Tag Archives: album review

Americana/folk/jazz: album review – John Hinshelwood ‘Called Back’

John Hinshelwood is a Scottish singer-songwriter from Lanakshire. As a teenager in the 1960s the likes of The Beatles and Bob Dylan made a big impact and he was also profoundly influenced by those US West Coast bands, like The Byrds. Indeed, as well as sharing a stage with Roger McGuinn, Hinshelwood has actually recorded with late-period former Byrd, Gene Parsons, as well as putting together a tribute to ex-Byrd and ex-Burrito, the late Gram Parsons.

That was certainly going to be recommendation enough for me and I was anxious to check out Hinshelwood’s latest album. With a long career he’s got a number of albums to his back catalogue, both individually and as collaborations, mostly in the folk/country/Americana vein where he’s built his reputation.

This latest album Called Back, is something of a departure. Lyrically, the album adapts the writings of nineteenth century American poet, Emily Dickinson and transforms them into fourteen songs.  Poetry adaptations into songs is not particularly unusual in the folk/singer-songwriter genre – and I’ve reviewed plenty such examples here. Where Hinshelwood attempts something really ambitious and fairly unique, however, is in deploying a range of very different musical styles across different genres with the aim of creating music that matches the sentiment of each particular poem. We therefore get a lovely range of styles from bluegrass and Americana through to jazz and traditional folk.

The album definitely benefits from repeated listens as there is always something more that reveals itself to the listeners each time. He’s put together a fantastically diverse bunch of musicians to see him through this project, too, from members of his own regular touring band, to veteran LA session percussionist, Steve Foreman, to BBC Young Musician of The Year, David Bowden, plus many more.

An ambitious project, brilliantly executed and well worth a listen. Fans of country-tinged, folky Americana will love this album but there’s much, much more besides.

Released: 10th May 2021

http://www.johnhinshelwood.com/

Folk/country singer-songwriter: album review – Tom Clelland ‘Handpicked & Collected’

Tom Clelland is a Scottish folk singer-songwriter. He’s released several albums to date and Handpicked & Collected is something of a career retrospective. A double CD compilation comprising 23 tracks it brings together favourites from his previous albums along with live recordings.

His approach takes something from the Scottish folk tradition, something from American country and with Clelland’s compelling story-telling at the heart.

The first disc (the “Handpicked” part) features eight songs penned by Clelland based on historical events and myths. Themes range from war – including ‘Carion Craw’ commemorating the Battle of Harlaw in 1411 and ‘The Wind She Changed’ written at the time of the second Gulf War – to the supernatural such as ‘The Ghost With The Squeaky Wheel’ and ‘The Devil and the Hangman’.

With the second disc (the “Collected” part) we get a whopping fifteen songs and the themes are more eclectic here. There’s a much more personal feel to some of the song-writing here. Opening track ‘Slow Down’ is a delicious slice of infectious olde-time country while another country-flavoured track ‘Country Music Once Again’ takes a wry look at Clelland’s musical influences over the decades. There’s more of Clelland’s historical-based storytelling as well as the one track that’s not wholly original is ‘How Far To Babylon’, with lyrics adapted from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson.

While Clelland’s vocals and guitar are at the core of all twenty-three tracks various musical guests provide additional accompaniment at various points, bringing added authenticity to the diverse range of musical influences explored on the album whether that’s Scottish folk or American country – from Mairearad Green on pipes to Willie Gamble on pedal steel.

Handpicked & Collected is a delightful retrospective from a talented singer-songwriter with a foot in both the folk and country camps.

Released: 10th May 2021

http://www.tomclelland.co.uk/

Singer-songwriter: album review – 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.

Clearly a natural, Time Waits For No One is Gallagher’s second album, a follow-up his debut Always Broke Never Broken released back in 2019.

Describing his songs “as gritty, passionate, raucous, lyrical, and at times political” they mostly tell stories of everyday life.

There are ten such gems on this album. They range from the title track, a jaunty number about living life to the full whatever your age, to the imposing ‘The World Is Burning’ a soul-infused, bluesy flavoured epic on the theme of environmental destruction. ‘Miss You’ meanwhile is a slow, sentimental country track with bags of character and bags of steel guitar. There’s no shortage of humour either with a US televangelist-style hellfire preacher making an appearance on one track.

There’s nothing about this album I don’t like. I just absolutely love it – incredible work and deserving of a much wider audience. Check it out!

