Issue 11 10/99

FolkWorld CD Reviews


Liisa Matveinen & Tellu Virkkala "Mateli"
Label: Kaustinen Folk Music Institue; KICD64; 1999; Playing time: 46.54 min
Liisa, Tellu and Mateli - three female singers from Finland, singing rune songs from Karelia. Liisa and Tellu are for experts well-known names of the Finnish folk scene: Liisa has performed with the bands Niekku and Tallari, Tellu with Hedningarna and Tallari. While these two women are today well known for their singing, Mateli has sung her songs some generations before Liisa and Tellu, and was without doubt only locally known as a singer - she was a rune singer from Illomantsi (North Karelia) in the 18th/19th century. Having lived a very hard but long life, she composed many poems expressing often a blue feeling. Her poems (but not the melodies) were written down by song collectors when she was already 80 years old. Liisa, having grown up in the district of Illomantsi, returned in 1995 to her childhood home, and became inspired to take the challenge to work with these old poems.
This CD offers two enchanting gentle voices with only subtle instrumental accompaniment, bringing life and magic back to the words that Mateli has written down 200 years ago. For the recording, the women did not invite any guests (with one exception), but offered their own skills on the traditional Finnish instruments kantele, jouhikko and Mora harp. You find some sensitive solo singing, often added by exciting harmony singing.
Twelve songs of this album were either written by Mateli or are traditional and were sung by her a long time ago, expressing, as Liisa puts it, the blues of Finnish women 150 years ago. They are tastefully put to music and arranged by the two women. The album is completed by a song in tribute of Mateli the rune singer, written by Liisa.
A beautiful and mature album
Publisher: Kaustinen Folk Music Institue, Contact Liisa and Tellu
Michael Moll

Leilía "Leilía"
Label: Discmedi; DM079CD; 1994; Playing time: 46.34 min
Pure traditional pandeireta songs presented by five female singers from Galicia. Leilía's concert set has these days usually two parts - the first half they present the pure tradition, the second half they are joined by a contemporary folk backing band. This album is a reflection of the first, tradtional half.
Traditionally, the Pandeireta song is usually sung for several voices and accompanied only rhythmically. The rhythm instruments are the pandeireta, a kind of tamburine. The singing sounds rough and sometimes a bit shrill, but it always fascinates the listener by its power and raw beauty. So although this CD offers only singing and pandeireta, it is an exciting one. Leilía have collected the songs of the album in field studies, and want to present them as authentic as possible.
There are many highlights, with maybe the most ear-wig like song being the hymn of "Mazurca e Jota Axeitos". A CD full of passionate singing.
Discmedi, Tel.(93) 284 95-16 or -54
Michael Moll

Swåp "[sic]"
Amigo Records; AMCD741; 1999; Playing time: 52.55 min
The second CD of the English-Swedish top band is a neatless follower of their debut. If you are unfamiliar with Swåp, maybe you are familiar with either the Swedish part of the band, fiddler Ola Bäckström and fiddler and singer Carina Normansson, or the English part, Karen Tweed on piano accordion and Ian Carr on guitar. Swåp's music is an exciting melting pot of the improvisation based on Celtic music traditions and the dark hypnotic beauty of Swedish traditional music.
A driving rhythmic guitar played with a lot of wit, a happy hypnotic accordion and finally two Swedish fiddles - a class one mixture. The tunes on this album are mainly written by band members based somewhere between traditional background, new grounds found in the other traditions (Swedish for the English; Celtic for the Swedish) and the very own part of improvisation and ideas. These are interwoven with several traditional tunes from Sweden and England. As a new and very welcome feature we find on this CD (quite at the end of the album - maybe thought as a nice surprise?) two traditional Swedish songs, tastefully presented by Carina.
What kind of music is this now? Swenglish traditions maybe? Well I guess this music is best described as Swåp - it is unique enough to be its very own style!
Amigo Records Sweden
Michael Moll

