Category Archives: folk music

folk performers and music

Singer songwriter: album review – Mike Silver ‘Alchemy: Fifty Years In Song’

The independent label Folkstock has had an enviable record in bringing young up and coming artists like Kelly Oliver to wider attention. Here, however, Folkstock give us a 16-track career retrospective of singer-songwriter Mike Silver.

As the press blurb itself notes: “Despite a few brushes with national media, Mike has remained the preserve of the initiated.” Such brief brushes include a session for Bob Harris on Radio 1 in the 70’s and airplay on radio 2 for his 2003 song ‘Not a Matter of Pride’ but I must admit Silver had completely bypassed my radar. It’s to the credit of Helen Meissner’s Folkstock label, therefore, in aiming to redress that.

Learning to play guitar at a young age, successfully auditioning for a place in John ‘Johnny Remember Me’ Leyton’s backing band at 16 but turning it down for the security of the South Eastern Gas Board instead, Silver eventually found his artistic calling and re-invented himself as an acoustic singer-songwriter in 1969.

Mike Silver for BBC profile

This compilation therefore marks Silver’s fifty years in this guise and is a fitting celebration of his undoubted talents as both a songwriter and performer. Some beautifully intricate guitar work, thought-provoking lyrics and a warm and engaging vocal delivery make Alchemy: Fifty Years In Song a pleasure to listen to.

Personally selected by Silver, the tracks span from 1984 through to 2012 (Were there licensing issues with accessing the earlier material or has Silver simply made a personal preference for songs from his later era?) Highlights include the addictively catchy ‘Walk Away’, the self-pitying sing-along drinking song ‘Oh Doctor’ and the poignant and beautifully played ‘Breaking the Silence’ reflecting on the plight of Europe’s Jewish population in the 1930s and 40s.

A fine singer-songwriter and something of an unsung hero these past few decades, Mike Silver and his Alchemy compilation are well worth checking out by anyone with an interest in the acoustic singer-songwriter genre.

Released by Folkstock Records 26th March 2019

http://mikesilver.co.uk/

Alchemy cover art Mike Silver

Photo credit: artist publicity

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Folk: album review – Julie Felix ‘Rock Me Goddess’

Although born and brought up in the US Julie Felix made the UK at home and established herself as a folk singer of repute in the mid 1960s, embracing the hippy scene and being a regular fixture on TV screens. Now aged 80, Felix is still singing and recording.

A personal message in the album’s sleeve-notes is all star signs, goddesses and mother earth, accompanied by a picture, of course, of a serene-looking Felix in the lotus position. You suspect her spiritual home, in time and in place, will forever be located somewhere equidistant between Woodstock and Greenham Common. No-one but no-one, however, should doubt the sincerity of Felix’s message nor the importance of the themes she tackles. Songs about ecological destruction, war, peace, power and love loom large, the anger and the hope embodied in the lyrics more relevant and certainly more urgent than ever before.

Woman, with its heartfelt message of female empowerment, is Felix’s perspective on the rise #MeToo movement. Tiger Eyes, meanwhile, takes on modern consumer culture and includes some amazing guitar soloing from guest guitarist, Doug Nofsinger. Amongst the other guests, Peter Knight (Steeleye Span, Gigspanner) provides some beautiful violin on three tracks, including a cover of Knight’s own Lullaby Kiss.

The protest singer personified, today’s world has not left Julie Felix any shortage of issues to protest about. Rock Me Goddess sees her in fine voice continuing to speak (or at least sing) truth to power.

Released: October 2018 by Talking Elephant

https://www.juliefelix.co.uk/

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Americana: album review – Elles Bailey ‘Road I Call Home’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

After attracting a slew of favourable reviews with her debut album, 2017’s Wildfire, the Bristol-based singer-songwriter Elles Bailey is back with a follow-up. Like its predecessor, recorded primarily in Nashville Road I Call Home is a slice of soulful, classy, bluesy Americana. With her husky, emotive vocals and a definite ear for a good song it’s not difficult to see why Bailey has been picking up fans and rave reviews across a range of genres – from rock to folk to country to blues.

