Tag Archives: Bright Young Folk

Folk: album review – Pilgrims’ Way ‘Stand & Deliver’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Following two previous albums (2011’s Wayside Courtesies and 2016’s Red Diesel) north west-based band Pilgrims’ Way are back with a third. There has been a line-up change since the last one, with Jude Rees now joining Tom Kitching, Edwin Beasant and Jon Loomes, but there has been no let-up in the band’s trademark vigour and verve.

Stand and Deliver is a concept album of sorts, that brings together a selection of traditional highwayman songs, always a rich and enduring source of material in English folk.

The album promises fifty different instruments across its eleven tracks and we hear oboe, bagpipes, flutes, recorders, hurdy gurdy, Jews’ harp, harmonica, concertina and melodeon, to name a few, as well as guitars, bass, drums and percussion.

In addition, the band cite almost as diverse a list of musical genres influencing their interpretations as they do instruments; from classic-era folk rock, through to Madchester, doom metal, disco and West End musicals.

The juxtaposition of the vocals of the three male members of the band alongside new member, Jude Rees, also adds to that sense of variety and contrast.

It is an ambitious project, for sure, and there could be a danger of something like this lacking coherence but the enthusiasm of the band and their combined musical talents definitely carry it through.

Material-wise, there is plenty that many folk fans will be familiar with, but the band definitely put their own stamp on well-known songs like Ibson, Gibson, Johnson and Cadgwith Anthem.

A sonically-menacing Saucy Bold Robber, with an arrangement inspired by a folk take on doom metal with some great vocals from Rees, is also another highlight.

The album finishes up with a spirited, tongue-in-cheek cover of the 1981 chart hit Stand and Deliver. How could any album about dandy highwaymen fail to pay tribute to Adam and the Ants?

Stand and Deliver is an ambitious album that is executed with style and panache. While there are obvious echoes back to some of the folk-rock albums of the classic early 70s period there is also something fresh, innovative and daring about Pilgrims’ Way that make this album a delight to listen to.

Released 20th October 2017

http://www.pilgrims-way.net/

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Folk: EP review – Molly Evans ‘Deep Time and Narrow Space’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

For those who were captivated and/or terrified by the novels of Alan Garner as a child this six-track EP from Molly Evans should be of particular interest.

Evans is a young, Cheshire-born singer who has been immersed in folk since early childhood. However, for this, her second release, rather than interpretations of traditional songs she has reworked material from the children’s fantasy author, folklorist and fellow Cheshire resident, Alan Garner.

Traditional tales and poems collected by the author, along with extracts from Garner’s novels, have been given a new creative setting. ‘Deep Time and Narrow Space’ magically transports us to a world of faery kings, hobgoblins, mysterious woods and running hares.

Evans has a strong and distinctive voice with lovely flat northern vowel sounds that are a perfect fit for this type of material. She is accompanied by two-thirds of the award-winning folk trio Moore Moss Rutter.

Jack Rutter plays guitar, bouzouki, banjo and duet concertina whilst his colleague, Archie Churchill-Moss, applies his distinctive melodeon-playing. Both talented instrumentalists, they provide wonderfully atmospheric musical accompaniment to Evans’ vocals.

This is an enchanting and fascinating collection of songs but particular highlights include the brooding Maggotty’s Wood, based on one of the stories from Garner’s Collected Folk Tales; and Yallery Brown, about a boggarty creature that Garner describes as “the most powerful of all English fairy-tales.”

With ‘Deep Time and Narrow Space Evans’ has produced something unique and rather special. She deserves heaps of praise both for her singing and her writing as well as the overall creativity of this project.

https://www.facebook.com/MollyEvansMusic/

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Related reviews:
Molly Evans and Jack Rutter
Moore Moss Rutter 

Folk: album review – Ross Couper & Tom Oakes ‘Fiddle & Guitar’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Ross Couper is from Shetland, known for his incendiary fiddle-playing with Peatbog Faeries amongst others. Tom Oakes is from Devon but has settled in Scotland, too, and as well as being a much-celebrated flautist is also a noteworthy guitarist who has played alongside a number of the big names in contemporary folk.

