Tag Archives: album review

Folk: album review – Green Matthews ‘A Christmas Carol – A Folk Opera’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Following in the footsteps of Fairport Convention’s Babbacombe Lee and Peter Bellamy’s The Transports, Green Matthews’ A Christmas Carol presents itself as a ’folk opera’. With twenty songs stretching over an hour, it retells the tale of Charles Dickens’ renowned Christmas story by putting new lyrics to well-known carols and traditional tunes.

Green Matthews are Chris Green, (vocals, guitar, mandocello, piano, accordion, bass guitar and drums) and Sophie Matthews (vocals, flute and English border bagpipes). For this album they are also joined by Pilgrims’ Way’s Jude Rees who joins the duo on melodeon and oboe.

Musically, the album brings to mind some of the much-celebrated Christmas albums by Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band, with their inventive arrangements of well-known carols and their vast array of different instruments. However, the latter have often spiced up their traditional Christmas fare by delving back in time and unearthing one or two obscure but captivating tunes to accompany the more familiar ones.

Although Green Matthews offer us beautiful, luscious arrangements of well-known tunes, it would perhaps have been nice to have heard a few less familiar ones, as well. One cannot fault the musicianship, however, and it is lovely to hear such tunes played so beautifully on such a well-produced album.

Lyrically, apart from a couple of clumsy lines here and there, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is translated into song in a thoroughly engaging and entertaining way. Vocally, the duo have sought to avoid the twin clichés of the “finger-in-the-ear folk voice” on the one hand and “musical theatre camp” on the other, we are assured in the album’s accompanying publicity. This they certainly achieve and the songs are delivered with sincerity and passion and a complete lack of affectation.

For those looking to expand their festive folk selections this year and wanting something a little different from the plethora of carol anthologies and traditional Christmas songs, this brand new folk opera based on Charles Dickens’ finest may well just do the trick – a worthy addition to any collection.

Released: November 2017

http://www.greenmatthews.co.uk/

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Folk/rock/renaissance: album review – Blackmore’s Night ‘Winter Carols’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Ritchie Blackmore’s move from the hard rock of Rainbow and Deep Purple to the renaissance folk of Blackmore’s Night, with his wife Candice, has always been controversial among rock fans,

When I reviewed the Blackmore’s Night compilation ‘To The Moon And Back’ for Get Ready To ROCK! back in the summer I concluded that in spite of there being much to like in their music I just wished they would exercise a bit more quality control on some of their more obvious material.

For the most part, this CD (a remastering of their 2006 2-CD Christmas album with three additional bonus tracks) definitely falls into that latter category. Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas and in spite of not having a religious bone in my body I do actually enjoy hearing Christmas carols. But when a musician of the calibre of Blackmore puts out an album of Christmas songs I expect him to push the boat out a bit creatively.

Maddy Prior and early music specialists The Carnival Band, for example, have put out some fabulous albums of Christmas music over the years, unearthing obscure 16th century carols or putting together fascinating arrangements of more familiar ones as well as introducing an even more fascinating array of centuries-old instruments.

Most of the arrangements on ‘Winter Carols’, however, are a predictable mix of treacly AOR meets twee medievalism. There are some stand-outs. ‘Wish You Were Here’ (not the Pink Floyd track but a cover of a song by Swedish band Rednex) has Blackmore picking up his electric guitar and beautifully executing some typically Blackmore-esque solos.

There’s also some lovely live versions of ‘Emmanuel’ and ‘We Three Kings’ which work really well but for the most part, I’m afraid, I found this album a bit too twee and a bit too predictable.

Released October 2017

http://www.blackmoresnight.com/

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Related reviews:
Blackmore’s Night – To The Moon & Back
Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – live in Birmingham

Folk: album review – Pilgrims’ Way ‘Stand & Deliver’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Following two previous albums (2011’s Wayside Courtesies and 2016’s Red Diesel) north west-based band Pilgrims’ Way are back with a third. There has been a line-up change since the last one, with Jude Rees now joining Tom Kitching, Edwin Beasant and Jon Loomes, but there has been no let-up in the band’s trademark vigour and verve.

Stand and Deliver is a concept album of sorts, that brings together a selection of traditional highwayman songs, always a rich and enduring source of material in English folk.

The album promises fifty different instruments across its eleven tracks and we hear oboe, bagpipes, flutes, recorders, hurdy gurdy, Jews’ harp, harmonica, concertina and melodeon, to name a few, as well as guitars, bass, drums and percussion.

