FolkWorld Issue 34 11/2007
FolkWorld CD Reviews
June Tabor "Apples"
TSCD568; 2007; Playing time: 58:03 min
As I walked out one May morning, so early in the Spring ...
English singer June Tabor
is watching the garden and contemplating about its apples.
This fruit being an old metaphor and image from Adam to King Arthur,
appearing in many a song, e.g. in I wish in vain I was a maid again,
but a maid again taht can never be until an apple grows all on an orange tree
(this song is not featured here). Apples provide us with important vitamins
and minerals, clean and stimulate both body and mind.
Likewise June Tabor is handling the treasure of traditional British folk song.
Way back in 1976 on her album "Airs and Graces", she dealt almost exclusively
with traditional songs. Recently she recorded her "An Echo of Hooves" album
(-> FW#31). And now again 4 contemporary songs, 7 traditional ballads,
1 Burns ("Speak Easy").
Featuring some real gems ("Soldiers Three", printed in 1609;
"Au Logis de Mon Pere", a direct descendant of an Anglo-Norman song from the 11th
century; "Ce Fu en Mai", ascribed to 13th century troubadour Moniot d'Arras) and
some old fellas ("Auld Beggarman", "Rigs of Rye", "I Love My Love").
Songs that have a good story and a gripping plot, songs that convey
emotions and passion. With her dark alto voice, June Tabor makes it sound
melancholic but not sad, at times even lively and mischievous.
She is accompanied by a trio called "1651", i.e. Andy Cuttting (accordion),
Mark Emerson (piano, violin) and Tim Harries (double bass), which is a great addition.
Deirdre Starr "By the way..."
Sloanstarrstateofmind; SSSOM002; 2007; Playing time: 48:07 min
Since just talking about June Tabor (see above), this is a fitting comparison
(if only for June Tabor's trademark piano accompaniment).
is a kind of Irish counter part, interpreting traditional songs mainly on the piano.
Well, different voice anyway. "By the way..." is already her third album altogether.
Deirdre Starr is again working with Trevor Hutchinson (Lunasa), and
the songs are spun around both instruments, piano and double bass. Furthermore,
there is a discreet Mark Kelly (Altan) on guitar and Máire Breatnach playing violin and viola.
All songs are traditional (except the depressing "Kilkelly",
words by Peter Jones set to a traditional air)
Well known are: "What put the Blood" (a mix of Christy Moore's and the Old Blind Dogs
version), "Bonny Woodhall", "Emigrant's Farewell". Less known: the
Ulster song "Molly Hollywood" (air by the late Eithne Ní Uallacháin
whose mother translated the song into English),
"The Sun is Gone Down in the West" (courtesy of Elizabeth Cronin),
"Blackthorn Tree" and "Little Sister" (both with new tunes),
and "Wind and Rain" (not to be confused with the well known Appalachian song
"Rain and Snow"). Nine tracks displaying a bright starr ...
Väsen "Linnaeus Väsen"
NSD6093; 2007; Playing time: 47:45 min
2007 marked the 300th anniversary of the birth of Swedish
botanist and zoologist Carl Linnaeus (Carl von Linné, 1707-78),
who laid the foundations for modern plant and animal nomenclature.
The Swedish folk group Väsen
was commissioned to arrange music for the occasion.
Nyckelharpa player Olov Johansson, fiddler Mikael Marin.
guitar player Roger Tallroth and percussionist Andre Ferrari
found out that Carl Linnaeus had a unique barrel organ at his home in Hammarby
(restored in 2006); there are 22 tunes nailed on two wooden rollers
including pieces of his father's uncle, Sven Tiliander.
He had been a musician in northern Germany before becoming the vicar of Pjätteryd,
where Carl Linnaeus spent many time in the gardens (and some seeds in it had been
sent by musicians from Bremen).
Linnaeus apparently had been an accomplished dancer himself and
used to go to barn dances, dancing mainly minuets and polskas. His
brother-in-law Gabriel Höök (1698-1769) dedicated some polskas and polonaises to Carl.
