Tag Archives: folk

Folk/singer-songwriter: EP review – Alison Benson ‘Paths & Stories’

Paths & Stories is the debut EP from Liverpool-based folk singer-songwriter Alison Benson. The five-track release comprises five of Benson’s own songs, each looking at the life of an individual, both real and imagined. From a tragic Victorian fortune-teller to a First World War conscientious objector to the heroine of a pioneering piece of 1950s lesbian fiction, Benson draws from a wide range of historical and artistic sources for her inspiration, be it paintings , novels or local landmarks. And she produces some quite unique and utterly captivating folk storytelling in the process.

“Folk music doesn’t exist without stories,” says Benson. “Whether real, mythical or fictional.”

“Focusing on one person’s experience, for me, is a way to get even deeper into a story – to empathise and think about motivations. Singing songs in the first person, as someone else , also gives the narrative a different quality.”

Showcasing her distinctive and appealing vocals, Paths & Stories is pretty much Benson, her songs and her ukulele. I’ll be honest and say that this is not normally my favourite instrument but Benson’s technique is such that any preconceptions about overly-upbeat enforced jollity and cloyingly twee melodies are instantly cast aside as soon as you hear her playing. Gently evocative, the ukulele in Benson’s hands makes for the perfect accompaniment to her thoughtful and poignant storytelling.

And what storytelling there is. Well-produced and highly listenable this is a lovely EP from a singer-songwriter who is clearly emerging as a serious and noteworthy talent.

Released 28th March 2020

https://alisonbensonmusic.weebly.com/

Folk/singer-songwriter: album review – Virginia Kettle ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’

Virginia Kettle’s vocals have been a key element of of Merry Hell’s sound since the band’s inception a decade ago. Before joining her husband John, brothers-in-law Bob and Andrew, and sundry others in the eight-piece folk-rock outfit, however, she’d established herself as a singer-songwriter in her own right. As Virginia Barrett, she released two solo albums: ‘The Quiet Bridge’ and ‘Sense of Human’ prior to joining the band. No Place Like Tomorrow is her first solo album since Merry Hell began, however.

It’s a more intimate affair than a typical Merry Hell album, both in terms of personnel and in terms of subject matter. The songs have far less of an obvious political tone than many Merry Hell songs and here Kettle tends to touch on more personal matters: love, relationships, family life. ‘Union Jack House’ is the most political song on the album but is structured and delivered in a way that has surprising echoes of Victoria Wood (with a little bit of Are You Being Served thrown in!)

Fans of Merry Hell will already be familiar with the title track, given it appeared on their 2015 album The Ghost in Our House and Other Stories, sung by Andrew, was reworked for their 2018 album Anthems to the Wind, sung by Virginia, and is now reworked once again. A beautifully tender, less anthemic and more delicate rendering than before, this is now the definitive version in my view.

Although Kettle is not backed by the full band she is, at various points, supported by the Hell’s fiddle-player Neil McCartney, bass-player Nick Davies and her guitarist husband John Kettle. Indeed, on a couple of tracks the stripped-back, more intimate feel of the solo album really allows McCartney’s elegant fiddle-playing to take centre-stage: the title track and ‘Valentine’s Waltz’. For me, that tailor-made combination of Kettle’s vocals and McCartney’s fiddle make these two of the real stand-out tracks on the album.

A mellower and more personal offering than a Merry Hell release No Place Like Tomorrow is a charming album that showcases Virginia Kettle’s obvious talents as a singer-songwriter.

Released: 12th July 2020

http://www.vkandthedreamkeepers.com/

http://www.merryhell.co.uk

Related posts:

‘Emergency Lullaby’ Merry Hell’s song for action when we’re mired in apathy

‘Sister Atlas’ new single Merry Hell salutes those taking climate action

‘Leave It In The Ground’ – Merry Hell release climate call to action

DVD review: Merry Hell ‘A Year In The Life’

Album review: Merry Hell ‘Anthems To The Wind’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

EP review: Merry Hell ‘Come On England!’

Folk: album review – The Wilderness Yet

It’s sometimes hard to keep up with the constantly-shifting formations of stellar young talent on the contemporary folk scene as new duos, trios and ad-hoc collaborations are announced each month. The debut album from the latest such trio, however, is something to get genuinely excited about. The singer and former Young Folk Award finalist Rosie Hodgson has joined forces with fiddle-player Rowan Piggott and guitarist/flautist Philippe Barnes.

