Folk: album review – Ninebarrow ‘A Pocket Full of Acorns’

Named after Nine Barrow Down in Dorset’s Purbeck hills, the English folk duo composed of Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere this month release their long-awaited fourth album A Pocket Full of Acorns.

Whatever unexpected challenges 2020 threw up for the music world it certainly provided many musicians with plenty of additional time for writing and recording. Ninebarrow were no exception, using the time to create the follow-up to 2018’s The Water And The Wild.

“It feels all the sweeter to be able to release this collection into the wild given all the detours we had to make in 2020,” says Whitley. “Our music will always be inspired by the incredible landscape and history of our native Dorset as well as our sense of home and belonging. But these days we can’t helped but be oved by the many changes happening to our planet and society – we hope this fourth studio album reflects that.”

With a mix of original song-writing, covers, traditional numbers and musical adaptations of classic poetry, the duo apply their trademark harmonies to produce eleven tracks of exquisite contemporary folk. Highlights include the haunting but utterly beautiful ‘Cold, Haily, Windy Night’ a song about migration inspired by the scenes of destitution at the Calais refugee camp.

The tempo is raised for an upbeat rendering of ‘John Barleycorn’ – just as you think you have enough versions of this in your collection they come along and do something different and suitably imaginative with that old homage to beer-making. The mood changes again for the rousing ‘Cry Unity’ inspired by William Barnes’ poem ‘The Dorset Rifleman’s Song’, its original fiery battlecry now re-purposed as a call for world peace and global understanding.

As well as the two vocalists’ sensitive, emotive harmonies Whitley’s equally sensitive piano playing is a prominent part of the overall sound. The duo are joined by band members Lee Mackenzie on cello, John Parker on double bass and Evan Carson on percussion, alongside Whitley, himself, on ukulele, guitar, mandola and reed organ.

Featuring the same original album artwork from Sarah Whitley, there is also a companion songbook available to go with the album, featuring lyrics, additional photography and inspirations behind the song choices.

A Pocket Full Of Acorns already promises to be one of the outstanding folk albums of 2021. Well worth the two-year wait.

Released: 5th March 2021

Online album launch: Saturday 13th March, 7pm at https://www.ninebarrow.co.uk/live

https://www.ninebarrow.co.uk/

This week’s featured artist: Elena Piras – new album of Scottish folk ‘Where The Wind Blows’

Where The Wind Blows is the second album from Elana Pira. Not unusually for a Scottish folk release it features a number of traditional Scottish and Gaelic melodies alongside familiar favourites like Francis McPeake’s ‘Wild Mountain’s Thyme’ and Tom Paxton’s ‘The Last Thing on My Mind’. It’s an album of Scottish folk with a twist, however. Hailing from Sardinia, Piras inherited her father’s love of singing from an early age and began performing professionally in Italy when young.

“I think when you begin on a path so young, it just becomes an unquestionable part of the fabric of your life and your whole being. Making music is as natural as breathing for me,” she says.

Piras moved to the UK aged 18, where she co-founded and toured with the London Bulgarian choir. It was in 2006, however, following a move to Scotland and a position at the Royal Scottish Academy of Art that her love of Scottish music really began to make itself felt. Immersing herself in the local music scene Piras became a popular fixture at festivals and released her debut album in 2010. Journey was predominantly an album of traditional Scottish music but also included songs from Ireland, Sardinia and Bulgaria

Being visually impaired since birth, Elena believes it has enabled her to impart a very special meaning to her folk music. She also feels a particular affinity to Scots, Irish and Gaelic folk and maintains that nothing can compare to it in terms of being able to convey the beauty and hardship of a land and its people and its ability to transport both performer and audience into its melodies and narrative.

Where The Wind Blows is Elena Pira’s second album and very much continues the journey she embarked upon with her debut release – exploring and interpreting traditional Scottish music. Recorded in a shed that was repurposed as a recording studio, the project has drawn in a number of talented musicians. As the pandemic threw up the now familiar range of logistical challenges, some of the album’s collaborators also contributed their parts from similarly unconventional locations. Perseverance has its rewards, however, and we are left with an exceptional album.

With a pure clear voice, a self-evident love for the Gaelic language and an instinctive feel for interpreting the material in her own unique way, Elena Pira brings something that’s both precious and meaningful to the Scottish folk scene.