The two have been playing with one another for almost ten years now and clocked up many, many gigs together but, surprisingly, this is their debut album as a duo. Fiddle & Guitar is exactly what it says: an instrumental album comprising ten tracks of Couper’s fiddle-playing and Oakes’ guitar.

In spite of only two players, two instruments and all tunes (no songs), the first thing to stress is what a varied selection of playing we get on this album. There’s brooding and melancholy, there’s fast and furious, there’s delicate and reflective and much more besides. It means that where other albums in a similar vein start to run the risk of being a little repetitive and samey, however excellent the musicianship, this one never suffers from that.

Not only is the album full of inventive musicianship the duo have got to earn some points, also, for inventive song titles. Sunburn, Man-flu and the Shits has got to be up for some sort of award in this regard, and whatever horrible images it may conjure up it’s actually a very beautiful tune.

The Last Gasp is described as a song without words and the slow, sorrowful fiddle against some gently expressive guitar-playing certainly allows the listener’s imagination to soon formulate a dialogue in their head about what it might be telling us.

Those who have been following Couper & Oakes live will at last be pleased that they finally have something to take away with them. And for anyone else who admires virtuoso musicianship delivered with genuine passion and feeling this is definitely an album worth exploring.

Released: May 2017

http://www.rossandtom.com/

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Folk: album review – Top Floor Taivers ‘A Delicate Game’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

The dramatic piano introduction that opens A Delicate Game instantly tells the listener that this is going to be something slightly different to the numerous, admittedly excellent, début albums that are coming out of the Scottish folk scene these days.

Aside from the fresh, engaging voice of Claire Hastings, who won Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year in 2015, the piano of Tina Jordan Rees is very much the dominant sound on A Delicate Game.

It gives this young female foursome, and the album itself, a very distinct identity. Hastings and Jordan Rees are joined by fiddler Gráinne Brady, with Heather Downie on the clàsrsach, the Gaelic triangular harp.

Material-wise the album is dominated by covers, including some very well-known ones, with a couple of traditional songs and two originals thrown in. In terms of covers they don’t beat about the bush, choosing iconic songs like Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows and Richard Thompson’s 1952 Vincent Black Lightning.

While the tune and lyrics of the latter are always going to be instantly recognisable, transforming the guitar maestro’s famous vintage motorcycling death-disc into a pacey, keyboard-driven track is an ambitious and genuinely interesting treatment that works well.

Other covers include Andy M. Stewart’s Ramblin’ Rover, while the traditional material includes The False Bride.

Of the two original tracks, one is by Heather Downie and her brother Alasdair, in what the sleeve-notes reveal to be their first foray into writing together. Called Jeannie and the Spider it’s a tongue-in-cheek look at relationships and the roles each partner plays within them. While it’s perhaps not the most memorable song on the album it is fair to say it is up against some stiff song-writing competition. It has a catchy, easily likeable melody and shows promise for song-writing that captures the spirit of the tradition.

The other original track, 10 Little Men, is Hastings’ re-imagining of the old nursery rhyme, and offers something a little different from the band’s usual style with electronic percussion and swirly atmospheric soundscapes. This track does, however, also offer an opportunity for Brady’s beautiful fiddle playing to really shine.

This is a band who have established a sound and a clear musical identity for themselves. At the same time they are not afraid to experiment and as a début A Delicate Game is an excellent showcase for the combined talents of the Top Floor Taivers.

Released 2016

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Folk: album review – Two’s Company ‘Go Together’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Two’s Company are a duo from Sheffield and Go Together is their debut album. Alice Baillee and David Jenkinson have been playing together since meeting at university several years ago and have clocked up a number of festival appearances as well as support slots for the likes of Martin Simpson and Phil Beer.

