Tag Archives: album review

Singer-songwriter: album review – Garnett Betts ‘Highfield’

Canadian singer-songwriter Garnett Betts‘ work springs from a folk/roots sensibility but there is no shortage of other influences, too, from jazz to blues to country to easy listening. With Highfield, his latest album, the result is some compelling story-telling in the best singer-songwriter tradition mixed in with some cool, laid-back jazz-tinged piano.

Featuring Betts on vocals, guitar and penny whistle, the album also includes Rick May on bass, Karel Roessingh on piano and keys and Alex Campbell on hand percussion.

“I definitely think that an up beat and more energetic feel runs through this album than my past work,” says Betts.

Betts’ story-telling really comes to the fore on ‘Smart Guys Don’t Fade Away’ described as a tale of unsolicited advice from youth through to maturity and one of the stand-out tracks on the album.

‘Farther On’ one of the two instrumentals on the album takes on a more overt folky feel with some atmospheric penny whistle giving the track something of a Celtic touch.

The more upbeat ‘Rendezvous’ meanwhile, with its catchy melody and slightly bluesy feel, immediately puts me in mind of one of those classic, mid 70s albums with that sun-kissed, west coast vibe and is another stand-out track.

A singer-songwriter with plenty to say and a diverse set of musical influences distilled into an interesting and coherent album. Check it out.

https://garnettbetts.com/

Folk: album review – Rura ‘Live At The Old Fruitmarket’

Recorded live at a home-town gig in the month before lock-down commenced, Glasgow’s folk instrumentalists Rura celebrate their tenth anniversary with this brand new live album. Live At The Old Fruitmarket documents Rura’s performance for a 1,200-strong crowd on the final day of the Celtic Connections festival back in February.

The foursome – Steven Blake (pipes and keys), Jack Smedley (fiddle), David Foley (flute and bodhran) and Adam Brown (guitar) are joined by former, past collaborators and long-time musical friends to celebrate the band’s decade of music-making. The concert includes guest slots for the band’s former singer and songwriter Adam Holmes, who contributes two songs, and guitarist Chris Waite in addition to other musicians, including Ali Hutton (Treacherous Orchestra) and James Lindsay (Braebach).

Fiddler, Jack Smedley, reflects: “Over the past ten years we have made incredible friends, made ridiculous memories and played a few tunes along the way! We want to thank everyone who joined us on stage that night at The Old Fruitmarket as well as every single person who has come to see us. We had a blast!”

Capturing some of the magic and atmosphere of what was clearly a very special night, the band and their guests are fizzing with energy as they revisit highlights from their back catalogue.

From fast and furious to melancholy and mournful anyone with a love of Scottish pipes and fiddle is going to love this album. And for anyone who was lucky enough to experience this as one of their last gigs before lock-down they are almost certainly going to want to purchase it as a memento of that evening.

Released 11th September 2020

https://www.rura.co.uk/

Folk: album review: Rakoczy ‘Frontrunner’

This review was originally published by Bright Young folk here

From traditional horse fairs, to the wooden ’obby ’oss, to the racehorse, to more mystical creatures, the horse has been an enduring fixture in traditional folk song. Racokzy brings such songs together in an inspired and ambitious approach for her debut album.

Rakoczy, full name Fruzsina Zsofia Rakoczy, was born in Budapest but has lived most of her life in Manchester. Coming to folk music via the Euro dance scene and local sessions, she sings and plays recorder, concertina and bagpipes, all of which can be heard on the album.

The album draws together traditional favourites like Skewbald, Poor Old Horse and Creeping Jane along with covers from the likes of US singer-songwriter Tucker Zimmerman and pastoral prog rockers Jethro Tull, in addition to a couple of originals.

In her biography Rakoczy cites influences as diverse as British and European traditional song, early music, classic rock, gothic and steampunk and draws inspiration from artists like Tom Waits, Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga, David Bowie and Joan Jett. With a versatile vocal delivery and excellent musical accompaniment, the spectrum of emotions, moods and influences the artist and her backing band take us on over the course of this album is an exhilarating ride.

From the powerful bagpipe and drumming arrangements which lend atmosphere to opening track Hooden Horse, a Kentish calling-on song celebrating the parade of the wooden hobby horse through the streets of Broadstairs, to the sparse and mournful guitar and vocal arrangement on Little Dun Dee collected from septuagenarian Gypsy traveller Mary Anne Haynes in the 1970s, there is plenty for the traditional folk enthusiast to fall in love with on this album.

