Tag Archives: Birnam CD

Folk: album review – Màiri MacMillan ‘Gu Deas’

On her long-awaited debut album entitled Gu Deas (meaning south or southern), Màiri MacMillan presents us with interpretations of eleven traditional Gaelic songs. For MacMillan, Gaelic folksong and the Gaelic language is not merely some recent exploration of Scotland’s rich musical heritage. She lives and breathes it and is very much the genuine article.

From Milton in South Uist, MacMillan was brought up surrounded by Gaelic language, culture, music and song and began singing at an early age. Gaelic is her first language and Gaelic songs, and traditions run deep in her family.

“The songs on this album have been learned from recordings of women, mostly from South Uist, who passed on songs for future generations,” she writes in the sleeve-notes.

MacMillan is blessed with one of these beautiful, clear, pure voices that is just so perfect for this material and her familiarity with and deep love for the songs shines through.

The songs have been given fresh-sounding but sympathetic contemporary arrangements by the musician Mhairi Hall, who arranged and produced the album, learning from past recordings of South Uist tradition bearers. Alongside Hall (harmonium, piano, flute, and whistle), the album features Megan Henderson (fiddle and voice), Ali Hutton (bodhrán, guitar, whistle, great highland bagpipes) and Rachel Newton (clàrsach, electric harp and voice).

The extensive sleeve-notes, in both Gaelic and English, provide full lyrics and additional background information for each of the songs. 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.

https://mairimacmillan.com/

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

Progressive folk / experimental: album review: 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. He currently performs as a duo with Katy Marchant, as well as in the medieval-inspired trad folk band Woodwose (again with Marchant) and as part of the cross-cultural outfit Meridianum Ensemble.

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’.

“The intention was merely to render in sonic form some patterns from the imagination, rather than following any particular theme or genre. However, as many of the pieces arose from contemplation of the passage of time and the juxtaposition of different chronological perspectives, a theme of sorts has arisen.”

Tyler’s main creative drive is his interest in patterns and rhythms and the resulting interweaving of different components into a sonic structure. Tyler’s infectiously hypnotic hurdy gurdy playing is thus textured by his use of numerous other instruments, namely cittern, reed organ, psaltery, guitar, bass guitar, hammered dulcimer, gothic harp and percussion. However, the album also features guest musicians: Katy Marchant who plays, variously, bagpipes, recorder, shawm and vocal on several tracks) and Jane Harbour, from the Bristol-based band Spiro, whose vocal and violin-playing can be heard on the final track ‘Lullaby’.

A lovely touch, particularly for ELO fans, is the inclusion of the late Mike Edwards – the cellist from the original line-up of Electric Light Orchestra who was tragically killed in 2010. Tyler had previously worked with Edwards and an unaccompanied improvisational sample of his was located and, by chance, fitted perfectly into the dark, haunting piece on the album entitled ‘Tethys’.

A rich, fascinating and uniquely other-worldly album, Tyler creates some utterly compelling sonic textures and fans of experimental music, prog and folk will all find much to draw them in here.

Released: Autumn 2020

http://www.stevetyler-hurdygurdy.com/

Folk: album review – The Chair ‘Orkney Monster’

The Chair are an eight-piece folk band from Orkney. Formed in 2004, Orkney Monster is the band’s third album. Based around twin fiddles, banjo, accordion, guitar, drums and bass and this album, although recorded in the studio, aims to capture some of the energy and exhilaration of their live performances and promises their unique brand of ‘Orkney Stomp’.

Do they pull it off? Certainly. In Orkney Monster the band deliver an album that’s full of zest and joie de vivre while digging deep into their island heritage. There’s reels and jigs aplenty, with a slew of original compositions from band members as well as a handful by contemporary Scottish writers and a few traditional tunes, too.

As an eight-strong outfit the band are able to really go some on those infectiously rollicking reels and the interplay between the musicians is a wonder. But there is a more sensitive side to the band, too, as we hear on tunes like the wonderfully poignant ‘Wee Davie’ written by the band’s guitarist, Gavin Firth.

Mostly instrumental, the album does also include a couple of songs. There’s a lively take on ‘Walk Beside Me’, written by bluegrass and country artist, Tim O’Brien, that the band make truly their own as well as a beautifully mellow cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Shiver Me Timbers’.

Superb playing, beautiful tunes and buzzing with energy, Orkney Monster is simply a delightful album.

Released: 4th December 2020 by Folky Gibbon Records

https://www.lovethechair.com/

Folk/acoustic: album review – Stephen Clark ‘The Lady Aurora’

Featuring original compositions, some new arrangements of traditional tunes and a couple of reworkings of well-known covers this mainly instrumental album on the theme of nature is the solo debut from London-based acoustic guitarist, Stephen Clark.

Encompassing acoustic blues riffs, Appalachian mountain tunes, some Celtic influences and a 14th century Arabic love song, not to mention a touch of J.J. Cale and the Penguin Café Orchestra, The Lady Aurora is an aural delight.

On the live circuit Clark is one half of acoustic duo One Man Down, along with musical partner Jeff Porter who also plays on three of the album’s tracks. Clark’s musical influences range from Django Reinhardt, to John Martyn, Nick Drake, and Johnny Cash and, indeed, such influences and numerous others shine through on this album to create something satisfyingly original.

The evocative ‘Rising Tide’, with a melody that manages to convey both beauty and menace, was written at the time of the great floods of 2014 while a couple of tunes ‘Shimmering Light’ and the title track itself were inspired by a sightseeing trip to the Northern Lights. ‘Muddlin’ Through Boogaloo’, meanwhile, is a traditional blues groove with a hint of Latin. The Appalachian tunes include a lovely version of ‘Shady Grove’ that many will be familiar with as the melody that Fairport Convention recycled for their version of ‘Matty Groves’ on their seminal Liege and Lief album.