Their sound is built around Jenkinson’s guitar and cello-mandolin and Baillee’s flute, with lead vocals alternating between the contrasting voices of the two. The album is apparently representative of their live set and contains a nice mix of traditional songs and original material, with a couple of tunes thrown in, too.

Songs like Bobby, telling the tale of a little boy whose musical promise when he is not engaged in child labour is cut shut when his fingers are crushed in a loom, showcase Baillee’s talents for writing lyrics that evoke the folk tradition and effortlessly take us back to a different age.

The Grove is another original, a gentle song inspired by a small piece of wilderness on the edge of a village that has since given way to a housing estate. Baillee’s voice handles such mournful themes well.

Of the traditional songs, they do a pleasingly reflective version of Will You Go, Lassie, Go? with the duo sharing lead vocal duties. All Among The Barley, this time with Jenkinson on vocals, is another nice interpretation of a traditional song.

Of the tunes Winterfall, a tune-set of two pieces composed by Michael Raven, allows for some lively interchanges between Baillee’s flute and Jenkinson’s strings and is one of the musical highlights on the album.

While their overall approach is not wildly different from many other male/female folk duos Go Together is a solid debut that has allowed Two’s Company to begin carving out an identity for themselves and to contribute some fine songs. This is a welcome start to a recording career.

Released: September 2016

http://www.twoscompanyfolk.co.uk/

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Folk: single review – Ange Hardy ‘The Quantock Carol’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

The Ange Hardy Christmas single is becoming a much-anticipated annual tradition in the contemporary folk work. In 2014 we had The Little Holly Tree, followed by When Christmas Day is Near in 2015. Now, for 2016, we have The Quantock Carol.

Hardy presents us with two tracks this Christmas: The Quantock Carol and Mary’s Robin. Both are self written, self-produced, unaccompanied vocal performances, yet Hardy has a knack for writing Christmas songs that sound like long-forgotten but recently unearthed Victorian carols.

The Quantock Carol was written for a world in which “peace seems more important and less certain than ever,” Hardy reveals in the sleeve-notes. It was inspired by the landscapes of the Quantock hills where she resides, with the hope that such serenity may be something the whole world comes to experience. It’s a short song, just one minute 22 seconds, but it resonates with peace and goodwill to all and is sung in the rich, warm, clear voice that we have come to expect.

The second track, Mary’s Robin, is based on a Gaelic nativity legend, about how the robin came to get its red breast. Again, it’s beautifully sung and wouldn’t sound at all out of place at any festive concert, alongside more traditional carols.

With such a beautiful collection of seasonal songs being built up over the past few years, we surely look forward to an Ange Hardy Christmas album before too long.

Released November 2016

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http://www.angehardy.com/

Previous review:

The Little Holly Tree EP

 

 

Folk: EP review – The Changing Room ‘The Magic of Christmas’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

It’s been quite a year for The Changing Room, the Cornish-based folk duo of Tanya Brittain and Sam Kelly. Kelly picked up the Horizon prize at the BBC Folk Awards, the duo’s second album Picking Up the Pieces was released in the summer and there was also a collaboration project with The Lost Gardens of Heligan. So what better way to round of the year than with a Christmas EP.

Though neither originate from Cornwall (Brittain is originally from Sheffield and Kelly from Norfolk) they have undoubtedly helped give a greater profile to the Cornish language in folk music. Once formally classified “extinct” by UNESCO, Cornish has undergone a remarkable cultural renaissance in recent decades, thanks in no small part to the musical contributions of outfits like The Changing Room.

From June Tabor and Oysterband’s cover of Love Will Tear Us Apart to Richard Thompson’s spirited cover of Britney Spears, there have been some great folk makeovers of rock and pop classics in recent years. This EP continues that tradition with a cover of The Pretenders 1980s seasonal hit 2000 Miles, in Cornish, of course.

Even if one never learns or understands a word of Cornish it’s a beautifully expressive language and Kelly’s vocals, as fresh and contemporary-sounding as we have come to expect, handle the song equally beautifully.

