Tag Archives: americana

Singer-songwriter: album review – Owen Moore ‘Fireside Songs’

Owen Moore is an Irish-born singer songwriter based in Dorset. Over the past ten years or so he’s put out a staggering ten solo albums of original songs, not to mention a handful live albums too. In fact, my delay in reviewing Fireside Songs since he kindly sent it to me back in the summer has meant he’s had time to put another album since – albeit a compilation of highlights from his previous ten albums.

While Owen tells me he’s had a lifetime of playing countless small gigs behind him, he’s keen to stress that his driving passion in recent years has been his song-writing.

There’s certainly plenty of evidence of quality writing on Fireside Songs. Owen Moore’s lyrics are highly personal, his warm and gentle vocals are consistently engaging and he has a real ear for a catchy melody that will leave you humming along, long after the album has finished.

His style falls into that well-trodden path between folk and Americana, and his songs are captivating and original enough to have plenty of appeal for fans of both. From the Byrds-like ‘Every Once In a While’ to the irresistibly catchy ‘It’s All About You’ to the more traditional big country ballad feel of ‘Diamond Ring’ the album is packed full of songs you want to play again and again. The album ends with ‘The Town of Tralee’, originally released as a single at the back end of 2020,which  is the Limerick-born singer’s affectionate paean to the Kerry town of Tralee where he spent  time as a young man.

An engaging singer-songwriter and a fine guitarist if you enjoy the folky-ish and the country-ish it’s well worth checking out Owen Moore’s Fireside Songs as well as other albums in his prolific back catalogue.

Released: June 2022

http://www.owenmooremusic.com/

Singer-songwriter: album review – Michael McGovern ‘Highfield Suite’

Highfield Suite is the debut album from Glasgow singer-songwriter Michael McGovern. At 25 he’s been writing songs since he was a teenager, Highfield Suite being the culmination of his work to date. He says the songs on the album very much reflect this period of his life, focusing on themes such as friendship, love, regret and reconciling with one’s own mistakes.  Citing the likes of Leonard Cohen, to Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Springsteen and Fleet Foxes as key inspirations McGovern traverses that folky, acoustic, Americana-flavoured vibe with confidence and there’s a real maturity to his song-writing, too.

McGovern had begun building a name for himself on the festival circuit but, like many musicians, once the pandemic struck and brought an end to life performances his focus turned to writing and recording. Taking the self-isolation route to its creative limits, McGovern ended up recording much of the album alone in a small wooden cabin in Galway, Ireland with a single microphone.

If that suggests a stark, minimalist feel to the album, then it’s a wrong impression. Dublin-based producer, Bill Shanley, worked alongside McGovern to flesh out the album and a range of additional musicians and backing vocalists were brought in on various tracks to add extra depth and texture. McGovern himself plays guitar, bass, piano and keyboards on the album with co-producer, Shanley, providing additional guitars, bass and vocals alongside assorted guests, including some wonderfully evocative pedal steel guitar from Connor Smith.

The result is a beautifully timeless album with heartfelt lyrics, lush gospel-tinged harmony vocals complementing McGovern’s own emotive voice and some gorgeous guitar. An impressive debut.

Released: June 2021

https://www.michaelmcgovern.co.uk/

Americana: album review – Beki Hemingway ‘Earth & Asphalt’

“We are two Americans living in Ireland doing original Americana which is folky and rocky at times.”

So stated the charming hand-written note that accompanied the CD and press release announcing Beki Hemingway’s latest album. Folky and rocky Americana does indeed sound just the sort of thing that Darren’s Music Blog should be investigating so I decided to find out more.

Working with her husband and musical partner, Randy Kerkman, since the mid-90s Hemingway has already released half a dozen albums, the last being Whins and Weather which came out in 2017. It was around that time, however, that the pair made some major changes to their lives. Leaving behind Denver, Colorado they emigrated to Ireland in late 2016, settling in Dundalk on Ireland’s east coast.

