Tag Archives: Greg Russell Ciaran Algar

Folk: album review – Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar ‘Utopia and Wasteland’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Ever since they won the BBC’s Young Folk Award on the back of their debut release The Queen’s Lover, the talents of Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar have never been in doubt. From such an impressive start, their capacity to innovate and astound with each new release has seemed to build and build. Now onto their fourth album, the question is whether the duo continue on that trajectory or begin to settle into something approaching a pleasing but comfortable formula. The answer is that Utopia and Wasteland continues to set the bar even higher.

Production shifts up a notch, courtesy of Mark Tucker who also adds bass and percussion, but the biggest change with this album is the strong focus on self-penned material. In contrast to the interpretations of traditional songs and well-chosen covers that provided the bulk of material for previous albums, nine of the eleven tracks here are original compositions.

The emphasis on original material has allowed the duo to explore some contemporary issues yet bring their instinctive appreciation of traditional music, Russell’s rich distinctive vocals and Algar’s virtuoso fiddle to create some seriously impressive modern folk songs. Russell has already demonstrated his gift as an immensely talented songwriter (someone who managed to write The Queen’s Lover while bored with revising for A levels, let us not forget). However, perhaps the most striking and moving song here is Algar’s composition We are Leaving, which documents the culture of neglect and indifference that culminated in the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Elsewhere on the album, Line Two is Russell’s take on the HS2 rail project, while Walter reflects on the incredible life of Walter Tull, an English professional footballer who became the first black officer to lead white troops into battle in the First World War and was killed in action at just 29. Algar also brings his talents to bear with a couple of pleasingly inventive tune compositions in Warwick Road and De Gule Huis.

With Utopia and Wasteland Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar once again showcase their incredible talents and demonstrate some superb songwriting into the bargain. An exceptionally strong album, this marks another chapter in the duo’s hugely impressive career to date.

Released; April 2018 Rootbeat Records

http://www.russellalgar.co.uk/

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Related reviews:

Album review – Ray Hearne ‘Umpteen’ (featuring Greg & Ciaran)
Luke Jackson and Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at Cecil Sharp House 2016
Greg Russell and Rex Preston at The Green Note 2015
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at The Green Note 2014

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Luke Jackson and Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at Cecil Sharp House 6/4/16

While I certainly know the output of Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar pretty well these days I was not familiar with Luke Jackson’s work at all. Jackson walks on to the stage and rich, bluesy, distinctive vocals immediately fill the room. With some dexterous guitar playing he gives a rootsy, acoustic blues feel to the contemporary singer-songwriter genre and is an immediate hit with the Cecil Sharp audience.

His often highly personal songs cover a range of topics on the trials and tribulations of modern life, from popping pills, drinking and fighting in Ain’t No Trouble, to the desperation of young suicide in the hauntingly beautiful That’s All Folks. Jackson is a prolific songwriter with three CDs of his material released already. A number of tonight’s songs are available on his excellent and highly listenable mini-album: This Family Tree. (Details here)

Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar then join Jackson on stage to provide lovely added harmonies on his final song. And after a short interval Russell and Algar return, sans Jackson, and we move from contemporary singer-songwriter to traditional folk duo. Winning the BBC’s Young Folk Award in 2013 (the same year Luke Jackson was a runner-up, incidentally, and how they first met) the duo appeared to arrive fully formed with an incredible degree of musical maturity at an impossibly young age. But they’ve continued to go from strength to strength and are now on to their third album. Russell’s rich and expressive voice simply oozes with character and passion while Algar’s fiddle-playing, always delivered with exquisite perfection, veers from the wildly energetic to the beautifully sensitive.

They are touring in support of their new album The Silent Majority, released just last month, and we get to hear a number of songs from that tonight including the title track itself, a cover of the Lionel McClelland song which serves as a warning of the tragedies that unfold when “the silent majority stays silent”. Another highlight is George, a great Glasgow-based drinking song, as well as a beautiful version of Rolling Down The Ryburn. It’s not just about the new album though and we also get some well-chosen favourites from their first two albums including The Queen’s Lover, written when a 17 year-old Russell was studying for his history AS level, and Away From The Pits, written by Ciaran Algar’s father, Chris, a homage to his native Stoke On Trent.

Luke Jackson, who was joined by Russell and Algar for the final song of his set, returns the favour and comes back on to accompany the duo for their last song: three talented musicians, two very different acts but one highly entertaining evening. Another very successful night for Cecil Sharp House.

http://lukepauljackson.com/
http://www.russellalgar.co.uk/

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Related reviews:
Greg & Ciaran at Green Note
Greg Russell & Rex Preston