For their cover of Zimmerman’s Taoist Tale meanwhile, Rakoczy and her band, the Horror Show, channel the spirit of Mancunian indie favourites The Stone Roses. The album ends with a little bit of folk rock – not the late 60s variety but a blast of 1950s rock and roll as the traditional song Dead Horse is repurposed as a vintage electric guitar romp, a glorious and fitting tribute to our equine friends everywhere.

Quirky, inspired and creative Frontrunner is a superb debut and Rakoczy will most definitely be a name to watch out for.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Musician-Band/Rakoczy-Music-101253771590149/

Folk/singer-songwriter: album review – Saskia ‘Are You Listening’

Crystal clear vocals and songs that veer between folk and country with just a sprinkling of smooth slightly jazz-influenced pop Are You Listening is the latest release from London-based singer-songwriter, Saskia Griffiths-Moore.

The first of two-album deal with Suzanne Marcus Collins Foundation, it includes re-workings from her back catalogue as well as two brand new songs and a Leonard Cohen cover.

Whether or not you are familiar with her back catalogue Saskia turns in some fine renditions of her older material here, backed by David Ian Roberts (guitar), Thomas Holder (double bass), Ali Petrie (piano) and Gabriella Swallow (cello) giving the whole album a gorgeously mellow acoustic feel. Of the brand new songs both the optimistic and upbeat ‘Best of You’ and the sad and wistful ‘Come Comfort Me’ compliment the older material nicely.

I do like Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ and here Saskia sings it well. However, I’m not sure it’s entirely essential on this album given there are so many Cohen songs that haven’t been covered quite so many times. Never mind, she does sing it superbly.

A beautifully-recorded album and a fine showcase for Saskia’s burgeoning talents as a singer-songwriter – yes: we’re listing. An impressive album.

Released: 31st July 2020

Saskia

https://www.saskiagm.com/

Folk/singer-songwriter: album review – Virginia Kettle ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’

Virginia Kettle’s vocals have been a key element of of Merry Hell’s sound since the band’s inception a decade ago. Before joining her husband John, brothers-in-law Bob and Andrew, and sundry others in the eight-piece folk-rock outfit, however, she’d established herself as a singer-songwriter in her own right. As Virginia Barrett, she released two solo albums: ‘The Quiet Bridge’ and ‘Sense of Human’ prior to joining the band. No Place Like Tomorrow is her first solo album since Merry Hell began, however.

It’s a more intimate affair than a typical Merry Hell album, both in terms of personnel and in terms of subject matter. The songs have far less of an obvious political tone than many Merry Hell songs and here Kettle tends to touch on more personal matters: love, relationships, family life. ‘Union Jack House’ is the most political song on the album but is structured and delivered in a way that has surprising echoes of Victoria Wood (with a little bit of Are You Being Served thrown in!)

Fans of Merry Hell will already be familiar with the title track, given it appeared on their 2015 album The Ghost in Our House and Other Stories, sung by Andrew, was reworked for their 2018 album Anthems to the Wind, sung by Virginia, and is now reworked once again. A beautifully tender, less anthemic and more delicate rendering than before, this is now the definitive version in my view.

Although Kettle is not backed by the full band she is, at various points, supported by the Hell’s fiddle-player Neil McCartney, bass-player Nick Davies and her guitarist husband John Kettle. Indeed, on a couple of tracks the stripped-back, more intimate feel of the solo album really allows McCartney’s elegant fiddle-playing to take centre-stage: the title track and ‘Valentine’s Waltz’. For me, that tailor-made combination of Kettle’s vocals and McCartney’s fiddle make these two of the real stand-out tracks on the album.

A mellower and more personal offering than a Merry Hell release No Place Like Tomorrow is a charming album that showcases Virginia Kettle’s obvious talents as a singer-songwriter.

Released: 12th July 2020

http://www.vkandthedreamkeepers.com/

http://www.merryhell.co.uk

Related posts:

‘Emergency Lullaby’ Merry Hell’s song for action when we’re mired in apathy

‘Sister Atlas’ new single Merry Hell salutes those taking climate action

‘Leave It In The Ground’ – Merry Hell release climate call to action

DVD review: Merry Hell ‘A Year In The Life’

Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

Folk: album review – The Wilderness Yet

It’s sometimes hard to keep up with the constantly-shifting formations of stellar young talent on the contemporary folk scene as new duos, trios and ad-hoc collaborations are announced each month. The debut album from the latest such trio, however, is something to get genuinely excited about. The singer and former Young Folk Award finalist Rosie Hodgson has joined forces with fiddle-player Rowan Piggott and guitarist/flautist Philippe Barnes.