Channelling the spirit of the likes of Emmylou Harris, John Mellencamp and Hank Williams Earth & Asphalt serves up eleven tracks of gorgeous, sun-kissed, heart-felt Americana. And there is, indeed, some rocky bits. Kerkman is a greatly talented guitarist, whether turning in some achingly poignant guitar licks on the slower tracks like ‘Shape of My Face’ and ‘Hurricane’ or some Stonesy-type riffing on songs like ‘We’re Not Going Anywhere’, not to mention bags of gorgeous-sounding, upbeat Americana on the rest.

Expressive and emotive as a singer and a great story-telling lyricist and melodious song-writer, Hemingway’s vocals are the perfect fit for her husband’s playing. Bass, drums and keyboards from a succession of supporting players round out the sound nicely and it’s extremely well-produced with some rich-sounding harmony vocals.

What you won’t really find is much in the way of Celtic influences, however much they are soaking up the scenery and culture of their new lifestyle.

“It turns out that being here has only made us sound more American,” says Hemingway. I can’t disagree with that! Simply gorgeous.

Released this year Earth & Asphalt is available from: http://blog.bekihemingway.com/

Peter Donegan: interview with Americana singer-songwriter and son of skiffle legend, Lonnie Donegan

In the week of the sixty-seventh anniversary of the recording of Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ I talk to Peter Donegan about his father’s legacy, about his viral TV duet with Tom Jones and about his forthcoming album.

DJ: Firstly it’s a huge, huge pleasure to be talking to you. My own dad was a big, big Lonnie Donegan fan and I think he’d be very touched that I was interviewing his son. Growing up in the 1970s the Rolling Stones and Deep Purple and so on were always played a lot in our house but there was still always lots of Lonnie Donegan, too. So it was a big part of my childhood. But if we can start off going back to the very beginning then we’ll look at your more recent career. Elvis Presley recorded ‘That’s Alright’ and your father recorded ‘Rock Island Line’ in the very same month back in July 1954. It’s something Billy Bragg points out in his book on skiffle, and he called them ‘the first tremors of an earthquake that would shake the world’. Did that give you a good feeling seeing it put like that?

PD: Yes, definitely. Billy’s been a huge campaigner for the importance of what has become a kind of forgotten era – the skiffle era. I mean, Billy made another nice analogy which was that it was the nursery for British rock and roll. Because songs like ‘Rock Island Line’ – and that one in particular which changed the British music industry – it gave a new breath of life into what was, you know, a crooners’ market. And I don’t mean any disrespect to any artist up until my dad came out, obviously, but it did. It changed the nature of it. And it made music accessible. It meant that for people like Eric Clapton, for people like Van Morrison, for people like Jimmy Page – all these kind of people realised, ‘Ok, so I don’t have to be – number one – classically trained to play the guitar. I can learn the basic two/three chords – or one sometimes – and the lyrics and go for it.’ And, number two, it meant that you didn’t have to feel self-conscious singing a lot of these old American country and blues songs and feel self-conscious about it – especially a British white person as well.  You didn’t feel like you were false either. You could be ‘paying homage’ to, you know, and doing it in your own way. I mean that gave birth to, like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin who all started off in skiffle bands.

DJ: And it was a very British take. It wasn’t a straightforward adoption of an American culture was it?

PD: No, No. You could argue really that while skiffle was Americana music, as we call it now nowadays, it was definitely with a very British tint to it. It didn’t sound the same. They were the same songs, but they weren’t the same way. They were definitely distinct. Which is how ‘Rock Island Line’ went to number 8 in the States, you know – just before Johnny Cash recorded and released it. And the odd thing is, is that my dad had added that part of the tollgate which wasn’t in the Leadbelly original. And then Johnny Cash put out a version afterwards with the tollgate in it again – so you can argue that Johnny was listening to my dad’s version. Because it’s kind of like, he’s just taken dad’s version, slowed it down just a little bit. So there could be something there. There could be something there. You could argue really that the skiffle sessions – all that stuff for that period in time, that six years or whatever it was – was a little bit more British even than when the Stones came out. Because they were doing it much more per original blues… Definitely, much more modernised but it was arguably more towards the original than what Dad was doing.