Named after a line from a Gerard Manley-Hopkins poem The Wilderness Yet combine exceptional musicianship with deft creativity to present us with this lovely collection of songs and tunes. Mainly self-composed with a handful of reworkings of more traditional pieces, the writing talents of all three are in evidence.

A quick glance through the titles on the beautifully-packaged CD will be enough to tell you that there’s a bit of an environmental theme going on here. Indeed, the aforementioned Manley Hopkins poem ‘Inversnaid’ acts as something of a manifesto for the trio:

“What would the world be once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wilderness and wet;
Long live the weeds, and the wilderness yet.”

As well as furnishing the trio with their name, the poem – set to music by Piggott – provides the album with its title track. Coming right at the end it’s one of the highlights on a very strong album. There’s also another chance to hear Piggott’s rallying anthem for our dwindling bee population ‘Queen & Country’ a song that appeared on his excellent solo album Mountscribe back in 2017, this time sung by Hodgson. Her own ‘The Beauties of Autumn’ and the a capella ‘In A Fair Country’ similarly celebrate the beauty of our natural world and showcase both Hodgson’s song-writing and vocal gifts. Piggott’s and Barnes’s tune-sets are also a joy to listen to, their fiddle and flute-playing helping create some suitably evocative imagery.

A cause very close to my heart Rosie Hodgson, Rowan Piggott and Philippe Barnes have created a beautiful homage to our precious but threatened natural world with The Wilderness Yet. Highly recommended.

Released: 24th July 2020

thewildernessyet.com/

Americana/folk: album review – Johnny Steinberg ‘Shadowland’

There have been some excellent new Americana releases dropping through my letterbox and into my CD player these past few months. Shadowland by Johnny Steinberg is no exception. With a name like that, songs that tell tales of heartbreak, cheap whiskey and Jesus, not to mention some deliciously effortless musicianship that just seems to ooze Nashville, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Mr Steinberg hails not from Nashville but from Norfolk (at least these days – although he’s from Yorkshire originally). What surprised me even more, however, was learning that Shadowland is, in fact, Steinberg’s debut album.

Outstanding songs, exquisitely well-played and beautifully sung this album radiates such class that I’m still getting my head around the fact it’s a debut album.

Steinberg takes up the story:

“If you had said to me eight years ago when I left my job, started songwriting and learned finger-style guitar that only five years later I would be recording in the US and UK to produce an album of my own songs I’d have said you were bonkers.”

Steinberg’s heart-warming story of his journey to Nashville and how he came to record an album with the likes of Boo Hewerdine (The Bible/ State of the Union) and Kira Small (Willie Nelson/ Garth Brooks/ Martina McBride) and other brilliant musicians is recounted in the extensive booklet that accompanies the beautifully packaged CD.

Steinberg has been gigging, either solo or with his band Johnny Steinberg and the Blue Fish, for some time now, garnering support slots with the likes of Graham Gouldman, Dave Swarbrick, Kathryn Williams and Reg Meuross. He is thoroughly deserving of the wider attention this album will surely bring him. Shadowland is pure class from start to finish.

Released: 4th July 2020

https://www.facebook.com/JohnnySteinbergMusic/

Folk: album review – The Longest Johns ‘Cures What Ails Ya’

If no-one has done more than Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends to repopularise sea shanties in recent years, then surely no-one has done more than Bristol’s Longest Johns to give them an alt-folk makeover, pull them into the twenty-first century and make them cool.

Cures What Ails Ya is the Longest Johns’ third album. Building on the impact of the first two, Written in Salt released in 2016 and Between Wind and Water released in 2018, the Longest Johns began attracting a dedicated online following that consisted of a quirky but thoroughly modern combination of folk enthusiasts and internet gamers. Collaborating with the creators of suitably-themed games like ‘Sea of Thieves’ the group’s online content has helped them garner over 70.000 YouTube subscribers and upwards of 7.3 million streams by the time this, their third album, is released.

But what of the music? I just love it! An upbeat album as teeming with feel-good vibes and irreverent takes as it is with maritime hardship and folk tradition, Cures What Ails Ya is just beautifully held together with the rich harmonising voices of the four members and, in places, some suitably lovely accompanying instrumentation. Song-wise, there’s a real mix – from standards like ‘Bonny Ship The Diamond’ and ‘Oak and Ash and Thorn’ to new original songs like the wryly tongue-in-cheek ‘Hoist Up The Thing’ and ‘The Last Bristolian Pirate’ which manages to name-check Tescos.

A brilliant album from the men who made shanties sexy – buy it!

