Tag Archives: folk

Folk/country/Americana: album review – Marina Florance ‘Fly Beyond The Border’

Catching singer-songwriter Marina Florance live a couple of years ago she immediately impressed both with her heartfelt songs and the seemingly effortless but compellingly sincere country-ish vibe that she pulled off. Fly Beyond the Border is Florance’s third album, bringing together brand new material, some recent collaborations with other artists and some previously released singles.

Although coming late in life to a professional music career, the album sees Florance really hitting her stride as a song-writer of note. Her themes of life, love and relationships are universal but her honest, heartfelt delivery makes you want to hang on to every word.

Florance has been working with the lottery-funded Warm & Toasty Club’s Coast To Coast Project where she was commissioned, alongside co-writer Jules Fox Allen, to write three songs based on the memories of residents at retirement complexes along the Essex Coast. One of these songs ‘Sirens’, celebrating the tenacity of women in often very difficult circumstances, features on the album.

It’s not just the sensitive lyrics and Florance’s heartfelt delivery though. There’s some suitably impressive musicianship on this album, too. Alongside Florance’s guitar and mandolin there’s a fine group of accompanying musicians, including some lovely Americana-tinged fiddle playing from Mark Jolley that compliments Florance’s songs perfectly. Meanwhile, ‘The Blue Lady’, featuring some beautiful dobro and guitar from Ben Walker, is a definite highlight.

If you have not yet come across Marina Florance, there’s plenty for fans of folk, country, Americana or singer-songwriter to fall in love with and Fly Beyond The Border is well worth checking out.

Released: March 2018

https://www.marinaflorance.com/

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Related reviews

Album review – Marina Florance ‘This That & The Other’

Marina Florance – Emerging Talent Showcase

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Folk: EP review – Thom Ashworth ‘Hollow’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

A relatively new entrant to the folk scene, Thom Ashworth already made quite an impact with his first EP Everybody’s Gone to The Rapture at the start of 2017. Now he is back with a second and the elements that ensured his first release stood out from the crowd – his distinctive tenor vocals and stripped-back minimalist accompaniment from his acoustic bass guitar – equally apply to the second, Hollow.

Comprising four tracks, two are traditional songs and the other two are written by Ashworth himself. Of the traditional material, High Germany is the song about the War of The Spanish Succession, performed by Martin Carthy, The Dubliners and others over the years. Here it is turned into a rousingly defiant protest song as Ashworth delivers lines like “Oh cursed be the cruel wars that ever they should rise” accompanied by his trademark guitar sounds and powerfully rhythmic percussion.

The title track, meanwhile, is one of Ashworth’s own songs and is altogether a more mournful and sombre affair with eerily atmospheric accompaniment. The other original song, rispin’s War,picks up the anti-war theme of the first track.

Paean to the working man and woman,Work Life Out To Keep Life In, rounds the EP off in fine form and perhaps hints that Ashworth may well turn out to be the Billy Bragg for the mid twenty-first century.

This release is another clear demonstration that Thom Ashworth is a folk singer with important things to say and a unique way of saying it.

Self released: November 2017

http://thomashworth.com/

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Folk: album review – Will Finn & Rosie Calvert ‘Beneath This Place’

Will Finn and Rosie Calvert will be familiar to many folk fans as one half of a capella singing quartet The Teacups. On ‘Beneath this Place’, however, they go for a somewhat different approach: traditional folk accompanied by a range of instrumentation including the steel pan, no less. While such a combination may scream ‘twee novelty record’ that’s very much not the case and there’s some interesting sound textures and sensitive album song interpretations.

“Just as I sing in different styles,” explains Calvert, “I play folk tunes differently on the steel pan than I would calypso.” Such an approach has allowed them to create a sound that’s unique while very much in the tradition of European folk. Opening up with the traditional ‘Banks of the Sacramento’ which captures the initial excitement of the American gold rush the use of the steel pan in such an unexpected context opens the album in fine form. On other tracks like ‘January Man’ that follows the steel pan takes on an altogether more mournful tone.

The duo’s harmonies, of course, honed over the years are as delightful on this album as they are with The Teacups on tracks like ‘Paddy’s Lamentation’.

With accompaniment from Evan Carson (bodhran and percussion), Matt Downer (double bass), Sam Partridge (flute and whistles) and Seth Tinsley (guitar) the duo have produced a fine album in ‘Beneath This Place’. Having enjoyed seeing them on stage with The Teacups I very much look forward to catching the due performing these songs live at some stage.