Named after a line from a Gerard Manley-Hopkins poem The Wilderness Yet combine exceptional musicianship with deft creativity to present us with this lovely collection of songs and tunes. Mainly self-composed with a handful of reworkings of more traditional pieces, the writing talents of all three are in evidence.

A quick glance through the titles on the beautifully-packaged CD will be enough to tell you that there’s a bit of an environmental theme going on here. Indeed, the aforementioned Manley Hopkins poem ‘Inversnaid’ acts as something of a manifesto for the trio:

“What would the world be once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wilderness and wet;
Long live the weeds, and the wilderness yet.”

As well as furnishing the trio with their name, the poem – set to music by Piggott – provides the album with its title track. Coming right at the end it’s one of the highlights on a very strong album. There’s also another chance to hear Piggott’s rallying anthem for our dwindling bee population ‘Queen & Country’ a song that appeared on his excellent solo album Mountscribe back in 2017, this time sung by Hodgson. Her own ‘The Beauties of Autumn’ and the a capella ‘In A Fair Country’ similarly celebrate the beauty of our natural world and showcase both Hodgson’s song-writing and vocal gifts. Piggott’s and Barnes’s tune-sets are also a joy to listen to, their fiddle and flute-playing helping create some suitably evocative imagery.

A cause very close to my heart Rosie Hodgson, Rowan Piggott and Philippe Barnes have created a beautiful homage to our precious but threatened natural world with The Wilderness Yet. Highly recommended.

Released: 24th July 2020

thewildernessyet.com/

Glam-punk: album review: Tiny Bit of Giant’s Blood ‘Gigantosaur’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Following ‘Dram A’ a five-track EP released back in 2018 Gigantosaur is the debut full-length album from US-based self-styled glam punks Tiny Bit Of Giant’s Blood. A curious but likeable album from this gloriously eccentric bunch, the likes of Queen, Bowie and Van Halen are hailed as influences. Such influences are clearly evident but there’s also plenty of Ramones-style attitude and a sprinkling of over the top Tubes-style outlandishness and some Mott-style craziness that gives the album that punk edge.

Tiny Bit Of Giant’s Blood are Tony Rogers – vocals/keyboards, John Scholvin – guitar/vocals, Jackie Schimmel – bass/vocals, and Larry Beers – drums/vocals.

‘Girl Over Here’ is one of the stand-out tracks and one of those where the glam influences are most obvious. Punchy and hook-laden, it put me in mind of Transformer-era Lou Reed with early Stooges-style attitude and Queen-esque backing vocals. One of the more out and out punk tracks is the wonderfully off-the-wall ‘Mick Jagger Carries My Boots’. The album also includes a raggedly anarchic cover of ‘If You Want Blood’ which manages to sound absolutely nothing like AC/DC yet manages to sound inspired. If you’re going to do a cover an all-time classic rock song there’s absolutely no point in making it sound like a copy of the original so they just take this brilliantly-written song, ignore what was recorded originally and apply their own unique formula. They pretty much pull it off.

Gigantosaur is definitely something a little different. Taking a sideways look at some great elements of rock history and coming up with something quirky, fun and just that bit crazy do check out Tiny Bit of Giant’s Blood.

Released: 22nd May 2020 by Jumbo Records

https://www.tinybitofgiantsblood.com/

Americana/singer-songwriter: album review – John Jenkins ‘Growing Old (Songs From My Front Porch)’

John Jenkins is a well-known figure on the Liverpool music scene, once part of cult eighties band ‘The Persuaders’ but in recent years it’s been solo performances as a singer-songwriter or fronting his own band John Jenkins & the James Street Band. Two well-received independently-released albums ‘Window Shopping in Nashville’ and ‘Looking For That American Dream’ are now followed up with this latest release: ‘Growing Old (Songs From My Front Porch)’.

Inspired to write a selection of songs that could be performed solo, Jenkins reveals in the sleeve-notes that the working title for the album was initially ‘Songs for the Open Mic’. Thankfully, someone else suggested the slightly more Nashville, slightly less Norris Green title of ‘Songs From The Front Porch’. I don’t really care whether he’s got a porch or not to be honest – even if it’s only a metaphorical one it suits the feel of the album.

“I really wanted to record a selection of intimate songs that could resonate with the listener,” he says. “Stories of life, family, friends, good times, sad times, loss and happiness..”