"Linnaeus Väsen", probably Sweden's most important folk record of 2007,
is Väsen's first album since three or fours years I suppose.
The quartet used traditional music from the area and period of Linnaeus's life,
but the music is performed in the particular way of Väsen, modern, ambient and
contemporary, while at the same time staying true to Nordic traditions.
Rudi Zapf & Ingrid Westermeier "From Ireland to Spain"
Pantaleon Records; PTR 10325; 2007; Playing time: 63:47 min
is a hammered dulcimer player from Bavaria,
the stronghold of traditional Alpine music in southern Germany.
He only recently abandoned his famous Rudi Zapf Trio
(featuring another fine musician, fiddler Martina Eisenreich ->
Rudi Zapf plays with guitarist Ingrid Westermeier
for 25 years, "From Ireland to Spain" is their 4th album altogether.
The title says it all, there's no Bavarian laendler, but an eclectic European repertory:
traditional Irish music, Jiddish klezmer
music and even classical pieces. Starting with 17th century harpist
Turlough O'Carolan, the metal ringing of the hammered dulcimer perfectly fits
the ancient harp pieces who performed with wired strings in days of yore.
However, softened by Ingrid Westermeier's nylon strung guitar.
Rudi Zapf and Ingrid Westermeier play jigs & reels, the "Skye Boat Song"
and "Black is the Colour"; then it's "Napoleon Crossing the Alps", to
Erkki Melartin's "Schmetterlingswalzer", "Ziganka" and "Ot Azoy".
Eventually Johann Sebastian Bach, Eric Satie, Francisco Tarrega,
and the Andalusian "Canción de Amor". From Ireland to Spain ...
Search him out!
V/A "Sowing the Seeds - The 10th Anniversary"
APR CD 1102; 2007; Playing time: 76:55 + 68:24 min
is not your typical run-of-the-mill record label
but one with missions and visions. Founder and president Jim Musselman's firm believe is that
true patriotism is not flag waving but speaking out when you see something wrong or
unjust. Music is made to move people and to create social change, thus
he established Appleseed in 1997 to explore the roots and branches of folk and world music and
sow the seeds of social justice through music. The record label released 85
albums so far and celebrates its first decade with a 2 cd and 37 track compilation.
Included are new recordings by
Bruce Springsteen and
("Ghost of Tom Joad"; in 1997 Springsteen recorded "We Shall Overcome",
at the time he didn't know much about Pete, but it sent him off on a quest
resulting in his recent "Pete Seeger Sessions"),
("Waist Deep in the Big Muddy"),
("Universal Soldier") and Kim & Reggie Harris.
Plus Eric Anderson,
and Applessed's Celtic contingent featuring
Tommy Sands, and
(who had the honour being Appleseed's first release "Sail On").
Pete Seeger shall have the last word: The powers that be can control the media,
but it's hard to stop a good song. Congratulations! Carry on!
P.S.: See also Jim Musselman's notes in this FW issue,
including many links to FW reviews of Appleseed releases.
V/A "Rock'n'Reel - UN-HERD Volume 5"
September/October 2007; Playing time: 66:40 min
The British Rock'n'Reel
music magazine covering roots, rock and blues music has
recently been relaunched in December 2006 as a bi-monthly magazine.
It is up to issue #5 already, and there is a free compilation CD with every issue
entitled "UN-HERD". The September/October 2007 issue has been freely distributed
and also arrived at the FolkWorld editorial board.
There is not too much rock and not too much reel, I guess, but
rather alternative brit pop acts and a little bit of folk music.
Judge yourself, here is the set list:
And Did Those Feet (see review in the German FW issue),
Martin Simpson (see review above),
Amy Speace (-> FW#33),
Dave Pegg & PJ Wright,
Robb Johnson (-> FW#30),
The Guggenheim Grotto,
"Mise Éire" [DVD Video]
1959/2006; Playing time: 85 min + extras
"Saoirse?" [DVD Video]
GLDVD02; 1961/2007; Playing time: 92 min + extras
"Mise Éire" (I am Ireland) and "Saoirse?" (Freedom?) are two documentary
films directed by George Morrison, depicting the birth of the Irish nation by
using period newsreel footage and photographs.