DJ: In the true folk tradition he actually adapted it and added his own take on it and that’s now become the tradition.

PD: Yes, exactly. You know, it’s been fantastic. And, of course, Dad wrote his own things as well which we all know about. Most notably was the Tom Jones hit ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’. I mean, it wasn’t written for Tom to do. My dad went to release it because he loved the sounds that he was hearing coming from Ray Charles. Great gospel R&B singer, you know, and Dad thought, ‘That’s brilliant. I want to do something like that.’ Wrote ‘Never Fall In Love Again’ and the record label which was Pye at the time – who were trying to be true to their roots and wanting to be jazz, despite the fact of having Lonnie Donegan on the record label who was definitely not jazz anymore despite his origins of coming through with the Ken Colyer Jazzmen and then the Chris Barber Jazz Band – they insisted on there being a jazz version. So they recorded a jazz version and a more gospel version which Dad wanted to do. And insisted on releasing the jazz version – obviously, because that was their plan all along. And nothing happened with it – because it wasn’t what people expected. It wasn’t ‘Dad’ if you know what I mean. So, Tom picked up on it.

DJ: It was a few years gap wasn’t it between your dad releasing it and Tom Jones having a hit with it?

PD: It was early ‘60s for my dad. You’re looking at 62/63 whenever it was – and I think it was 67/68 when Tom released it. And Dad’s gag on stage was always, ‘What’s Tom Jones got that I haven’t got!’ It was always a good laugh. And then, of course, Elvis picked it up in the end because, you know, Elvis was permanently ‘on tour’ doing all the casinos in Vegas. As was Tom, so they were always going to see each other’s set at some point in time. And Elvis picked it up and did it, you know. And I think that was the last track on the last album that Elvis released.

Watch the full interview on YouTube here

DJ: And then, obviously, you had that wonderful emotional moment with Tom Jones on ‘The Voice’ two years ago. That must have been very, very special?

PD: It was! It was a big ‘pinch me’ moment because I was scouted by the show. They’d seen me at a country festival in London and they wanted that – because they knew that the country genre was really booming in the UK. And they wanted me to go and try out – so that was nice. And they said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s not like you’ve got to wait in the queue or anything. You can go straight to the producer so there’s no pressure.’ And that’s more pressure I think! So yeah.. sat there and did some original songs. That’s what they wanted. They said they wanted originals. And went through about another four rounds of auditions and they said, ‘Yep – we want you for the blinds.’ And I just thought well, if nothing else, this is just a bit of PR. You know, get a nice bit of high-quality PR footage [laughs] and have some fun while you’re there. And when it was Tom that turned, you know, it was an emotional relief that somebody turned. I was very nervous. I’d never done anything like that before and it was a very nice moment. And then when, obviously, Tom asked us to do that song and we did it – it was a shock, you know. There’s a video about me – because I did a video on YouTube talking about it which had about two million views.

DJ: Yes, I watched that. I still tear up every time I see the footage. It’s just so incredible!

PD: It was a lovely, lovely evening. It really was. I mean, bittersweet in some ways because obviously you realise it’s a TV show first and foremost before it’s a talent show – and it’s a very good one and I really enjoyed my experience on there. But, as a friend of mine who was there said, ‘That’s going to go viral.’ I said, ‘Do you think? Shit!’ He said, ‘Why?’. I said, ‘I peaked too soon in that case! It probably means I’m out next.’ And I was out next!

DJ: But no-one could take away that moment though.

PD: No! I have no regrets. I had great fun. And not many people get to do three songs in two shows – so it was good!

DJ: Has Tom been in touch since?

PD: No. I’ve tried but not got anything back though.

DJ: Ok. Ok. And just looking back – this week, it’s actually the 67th anniversary of ‘Rock Island Line’ being recorded.

PD: Yep. ‘54 it was recorded. ‘56 it became a hit. It was a track on the Chris Barber Jazz Band album and for whatever reason Decca released it two years later as a single and it was played on – I can’t remember the radio show – Dad didn’t know anything of it. Somebody said to him, ‘You know you’re number one!. He was like, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah check out the papers…’ And the rest is history, as they say.

