This review was originally published by Get ready To Rock here
UK audiences may not be too familiar with German-born Sascha Paeth but the multi-instrumentalist and producer has had a hand in many, many dozens of albums for an extensive roster of bands over the past three decades. These include the likes of Avantasia, Kamelot, Rhapsody and Epica.
Now Paeth has put together his own band: “Finally, I am putting my energy into a metal project of my own. It is the sum of my experiences over the years and a bit of a revival of what I was doing in the past.”
The musicians that he’s recruited are Felix Bohnke on drums, André Neygenfind on bass, Corvin Bahn on keyboards and American singer Adrienne Cowan. Style-wise it explores a variety of different textures from the melodic to the more straight-ahead metal. Cowan’s powerful range certainly suits the mix of styles on the album from the full-frontal assault of ‘The Time Has Come’ to the symphonic Blackmore-esque ‘Weight of the World’ to the delicate piano-driven ballad ‘The Path’. All of the album’s eleven tracks are either written by Paeth alone or co-written with lead singer, Cowan, and demonstrate a good ear for creating catchy but powerful songs.
Production-wise it’s as polished as anything you’d expect from the Frontiers stable and Paeth and the record label seem perfectly suited to one another.
Powerful, melodic and inventive Signs of Wings is a piece of well-crafted European metal that’s worth seeking out.
Released: Frontiers 13th September 2019
Scottish folk band Skipinnish celebrate their twentieth anniversary this year. The band’s origins may have been modest, gigging in pubs and bars and village halls but their rise in recent years has been phenomenal – with prestigious venues selling out, many millions of streams on Spotify and other platforms and their latest album Steer By The Stars reaching number 4 in the charts. And that was not some obscure specialist folk chart but the actual official UK mainstream charts .
Now the album has been nominated for Album of the Year at the Scottish Trad Music Awards. Fans of the band can vote for the album here: https://projects.handsupfortrad.scot/scotstradmusicawards/voting/
Visiting familiar themes for the band of ocean, island, landscape, love, hope, mortality, friendship and the pull of home the album was officially launched to a packed house at Edinburgh’s Usher Hall back in May this year and has gone on to attract many enthusiastic reviews.
The band’s twentieth anniversary is officially marked with a special performance at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on October 25th and that will be followed by a short tour of Scottish venues in December.
Sifting through a stack of new folk CDs that arrived in the post for review over recent weeks, this one immediately stood out.
Bird in the Belly are a Brighton-based traditional four-piece and their debut album The Crowing, which was released in Spring 2018, caused something of a stir – picking up numerous plaudits including the Sunday Express’s album of the year.
Neighbours and Sisters immediately impressed the moment I put it on, putting me in mind of a pre-amped up, early Steeleye Span in some ways. The collective is made up of Ben ‘Jinnwoo’ Webb (vocals), Laura Ward (vocals, flute), Adam Ronchetti (percussion, acoustic guitar, shruti) and multi-instrumentalist Tom Pryor (violin, guitars, organ, banjo, bass, additional vocals). With eight traditional songs and two originals they’ve delved deep into the folk song index and unearthed some wonderful, but not particularly well-known, nineteenth century ballads and applied some breathtakingly good arrangements. Webb’s voice is as gravelly and full of character as Ward’s is pure and enchanting. Together they are a perfect fit. This sounds like an album I’ve been playing for years and fell in love with a long, long time ago – and I’ve only had it on twice so far…
An album of character, presence and purpose combined with superb vocals, effortlessly brilliant instrumentation and excellent song choices, Neighbours & Sisters is set to be one of the stand-out folk albums of 2019.
Released: 18th October 2019 by GF*M Records
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
Dave “Bucket” Colwell at Leo’s Red Lion, Gravesend 2016
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
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.
Released: March 2019
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
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
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
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.