Tag Archives: singer songwriter

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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Singer-songwriter: album review – Thomas Charlie Pederson ‘Daylight Saving Hours’

Daylight Saving Hours is the second solo album from Thomas Charlie Pederson, lead singer and guitarist with Danish alt-rockers Vinyl Floor. Unlike the guitar-driven indie rock of Vinyl Floor, however, Pederson’s solo offering takes a mellow acoustic minimalistic approach, continuing in the vein of his first solo album Second Hand War released in 2016.

Recorded at the apartment of his brother (and Vinyl Floor’s drummer) Daniel, who also produced and mixed the album, Pederson states, “The project started out as demo recordings but I’ve decided to release these songs because I want to present them as raw as possible and because I want to preserve the feel of how they were written.”

The 14 songs on the album are centred mainly around Pederson’s vocals and either his piano playing or his acoustic guitar. For all it’s stripped back intimacy, however, the album does not lack polish, with Pederson’s brother providing some lovely atmospheric flourishes with additional string and organ arrangements. The result is an instinctively sympathetic backdrop to Pederson’s contemplative lyrics and melancholic delivery.

“Unlike the first album – which was quite introvert and personal – the new album sees me writing mostly about other people with a strong emphasis on the lyrics and melody and a few lyrical wordplays thrown in for good measure,” Pederson adds. “ I write about the commitments of love, illusionists, other worldly interference, melancholia, women in trouble and the different aspects of getting older.

Given my own music tastes I very much empathise with those musicians who enjoy exploring both their rock side and their acoustic side. An album of intimate lyrics and appealing melodies Thomas Charlie Pederson more than proves his worth as a singer-songwriter with Daylight Saving Hours.

Released by Karmanian Records 7th February 2020

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https://www.facebook.com/thomascharliepedersenmusic/

Folk: album review – Adam Amos & Noel Rocks ‘Back Up To Zero’

Back Up To Zero is the third album from acoustic singer-songwriter duo Adam Amos & Noel Rocks. It comes after quite some gap since the first two though. Adam Amos and Noel Rocks recorded two albums together in the 1980s and toured around the UK and Europe. Their endeavours as a duo came to a premature end, however, when Amos relocated abroad. Two sell-out reunion shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015 evidently encouraged them to rekindle their working partnership as a permanent set-up once more and they began working on Back Up To Zero in 2019, on Amos’s return to live in Scotland.

The album comprises eight original songs along with one traditional number and one cover. The duo (Amos guitar/vocals and Rocks guitar/banjo/vocals) say the songs are mainly drawn from their personal observations, with influences from Scotland, Ireland and North America.

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They are joined by a number of guest musicians: renowned Korean born Su-a Lee (Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Mr McFall’s Chamber, La Banda Europa) on cello, David Paton (Pilot, Elton John, Albert Hammond) on bass and Kenny Hutchison on accordion and piano, who was also the album’s producer.

Both Amos and Rocks are each accomplished song-writers and their reflective, thoughtful but easy-on-the-ear lyrics align nicely with some gentle, catchy melodies. The Americana as well as the Celtic influences shine through and it makes for a very pleasing mix. An engaging and likeable album from this duo let’s hope there’s a good few more gigs and a few more albums in them yet.

Released: 17th March 2020

https://www.amosandrocks.com/

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Folk / singer-songwriter: album review – Kevin Hunt ‘Devil’s Daughter’

In spite of being something of a regular fixture on the UK folk circuit, over two decades of writing songs ever since his teenage years and a long-term collaboration with violinist Ian Pearson, Irish-born singer-songwriter Kevin Hunt has waited until now before releasing his debut album. Devil’s Daughter comprises ten tracks of self-composed. In addition to Hunt (vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica) and Pearson (violin) it includes an impressive line-up of session musicians: double bassist John Parker (better known as one half of the acoustic duo Nizlopi), Dan Wilde on guitars, piano and organ, Jamie Welsted on drums and singer-songwriter Anna Hester providing backing vocals.

It’s apparent that the years Hunt has spent honing his craft as a songwriter have not been wasted and he delivers an impressive debut here.

