will continue to cement Swan & Dyer’s reputation.

http://www.swan-dyer.co.uk/

Released: March 2019

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Folk: album review – Na-Mara ‘Sisters & Brothers’

Na-Mara have built a formidable reputation for bringing their translations of songs from the Breton, French and Quebecois traditions to English-speaking audiences, alongside their original and captivating interpretation tunes from the Celtic regions of Spain and France. There’s more to them than that, of course, and their repertoire has always included self-composed material written in the style of the folk tradition.

With Sisters & Brothers Na-Mara’s Rob Garcia and Paul McNamara return with a fine mix of each of these three elements. The self-penned title track gives a nod to the proud history of songs about economic injustices in the past while providing us with a rallying call for the present: “What was done to our fathers and brothers is now being done to our sisters and brothers.” We also have new translations of songs from France and Quebec, such as long-lost soldier/returning sweetheart story The Recompense, and there is an elegant tune-set, including the lovely An Dro from a collection of Breton folk tunes.

Garcia’s mandolin and McNamara’s guitar work and gentle, sincere vocals give the duo their trademark sound and it’s clear throughout the album there is no shortage of inspiration for new material.

Na-Mara continue to make a vital and distinctive contribution to the UK folk scene and Sisters & Brothers is another highly-accomplished offering.

Released: March 2019

http://www.na-mara.com/

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Folk: album review – Odette Michell ‘The Wildest Rose’

While there is never any shortage of debut albums from folk singer songwriters being brought to the attention of fRoots reviewers, for endearing melodies and evocative song-writing in the English folk tradition Odette Michell presents us with a really rather impressive debut here. It helps, of course, that she has one of those beautiful voices that’s just perfect for English folk but with so many releases from emerging artists, being in possession of a beautiful voice, alone, is not necessarily a stand-out quality on the contemporary folk scene these days. Michell is clearly a talented musician and gives us some lovely guitar and bouzouki playing on this album, too. What really sets The Wildest Rose apart from many of the other debut albums that will undoubtedly be released over the course of the year, however, is Michell’s knack for writing songs that could easily have been collected over a hundred years ago. She does seem to have a gift for this and gives us nine original songs plus one interpretation of a traditional number without ever falling into the cliche of twee pastiche.

Lyrically, Michell’s songs cover a range of historical, romantic and pastoral themes from ‘folk fairytale’ The Banks of Analee to Light Up London Town exploring the Gunpowder Plot. Besides Michell herself, the album features Stu Hanna on mandolin, violin, bass and percussion who also does a suitably empathetic job on on production duties. In addition, none other than Show of Hands’ Phil Beer contributes to a handful of tracks as does Toby Shaer who has played with Cara Dillon and Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys.

Beautifully written, beautifully sung, beautifully played and beautifully produced The Wildest Rose deserves acclaim as one of the stand-out debuts of 2019.

Released: April 2019

https://www.odettemichell.com/

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Folk: album review – Thea Gilmore ‘Small World Turning’

This review was originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of fRoots magazine

After several albums exploring a variety of musical pastures, Thea Gilmore returns to her folk roots with Small World Turning – and what an album of brilliant, classy, exceptional contemporary folk she has given us here.

The breath-taking beauty in her vocals combines with equally breath-taking musicianship from the supporting cast. The now twenty, thirty and early forty-somethings who make up latter-day folk royalty, the likes of Cara Dillon, Seth and Sam Lakeman, Ciaran Algar and more, line up to back Gilmore on the album .

Moreover, Gilmore’s writing is as sharply perceptive as her voice is enchanting. While some stabs at modern folk addressing contemporary themes can end up coming across a little jarring and contrived in their execution, Gilmore’s vocals are so perfect and so natural and so unforced that that even when she’s singing about foodbanks or Jägerbombs it’s delivered with the same timeless eloquence as if she were singing about shapeshifting demons or the peasant’s revolt.

Indisputably one of the best folk albums released this year so far, Gilmore holds up a spotlight to the modern world while embracing the storytelling and musical traditions of the past and bottling up that spirit of defiance and resilience that has kept the best folk music alive across many generations.

Released: May 2019 Shameless Records

https://www.theagilmore.net/

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Folk/Americana/Bluegrass: album review – Wood, Wire & Words ‘The Boy With The Smile’

Wood Wire & Words are a three-piece from the south of England formed around 15 years ago. The trio are David Rozzell – songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist; Clare Rozzell – harmony/lead vocals, double bass and melodeon; and Pat Francis – Dobro, mandolin and guitar. Now on their third album, the band’s sound has been described as a blend of folk, bluegrass and acoustic Americana.

While their previous album (2015’s It’s a Barbecue Day) was a nice slice of home-grown Bluegrass/Americana, with this latest album ‘The Boy With The Smile’ I detect a much broader range of influences coming to the fore. Indeed, they kind of remind me of a Bluegrass-tinged interpretation of the modern-day incarnation of Fairport Convention. David Rozzell’s deep, rich vocal delivery is not unlike Fairport’s Simon Nicol’s, by the way.