DJ: And you did a special concert two years ago, to mark the 65th anniversary of it?

PD: We did, yes. We did one in 2018 just at the end because it all started off with Chas Hodges – God rest his soul. It was his initial idea because we were raising money for our son’s therapy for his autism and he said, ‘If you want to do a gig, me and Dave will get up and do something. We’ll do half an hour, you finish the gig off. I was like, well that’s lovely. Mentioned it to a couple of friends as I was talking and they we’re like, well I’ll do something and I’ll do something and someone said, ‘Well we haven’t done a night for your dad in a while. Why don’t we do that?’ So in 2018 we had Billy Bragg, Nora Guthrie, The Jive Aces, Mike Berry, Mike Read, Ralph McTell, Chris Difford from Squeeze, Chas McDevitt, Vince Eager and we did that at the Union Chapel in Islington. And Billy Bragg said, ‘Right, so what are we doing next year?’ And I was like, oh you’re kidding right. But I’d invited Van to do that one and he wasn’t available but then he followed up and said, ‘Are you doing another one?’ I said, ‘Well yes, next year’s the 65th anniversary of the recording of ‘Rock Island Line’. And then Mike Read said, ‘Well we need a blue plaque to commemorate that.’ So we did a blue plaque on the same day, on the morning and then we went and did the gig.

 DJ: You obviously grew up with music. Did you always want to be a musician?

Yeah. I did. There was never any other option, you know. And I had a great coach, obviously, in Dad and he always taught me that the best thing to do – the only way to make it in this industry is to write your own songs. And that’s why I’ve always done that. From becoming my dad’s piano player to then becoming the opening act for the set, I always did original material. And then, from then I kept doing it. It was difficult because, you know, every time a label said that we could do an album they would only include a maximum of one of my songs on it. Because they wanted to make easy money and just do another Lonnie Donegan tribute album which was, you know, getting frustrating to say the least. So, I decided to go independent and in 2017 released my ‘Superman’ EP which did quite well for my first independent thing and that’s what got me ‘Country To Country Festival’ which got me noted by the guys at ‘The Voice’ and then on with Tom Jones and then on from there. And then we did the live album after that which was recorded in 2019 in the Decca recording studios. In the same studio that Dad recorded ‘Rock Island Line’ – which now belongs to the English National Opera. But that was nice. It was good fun. And then since then I’ve released ‘Thank You Texas’ which was co-written with two Texans at the Buddy Holly song-writing retreat in Lubbock.

DJ: And that won an award didn’t it?

PD: It yes – at the ‘Texas Sounds Country Music Awards’ last year. Got Best Male Vocalist and Original Song.

‘Thank You Texas’ recorded at North London’s Mill Hill Music Complex

DJ: The Americana/country direction that you’ve taken as you wanted to pursue your own, as you say, independent career – was that a very conscious decision or did you just sort of evolve into that direction, musically?

PD: Well, obviously, when you consider the influences I was surrounded by with Dad’s record collection at home – which had everything, you know, from Fats Waller to Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, The Highway Men – all that kind of stuff. So I grew up with that plus – I was born in London but only because Dad was doing a West End thing at the time… We were living in California. So you know California, Florida, Spain. I didn’t grow up here, so I was surrounded by American music a lot of the time. And Dad was big into country. And then so was I. I’m a huge Waylon fan, Willie fan and later on, you know, I love now Chris Stapleton and Eric Church and the High Women if you’ve heard them… So it was a natural transition for me because I like to write stories, you know real-life events, that kind of stuff. And country music, Americana music in general really lends itself to that.

DJ: Well story telling is at the heart of those lyrics.

PD: Yeah. So it was a natural transition for me. And when you consider really where I came from musically with Dad, skiffle is what we call Americana now. Because Americana is country, with blues, folk. And it’s just Americana is the umbrella term. And underneath it you’ve got all these different genres.

DJ: So what’s next for you in terms of your solo career? Are you working on new music at the moment?