Where The Wind Blows was released 20th November 2020

Visit the website of Elena Piras here

This week’s featured artist: Beth Lee – new album out ‘Waiting On You Tonight’

Making a name for herself fronting roots rock ‘n’ roll band Beth Lee & The Breakups, Texas-based singer-songwriter Beth Lee dips deep into a much broader range of musical influences for her latest album. These span her nineties love 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. 

Waiting On You Tonight puts Lee’s soulful, heartfelt vocals and her evident song-writing abilities centre-stage. She 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/

This week’s featured artist: Luke Jackson – new EP ‘Of The Time’ out now

Canterbury-based singer-songwriter Luke Jackson has scooped up numerous awards since first being nominated for the BBC’s Young Folk Awards back in 2013.

As a folk and roots-based artist he’s tapped into a school of song-writing that goes back many generations yet his songs always seem so effortlessly contemporary, topical and relevant.

This latest seven-track EP ‘Of The Time’ is no exception. Written during lockdown these songs take us on a powerful journey, not only of Luke Jackson’s own thoughts at various times over the months between March and November 2020, but feelings that many, many of us will immediately empathise with:

“The man in charge looks troubled on the TV. Doesn’t have a single thing to say” he sings on opening track ‘I Am Not Okay With This’.

The subjects are often bleak but the songs are never bleak, testimony to Jackson’s power as a songwriter and warmth as a performer. And he can be passionate and outspoken and uncompromising but avoids that temptation to get ranty – a trap that some singer-songwriters dealing with contemporary subject matter can sometimes fall into. Again, it’s a mark of his gift as a songwriter and the pure poetry of his lyrics.

The production nicely captures that mood, too.

“The songs lend themselves to a more sparse, acoustic production so the obvious person to do these recordings with was Elliott Norris at his ‘Good Neighbour Records’ studio,” he tells us.

I first saw Luke Jackson at Cecil Sharp House five years ago and was hugely impressed. His ‘This Family Tree’ album that I picked up that evening has frequently been on my stereo ever since – but it has been a treat to get fully up to date with Luke Jackson’s more recent output and familiarise myself with his wonderful 2019 album ‘Journals’ as well as this year’s brand new EP. As soon as I heard it I had no hesitation in making him this week’s featured artist.

Released: 29th January 2021

Available for download via http://lukepauljackson.com/shop/

Related review:

Luke Jackson and Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at Cecil Sharp House 2016

This week’s featured artist: Tim Izzard and the new glammed-up Ziggy-esque album ‘Starlight Rendezvous’

Based in Hailsham in East Sussex, Tim Izzard is a musician who has worked across a variety of musical genres but Starlight Rendezvous, released last month, is his debut rock album. Taking glam-era Bowie as its starting point the album makes nods in the direction of pop, prog, rock and garage, and delivers something that is both creative and original yet unashamedly wears its influences as unselfconsciously as Mick Ronson in his golden Starman costume.

Izzard tells us: “It’s a play-it-loud, 40 mins concept album (remember them!) where the time is 632 AF, we are in a Brave New World and ‘The Visitor’, Thomas Jerome Newton, is still alive and still waiting to find his way home after nearly 200 years.”

Izzard adds: “I wanted to write an album that sounded like what first and still excites me musically and that I’d want to listen to once finished. So back to Bowie playing Starman on TOTP and the album, Ziggy. Roxy Music’s first two albums, Transformer/Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. Bowie’s live Beeb version of Waiting For The Man still does it for me.

The chords and melody for Man Who Fell To Earth came easily to me one day, and just sounded immediately like it should be a tribute. So the title Man Who Fell To Earth I chose as he appeared like an alien on TOTP and left us so dramatically two days after Blackstar, almost as if his mission had been accomplished. The lyrics name-check his songs but also the impact they had on me ‘listening in my room’.

That self-penned Bowie tribute, the excellent ‘Man Who Fell To Earth’ has already been picking up airplay including here on BBC Radio Sussex and in the US on glam rock internet station Dandy’s Stardust Dive.

Tim Izzard’s album Starlight Rendezvous is available on Bandcamp here:

https://timizzard.bandcamp.com/

Released: 13th January 2021

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

Progressive folk / experimental: album review: Steve Tyler ‘The Enduring and the Ephemeral ‘

Steve Tyler is a renowned hurdy gurdy player and from early music to traditional folk to industrial electronica he is at home playing within a variety of genres. He currently performs as a duo with Katy Marchant, as well as in the medieval-inspired trad folk band Woodwose (again with Marchant) and as part of the cross-cultural outfit Meridianum Ensemble.

