Tag Archives: folk

Latest folk reviews: Janice Burns & Jon Doran, The Land We Love, Breabach, Sam Sweeney, Lady Maisery

Janice Burns & Jon Doran – No More The Green Hills

A duo formed in 2017 while the pair were still at university in Newcastle, Janice Burns is originally from Glasgow while Jon Doran comes from Gloucestershire. Their first full-length album, No More Green Hills follows a well-received self-titled EP which came out in 2020.

With the pair sharing lead vocals, Janice Burns plays mandolin, guitar, harmonium and piano while Jon Doran can be heard on guitar, bouzouki, harmonium  and fiddle. All of the songs on the album are traditional and tracks like ‘She Moved Through The Fair’, ‘As I Roved Out’ and ‘The Greenmore Hare’ will be familiar to even the most casual of folk fans. However, with the duo’s vocals perfectly complimenting the elegant simplicity of the musical accompaniment, all eleven songs are delivered with such warmth that you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by this wonderful debut.

Released: 28 October 2022 https://www.janandjon.com/

Ian Bruce, Pete Clark, Ian Lowthian & Bruce MacGregor – The Land We Love

A small charity set up in 2011 with the aim of preserving the culture heritage and history of the Scottish Borders, Well Road Productions commissioned four musicians to create a new body of music celebrating the work of Borders poet, Will H. Ogilvie. Long-convinced that some of Ogilvie’s poems would make for fine songs, the organisation brought together Ian Bruce (guitar/vocals), Pete Clark (fiddle), Ian Lowthian (accordion) and Bruce McGregor (fiddle).

Born at Holefield, near Kelso in the Scottish Borders in 1869, Will H. Ogilvie spent time in Australia as a young man, becoming a notable ‘Bush poet’ there before returning to Scotland. It his work from this latter stage that is the focus for this album. The musicians, and particularly vocalist Ian Bruce, do such a fine job interpreting his work that it is hard to imagine that the words here were not originally conceived as songs. The Land We Love is a fascinating insight into Borders life, lovingly curated.

Released: October 2022 https://www.wellroadproductions.org.uk/

Breabach – Fàs

Breabach’s seventh studio album, and their first for four years, Fàs introduces new member Donal McDonagh on pipes and whistles, joining established members Megan Henderson, James Lindsay, Callum MacCrimmon and Ewan Robertson.

Callum MacCrimmon: “Fàs is much more song based than our previous albums and is deeply rooted in nature. It features original instrumental compositions from each band member, inspired by global climate-action youth movements, seed-vaults, figures close to the band and places close to our heart.”

While it the key ingredients of a typical Breabach album, the band have not shied away from experimenting in recent years and with Fàs they introduce progressive and avant-garde elements alongside the Breabach signature sound. The album features guests, Keir Long on synthesiser and Inge Thompson on programming, percussion and kalimba. The ecological theme, too, is especially welcome. It’s so easy to feel an overwhelming sense of despair about the state of our world and with our collective failure to tackle the climate crisis. Fàs injects a note of hope.

Released: 14 October 2022 https://www.breabach.com/

Sam Sweeney – Escape That

Celebrated as fiddle maestro extraordinaire with Bellowhead and for any number of collaborations with contemporary folk royalty, Sam Sweeney has also been pursuing a parallel solo career in recent years. Escape That is Sweeney’s third solo album.

The only instrumental album in this current round-up, the musical journey Sweeney takes us on is more of a gentle meander than a Bellowhead-style romp but is no less enjoyable for that. Infectious melodies (which draw as much from modern pop as traditional folk) showcase Sweeney’s exceptional playing which is backed up by a stellar cast of supporting musicians comprising Jack Rutter, Ben Nicholls, Louis Campell and Dave Mackay.

Sam Sweeney: “Escape That is the most ‘me’ music I can imagine making. It ties together my love for traditional dance tunes with my obsession with pop music hooks and textures.”

“It’s not trying to be anything. It’s as close as I’ve ever got to sharing the sound of the inside of my head.”

Released: 21 October 2022 https://www.samsweeneymusic.com/

Lady Maisery – Tender

When Tender dropped through my letterbox, I thought to myself that I haven’t seen a new album from the excellent female vocal trio, Lady Maisery, for quite a few years. On checking, I discovered that Tender is actually their first new album since 2016’s Cycle.

Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Rowan Rheingans bounce back with a highly inventive album comprising new original songs as well as their own unique interpretations of work by Björk, Tracy Chapman and Lal Waterson.

On the tour to promote the album late last year the indomitable Rowan Rheingans hilariously revealed on Twitter that one overbearingly entitled male audience member sent them a lengthy email setting them “homework” to do before their next tour. There’ll certainly be no homework from me.  It’s a beautiful album. Gorgeous harmonies, compelling storytelling and musically adventurous. A deserved success.