The second track is Brittain’s own. Her ethereal Enya-like vocals give depth and beauty to this moodily atmospheric piano and vocals track, this time in English, all about the magic, brightness and calm of Christmas eve.

For the final track, the duo present their take on Silent Night. Anyone thinking they have quite enough versions of this song amongst their Christmas folk CDs already, can be reassured that this is something quite special. Again sung in Cornish, Kelly’s vocals are set against a mandolin backing that is as warm and melodic as a set of Christmas chimes, without a trace of overdone Christmas cheesiness or seasonal cliche.

For those looking for something striking, fresh and a just little different for their seasonal folk playlist this year The Magic of Christmas EP from this talented duo is well worth a punt.

Released November 2016

http://www.thechangingroommusic.com/

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Related review:

Sam Kelly Trio at Green Note 2015

Folk rock: album review – Green Diesel ‘Wayfarers All’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Formed in Faversham in Kent seven years ago, Green Diesel trace their musical influences back to the golden era of late 60s/early 70s British folk rock, to bands like Fairport Convention and the Albion Band. Indeed, it could be argued that this album sounds more like the direct offspring of the iconic albums from that period than perhaps the output of the Fairport of today does.

Green Diesel do folk rock and they do it superbly well. A rocking rhythm section and some lovely electric guitar licks blended with a good range of traditional instruments and some beautiful vocals – all of the essential ingredients for a great folk rock album are there, not to mention a great selection of songs and tunes.

Wayfarers All, the band’s second album following their 2012 debut Now Is the Time, contains a mixture of original and traditional material. Unless one was familiar with the traditional songs it would not be immediately obvious which songs fell into which category, a mark of both the quality of band member Greg Ireland’s song-writing talents, together with the ability of the band to put their own consistent musical stamp on the songs and tunes they perform.

To Kill the King opens the album, one of five tracks written by Ireland, and it demonstrates the vocal, instrumental and song-writing talents of the band nicely. Lead vocalist and violinist, Ellen Clare, has a clear but engaging folk voice that’s perfect for this type of material. Of the traditional material, the band do beautiful versions of Mad Tom of Bedlam and May Song.

Another thing that is always pleasing to to hear on any folk rock album is a mix of female and male vocals. And Wayfarers All doesn’t disappoint in this regard either. Lead guitarist Matt Dear takes the lead vocal on his own composition, A Fisherman, Once; while the band’s arrangement of Oak, Ash and Thorn, with its beautiful choral singing from the whole band punctuated by pumping electric bass, puts one in mind of early 70s Steeleye Span.

All in all Wayfarers All is a hugely enjoyable album. An up and coming band who deserve to be much bigger, let’s hear it for Green Diesel and this enchanting slice of classic English folk rock.

Released July 2014

https://www.facebook.com/greendieselfolk/?ref=br_rs&qsefr=1

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Folk: album review – Ewan McLennan & George Monbiot ‘Breaking the Spell of Loneliness’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Many followers of Bright Young Folk may be familiar with columnist George Monbiot. For some, Monbiot’s polemical Guardian columns on environmental destruction, economic inequality, the abuse of power and social decay may be a key reason for purchasing that newspaper, but would anyone want to purchase an album by him?

The first thing to make abundantly clear is that it is Ewan McLennan whose vocals and music we hear throughout the album. Monbiot, though, contributes much of the lyrical content and the story on how this album came about is a fascinating one.

The project began in the wake of an article that Monbiot wrote about the age of loneliness, which explored the themes of social isolation and the breakdown of society. It soon went viral and there was interest from publishers, but Monbiot’s further writings on the subject became the basis for songs, rather than a book, and he turned to McLennan with the idea of putting an album together.

So, a compelling back-story but musically and lyrically is the album any good?

There’s a gentle, melodic, laid-back feel to the music which provides the perfect backdrop for appreciating the album’s lyrical content. McLennan provides the vocals and guitar and he’s joined by Lauren MacColl on violin and viola, Sid Goldsmith on slide guitar, Donald Shaw on harmonium and Beth Porter on cello.

