Tag Archives: album review

Folk: album review – Peter Knight & John Spiers ‘Both In A Tune’

First brought together for a one-off performance at the FolkEast festival back in 2016, the pairing of Peter Knight and John Spiers proved to be an inspired match. An album and a tour followed and Spiers’ famed melodeon even made its way into the expanded version of Knight’s acclaimed Gigspanner project. The pair are now back with a second duo album, however.

Both In A Tune, taken from a line in Shakespeare’s As You Like It (“I’ faith, i’ faith; and both in a tune, like two gypsies on a horse”) is the follow-up album to 2018’s Well Met.

While no-one would have expected these two to have played it safe, the inventiveness of this latest album is simply stunning. Even though the album starts off with something as widely known as that old favourite in the repertoire of every pub folkie ever since the revival, namely ‘Scarborough Fair’, within a few bars they’ve taken us to places we’ve barely even contemplated.

Peter Knight: “Since recording our first album, John and I have far more experience of playing together. With Both In A Tune I felt it was important to push the boundaries further, without forsaking the integrity of the tune itself. Combining my interest in folk music and free improvisation is not always easy, but I feel the endeavor is absolutely necessary for the world of music. It’s probably more risky but I believe it’s a risk well worth taking.”

The risk-taking has certainly paid off. Like the previous album it’s an entirely instrumental affair, containing a mix of the duo’s interpretations of traditional tunes and their own compositions. But whereas the previous album provided a platform for the pair to let rip on a number of jaunty Morris-inspired tunes, this one is an altogether darker, broodier and more experimental affair. It’s all rather magnificent and acts as an exhilarating showcase for the breath-taking interaction between the world-class fiddle-player and the world-class melodeon player. Wonderful stuff.

Released: 11th February 2022

https://www.peterknight.net/shop/details/both-in-a-tune

Gigspanner at Hastings 2021

Gigspanner at Hastings 2017

Gigspanner Big Band at Hastings 2016

Gigspanner ‘Layers of Ages’ album

Steeleye Span in London 2015

Gigspanner at Hastings 2015

Gigspanner at Whitstable 2014

Singer-songwriter: album review – Garnett Betts ‘Moonlight Door’

Following his 2020 album Highfield (reviewed here), Canandian singer-songwriter, Garnett Betts, has a new album out. Like its predecessor, this latest offering Moonlight Door is another pleasingly eclectic selection of original songs rounded off with a couple of instrumentals.

“The thread of story is always central to my love of songwriting, and often the twill is spun from my observance of a friend, the village that surrounds us, or a personal event,” says Betts. “Gone Like The Wind is my telling of a friend’s life with his band-mates, who would throw their gear and a generator in the van and head out to the Joshua Tree Forest, from their regular house gig at the Starwood in L.A., to play in the desert for a day or two. Though his recounting of those days was richly detailed, I found that I could only ‘speak’ of it from the point of view of my imagined and mystified listeners in the desert.

With his laid-back country-tinged, bluesy vocal delivery and influences that take in rock, jazz and blues, Betts makes for a compelling storyteller. He’s also a fine guitarist, too. Top-notch musical back-up courtesy of acclaimed jazz pianist Karel Roessingh (piano and keyboards), Rick May (bass) and Sascha Enns (hand percussion) makes for a highly listenable package. Beautiful original cover art is provided by Lorraine Thorarinson Betts. Once again, another fine album from Mr Betts and well worth checking out.

Released: December 2021

Available via: https://garnettbetts.com/

Related review:

Album review – Garnett Betts ‘Highfield’

This week’s featured artist: singer-songwriter Owen Moore – new sixteen-track compilation out

Based in Bournemouth on England’s south coast, Owen Moore is an Irish-born singer-songwriter. I reviewed his 2021 album Fireside Songs last year and Owen has kindly sent me his latest: Sixteen Easy Songs For Voice & Guitar.

A prolific songwriter with an extensive back catalogue, this latest album is actually a compilation with highlights drawn from Owen’s ten previous albums which span the period 2011-2021.

Doing exactly what it says on the tin, Sixteen Easy Songs For Voice & Guitar serves as a welcome introduction to anyone wanting to familiarise themselves with Owen Moore’s work. It’s just Owen, his voice, his songs and his guitar but it makes for a fine album.

Serving up folk-infused acoustic Americana, Moore’s wistful, easy-going delivery and thoughtful, introspective lyrics are allied with instantly catchy melodies that owe something towards pop sensibilities, too.  