Released: 11 November 2022 https://www.ladymaisery.com/

2022 in Darren’s music blog – the ten most popular posts of the year

I wish everyone a happy New Year. My thanks to everyone who has visited Darren’s music blog during 2022. As usual an eclectic mix of classic rock, folk and glam and a mixture of live reviews, album reviews, tour news and a plug for my own book appearing amongst the ten most viewed posts of the year.

1. Live review: the final ever Giants of Rock, Minehead 21-23 January 2022

Barring the gap due to Covid I’d been going to Butlins at Minehead each January since 2015 for the Giants Of Rock festival. But now the festival is no more, replaced by a tribute weekend, so I’ll be heading to Skegness in January for the Rock & Blues festival instead (although, sadly, that is coming to and end, too). Relive the last ever Giants of Rock weekend here with my review covering the likes of Ten Years After, Geordie, Atomic Rooster and Nazareth.

Read full review here

2. Live review: Suzi Quatro at the Royal Albert Hall 20/4/22

2022 was the year of all things Suzi Quatro for me. Not only did my book for Sonicbond’s Decades series, Suzi Quatro In The 1970s, come out in July but earlier in the year I could celebrate getting it finished, proofread and finally off to the publishers with a trip to London for Suzi’s incredible performance at the Royal Albert Hall. Photo credit (above): Gary Cosby

Read full review here

3. Live review: the Eagles at Hyde Park 26/6/22

I was back over to London a couple of times in the Summer, too, with two separate trips to Hyde Park for the British Summertime series of concerts. The first of these was for the Eagles. Long on my bucket-list of must-see bands I finally got to see them. Even without the late, great Glenn Frey, it was still an incredible experience and just magical being in Hyde Park late on a summer evening as the sun started set watching them perform ‘Hotel California’.

Read full review here

4. Live review: the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park 3/7/22

Just a week after the Eagles I was back in Hyde Park for the Rolling Stones. It’s been over thirty years since attending my first and only previous Rolling Stones gig, when I went with my dad to Manchester’s Maine Road back in 1990. My dad’s thinking back then was that if I wanted to see them live then 1990’s Urban Jungle tour might be my last chance. It wasn’t quite! Thirty years later I’m back for more and what a memorable evening it was.

Read full review here

5. Live review: Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2022

After a two-year gap due to Covid restrictions it was nice to be back in Oxfordshire in August for Fairport Convention’s annual Cropredy festival. Both tickets and line-up had been carried over from the event initially planned for 2020 but the passage of time had necessitated some tweaks to the line-up and in my case (due to a change in domestic circumstances), the reallocation of my second ticket to a Cropredy newcomer. Highlights included Clannad, Trevor Horn, Turin Brakes, Richard Thompson – and Fairport, of course!

Read full review here

6. New book: ‘Suzi Quatro In The 1970s’ by Darren Johnson coming in July 2022

Definitely, one of the highlights of 2022 for me was the publication of my book on Suzi Quatro for Sonicbond’s Decades series, which followed on from the book on The Sweet I had written the previous year for the same series. As Suzi herself says: “If you talk about the ‘70s, I was a hardworking artist. I did nothing but tour – recording, touring, TV, you know. I had constant jetlag. Constant black shadows under my eyes but, oh, what a ride! What a wonderful ride. And I’m still doing it now.”

Read original post here

7. Album review – Graham Bonnet Band ‘Day Out In Nowhere’

My most popular album review of the year, I wrote that Graham Bonnet is “clearly on something of a roll at this late stage in his career. Whether you are the more casual fan of his most celebrated albums from the late 70s and early 80s or a dedicated fan who’s loyally followed each and every stage of his long career, there’s lots to like in Day Out In Nowhere. It deserves to do well.”

Read full review here

8. Album reviews: four recent solo releases from the extended Uriah Heep family

Going online to treat myself to the newly-released CD from former Uriah Heep singer, Pete Goalby, I ended up having one of those “customers who viewed this also viewed these” impulse purchase experiences. Before I knew it I had, not one, but four recently-released CDs from the extended Uriah Heep family popping through my letterbox, three of these being released posthumously.

Read full review here

9. Bowie and Iggy Pop icon, Tony Fox Sales, celebrates 45 years of Lust For Life

One of the things I am really looking forward to in 2023 is the tour by Iggy Pop / Bowie bass legend, Tony Fox Sales.  With an all-star line-up, Tony is joined by legendary Blondie drummer, Clem Burke; vocalist, renowned broadcaster and Pet Shop Boys dancer, Katie Puckrik; Iggy Pop and David Bowie guitarist, Kevin Armstrong;  guitarist, Luis Correia, who’s toured internationally with Earl Slick; and classical pianist, composer, and touring member of Heaven 17, Florence Sabeva.