“One of the first songs I wrote was about the troubles in Northern Ireland and I discovered I could more effectively express how I felt about complex subjects in song than I could any other way so I guess that’s when song-writing started for me, “ he notes.

​”I’ve realised that the meaning of songs is in who hears them and over time those songs change and what the listener takes from them will change too. As long as they are written from a genuine place – good, bad or ugly – then they will carry in some shape or form. What a song might be about is not really up to me to define even if I’ve written it. That’s for someone else to decide for themselves. That’s what makes music pretty special as an art form. Songs are just moments, that’s all. Not definitions or dogmas.”

A gift for lyrical storytelling combines with a warmly satisfying voice and some deft musical interplay between the assembled musicians to make this an album that you get more and more from with each repeated listen. No-one could ever accuse Hunt of rushing himself in bringing his songs to the recording studio but it has certainly been worth the wait. Devil’s Daughter is a very welcome debut. Like many musicians the world over any gigs that Hunt had lined up in support of this album will now be completely up in the air. However, whether you have seen him live previously or just looking for something new as you contemplate what is likely to be many weeks without any gigs to out to this album is well worth seeking out.

Released: 5th June 2020

kevin hunt

https://www.kevinhuntband.com/

Singer-songwriter: album review – A Choir of Ghosts ‘An Ounce of Gold’

A Choir of Ghosts is the alter-ego of Swedish singer-songwriter James Auger and An Ounce of Ghosts is his debut album. Written over a three -year period this highly personal album is influenced by both the thick forests of the Scandinavian landscape and the experiences and feelings he went through over that time.

Right from your first listen of the album a number of things become immediately apparent. First, Auger has a fantastic voice – with that slight Americana vibe that makes for perfect singer-songwriter territory. Secondly, he’s really got a good ear for catchy memorable melodies – even after an initial couple of plays this album feels like it’s been a much-loved part of your collection. And finally, this is a really well-constructed, beautifully-produced debut album – from the epic orchestral soundscapes that dominate tracks like the grandly-titled ‘Sinner In Rapture’ (also released as a single) to the warm, introspective feel of stripped-back acoustic numbers like ‘Driving Home’.

Beautiful melodies, thought-provoking lyrics and gorgeous production An Ounce of Gold is an extremely impressive debut album and one well worth seeking out.

Released: Greywood Records 3/4/20

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Available from: https://greywoodrecords.bigcartel.com/product/a-choir-of-ghosts-an-ounce-of-gold-cd

http://www.achoirofghosts.com/

News: Kankou Kouyate’s ‘Kuma’ album – when the Mali singer-songwriter met the Scottish folk-rock guitarist…

Back in 2017, Kankou Kouyate a singer and songwriter from Mali from a renowned musical family, met Scottish musician Mark Mulholland. A collaboration ensued which led to a batch of original songs fusing both African and western influences. The ten-track album Kuma (meaning “words” in Bambara – Mali’s most common language)  is the result of that collaboration.  Parisian musician Olaf Hund adds electronic beats and on a couple of tracks Vincent Bucher provides some beautifully evocative harmonica. Combined with the rock, blues and folk influences of Mulholland’s guitar work and Kankou’s enchanting voice they have created something altogether special.

Mali. Bamako. 06/2017. Kankou et Mark Mulholland.

In Mali, Kouyate has worked with musicians such as Toumani Diabate, Bassekou Kouyate and Cheick Tidiane Seck. She’s collaborated in Africa Express and also contributed to the soundtrack for a 2015 documentary about musicians displaced by Mali’s civil war while internationally she has worked with the likes of Damon Albarn, Brian Eno and Nick Zinner.

Released: Cannery Row Records 6th December 2019

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https://www.facebook.com/Kankou-kouyate-Malian-music-300084397563791/

News: ‘What If’ – new single from folk singer-songwriter Zoe Wren inspired by prison music charity Sing Inside

‘What If‘ the new single from folk artist Zoe Wren seeks to raise both money and public awareness on behalf of prison music outreach charity Sing Inside.