The full track listing for Sixteen Easy Songs For Voice & Guitar is as follows:

  1. Round And Round
  2. She’s Still Wearing Blue
  3. Hang Around With You
  4. The Blue Notes
  5. Walking With That Girl Of Mine
  6. Voices In My Head
  7. All The Time In The World
  8. Home In The Rain
  9. I Don’t Play My Guitar On A Sunday
  10. Night Lights
  11. One Sweet Day
  12. Cruel Imagination
  13. In A Song
  14. Somewhere Near
  15. Unfaithful Moonlight
  16. Riverbank

Released: September 2021

The album, and others, are available via Owen Moore’s website in CD and digital formats.

http://www.owenmooremusic.com/

Related post:

Album review – Owen Moore ‘Fireside Songs’

Folk: album review – Beinn Lee ‘DEÒ’

Formed in 2013, Beinn Lee are a six-piece band from Uist in the Outer Hebrides. Two-and-a-half years in the making, the band’s second album, DEÒ, follows their debut, OSGARRA, released back in 2018.

While DEÒ contains a number of the band’s interpretations of traditional songs and tunes, it also showcases some brand-new original compositions, too, in both English and Gaelic. Musically, too, the album combines the traditional sounds of pipes, flute, fiddle and accordion with more contemporary influences. And the result is a stunningly vibrant synthesis of the traditional and the modern. Infectious modern beats jostle with the long-revered sounds of Gaelic folk to produce something that is fresh, vibrant and instantly moreish.

“The feeling of returning to music in 2021 highlighted the band’s roots with traditional tunes and bringing people together to dance,” say Beinn Lee. “That fundamental aspect of the band’s music is part of DEÒ and compliments lots of new material borne out of the band’s strong ambition to drive Gaelic music forward in new ways.”

The band are Micheal Steele, Pàdruig Morrison, Mairi Thérèse Gilfedder, James Stewart, Anna Black, and Seoras Lewis. They’ve been able to bring a strongly-held inheritance in Gaelic song and west coast pipe music with being open to more diverse contemporary influences, too, meaning they are now a much in-demand live act, from festivals to weddings.

Taking a break from catching up with new folk releases these past few weeks while I finished my latest book, this has been a stunning album to come back to. I absolutely love it!

Released: 17th December 2021

https://www.beinnlee.com/

Album reviews: four recent solo releases from the extended Uriah Heep family

Going online to treat myself to the newly-released CD from former Uriah Heep singer, Pete Goalby, I ended up having one of those “customers who viewed this also viewed these” impulse purchase experiences. Before I knew it I had, not one, but four recently-released CDs from the extended Uriah Heep family popping through my letterbox, three of these being released posthumously.

The four albums are My Book of Answers by Ken Hensley (Heep keyboard player 1969-80), Eleventeen from Lee Kerslake (Heep drummer from 1971-79 and 1981-2007), Sail The Rivers by Trevor Bolder (Heep bass-player from 1976-81 and 1983-2013) and Easy With The Heartaches from Peter Goalby (Heep vocalist from 1981-85). If you’re simply looking for a replication of classic-era Uriah Heep, don’t expect that from any of these releases but there’s lots to like here for any dedicated Heep fan.

Taking them in turn, My Book of Answers was released back in March 2021 just a few months after Hensley’s sad and unexpected death in November 2020. A strong and consistent album it stands up well against Hensley’s other solo material. Showcasing some heavy, sweeping, majestic-sounding tracks, the genesis of the album lay in a collaboration with Russian poet and Hensley fan, Vladimir Emelin which came out of a chance encounter at an airport. Once Emelin’s words were translated, Hensley set about putting them to music. There’s a spiritual theme to many of the lyrics but it never gets too happy-clappy for an avowed atheist like me. I never believed in demons or wizards and that never put me off Hensley’s songs either. My Book of Answers is a classy album and a joyous farewell from a superbly talented songwriter and musician.

Similarly, I really wanted to enjoy Lee Kerslake’s album. Released in February last year Kerslake began work on Eleventeen back in 2015. In spite of battling terminal cancer the self-produced album was a labour of love and was finally completed in 2019. Sadly Kerslake passed away in September 2020 and, like Hensley’s, the album had to be released posthumously. Now, some drummers, such as Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, have proved themselves to be talented singer-songwriters. A singer the late Lee Kerslake was not, sadly. He really struggles on this album and it’s not a comfortable listen, particularly when he attempts to take on Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend. Ranging from soft rock balladry to lively rockers to a big emotive theatrical number and even a jocular Chas and Dave style singalong, Eleventeenth is an eclectic mix for sure. Making it was clearly very important to Lee Kerslake and his special way of saying goodbye. There’s a beautifully poignant, heartfelt tribute from Uriah Heep’s Mick Box in the sleeve-notes. For taht reason I’m really pleased that Kerslake was able to do this album even if it’s something I’m not likely to listen to very often.