With so many excellent but perhaps not always particularly distinctive albums being released on the contemporary folk scene ‘Beneath This Place’ genuinely does offer something that little bit different. Well done Will Finn and Rosie Calvert.

Released: 1st June 2018 by Haystack Records

https://willfinnandrosiecalvert.com/

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Live review: Show Of Hands at St Mary in the Castle 4/5/18

This review was originally published by Hastings Online Times here

Touring together since the early 90s, picking up more awards than you’d care to mention and selling out the Albert Hall on several occasions, Devon’s Show Of Hands are one of the best-known names on the contemporary folk scene. As the venues got bigger and the album sales increased the original duo of Steve Knightley and Phil Beer were joined by double bass virtuosos, Miranda Sykes, along the way.

For this tour however, sans Sykes, the duo have decided to go back to their roots, performing songs from early on in their career. They are ably supported by Geoff Lakeman, father of a whole brood of award-winning folk musicians in Sean, Sam and Seth Lakeman. An engaging folk singer and concertina player with a lifetime’s experience as part of the local west country folk scene, Lakeman entertains the audience as he adopts the bemused persona of someone who finds themselves touring in support of their very first album at the age of 69.

Show Of Hands’ set features songs from Knightly and Beer’s early years of playing together at the Deer Leap folk club in Devon, in addition to songs voted for by their fans from the duo’s first five albums. There’s a nice variety in terms of both traditional material and Knightley’s own songs. As one would expect, it’s also a great showcase for Beer’s musical genius on fiddle, guitar and mandolin. Perhaps more so than a typical Show Of Hands gig, however, the nature of the performance gives the two a real opportunity to talk about their original coming together as a duo, their musical influences and some of the things that had happened to them over the years – both the hilarious and the poignant.

Introducing ‘Seven Yellow Gypsies’ Knightley explains that they were once playing the song to a group of musicians in India when the host musicians responded with a song of their own that had an almost identical melody and subject matter. It’s a lesson in realising however English we might think many of these old folk songs are there is something universal about much traditional music and also reminds us how well-travelled some of these songs are.

It isn’t all music from the early days though. The duo wrap up with a ‘greatest hits’ collection, giving some of their best-known anthems like ‘Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed’, ‘Country Life’ and ‘Cousin Jack’ a good airing. There’s plenty of Life In Show Of Hands yet and, I’m certain, there’ll be plenty more caustic observations of modern-day life but for this tour it was nice, also, to celebrate the duo’s early days with them and to learn a bit more about what brought them together.

https://www.showofhands.co.uk/

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Photo Credit: Simon Putman

 

Live review: The Young ‘uns – The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 22/3/18

Teesside-based folk trio The Young ‘uns have been singing about injustices, historical and modern, for some years now, releasing four well-received albums and touring folk venues and festivals up and down the country. Their songs, written by the trio’s Sean Cooney, have covered everything from fighting poverty in the 1930s to fighting homophobia in the 2010s.

The Young ‘uns latest tour, however, The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff is devoted to a single theme. Johnny Longstaff was born in Stockton-on-Tees just after the First World War. Poverty and unemployment drove him to London as a teenager, via the Hunger March of 1934. Whilst in London Longstaff became more and more politicised, volunteering for the Spanish Civil War in 1936 as a young man of just seventeen. Longstaff recalled his experiences in a series of recordings in the 1980s. Using excerpts from these tapes and photo montages from the period interspersed with their songs, The Young Uns bring his story to life once more.

With sixteen songs composed by Cooney the trio sing their way through Longstaff’s remarkable life. Songs like ‘Any Bread’ and ‘Carrying The Coffin’ recall the poverty and destitution of life in the north-east in the Great Depression while ‘Cable Street’ retells the tale of the famous battle with Moseley’s fascists on the streets of London. As the show unfolds songs like ‘The Great Tomorrow’, ‘Trench Tales’ and ‘David Guest’ recall the experiences of fighting Franco’s fascists, from the bitter conditions and lack of food to the heroics of fallen comrades that Longstaff fought alongside. The show ends with a rendition of ‘The Valley Of Jarama’, a song song sung by Spanish Civil War veterans and written by Alex McDade, himself one of the volunteers of the British Battalion fighting the fascists. Although the forces against fascism were defeated in Spain, Longstaff, who died in 2000, was adamant that the Spanish Civil War was a vital prerequisite for the successful defeat of fascism in the guise of Hitler’s Nazism just a few years later.