Read original post here

10. Gaelic singer Kim Carnie – debut album ‘And So We Gather’

Gaelic singer, Kim Carnie, launched her solo career in 2018 with the release of her EP, In Her Company. Since then she’s worked with the bands, Mànran and Staran, been much in demand as a session vocalist and in 2021 won the Gaelic Singer of The Year prize at the MG Alba Trad Awards. In June this year she released her debut album, And So We Gather.

Read original post here

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Latest folk reviews: Siobhan Miller, Arthur Coates, Elizabeth Davidson-Blythe & Daniel Quayle, Pauline Vallance and The Magpies

Siobhan Miller – Bloom

Back in 2020 I reviewed Siobhan Miller’s fourth solo album, All Is Not Forgotten, praising the pure voice that is “just made for Scottish folk”. Now Miller is back with a fifth album, Bloom, that reunites the all-star line-up from her celebrated second album, Strata, which was released back in 2017.

Siobhan Miller: “I wanted to capture the energy of performing with these incredible musicians – the energy that happens when you’re in a room together making music and feeding off each other.”

Kris Drever, Eddie Reader, Louis Abbot and Ian Carr are all back, along with other leading musicians, to deliver an album that celebrates traditional songs and much-loved classics of the Scottish folk scene.

Joining ‘I’m A Rover’ which was released as a single back in the summer are the likes of ‘Queen of Argyle’, Cold Blows The Night’ and ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, serving to make this a truly joyful album from one of Scotland’s most talented folk singers.

Released 16 September 2022 https://www.siobhanmiller.com/

Arthur Coates – Trapdoor To Hell

Whenever I’ve been at folk festivals I’ve always found acts like Le Vent du Nord from the Québécois folk scene to be an exhilarating ride. 20-year-old Arthur Coates takes some of that energy, blends that with the influences of the Scottish folk scene he’s been steeped in since early childhood, throws in a Lancashire folk song, some Irish tunes and a bit of blues and comes up with the rather splendid Trapdoor To Hell, his second  album.

Arthur Coates: “The trapdoor to hell is a funny expression my dad uses for the plank of wood we use in Quebec music for the feet-tapping, and it felt like a fitting name that matches the tone of the album.”

Joining Coates on fiddle, vocals, foot-tapping, guitar, bass, synthesiser and percussion is a talented line-up of supporting musicians, including his musical collaborator, Kerran Cottterell and Québécois folk luminaries, Eric Beaudry and Pierre-Luc Dupuis. An album just ramp-packed full of energy and verve.

Released 6 October 2022 https://www.arthurcoates.com/

Elizabeth Davidson-Blythe & Daniel Quayle – The Coast Road

No sooner had I written that I hadn’t heard much from the Manx folk scene before (while reviewing the recent album from Ruth Keggin & Rachel Hair) when another one turned up in the post. The Coast Road is the debut album from Elizabeth Davidson-Blythe & Daniel Quayle. Now both based in Douglas, the island’s capital, fiddle-player Davidson-Blythe is originally from Boston while multi-instrumentalist Quayle (bouzouki, guitar, piano, samples, synths) is Manx born and bred. The album’s nine instrumental tracks bring together a mixture of contemporary and traditional tunes, some originating from the Isle of Man itself while others come from Ireland, Scotland and Estonia.

The duo are hugely talented, the quality of the playing is simply exhilarating and the choice of tunes inspired. This is an instrumental album well worth checking out.

Released 30 September 2022 https://elizabethdavidsonblythe.com/

Pauline Vallance – The World’s A Gift

Pauline Vallance is a singer-songwriter and clarsach harp player from Ayrshire in Scotland and The World’s A Gift is her fourth album. A lovely album with gentle yet captivating story-telling, it explores the theme of legacy.

Explaining in the sleeve-notes, Vallance writes: “The idea came after losing my parents within a year of each other and going through all the material ‘stuff’ left behind. I quickly came to the realisation that the important legacy people leave is that of ideas, of principles, of arts and culture and not of material possessions.”  

Ten of the eleven tracks are self-composed, including the title track which gives a flavour, both of the album and of Vallance’s gorgeous harp-playing.

Joining her on the album are James Grant, who also produces, (guitar, harmony vocals); Maya Burman-Roy (cello); Signy Jakobsdottir (percussion); and Ursula Grant and Niahmh McElhill (harmony vocals).