Although Trevor Bolder passed away in 2013 Sail The Rivers, the solo album he worked on in the year leading up to his death, was finally released in 2020. With the blessing of his family, friends of his stepped in to complete it. Packaged in a very evocative Roger Dean-esque cover artwork, Bolder’s solo album is probably the closest to Uriah Heep of the four reviewed here – including, as it does, contributions from both Mick Box and Lee Kerslake as well as containing a number of Bolder’s compositions that had previously appeared on Heep releases. In parts it’s actually quite a bit heavier than the average Heep album and, unlike Uriah Heep, keyboards are avoided with the emphasis placed firmly much on guitars rather than the trademark Hammond-meets-guitar sound. In contrast to Kerslake’s album, Bolder’s makes considerable use of the vocal skills of a guest vocalist in Derk Gallagher, who sings lead on five of the ten tracks. Sail The Rivers is a wonderfully strong album and a fine tribute to the ex-Spider from Mars and long-time Heep bassist.

The most recent release of the four is Peter Goalby’s Easy With The Heartaches which came out towards the end of 2021. The album was recorded before any of the others here though, with tracks laid down in 1990 but lying unreleased until now. Sonically, it can be seen very much as a natural continuation to the trio of albums that Goalby released with Heep: Abominog, Head First and Equator. This was in the period when Heep had moved away from their signature early 70s, Hammond-heavy proggish hard rock and embraced a more modern, melodic 80s sound. You’ll find similar on this album and the songs were written just after Golaby left Heep. Unlike Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake, Goalby’s post-Heep life always enveloped in a degree of mystery. Rumours abounded that his voice was completely shot and he could perform no more. In truth, he had just decided to pursue a different career path. As Goalby says in the sleeve-notes: “I think that they are some of my best work. I hope you like them too… and just for the record, my voice did not give up. I did.” There are some really strong melodic hard rock tunes here with Goalby in fine voice. It’s good to have this album finally seeing the light of day. And, what’s more, after so many tragedies in the Heep camp in recent years (former singer John Lawton is another who passed away last year) it’s reassuring to still have Goalby here with us and releasing such excellent music.

July Morning – a fifty-year-old British rock song and an annual celebration of summer in Bulgaria

Uriah Heep, London 2014

Uriah Heep at Giants of Rock 2018

Uriah Heep, Bexhill 2019

Folk: album review – Freedom to Roam ‘The Rhythms of Migration’

Drawing parallels between the age-old patterns of migration in the animal kingdom and the experiences of modern humans in today’s increasingly fraught world, acclaimed classically-trained flautist Eliza Marshall has brought together a collection of top-flight musicians to create the Freedom To Roam project. Under the banner The Rhythms of Migration the album comprises fourteen specially-commissioned instrumental pieces symbolising, celebrating and capturing migratory journeys.

Conceived as both a humanitarian and an environmental project it explores themes such as climate change, environmental destruction, rewilding, conflict and displacement.

Eliza Marshall: “This album approaches the interconnected challenges of climate change, environmental destruction and human displacement within the context of our needs for freedom, empathy and hopefulness. It’s the starting point to an all-encompassing project that aims to change our understanding of nature, wildness and our pivotal role in the future of life on this planet.”

Melding folk and classical influences to produce a collection of stunning and evocative soundscapes the project can boast a stellar cast of players:

 Kuljit Bhamra – Tabla, electronic tanpura

Joby Burgess – Percussion

Evan Carson – Additional bodhran

Catrin Finch – Harp, piano

Robert Irvine – Cello

Eliza Marshall – Flutes, whistles, bansuris

Andrew Morgan – Additional percussion and synth

Lydia Lowndes-Northcott – Viola

Dónal Rogers – Bass, guitars, piano, percussion, vocals

Jackie Shave – Violin, piano

Virginia McKenna, icon of wildlife conservation, and the project she founded the Born Free Foundation emerged as champions of the project and as well as the album it also includes a documentary film and a special launch concert at Cecil Sharp House on 18th December.

Gentle, stirring, dramatic, haunting and utterly immersive Freedom To Roam: The Rhythms of Migration is a wonderfully evocative collection of music that will take all but the most stone-hearted of us on a quite magical journey.