The Enduring and the Ephemeral, however, is Tyler’s first album comprised fully of his own original material. The unique, utterly mesmerising sound of the hurdy gurdy takes centre-stage in this album of rich, layered, experimental prog-folk subtitled ‘Hurdy gurdy based multitrack music for the end of time’.

“The intention was merely to render in sonic form some patterns from the imagination, rather than following any particular theme or genre. However, as many of the pieces arose from contemplation of the passage of time and the juxtaposition of different chronological perspectives, a theme of sorts has arisen.”

Tyler’s main creative drive is his interest in patterns and rhythms and the resulting interweaving of different components into a sonic structure. Tyler’s infectiously hypnotic hurdy gurdy playing is thus textured by his use of numerous other instruments, namely cittern, reed organ, psaltery, guitar, bass guitar, hammered dulcimer, gothic harp and percussion. However, the album also features guest musicians: Katy Marchant who plays, variously, bagpipes, recorder, shawm and vocal on several tracks) and Jane Harbour, from the Bristol-based band Spiro, whose vocal and violin-playing can be heard on the final track ‘Lullaby’.

A lovely touch, particularly for ELO fans, is the inclusion of the late Mike Edwards – the cellist from the original line-up of Electric Light Orchestra who was tragically killed in 2010. Tyler had previously worked with Edwards and an unaccompanied improvisational sample of his was located and, by chance, fitted perfectly into the dark, haunting piece on the album entitled ‘Tethys’.

A rich, fascinating and uniquely other-worldly album, Tyler creates some utterly compelling sonic textures and fans of experimental music, prog and folk will all find much to draw them in here.

Released: Autumn 2020

http://www.stevetyler-hurdygurdy.com/

Folk/acoustic: album review – Milton Hide ‘Temperature’s Rising’

Hot on the heels of Lancashire-based folk-rockers, Merry Hell, who released their eco-themed Emergency Lullabies album last November comes Temperature’s Rising, another environmentally-conscious album title from another act immersed in the UK folk scene: East Sussex’s Milton Hide.

I’ve much enjoyed seeing this husband-and-wife acoustic duo, Jim and Josie Tipler, out on the live scene here in East Sussex on a number of occasions. Their thought-provoking, observational and often humorous self-written songs were always a treat to witness and it was a delight, therefore, to get my hands on their debut album.

While their acoustic-driven melodies are at the heart of Temperature’s Rising there’s plenty more to the album besides. The dozen songs here are all ones that the duo have performed live over the years. However, a cast of guest musicians, their contributions all recorded separately and expertly weaved into the album within the necessary constraints imposed by life in lockdown, add rich texture to the duo’s melodies.

Bruce Knapp from Moltenamba provides some deliciously Americana-flavoured guitar on several tracks, Fred Gregory and Phil Jones from Hatful of Rain come in on mandolin and string bass respectively, while Ian McIlroy from Rough Chowder plays accordion and Simon Yapp from Ian Roland Subtown Set adds some distinctive fiddle-playing. The whole album is produced and engineered by John Fowler of Dandelion Charm who also utilises his multi-instrumental talents on guitars, bass, keyboards and drums while Clare Fowler, the other half of Dandelion Charm, adds some backing vocals.

The title track ‘Temperature’s Rising’ utilises the full band set-up to deliver a rousing modern-day folk-rock anthem. Josie Tipler: “Greta Thunberg was making news and climate activists were very prominent in the media. Also, there was a lot of protesting going on – anger over US elections and Brexit. “

Meanwhile, ‘A Little Piece Of Mind’ sees Jim and Josie in classic acoustic duo mode. With a more than a nod to the melody of Elizabeth Cotton’s evergreen skiffle favourite ‘Freight Train’ the lyrics here similarly utilise train metaphors but the song is actually Josie’s ode to the menopause and mid-life crisis.

The poignant ‘Littlefield’, inspired by Jim spotting a welcoming light in the window of a house that had been empty for many months, channels the spirit some of those classic English folk-inspired singer-songwriters in the vein of Sandy Denny et al and is beautifully sung by Josie.