Released 30 September 2022 https://www.paulinevallance.co.uk

The Magpies – Undertow

The Magpies are a folk trio comprising Bella Gaffney (guitar, banjo, double bass, vocals); Holly Brandon (fiddle, vocals); and new addition, Kate Griffin (banjo, vocals). The Magpies burst on to the folk scene with their debut, Tidings, back in 2020. They now follow that up with Undertow.

Holly Brandon: “Undertow was written following two years of lockdowns at a difficult moment in the arts. It features themes of reflection and the passing of time, but with a forward-looking optimism that we hope resonates with listeners.”

As well as a handful of traditional songs that are elegantly arranged by the trio, along with the self-penned material that makes up the bulk of the album, there is also a surprise cover of the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’.

Somewhat quieter and more contemplative than the other albums reviewed here, it is no less enjoyable for that. The Magpies deliver a beautifully poignant album which expertly soaks up traditional influences from both sides of the Atlantic .

Released 14 October 2022 https://www.themagpiesmusic.com/

Latest folk reviews: Barry Nisbet, Katie Grace Harris, Alastair Savage, FARA and Jackie Oates

Barry Nisbet – The Springbank Voyage

Springbank Voyage, the new album from Shetland folk musician Barry Nisbet tells the story of the Springbank and the ship’s perilous voyage around Cape Horn as it made its way from Europe to Mexico. The ship’s crew included several Shetlanders and Orcadians.

Nisbet: “The story of the Springbank has fascinated me since I first heard it from storyteller Lawrence Tulloch in Shetland as a child; my retelling for this album is inspired by many of my own experiences sailing square rig ships in the Pacific between 2000-2008.”

A skilled guitarist and fiddler, Nisbet’s musicianship and gift for storytelling are both on display here. The album features a strong cast of supporting musicians as well as some spoken interludes that provide some fascinating historical insights into the dramatic and often traumatic story of the Springbank.

Released: 12 August 2022 https://barrynisbet.com/home

Katie Grace Harris – The Toledo Sessions

Described herself on her website as a “multi-tasking,  foot tapping, piano and accordion playing singer and story-weaver”, the debut album from Katie Grace Harris was released in August. The Toledo Sessions shows huge promise, both in terms of Harris as musician and songwriter but also in her ability to pull in some of the big names among folk royalty. ’ The album includes two songs developed in collaboration with Reg Meuross as well as featuring musical contributions from Phil Beer, Odette Michell and Lukas Drinkwater.

Harris traces her folk roots to singing along with her dad on family car journeys as a child. The car in question was a Triumph Toledo, hence the title of her debut album. Harris: “We would sing songs from Joni Mitchell, The Spinners, Ralph McTell and James Taylor.”

Clearly, those car journey left their mark and listening to her album we witness both some fine original songwriting as well as some entertaining but gently enigmatic arrangements of more familiar traditional songs, too.

Released: 27 August 2022 https://www.katiegraceharris.com/

Alastair Savage – Tunes From The River

Alastair Savage has established an impressive CV across the worlds of classical, popular and folk music. A member of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra since 1997, he has also worked with many leading artists including Belle and Sebastian, Karen Matheson, Justin Currie, Ricky Ross and legendary Scottish band The Whistlebinkies. As a renowned fiddler and solo artist, he’s put out numerous albums. Tunes From The River, released in August 2022, is his sixth album, to date.

It features music composed by Savage over the past decade, presented in a mixture of studio and live and studio recordings. This collection of tunes is the final piece of a planned trilogy of albums following the unaccompanied fiddle album Alone With History (2016) and When Barley Reaches Shore (2018) which features long-term collaborators Euan Drysdale (piano and guitar) and Iain Crawford (double bass).

This final release in the trilogy again features Crawford and Drysdale alongside an impressive line-up of musicians on the Scottish folk scene. These include flautist Eddie McGuire, piper Rab Wallace, woodwind virtuoso Ewan Robertson and fiddler Pete Clark, alongside two celebrated Finish musicians, Vilma Timonen on kantele and Timo Alakotila on piano.

The title track, ‘Tunes From The River’, is dedicated to those lost in the Clutha Bar helicopter disaster in Glasgow in 2013; whilst ‘The Rocks Of Kilchoman’ is a tribute to those who lost their lives in the HMS Otranto shipping disaster off the coast of Islay towards the end of the First World War.

Other tunes on the album have been inspired by the Scottish islands of Skye, Harris and Lewis as well as Savage’s Ayrshire homeland. If you like your fiddle playing haunting, evocative and exceptionally beautiful then do check out the tunes on this album.

Released: 11 August 2022 https://www.alastairsavage.co.uk/

FARA – Energy Islands

Now onto their third album, FARA are the Orkney folk musicians, Kristan Harvey, Jeana Leslie and Catriona Price who each play fiddle, along with newer member, Rory Matheson, on piano.