Released: 26th November 2021

Visit website here

#FolkForChristmas the top 10 folk / acoustic / Americana albums of 2021 on Darren’s Music Blog

The #FolkForChristmas hashtag came about last year as a means of supporting artists whose income had been hit by the impact of the pandemic, with people being encouraged to support independent artists and, in particular, order directly from them this Christmas rather than head off to Amazon. In putting this list of recommendations together I’ve again used the not exactly scientific method of ranking them in order according to the number of hits each of these reviews received on my website.

No. 1: Ninebarrow – A Pocket Full of Acorns

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.

Full review here

No. 2: 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. 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’.

Full review here

No. 3: John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies – Divine Life of Punarvasu

Swedish singer-songwriter-instrumentalist, Peter Danielsson, had spent time on the road performing in a variety of different outfits. Around a decade ago he felt it was time to go solo and that a change in musical direction was in order. He bought himself a banjo, taught himself to play clawhammer (the distinctive banjo playing style common to a lot of old-time American music) and reinvented himself as bluegrass performer, John Edwin.

Full review here

No. 4: Màiri MacMillan – Gu Deas

The themes range from mythical creatures to long lost love to banishment to battle laments. An especially poignant moment is at the end of the first song ‘Wily Margaret’ where a few verses from an original field recording of the song, now in the custody of National Trust for Scotland, are spliced into MacMillan’s own version. A beautifully-made album that will find a suitable home with anyone who has a love for Gaelic songs and traditions.

Full review here

No. 5: Milton Hide – Temperature’s Rising

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.

Full review here

No. 6: Seth Lakeman – Make Your Mark

The album is not a leap into the dark musically but from his early days as ‘the poster boy of English folk’ through to now, Seth Lakeman’s albums have demonstrated a quality and consistency in delivering fine folk songs, superb musicianship and those instantly-recognisable vocals. Fans will not be disappointed.

Full review here

No. 7: Sons of the Never Wrong – Undertaker’s Songbook

Formed in Chicago almost thirty years ago Sons of the Never Wrong are an alt-folk trio with a signature sound of soaring harmonies and lush acoustic arrangements built around  of thoughtful, witty song-writing. Their ninth studio album, Undertaker’s Songbook is something of a celebratory release as  the band approach their 30th anniversary.

Full review here

No. 8: Fine Lines – Deadbeat Lullabies

Put together by singer-songwriter David Boardman back in 2016 there’s harmony vocals, exquisite pedal steel, infectious fiddle, great melodies and heartfelt lyrics. The song-writing is a joint endeavour between Boardman, who cooked up the tunes and the band’s drummer, BBC presenter and all-round music maestro, Mark Radcliffe, who came up with the lyrics. Radcliffe proves himself to be a talented lyricist. His observational storytelling perfectly captures the overall mood that the album evokes.

Full review here

No. 9: Ronan Gallagher – Time Waits For No One

Ronan Gallagher has the sort of rich, seasoned, easy-going vocal delivery that makes it sound like’s he’s been performing around the pubs and bars of Ireland for decades. Married to some irresistibly catchy melodies, some thoughtful every-man style lyrics and a great cast of supporting musicians who deliver a fine blend of Celtic-infused Americana, it’s a sure-fire winner. Incredibly, however, Gallagher did not begin singing or learning to play the guitar until just over five years ago.

Full review here

No. 10: Honey and The Bear – Journey Through The Roke

Honey and The Bear are folk duo and singer-songwriters Lucy and Jon Hart. The Suffolk-based couple originally met at a song-writing event, began writing and performing together and spent several years touring the folk circuit before releasing their debut album Made in Aker, back in 2019. Journey Though the Roke is the follow-up, ‘Roke being an old East Anglian word for the evening mist that rises from the region’s marshes and water meadows.

Full review here

Related post:

#FolkForChristmas Top Ten 2020

Folk: album review – The Story Song Scientists ‘Quantum Lyrics’

Ever since the folk revival began packing hordes of rather studious-looking, tweed-clad young men and women into the back rooms of pubs in the late 1950s, the folk genre has never exactly been ashamed of the more geeky side of its persona. And while the whole concept of a folk singer-songwriter duo turning out songs about mathematics and science is utterly bonkers – it works. But as Kate Bush proved when she released a song called Pi (π) in celebration of the mathematical formula that was drummed into us all at school, if you are a good songwriter and a talented musician you can pretty much write a song about anything.

