Tag Archives: album review

Latest folk reviews: Fritillaries, Dan Whitehouse, Jamestown Brothers, Bush Gothic and Owen Moore

Fritillaries – Fritillaries

Fritillaries are Hannah Pawson and Gabriel Wynne, a Bristol-based folk and Americana duo who have been playing together since childhood. They’ve been gigging extensively around both the UK and Australia over the past five years and released their eponymously-titled debut album back in July.

It’s a stunning debut that’s been picking up plenty of favourable reviews. Pawson’s crystal clear vocals have an English folk sensibility while the instrumentation (mainly acoustic guitars, banjo and mandolin) gives their music a strong Americana feel; and their song-writing has echoes of that golden era of American singer-songwriters, with nods towards Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

It’s a captivating package and the music and the lyrical themes (“about people missed, places found, and things unearthed from the spaces the light doesn’t reach,” say the duo) lead us through an equally captivating range of moods and emotions.

Released: 15 July 2022 https://fritillaries.uk/

Voices From The Cones: Songs inspired by stories from the glassworks in Stourbridge

Voices From the Cones is a fascinating double disc album that arose out of a collaboration between singer-songwriter, Dan Whitehouse, and the Ruskin Mill Trust. With support from the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund it’s a project celebrating the rich 400-year history of the glass-making industry in Stourbridge, West Midlands.

Musically, the album is as varied as the vast array of artefacts on display in the museum’s Stourbridge Glass Collection, which features pieces dating back over the past 400 years.

Across the twelve tracks on the first disc we skip between folk, Americana, dance, music hall, sensitive singer-songwriter and shiny pop. Some of these genres appeal to me more than others but there’s some superb musicianship on offer here from a stellar line-up than includes Lukas Drinkwater, Chris Cleverley, John Elliot, Kim Lowings, Gustaf Ljunggren and Nicole Justice.

The second disc, meanwhile, is a narrated oral history featuring fascinating first-hand insights, integrated with music from the project – including a reprise of the beautiful ‘Voices From The Cones’, the opening track on the first disc. Wonderful stuff!  

The album will be launched live at a special launch night at The Glassworks Arts Centre, Stourbridge on Friday October 21st . Tickets available here 

Released: 30 September 2022 https://www.dan-whitehouse.com/

The Jamestown Brothers – Just Is

The Jamestown Brothers are a nine-piece band from Somerset. On their website they sum up their approach as playing “original songs influenced by folk, country and blues, with lyrics that mine the rich history and social tapestry of Great Britain and Ireland.”

All the songs on the six-track EP, Just Is, are written by the band’s vocalist/guitarist, Colin Batchelor, and their rowdy, raucous and irreverent brand of indie folk-punk puts me in mind of bands like Ferocious Dog and Hastings’ own Matilda’s Scoundrels. The nine-man line-up encompasses guitars, banjo, piano, bass, drums, fiddle, recorder, trumpet and trombone.

It’s never less than entertaining and I can see them going down brilliantly at festivals but there’s a serious side behind the fun though, with songs about homelessness, togetherness and vicious, old-time, football sectarianism. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for these guys playing live but, meanwhile, do check out their excellent EP.

Released: 12 August 2022 https://thejamestownbrothers.co.uk/

Bush Gothic – Beyond The Pale

The intriguingly-named Bush Gothic are exactly what it says on the tin: a trio of Aussie musicians who delve into the rich tapestry of traditional Australian songs and apply their own unique brand of folk noir. Or, as they put it themselves: “A post-modern, counterculture bush band who like old tales and new ideas.”

Bush Gothic are Jenny M. Thomas (vocals, fiddle), Dan Witton (bass) and Chris Lewis (drums), the three having previously played together in the band, Circus Oz. Beyond The Pale is the trio’s third album and they’ve built up a solid record for live performance and spectacular collaborations in both Britain and Australia.