PD: I am yes. Again, written at the same retreat with a couple of great song-writers in America. With Sean Healen who’s from New Mexico and with Tessy Lou Williams – ‘It’s My Dreams’. We did a lockdown sessions version of it which you can find on YouTube but there will be a single version of it coming out. And it will be included on the new album which is currently being made.

There’ll be a couple more singles to come off that album as well… I think there’s some really cool tunes on there, especially with the new collaborations. Because I do like to co-write… the old adage two heads are better than one is true. Because there’s ideas that you come up with that you wouldn’t come up with unless you were sitting with somebody else. I’m not saying that maybe their idea is in the song, but they say something which sparks an idea in your head again, you know – and the other way around, too.

DJ: That approach to collaboration is very much part of the Americana scene isn’t it, I think?

PD: It is and there’s a feelgood sense within it as well. It’s a case of not quite as much competition as we’re in it together. So it’s more fun to drag these other people that you respect – if you’re not already friends – along with you and have that shared experience rather than try and keep it for yourself. And I like that feel. It’s much more relaxed… It’s a better experience. It’s less uptight.

Thank you so very much to Peter Donegan for talking to me. You can check his forthcoming live dates on his website here:

https://peterdonegan.com/home

Related posts:

Visit to the birthplace of British rock ‘n’ roll – the 2i’s coffee bar, Soho

Book review: ‘Roots, Radicals & Rockers – How Skiffle Changed the World’ by Billy Bragg

Folk/Americana: album review – 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.

Founder members Bruce Roper (vocals, guitar) and Sue Demel (vocals, guitar, djembe, dulcimer) along with long-time member Deborah Lader (vocals, banjo, guitar, mandolin) who joined the trio in 1998, replacing original member Nancy Walker, are joined by a range of musical guests and spoken word collaborators for this special release. Guests include Marc Kelly Smith, Karen Savoca, Anne Harris and Pete Heitzman helping bring colourful texture to Sons of The Never Wrong’s trademark blend of folk, jazz, pop and rock influences.

Opening track, the gorgeous gospel-tinged, soul-flavoured ‘Muddy, Muddy River’ with guest, Bob Long, on organ and piano is clearly destined to be a centre-piece of future live performances and is a modern-day classic in the making – absolutely gorgeous.

Elsewhere on the album, the melancholic, ecologically-themed piano and vocals number ‘Shorebird’ is another stand-out track, along with the Indie-ish anthem ‘Om Not This Time’. Tracks like ‘Everyone’s In The House’, meanwhile, take us into more classic folk singer-songwriter territory, evoking the genre’s golden age.

Beautifully presented with hand-painted cover art from Lader, Undertaker’s Songbook is a fine album to mark the trio’s thirtieth anniversary.

Released: 1st June 2021

https://sonsoftheneverwrong.com/

A support slot for Roger McGuinn and Gene Parsons guesting on his album – John Hinshelwood on The Byrds

When I came to review Called Back the latest album from Scottish singer-songwriter John Hinshelwood recently, on checking out his biog I was struck by the high regard he held for the Byrds and the influence that they were to have on his own music. Moreover, it went beyond mere musical influences. As well as sharing a stage with Roger McGuinn, he was involved in putting together a tribute to ex-Byrd and ex-Burrito, Gram Parsons, and actually came to record with former Byrd, Gene Parsons, who was with the band in its latter period, playing on five albums from Dr Byrds & Mr Hyde in 1969 to Farther Along in 1971.

I mentioned all this in my review and said it was certainly recommendation enough for me that this was going to be an album worth exploring. After I published my review, John got in touch. This led to a more detailed chat about how the Byrds came to have such a profound effect on his career and how he came to record with Gene Parsons.

I have already talked about my own particular Byrds journey here. There was clearly a meeting of minds between John and myself and he very kindly sent me a copy of his album on which Gene Parsons appeared.

Titled Holler Til Dawn the album was released in 2002. Recorded in various locations, including Scotland, Tennessee and California the album features eleven Hinshelwood originals, plus three covers: Kathy Stewart’s ‘Your Secret Love’, Lowell George’s and Keith Godchaux’s ‘Six Feet of Snow’ and Gram Parsons’ and Chris Hillman’s ‘My Uncle.’