Scotsman McLennan, has a voice with absolutely bags of character, that immediately draws the listener in to each enunciated syllable of each line of every song.

Opening track Such a Thing as Society offers an eloquent and unapologetic rebuttal to one of former PM Margaret Thatcher’s most famous quotes: “There is such a thing as society, it keeps us from losing our minds, it’s working and living and laughing together, that makes us human kind.”

My Time and Yours, with its melancholic harmonium accompaniment and reflective lyrics looking back to days of hard time,s but strong communal and familial ties, is a particular favourite. It is a battle cry for today’s generations to break the spell of loneliness. It’s the only song written by McLennan alone but completely fits in with the overall theme of the album, and in many ways its lyrics act as a rallying manifesto for the album as a whole.

Other themes explored on the album include lost childhood freedoms and the casualties of society as seen through the eyes of a desk sergeant on night duty at a local police station. A haunting and beautiful instrumental Unknown Lament, and spirited cover of the civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome complete the album.

The world we live in means there is an awful lot to rally against and the folk genre rightly retains a crucial role in turning out songs that make us think hard about the world we live in. But however sincere the intentions and however important the issues, it is not unreasonable to expect such songs to be well-written, well-played and well-sung. Breaking the Spell of Loneliness more than passes those tests and is an absolute gem of an album.

Released October 2016

http://www.ewanmclennan.co.uk/breaking-the-spell-of-loneliness

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Folk: album review – Hamish Napier ‘The River’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Hamish Napier is an in-demand folk musician who has collaborated with a number of key acts on the Scottish folk scene. The River, however, is the debut solo album from this Strathspey-born composer and multi-instrumentalist, and is very much inspired by a childhood spent growing up on the banks of the Spey. “The River brings to the surface vivid sonic images of occurrences, past and present, along the mile-long stretch of the Spey that flows past my childhood home,” Napier tells us in the extensive sleeve notes.

The album includes a stellar cast of renowned Scottish folk musicians, including Sarah Hayes (Admiral Fallow) on flute, James Lindsay (Breabach) on double bass, Martin O’Neil (Duncan Chisholm) on bodhran, as well as Callum MacCrimmon singing Canntaireach, the ancient chanting language of the bagpipes.

Perhaps symbolic of the constantly changing flow of any river, there is a breadth of sounds and moods explored on this album. Opening track Mayfly puts one in mind of some early 70s prog rock passages, a folky Tubular Bells if you will. It’s perhaps an unusual start but provides a captivating experimental feel which immediately encourages the listener to want to explore further.

The Whirlpool meanwhile is a lovely tune with flute and whistle. It has been written as a round – in celebration of the whirlpool that constantly spins and spins just a few hundred yards from the Old Spey Bridge.which captures the frenetic natural cycle of the river as an ever-changing dance. The mood changes considerably with The Dance, beginning with gentle, sombre piano.

Of course, no aquatic-inspired folk, be it river or sea, is complete without harrowing tales of tragedy and death, and the beautiful but mournful Drowning of the Silver Brothers is inspired by the fate of two local boys who mysteriously drowned in the 1930s. Clearly not forgotten locally, this piece serves as a haunting but fitting tribute to the boys and the mystery that surrounds them.

Another memorable track is Floating, which has a funky electronic feel to it demonstrating just how far Napier is prepared to cast his musical net in order to capture the range of moods and emotions he feels moved to express in this album. The two-part The Spey Cast closes the album. The first part is a thought-provoking gentle piece inspired by the death of an old fly fisherman while the second part is a fast and furious musical romp which reflects the mixture of chaos and hilarity that is the town’s annual raft race.

For those with a love of Scottish folk, particularly those with a keen interest in experimentation and innovation within the Celtic world and who love to hear the sound of boundaries being pushed, this is an album well worth exploring.

Released January 2016

http://www.hamishnapier.com/

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