“Taking singing workshops into local prisons with charity Sing Inside was one of the most rewarding parts of my life while living in Cambridge,” says Wren. “My song What If was inspired partly by the joy and hope music can bring to people’s lives and partly by the frustrations of working in a prison system lacking focus on rehabilitation. It is more vital now than ever to support this important community work, so all money from this release will go straight to help Sing Inside and the amazing work this charity does.”

“My heart goes out to the family and friends of Jack and Saskia, and to everyone affected by the events at Fishmongers’ Hall on London Bridge. I think we owe it to them to continue to support the cause they so strongly believed in, and focus not on hate but on love, hope and humanity.”

On its website Sing Inside outlines its mission and values as follows:

  • Sing Inside promotes and supports the use of music and performing arts as a means of community-building for all who work or live within the prison setting.
  • We aim to provide music-based educational initiatives by conducting choral workshops in UK prisons and holding facilities using volunteers drawn from UK universities and local choirs.
  • Our workshops train and develop the musicianship and educational leadership skills of volunteers drawn from universities and local communities, who support workshop delivery.
  • We believe that music can break down common stereotypes and social barriers, and encourage creativity, confidence, and a greater sense of self-worth.

‘What If’ is available via Wren’s Bandcamp page.  The track is priced at £2, but she asks that if you are able to donate any more, it will be hugely appreciated.

Zoe

More information:

Zoe Wren website

Sing Inside Website

Previous review:

EP review: Zoe Wren – Gold & Smoke

 

Singer-songwriter: album review – Lorraine Jordan ‘Send My Soul’

Send My Soul is the fifth studio album from singer song-writer Lorraine Jordan. Memorably described as ‘Celtic soul’ her music builds on her family’s Irish roots while also embracing more contemporary influences.

It’s a combination that works fantastically well and from the moment you put it on the album oozes soulful sophistication and captivating musicality. Indeed, such is the powerfully understated beauty of the title track that I had to double-check that this was a brand new song and not a modern interpretation of a long lost gospel soul classic.

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Not only is Jordan is a talented songwriter with a passionate soulful voice she’s succeeded in assembling a suitably talented line-up of musicians for the album. Jordan’s own guitar and bouzouki playing is complimented by a sensitive yet wondrous accompaniment of mandolin, piano, strings, whistle and percussion that help give these songs such a unique Celtic-inspired flavour.

If Celtic soul is truly a thing then ‘Send My Soul’ is surely a classic of the genre. Jordan has delivered an exquisitely appealing album here.

Released: October 2019 by Hazellville Music

https://www.lorrainejordan.net/

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Interview with singer-songwriter Dan Korn of folk/acoustic duo Dan Korn & Joe Sharp

Released back in July Polaris is the new album from singer-songwriter Dan Korn and classically-trained musician Joe Sharp. The two first worked together in 2010, collaborating on a number of releases. Polaris is their first release as a duo, although there have been hundreds of shows across the UK and Europe in recent years and a tour of the US. I caught up with Dan Korn recently to discuss the album, their work as a duo and next steps.

For those who haven’t heard the album how would you describe Polaris and what particular highlights would you point listeners to?

Polaris is an album of ten new songs recorded live at Roedean Moira House Studios in Eastbourne. We see it as an intimate exploration of love and identity in the modern world.

We were keen to capture the raw energy of our live performances by recording the album live. We are the only two musicians on the album, though we play a number of acoustic instruments.

I have different favourite moments from time to time, but at the moment I am particularly fond of the track Idaho, which was conceived in a chilly tent in a campsite off an Idaho Highway. I toured in the US in the summer of 2016 and shivering in that tent was definitely a low point of the tour. It’s a hopeful song though, imagining a time in the future when my ex-girlfriend and I will be friends again and we’ll be able to sit on a park bench together and laugh at the past.

Another highlight for me is Joe’s song, The Promise, the final track on the album. It’s the only song I don’t play guitar on, which makes it both liberating and nerve-wracking to play live. It’s a beautiful song and a great way to finish the record.

This is your first release as a duo but you’ve worked together on a number of projects. How did you first begin working together?