Chad Clouse: "In the Midst"
Label: Stonehouse Records; Nr. Stonehoue CD 0101; 11 Tracks playing time: 47:11 min
Bluegrass music was something I never liked in particular, but this has changed since I listened to this album by the young bluegrass fiddler Chad Clouse from San Francisco. This is an outstanding album of newly composed and interpreted bluegrass tunes, since 8 out of the eleven tracks are composed by Chad Clouse among them one song, sung by his brother Chris. With the assistance of Darol Anger, Chad has managed to garner the support of a veritable who's who of Bluegrass / Newgrass stalwarts. The supporting cast of characters includes the aforementioned Darol Anger with fellow DGQ alumni Mike Marshall (Mandolin) and Todd Phillips (Acoustic Bass). On guitars Chad has obtained the services of Scott Nygaard as well as the illustrious David Grier (son of banjo picker Lamar Grier, who played with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys for several years). "Stealth" banjo picker Scott Vestal adds his signature 5 string tone and talent and rounding out this stellar cast is Rob Ikes on resophonic guitar and electric bass wizard Michael Manring. The album is influenced by several styles: hints of trad irish , a tango, modern jazz, once even electronic/new age music, but all well included into straight-ahead hard-driving bluegrass and some traditional fiddle tunes.
Chad Clouse is a name we will hear more often in the future both as a composer and as a performer.
Chad Clouse, Stonehouse Records, 2219 Clement Street #198, San Francisco, CA 94121,8415) 831-13111
Rolf Wagels

Steve Ashley "Stroll On Revisited"
Label: Market Square Music; MSMCD 104; 14 Tracks; Playing Time: 54.24 min
"Stroll On" was the debut album of British singer-songwriter Steve Ashley, originally released in 1974 and apparently much praised at the time. I'm too young to have known it first time round, and from today's perspective it inevitably sounds somewhat tame and dated - but that said, it is rather better than many recordings of its time.
I can't see it winning Steve Ashley many new fans, but there's probably enough old ones out there who'll be delighted that the album is once more available. It's good value for money, too - there's the whole of the original "Stroll On" LP plus extra tracks from the same recording session and the former 7" single "Old Rock'n'Roll" thrown in as a bonus. The exemplary booklet includes full lyrics and musician credits for each song, as well as a good selection of photographs.
Steve Ashley website
Anja Beinroth

Peter Bellamy "Wake the Vaulted Echoes"
Free Reed Music; FRTCD 14; 57 Tracks; Playing Time: 76.06 min (CD1), 76.45 min (CD 2), 74.11 min (CD 3) plus 15min CD-Rom section; RRP: £ 24.99 (UK)
Not so much a "best of" as a rarities collection, this album will be welcomed by many who still remember English singer Peter Bellamy. It has been compiled by Peter's long-time friend and collaborator Nigel Schofield and includes many previously unavailable or hard-to-find recordings from private cassette releases, radio and live appearances. In some cases, the poor sound quality betrays these origins, but this is easy to forgive considering their historical value. The 57 tracks span Peter's entire career, from his very first recording in the mid-1960s to his very last, recorded at Cheddar folk club on 22 July 1991.
On top of the 57 tracks of normal audio, the retail version (unlike the review copy) will include a 15-minute CD-Rom section with extracts from interviews and song introductions from various concerts around the world. The package will come with a generous 60-page booklet which will include a full discography, tributes from friends and colleagues, full track source notes and many illustrations. Owners of the Robin & Barry Dransfield retrospective "Up To Now" will know how well Neil Wayne's Free Reed label does this sort of thing.
Peter Bellamy should need no introduction - a singer of traditional English folksongs, he rose to fame in the 1960s with the singing trio The Young Tradition, performed with people like Shirley & Dolly Collins, Dave Swarbrick & Martin Carthy, The Watersons, Steve Tilston & Maggie Boyle and Louis Killen and died unexpectedly in 1991. This three-CD-set is a wonderful tribute to a fine singer and an absolute bargain at just 25 pounds!
Peter Bellamy website archive
Anja Beinroth

Note from the editors: Meanwhile, FolkWorld has also received a copy of the finished product. The three-CD-box contains a 70 page booklet (it's actually more a book than a booklet) with loads of photos and background information about Peter Bellamy - his life, discography and notes on the featured tracks - in an attractive lay-out. It's an impressive labour of love; and for fans of Peter Bellamy alone the booklet would be worth to buy the albums.