In addition, the band cite almost as diverse a list of musical genres influencing their interpretations as they do instruments; from classic-era folk rock, through to Madchester, doom metal, disco and West End musicals.

The juxtaposition of the vocals of the three male members of the band alongside new member, Jude Rees, also adds to that sense of variety and contrast.

It is an ambitious project, for sure, and there could be a danger of something like this lacking coherence but the enthusiasm of the band and their combined musical talents definitely carry it through.

Material-wise, there is plenty that many folk fans will be familiar with, but the band definitely put their own stamp on well-known songs like Ibson, Gibson, Johnson and Cadgwith Anthem.

A sonically-menacing Saucy Bold Robber, with an arrangement inspired by a folk take on doom metal with some great vocals from Rees, is also another highlight.

The album finishes up with a spirited, tongue-in-cheek cover of the 1981 chart hit Stand and Deliver. How could any album about dandy highwaymen fail to pay tribute to Adam and the Ants?

Stand and Deliver is an ambitious album that is executed with style and panache. While there are obvious echoes back to some of the folk-rock albums of the classic early 70s period there is also something fresh, innovative and daring about Pilgrims’ Way that make this album a delight to listen to.

Released 20th October 2017

http://www.pilgrims-way.net/

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Folk: album review – Georgia Lewis ‘The Bird Who Sings Freedom’

This review was originally published in the October 2017 issue of fRoots magazine

Georgia Lewis won the 2015 Bromyard Festival ‘Future Of Young Folk’ and she has already packed in a nicely diverse range of projects into her musical CV so far, touring and recording with prog-rock band, Maschine and performing regularly with The Causeway Céilí Band as well as with her own trio, where Felix Miller (guitar) and Rowan Piggott (fiddle) have been accompanying Lewis on vocals and accordeon for the past five years.

‘The Bird Who Sings Freedom’ is Georgia Lewis’s debut album. Joining the regular trio are Tom Sweeney on double bass and Evan Carson on percussion. As well as thoughtful and innovative interpretations of traditional folk songs like Raggle Taggle Gypsies and Wife Of Usher’s Well, Lewis takes an inventive approach to sourcing other material. The title track, and album opener, is based on the words of poet and civil rights activist, Dr Maya Angelou, set to music by Seaford singer, Jerry Jordan, and covered by Lewis. Meanwhile, on True Lover she has a stab at setting an A.E. Houseman poem to music, with some pleasing results.

Until One Day, inspired by the forced separation of her great-grandparents during the war, is Lewis’s one wholly original composition and shows promise as a songwriter in both lyrics and melody.

It is also worth listening out for the fiddle contributions of Rowan Piggott, another rising star of the folk scene who has his own debut solo album out shortly. Piggott plays some suitably authentic-sounding traditional Swedish fiddle accompaniment on his own composition on the album: A Royal Game / Kungsleden.

A delicately expressive voice, Lewis’s final song, the murder ballad Lady Diamond, very much put me in mind of the way Sandy Denny might have approached and re-interpreted a traditional ballad like this. And that has got to be a huge recommendation from my point of view. An album worth checking out and a name worth keeping an eye on.

Released July 2017

http://www.georgialewis.co.uk/

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Folk – album review – Peter Knight’s Gigspanner ‘The Wife Of Urban Law’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Folk rock icon, fiddle supremo and former Steeleye Span-er, Peter Knight, along with the rest of his trio Gigspanner have been busy lately. This is their second new album of the year. First, in the summer came a live album from the expanded line-up of the band (known as the Gigspanner Big Band) and now this autumn the trio release ‘The Wife Of Urban Law’.

For those unfamiliar with Knight’s current outfit (Gigspanner actually began as a side project to Steeleye Span but is now his main focus after leaving his former band four years ago), they veer more towards the folk end rather than the folk-rock end of the spectrum. However, to merely describe them as folk ignores the huge range of musical influences that are at play on a Gigspanner album; from English folk to eastern European, French, Cajun, African and even aboriginal influences.

This latest album continues in that vein and is as expansive and inventive as ever. Knight’s virtuoso fiddle is, of course, an intrinsic part of the overall Gigspanner sound but so, too, is the suitably atmospheric acoustic-electric guitar of Roger Flack and the absolutely spellbinding percussion of new boy, Sacha Trochet, who took over from original conga player, Vincent Salzfaas, recently.

Material-wise, imaginative interpretations of traditional folk songs like ‘Green Gravel’ and ‘Bold Riley’ sit alongside self-penned numbers like the lively ‘Urban’s Reel’ which opens the album and ‘Lament for the Wife of Urban Law’ based on an inscription on a 19th century Oxfordshire gravestone which gives the album its title.