Released: 16th Mat 2021

https://ronangallaghermusic.com/

Folk: album review – Gnoss ‘The Light of the Moon’

Following a hugely well-received debut album in 2019, Scottish folk four-piece Gnoss are back with a follow-up. The Light Of The Moon reveals Gnoss to be in fine form once again and they will not be short of plaudits for this release. Featuring seven instrumentals and four songs, whether it’s the infectiously upbeat pieces or the more poignant ones The Light Of The Moon simply oozes with life and joy.

Built around the same quartet of Aidan Moodie (vocals, acoustic guitar), Graham Rorie (fiddle, mandolin, electric tenor guitar), Connor Sinclair (flute, whistles) and Craig Baxter (Bodhran, percussion) as on the previous Drawn From Deep Water album, this one also boasts Braebach’s James Lindsey on double bass.

Moodie: “The creative process spanned the strangest period in our lives. Most of the writing was done in isolation, with us finally coming together to arrange and carve the album’s sound in the autumn. We set out to create  a record that was distinctly Gnoss not only by writing all-original material but looking more closely at blending the sonic textures of our instruments.”

“The album was recorded at the end of a year that should have been filled with career highlights and instead became quite the opposite – and I think all the emotion connected with that was channelled into the creative process of the release and we pushed ourselves into new spaces musically.”

Vibrant, inventive and joyful The Light Of The Moon promises to be one of the real stand-out contemporary folk albums of the year. A most excellent and not-at-all-difficult second album.

Released: 7th May 2021 by Blackfly Records

https://gnossmusic.com/

Folk: album review – Christina Alden & Alex Patterson ‘Hunter’

Folk singer-songwriters and multi-instrumentalists, Christina Alden and Alex Patterson are a duo from Norwich who have been performing together about seven years now. Hunter is their debut album as a duo.

Once they got over the initial shock of an enforced hiatus from live performance, like many other artists the duo have been able to use their enforced downtime creatively, and this album Hunter is the result.

“Before the pandemic hit we had a full year of concerts booked throughout the UK and Europe. And like many other artists we saw those all fall away in a matter of weeks. This came as a big shock and was initially very hard to come to turns with; losing our work and our sense of identity. We wanted to channel our energy into something positive and so decided to record our debut duo album. We used our new found time and space to be creative; to write compose and develop music.”

“This album was made during the lockdowns of 2020/21 at home in The Folk Cellar on King Street, Norwich. Our house is in the middle of the city centre but the normally busy streets were quiet and so we were able to record everything at home. We have really enjoyed creating this album together; working on composition, returning to old instruments that had not been played for a while and revisiting fragments of song ideas written in old notebooks.”

Hunter is an impressive debut. With nine original songs and one arrangement of a traditional song (‘My Flower, My Companion and Me’) the duo demonstrate an instinctive ear for melody that’s both memorable and heart-warming, providing the perfect setting for Alden’s beautifully clear yet equally heart-warming vocals.

When I first began to play the opening song and title track ‘Hunter’ I did initially have a nagging feeling that it would be from that canon of traditional songs that are oh so beautifully written and sung but dwell on man’s strange obsession for chasing small furry animals for fun – but no! ‘Hunter’ is actually a lovely story of two normally solitary animals – the grey wolf and the brown bear – forming a magical and unlikely friendship. Many of the songs on this album celebrate the couple’s love of the natural world and their concern for its future – using that age old-gift of folk story-telling to convey a narrative that’s both charming and thought-provoking in equal measure.

Joining Alden (guitar, vocals, banjo) and Patterson (fiddle, vocals, viola, cello, tenor guitar and shruti box) is Calum McKennie on double bass. Patterson himself produces and Alden provides all the artwork.

Beautifully packaged with a hand-printed sleeve and illustrated booklet where the duo share information about the background and inspiration for the songs, Hunter really is a delightful album and well worth a punt.

Released: 7th May 2021

https://christinaaldenandalexpatterson.com/

Folk: album review – 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. As with so many other musicians these past twelve months, many of the songs on the album were conceived during lockdown. We are presented with eleven original songs as well as the duo’s adaptation of a traditional Irish ballad.

Of the former, the beauty of their Suffolk coastal landscape and richness of its history is at the core of many of the songs, from the jaunty ‘Freddie Cooper’ celebrating the heroics of the Aldeburgh lifeboat crew to the utterly haunting ‘The Hungry Sea’ that tells the story of Violet Jessop who incredibly survived the Olympic, Titanic and Britannic maritime disasters, before eventually dying in Great Ashfield, aged 83.