We started working together back in 2010. I was going into the studio to record my debut EP, Dustbowl. We felt a couple of tracks would benefit from the addition of some brass. Joe was a friend of a friend and a trumpet player by trade, so we asked him to play trumpet and flugelhorn on the record. He did so with aplomb. We soon became firm friends and musical collaborators, though Joe has mostly played bass and supplied backing vocals since then.

And you’ve been performing live together as a duo for several years with hundreds of gigs behind you. Was it a conscious creative decision to wait for a while before releasing an album or was it just the way things turned out?

Our setup has evolved considerably over the years. In different configurations, we have recorded two EPs and one LP before this one. Between 2016 and 2018, I toured a lot my own and accumulated quite a few new songs. Joe had a couple of songs he wanted to record too. We were playing better together than ever, so it felt like the right time to enter the studio. For it to be a duo project felt like the most honest and authentic way to go about things at that time.

What have been some of your most memorable gigs?

In 2015, the full band went on a UK tour to promote the release of our Of The Sea LP. We were in Inverness, in a tiny venue with a miniature stage we were somehow all supposed to fit on with a drum-kit. It was a pretty rowdy audience. At one point during the set, we couldn’t help but notice a man’s glass eye fall out and roll across the floor in front of the stage. We watched him proceed to pick it up, blow on it and pop it back in!

The final concert of a tour often turns out to be a favourite. By this time, you’re in great nick because you’ve been playing so much. You’re tired of course, but there’s a feeling of throwing caution to the wind. You don’t have to get up and play again tomorrow, you can just enjoy it. In the days that follow, the post-tour blues will descend as you try to reintegrate yourself into humdrum life. The absence of the adrenaline you have grown accustomed to experiencing performing on stage can be quite difficult to deal with.

In recent years, we have loved playing house concerts, particularly in Germany, where there is a pretty well established scene. It can be a very intimate experience, where you can literally hear the audience breathing. You can’t get away with much. You have to be able to chat in between songs. It’s a really good way to develop your performance skills. I’d recommend it as a good avenue to explore for any singer-songwriter, learning his or her craft.

Name some of the artists that have particularly influenced you.

At the moment, I’m really enjoying Cate Le Bon and Bill Callahan. I went to a Villagers gig in Rotterdam recently, which I found very inspiring.

Given the extremely positive reviews for Polaris when it was released in the summer what are your future plans now, both as a duo and as individual artists?

We’ve been working on another full band album for the last couple of years. It’s being recorded by our guitarist Bob Turley at his Cosy Studios in Kent, where we recorded Of The Sea. We each live in different places and have a lot going on, so it’s a good thing we’re not in any great rush to release it. We’re getting together over Christmas to review things and to work out what our next steps should be. It will be quite different from anything we’ve released before. Watch this space!

Polaris cover

Polaris was released on 19th July 2019 and is available via the duo’s website 

http://www.dankornjoesharp.com/

Photo credits: Carsten Bunnemann

 

Interview: Darren talks Fag Ash and Beer with guitarist/singer-songwriter Jake Aaron

Guitarist and singer-songwriter Jake Aaron released his debut EP in 2016 to plaudits from folk and indie reviewers. His debut album Fag Ash and Beer was released in September 2019, again to favourable reviews. I caught up up with him recently to discuss the album, some of the musicians he’s worked with, his choice of cover artwork and his teenage love for Iron Maiden.

You have managed to pull together a great line-up of musicians for your debut album? How did they get involved?

I was very lucky! My first songs in 2015 were just on acoustic guitar, but I had an idea last year for a jazzy piece “Give Me Your Horse” which needed a great Hammond player and trumpeter. I made some inquires in the jazz world and the names that came back were Steve Lodder for Hammond and Steve Waterman for trumpet. I contacted them and they both seemed to like the piece – maybe it was the time signature – and luckily they both agreed. I found the bassist Davide Mantovani and drummer Marc Parnell through Steve L. When I was recording the album this year, I felt some tracks needed building up so I asked the musicians if they’d come back in. They’re brilliant players. A couple of the tracks on the album are live takes, “Elvis Has Left The Building” and “New Mexico”, and you can hear how good they are.

Have you been taken aback by the positive response to the album or did you always know you had something special on your hands as soon as you began putting it together?