"Mise Éire", named after a poem by revolutionary leader Pádraic Pearse,
covers the period 1896-1918, including
the Gaelic revival with the foundation of the Gaelic League, the Gaelic Athletic Association and Sinn Féin, the Easter Rising of 1916 and the
General Election of 1918.
DVD extras include veterans revisiting scenes of the 1916 Rising in 1966 and
a making-of documentary. The musical score is available on a separate cd.
"Saoirse?" covers the years 1919-22, the Black and Tan War,
the truce and treaty, which established the Irish Free State, and
the outbreak of Civil War.
Extras include a newsreel of the film's premiere in Dublin,
plus a cd with the digitally remastered musical score.
The narration is in Gaelic with English subtitles on the dvd.
Despite its one-sided patriotic and nationalistic overtones,
the filmmakers being children of their time, it is still worth seeing.
Both films and its masterful and innovative orchestral score by
Seán Ó Riada
had a lasting impact. Riada was using traditional Irish airs and song tunes,
such as "Róisín Dubh", "Sliabh na mBan", "Boolavogue" and "Kelly of Killane".
Mind you, traditional Irish music wasn't generally held in high esteem in the 1950s.
"Mise Éire" brought Riada national acclaim. He afterwards started a radio
programme called "Our Musical Heritage", and eventually founded the traditional
Irish music group Ceoltóirí Cualann
which later became The Chieftains.
Here, on two dvds, are the beginnings of a success story.
"Four American Roots Music Films by Yasha Aginsky" [DVD Video]
13103; 2007; Playing time: 104 min
The dvd compilation "Four American Roots Music Films"
revisits the origins and the revival of US American folk music genres
during the 20th century. The disc of documentaries,
filmed by independent filmmaker
includes the following four short films:
In "Homemade American Music" (1980, 42 min)
Mike Seeger and Alice Gerrard visit their friends and mentors,
featuring Roscoe Holcomb, Elizabeth Cotten, Dewey Balfa etc.
In "Sonny Terry, Shoutin' the Blues" (1969, 6 min), the blind blues harmonica player
chats about his beginnings in show business and eventually plays a harmonica solo.
"Les Blues de Balfa" (1983, 27 min) is about the famous Balfa family
who were the first to take Cajun music outside their rural origins in Louisiana.
Finally, "Cajun Visits" (1983, 29 min) represents six Cajun masters singing, playing and talking.
These four documentaries throw a light on selected aspects of traditional music
making in the US.
We might gain an understanding of rural American music forms, especially of the South,
how it was taken outside their rural origins, and how young urbans learned and adapted it.
"Four American Roots Music Films" are re-released on Vestapol Productions,
which is a division of Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop Inc.
Distribution: Rounder Records
Hands On Strings "Offroad"
OZ012 CD; 2005; Playing time: 50:18 min
I should just review records in a cold professional way and never lose my objectivity in my assessment. But just occasionally an album comes from left field and steals my heart away. This is one such.
On the surface, it would not have seemed a serious candidate to win my affection, because the majority of the tracks are instrumentals by this German guitar duo, whose second CD this is. This is their follow-up to "Panamericana", which I confess escaped my clutches. (Well I write from my home in England, and here they have not quite got the same degree of popularity that they have in their native country.)
Stephan Bormann plays electric as well as acoustic guitar, whilst his comrade Thomas Fellow is happy just to dazzle acoustically. They play mainly their own compositions and don’t they play them with real assuredness! And with the type of trust in each other that would not be out of place between two climbers roped together making the final ascent of the last stage of the north face of the Eiger.
The music they compose is quintessentially their own: sure there are traces of influences, but none of it is derivative. And I salute them for that.