As someone who is passionate about both Scottish folk and tackling the climate crisis there’s lots to love about this album which has been inspired by Orkney’s embrace of renewable energy. 100 per cent of the islands’ electricity needs are now regularly met through local renewable sources (predominantly wind power but also solar and heat pumps) and it has meant that Orkney now produces more energy than the National Grid can actually take. Catriona Price: “Having been born and raised among the breath-taking natural beauty of Orkney, we wanted to highlight its role in raising awareness and curbing the climate crisis.”

Featuring a mix of songs and tunes, the result is a rather stunning album with a very important message at its heart. There have been quite a few folk albums with an ecological message, of course, but this is something innovative and unique. Fantastic melodies, rich harmonies, great storytelling and wonderful interactions between the four talented musician, Energy Islands is well worth a listen.

Released: 26 August 2022 https://faramusic.co.uk/

Jackie Oates – Gracious Wings

Kicking off a career in folk back in 2006, Jackie Oates has been an industrious presence on the traditional music scene ever since, this latest release being her eighth studio album. With a guest artist list that includes John Spiers, Mike Cosgave, John Parker, Megan Henwood and Jon Wilks who each complement Oates’ pure, delicate vocals and beautifully warm viola-playing, Gracious Wings is her first solo album in four years.

Oates describes the eleven-piece album as a mixture of “traditional English folk songs, self-penned material and the odd unexpected cover version.” Of the latter, the album includes a cover of ‘Time Time Time’ by Tom Waits as well as a rendition of the song ‘On and On’ by British indie-rockers, The Longpigs.

Traditional material includes songs like ‘The Ship In Distress’ which Oates discovered while researching for material for a project with Kathyrn Roberts, which celebrated the work of Cecil Sharp, as well as a rendition of the Basque folk song, ‘Iruten Ari Nuzu’ (I Am Making Wool)’. Self-penned material includes ‘Robin Tells Of Winter’, written during lockdown in the winter of 2021. Oates: We were all longing for signs of summer and an end to the perpetual ‘frozen in time’ feeling.

From a consummate musician, engaging singer and thoughtful songwriter and interpreter of others’ material, Gracious Wings is a welcome addition to Jackie Oates’ illustrious catalogue.

Released: 2 September 2022 https://www.jackieoates.co.uk/

Latest folk reviews: Fritillaries, Dan Whitehouse, Jamestown Brothers, Bush Gothic and Owen Moore

Fritillaries – Fritillaries

Fritillaries are Hannah Pawson and Gabriel Wynne, a Bristol-based folk and Americana duo who have been playing together since childhood. They’ve been gigging extensively around both the UK and Australia over the past five years and released their eponymously-titled debut album back in July.

It’s a stunning debut that’s been picking up plenty of favourable reviews. Pawson’s crystal clear vocals have an English folk sensibility while the instrumentation (mainly acoustic guitars, banjo and mandolin) gives their music a strong Americana feel; and their song-writing has echoes of that golden era of American singer-songwriters, with nods towards Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

It’s a captivating package and the music and the lyrical themes (“about people missed, places found, and things unearthed from the spaces the light doesn’t reach,” say the duo) lead us through an equally captivating range of moods and emotions.

Released: 15 July 2022 https://fritillaries.uk/

Voices From The Cones: Songs inspired by stories from the glassworks in Stourbridge

Voices From the Cones is a fascinating double disc album that arose out of a collaboration between singer-songwriter, Dan Whitehouse, and the Ruskin Mill Trust. With support from the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund it’s a project celebrating the rich 400-year history of the glass-making industry in Stourbridge, West Midlands.

Musically, the album is as varied as the vast array of artefacts on display in the museum’s Stourbridge Glass Collection, which features pieces dating back over the past 400 years.

Across the twelve tracks on the first disc we skip between folk, Americana, dance, music hall, sensitive singer-songwriter and shiny pop. Some of these genres appeal to me more than others but there’s some superb musicianship on offer here from a stellar line-up than includes Lukas Drinkwater, Chris Cleverley, John Elliot, Kim Lowings, Gustaf Ljunggren and Nicole Justice.

The second disc, meanwhile, is a narrated oral history featuring fascinating first-hand insights, integrated with music from the project – including a reprise of the beautiful ‘Voices From The Cones’, the opening track on the first disc. Wonderful stuff!  

The album will be launched live at a special launch night at The Glassworks Arts Centre, Stourbridge on Friday October 21st . Tickets available here 

Released: 30 September 2022 https://www.dan-whitehouse.com/

The Jamestown Brothers – Just Is

The Jamestown Brothers are a nine-piece band from Somerset. On their website they sum up their approach as playing “original songs influenced by folk, country and blues, with lyrics that mine the rich history and social tapestry of Great Britain and Ireland.”