Delving into old transportation ballads; that Aussie favourite, ‘The Pub With No Beer’; along with tales recounting homesickness, heartache and rural agricultural life – including a song about the 1891 sheep shearer’s strike (co-written by Witton’s own grandmother) it’s a fascinating insight into Australian settler culture and history that’s beautifully performed by the trio. Dark, brooding, haunting but utterly enthralling, Beyond The Pale brings something unique and genuinely creative to these traditional numbers.

Released: 29 July 2022 https://www.bushgothic.com/

Owen Moore – Blue Sky Songs

The Irish-born, Dorset-based singer-songwriter’s prodigious work-rate shows no sign of abating. His eleventh album of original songs, Blue Sky Songs, came out in July. Here we have ten new songs served up, once again, with Owen Moore’s characteristic brand of folk-infused acoustic Americana, relaxed vocal delivery and instinctive ear for a catchy melody. The Byrds-meets-rockabilly vibe of ‘Fireglo’ is a particular favourite of mine, Moore’s own tribute to the delights of the Rickenbacker.

Blue Sky Songs, along with all of Moore’s self-produced albums are available from his website. A good starting point, however, is the recent compilation album, Sixteen Easy Songs For Voice & Guitar, which features highlights drawn from across each of the ten previous albums and spanning the period 2011-2021.

Released: 29 July 2022 http://www.owenmooremusic.com/

Folk: album review – Ruth Keggin & Rachel Hair ‘Lossan’

While there continues to be a rich stream of new folk releases celebrating Scottish and Irish Gaelic, Manx Gaelic, in comparison, doesn’t often get much of a look in.

Manx Gaelic singer, Ruth Keggin, has teamed up with Scottish harpist, Rachel Hair, to deliver an exquisitely beautiful album celebrating the revival of the Manx language from its virtual extinction in the post-war period, as well as drawing together the cultural and linguistic connections between the Isle of Man and Scotland, whose traditional languages both share the same Goidelic roots within the wider family of Celtic languages.

The album’s title, Lossan, comes from a Manx Gaelic word meaning light, glimmer, sheen or flame.

The duo’s vocalist, Ruth Keggin, explains: “The word ‘lossan’ has such a rich meaning and we love the idea of the word being associated with tiny particles of light in the darkness – it felt very fitting to title the album this way. The word also has connections to the sea and sky and it’s these things that connect us both and are so important to our homelands.”

On collaborating with harpist, Rachel Hair, Keggin adds: “I have long loved Rachel’s music and the way she approaches playing Gaelic songs with such sensitivity, so it felt like the most natural thing to work together.”

Rachel Hair adds: “For years now I have been inspired by the culture on the Isle of Man, and its music song and language. I’m so grateful to those involved in the cultural scene on the island for welcoming me – this acceptance has been a real inspiration, giving me the freedom to play the island’s music and help fly its flag around the world.”

The result is an album that combines the pair’s interpretations of traditional Manx songs and tunes with more recently composed material by several songwriters from the Isle of Man, including several by noted Manx poet and musician, Annie Kissack.

Keggin’s crisp, clear vocals and Hair’s delicate, intricate playing compliment one another perfectly and the album represents a moving and rather lovely celebration of both the Manx language and its rich musical traditions.

Released: 8 July 2022

https://ruthandrachel.bandcamp.com/album/lossan

This week’s featured artists: Americana singer-songwriter duo, Tom Faia & Kate Miller

New album: Stay Away From The Flame

Now on to their third album as a duo, Tom Faia & Kate Miller have been building up a reputation for their live shows along California’s Central Coast for some four years.

Originally from the Monterey Bay Area, Tom Faia has an illustrious musical CV which, early in his career, included work with the much-celebrated rock and roll sideman, James Burton, along with the Wrecking Crew. After leaving LA, where he was signed to A&M Records as a solo artist, Faia then headed down to Nashville to hone his skills as a songwriter. As a Nashville-based songsmith, his songs were recorded by the likes of Barbara Mandrell and Dobie Gray, prior to heading back to Monterey where he continued to write. After spending several years performing solo, he teamed up with Kate Miller in 2018.

Kate Miller, herself, is a veteran of several local bands in the Monterey area and as the Monterey Herald put it: “When Kate Miller joined Tom Faia to make music things got a lot more interesting, not only in live performance but on the new album, Stay Away From The Flame.