Hypnotic, infectious, inventive and utterly, utterly unique, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner continue to shine and this is yet another superb album from the trio.

Released 31 October 2017

http://www.gigspanner.com/

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Previous reviews:
Gigspanner at Hastings 2017
Gigspanner Big Band at Hastings 2016
Gigspanner ‘Layers of Ages’ album
Steeleye Span in London 2015

Rock/metal: album review – Wicked Stone ‘Ain’t No Rest’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Formed in 2015, Wicked Stone are a British five-piece hard rock metal band, citing influences such as Guns n Roses, Alter Bridge and Black Stone Cherry ‘Ain’t No Rest’ is band’s debut album from Wicked Stone.

The title track is a strong opener. A powerful chugging riff with some nicely melodic lead guitar and a catchy chorus, their music definitely embraces a timeless classic rock feel while the vocals give it a more contemporary edge. ‘Hit It ‘n’ Quit’ It is another stand out track. Big and bombastic with a machine gun-like rhythm section and a Guns N Roses-esque stadium rock chorus, I can imagine this going down well live. ‘Rattleshake’ is another great track with some superb soloing which definitely helps convince you this band has got something going for it.

And in bolstering their classic rock pedigree still further the band can point to their drummer, Olly Smith, who played alongside current Judas Priest guitarist, Ritchie Faulkner, and the daughter of Iron Maiden bass player, Steve Harris, in the Lauren Harris Band. The other members of the band are Joe Hawx (vocals), James Forrister and Ryan Stageman (guitars) and James Amos (bass).

While I am not quite sure all of the songs are memorable enough to immediately pass the singing-in-the-shower test (always the sign of a genuinely classic hard rock record for me) there is, nevertheless, some real promise shown on this album and ‘Ain’t No Rest’ it is a worthy debut.

http://wickedstone.co.uk/

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Metal: album review – Klogr ‘Keystone’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here 

Keystone is the new album from Italian-American alternative metal outfit, Klogr. Some may find the juxtaposition of very melodic, rather proggy instrumentation with grungy, alt-rock vocals something of an acquired taste but there are certainly some strong tunes here.

As with their previous album ‘Black Snow’ environmental themes loom large. Explaining the thinking behind the title, band-leader and vocalist/guitarist Rusty Rustichelli reveals, “Man proclaimed himself the “Keystone” of our system but he is just a guest, a not-essential animal. Without a lot of underestimated living beings, like bees, the cycle of nature would suffer serious damages. The earth without human beings could exist, human beings without the earth, no.”

One of the stand-out tracks is ‘Dark Tides’, dedicated to the marine conservation campaigners, Sea Shepherd, with whom the band have had a long association. Melodic and thoughtful, yet forceful and, at times, downright brutal, it warns in dramatic fashion of the threat posed by the destruction of the ocean ecosystem.

The album has been mixed by triple Grammy winner, David Bottrill, who has an impressive CV, working with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Muse, Smashing Pumpkins, Tool, Dream Theater, Stone Sour and Rush.

Personally, the vocals don’t really work for me but that is not to deny there is some great musicianship on this album along with some compelling song-writing, some powerful lyrics and some quality production. Fans of the band will certainly not be disappointed with ‘Keystone’. ***

Released October 2017

https://www.klogr.net/home/

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Folk/rock/renaissance: album review – Blackmore’s Night ‘To The Moon and Back’

20 years and beyond – 2 CD compilation

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

In spite of being a long-time admirer of Ritchie Blackmore and in spite, also, of a real love of acoustic folk-rock, Blackmore’s post-Rainbow outfit is something that has largely passed me by. Incredibly, it has now been twenty years since Blackmore and his wife, Candice Night, started up the Renaissance outfit Blackmore’s Night. This 26-track double CD gathers tracks from across their various albums, together with some bonus material.

Blackmore and his band of merry minstrels have come in for quite a bit of stick from rock fans over the years, ever since he swapped his Fender for a mandolin. In truth, however, there is a huge amount of variety on this album: from lush, Enya-esque tracks with beautifully atmospheric vocals from Candice Night; to jolly, folksy sing-alongs; to renaissance-inspired instrumental tracks; to straightforward soft rock covers.