All the songs on the six-track EP, Just Is, are written by the band’s vocalist/guitarist, Colin Batchelor, and their rowdy, raucous and irreverent brand of indie folk-punk puts me in mind of bands like Ferocious Dog and Hastings’ own Matilda’s Scoundrels. The nine-man line-up encompasses guitars, banjo, piano, bass, drums, fiddle, recorder, trumpet and trombone.

It’s never less than entertaining and I can see them going down brilliantly at festivals but there’s a serious side behind the fun though, with songs about homelessness, togetherness and vicious, old-time, football sectarianism. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for these guys playing live but, meanwhile, do check out their excellent EP.

Released: 12 August 2022 https://thejamestownbrothers.co.uk/

Bush Gothic – Beyond The Pale

The intriguingly-named Bush Gothic are exactly what it says on the tin: a trio of Aussie musicians who delve into the rich tapestry of traditional Australian songs and apply their own unique brand of folk noir. Or, as they put it themselves: “A post-modern, counterculture bush band who like old tales and new ideas.”

Bush Gothic are Jenny M. Thomas (vocals, fiddle), Dan Witton (bass) and Chris Lewis (drums), the three having previously played together in the band, Circus Oz. Beyond The Pale is the trio’s third album and they’ve built up a solid record for live performance and spectacular collaborations in both Britain and Australia.

Delving into old transportation ballads; that Aussie favourite, ‘The Pub With No Beer’; along with tales recounting homesickness, heartache and rural agricultural life – including a song about the 1891 sheep shearer’s strike (co-written by Witton’s own grandmother) it’s a fascinating insight into Australian settler culture and history that’s beautifully performed by the trio. Dark, brooding, haunting but utterly enthralling, Beyond The Pale brings something unique and genuinely creative to these traditional numbers.

Released: 29 July 2022 https://www.bushgothic.com/

Owen Moore – Blue Sky Songs

The Irish-born, Dorset-based singer-songwriter’s prodigious work-rate shows no sign of abating. His eleventh album of original songs, Blue Sky Songs, came out in July. Here we have ten new songs served up, once again, with Owen Moore’s characteristic brand of folk-infused acoustic Americana, relaxed vocal delivery and instinctive ear for a catchy melody. The Byrds-meets-rockabilly vibe of ‘Fireglo’ is a particular favourite of mine, Moore’s own tribute to the delights of the Rickenbacker.

Blue Sky Songs, along with all of Moore’s self-produced albums are available from his website. A good starting point, however, is the recent compilation album, Sixteen Easy Songs For Voice & Guitar, which features highlights drawn from across each of the ten previous albums and spanning the period 2011-2021.

Released: 29 July 2022 http://www.owenmooremusic.com/

Folk: album review – Ruth Keggin & Rachel Hair ‘Lossan’

While there continues to be a rich stream of new folk releases celebrating Scottish and Irish Gaelic, Manx Gaelic, in comparison, doesn’t often get much of a look in.

Manx Gaelic singer, Ruth Keggin, has teamed up with Scottish harpist, Rachel Hair, to deliver an exquisitely beautiful album celebrating the revival of the Manx language from its virtual extinction in the post-war period, as well as drawing together the cultural and linguistic connections between the Isle of Man and Scotland, whose traditional languages both share the same Goidelic roots within the wider family of Celtic languages.

The album’s title, Lossan, comes from a Manx Gaelic word meaning light, glimmer, sheen or flame.

The duo’s vocalist, Ruth Keggin, explains: “The word ‘lossan’ has such a rich meaning and we love the idea of the word being associated with tiny particles of light in the darkness – it felt very fitting to title the album this way. The word also has connections to the sea and sky and it’s these things that connect us both and are so important to our homelands.”

On collaborating with harpist, Rachel Hair, Keggin adds: “I have long loved Rachel’s music and the way she approaches playing Gaelic songs with such sensitivity, so it felt like the most natural thing to work together.”

Rachel Hair adds: “For years now I have been inspired by the culture on the Isle of Man, and its music song and language. I’m so grateful to those involved in the cultural scene on the island for welcoming me – this acceptance has been a real inspiration, giving me the freedom to play the island’s music and help fly its flag around the world.”

The result is an album that combines the pair’s interpretations of traditional Manx songs and tunes with more recently composed material by several songwriters from the Isle of Man, including several by noted Manx poet and musician, Annie Kissack.

Keggin’s crisp, clear vocals and Hair’s delicate, intricate playing compliment one another perfectly and the album represents a moving and rather lovely celebration of both the Manx language and its rich musical traditions.

