Tag Archives: folk

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’

Folk: album review – Fraya Thomsen ‘Release’

Harpist, singer and award-winning composer, Fraya Thomsen’s musical roots lie in the Scottish traditional music scene  but she’s equally at home in the world of film and TV, where she has composed music for a number of award-winning short films as well as pieces for contemporary choreographers and multimedia artists.

Release began life as a piece of work entitled Community & Stardust, commissioned for the 2017 Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, but then evolved into a lockdown project with the album being recorded in the participating musicians’ own homes and studios during 2020.

The team of musicians who had originally devised and performed the piece have similarly contributed to the album: Sarah Allen (flute), Shanti Jayasinha (flugelhorn), Colette O’Leary (accordion), Louise McMonagle (cello), James Maddren (drums/percussion) and Cameron Maxwell (bass). Artist, Lucy Cash, has also written the lyrics to one of the songs on the album, ‘Just This Sky Line’ which was also used for a film called A Song For Nine Elms.

Featuring tracks with titles like ‘Save The World’, ‘For The Water Protectors’ and ‘Connected’. It’s perhaps no surprise that there is a strong ecological theme to this album. The twelve tracks are a mixture of songs and tunes and while, unsurprisingly, there are obvious Celtic influences from the folk world, other musical influences make the presence felt, too. ‘Tiger’, for example, is jazz-influenced while other tracks take on a more experimental feel, again perhaps unsurprising, given Thomsen’s work in the world of film as well as folk.

There’s much to appreciate on this album with the contributions of the guest musicians perfectly complimenting Thomsen’s beautiful harp and vocal. What’s more there seems to be more to discover with each repeated listen. Put it on, sit back, soak it all in and quietly contemplate the future of our world  and our connections to one another.

Released: 9th April 2022

http://www.frayathomsen.com/

This week’s featured artist: East Sussex folk singer-songwriter, India Blue

Drawing inspiration from spirituality, history, folk tales, nature and the complexities of “being human”, India Blue is a folk musician and singer-songwriter based here in St. Leonards, East Sussex.

Introduced to the piano aged five, India says she began writing songs about faeries from those very first lessons, with help from her teacher Carla Smith. Aged eleven she began performing her first ever gigs as her support act, at places like Revelation in Ashford and the Sinden Theatre in Tenterden. Then came opportunities on the festival circuit, playing at small eco, pagan and hippie festivals in 2015. Prior to lockdown she was playing around eleven festivals each summer. She was awarded winner of the Equator Music Contest  in 2014, was shortlisted for Young Songwriter of the Year in 2015 and was area finalist of Open Mic UK in 2016. As well as festivals, she’s supported Jo Beth Young for her ‘Strangers’ album launch and Guy Chambers on his ‘Into The Light’ tour.

India Blue’s debut studio album, The Circus Came And Left, released earlier this Spring features thirteen self-composed songs written over a two-year period.

“The Circus Came and Left is titled from the final single, which I toyed with actually including on the album or not. It’s a very personal song, about the transience of life. But I felt in some way whilst structuring the album: this is the journey I wanted the listener to go through, as it’s the one cycle every living this also goes through (in some way or another) It was also a major reason I wanted my first solo release to be an album, rather than a single: to walk the listener through a landscape.”

“I recorded the album in the home studio of my producer and fellow musician Tom Clarkson. Recording was a heart opening experience, intertwined with cavalo nero pasta, deep yogic breaths and dances with his two-year-old daughter.”

“My favourite part of the process was recording the piano on a magnificent old Steinway in an old original Burton manor (the man who built St Leonards!) ‘We’re Free’ was the only song fully recorded in this space, it was my rendition of a Mantra, and we got it in maybe one or two takes. I feel that songs are capsules, containing the energy of their words, the time when they were written, and also recorded. I feel this album truly holds support, insight and creative power for all who listen to receive.”

While she’s mainly self-accompanied, playing piano, harp and other instruments, the album also features some talented local musicians including Bev Lee Harling (violin), Tom Clarkson (bass/electric guitar), Tom Uragallo (bodhran) and Sarah Vincent (trombone).