Andy Irvine, & Davy Spillane "East Wind"
Cooking Vinyl; Cook CD 174; 1992; 9 Tracks; Playing Time: 41.13 min
"Eastwind" is the realisation of a project which must have been at the back of Andy Irvine's mind for many years: to combine his own musical background with the eastern European sounds he came to know and love during his travels round the Balkans in the late 1960s. The album was finally recorded in 1992, with the collaboration of keyboarder, producer and arranger Bill Whelan who later rose to fame with his own musical vision: "Riverdance". There are indeed similarities between the two, most noticeable in the orchestration of the larger ensemble pieces, especially with the soaring uillean pipes. Maybe Cooking Vinyl are hoping to cash in on the "Riverdance" boom by re-releasing this now.
However, it's a good enough album that it should not need such a marketing ploy in order to sell: the tunes are gripping and energetic, and as if that wasn't enough, Márta Sebestyén lends her lovely voice to the two songs on the album, "Mechkin Kamen (The Bear's Rock)" (with backing vocals by none less than Rita Connolly) and the moving "Kadana". They're not the only master musicians contributing, either: there's Nicola Parov adding a bit of authenticity by introducing various traditional Bulgarian instruments, as well as a host of fine Irish musicians like Máirtín O'Connor, Tony Molloy, Anthony Drennan, John Sheahan and more. Davy Spillane's fans will love it; as will all those who fondly remember Andy Irvine's work with Planxty.
A musical adventure which succeeds brilliantly.
album info from Cooking Vinyl
Anja Beinroth

Kirsten Bråten Berg & Hallvard T. Bjørgum "Runarstreng"
Grappa Musikkforlag; GRCD 4157; 16 Tracks; Playing Time: 61.26 min
Kirsten Bråten Berg and Hallvard T. Bjørgum are two renowned Norwegian folk musicians who wanted to express their love for their Setesdal home by recording a very traditional album there. The result is "Runarstreng" ("Strings of Enchantment"), an album of dance tunes, ballads, stevs (short songs) and psalms, performed using hardingfele (Hardanger fiddle), viola, kveding (Norwegian vocal tradition) and jew's harps in varying combinations.
Hallvard T. Bjørgum is a champion hardingfele player born and raised in Setesdal, while singer Kirsten Bråten Berg made it her home in 1973. Both are superb musicians, so the recording is of the highest musical standard. But Setesdal traditional music does take some getting used to, even when it is performed as well as this. It is not "catchy", sing-along, dance-along music but requires atttentive listening and an appreciation of fine nuances in the singing and playing to be enjoyed. It probably helps to understand the lyrics, too, although the booklet usefully does provide notes in English to each track so that people with no knowledge of Norwegian also have some idea what the songs are about and what context they come from.
An excellent album, but not an easy listen.
Grappa Musikkforlag
Anja Beinroth

Mose Se Sengo »Fan Fan« "The Congo Acoustic"
Triple Earth; TRECD 119; 8 Tracks; Playing Time: 49.33 min
Mose Fan Fan's latest album is one of the most beautiful African records I've ever come across. It is relaxed, sunny and captivating, and I can't imagine how anyone could resist its charm. It is wholly acoustic, with Mose's guitar weaving a rich tapestry of sound around which the other instruments (accordion, saxophones, melodica, mbira, voices plus bass and percussion in various judicious combinations, never all together) arrange their patterns, adding up to a stunningly beautiful whole.
There are two tunes and six songs. On three of them, Mose Fan Fan shares the vocals with the sweet-voiced Deesse Mukangi, who also gets to sing "Mama Yeye" all by herself. The songs, most of which are in Lingala (with English and French translations provided in the booklet), deal with Mose Fan Fan's background - some are appeals for peace in his native Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly known as Zaire), one celebrates the »Kuala rumba«, one is an elegy for the "grand maitre" (as the lyrics put it) of the Congolese guitar, »Franco« Lwambo of TP OK Jazz, where Mose Fan Fan served his musical apprenticeship in the 1960s.
The music is calm, spacious and extremely tuneful, with the irresistible groove typical of the Congolese rumba, which is here stripped down to its acoustic heart. "The Congo Acoustic" is infectious and enchanting, never fails to lighten my mood on gloomy days, and I therefore recommend it unreservedly.
Contact producer Iain Scott for more information
Anja Beinroth

