Tag Archives: album review

Hard rock: album review – Big River ‘Redemption’

It’s been a long time coming and they’ve whetted our appetite with a handful of singles along the way but Kent-based hard rock outfit Big River have finally released their debut album.

Meaty guitar, soulful vocals, catchy hooks, great solos and chugging rhythm, not to mention some nice touches of harmonica, Redemption has a pleasingly retro feel to it with echoes of some of the great hard rock albums of the early to mid 70s.

Recorded over a two-year period at Rochester’s Ranscombe Studios in Kent under the guidance of producer Jim Riley, close to thirty songs were written for the album but they’ve narrowed it down to nine (ten if you buy the CD which includes a bonus track). Stand-out tracks include Blues Blood Baby, ‘Hometown Hustler’ and ‘Blackened Rain’ – all previously released as singles – alongside the anthemic ‘You Are My Sun’ and the soulful ‘Who Do You Want Me to Be’.

Big River are: Adam Bartholomew (vocals), Damo Fawsett (guitar), Ant Wellman (bass) and Joe Martin (drums). Guitarist, Damo Fawsett, comments: “To capture the energy and chemistry in every track, we record it live, we’re all in the same room playing the songs & that really does make for something special, no click tracks, no gimmicks and very minimal overdubs. What you hear on the recordings is how we sound live on stage.”

Redemption is available in two formats: 10-track CD which includes a CD-only bonus track and as a 9-track album on all digital platforms.

Fans of genuinely classic-era classic rock will find plenty to like on this album.

Released: 16th August 2019 on Trouserphonic

www.facebook.com/bigriverblues

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Related review:

Dave “Bucket” Colwell at Leo’s Red Lion, Gravesend 2016

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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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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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Folk: album review – Rachel Croft ‘Hours Awake’

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

Celtic-influenced melodies, lush instrumentation and pure yet ever-so-sensual vocals serve to make Hours Awake a highly attractive debut album from the York-based singer songwriter. The album collects together songs that Croft has been creating over a three-year period between 2014, when she first started writing, and 2017.

Only Dreams, which was also released as Croft’s debut single back in 2017, is one of the standout tracks on the album. Beautifully atmospheric instrumentation combines with powerful lyrics and captivating vocals in a Sandy-Denny-meets-Kate-Bush sort of way and showcases Croft’s considerable vocal range. Opening track, the moody and haunting Old Climbing Tree is another stunner. In addition to Croft, herself, on acoustic guitar a group of talented musicians contribute to making this album something special. The playing of Emlyn Vaughan on double bass, Rachel Brown on cello and Emily Lawler is particularly noteworthy.

Nicely packaged and beautifully illustrated the inside cover-art features some of Croft’s own striking black and white pen and ink work.

The album is not quite perfect. Some slightly weird production mars the second track Hear Me somewhat and the final track Can’t Replace Your Perfect, a big, soulful, gospel-tinged number stands up perfectly well on its own and certainly helps demonstrates the vocalist’s versatility but seems a little out of place here. Nonetheless, Hours Awake is a beautifully impressive debut from a talented vocalist, musician and songwriter.

Released: 8th February 2019

https://rachelcroftmusic.com/

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