That is certainly the case with Megan Henwood and Finlay Napier. The Story Song Scientists don’t just regurgitate mathematical formulas at us, however, but rather take us on quite a wonderful journey with their obvious aptitude for great storytelling. From climate catastrophe to medical breakthroughs to the latest in artificial intelligence to a celebration of the life of clouds, via a detour around the necessary ingredients in the Anarchist Cookbook, Quantum Lyrics offers up beautifully-crafted, innovative and thought-provoking songs with lush musical accompaniment and beautifully distinctive vocals – interspersed with some suitably quirky special effects.

The EP follows on from the duo’s well-received 2018 self-titled debut and sees the pair donning their white lab coats once again. With a cover that pays homage to an old BBC2 Open University broadcast Quantum Lyrics certainly succeeds in its efforts to inform, educate and entertain.

Released: 29th October 2021

https://www.storysongscientists.com/

Folk: album review – Seth Lakeman ‘Make Your Mark’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Seth Lakeman’s eleventh album, and his follow-up to 2020’s Mayflower-themed A Pilgrim’s Tale, was conceived during lockdown when, like countless other singer-songwriters the world over, he used the down-time from live performance to ponder the meaning of life, the universe and everything and come up with some new songs.

“The pandemic gave me a real determination to come out musically stronger and I really dug deep into myself for this album,” says Lakeman. “Being able to record and play with the band again was really quite spiritual.”

The result is Make Your Mark. Unlike its highly conceptual predecessor it tackles a range of themes, inspired by Lakeman’s own thoughts and feelings about the state of the world, love, life and death as well as the stories and landscapes of his West Country surroundings. Lakeman has spoken of this latest release as being a kind of sister album to his 2006 release Freedom Fields. The latter celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this year and the set-list for Lakeman’s current tour has focused on both songs from Freedom Fields and from this new album.

Musically, Make Your Mark is exactly what you would expect and hope for from a new Seth Lakeman album: fourteen thought-provoking yet accessible songs, all delivered in Lakeman’s unique trademark style.

Long-time musical collaborator, Ben Nicholls, joins him once more on this album with some deliciously dark, brooding superbly intense double bass playing, as does former Bellowhead and current Steeleye Span instrumentalist, Benji Kirkpatrick, who, once again, adds his distinctive banjo, bouzouki and mandolin playing.

The album is not a leap into the dark musically but from his early days as ‘the poster boy of English folk’ through to now, Seth Lakeman’s albums have demonstrated a quality and consistency in delivering fine folk songs, superb musicianship and those instantly-recognisable vocals. Fans will not be disappointed.

Released: 19th November 2021 by BMG

Seth Lakeman website

Previous reviews:

Album review – Seth Lakeman ‘A Pilgrim’s Tale’

Seth Lakeman at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 2019

Seth Lakeman at Folk by the Oak 2014

Folk: album review – Various artists ‘Sense of the Place’

Featuring ten esteemed Scottish folk artists, the Sense of the Place album was commissioned by Stonehaven Folk Club with support from Aberdeenshire Council as part of the club’s Folk-In-Crisis-Fund to provide financial relief to performing artists whose livelihoods were seriously impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

An impressive endeavour in itself but this Sense of the Place no random ‘best-of’ style sampler but rather a collection of specially-commissioned and newly-recorded songs drawn from a reference archive of historical and geographical material relating to the coast lands between Findon and St. Cyrus in the north-east of Scotland.

To bring the project to fruition ten songwriters, were invited to use the archive to create ten new songs inspired by the area’s history, culture and geography. It’s a spectacularly ambitious projects with stunning results.

Some internationally acclaimed, others well known locally, there’s a top-notch array of folk singer-songwriters including Iona Fyfe, Kris Drever, Jenny Sturgeon, Findlay Napier and Paul McKenna. Musical accompaniment is provided by Aaron Jones, Mhairi Hall, Emma Smith, Jen Austin and Mike Vass.

Themes for the songs include the tale of Lady Finella – who was assassinated by a Scottish king; a celebration of Aberdeenshire’s Todhead Lighthouse – and those who worked to keep it alight; and the story of the Cutty Sark – told from the point of view of the ship!

It’s a really lovely album raising much-needed funds for an important initiative. Last year, the folk world came together under the #folkforchristmas hashtag to encourage folk fans to support folk artists by buying an album. I’m not sure if there is going to be a similar initiative this Christmas but one way or the other if you’re a folk fan I recommend you put this on your Christmas list.

Released: 27th August 2021

https://www.stonehavenfolkclub.co.uk/

Folk: album review – Various artists ‘Between Islands’

Folk: album review – Jenny Sturgeon ‘The Living Mountain’

Folk: album review -Paul McKenna Band ‘Paths That Wind’