I’ve seen the Young ‘uns on multiple occasions now and their live performances, in addition to their brand of movingly defiant songs, usually involve much hilarious ad-libbed banter, both between themselves and with the audience. With The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff, however, the guys prove that their gift for storytelling and their natural affinity with the underdog also means they can pull of a project as ambitious as this and move an audience to tears in the process.

http://www.theyounguns.co.uk/

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Related reviews:
The Young ‘uns at Cecil Sharp House
The Young ‘uns at Great British Folk Festival

Folk/Rock: album review – False Lights ‘Harmonograph’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

In that beast known as folk rock we often find that the ’rock’ element tends to be closely rooted in whatever were the current rock influences of the period. Late ’60s Fairport Convention, mid ’70s Steeleye Span or late ’80s Oysterband all captured that Zeitgeist perfectly; and some classic albums came about as a result.

It is not unreasonable to insist, therefore, that if this melding of the two genres is to continue in a meaningful sense that it is time for some more contemporary influences to be embraced.

The first False Lights album Salvor was released in 2015 with a mission to make ’folk rock for the twenty-first century’ and won many fans as a result. Harmonograph continues in that vein and there is an unstoppable energy and momentum about the album from the very start.

Nearly all the tracks on the album are traditional songs from the folk canon, augmented with a couple of adaptations of traditional hymns alongside a tune composed by the group’s Tom Moore. The album is steeped in history and draws on some wonderful folk tunes but it celebrates traditional music without ever being constrained by it.

The lyrics to folk songs like Murder In The Red Barn remain as dramatic, as unforgiving and as brutal as ever; but being removed from any archetypal folk stylings in terms of delivery they are given a potency that is quite startling against a backdrop of jangly indie-sounding guitar and breezy, contemporary-sounding vocal delivery. It really makes the listener hang on to every word of every song.

A stellar line-up of Jim Moray, Sam Carter, Tom Moore, Archie Churchill-Moss, Barnaby Stradling and Stuart Provan means there is never any let up in quality and there is plenty of virtuoso musicianship as well as bags of energy and creativity.

This album is a clear demonstration that False Lights continue to impress and innovate on the road on which they started back in 2015. It does not mean that we have to put away our Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span or Oysterband albums but it does mean that in Harmonograph we have some twenty-first century folk rock that can easily stand proudly beside them.

Released: 2nd February 2018

http://falselights.co.uk/harmonograph/

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Related reviews:
Moore, Moss, Rutter at Cecil Sharp House

Folk: album review – Green Matthews ‘A Christmas Carol – A Folk Opera’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Following in the footsteps of Fairport Convention’s Babbacombe Lee and Peter Bellamy’s The Transports, Green Matthews’ A Christmas Carol presents itself as a ’folk opera’. With twenty songs stretching over an hour, it retells the tale of Charles Dickens’ renowned Christmas story by putting new lyrics to well-known carols and traditional tunes.

Green Matthews are Chris Green, (vocals, guitar, mandocello, piano, accordion, bass guitar and drums) and Sophie Matthews (vocals, flute and English border bagpipes). For this album they are also joined by Pilgrims’ Way’s Jude Rees who joins the duo on melodeon and oboe.

Musically, the album brings to mind some of the much-celebrated Christmas albums by Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band, with their inventive arrangements of well-known carols and their vast array of different instruments. However, the latter have often spiced up their traditional Christmas fare by delving back in time and unearthing one or two obscure but captivating tunes to accompany the more familiar ones.

Although Green Matthews offer us beautiful, luscious arrangements of well-known tunes, it would perhaps have been nice to have heard a few less familiar ones, as well. One cannot fault the musicianship, however, and it is lovely to hear such tunes played so beautifully on such a well-produced album.

Lyrically, apart from a couple of clumsy lines here and there, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is translated into song in a thoroughly engaging and entertaining way. Vocally, the duo have sought to avoid the twin clichés of the “finger-in-the-ear folk voice” on the one hand and “musical theatre camp” on the other, we are assured in the album’s accompanying publicity. This they certainly achieve and the songs are delivered with sincerity and passion and a complete lack of affectation.

For those looking to expand their festive folk selections this year and wanting something a little different from the plethora of carol anthologies and traditional Christmas songs, this brand new folk opera based on Charles Dickens’ finest may well just do the trick – a worthy addition to any collection.

