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.
Swedish singer-songwriter-instrumentalist, Peter Danielsson, had spent time on the road performing in a variety of different outfits. Around a decade ago he felt it was time to go solo and that a change in musical direction was in order. He bought himself a banjo, taught himself to play clawhammer (the distinctive banjo playing style common to a lot of old-time American music) and reinvented himself as bluegrass performer, John Edwin.
As well as old-time standards he also began introducing more of his own material into his live act and, over time, he’d picked up a group of collaborators and reinvented himself once more, now as frontman of John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies playing a new country/folk sound based on fretless banjo and electric guitar.
Divine Life of Punarvasu is the outfit’s debut album, showcasing eleven original songs written by John Edwin (Peter Danielsson). Irresistibly catchy melodies, pleasing vocals and that distinctive trademark blend of fretless banjo and electric guitar serve to make this and instantly likeable album and one worthy of repeat playing.
Lyrically, the album explores decidedly the non-redneck themes of Vedic astrology and yoga philosophy but are delivered with a sincerity and down-at-home ease that effortlessly rolls with the music whatever your spiritual (or non-spiritual) leanings.
A highly enjoyable debut.
John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies are:
John Edwin alias Peter Danielsson: five string banjo, fretless banjo, vocals & acoustic guitar Kenneth Bakkelund – electric guitars Pedro Blom – Ukuele bass Jörgen Andersson – snare drums
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.