Backed by some top class musicians from the Nashville recording scene the album just oozes professionalism and quality. ‘Hell Or High Water’ is a suitably dramatic slice of country rock to open the album, while songs like ‘Little Piece Of Heaven’ and ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’ perfectly capture the spirit of modern Americana. Some of the tracks, like ‘Deeper’ and ‘Foolish Hearts’ with their deliciously soulful organ and bags and bags of brass give an impression of being recorded not in Nashville but some 200 miles away and a several decades ago in Memphis’s Stax studio. But it’s that skilful yet instinctive blend of influences that has helped Bailey build a solid fan-base. ‘What’s The Matter With You’ meanwhile is a slow, smoky, heartfelt blues while the rock influences come more to the fore in the title track ‘Road I Call Home’ with its superb guitar solo.

Co-writing credits include renowned UK hit songwriter Roger Cook, these days firmly part of the Nashville music scene, along with Nashville’s own Bobby Wood who has written for Elvis Presley and Dusty Springfield among others. Bailey explains the process as follows: “Road I Call Home is a year’s snapshot of being on the road. Eight of the 11 songs were written in two months. I’m very honest to what I write, and right now that’s what I know. I live in that constant state of tiredness, but I love it. I feel so blessed to live this life.”

An incredible voice, some great songwriting and some seriously good musicianship, with Road I Call Home Elles Bailey and her friends in Nashville have given us an impressive album.

Released by Outlaw Music March 8th 2019

https://www.ellesbailey.com/

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Folk: album review – Gerry O’Connor ‘Last Night’s Joy’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Acclaimed County Louth musician Gerry ’Fiddle’ O’Connor is a fourth-generation fiddle-player, has several decades of playing behind him and has worked with Irish folk outfits Lá Lugh and Skylark, releasing albums with both, besides a range of other collaborations. Last Night’s Joy is O’Connor’s second solo album, following up 2004’s Journeyman.

Across the album’s eleven instrumental tracks O’Connor displays his incredible versatility and virtuosity. The majority of the tunes forming each set are traditional, although there are a handful that have been composed in more modern times. Together, they each take us on a journey through a wonderfully spirited mix of styles, tempos, moods and emotions.

Meticulously sourced, the detailed sleeve-notes for Last Night’s Joy give a fascinating insight into the background to each of the tunes, The listener is therefore provided with little gems like the following, for the delicious tune-set The Old Dash Churn: “The collector Brendan Breathnach recorded County Louth fiddler Peter McArdle in Mark McLoughlin’s Bar in Dundalk in 1971. Apparently, due to time and resource constraints, he asked Peter to play only his more unusual tunes and these double jigs were learned from that recording.”

The haunting Bádaí na Scadáín with gentle piano accompaniment from O’Connor’s son Dónal, originates from the song of the same name telling the story of a father searching for his three fisherman sons lost at sea. Even without words none of the sadness is lost in this beautiful, mournful rendition which is one of the album’s real highlights.

Along with O’Connor’s son, the album also features luminaries of the Irish music scene including Séamie O’Dowd, Niall Hanna, Neil Martin and Seán Óg Graham among others. O’Connor’s namesake Gerry ’Banjo’ O’Connor also appears on one track, the punningly titled StereO Connor, for a set of gloriously energetic American polkas.

Anyone with a love for Irish traditional music and for vibrant, expressive fiddle-playing will, indeed, find this album a joy.

Released on Lughnasa Music on 1 October 2018

https://www.gerryoconnor.net/

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Live review: Cara Dillon at the Birley Centre, Eastbourne 21/2/19

From ‘She’s Like The Swallow’ from her very first album released, incredibly, some eighteen years ago through to songs from her 2017 album The Wanderer, folk singer Cara Dillon treats the audience to a beautiful and varied selection of songs tonight.

I’ve enjoyed seeing Dillon performing live several times now, the last occasion being at Hastings’ St Mary In The Castle with a full band. Tonight, however, it’s just Dillon, her voice, a little bit of Irish whistle-playing and her husband and musical partner, Sam Lakeman, accompanying her on piano and acoustic guitar. There’s nothing bare-bones and basic about tonight’s performance, though, nor indeed about the setting. The ultra-modern Birley Centre theatre space at the private Eastbourne College, lavishly equipped with a Steinway grand piano, is clearly a gift for Lakeman to perform at tonight, as he compares the Steinway to some of the more battered instruments he’s had to play on elsewhere on the tour.