Released: November 2017

http://www.greenmatthews.co.uk/

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Live review: Fisherman’s Friends at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 12/11/17

“I quite like hearing the odd sea shanty – but I’m not sure I could manage a whole evening of it,” announces a long-time friend and my gig partner for the evening, seconds before Fisherman’s Friends are about to take the stage. Ah… hmmm. Perhaps I should have explained a little more when I first suggested going to see Fisherman’s Friends. I hope she’s not going to be too disappointed, I think to myself.

For the uninitiated, the Cornish singing group from Port Isaac have been making a huge impact in recent years singing traditional songs of the sea that have handed down to them over generations. They became the first traditional folk act to land a UK top ten album. Unsurprisingly, the group are clearly going to receive an enthusiastic welcome in a traditional fishing town like Hastings.

While there are enthusiastically-sung shanties galore tonight, it soon becomes clear that, wonderful though these are, Fisherman’s Friends’ repertoire expands much wider than that. An Americana-infused riverboat song, traditional songs of a non-seafaring nature, a Show Of Hands cover and the sea shanty ‘sub-genre’ of whaling songs all nestle with the anticipated shanties in the set tonight. Although many of the songs are delivered acapello showcasing the rich range of voices from the seven men on stage, there is also some nicely played guitar and accordion thrown into the mix at times, too.

Fisherman’s Friends are brothers and lobster fishermen John and Jeremy Brown, writer Jon Cleave, potter Billy Hawkins, smallholder John Lethbridge, builder John McDonnell, fisherman Jason Nicholas and film maker Toby Lobb. However, due to other commitments founder member John Brown is taking some time out on this tour and has been temporarily replaced by Jon Darley from upcoming, Bristol-based sea shanty group The Longest Johns. In a stage act that is never short of banter, much is made of the imposing hunk-like presence of the handsome young Darley joining the predominantly silver-haired Fisherman’s Friends on stage. As well as the body, however, Darley has a superb voice and takes the lead on a handful of songs tonight, including a gloriously rousing ‘Drunken Sailor’ for the encore. In fact, it would be good to see the Longest Johns doing a gig in their own right here in Hastings – someone book them!

Highlights in the set for me tonight include ‘Leaving Of Liverpool’ (a song which I think must have been compulsory learning for every primary school class in mid-1970s Lancashire and one where I know every word), ‘Cousin Jack’ (a spirited cover of the Show Of Hands favourite) and a rousing ‘The Union Of Different Kinds’ (definitely an anthem for these divided times).

Fisherman’s Friends certainly deserved the thunderous encore they got tonight. And my friend? She loved it, including all the shanties, Phew!

https://thefishermansfriends.com/

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Related review:
Album review – The Longest Johns

Folk: EP review – MacQuarrie and Toms ‘Granite’

This review was originally published by Bright You Folk here

Celtic-Cornish folk duo MacQuarrie and Toms, who have been performing together since 2014, arrive with their second EP Granite. Featuring two songs and four instrumentals it showcases the combined talents of Stuart MacQuarrie on fiddle and Jamie Toms on acoustic guitar.

Sweet Nightingale is a charming rendition of a traditional Cornish folk song. Granite is the Hardest Stone, meanwhile, is the duo’s interpretation of a song by Chris Lethbridge, who wrote a number of songs inspired by the Isles of Scilly.

Dark and brooding, it tells the story of the Scilly naval disaster when four warships and 1,550 sailors lives were lost in a catastrophic night at sea back in 1707. The drone-like tones of an Indian Shruti Box, the beautiful haunting fiddle-playing, and the dark mournful vocals make this the definitive stand-out track.

With the tunes the duo take an inventive and engaging approach, both with their own material like Toms’ Clutterbuck and MacQuarrie’s Bunch of Fives, as well as with their own interpretations of other writers.

The sleeve-notes relate what happened when they approached Will Coleman for permission to use one of his tunes on the EP, We ’ent Goin’ Far. Coleman’s amusingly philosophical response was, “Writing tunes is like having kids – they fly off into the world and have a life of their own (and you just sit at home waiting for the phone call from the police/ambulance/DNA expert).”

Listeners can be reassured that the tunes, whether composed by Coleman or others, do indeed take on a life of their own on Granite but they are far from any sort of disaster.

Inventive musicians with an imaginative and well-chosen set of songs and tunes, there is plenty to like about this EP.

Released Summer 2017

http://www.macquarrieandtoms.com/

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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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