The album boasts an impressive line-up of guest musicians and singers including, Rab Noakes, Cathy Stewart, Colin Macfarlane and Cathryn Craig as well as the aforementioned Gene Parsons, who plays on two tracks.

So how did he go about getting Gene Parsons to play on his album? John fills me in on how the two came to connect:

“I got to know Gene through Chrissie Oakes in Bristol, who used to run the Byrds Appreciation Society. I have known her since the early 70s and have kept in touch with her right up to the present. She contacted me back in 1995 to ask if I would be interested in organising a gig for Gene in Glasgow as part of his UK tour. Despite never having promoted a gig before, I agreed, and indeed had him back again a few years later. On both gigs, we did support, and agreed that on his next tour we would do some stuff together. Unfortunately, that tour has never happened, but I still live in hope.”

Prior to going on to record with Gene Parson, John was also able to bag himself a support slot for none other than Byrd’s founder, Roger McGuinn:

“The McGuinn gig came about as part of a roots festival in Glasgow in the late 90s. I knew the promoter, the late Billy Kelly, who was a great and genuine guy. I was really chuffed when he asked me to do an opening spot, not least because a lot of much better-known folk were desperate to do it. He knew how much it would mean to me as a Byrds fan, and he kept his word and gave me the gig. I must admit that it was somewhat surreal to be sitting in the dressing room pre gig, and listening to McGuinn practising ‘Eight Miles High’ next door!”

Reflecting on Gene Parsons contributing to the Holler Til Dawn album, Johns notes:

“As is the case with lots of recording nowadays, I wasn’t actually present when Gene added his contributions to the two tracks on Holler Til Dawn. Things have even changed a lot since 2001 when ‘Holler’ was recorded. Today, it is done by emailing files back and forth, but then I had to send the tracks by post to California where Gene recorded his parts, then posted them back to me!”

“The first track we did was the Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman song ‘My Uncle’ which appeared on the Flying Burrito Brothers debut album “The Gilded Palace of Sin” in 1969. The basic tracks of Alasdair Kennedy (mandolin), Tim Clarke (acoustic bass), and myself on acoustic guitar and lead vocal were done in Glasgow, then sent to California where Gene added two banjo tracks and two vocal harmonies.”

“The second track was one of my own songs “We’re all in this together” and has just myself and Gene on it. I play acoustic guitar and sing lead and harmony vocals, and Gene did banjo, acoustic guitar and harmony vocals. Again, I recorded in Glasgow and Gene in Albion, California.”

“Recording in this way requires a lot of trust, as I could not be present to direct and produce, but with Gene’s track record and wonderful musicianship, I was confident that all would work out well, and that did indeed prove to be the case.”

Our respective Byrds journeys

As a non-musician with no discernible musical ability whatsoever I can’t really claim anything so grand as ‘musical influences’. However, the Byrds were certainly had a big influence on me in terms of expanding my musical tastes and interests. I explained in my own post here about how listening to the Byrds as a teenager led me to start exploring the words of American folk-rock and English folk-rock and eventually English folk as well as Americana and country.

John chips in his own two-penneth:

“Your Byrds story is interesting, and I can relate to much of it. I also love Fairport and have seen them more times than any other band. The Byrds also got me listening to folk music, and a lot of our gigs are in folk clubs. It was also “Sweetheart of The Rodeo” that got me interested in country music which, like most ‘rock’ fans I thought I hated. I have, in fact, been in quite a few country and country rock bands over the years, including The City Sinners, which played the music of Gram Parsons.”

Holler Til Dawn is a fine album of first-rate Americana and picked up many favourable reviews at the time. Whether you’re a Gene Parsons fan specifically or a lover of Americana more generally it is well worth checking out.

http://www.johnhinshelwood.com/

Related posts:

Album review – John Hinshelwood ‘Called Back’

A love letter to The Byrds – and the part they played in a musical journey

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 – 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