Available on digital formats, CD and vinyl Cures What Ails Ya’ is released on 10th June 2020 with a special online live launch party

http://www.thelongestjohns.com

Related reviews:

Album review – The Longest Johns ‘Written In Salt’

Fisherman’s Friends – Live In Hastings

Folk/world: album review – Reely Jiggered ‘Tricky Terrain’

Kate Bush with a Bhangra band and a Celtic fiddle player – if you asked me to give my first impressions of Tricky Terrain, the new album from Reely Jiggered, that’s pretty much what sprang to mind when I put it into the CD player .

Actually, as first impressions go that’s not too far out. With the soaring vocals and frenetic fiddle-playing of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland trained Alison McNeill and the band’s output inspired by both Scottish folk and World beats, they have managed to create a unique and irresistible fusion of folk, funk, rock, pop and jazz

Now releasing their third album they have headlined a number of festivals, both in Scotland and internationally, and are past winners of the Soundwave music competition. Joining Alison McNeill on vocals and fiddle are Fiona McNeill (guitar, bodhran, backing vocals) and Scott McLean (drums), with guest musicians Stuart Taylor (keys) and Gregor McPhie (bass).

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The rocking rhythms, furious fiddling and exquisite vocals aligned with those diverse beats make for an absolutely cracking album. The songs are great, too – whether it’s Alison McNeil’s own compositions exploring politics, mental health and international issues as well as the Scottish landscape and past history – or whether it’s the band’s modern take on ‘Auld Lang Syne’ which closes the album.

Fresh, vibrant and unique I’m immediately won over to ‘Reely Jiggered’ and Tricky Terrain is a superb album.

Released 1st May 2020

https://www.reelyjiggered.co.uk/

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Book review: ‘Seasons of Change – Busking England’ by Tom Kitching

When the EU referendum result didn’t go quite the way I wanted it my reaction was to consume excess amounts of alcohol and spend the next few weeks swearing at every news bulletin that came on. Fiddle player, Tom Kitching, however took a different and altogether more constructive approach. Realising that he didn’t know England half as well as thought he did, Kitching resolves to travel around the country, busking wherever he goes and writing a blog of his experiences. The blog eventually became this book. An accompanying album of tunes (reviewed here) was also recently released.

My initial assumption about a travelogue written by a folk musician is that it would be very much led by the music. We’d get a short history to a particular folk song or tune, some background info about how it was linked to a particular area and then a few modern-day observations of the place today to bring us up to date. But the book is not like that at all. Although busking is the focus of the trips, and the means by which he pays for his meals and accommodation each day, the book is ostensibly about people.

Some of the places he visits I know extremely well: Hastings where I live now, Deptford where I spent twenty-odd years and Hull where I spent some time in the 80s and where my partner’s parents still live – and I found his observations to be thoughtful and convincing. Other places he visits I am far less familiar with like Easington Colliery, West Bromwich and Bradford, the latter providing one of the most touching scenes in the book as a black family, some Asian kids and some white kids all start dancing in the street to Kitching’s fiddle-playing, the adults all chatting and shaking hands with one another. “If I’d been able to guarantee this sort of result to the arts council before I’d set off on my project I’d be arriving here in a solid gold Rolls Royce,” he notes.

He visits well-off villages and impoverished towns and is often insightful in his observations on failed regeneration schemes and deepening political neglect, yet at the same time pragmatically optimistic about how things could be different. There is some meanness from some of the people he comes across along the way, particularly in attitudes to those who are homeless and (along with buskers) are also trying to eke out an income on the streets. Overall, however, there’s a huge amount of warmth and some lovely conversations that are recounted.

Even if you have zero interest in folk music or fiddle-playing ‘Seasons of Change – Busking England’ is a fascinating and compelling read.

Published by Scratching Shed Publishing Ltd – 2020

Seasons -Of-Change-book

Related posts:

Tom Kitching – Seasons of Change – album review

Pilgrims’ Way – Stand and Deliver 

Gavin Davenport & Tom Kitching at Warwick Folk Festival

 

 

Folk: album review – Will Pound ‘A Day Will Come’

Whereas the European referendum result prompted Remain-voting fiddler, Tom Kitching to embark on a busking-journey across England which resulted in both an album (reviewed here) and a book, for similarly Remain-voting melodeon and harmonica player, Will Pound, the referendum helped inspire a quite different project.

An album dedicated “to all Europeans wherever you come from and whatever you believe in” the release features tunes from across the now twenty seven member states that make up the EU. Named after a famous speech by nineteenth-century writer, Victor Hugo, in pursuit of the dream of European co-operation and unity, this is not an album that shies away from wearing its heart on its sleeve, right down to the burgundy passport-coloured cover.