Not that they play ALL their own numbers. There are two pieces by the late Astor Piazzolla. And there can be no finer tribute than to say that I could imagine that their performance would be ecstatically applauded were they to perform it in the tango barrio of Buenos Aires.
Indeed their version of his “Libertango” is the standout track on this fine album.
Andi Neate "Paper Animals"
Blue-elf Records; BE 002; 2005; Playing time: 40:15 min
This is Andi’s third album. And in Edinburgh - her base city - this album has created a few waves. Here in Lincolnshire, from where I write, it is a different story.
Andi is more of an unknown down here, and the question is, will this album make an impact and allow here to make a breakthrough in regional England? Yes I know she has an impressive CV, especially North of the Border. And in England too she has had some ace bookings. They don’t come much bigger than the Glastonbury Festival, nor much more classy than Ronnie Scott’s, nor are there places with much more “Street-Cred” than the Mean Fiddler. But to see her chances of a major breakthrough, let us look at the evidence of this album.
There are many positives. First her voice. It is a fine instrument in itself. Very redolent of the very young Sandy Denny. Good range and oozing sincerity.
A versatile voice too. Can do the contemporary “folky” thing, but can switch to a jazzier and funkier style with total ease.
As a songwriter too, she brings a certain amount to the table. Her songs have lyrics that scan and make sense, and even if they don’t have the sort of line that makes you gasp at its beauty/wisdom/whatever, they still are workmanlike songs.
But here comes the “but”. (Well there usually is a “but” with most of us mere mortals, is there not?) My problem with the CD is that the lyrics are never quite strong enough and if they were, to succeed as SONGS one needs distinctive melodies. And these tunes seem tuneful enough, but lacking that spark of originality.
It is no coincidence that the one song that stands out from the others is the only song that is not hers: I refer to her version of Suzanne Vega’s “The Queen and the Soldier”.
My advice to Andi is to make your 4th album one solely of INTERPRETATIONS of fine songs by others. You have SUCH a lot going for you as a performer.
Oh, and one other thing. The liner booklet containing the lyrics was a triumph! Ingenious, and with black words on a white background! Heaven.
Catriona McKay & Chris Stout "Laebrack"
CDTRAX278; 2005; Playing time: 44:36 min
Catriona McKay (harp) and Christopher Stout (violin and viola) are the real McCoy alright. This is harp and fiddle playing of really majestic quality. And one is aware that their partnership (as two sevenths of “Fiddlers’ Bid”) has meant that they have developed that sixth sense with each other. At its best, I always liken it to two climbers roped together on a perilous final stage of an ascent of an unforgiving peak like say, the north face of the Eiger. Here, TRUST in the other, is everything.
This is music from the Northern Isles. Musical interpretation that pays respect to the Tradition, but at the same time, is not afraid of putting the stamp of the modern day all through it. And they clearly see music as a giant adventure.
Stout is a Shetlander born and bred, and thus was born with this music in his DNA. And it shows. McKay, however comes from a distance away in perhaps my favourite Scottish city, Dundee, so her assimilation of the Northern Isles’ musical culture is really all the more commendable.
The album is an equal balance between the contemporary and the traditional. My standout track would be ALL of them – but hey, that is a cop-out! – so force me to choose one and I will go for the title track, (‘laebrack' incidentally, being the Shetland word for surf).
I have never made it to the Shetlands, but this track (which begins with a McKay melody that allows her harp to reign alone and supreme and ends with a tune by Stout in which his violin has Catriona’s harp bobbing his boat up and down) takes me back to my days as a lighthouse keeper 36 years ago.
Now THAT must mean it works. I normally never think of that curious ex-job of mine from one week to the next.
V/A "Folkwit Records Sampler #1"
2006; Playing time: 39:54 min
Normally I avoid these samplers like the plague. Why? Well, perhaps because they invariably are too much of a mishmash, with too many “passengers” being carried.