All self-composed (bar one co-written with LA-based Kendra Boardman that emerged out of a songwriting retreat) the songs on the album explore those familiar themes of love, ageing, loss and loneliness. Jenkins’ lyrics have a nice turn of phrase to them and he can clearly turn out some really, strong memorable melodies, too.

Highlights include opening track (and the song that gives the album its name) ‘Growing Old’. Its contemplative mood and laid-back Americana feel sets the tone for the rest of the album rather nicely. Other highlights include the melancholic ‘Heartlands’ and the aforementioned co-write ‘This Mountain Between Us’ – performed here as a gorgeous duet with old friend Siobhan Maher-Kennedy taking us into classic country territory.

While the music might have a strong Americana feel to it Jenkins eschews a faux-American delivery and sings resolutely in his own voice. While I wouldn’t say he’s necessarily got the most distinctive of voices there’s a warm, engaging honesty about it that just works so perfectly for material like this.

Since Growing Old popped through my letterbox the other week I’ve been growing more and more fond of it. A fine album.

Released: 15th May 2020

https://johnjenkinsmusic.com/

Americana/folk: album review – Johnny Steinberg ‘Shadowland’

There have been some excellent new Americana releases dropping through my letterbox and into my CD player these past few months. Shadowland by Johnny Steinberg is no exception. With a name like that, songs that tell tales of heartbreak, cheap whiskey and Jesus, not to mention some deliciously effortless musicianship that just seems to ooze Nashville, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Mr Steinberg hails not from Nashville but from Norfolk (at least these days – although he’s from Yorkshire originally). What surprised me even more, however, was learning that Shadowland is, in fact, Steinberg’s debut album.

Outstanding songs, exquisitely well-played and beautifully sung this album radiates such class that I’m still getting my head around the fact it’s a debut album.

Steinberg takes up the story:

“If you had said to me eight years ago when I left my job, started songwriting and learned finger-style guitar that only five years later I would be recording in the US and UK to produce an album of my own songs I’d have said you were bonkers.”

Steinberg’s heart-warming story of his journey to Nashville and how he came to record an album with the likes of Boo Hewerdine (The Bible/ State of the Union) and Kira Small (Willie Nelson/ Garth Brooks/ Martina McBride) and other brilliant musicians is recounted in the extensive booklet that accompanies the beautifully packaged CD.

Steinberg has been gigging, either solo or with his band Johnny Steinberg and the Blue Fish, for some time now, garnering support slots with the likes of Graham Gouldman, Dave Swarbrick, Kathryn Williams and Reg Meuross. He is thoroughly deserving of the wider attention this album will surely bring him. Shadowland is pure class from start to finish.

Released: 4th July 2020

https://www.facebook.com/JohnnySteinbergMusic/

Rock/Americana: album review – Lee Gallagher & The Halleluja ‘L.A. Yesterday’

Taking inspiration from that the likes of The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Buffalo Springfield, Lee Gallagher lays out his own take on that cosmic California sound with his latest album L.A. Yesterday. It’s all majestic-sounding piano, nifty guitar licks and laid-back California vibes. With Gallagher’s emotive, highly expressive vocals (he’s been compared to everyone from Steve Marriott, to Tom Petty to Neil Young) and his not inconsiderable songwriting skills it makes for an instantly appealing mix.

The music I play is always centred on rock and roll,” Gallagher reflects. “It’s very much rooted in what was a period of awakening – the late 60s/early 70s. So many obscure artists. So many mega artists. Just a lot of great art.”

Gallagher began his singing career in the bars of Southern Ohio but making the move from the mid-west to the sunshine state he soaked up those west coast influences and eventually put together a band, The Hallelujah. An EP and a full-length album followed and, with a slight shift in personnel, L.A. Yesterday is the outfit’s third release.

Recorded at Palomino Sound, a vintage 70s Los Angeles studio, Lee Gallagher (vocals, guitar, banjo, harmonica) is joined by long-time collaborators Kirby Hammel (keyboards) and Jimmy Dewald (bass) along with new additions Jason Soda (lead guitar, slide guitar, acoustic guitar, 12 string guitar, mandolin and Hammond organ) and Will Scott (drums).

Combining elements of psychedelia, Americana and good old rock and roll L.A. Yesterday is a luscious slice of vintage California. As Gallagher says: “Play it very loud rolling down the highway or simply melting into your favourite chair.”

Released: 24th July 2020

https://www.leegallaghermusic.com/