‘Say It All The Time’ is another highlight. Quite unlike anything else on the album, the song was initially prompted by a bleak mood that came over Jim during a walk on the South Downs one day and the subsequent death of a musician friend who had tragically taken his own life. It was originally released as a charity single back in 2019 to raise awareness of suicide prevention. Remixed for the album the spiky, slightly eighties, slightly goth-sounding keyboards from producer and multi-instrumentalist, John Fowler, really make this track and perfectly capture the mood of the song.

Mention should also be made of the beautiful packaging including fold-out lyric sheet featuring original artwork by Hastings artist Helen Bryant.

Anyone who is already familiar with Milton Hide’s live act will want to buy this album but hopefully ‘Temperature’s Rising’ will also help bring the duo’s unique talents as songwriters, singers and musicians to a much wider audience. A very welcome full-length debut from Milton Hide with some superb musical guests.

Released: 5th March 2021

Website: www.miltonhide.com

Related posts:

‘Say It All The Time’ – East Sussex duo Milton Hide release fund-raising single to raise awareness of male suicide

Saturday Unplugged – live review Hastings Fat Tuesday 2020

News: ‘Escape’ new live single from cult US glam-era band The Hollywood Stars

Cult US glam-influenced band The Hollywood Stars, who reunited back in 2018 after four decades apart, have a new single coming out, a live recording of the original band composition ‘Escape’ which was later made famous by Alice Cooper. ‘Escape’ (Live) is released on 15th February.

Formed in 1973 and becoming a regular draw at the legendary Whisky A Go Go club the band’s live shows attracted the the likes of John Lennon, Angie Bowie and Iggy Pop.

“I didn’t used to like The Hollywood Stars, I used to like The New York Dolls. Then I heard The Hollywood Stars play Satisfaction. Now I wanna fuck ‘em.”Iggy Pop

An album was recorded for Columbia in 1974 but record company politics meant it ended up being scrapped.

“It was a really depressing time,” recalls lead guitarist Ruben De Fuentes. “The sessions were going great and we were so close to finishing the record. Then it all just went away.”

It would take 39 years for the scrapped Columbia album to finally see the light of day. Shine Like a Radio: The Great Lost 1974 Album was released by Last Summer/Light in the Attic in 2013.

However, two of the songs recorded for the scrapped album, both co-written by the band’s lead singer/guitarist Mark Anthony and pop Svengali Kim Fowley, went on to enjoy success with two mega US acts. ‘King of the Night Time World’ would be recorded by Kiss on their Destroyer album released in 1976 and on their Alive II album released in 1977. Another song ‘Escape’, meanwhile, was recorded by Alice Cooper on his 1975 album Welcome to My Nightmare.

The Hollywood Stars split in 1974 but (with a change in line-up) picked things up again in 1976 and kept gigging through until 1978, opening for such diverse legends as rock pioneer Bo Diddley, disco star Sylvester, and punk royalty Ramones.

Forty years after the dissolution of the 1978 line-up, The Hollywood Stars reconvened for a one-off benefit concert in November 2018 at The Bootleg Theatre in Los Angeles. The line-up included founding members Phares, De Fuentes and Rae, alongside the bassist from the band’s second line-up, Michael Rummans, and new guitarist, Chezz Monroe.

The revived Hollywood Stars released a live version of ‘King Of The Night Time World’ last December and are now set to release a new version of ‘Escape’ as a single on 15th February. Recorded live in 2019 when the reunited band returned to their old haunt the Whisky A Go Go this is the Hollywood Stars’ own version of the song made famous by Alice Cooper.

The Hollywood Stars current line-up is:

Ruben De Fuentes — Lead guitar

Scott Phares — Lead vocals

Terry Rae — Drums, vocals

Chezz Monroe — Second guitar

John Schayer — Bass guitar, vocals

 ‘Escape’ (Live) released 15th February 2021 on Golden Robot Records

https://www.facebook.com/thehollywoodstarsband/

From sea shanties to glam rock: five music acts who have had a good lockdown

1. The Longest Johns

I’ve been following Bristol-based acapella group The Longest Johns since they sent me their first album to review back in 2016. Following the tiktok sea shanty viral sensation that is ‘Wellerman’, however, they now find themselves in the Top 40 – with a lovely rather dumbstruck announcement on their Facebook page giving their reaction as follows: “BY POSEIDONS BEARD! It’s only gone top 40! We did it everybody, thank-you to all our families, the mod’s and the fantastic discord community, Thank-you to Anna for singing it with us and thank-you to EVERYONE who bought Wellerman and got a (Can’t believe i’m typing this) SEA SHANTY IN THE CHARTS. Ohhhh!!”

