Tag Archives: celtic

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 – NUA ‘Flow’

My review originally appeared on the Bright Young Folk website here

Toronto-based instrumental trio NUA are fiddle player James Law, guitarist Graeme McGillivray and bodhrán player Jacob McCauley. The band draws on Scottish and Irish folk traditions. Flow is their second album and follows their well-received debut Bold, which came out in 2013.

A nice, clean, uncluttered sound, it is the interaction of the rhythms of the guitar and the bodhrán with the melodies of the fiddle that really make this band. However, that is not to suggest for a moment that the guitar and the bodhrán just remain in the background while the fiddle takes centre-stage. Launching their new album, Jacob McCauley recently explained, “We wanted to have three members that equally share the spotlight so to speak. Where each member can take on multiple roles depending on what is going on musically. Obviously when it comes down to it, we only have one melody player, but the guitar and bodhrán both have their moments to speak melodically instead of just rhythmically. The fiddle also has times to lay back and keep a more rhythmic feel or a more subtle drone.”

The result is an album of twelve original self-composed tunes, half joint compositions by fiddle-player, Law, and guitarist, McGillivray, and the remainder written solely by one or the other.

Opening track Wide Open makes for an uplifting start and sets the album up nicely, beginning with some bright, sunny-sounding guitar before being joined by some lovely fiddle that darts and dances around.

A whole album of instrumentals, regardless of how good each individual tune is, does need light and shade, depth and colour and several changes of gear to maintain the attention of most listeners, however. This CD is one that meets those challenges even, at times, within a single tune.

The excellent Ghostrider, for example, starts off with a very gentle and soothing melody but gradually gets more and more frenetic, drawing the listener in until finally, at the very, very end, the tune draws to a close with all the soothing gentleness with which it began.

A fresh and vibrant take on traditional Celtic music, a strong collection of original tunes and some inspired interplay between the three musicians, NUA are likely to continue cementing their reputation on the folk scene and no doubt pick up a few more awards with this, their second album.

Released: June 2016

http://www.trionua.com/

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