Eleven of the twelve songs are Rozzell’s own compositions. He clearly has a fine ear for melody as well as being a forthright lyricist – with themes covering war, love, depression, politics and poverty amongst others. It’s not all sharply-observed social commentary, however. A couple nod to more pastoral themes in the folk tradition. ‘Toast The Harvest’ was written for Ely Cathedral’s harvest service, while ‘The Oak King Rises’ was originally written for a local pagan yule ceremony. The one non-original song is a beautifully mellow cover of Richard Thompson’s ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightening’.

Much as I enjoyed their previous album The Boy With The Smile feels like a significant step forward in the band’s creative journey. Anyone with an interest in folk or Americana will find much to like in this album.

http://www.woodwireandwords.com/

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News: Blackbeard’s Tea Party celebrate ten years with anniversary tour

Blackbeard’s Tea Party, who have set many festivals alight with their folk-rock inspired blend of nautical madness, celebrate their tenth anniversary this year. I first caught them about seven years ago not long after the charismatic Stuart Giddens had taken over as lead singer. They immediately appealed, not least because they got the crowd singing along to ‘Tomorrow We’ll Be Sober’ a song I was taught at primary school. Back in 1975 for some reason this was deemed the perfect song to introduce a bunch of 9 year-olds to folk music, but I still know all the words! Since that memorable first time I’ve caught Blackbeard’s Tea Party on a number of occasions – from absolutely storming Fairport Convention’s Cropredy festival to packing out my former south London local in New Cross.

The band celebrate their tenth birthday with a lengthy autumn-winter anniversary tour and a special re-release of their best-known single, ‘Chicken On A Raft’.

Front man and chief rabble rouser, Stuart Giddens, says: “It’s not every day your band
makes it to ten years. We’re so pleased that we’re still here, playing gigs and festivals, getting people dancing. It’s a difficult business, especially for a band that plays the kind of music we do, so we’re delighted at the generosity and support of our fans.”

“We’ve had some brilliant moments in the band over the last ten years. At Cropredy in 2014, we were voted “best band” and the queue for our merch had to be moved because it was too long! In fact, 2014 was a particularly good year, as that was the year we were invited to perform at the Rainforest World Music Festival in Borneo – an incredible experience!”

Cheers Blackbeard’s and here’s to another ten years.

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Confirmed tenth anniversary tour dates:

Fri 20.9 Telford’s Warehouse, Chester
Sat 21.9 Penallt Folk Festival, The Inn at Penallt, Monmouthshire
Fri 27.9 Hackness Music Live, Hackness, near Scarborough
Sat 12.10 The Cookie, Leicester
Sat 19.10 Manchester Folk Festival
Fri 25.10 Cafe INDIEpendent, Scunthorpe
Wed 30.10 Red Lion Folk Club, Birmingham
Thurs 31.10 The Crescent, York – Hallowe’en Show
Fri 1.11 Otley Courthouse Arts Centre, Otley, West Yorkshire
Fri 8.11 The Adelphi, Hull
Sat 9.11 The Old Fire Station, Carlisle
Fri 15.11 The Isis Farmhouse, Oxford
Sat 16.11 The Globe at Hay, Hay-on-Wye
Sun 17.11 The 1865, Southampton
Sat 7.12 The Crescent, York – Christmas Show
Thurs 12.12 The Lantern, Halifax
Fri 13.12 National Forest Folk Club, Moira, Leicestershire
Sat 14.12 John Peel Centre, Stowmarket, Suffolk

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https://www.blackbeardsteaparty.com/

Related reviews:

Blackbeard’s Tea Party at Cropredy 2014

Blackbeard’s Tea Party at New Cross Inn 2015

 

Live review: Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou at Kino Teatre, St Leonards 14/6/19

Tonight’s Kino event with Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou is actually a three-parter: not only a full set from St Leonards’ own nationally-acclaimed indie-folk duo playing on home turf as well as support from another talented local singer-songwriter, Hayley Savage, but also a screening of Trevor Moss’s own film ‘Live In Store’ that documents the duo’s nationwide tour of in-store appearances at independent record shops in support of their album Fair Lady London at the end of last year.

We start with the latter. Moss explains that as a record of the tour the film is inspired by the rough and ready footage of childhood celebrations on his parents’ Super 8 film camera. Shot in black and white the effect is like moody atmospheric arthouse cinema meets shaky pre-VHS, pre-digital family film-show. As a film genre Moss pulls it off brilliantly. And as their couple’s young toddler son also accompanies them on many of their travels the style seems somehow wholly appropriate. Motorways, record stores, Travel Lodges, local radio studios and repeat and repeat – the film captures the humdrum rhythm and repetitiveness of days spent touring but interspersed with the magic that is live performance as they play their songs to appreciative punters between the record and CD racks. As Moss states in the closing credits lets hope such places continue to remain a feature of everyday life rather than a strange curiosity from the past.