But, I gritted my teeth and put this CD by a new Nottingham-based label into my CD player, and was very pleasantly surprised. From the word go, my attention was held by the opening track, James Chadwick’s “Falling Down”.
I would not go to the barricades for the SONG exactly – although it is a decent stab at the “angst mindset” of the young idealist - but I would for the sublime female harmony singer, who infuriatingly does not get a mention!
But it was a strong opener, and it set the tone for what followed. Not one dud track (almost amazing in a sampler!) and two or three very strong ones, all by artistes previously unknown to me.
Keith Mouland & Paul Godden dazzled with a number called “Dreamland”. It featured some fine slide guitar and some confident vocals. I could imagine it as the soundtrack for a movie like “Paris, Texas”. My advice to them is “Go West young man!”. Get out to Texas. There, a real living awaits you.
Then there was Palava’s closing track “A Town Called Blue”: one admired their brio.
But I have kept till last the best track, Andy Whittle’s “Apple Tree”. This was so redolent of the late great Rick Keeling. No greater praise than to say that one could imagine him singing it.
Cara Dillon "After The Morning"
Rough Trade Records;
RTRADECD198; 2006; Playing time: 50:23 min
There can be nobody LESS “rough trade” than the deliciously feminine and tasteful Cara Dillon. Yet this is her second album for this sparky, on the edge, independent label.
Maybe they need her as a kind of counter-balance: whenever the rest of their catalogue makes the world spin around just a bit too senselessly, all the Rough Trade staff can then go into a darkened room and put a cold compress on their foreheads, and turn up the volume of Cara on the PA system!
Mrs Sam Lakeman has got her husband to produce her here. And his innate musicianship manifests itself throughout. Some lovely tracks. I have always adored Dougie MacLean, and golly doesn’t she really DELIVER with his “Garden Valley”! And the sweetest version of “The Streets of Derry”, with the great Paul Brady joining her on it. An almost definitive version of “The Snows They Melt The Soonest” had me almost DROOLING with pleasure.
Put a gun to my head and ask me to choose just one track, and I would say “shoot me now!” But if you refused to accept “no” for an answer, then I would go for her version of “Here’s A Health”. Just in front of the incredibly catchy “Never In A Million Years”.
Her version of “Here’s A Health” was the first time I have heard ANYONE sing it and NOT make me think of Vin Garbutt. And praise does not come higher.
Matt Keen "One Stroke Down"
Own label; 2005; Playing time: 49:21 min
What can I say? I really so wanted to like this CD. For one thing Matt had sent a charming note with his CD and some vital biographical information. (You people reading this who want future CDs reviewed: please take note of Matt’s thoughtfulness and please do likewise with your own work!)
And like it I did, but nowhere near as much as I wanted. So what was the problem? Well, before we look at the negatives, let us look at the very real positives. And there are many.
He sings very well in an understated sort of way. A sort of Al Stewart for 2006. A bit like a bank clerk going to war (and that is NOT pejorative!). Fretless bass player Simon Howe is a real talent, constantly framing Matt’s guitar with imaginative but authoritative little riffs and bobbing runs. And percussionist Rebecca Percival helps move the CD from being one of primary colours to one of the most subtle pastel shades.
Matt’s self-penned songs are all well enough constructed. They make sense and use meter and rhyme. As for the melodies, well they tend to favour a certain mood of insouciance.
But somehow they do not GRAB you. Somehow I cannot see anyone covering these songs, and I have grave doubts that Matt will himself in 10 years time.
But that said it is a perfectly acceptable CD with lots of plusses.
Lehto & Wright "The Thrashing Machine"
New Folk Records;
8832; 2005; Playing time: 54:38 min
This is the fourth album together by this Minneapolis-based duo. They have built a growing reputation for their music in their own State, but their fame has not spread to much wider parts of their United States of America, and certainly not across the sea to Britain, from where I write this review. Were I to ask anyone in my local folk club who these artistes were, their names would draw a blank.