One of Tom Faia’s songs, ‘Whole Lotta Trouble’, was used in award-winning film, A Girl, Two Guys and a Gun, seen here performed live with Kate Miller.

Released in July, the new album, Stay Away From The Flame, showcases Faia’s talents as a songwriter and his ear for a laid-back but instantly-memorable melody. With a sound based around acoustic guitar and harmony vocals, the interplay between Faia’s seasoned drawl and Miller’s warm, emotive voice is a delight, as is Faia’s harmonica-playing. Jese Diaz on bass and Vince Sanchez on percussion complete the line-up.

With musical influences that span the early rock and roll years of the ’50s and the classic era of the great singer-songwriter albums of the early ’70s, there’s a richness to this album which should find fans across the folk/Americana/singer-songwriter genres.

Released: 11th July 2022

https://www.facebook.com/FaiaMillerMusic/

Folk/bluegrass: album review – Damien O’Kane & Ron Block ‘Banjophonics’

I know the groans that the mention of the word banjo elicits in both folk circles and the wider music world have long been a bit of a cliché. But as a Brit, I must confess that my first thought at mention of the word is usually visions of Jim Royle whipping out his banjo and rattling off some tired old music hall song in episodes of the Royle Family.

It’s not like that elsewhere, of course, and four years ago, Irish musician Damien O’Kane and California-based Ron Block pulled off the seemingly impossible, with their debut album Banjophony attracting rave reviews and suddenly making the banjo cool – even in Britain.

Now the pair have done it again with a brand-new, thirteen-track album, Banjophonics, and I must say I love it!

Damien O’Kane: The title reflects the sound we think we make – it’s a definition of our music. It’s a joyous, life-affirming joust, barely pausing for breath – fast, frenetic fireworks punctuated by more reflective melodies.”

What the collaboration does so successfully, of course, is fuse two distinct banjo traditions into one joyful, transatlantic, musical melting pot: courtesy of the four-string Irish tenor banjo and the five-string American bluegrass banjo.

A celebrated performer on the Irish music scene, O’Kane has two successful solo albums behind him and is a much in-demand musician while Block is rightly celebrated for his role as part of Alison Krauss & Union Station.

Comprising eleven tunes and two songs, Banjophonics is an exhilarating mix that spans a whole range of tempos, influences and moods. There’s a great line-up of guests on the album, too, including Siera Hull, Barry Bales, Jay Bellerose from the US, along with Steven Byrnes, Duncan Lyall, Josh Clark, Michael McGoldrick and David Kosky from this side of the Atlantic. Kate Rusby provides stunning backing vocals on one track, ‘Woman Of No Place’, a tribute to Irish traveller and banjo player, Margaret Barry.

Whether you come at it as a lover of the Irish folk tradition or the American bluegrass tradition or a bit of both, you will find plenty to love in this album.

Released: 1st July 2022

https://damienokane.co.uk/band/

This week’s featured artist: Gaelic singer Kim Carnie – debut album ‘And So We Gather’

Gaelic singer, Kim Carnie, launched her solo career in 2018 with the release of her EP, In Her Company. Since then she’s worked with the bands, Mànran and Staran, been much in demand as a session vocalist and in 2021 won the Gaelic Singer of The Year prize at the MG Alba Trad Awards.

In June this year she released her debut album, And So We Gather.

As well as Carnie’s own standout vocals the album features a stellar line-up of the brightest and the best from the Scottish folk scene, including vocalists, Julie Fowlis, Karen Matheson, Kathleen MacInnes, Megan Henderson and Calum MacCrimmon.

The album was written and arranged during lockdown on the Isle of Skye and features five of Carnie’s original songs, some sung in English and others Gaelic, alongside five of her own interpretations of traditional Gaelic songs and texts.

Kim Carnie: “Over the last two years, we have spent too much time apart from the people we care most about. We have had to learn how to show love through our physical absence and find calm in our isolation. This album is a celebration of where we are now: gathering loving and putting ourselves back together.”