Comprising fourteen tracks, the twenty-seven countries featured are mostly paired up – so a Dutch sailing song, for example, forms a tune-set with a Spanish dance tune. It means we are taken on a breathlessly whirlwind tour of the continent with a huge array of tempos, styles and traditions – but the quality of playing and the inventiveness of the selections never lets up.

An Arts Council-backed project Pound is joined by some highly-acclaimed figures from the folk and wider music world. Those contributing include percussionist superstar Dame Evelyn Glennie, Scots Trad Music Awards winner Jenn Butterworth, Pilgrim’s Way’s Jude Rees (who also accompanies Kitching on his recently-released album) and German fiddler Guthrun Waither. There’s even some performance poetry in the shape of contributions from Birmingham-based, Polish slam poet Bohdan Piasecki.

Celebrating political and economic unity in the shape of cultural and historical diversity this is a lovely project with a fine message and some beautiful tunes. It makes for a nice companion piece to Tom Kitching’s recent Seasons of Change release.

Released: 8th May 2020

https://willpound.com/

will pound lp

News: ‘Fox and Hare’ the debut single from US indie-folk outfit the John Daniels Band

The John Daniels Band are a three-piece from Buffalo, New York and ‘Fox and Hare’ is their debut single. Playing together a few years now they’ve been honing their sound on the live circuit. They ask us to imagine if Neil Young, Lenny Kravitz and Pink Floyd got together to form a band – a blend of soul, psychedelia and amazing lyrics.

An album is due later this year, their signature style a union of indie, country and folk music. Comprised of John Verbocy, Drew Azzinaro, and Kevin Urso, who is also the band’s producer, they fuse acoustic and electric guitars with well timed percussion, creating dreamy soundscapes.

The band is the brainchild of frontman and lead songwriter Verbocy, whose raspy, warm vocals and emotional narratives are at the heart of the band. Being a two time cancer survivor, John has plenty of stories to tell and lots of emotion to share.

Asked to describe “Fox and Hare” John Verbocy tells Darren’s Music Blog: “We can recover from anything. It all starts with a thought and manifests into a reality.”

John Verbocy grew up listening to a broad range of musical influences. One day it would be Van Morrison and David Bowie, the next Paul Simon and Curtis Mayfield. “I am a total B-Side guy,” says John, “deep cuts of classic artists through and through.”

Drew Azzinaro met John in high school and they shared an affinity for music and weed, but they didn’t start making tunes together until they reunited again a few years ago. While looking for a band mate, they happened across Kevin Urso and the connection was immediate.

Kevin Urso is multi-talented artist that can claim singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer, and composer on his resume. He was the guitarist of BeArthur surrounding their album release Welcome To The Ongoing in 2006, and has since collaborated with it’s members on other projects, including Prime Mover by Rocco Of The Snow. In 2015, Kevin performed during Buffalo’s ‘Music Is Art’ festival in a piece called Life On Fire where his piano was set ablaze until it was rendered unplayable by the flames. He released his debut solo album, Goodbye, in 2018.

‘Fox and Hare’ by the John Daniels Band released 30th April 2020

https://johndanielsband.com/

John Daniels band pic

Singer-songwriter: album review – Tom Fairnie ‘Lightning in the Dark’

An Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter whose writing cuts across a number of styles, encompassing Americana, folk, country and blues – Tom Fairnie and has built up a considerable reputation on the Scottish folk circuit.

Over in Austin, Texas, Grammy-nominated producer, Merel Bregante, came across Fairnie’s music, was inspired by his songs and invited him over to Austin to record. Friends, family and fans rallied round to make that happen, courtesy of a crowdfunding campaign and a series of benefit gigs and Fairnie pitched up in Texas. In the studio he worked with a stellar cast of musicians who had previously played alongside the likes of Doc Watson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Jackson Browne. Lightning in the Dark is the result, an album of breathtaking Americana with Celtic influences shining through. It’s a delicious fusion of styles. Dobros and banjos nestle with whistles and pipes to create something both beautiful and extraordinary – Celticana as Bregante dubbed it.

The sound is special but so, too, are the songs. Fairnie’s gift as a songwriter and easy-going but thought-provoking lyrics, many of them composed with songwriting partner and fellow poet Bob Shields, make this a standout-out album.

An absolute gem of an album. If you love Americana seek out Tom Fairnie’s Lightning In The Dark. You will not be disappointed.

Released: 1st May 2020

https://tomfairnie.com/home-news

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