But as they specialise in traditional and contemporary music from the British Isles, as well as similar music from their own country, what are their chances of making a breakthrough here? Well, to answer that, I had best say that “the jury is out”. Let me explain.
Steve Lehto and John Wright are clearly both talented guitarists and vocalists. And aided here by Matt Jacobs on drums, they clearly know how to produce a professional-sounding album. But that, in itself, I submit, is not quite enough.
But let me look at the plusses first. For all their vocal skills, an instrumental track proved the standout track for me. I refer to track 4: “Comiciamento di gioia”. This piece from medieval Italy was beautifully arranged for the two guitars, and led to me opening a bottle of Barolo, so Italian did it make the atmosphere feel. And they don’t just play acoustic guitars well: Steve’s electric guitar work was a joy throughout.
So far so good. But my problem with them comes in their “interpretations” of folk classics.
Now note that sentence, please. “Interpretations” is their word, not mine. But it is a word that I really BLESS them for. At least they do not say “covers”. Frankly, in my world, there is no room for covers. If an artiste cannot take a song by the scruff of the neck and put his own stamp on it, then he may as well stay in bed all day.
And what we have from them here are some genuine interpretations, but also some covers in the GUISE of interpretations. About 50/50.
Successes? Well, the title track for instance is a bold attempt at providing a modern take on a song we took in with our mothers’ milk. I salute them for it, as I do for their darker interpretation of Pete Seeger’s old favourite “John Riley”.
Brave failures include their interpretation of another Pete Seeger recording, “East Virginia Blues”. Here, I want to point you to their liner notes:
“We have attempted to duplicate with electric guitars, drums, bass and pedals, the ferocity he put into his performance with a simple banjo and vocal”.
Did you read what you WROTE there boys? Did you not stop and THINK for a minute? Did you not think that the whole darned journey with this song was – at best – an underwhelming one? After all, what do you get, when you arrive at the end? In your own words, you get DUPLICATION.
My friends, that should NOT be what “interpretation” is about? By duplication, you are in reality, just COVERING.
And there were real covers here. You can change a few words if you like, add some drums and electricity, and also add a few extra notes, but that does not make it an interpretation. Your version of “World Turned Upside Down” was pure Dick Gaughan. Not good enough. I want pure “Lehto & Wright”.
And the version of “Down Where The Drunkards Roll” was phrase-for-phrase Richard Thompson, almost down to the Southern English accent. Impressive as an act of imitation, but a million miles from interpretation.
And gents, if push comes to shove, I would rather drink my Richard Thompson NEAT.
Right. Rant over. Don’t think, as I sign off, that I hated your album. I did not. Far from it.
I am just disappointed. It could have been far, far more than it was.
Own label; 2005; Playing time: 54:46 min
Faust are a Swedish folk trio who have just celebrated 10 years together. Between them they play most of the accepted folk instruments. Plus one or two specific to their part of the world: the Swedish bagpipes and the Dalsland pipes.
Now from the start, I was at a sort of disadvantage here: I was reviewing an album which contains several songs in Swedish, and as I found to my cost when I made my one and only visit to that wonderful country two years ago this month, I have no aptitude for speaking or understanding their ancient language.
But what does that matter? Within seconds I was whisked back to Skansen open air museum in Stockholm, where I had spent such an enjoyable time amidst the old buildings of rural Sweden that had been transported there. And then, before I knew it, I was back in the oldest theatre in Europe in Drottningholm! Clever boys, these three Swedes. They were giving me a magic carpet ride that involved no illicit substances nor needed me to take my passport out of my pocket.
And what is it that gives this group its particular flavour? What is its essence? Is there an easy answer?
Yes, I think so.
You really capture it in the move between tracks 5 and 6. Track 5 is the traditional title track, an energetic triplet-polska from Dalsland. (For you uninitiated, Dalsland is a province in the south west of the country, bordering on Norway.)