“I spent the first few months of lockdown in Glenlyon. I would regularly walk a six-mile round-trip, sneak into our beautiful local church and play the baby grand piano – it was where I wrote most of the album.”

“The album brings together some of my favourite musicians, but most importantly some of my favourite hearts and minds. It’s been a real privilege putting this music together and hearing what others hear in both my songs and the songs of our ancestors.”

Musicians:
Kim Carnie – Vocals
Donald Shaw – Piano and harmonium
Innes White – Guitar, mandolin and vocals
James Lindsay – Double bass
James MacIntosh – Percussion

Guest vocalists:
Calum MacCrimmon
Julie Fowlis
Karen Matheson
Kathleen MacInnes
Megan Henderson

Guest musicians:
Alyn Cosker – Percussion
Charlie Stewart – Fiddle
Iain Hutchison – Electric guitar
John Lowrie – Piano
Kadialy Kouyate – Kora
Matt Carmichael – Saxophone
Scottish Session Orchestra

And So We Gather was released on 17th June 2022 by Càrn Records

https://www.kimcarnie.com/

Folk/jazz/classical: album review – Seonaid Aitken ‘Chasing Sakura’

Encompassing jazz, classical and folk influences, Chasing Sakura is a crossover album from classically-trained and award-winning jazz musician, Seonaid Aitken, her first album of entirely original material.

There have been no shortage of albums conceived during the recent pandemic that have been released over the last couple of years, across all genres. Aitken’s is a lockdown album with a difference, however, as it came about while she was recovering from a riding accident. Inspired by the cherry blossoms she would see on her daily exercise walks and with a commission to produce new music for the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, Aitken was prompted to create Chasing Sakura.

“In the Spring of 2021, I was recovering from a serious horse-riding accident where I broke my pelvis, ankle, small vertebrae and ribs. I would go for walks around Glasgow chasing cherry blossoms and it reminded me of my time in Japan and how I was inspired by the way they celebrate the beauty and symbolism of the Sakura season with Hanami – the traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers. The record draws inspiration from the lifespan of the cherry blossom to symbolise overall themes of hope, optimism and impermanence.”

As a versatile and much in-demand session musician, Aitken’s CV has included work with the likes of Deacon Blue, Carol Kidd, Hamish Stuart (Average White Band), Blue Rose Code, The GRIT Orchestra, James Grant and Eddi Reader. She also played violin and viola in the 2019-2020 touring production of Disney’s ‘The Lion King’. As a jazz musician and singer, she was awarded ‘Best Vocalist’ at the 2017 and 2018 Scottish Jazz Awards and, specialising in Gypsy Jazz, she performs extensively with her Scottish Jazz Award-winning ‘Best Band’ (2018) Rose Room, and as a guest with the Tim Kliphuis Sextet, Tokyo Django Collective, Swing 2020 and top jazz fingerstyle virtuoso, and former guitarist of Stephane Grappelli, Martin Taylor MBE.

On the album, Aitken (Violin and Vocals) is joined by fellow ensemble members: Katrina Lee (Violin), Patsy Reid (Viola), Alice Allen (Cello), Emma Smith (Bass) and Helena Kay (Tenor Sax and Flute).

The result is a richly evocative album from the lush, classically-inspired, jazz-infused track ‘Awakening’, whose delicate, dancing melody does exactly what it says on the tin, to the jaunty and far more folky ‘Hanami’, to the jazzy 1920s-themed ‘The Walk’. ‘Beauty and Wonder’, with its beautiful jazz-waltz theme is a track Aitken wrote specifically for a string quartet.

An album that will have huge appeal for jazz, classical and folk fans, I’ve come to it rather late to it this year but I can’t wait to put it on as the blossoms start appearing on the trees as I look out of my back window next spring.

Released: 29th April 2022

http://seonaidaitken.com/chasing-sakura/

Singer-songwriter: album review – The Electric Flea Show ‘Art Club of Paintings’

Art Club of Paintings is the debut album of The Electric Flea Show. Rather than a band, The Electric Flee Show is actually the pseudonym of an otherwise un-named singer-songwriter. “Unidentified, in the spirit of Banksy perhaps – or maybe just some anonymous bloke,” he writes in the accompanying press blurb.