Released: 8 July 2022

https://ruthandrachel.bandcamp.com/album/lossan

Folk/bluegrass: album review – Damien O’Kane & Ron Block ‘Banjophonics’

I know the groans that the mention of the word banjo elicits in both folk circles and the wider music world have long been a bit of a cliché. But as a Brit, I must confess that my first thought at mention of the word is usually visions of Jim Royle whipping out his banjo and rattling off some tired old music hall song in episodes of the Royle Family.

It’s not like that elsewhere, of course, and four years ago, Irish musician Damien O’Kane and California-based Ron Block pulled off the seemingly impossible, with their debut album Banjophony attracting rave reviews and suddenly making the banjo cool – even in Britain.

Now the pair have done it again with a brand-new, thirteen-track album, Banjophonics, and I must say I love it!

Damien O’Kane: The title reflects the sound we think we make – it’s a definition of our music. It’s a joyous, life-affirming joust, barely pausing for breath – fast, frenetic fireworks punctuated by more reflective melodies.”

What the collaboration does so successfully, of course, is fuse two distinct banjo traditions into one joyful, transatlantic, musical melting pot: courtesy of the four-string Irish tenor banjo and the five-string American bluegrass banjo.

A celebrated performer on the Irish music scene, O’Kane has two successful solo albums behind him and is a much in-demand musician while Block is rightly celebrated for his role as part of Alison Krauss & Union Station.

Comprising eleven tunes and two songs, Banjophonics is an exhilarating mix that spans a whole range of tempos, influences and moods. There’s a great line-up of guests on the album, too, including Siera Hull, Barry Bales, Jay Bellerose from the US, along with Steven Byrnes, Duncan Lyall, Josh Clark, Michael McGoldrick and David Kosky from this side of the Atlantic. Kate Rusby provides stunning backing vocals on one track, ‘Woman Of No Place’, a tribute to Irish traveller and banjo player, Margaret Barry.

Whether you come at it as a lover of the Irish folk tradition or the American bluegrass tradition or a bit of both, you will find plenty to love in this album.

Released: 1st July 2022

https://damienokane.co.uk/band/

This week’s featured artist: Gaelic singer Kim Carnie – debut album ‘And So We Gather’

Gaelic singer, Kim Carnie, launched her solo career in 2018 with the release of her EP, In Her Company. Since then she’s worked with the bands, Mànran and Staran, been much in demand as a session vocalist and in 2021 won the Gaelic Singer of The Year prize at the MG Alba Trad Awards.

In June this year she released her debut album, And So We Gather.

As well as Carnie’s own standout vocals the album features a stellar line-up of the brightest and the best from the Scottish folk scene, including vocalists, Julie Fowlis, Karen Matheson, Kathleen MacInnes, Megan Henderson and Calum MacCrimmon.

The album was written and arranged during lockdown on the Isle of Skye and features five of Carnie’s original songs, some sung in English and others Gaelic, alongside five of her own interpretations of traditional Gaelic songs and texts.

Kim Carnie: “Over the last two years, we have spent too much time apart from the people we care most about. We have had to learn how to show love through our physical absence and find calm in our isolation. This album is a celebration of where we are now: gathering loving and putting ourselves back together.”

“I spent the first few months of lockdown in Glenlyon. I would regularly walk a six-mile round-trip, sneak into our beautiful local church and play the baby grand piano – it was where I wrote most of the album.”

“The album brings together some of my favourite musicians, but most importantly some of my favourite hearts and minds. It’s been a real privilege putting this music together and hearing what others hear in both my songs and the songs of our ancestors.”

Musicians:
Kim Carnie – Vocals
Donald Shaw – Piano and harmonium
Innes White – Guitar, mandolin and vocals
James Lindsay – Double bass
James MacIntosh – Percussion

Guest vocalists:
Calum MacCrimmon
Julie Fowlis
Karen Matheson
Kathleen MacInnes
Megan Henderson

Guest musicians:
Alyn Cosker – Percussion
Charlie Stewart – Fiddle
Iain Hutchison – Electric guitar
John Lowrie – Piano
Kadialy Kouyate – Kora
Matt Carmichael – Saxophone
Scottish Session Orchestra

And So We Gather was released on 17th June 2022 by Càrn Records

https://www.kimcarnie.com/

Folk/jazz/classical: album review – Seonaid Aitken ‘Chasing Sakura’

Encompassing jazz, classical and folk influences, Chasing Sakura is a crossover album from classically-trained and award-winning jazz musician, Seonaid Aitken, her first album of entirely original material.