Of the latter, the one non-original song on the album is a tender version of ‘My Lagan Love’. It’s a song that has been performed by numerous artists from The Chieftains to Kate Bush but fans of Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention will also immediately recognise the tune given it was repurposed for Denny’s cover of Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood. ‘My Lagan Love’ makes for a lovely addition to the album, laying down some deep folk roots amongst the new compositions.

The duo meld together a range of folk, Americana and pop influences to produce a sound that’s both original and creative and very easy on the ear. Lucy Hart has a clear, distinctive voice that’s perfectly suited to such a fusion of musical influences and husband Jon’s harmony vocals are also equally suited. Unusually for a duo, both play guitar, bazouki and double-bass and there’s quite a bit of toing and froing between the two of them across the dozen tracks as they swap instruments and show us what talented multi-instrumentalists each of them are.

As well as the duo themselves, Evan Carson, Archie Churchill-Moss, Graham Coe and Toby Shaer from Sam Kelly and The Lost Boys provide additional musical backing that’s every bit as captivating as their playing with The Lost Boys.

A beautiful and highly listenable album and a wonderful celebration of the East Anglian landscape and history from an extremely talented duo, Journey Through The Roke is highly recommended.

Released 23rd April 2021

Visit Honey and The Bear website here

Folk / Americana: album review – Wren ‘Pink Stone: Songs from Moose Lodge’

Writer, artist and singer-songwriter, Laura Adrienne Brady, performs music under the name Wren. Pink Stone: Tales From Moose Lodge is Wren’s third album, inspired by a stay at a remote cabin in the woods at Methow Valley, Washington State, where she was invited to house-sit while recovering from a mysterious but debilitating illness.

The resulting album is a sumptuous ten-track journey through Americana-infused, Celtic-inspired folk. Wren’s pure, emotive voice, intimate lyrics and melancholic, rootsy playing – ably assisted by a talented bunch of guest musicians and additional layers of harmony vocals.

Wren says of her latest album:

“The years I was writing these songs were some of the loneliest years of my life, but they were also imbued with a palpable magic, and I’ve spent the period since obsessed with how to transport the listener to the warm cocoon of a cabin where I felt free to move at my own pace for the first time. Though I was often alone, I wasn’t unattached. My relationships merged with this greater experience of place and led to a collection of songs about the paradoxes of love and intimacy, where the land and the river often become other characters in the story.”

Pink Stone: Songs from Moose Lodge follows in the tradition of her two previous albums which were largely also inspired by a specific geographical place: her lifetime love of the Salish Sea, Canada, her year in Galicia, Spain and, now with her third album her journey to Washington’s Methow Valley.

The album was produced at Airtime Studios in Bloomington, Indiana by David Weber and features Jason Wilber (guitar), Krista Detor (piano, organ, accordion and harmony vocals and Gary Stroutsos (American Indian cedar flute).

To accompany the album, Wren has also published a 98-page Companion Book of essay vignettes, journal entries, illustrations, photos, and lyrics born from her time in the Methow.

Check out the album and embark on this emotive journey with her.

Released: 20th February 2021

wren-music.com

Folk: album review – Various artists ‘Between Islands’

The Between Islands Project began life in 2014 with the aim of bringing together contemporary songwriters from Shetland, Orkney and the Hebrides and celebrate the rich musical heritage of those islands. In the years that followed a number of diverse individual projects emerged out of this, from joint song-writing ventures through to exhibitions, lectures, films and, of course, live performances.

Come 2020 and Covid was to throw a spanner in the works. Performances had been scheduled at both the Shetland Folk Festival and the Heb Celt festival in Stornaway but, undeterred, project co-ordinator Alex MacDonald sought to translate the project from the stage to the studio.

He explains: “As the project was based on live events, initially we were at a loss as to how it could be saved. Thankfully we were able to redesign what was planned, and this double CD contains both live work previously captured and a series of entirely new tracks recorded in lockdown.”

The result is a breath-taking thirty-track, two-disc collection showcasing some top-notch song-writing, exquisite singing  and inventive contemporary arrangements of traditional fiddle tunes.

The thirteen musicians featured are: Maggie Adamson. Louise Bichan, Williw Campbell, Kris Drever, Julie Fowlis, Neil Johnstone, Jenny Napier Keldie, Kathleen MacInnes, Linda MacLeod, Jane Hepburn MacMillan, Arthur Nicholson and Satfishforty.  