Troka "Smash"
Kansanmusiikki-instituutti (NorthSide in the US); KICD 63; 13 Tracks; Playing Time: 49.49 min
Troka's sound is dominated by the twin fiddles of Matti Mäkelä and Ville Ojanen (who sometimes plays viola rather than violin), and underpinned by a foundation of accordion, harmonium (or piano) and double bass. They sound quite traditional, playing mostly Finnish dance tunes, though most of them are their own compositions and show their individual influences. For three of the five band members, this includes work in the better-known Finnish band JPP.
This is Troka's second album, recorded a year ago. Although most of the tracks are dance tunes, they sound very precise and carefully arranged rather than spontaneous and wild, so it is an album to listen, more than jump around, to.
It's a nice CD, skilfully played and well-recorded, and a lot more accessible than much other Scandinavian music. Worth investigating, especially for people who enjoy listening to string quartets.
Troka website
Anja Beinroth

Natalie MacMaster "In My Hands"
Greentrax; CDTRAX 180; 14 Tracks; Playing Time: 62.00 min
Another album with the fiddle at the centre of attention, but from the other side of the North Atlantic and far less traditional-sounding than Troka - and than Natalie MacMaster's earlier CDs! Her latest is bold, playful, and full of surprises - the fiddle is presented in so many different settings and moods here that the listening experience is almost like hearing an album of songs, not tunes. But while the arrangements are full of variety, the ever-present sound of the fiddle provides the necessary coherence for an enjoyable listening experience.
The focus remains firmly on the fiddle throughout, with accompaniment by producer/arranger Gordie Sampson (mostly on guitar) and a variety of guesting musicians. Some are quite famous: there's even a guest spot from bluegrass singer (and equally fine fiddle player!) Alison Krauss who sings "Get me through December", one of the two songs on the album. The other is the opening (and title) track, in which Natalie MacMaster departs from the tradition most radically and creates something remarkably like a modern rock song! Having thus shocked her listener into paying attention, she then returns to more traditional sounds, playing with her usual panache, skill and expression.
Fabulous album. Admirers of Cape Breton fiddling may buy with confidence.
Natalie MacMaster website
Anja Beinroth

Xuacu Amieva "Tiempo de Mitos"
Label: Resistencia; RESCD079; 1999; Playing time: 45.15 min
Xuacu Amieva comes from Asturias (Northern Spain). Being reputed as player and teacher of the Asturian Pipes, he also plays flute, bodhrán, tamboruine and French Horn. His repertoire is rooted in the Asturian traditions. Since 1995, he plays with the road show "Asturian Market", touring in Asturias. For the "mythological tale" of this show, he has also composed its musical pieces.
"Tiempo de Mitos", Time of Myths, contains some of these pieces. Having the feeling of old, maybe medieval, Asturian music, all tunes are composed by Xuacu. The album also features four songs about mystic figures or stories, sung by either Xuacu himself or Marat Élola. Musically, Xuacu is supported by fiddle, uilleann pipes, guitars, percussion, bass guitars and keyboards. Sometimes, for my taste, the keyboards gets too heavy giving the whole sound a vapid taste. But there are enough pleasant moments on the album, especially when Aida Rodriguez and Anerlis Gonzalez join in with their pretty voice and tambourines.
Mail to Resistencia
Michael Moll

Mad Pudding "Grand Hotel"
Sliced Bread Records; 1999; Playing time: 61.01 min
Coming from Vancouver in Canada, Mad Pudding are presenting a huge range of styles, mainly based on Euro-Canadian traditions. They themselves label their music as "Canadian Celtic Funk". It is individual sounding folk rock stuff, based on the melody instruments of accordion or tin whistle and fiddle with a rock backing of guitar, bass and drums/percussion.
About half of the pieces on this CD are tunes, often written by band members, but carrying mostly a traditional feeling. Half of the songs are traditional Canadian, with interesting arrangements, while the ones written by Mad Pudding sound not much different being about the typical "traditional" themes. Two special songs should be mentioned: Firstly, the contribution of the French band member, Boris Favre, in form of a superb French song, "Léon Accordéon"; secondly Mad Pudding's fresh cover version of Leonard Cohen's "First we take Manhattan", with some great accordion arrangements. These two songs give an even fresher and more original appeal to this CD.
Mad Pudding are part of the current "best crop" from the Canadian scene, having found their very own style with many different facettes.
Sliced Bread Records; Mad Pudding's Homepage; E-mail Andy of Mad Pudding
Michael Moll