I’m not sure the album has mainstream appeal, but it does seem to have found a niche in certain music circles which is nice. It’s had some play on BBC Jazz Nights as well as Genevieve Tudor’s Folk Show. My biggest uncertainty was how the album would all hang together as it’s quite a mix of ideas. I just hoped it would somehow. I’ve had a small audience since my EP who seem to like what I’m doing, and it was good they stuck with me, too.

And given the response how come you waited so long to make your first album?

It’s quite a task writing a whole album, and partly it just took a long time to finish the pieces once I’d started. I wrote some of the pieces quickly, whilst others were like watching paint dry, waiting for missing bits of music or words. A couple of the tracks were quite fiddly.

In terms of the album title it absolutely does what it says on the tin – but do talk us through that album cover!

I was working on a very different cover but didn’t feel it was working and was pretty fed up with the whole thing. An old friend then texted me a picture of us playing guitar in his folks’ kitchen when we were about sixteen, smoking and drinking and I thought that’ll do. It tied in with the track “Fag Ash and Beer” and the acoustic aspect of the music. On reflection it possibly wasn’t my greatest idea of all time, and I don’t think it helped promote the music at all. I’m not sure it’s up there with Physical Graffiti. Then again it had personal resonance for me.

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Heavy metal clearly had a big impact on you when you were a teenager. That was what got me hooked on music, too, and I still love it alongside the more acoustic stuff. Are you still a fan?

I don’t put Run to the Hills on any more, but I still remember why I liked it. Maybe it’s a guitar thing and if I didn’t play guitar I possibly wouldn’t have got as much out of it as I did. Some of the guitarists are technical wizards. Eddie Van Halen was just mind boggling. Heavy metal aside I’ve always liked different styles of music, and I like a lot more styles than I dislike. A solitary bagpipe, African drums, a hillbilly picking a banjo … they can all do it for me as long as it’s got a groove.

Name some of the artists that have particularly influenced you as a singer-songwriter.

There are lots of artists I love, but I am not sure which ones influenced me the most. Some of them are pretty inimitable. I also think it’s easier and more enjoyable trying to to play in your own way. I probably got bits and pieces from all over though, from every song and riff I learnt to play. You can’t play the intro to Hey Joe a thousand times and not be influenced a bit.

You have Guy Pratt contributing on one track on the album. How did that come about, and did he share any Pink Floyd tales with you?

No tales of Floyd, though I do know some of Guy’s great tales from my “My Bass and Other Animals”. I’ve known Guy for a long time through one of my best friends. I had an interesting cover for “Give Me Your Horse” of Pancho Villa and his gang holding instruments instead of rifles. The bass player looked particularly cool, like he was some legendary bassist, so Guy came to mind. I emailed him the piece, he liked it and quite remarkably he agreed. A massive honour.

What’s your favourite track on the album and tell us how it came about?

I’ve got a few but I think the instrumental “Elvis Has Left The Building” has a good vibe. It was originally an acoustic song but the band sounded so good I left it as is, like we were Elvis’s warm up band. After we recorded it, I was downstairs in the studio making a coffee and Kenny Jones, the engineer, and the others were playing it back upstairs. We had a busy schedule and when I heard it I thought “Why are they listening to that funk track on the radio? We should be getting on with my stuff!” I liked “New Mexico”, too. I was downstairs again when it was played back and Marc’s beat came pounding through the ceiling – it sounded like approaching Apaches. I was quite pleased lyrically with “Jonah Part 1”, too. It took a while to get it into a shape where it sounded colloquial without being too flip, and I could tell the story in a way I found engaging.

Give Me Your Horse Cover

The single cover art for 'Give Me Your Horse'

And, finally, given the positive reaction to this have you got plans for a follow-up?

I think I’d keep plodding on regardless of the reaction, but it’s good that some people like the music too. I’ll possibly release singles or an EP next if another album is too daunting. I’m quite interested in music for film. A couple of reviewers thought the music was quite cinematic and would fit a Tarantino movie. Clearly if Quentin wants to use a piece that would not be a problem!

Fag Ash and Beer was independently released on 6th September 2019

https://www.jakeaaron.com/