As an album it’s got a slightly indie/experimental, lo-fi acoustic vibe to it but the songs are accessible, the melodies hummable and the lyrics thought-provoking. It’s another of those albums that was seemingly conceived during the lockdown. However, the lyrical themes were “informed but not constrained by lockdown” according to their author: thoughts of love, heartbreak, life, death and dreams for the future fill the album’s ten tracks.

The vocals have that melancholy edge in the best of that ‘sensitive singer-song-writer’ tradition but he’s got a likeable and highly engaging voice that gently draws you in. The vocals and acoustic guitar are occasionally punctuated by some slightly other-worldly special effects, vintage keyboard sounds and drum samples.

A really interesting album. I enjoyed this one. Thanks Electric Flea Show, whoever you are.

Released: 4th April 2022 by FR Records

https://theelectricfleashow.bandcamp.com/

Folk: album review – Hannah Rarity ‘To Have You Near’

I had the privilege of reviewing Hannah Rarity’s debut EP, Beginnings, for the now defunct fRoots magazine back in 2016. I predicted hers was a name to watch, Rarity’s voice reminding me of a young Cara Dillon, a comparison it seems a few others went on to make along the way. Since then, she went on to pick up BBC Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year award  in 2018 and release her extremely well-received debut full album, Neath The Gloaming Star, that same year.

Four years later she returns with the follow-up, To Have You Near. The vocals are as captivating as ever and the songs, whether originals or Rarity’s interpretations of others’ material, are always both highly engaging and thought-provoking. With this new album, however, she brings in other influences alongside the expected Scottish folk, with touches of jazz and blues.

Hannah Rarity: “A second album is a daunting task for any artist, and To Have You Near has been born out of a turbulent, difficult time in the world. Which I think is reflected in  the freshly penned songs and my choice of poignant covers. Artistically and stylistically, I wanted it to be an intimate experience for a listener, tackling more complex subject matters along the way and experimenting further with production techniques and sounds – still grounded in traditional folk song but allowing space for other influences to permeate.”

Rarity’s own songs (whether her solo compositions or collaborations with co-songwriter, Gordon Maclean) explore themes such as home, friendship, insecurity and dementia, the latter taking the form of a touching song called ‘Kaleidoscope, based on Rarity’s work bringing music to residents in care homes through the Live Music Now initiative.

Covers include the 19th century parlour song, ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’, a cover of Tom Waite’s ‘Take It With Me’ and Julie Matthews’ ‘Comes The Hour’, originally written for a BBC Radio Ballads documentary.

To Have You Near is produced by long-time collaborator, Innes White, who also provides acoustic guitar, alongside John Lowrie (keyboards), James Lindsey (bass) and Scott McKay (drums and percussion). Lush strings courtesy of Seonaid Aitken, Katrina Lee, Patsy Reid and Alice Allen give the album additional depth and sensitivity.

Still a name to watch and still as captivating as ever, Hannah Rarity has created a thing of beauty with this, her second album.

Released: 3rd June 2022

https://www.hannahrarity.com/

Related reviews:

EP review – Hannah Rarity ‘Beginnings’

Album review – TMSA ‘Young Trad Tour 2018’

Folk: album review – Fraya Thomsen ‘Release’

Harpist, singer and award-winning composer, Fraya Thomsen’s musical roots lie in the Scottish traditional music scene  but she’s equally at home in the world of film and TV, where she has composed music for a number of award-winning short films as well as pieces for contemporary choreographers and multimedia artists.

Release began life as a piece of work entitled Community & Stardust, commissioned for the 2017 Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, but then evolved into a lockdown project with the album being recorded in the participating musicians’ own homes and studios during 2020.