Hayley Savage’s brand of folky Americana works for me, for sure. A heartfelt singer songwriter, a lovely warm sound from her semi acoustic guitar that lends itself perfectly to the material and superb backing from her band (Ruby Colley, Lizzie Raffiti and Victoria Howarth) I’d certainly be keen to catch these again.

After seeing Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou ply their wares and play their songs in one record store after another in the earlier film, it’s perhaps a bit of a novelty seeing those songs being performed live on a proper stage in the altogether grander surroundings of the Kino Teatre’s domed auditorium. The duo’s performance loses none of its intimacy though – either with one another or with us the audience. There’s plenty of songs from the recent album Fair Lady London, including beautiful renditions of ‘We Should’ve Gone Dancing’, ‘Everything You Need’ and ‘I Could Break You’ together with a smattering of older material. The voices, the guitars, the lyrics, the vintage keyboards – pretty much every component of Trevor Moss & Hannah-Lou act as a duo blends to perfection.

http://www.trevormossandhannahlou.com/

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Previous reviews:

Album review – Fair Lady London

Record Store Day 2017

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

The Julie July Band and their reinterpretation and celebration of the music of Sandy Denny have been proving quite a hit on the festival and live folk circuit in recent years. So much so that last year they released a tribute album ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – an album that certainly caught my attention along with other reviewers.

However, as extensive as Sandy Denny’s back catalogue is and as impressive as Julie July and her band’s interpretations are I doubt that there is an entire recording career to be built around simply recording more and more of her past material. The question then comes as to what form a follow-up album would take. Would it be covers of traditional songs that are given a suitably Sandy-esque treatment? Would the band seek inspiration from other singer-songwriters of that era? Would there be some new material, perhaps?

In fact, the band have opted for the latter approach with Lady of the First Light presenting eleven originals, each penned by various members of the band. Musically, it’s probably more within the vibe of Denny’s early to mid 70s solo singer-songwriter albums than, say, the more overt folk rock from her time with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay. However, it’s worth stressing that this is far more than simply a Sandy Denny pastiche or a North-Star-Grassman-and-the-Ravens-by-numbers. The Sandy influence is there, of course (and why not she remains one of the greatest singer-songwriters this country has ever produced) but it’s an influence rather than a straitjacket. There’s some quality songwriting here and, combined with Julie July’s beautifully clear voice and the strength of the band’s musicianship, the album more than stands up in its own right.

Title track, the upbeat ‘Lady of the First Light’ is an absolute stunner. More rockier than some of the other material with some gorgeous lead guitar and Julie July in fine voice, it’s not impossible to imagine a parallel universe where it’s a recently-discovered track from Fairport’s Unhalfbricking sessions. Likewise, ‘The Ballad of Rory Starp’ could equally have come from some long-lost session for the Liege & Lief album. These provide a nice contrast to the more sombre and reflective, yet no less gorgeous, material like the opening number ‘Broken Wing’. The end result is a lovely palette of contrasting textures, emotions and influences. The anthemic ‘Shine Together’ finishes the album in a pleasingly celebratory mood.

If the last album was a gorgeous tribute to the songs of Sandy Denny then this one is very much a celebration of the influences that combined to make the late 60s and early 70s such an incredibly exciting, vibrant and creative time for British music. Buy it!

Released: June 2019

https://juliejuly.co.uk/

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Previous review:

Julie July Band – Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

Folk – album review – Birichen ‘Hush’

This review was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of fRoots magazine

Birichen are Catriona Sutherland (vocals), Iain-Gordon Macfarlane (fiddle and guitar) and Robert McDonald (dobro slide guitar) and this five-track EP is their debut release. Named after the settlement in the Scottish highlands that serves as their base, the trio’s music is steeped in the influences of Scottish folk but there are other influences at work, too, most notably Americana.

The EP opens with the sound of birdsong and running water, but regardless of whether it’s Drumnadrochit or Montana it really doesn’t matter, the opening song Holding On To Each Moment immediately transports the listener to somewhere that is soothing, laid-back and breathtakingly beautiful. Gordon-Macfarlane’s fiddle and McDonald’s slide guitar serve to clearly lay out Birichen’s musical mission from the outset and both players provide the perfect accompaniment for Sutherland’s clear voice and gentle, evocative delivery. The country influences come even more to the fore with a cover of Guy Clark’s LA Freeway but on the jazzy Gonnae Get Good and the poignant Smile In Your Sleep the emphasis is very much on Scottish history and culture, the latter an emotive lullaby recalling the brutal and traumatic impact of the Highland Clearances that touches on the history of the Birichen settlement and Sutherland’s own family history.

A beguiling blend of Scottish folk and American country Hush sees Birichen announce their arrival in splendid form. A fine debut EP.

Released: October 2018

https://www.facebook.com/Birichen/

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