Whether it’s her interpretations of traditional songs or her own writing, Dillon’s Irish roots and County Derry upbringing are never far from the surface. ‘The Leaving’ is a song she wrote about the tradition of what was once known as ‘the living wake’, she tells us, where relatives would make merry until the early hours to say their farewells, not to a deceased relative but to one emigrating to America, very often never to be seen again. It’s a beautiful, emotive song but an even more poignant moment comes with her rendition of the Troubles-era song ‘There Were Roses’ about two boys, one catholic one protestant, who were both murdered in tit-for-tat killings back in the 70s. Dillon promises not to go on about Brexit but, as she introduces the song, very movingly talks of the threats to the peace process and the crushing of feelings of hope and optimism amongst young people that the current Irish border issues throw up back in her home town. Inviting the audience to join in the chorus, which we all do in our gentle, quiet, thoughtful way – adds to the poignance.

Another especially moving moment in the evening comes about with Dillon’s rendition of the song ‘Lakeside Swans’ from her latest album The Wanderer, which she was inspired to write as a result of the refugee crisis and seeing those awful images of the drowned little Syrian boy on the beach that appeared on the front pages of every newspaper a few years ago.

Always a mixture of beautiful singing, emotive lyrics and captivating performance an evening with Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman on stage is never less than something very, very special. Eastbourne tonight demonstrates their ability to pull this off once again.

http://www.caradillon.co.uk/

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Related reviews:

Cara Dillon at Cropredy 2014
Cara Dillon at Hastings 2016

Folk: album review – John Smith ‘Hummingbird’

This review was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of fRoots magazine

Two years after recording the album Headlong in Sam Lakeman’s Somerset studio, John Smith returned to lay down another new album. Unlike the former, however, which was built around Smith’s song-writing, Hummingbird is very much about celebrating traditional songs and paying tribute to the artists like John Renbourn, John Martyn and Bert Jansch who inspired Smith in the first place. Six of the album’s ten tracks are traditional songs with one cover version and three original numbers.

Less is more was the motto that Smith and Lakeman adopted while making the album. “A folk song’s clarity of purpose is exactly the reason why it has been played in pubs, living rooms and concert halls for hundreds of years,” says Smith. Indeed, this approach has absolutely paid off. Shorn of the typical embellishments we might have come to expect on a modern-day folk album there is beauty and simplicity in the the delivery that gives the lyrics in songs like Hares On The Mountain and Lord Franklin a real resonance.

The lone cover is Anna Briggs’ The Time Has Come which Smith first heard, like many readers will have done, on a Bert Jansch and John Renbourn album. Smith’s three original songs, like the beautiful title track, stand sympathetically alongside the much older material.

A gifted guitarist, a unique vocalist and an impassioned interpreter of traditional material, if John Smith has made this album for his musical heroes then he’s done them proud.

Released: October 2018

https://www.johnsmithjohnsmith.com/

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Folk/indie: album review – Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou ‘Fair Lady London’

This review was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of fRoots magazine

An integral part of London’s emerging indie folk scene for a number of years, Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou left the capital for Hastings and are now firmly ensconced in the Sussex seaside town’s thriving local music scene. Three years on from their last album, Fair Lady London is the product of their changed setting and changed priorities.

There is still plenty to showcase the duo’s talent as songwriters here, however. The poignantly bitter-sweet We Should’ve Gone Dancing is immediately and utterly unforgettable while the guitar line on Everything You Need is as beautifully infectious as something that Bert Jansch might have come up with.

For their previous album the duo worked with renowned producer Ethan Johns but now they are back with the trusty 4-track recorder they used on their 2012 album, this time setting up in a castle in the East Sussex countryside. “I’ve never really liked studios,” confesses Moss. “The first one we ever stepped foot in was Olympic as teenagers, the same room as Hendrix, Zeppelin, Stones. I didn’t like it. It felt like a spaceship.”

The lo-fi approach works extremely well and gives the album exactly the kind of understated intimacy the duo’s songs warrant.

Now five albums into their career as a duo Fair Lady London sees Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou continuing to make music that in its own delicate, gentle and thoughtful way continues to demand your attention.

Released: November 2018

http://www.trevormossandhannahlou.com/

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Folk: album review – The Trials of Cato ‘Hide and Hair’

This review was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of fRoots magazine

Energetic, innovative and dynamic the press blurb hailing Trials Of Cato as a band that “arrived fully formed” is not just PR hype in this instance. Hide & Hair is a bona fide sweep-you-off-your-feet debut. The three young men from Yorkshire and North Wales met in Beirut while teaching, quickly enthused audiences in Lebanon and arrived back in the UK two years ago. With Hide & Hair they deliver us a lovely blend of mandolin, banjo, bouzouki and guitar, their stunning instrumentation and rich harmonising vocals breathing new life into traditional songs and tunes.