Acoustic blues junkies, die-hard folkies and, even though there’s only a couple of actual songs, followers of the acoustic singer-songwriter genre will all find plenty to like in this album. Stephen Clark is a nimble and talented player with a wide musical hinterland and a gift for evocative composition and arrangements The Lady Aurora is well worth exploring.

Released: 6th November 2020

https://stephenpeterclark.wixsite.com/website

Folk: album review: Pat Walsh ‘Simply Whistle’

Simply Whistle pretty much does what it says on the tin. For the past five decades Pat Walsh has been part of the north-west traditional music scene and across each of its nineteen tracks this album puts Walsh’s tin whistle and her beautiful jigs, reels and flings centre-stage.

Walsh was born to an Irish family in Manchester in the mid 1950s. This beautifully-packaged CD with its informative twelve-page booklet details not only the background to the tunes, both the traditional numbers and original compositions, but also Walsh’s own life story and her abiding love of traditional music.

“I have tried to describe the really important part that Irish traditional music has played in my life,” she says in the sleeve-notes. “And my enduring passion for playing and listening to it. I have often wished that my great grandfather John Ryder, the fiddle player from Longford had done something similar for later generations to read. If my grandchildren or their children get the bug for trad music, I hope they find that this memoir and the tunes fill in the back story, or maybe even it will pique their interest. Either way, this is for them.”

Produced by Mike McGoldrick, who has played alongside Walsh and also features on the album, the production retains a clean and simple feel which works so well. Within seconds of putting the album on Walsh’s evocative playing has immediately transported you to another time and place.

Released: 14th September 2020

https://www.patwalshwhistle.com/

New-wave folk: album review – The Strunts ‘Too Much of Everything’

Describing their style as “post-truth, new wave folk” The Strunts came about as Kintyre musicians, David Fee and Les Oman, reacted to the inauguration of Donald trump as US President with a bout of song-writing. ‘Ranches and Mansions’ one of the songs on this album was the initial fruit of this collaboration, soon followed by several more. The Strunts and their debut album Too Much of Everything were born.

Applying a combination of dark humour and raw emotion with a singer-songwriter folky vibe, the album is quirky and eccentric yet musically appealing – based around Oman and Fee’s bouzouki and acoustic guitar playing. Recorded over the past three years, with the help of musician and engineer/producer Sam Hales at his Campbeltown studio, other local musician friends came on board as the project evolved. These included Alison Leith on additional vocals, Anne Leith on backing vocals, Mark Leishman on drums and percussion, Alex Johnson on double bass as well as Hales on electric guitar.

In spite of being delighted with the result, The Strunts say they will be “equally delighted if POTUS 46 is somebody else, meaning that the ‘difficult second album’ can fly in some other weird and wonderful direction.”

Released: 4th July 2020

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https://www.facebook.com/Struntoon

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

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

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

Steinberg takes up the story:

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

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

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

Released: 4th July 2020

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

Folk/world: album review – Reely Jiggered ‘Tricky Terrain’

Kate Bush with a Bhangra band and a Celtic fiddle player – if you asked me to give my first impressions of Tricky Terrain, the new album from Reely Jiggered, that’s pretty much what sprang to mind when I put it into the CD player .

Actually, as first impressions go that’s not too far out. With the soaring vocals and frenetic fiddle-playing of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland trained Alison McNeill and the band’s output inspired by both Scottish folk and World beats, they have managed to create a unique and irresistible fusion of folk, funk, rock, pop and jazz

Now releasing their third album they have headlined a number of festivals, both in Scotland and internationally, and are past winners of the Soundwave music competition. Joining Alison McNeill on vocals and fiddle are Fiona McNeill (guitar, bodhran, backing vocals) and Scott McLean (drums), with guest musicians Stuart Taylor (keys) and Gregor McPhie (bass).

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The rocking rhythms, furious fiddling and exquisite vocals aligned with those diverse beats make for an absolutely cracking album. The songs are great, too – whether it’s Alison McNeil’s own compositions exploring politics, mental health and international issues as well as the Scottish landscape and past history – or whether it’s the band’s modern take on ‘Auld Lang Syne’ which closes the album.

Fresh, vibrant and unique I’m immediately won over to ‘Reely Jiggered’ and Tricky Terrain is a superb album.

Released 1st May 2020

https://www.reelyjiggered.co.uk/

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Singer-songwriter: album review – Tom Fairnie ‘Lightning in the Dark’

An Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter whose writing cuts across a number of styles, encompassing Americana, folk, country and blues – Tom Fairnie and has built up a considerable reputation on the Scottish folk circuit.

Over in Austin, Texas, Grammy-nominated producer, Merel Bregante, came across Fairnie’s music, was inspired by his songs and invited him over to Austin to record. Friends, family and fans rallied round to make that happen, courtesy of a crowdfunding campaign and a series of benefit gigs and Fairnie pitched up in Texas. In the studio he worked with a stellar cast of musicians who had previously played alongside the likes of Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Jackson Browne. Lightning in the Dark is the result, an album of breathtaking Americana with Celtic influences shining through. It’s a delicious fusion of styles. Dobros and banjos nestle with whistles and pipes to create something both beautiful and extraordinary – Celticana as Bregante dubbed it.

The sound is special but so, too, are the songs. Fairnie’s gift as a songwriter and easy-going but thought-provoking lyrics, many of them composed with songwriting partner and fellow poet Bob Shields, make this a standout-out album.

An absolute gem of an album. If you love Americana seek out Tom Fairnie’s Lightning In The Dark. You will not be disappointed.

Released: 1st May 2020

https://tomfairnie.com/home-news

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