The Circus Came And Left is a delightful album. India Blue’s delicate yet expressive and slightly other-worldly vocal is the perfect fit for her song-writing and there’s plenty of lovely mournful piano and beautifully evocative harp to really bring these songs to life. Both Vashti Bunyan and Joanna Newsome are cited as key inspirations and there’s lots for fans of both of those artists to enjoy here.

Released: March 2022

https://www.indiabluemusic.com/

Folk: album review – Andy Martyn ‘Will We Give It A Go?’

A virtuoso of the button accordion and a notable figure on London’s traditional Irish music scene, Andy Martyn has been immersed in traditional music from a young age and has gone on to collaborate with many leading players. Appearing on a number of albums, past collaborations have included work with the likes of John Carty, Brendan Mulkere, Alias Ron Kavana and Gino Lupari, as well as with London-based bands, Le Cheile and Slip Jigolos. Will We Give It A Go? is Martyn’s debut solo album released under his own name, however.

Evidently, he may have taken a little persuading to have finally agreed to a solo release. Writing in the album liner notes, he observes: “Having been persuaded by a number of musicians and friends over the years to put down a new recording, I chose perhaps the most strange time to do so during a global pandemic which severely restricted our ability to meet, play and record together.”

Any logistical challenges presented by putting such an album together has clearly not impeded on its vibrancy and vitality, It really is a delight to listen to. Distilling the spirit of traditional Irish music from the streets of London while reaching back to Martyn’s own Galway family roots, he brings us an album that’s both highly inventive and one steeped in tradition.

Described as a landmark recording of traditional Irish music in London, the fourteen-track CD combines some of Marty’s own compositions with his own interpretations of Irish airs, reels and other traditional tunes.

Traditional airs like the ‘Lament Of The Three Marys’ jostle with traditional reels like ‘The Sailor’s Bonnet’ and several of Marty’s own compositions including three of his previously unpublished tunes: ‘Dream Maker’ (an air composed for the late Brendan Mulkere), ‘The Light of Home’ and ‘The Ballygawley Barndance’.

Martyn has drawn on his long-established connections on the scene to pull together an impressive line-up of supporting musicians: John Carty (Patrick Street), Gerry Diver, Gino Lupari (Four Men and a Dog), Matt Griffin (Seamus Begley Trio), Michael McGoldrick (Michael McGoldrick Band, Usher’s Island), Trevor Hutchinson (Lunasa), Elaine Conwell (The London Lasses), Sinead Egan (The Egan Sisters), Tad Sargent, Kevin Boyle (Le Cheile) and Barney Morse-Brown (Duotone).

Altogether, an impressive outcome for this long-awaited solo venture from the Irish button accordion virtuoso, Andy Martyn.

Released: 1 March 2022

https://www.andymartynmusic.com/

Folk: album review – Iona Lane ‘Hallival’

While she was born in Lancaster grew up in the Yorkshire Dales and graduated from Leeds Conservatoire, it is the Hebridean island of Rum that provides the inspiration for Iona Lane’s debut album. Rising 723 metres, Hallival, is one of the mountains on the picturesque Isle of Rum, the location of which is also the theme for the album’s opening track.

Iona Lane: “Spending my childhood in the Dales was wonderful but pretty much all our family holidays were north of the border so I’ve grown to love the Scottish as well as the English landscape.”

 As well as highland landscapes, Lane’s songwriting tackles such themes as eighteenth-century scientific discovery, nineteenth-century palaeontology and ancient Celtic myth. In her finely crafted songs, Lane demonstrates a real gift for storytelling and introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters, both real and imagined.

Lane’s delicate yet immensely expressive vocals accompanied by her own skillful guitar playing as well as a talented cast of supporting musicians (Mia Scott, Louis Bertoud, Jay Taylor, Sol Edwards, Jenny Sturgeon, Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl) all serve to ensure that Hallival is a very fine debut folk album indeed.

Released: 25 March 2022

http://www.ionalane.com/

Related reviews:

Folk: album review – Rachel Newton & Lauren MacColl ‘Heal & Harrow’

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