Eliza Delf – Into The Wilderness
I was in two minds whether to include this in my latest round-up of folk releases, not because I don’t thing it’s a strong album – it’s excellent – but the term folk barely covers what Into The Wilderness is about. This boundary-defying debut album spans indie, folk, prog, singer-songwriter and much more besides.
Eliza Delf: “The songs that appear on the Into the Wilderness album share a common thread. Each explores the wilderness that lies outside, and the wilderness that exists inside – sometimes mysterious, sometimes scary, sometimes enchanting. But always a place where you can find the truth if you’re willing to look for it.”
Comparisons have been made with everyone from Sandy Denny to Kate Bush, with some degree of justification in both of those cases. Delf is very much her own woman though and with this impressive debut release she demonstrates her talent and inventiveness as a singer-songwriter, and an ability to appeal across a range of genres.
Released: 13 June 2022 https://elizadelf.com/
Mike Vass – Decemberwell Decade
Decemberwell Decade is a winter-themed album where Scottish folk multi-instrumentalist, Mike Vass, returns to ruminate on those often harsh Scottish winters that inspired his 2012 solo album, Decemberwell, coming up with a completely new body of work. I might be coming to this a little late in the season but it’s February and even down here on the English south coast, there’s a definite chill in the air still.
The original Decemberwell album originated when Vass found his teaching work cancelled at short notice due to the vast quantities of snow clogging up the Scottish road network.
Mike Vass: “Rather than rewatch the same box sets I set myself a challenge – to spend December writing and recording some Scottish winter-themed music and record a daily video diary of the whole process.”
The follow-up is every bit as breath-taking. The largely instrumental album (all newly-composed by Vass save for two reworkings of traditional material) beautifully evokes the wintery weather conditions and seasonal traditions of the final month of the year. While the original album was very much a showcase for Vass as multi-instrumentalist, this one sees him stepping right back from playing and acting as composer and producer for a gifted team of musicians. Mesmerising.
Released: 18 November 2022 https://www.mikevass.com/
Rachel Walker & Aaron Jones – Despite The Wind And Rain
You could be forgiven for thinking that Despite The Wind And The Rain was another winter-themed release. But the debut duo album from Rachel Walker and Aaron Jones is all about celebrating the role of women in Scottish history.
Rachel Walker: “We have both worked in the traditional music scene for many years, and in that time we’ve become aware of the lack of songs that celebrate Scottish women for their success or achievements. There are plenty of tracks out there which will detail a woman’s beauty, or her broken heart, but few which acknowledge her intelligence, sense of adventure or courage. We sought to rectify that with this album.”
With ten original compositions, the duo celebrate the lives of women as diverse as Sgàthach, the mythical warrior queen of Scottish legend, to the nineteenth-century astronomer, Mary Somerville, to two leading figures in the women’s suffrage movement, Flora Murray and Elsie Inglis, whose contributions to Scottish political life are commemorated in the song, ‘Sunflowers’.
Both Walker and Jones are in fine voice, with lead vocals shared out between the two across the album’s ten tracks. Moreover, the sensitive storytelling, poignant melodies and beautifully-executed instrumentation all do justice to the women whose lives the album sets out to celebrate.
Released: 25 November 2022 https://www.rachelwalkerandaaronjones.com/
The Trials Of Cato – Gog Magog
When I reviewed The Trials of Cato’s debut album, Hide And Hair, for the now-defunct fRoots magazine back in 2018, I enthused that few debuts exhibited as much vitality as this one and predicted, like many, that we’d be seeing a lot more of them. We certainly did that. Their rise in the folk sphere was meteoric, yet it would be four years from the release of Hide And Hair before we had the chance to hear a follow-up.
Robin Jones: “Lockdown gave us a chance to really look at what we are about as a band and what music we wanted to create. We wiped the slate clean and challenged ourselves to create as much as we could without outside influences. Our beautiful and sometimes mysterious Fenland surroundings helped to realise this album and although we’re now delighted to be back on the road, this was a space in time that certainly helped us to create this music.”
That wiping the slate clean has seen a change in line-up, with Polly Bolton coming in to replace original member, Will Addison, and bringing a female vocal into the mix for the first time. There’s still plenty that’s familiar on Gog Magog though, from the reworking of Welsh language poetry to Robin Jones’ distinctive tenor banjo – and the band remain as captivating as ever. The only track I was slightly underwhelmed by was ‘Bedlam Boys’ but that’s only because I don’t think anyone can beat Gigspanner’s version for its sheer manic inventiveness. Overall a very welcome return from some of folk’s real innovators.
Released: 25 November 2022 https://www.thetrialsofcato.com/
The Ian Walker Band – We Come To Sing
Ian Walker is an accomplished songwriter and performer, recording over twenty albums and having his songs covered worldwide. Joining Walker (vocals, banjo, guitar, autoharp), his band comprises Jimmy Scott (vocals, guitar), and Moe Walker (vocals), who are supported on this album by some legendary veteran musicians: John Graham (The Clydesiders, John Graham & Jim Jack), Alan Reid (Battlefield Band, Alan Reid & Rob van Sante), Stevie Lawrence (Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Rallion, Iron Horse) and acclaimed blues harmonica player, Fraser Speirs.
We Come To Sing is a highly entertaining and song-packed album. Its eighteen tracks span an eclectic mix of both Walker’s own material (songs like ‘We Come To Sing’, ‘Rammy In The Glen’ and a re-recording of his anti-apartheid anthem, ‘Hawks And Eagles Fly Like Doves’ – which originally appeared on Walker’s 1985 solo album); alongside covers of classics from the likes of Richard Thompson, Sandy Denny and Tom Paxton; as well as popular traditional songs like ‘The Water Is Wide’. Definitely an album to put a smile on your face.
Released 16 January 2023 http://www.ianwalkeronline.com/