Read album review here

2. Slade

2020 was looking like a terrible year for glam veterans, Slade. Guitarist Dave Hill sacked drummer Don Powell from the continuing (ie: post- Jim and Noddy) version of the band. Bass-player Jim Lea had his prized guitar stolen and Noddy Holder exchanged a few sharp words about his former song-writing partner Jim in press interviews. All that was put to one side, however, as all four original members expressed their joy at their greatest hits compilation Cum On Feel The Hitz going straight in at No. 8 in the UK album charts back in October. This was the band’s highest ranking in the UK album charts since Slade In Flame was released back in 1974!

Read more here

3. AC/DC

Only a few short years ago the wheels well and truly seemed to be finally coming off the AC/DC machine. Rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young had tragically passed away, drummer Phil Rudd was sentenced to home detention after an unedifying case involving drugs and threatening behaviour, vocalist Brian Johnson ended up being replaced by Axl Rose following major hearing problems and bass-player Cliff Williams saw the writing on the wall and decided he, too, had had enough. However, with Stevie Young replacing his late uncle, Malcolm, the classic post-Bon Scott AC/DC line-up (or as near as humanly possible to it anyway) was resurrected and a brand new album Power Up ended up reaching No. 1 in twenty-one countries.

Read album review here

4. John Rossall – ex Glitter Band

Glitter Band founder member, John Rossall, released a wonderfully menacing twenty-first century reboot of classic 70s glam rock with his The Last Glam In Town album. Released back in October last year, it picked up favourable reviews everywhere. All tribal beats, honking brass, fuzzed-up guitar, sing-along choruses and enough handclaps and chants of ‘Hey’ to last you a lifetime, The Last Glam In Town is a modern masterpiece of the genre.  “It’s like I’ve written them myself almost!” he told me when I interviewed him late last year. “It’s a surprise. The reviews everywhere – it’s been beyond my wildest dreams really.”

Read full interview here

5. Tim Burgess of the Charlatans

While there has been no big Charlatans comeback (their most recent album was back in 2017), Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties have been one of the bright spots throughout the pandemic. The idea was a simple one: an album and a time would be chosen and fans would converge on social media to exchange their memories, reactions and appreciation of said album. Soon there was a queue of artists eager to get involved and, for me, one of the highlights was when they featured the album by Heavy Load, a band which was composed of people with and without learning disabilities, of which my current boss was the former bass-player. You can find out more about Heavy Load, the award-winning film of the same name that was made about them and the charity that they inspired here.

Tim Burgess // Piknik i Parken // The Charlatans // 2019-06-13 18:19:07 // Grünerløkka, Oslo, Photo credit: Tore Sætre / Wikimedia

This week’s featured artist: alt-rock duo The Fools Horses

Asking us to imagine what the offspring of the White Stripes and Radiohead might sound like, Kent-based alternative rock band The Fools Horses have recently released their debut single ‘Drifting Away’.

The Fools Horses are Noah Kemp (guitar and lead vocals) and Tommy Pearce (drums). Both just 16, and from the Faversham/Whitstable area, the duo met in school – bonding over similar musical tastes and drawing on influences from bands such as Muse and Royal Blood.

The duo say they explore many styles in their music but for their first single they have gone for that mellow, melancholic alt-rock vibe that Radiohead set the bar for on OK Computer. I love it. Not only have they captured a mood that so many of us must be feeling right now but with this original piece of song-writing they’ve also demonstrated they can turn in a pretty decent melody, too.

Talking about the song Noah Kemp says: “Drifting Away was written in lockdown about losing someone you love and has multiple meanings. On a personal level it’s about a breakup. However, it also relates to lockdown, and how people you used to talk to every day at school or something, are slowly drifting away as you lose contact. I wrote the lyrics by writing down exactly what I was feeling at the time and then sort of arranging them into cohesive lyrics.”

Check out the single on Spotify here:

https://open.spotify.com/artist/4YsSc1fj3fgVvljLNH1OY5?si=rQ6EPFDeRa-mq1y5khMnwQ

Instagram:https://www.instagram.com/thefoolshorses/