The team of musicians who had originally devised and performed the piece have similarly contributed to the album: Sarah Allen (flute), Shanti Jayasinha (flugelhorn), Colette O’Leary (accordion), Louise McMonagle (cello), James Maddren (drums/percussion) and Cameron Maxwell (bass). Artist, Lucy Cash, has also written the lyrics to one of the songs on the album, ‘Just This Sky Line’ which was also used for a film called A Song For Nine Elms.

Featuring tracks with titles like ‘Save The World’, ‘For The Water Protectors’ and ‘Connected’. It’s perhaps no surprise that there is a strong ecological theme to this album. The twelve tracks are a mixture of songs and tunes and while, unsurprisingly, there are obvious Celtic influences from the folk world, other musical influences make the presence felt, too. ‘Tiger’, for example, is jazz-influenced while other tracks take on a more experimental feel, again perhaps unsurprising, given Thomsen’s work in the world of film as well as folk.

There’s much to appreciate on this album with the contributions of the guest musicians perfectly complimenting Thomsen’s beautiful harp and vocal. What’s more there seems to be more to discover with each repeated listen. Put it on, sit back, soak it all in and quietly contemplate the future of our world  and our connections to one another.

Released: 9th April 2022

http://www.frayathomsen.com/

Folk-rock: album review – Julie July Band ‘Wonderland’

First catching the Julie July Band some five years ago at Warwick Folk Festival and immediately being drawn to their Sandy Denny tribute, I’ve been keeping a keen eye on this band’s progress ever since. Now on to their third album, their first (Who Knows Where The Time Goes) committed the band’s Sandy-themed tribute to disc, while the second (Lady of the First Light) was an album of all-new original material. This latest sees the band writing and performing new material, once more.

The driving duo of Julie July (vocals) and Steve Rezillo (electric guitar/vocals) remain as they have from the very start, with Rezillo also contributing a significant bulk of the songwriting duties. However, there have been a few changes along the way, too. The pair are now joined by Caley Groves (guitar) whose father was Steve Groves, a contemporary of Sandy Denny’s late partner and ex Fotheringay and Fairporter, Trevor Lucas on the Australian folk-rock scene. Also joining them is Dik Cadbury (bass/vocals) who has an impeccable folk-rock pedigree stretching back to his days in Decameron in the 1970s and who has also worked with Steve Hackett. Joining on drums is Mick Candler who began playing in local beat groups in his home city of York back in the early 1960’s, prior to joining the Roll Movement and going on to work with the likes of Decameron, Phil Beer and Steve Knightly. Finally, there is keyboard player and singer-songwriter, Carol Lee Sampson, who contributes keyboards and vocal harmonies on the album.

As with the previous album, all twelve tracks on Wonderland are original songs.

Julie July: “This album is a bit different because the new line-up has five voices so we decided to make more use of these in the songs with harmonies.”

Wonderland represents an evolution of the band in a number of ways. Although the previous album, Lady Of The First Light, was categorically not a Sandy Denny tribute album, her influence was never really very far away. In some ways it felt like a long-lost companion to Sandy Denny’s handful of post-Fotheringay ‘70s solo albums. With Wonderland, however, the band spread their wings further and a more eclectic range of influences are apparent.

It still taps into that rich vein of ‘60s and ‘70s folk rock. But there’s layer upon layer of other influences, too, from prog to blues to polished singer-songwriter to straight-ahead hard rock, and even a hint of Latin here and there. This is a band growing in confidence, reaching into its huge well of collective experience and delivering some fine music, exquisite vocals and harmonies and striking songwriting.  

Lyrical themes range from proggy mystical fantasy (‘Labyrinth’), to grappling with the strange realities of human interaction, post-lockdown (’Wonderland’) to the values of a certain former (thankfully) US President (‘Smoke And Mirrors’). It all adds up to a very pleasing third album from the Julie July Band.

Whether performing Sandy Denny’s songs or their own material, this is a band I always enjoy listening to and, after Covid messed up my usual summer festival plans these past couple of years, I now very much look forward to reconnecting with them live again, too.

Released: May 2022

https://www.juliejuly.co.uk/music

Related posts:

Folk-rock: album review – Julie July Band ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – A Tribute To Sandy Denny

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