For me, some of the material works far better than others. I found songs like ‘Home Again’ a bit twee and cloying, satisfying neither my folk appetite nor my rock appetite. There are, however, plenty of highly listenable tracks in the collection, too. The ones that worked best for me included songs like ‘Somewhere Over The Sea’ which really showcase Night’s vocals in a lush musical setting, as well as some of the instrumental tracks which really showcase Blackmore’s musicianship. Tracks like ‘Minstrel Hall’ build on the baroque-inspired themes that he began to explore in his early Rainbow days. It’s not all acoustic, either. On tracks like ‘Fires at Midnight’ there are some stunning electric guitar solos that put one in mind of early Rainbow. Rainbow fans will also appreciate a nicely done cover of ‘I Surrender’.

Overall, there is much to like in this collection. Blackmore is an incredible musician, regardless of whether he’s playing a Fender, an acoustic guitar or a hurdy-gurdy; while Candice Night is a fine singer with a beautiful voice. I only wish they would exercise a bit more quality control on some of the more obvious material.

Released: August 2017

http://www.blackmoresnight.com/

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Related review:
Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow live at Birmingham 2017

Metal: album review – Liv Sin ‘Follow Me’

My review was originally published on the Get Ready To Rock website here

Formed in Gothenburg in 2002 with a musical agenda promising and delivering “old-school metal” Swedish band, Sister Sin, made six well-received albums before calling it a day in 2015.

However, two years on, lead singer Liv Jagrell (now rebranded as Liv Sin) is back with a new project in the form of “Follow Me” her debut solo album. “For me, it is has never been an option to stop singing,” says Liv. She reassures fans that she has no intention of mellowing as she moves into solo territory. “This will not be some soft pop rock,” she warns. “This is going to be metal deluxe because that’s who I am.”

So what of the results? Certainly, there’s some great tracks on here and Liv’s vocals are as strong and powerful as ever. As with Sister Sin themselves, the album follows in the vein of classic bands like Judas Priest and Accept; combining catchy, memorable choruses with hard, uncompromising, screeching, crunching heavy metal.

Notable tracks include ‘Let Me Out’ with its anthemic chorus, grinding riff and superb guitar solo. ‘Killing Ourselves To Live’ (featuring a guest appearance by Schmeir of Destruction) is also another stand-out and has been released separately as a single. The album ends in power ballad mode with ‘The Beast Inside’ which starts off slow and mellow with some atmospheric keyboard flourishes before really cranking up as it mutates into a full-on metal work-out. A really great finish to the album.

It’s co-produced by former Accept and U.D.O man, Stefan Kaufmann, and U.D.O. bass-player Fitty Weinhold. The band itself is made of Liv Jagrell (vocals), Patrick Ankemark (lead guitar), Per Bjelovuk (drums), Tommie Winther (bass) and Chris Bertzell (guitar).

‘Follow Me’ is an album of good, hard-rockin, memorable metal tunes and a welcome start to a post-Sister Sin solo career. ***1/2

https://www.facebook.com/livsinmusic/

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Folk: album review – Ross Couper & Tom Oakes ‘Fiddle & Guitar’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Ross Couper is from Shetland, known for his incendiary fiddle-playing with Peatbog Faeries amongst others. Tom Oakes is from Devon but has settled in Scotland, too, and as well as being a much-celebrated flautist is also a noteworthy guitarist who has played alongside a number of the big names in contemporary folk.

The two have been playing with one another for almost ten years now and clocked up many, many gigs together but, surprisingly, this is their debut album as a duo. Fiddle & Guitar is exactly what it says: an instrumental album comprising ten tracks of Couper’s fiddle-playing and Oakes’ guitar.

In spite of only two players, two instruments and all tunes (no songs), the first thing to stress is what a varied selection of playing we get on this album. There’s brooding and melancholy, there’s fast and furious, there’s delicate and reflective and much more besides. It means that where other albums in a similar vein start to run the risk of being a little repetitive and samey, however excellent the musicianship, this one never suffers from that.

Not only is the album full of inventive musicianship the duo have got to earn some points, also, for inventive song titles. Sunburn, Man-flu and the Shits has got to be up for some sort of award in this regard, and whatever horrible images it may conjure up it’s actually a very beautiful tune.

The Last Gasp is described as a song without words and the slow, sorrowful fiddle against some gently expressive guitar-playing certainly allows the listener’s imagination to soon formulate a dialogue in their head about what it might be telling us.

Those who have been following Couper & Oakes live will at last be pleased that they finally have something to take away with them. And for anyone else who admires virtuoso musicianship delivered with genuine passion and feeling this is definitely an album worth exploring.

Released: May 2017

http://www.rossandtom.com/

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