Tag Archives: folk

Folk: album review – Jenny Sturgeon ‘The Living Mountain’

The Living Mountain was written by Aberdonian Nan Shepherd, in the last years of the Second World War and it sat in her desk drawer until it was published in 1977,” writes Jenny Sturgeon in the album sleeve-notes.

Inspired by Shepherd’s memoir, once described by the Guardian as “the finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain,” Sturgeon’s album of the same name celebrates Shepherd’s nature writing and the Cairngorms mountain range in the eastern Highlands. Each of the twelve songs on the album take their titles from the chapter headings in Shepherd’s celebrated volume.

From the gentle birdsong and low mournful dulcimer hum of the opening track ‘The Plateau’ to the hypnotic piano and slowly pounding percussion of the final song ‘Being’, Sturgeon uncannily captures a sense of the beauty, bleakness and wonder that this very special landscape instils. Ten of the twelve songs are inspired directly by Shepherd’s writing while the remaining two are Shepherd’s own poems, set to music.

Joining Sturgeon who plays piano, harmonium , dulcimer, whistle and guitar are Mairi Campbell (viola and vocals), Su-a Lee (cello), Grant Anderson (bass and vocals) with additional field recordings from Jez Riley-French and Magnus Robb.

Beautifully sung and exquisitely played The Living Mountain is a captivating celebration of the natural world and timeless and inspirational nature writing.

Released: October 16th 2020

https://www.jennysturgeonmusic.com/

Folk: album review: Pat Walsh ‘Simply Whistle’

Simply Whistle pretty much does what it says on the tin. For the past five decades Pat Walsh has been part of the north-west traditional music scene and across each of its nineteen tracks this album puts Walsh’s tin whistle and her beautiful jigs, reels and flings centre-stage.

Walsh was born to an Irish family in Manchester in the mid 1950s. This beautifully-packaged CD with its informative twelve-page booklet details not only the background to the tunes, both the traditional numbers and original compositions, but also Walsh’s own life story and her abiding love of traditional music.

“I have tried to describe the really important part that Irish traditional music has played in my life,” she says in the sleeve-notes. “And my enduring passion for playing and listening to it. I have often wished that my great grandfather John Ryder, the fiddle player from Longford had done something similar for later generations to read. If my grandchildren or their children get the bug for trad music, I hope they find that this memoir and the tunes fill in the back story, or maybe even it will pique their interest. Either way, this is for them.”

Produced by Mike McGoldrick, who has played alongside Walsh and also features on the album, the production retains a clean and simple feel which works so well. Within seconds of putting the album on Walsh’s evocative playing has immediately transported you to another time and place.

Released: 14th September 2020

https://www.patwalshwhistle.com/

Folk: album review – Joshua Burnell ‘Flowers Where The Horses Sleep’

From trad folk to prog rock to avant-garde pop there are many influences at play on Flowers Where The Horses Sleep, the latest album from singer-songwriter, Joshua Burnell.

Following his well-received folk-rock interpretations of traditional song on his two previous albums, Burnell returns to original compositions.

“Having dedicated the past three years to rearranging traditional material, I wanted to build on that experience to produce an album of folk songs for a modern audience,” says Burnell. “The songs were all inspired by people past and present and explore humankind’s remarkable ability to find beauty, even in the hardest of times.”

Nicely packaged with beautiful cover art, the album takes its title from the recollections of a Japanese-American woman who was interned during World War II and spoke of the prisoners growing flowers in the stables they were obliged to take residence in, bringing beauty to the ugliness surrounding them.

Burnell himself is a talented multi-instrumentalist and his impressive musicianship is as much in evidence on this album as his gentle but beguiling vocals. Guests on the album include Frances Sladen on lead and backing vocals, Nathan Greaves on electric guitar and Katriona Gilmore on fiddle and mandarin.

Flowers Where The Horses Sleep takes us on quite a musical journey from the gentle acoustic strumming of opener ‘Labels’ to the lush grand piano of closing track ‘Two Stars’ with many detours along the way. It’s testimony both to Burnell’s creativity and his love of traditional material, however, that for all the quirky left-field musical influences, these freshly-composed songs still manage to retain a strong folk sensibility.

Released: 4th September 2020

Folk: album review – Rura ‘Live At The Old Fruitmarket’

Recorded live at a home-town gig in the month before lock-down commenced, Glasgow’s folk instrumentalists Rura celebrate their tenth anniversary with this brand new live album. Live At The Old Fruitmarket documents Rura’s performance for a 1,200-strong crowd on the final day of the Celtic Connections festival back in February.