The ‘lockdown disc’ was created from sessions that paired up artists across the existing projects while also allowing the opportunity for entirely new remote collaborations and compositions. Consequently, the disc begins by introducing the Western Isles, Shetland and Orkney musicians respectively over the opening three tracks before going on to explore a range of other pairings. The ‘live disc’ meanwhile was something that had long been planned and features performances from both Orkney Folk Festival and the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornaway. A detailed twelve-page booklet accompanies the two discs.

When live events do, once more, become possible this lovingly-curated CD will undoubtedly ensure the reputation of the Between Islands project will be stronger than ever and their return to the stage warmly anticipated.

Released: 11t December 2020

www.betweenislands.com

Folk: album review – Ninebarrow ‘A Pocket Full of Acorns’

Named after Nine Barrow Down in Dorset’s Purbeck hills, the English folk duo composed of Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere this month release their long-awaited fourth album A Pocket Full of Acorns.

Whatever unexpected challenges 2020 threw up for the music world it certainly provided many musicians with plenty of additional time for writing and recording. Ninebarrow were no exception, using the time to create the follow-up to 2018’s The Water And The Wild.

“It feels all the sweeter to be able to release this collection into the wild given all the detours we had to make in 2020,” says Whitley. “Our music will always be inspired by the incredible landscape and history of our native Dorset as well as our sense of home and belonging. But these days we can’t helped but be oved by the many changes happening to our planet and society – we hope this fourth studio album reflects that.”

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.

The tempo is raised for an upbeat rendering of ‘John Barleycorn’ – just as you think you have enough versions of this in your collection they come along and do something different and suitably imaginative with that old homage to beer-making. The mood changes again for the rousing ‘Cry Unity’ inspired by William Barnes’ poem ‘The Dorset Rifleman’s Song’, its original fiery battlecry now re-purposed as a call for world peace and global understanding.

As well as the two vocalists’ sensitive, emotive harmonies Whitley’s equally sensitive piano playing is a prominent part of the overall sound. The duo are joined by band members Lee Mackenzie on cello, John Parker on double bass and Evan Carson on percussion, alongside Whitley, himself, on ukulele, guitar, mandola and reed organ.

Featuring the same original album artwork from Sarah Whitley, there is also a companion songbook available to go with the album, featuring lyrics, additional photography and inspirations behind the song choices.

A Pocket Full Of Acorns already promises to be one of the outstanding folk albums of 2021. Well worth the two-year wait.

Released: 5th March 2021

Online album launch: Saturday 13th March, 7pm at https://www.ninebarrow.co.uk/live

https://www.ninebarrow.co.uk/

This week’s featured artist: Elena Piras – new album of Scottish folk ‘Where The Wind Blows’

Where The Wind Blows is the second album from Elana Pira. Not unusually for a Scottish folk release it features a number of traditional Scottish and Gaelic melodies alongside familiar favourites like Francis McPeake’s ‘Wild Mountain’s Thyme’ and Tom Paxton’s ‘The Last Thing on My Mind’. It’s an album of Scottish folk with a twist, however. Hailing from Sardinia, Piras inherited her father’s love of singing from an early age and began performing professionally in Italy when young.

“I think when you begin on a path so young, it just becomes an unquestionable part of the fabric of your life and your whole being. Making music is as natural as breathing for me,” she says.

Piras moved to the UK aged 18, where she co-founded and toured with the London Bulgarian choir. It was in 2006, however, following a move to Scotland and a position at the Royal Scottish Academy of Art that her love of Scottish music really began to make itself felt. Immersing herself in the local music scene Piras became a popular fixture at festivals and released her debut album in 2010. Journey was predominantly an album of traditional Scottish music but also included songs from Ireland, Sardinia and Bulgaria

Being visually impaired since birth, Elena believes it has enabled her to impart a very special meaning to her folk music. She also feels a particular affinity to Scots, Irish and Gaelic folk and maintains that nothing can compare to it in terms of being able to convey the beauty and hardship of a land and its people and its ability to transport both performer and audience into its melodies and narrative.

Where The Wind Blows is Elena Pira’s second album and very much continues the journey she embarked upon with her debut release – exploring and interpreting traditional Scottish music. Recorded in a shed that was repurposed as a recording studio, the project has drawn in a number of talented musicians. As the pandemic threw up the now familiar range of logistical challenges, some of the album’s collaborators also contributed their parts from similarly unconventional locations. Perseverance has its rewards, however, and we are left with an exceptional album.

With a pure clear voice, a self-evident love for the Gaelic language and an instinctive feel for interpreting the material in her own unique way, Elena Pira brings something that’s both precious and meaningful to the Scottish folk scene.

Where The Wind Blows was released 20th November 2020

Visit the website of Elena Piras here