There have been no shortage of albums conceived during the recent pandemic that have been released over the last couple of years, across all genres. Aitken’s is a lockdown album with a difference, however, as it came about while she was recovering from a riding accident. Inspired by the cherry blossoms she would see on her daily exercise walks and with a commission to produce new music for the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, Aitken was prompted to create Chasing Sakura.

“In the Spring of 2021, I was recovering from a serious horse-riding accident where I broke my pelvis, ankle, small vertebrae and ribs. I would go for walks around Glasgow chasing cherry blossoms and it reminded me of my time in Japan and how I was inspired by the way they celebrate the beauty and symbolism of the Sakura season with Hanami – the traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers. The record draws inspiration from the lifespan of the cherry blossom to symbolise overall themes of hope, optimism and impermanence.”

As a versatile and much in-demand session musician, Aitken’s CV has included work with the likes of Deacon Blue, Carol Kidd, Hamish Stuart (Average White Band), Blue Rose Code, The GRIT Orchestra, James Grant and Eddi Reader. She also played violin and viola in the 2019-2020 touring production of Disney’s ‘The Lion King’. As a jazz musician and singer, she was awarded ‘Best Vocalist’ at the 2017 and 2018 Scottish Jazz Awards and, specialising in Gypsy Jazz, she performs extensively with her Scottish Jazz Award-winning ‘Best Band’ (2018) Rose Room, and as a guest with the Tim Kliphuis Sextet, Tokyo Django Collective, Swing 2020 and top jazz fingerstyle virtuoso, and former guitarist of Stephane Grappelli, Martin Taylor MBE.

On the album, Aitken (Violin and Vocals) is joined by fellow ensemble members: Katrina Lee (Violin), Patsy Reid (Viola), Alice Allen (Cello), Emma Smith (Bass) and Helena Kay (Tenor Sax and Flute).

The result is a richly evocative album from the lush, classically-inspired, jazz-infused track ‘Awakening’, whose delicate, dancing melody does exactly what it says on the tin, to the jaunty and far more folky ‘Hanami’, to the jazzy 1920s-themed ‘The Walk’. ‘Beauty and Wonder’, with its beautiful jazz-waltz theme is a track Aitken wrote specifically for a string quartet.

An album that will have huge appeal for jazz, classical and folk fans, I’ve come to it rather late to it this year but I can’t wait to put it on as the blossoms start appearing on the trees as I look out of my back window next spring.

Released: 29th April 2022

http://seonaidaitken.com/chasing-sakura/

Folk: album review – Hannah Rarity ‘To Have You Near’

I had the privilege of reviewing Hannah Rarity’s debut EP, Beginnings, for the now defunct fRoots magazine back in 2016. I predicted hers was a name to watch, Rarity’s voice reminding me of a young Cara Dillon, a comparison it seems a few others went on to make along the way. Since then, she went on to pick up BBC Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year award  in 2018 and release her extremely well-received debut full album, Neath The Gloaming Star, that same year.

Four years later she returns with the follow-up, To Have You Near. The vocals are as captivating as ever and the songs, whether originals or Rarity’s interpretations of others’ material, are always both highly engaging and thought-provoking. With this new album, however, she brings in other influences alongside the expected Scottish folk, with touches of jazz and blues.

Hannah Rarity: “A second album is a daunting task for any artist, and To Have You Near has been born out of a turbulent, difficult time in the world. Which I think is reflected in  the freshly penned songs and my choice of poignant covers. Artistically and stylistically, I wanted it to be an intimate experience for a listener, tackling more complex subject matters along the way and experimenting further with production techniques and sounds – still grounded in traditional folk song but allowing space for other influences to permeate.”

Rarity’s own songs (whether her solo compositions or collaborations with co-songwriter, Gordon Maclean) explore themes such as home, friendship, insecurity and dementia, the latter taking the form of a touching song called ‘Kaleidoscope, based on Rarity’s work bringing music to residents in care homes through the Live Music Now initiative.

Covers include the 19th century parlour song, ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’, a cover of Tom Waite’s ‘Take It With Me’ and Julie Matthews’ ‘Comes The Hour’, originally written for a BBC Radio Ballads documentary.

To Have You Near is produced by long-time collaborator, Innes White, who also provides acoustic guitar, alongside John Lowrie (keyboards), James Lindsey (bass) and Scott McKay (drums and percussion). Lush strings courtesy of Seonaid Aitken, Katrina Lee, Patsy Reid and Alice Allen give the album additional depth and sensitivity.

Still a name to watch and still as captivating as ever, Hannah Rarity has created a thing of beauty with this, her second album.

Released: 3rd June 2022

https://www.hannahrarity.com/

Related reviews:

EP review – Hannah Rarity ‘Beginnings’

Album review – TMSA ‘Young Trad Tour 2018’