Ulli Bögershausen "Sologuitar"
Laika 35101132; 15 Tracks; 1999; Playing Time: 50.10 min
Fingerstyle guitarist Ulli Bögershausen puts his stamp on the german acoustic-guitar scene since more than fifteen years. As solo musician as well as in collaboration with different other musicians (e.g. the classical guitarist Reinhold Westerheide). Numerous commitment in the radio and tv music bear witness of his--even international--reputation. Ullis latest and 10th album "Sologuitar" contains new tracks as well as newly arranged and recorded pieces, hitherto only available on old long players or his "Best-Of"-CD: "Ombrellino", "Frühling, Sommer, Herbst", "Ganz bestimmt vielleicht", "Weißt du noch". His instrumental music is still of ageless beauty. There are all sorts of musical borrowings from around the world. Sometimes the mood is full of melancholy, then the fingers flying over the fretboard. The album's higlight, the lyrical "Es wäre schön gewesen", can be plotted additionally with notes and tabulators.
Walkin' T:-)M

Tim O'Brien "The Crossing"
Alula Records ALU-1014; 16 Tracks; Playing Time: 63.08 min
In 1851 Thomas O'Brien emigrated from County Cavan to West Virginia. 150 years on, his great-grandson Tim is credited to be one the country's foremost bluegrass singers and experienced multi-intrumentalist (guitar, fiddle, bouzouki, mandolin). Like many Irish-Americans, Tim has taken a recent interest in his Irish roots. "The Crossing" traces Irish music and its Appalachian and bluegrass descendants. Half traditional songs and tunes, half original stuff, blending Irish themes and American folk style. The ballad "John Riley" (co-written by Guy Clark) tells the story of an Irish deserter in the Mexican-American War, backed by a scary slide guitar (Kelly Joe Phelps). "Talkin' Cavan" is a humerous Talking Blues about tracing his great-grandfathers cottage back in cavan. The well-known reel "Lord McDonald", disseminating from 18th century Scotland wherever Scots emigrated, shows the transatlantic duel between Frankie Gavin on fiddle and Earl Scruggs on the banjo. The entire guest list reads impressive: Altan, Paul Brady, Ronan Browne, Seamus Egan, Maura O'Connell, ... Recommended!
Walkin' T:-)M

Robin Huw Bowen "Hen Aelwyd / Old Hearth"
Sain SCD 2232; 10 Tracks; Playing Time: 59.39 min
"'Tis the Harp of Wales I love / See her shimmering bass strings move / Tight-tuned strings, a hundred-and-one / Servants all to fingers and thumbs." Wales has an unbroken harp tradition, dating from obscure times to the present day. The Welsh "telyn" (triple harp) with two diatonic rows of strings on either side and a row of accidentals up the middle, rendering it a fully chromatic instrument, is played in a Baroque-like style - ornamentation through theme and variation - in contrast to Irish and Scottish music. One of its champions is Robin Huw Bowen, a driving player and campaigner. Robin draws his inspiration from the "Queen of Welsh Harp", Nansi Richards (1888-1979), who still learned to play from itinerant harpers. There are six traditional tunes, all serene and contemplative, one original piece, the opener "Hen Aelwyd", setting the mood for the album, and three contemporary pieces (e.g. "Mwynder Maldwyn" by Delyth Jenkins). As Robin admits: "All you need do now is close the door, take the phone off the hook, stoke up the fire, put your feet up, and let the beautiful melodies of Wales and the clear, shimmering voice of the uniquely Welsh Triple Harp weave their magic on your soul ..."
Walkin' T:-)M

Beverley Martyn "No Frills"
Mystic Small Productions MSCD 001; 11 Tracks; Playing Time: 44.13 min
The "Peerless Queen of Hip" (Art Garfunkel) was singing folk and blues back in the Sixties, playing the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, then became married to guitarist John Martyn, recording the albums "Stormbringer" and "Road to Ruin" in 1970 - and retired to take care of the couple's children. Since divorcing John - "He was very old-fashioned [...] He used to say I could be creative staying at home rearing our children rather than making music" -, Beverley has been writing songs and performing once again. Her comeback appears with the limited edition CD "No Frills" containing 11 original songs. It is just plain voice and guitar accompaniment, relaxed and lazy, and the blues is getting through most of the time. You can imagine a sleazy folk and blues cafe downtown London filled with alcohol and nicotin, outside the rain is falling and the bar-goers are staring into their pints. Sorry John, but we're glad Beverley is on the road again.
Mystic Small Productions
Walkin' T:-)M

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