Note the moment when the piece ends and the marvellous energy subsides. A few seconds silence, and then before you know it there is this almost supernatural mood change as Anders Ådin’s guitar goes into Alban Faust’s hauntingly beautiful but profoundly simple hymn “Alla Herrans möjligheter”. It is the standout track on the album incidentally. I felt I was back walking the streets of Gamla Stan on a quiet Sunday morning as the faithful wove their way across the water to that big black church where all the old kings of Sweden lie buried in the crypt.
Ah, the power of music.
And there you have it: there is their secret. I used the words “almost supernatural”. Note, the “almost”. It is ALMOST miraculous. But not quite. It is, in other words, at the extreme end of what is NATURAL.
And that indeed is their secret. Their naturalness. This band have come into my house today, and acted like they have been living here all the ten years of their existence.
They have filled my house with their trademark hurdy-gurdy and jews harp sound, and I thank them for it.
Eamon Friel "Here Is The River"
Thran Records; 2006; Playing time: 42:16 min
When I was a small kid, I went to a school where there was a giant sampler on the wall. The sampler had been sewn by students long gone to the senior school. The words read as follows:
“Lost. One Golden Hour studded with Sixty Ruby Minutes, set in Sixty Brilliant Diamond Moments.”
It is about half a century since I last saw that sign. And I doubt if I have ever even thought about it for at least seven or eight years. But for some bizarre reason, it flashed across the inside of my eyelids as I listened in rapt attention/concentration to this album late at night with the lights down.
Ah, who knows why the human brain moves in the ways it does? Often there is no logic: just wonderful serendipity.
And needless to say, the image suddenly appearing in my memory, was not a sign that I was wasting time here: on the contrary, it was telling me that here I was spending my time just about as fruitfully as it was possible to do. So thank you, Eamon Friel.
To my shame, I had missed his previous 4 albums. And I mean “shame”, because I was aware of his abilities having heard him several times on BBC Radio 5. And so this album has proved the revelation that albums 1-4 may have been to his different fans.
It is close on being an unalloyed DELIGHT. From start to finish. His songs entertain, enthral, make you smile and put a tear in the eye. What more can you ask for?
And he delivers them in a Christy Moore/Sands Family “sotto voce” delivery, and in an accent less redolent of his hometown of Stroke City (Derry/Londonderry), and perhaps more reminiscent of a “universal” Irish accent. The sort of accent that Limerick born Frank McCourt has (although he has had his many years as a New York schoolteacher iron out the creases in his!).
And why do I think of McCourt? No doubt my brain is making weird connections again.
I suppose he springs to mind because the overriding impression one gets with Friel is not just of a very pleasant singer (which he is); not of a man with an ear for a good tune (which he sure has); but above all, one leaves the CD’s final strains convinced that here one is in the presence of a natural storyteller.
This man has a big novel in him. One day we will get it. For the moment we music fans should thank our lucky stars that he is writing these novellas which he is then compressing into four or five stanzas of real beauty.
There is not a track that disappointed me. And several that proved ready to take residence in my soul.
Foremost of these is a sensational song called “King And Queen”. No, no, it lays no heavy political “trip” on you: quite the opposite. It is wondrous work of his imagination. These two are not royals but mountain peaks, and Friel gloriously imagines them in conversation with each other. And it is not just the lyrics: the tune also is a little gem. Especially the mandolin playing at the end: it is as haunting an instrumental passage as I have heard in an age.
Throughout the musicianship is of the highest order, and if I mention Eddie O’Donnell’s mandolin there, let me hasten to add that I could easily mention the dozen other fine musicians Eamon surrounds himself with.
Don’t ask yourself whether you will buy a copy of this CD. Ask yourself, how MANY copies!
Joe Dolce "The Wind Cries Mary"
Dolceamore Music; 2006; Playing time: 48:26 min
I once stayed in a hotel in France where on the back of the room door was a sign placed there by the management. The sign said “Please refrain from cries of pleasure”.
I thought of that hotel (way back down the road) as I played this CD. And figured that maybe Joe Dolce would have been wise to attach such a sticker to the jewel case of his CD.