Older songs like My Love’s In Germany, the seventeenth century window’s lament for a fallen soldier, and Tom Paine’s Bones, Graham Moore’s rousing anthem for rights and liberty, rub shoulders with new songs like the equally rousing These Are The Things. Of the instrumental pieces Difyrrwch is the band’s arrangement of three traditional Welsh and English melodies while Kadisha is their own composition inspired and named after a valley in northern Lebanon.

The trio are Robin Jones (mandolin/tenor banjo/vocals), William Addison (Irish bouzouki/vocals) and Tomos Williams (guitar/vocals) with Addison and Jones alternating lead vocal duties across the album.

Few debuts have as much vitality and impact as this one and they have already been receiving plaudits from the likes of the BBC’s Mark Radcliffe who has lauded them as “one of the real discoveries on the folk circuit in recent times”. We shall certainly be hearing a lot more of The Trials Of Cato.

Released: November 2018

https://thetrialsofcato.com/

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Folk-rock: album review – Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

Merry Hell and their rousing brand of folk rock have been around since 2010 now, rising from the ashes of 90s folk punk band The Tansads. Rather than another album of electrified folk the Wigan-based band take a more pastoral approach this time, with the all-acoustic Anthems To The Wind offering reworkings of established favourites alongside some newer songs.

“… although the band has grown in many ways, we have wanted to continue performing in the more intimate venues where the full electric 8-piece would neither fit nor be suitable. The atmospheric hush of the folk clubs inspired a stripping back of many of our arrangements to get to the very heart of our music’s message,” the sleeve-notes tell us.

Much of the album is recorded live: at Bunbury Village Hall in Cheshire and the Lion Salt Works in Northwich, alongside the Music Projects in Wigan.

It opens with a reworking of Drunken Serenade from the band’s first album. Indeed, a memorable line from these lyrics gives this new album its title. It’s clear that songs like this and The War Between Ourselves lose none of their power through the acoustic treatment and, if anything, become yet more anthemic.

The album also proves an excellent showcase for some of the more poignantly reflective songwriting of the band’s Virginia Kettle, and her lovely vocals, on tracks like No Place Like Tomorrow.

Anthems To The Wind shows Merry Hell continuing to innovate and inspire. A fine album that lives up to its name.

Released: 26th November 2018

http://www.merryhell.co.uk/

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Related reviews:

Merry Hell – Bury Me Naked EP

Merry Hell – Come On England EP

 

Folk: album review – Daimh ‘The Rough Bounds’

This review was originally published by Bright Young folk here 

Launched twenty years to the day after Daimh’s first ever gig, The Rough Bounds sees the Gaelic super-group in celebratory mode. Unlike The Hebridean Sessions, the live album released to mark their fifteenth anniversary, this new album sees the band looking forward and exploring new material, both self-composed and traditional, rather than revisiting songs from earlier in their career.

“Half of the tunes on the record are written by the band and the other half are traditional, the only exception being that of a set of melodies composed by piping legend, PM Donald MacLeod from the Isle of Lewis. We wanted to pay tribute to one our favourite composers, but the set also serves as a stepping stone between the old tunes and our own contemporary pieces,” explains the band’s Angus MacKenzie.

No knowledge of the Gaelic language is required to appreciate the beauty of the exquisite sounds rolling off the lips of singer, Ellen MacDonald, but the lyrics, we are informed, cover those familiar themes of drinking, feuding and loves lost at sea. There can be few more powerful arguments in favour the band’s outspoken passion for preserving and defending Gaelic language and culture than hearing these lyrics delivered so beautifully on songs like Trusaidh mi na Coilleagan and Tha Fadachd orm Fhìn.

Of the tune sets 12th of June and the Donald Macleod Reels showcase some wonderful pipe-playing, while the uplifting Happy Fish contains some gorgeous interplay between accordion, whistle and fiddle.

Strong melodies, exhilarating pipes, enchanting fiddles, hauntingly atmospheric accordion and breathtakingly beautiful vocals The Rough Bounds is pretty much everything you could ask for from an album of Gaelic folk.

Released: May 2018

https://www.daimh.net/

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