The foursome – Steven Blake (pipes and keys), Jack Smedley (fiddle), David Foley (flute and bodhran) and Adam Brown (guitar) are joined by former, past collaborators and long-time musical friends to celebrate the band’s decade of music-making. The concert includes guest slots for the band’s former singer and songwriter Adam Holmes, who contributes two songs, and guitarist Chris Waite in addition to other musicians, including Ali Hutton (Treacherous Orchestra) and James Lindsay (Braebach).

Fiddler, Jack Smedley, reflects: “Over the past ten years we have made incredible friends, made ridiculous memories and played a few tunes along the way! We want to thank everyone who joined us on stage that night at The Old Fruitmarket as well as every single person who has come to see us. We had a blast!”

Capturing some of the magic and atmosphere of what was clearly a very special night, the band and their guests are fizzing with energy as they revisit highlights from their back catalogue.

From fast and furious to melancholy and mournful anyone with a love of Scottish pipes and fiddle is going to love this album. And for anyone who was lucky enough to experience this as one of their last gigs before lock-down they are almost certainly going to want to purchase it as a memento of that evening.

Released 11th September 2020

https://www.rura.co.uk/

Folk: album review: Rakoczy ‘Frontrunner’

This review was originally published by Bright Young folk here

From traditional horse fairs, to the wooden ’obby ’oss, to the racehorse, to more mystical creatures, the horse has been an enduring fixture in traditional folk song. Racokzy brings such songs together in an inspired and ambitious approach for her debut album.

Rakoczy, full name Fruzsina Zsofia Rakoczy, was born in Budapest but has lived most of her life in Manchester. Coming to folk music via the Euro dance scene and local sessions, she sings and plays recorder, concertina and bagpipes, all of which can be heard on the album.

The album draws together traditional favourites like Skewbald, Poor Old Horse and Creeping Jane along with covers from the likes of US singer-songwriter Tucker Zimmerman and pastoral prog rockers Jethro Tull, in addition to a couple of originals.

In her biography Rakoczy cites influences as diverse as British and European traditional song, early music, classic rock, gothic and steampunk and draws inspiration from artists like Tom Waits, Marilyn Manson, Lady Gaga, David Bowie and Joan Jett. With a versatile vocal delivery and excellent musical accompaniment, the spectrum of emotions, moods and influences the artist and her backing band take us on over the course of this album is an exhilarating ride.

From the powerful bagpipe and drumming arrangements which lend atmosphere to opening track Hooden Horse, a Kentish calling-on song celebrating the parade of the wooden hobby horse through the streets of Broadstairs, to the sparse and mournful guitar and vocal arrangement on Little Dun Dee collected from septuagenarian Gypsy traveller Mary Anne Haynes in the 1970s, there is plenty for the traditional folk enthusiast to fall in love with on this album.

For their cover of Zimmerman’s Taoist Tale meanwhile, Rakoczy and her band, the Horror Show, channel the spirit of Mancunian indie favourites The Stone Roses. The album ends with a little bit of folk rock – not the late 60s variety but a blast of 1950s rock and roll as the traditional song Dead Horse is repurposed as a vintage electric guitar romp, a glorious and fitting tribute to our equine friends everywhere.

Quirky, inspired and creative Frontrunner is a superb debut and Rakoczy will most definitely be a name to watch out for.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Musician-Band/Rakoczy-Music-101253771590149/

Folk/singer-songwriter: album review – Saskia ‘Are You Listening’

Crystal clear vocals and songs that veer between folk and country with just a sprinkling of smooth slightly jazz-influenced pop Are You Listening is the latest release from London-based singer-songwriter, Saskia Griffiths-Moore.

The first of two-album deal with Suzanne Marcus Collins Foundation, it includes re-workings from her back catalogue as well as two brand new songs and a Leonard Cohen cover.

Whether or not you are familiar with her back catalogue Saskia turns in some fine renditions of her older material here, backed by David Ian Roberts (guitar), Thomas Holder (double bass), Ali Petrie (piano) and Gabriella Swallow (cello) giving the whole album a gorgeously mellow acoustic feel. Of the brand new songs both the optimistic and upbeat ‘Best of You’ and the sad and wistful ‘Come Comfort Me’ compliment the older material nicely.

I do like Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ and here Saskia sings it well. However, I’m not sure it’s entirely essential on this album given there are so many Cohen songs that haven’t been covered quite so many times. Never mind, she does sing it superbly.

A beautifully-recorded album and a fine showcase for Saskia’s burgeoning talents as a singer-songwriter – yes: we’re listing. An impressive album.

Released: 31st July 2020

Saskia

https://www.saskiagm.com/

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/