But hey, stop a moment. Who’d have thought that I would have ever written a short paragraph like that last one? After all, I am old enough to remember when Joe Dolce achieved world fame, and thus came into my life. That of course was in 1981, when his “Shaddap You Face” became a monster hit in most of the English-speaking world.
And I hated the song with a real intensity: the kind of intensity I don’t think I have managed to recapture in the quarter of a century since.
But not that Joe cared. He just laughed his way to a thousand banks.
And then thankfully for me, as soon as he had entered my consciousness, he seemed to disappear just as quickly. I heard nothing of him for the next two decades.
And then about five years ago, I came across his writing. And I realised that this was a deeply serious man: and a bit of a Renaissance Man to boot. But, though his writings may have impressed me, I still managed to avoid his recordings. Until today, that is.
I opened this CD fearing the worst: was it going to present some sort of déjà vu that led my mind back to the execrable “Shaddup You Face”?
Well, no. I need not have worried. In the main it is a clear success: although one should add, a “qualified” one.
If you manage a record store and wonder where to file it: I’d say file it under “eclectic”, or better still, put a copy of the CD in every one of your different sections.
Joe is joined by some fine musicians, and together they run the gamut of musical styles. At first it appears that we are going to have a hard rock diet: the sort of rock that takes no prisoners. Some phenomenally good percussion from Tony Floyd (a star throughout), helps drive the message home.
But by track 4 the mood has changed, and we have moved onto that favourite ballad of that fine sean nós singer, the late Joe Heaney: the “Rocks of Bawn”. Now Joe (Dolce, not Heaney) slightly got my back up here.
The last verse used to always read
I wish the queen of England would write to me in time,
To put that in its context, one needs to know that the "rocks of bawn" refers to the white rocks of the far west of Ireland (bawn is Gaelic for white). And this is where many Catholic landowners were forced to go by Cromwell, when deprived of their own fertile farm land further east.
And here is the key to that closing verse: by offering to fight for the British Army – since trying to farm rocky infertile ground was an unequal battle -
the singer of the song could see it was the only escape from attempting to achieve the impossible, viz. "plough the rocks of bawn." It is not a pro-war song under Heaney: quite the opposite. “Taking up arms” is seen as the only way of surviving.
But what does Joe Dolce do? Crucially changes the first line of the last verse and deletes “Queen of England” and sings
And place me in some regiment all in my youth and prime;
I'd fight for Ireland's glory from clear daylight till the dawn,
And I never would return again to plough the rocks of bawn.
I wish some sergeant major would send for me in time
By doing this of course, he turns it into an overt Rebel Song, instead of the highly subtle covert one it may have been! (The subtext under the Dolce version is, let’s fight for Ireland’s revenge because the English have reduced us to this hard life of poverty.) True, Joe D does say in his very well produced and literate liner notes, that Heaney does a “slightly different lyric variation”. Eh?
“Slightly”? Ha! Fairly crucial difference, I ‘d say. A ballad that is “war neutral” becomes “pro-war”, by that simple change of line.
Track 5 sees me notice Lin Van Hek’s delicious harmony vocals. Lin is the long-time partner and best friend of Joe Dolce. But it took track 6 to really get me sitting up and taking notice bigtime, with his truly marvellous evocation of the days when John and Yoko had their “Lie-in for Peace” in that hotel room in the Amsterdam Hilton. Very clever musical references here to various Beatles’ songs (Eleanor Rigby, Revolution 9 are two that I spotted).
However track 7 saw him take a step backwards (after two forwards), and succeed in rubbing me up the wrong way with “Smokin”, a full-frontal attack on smokers. A well-crafted song, but an “easy target” methinks. Why not get after boozers Joe? The truth is that they do so much more damage to other people.
Track 8, “Hill of Death”, reminds me that the great Henry Lawson had a mother who was a good poet in her own right. But track 10 also reminds us that the Australian artistic conveyor belt still produces poets of note. Keith McEnry’s fine words to “September 11th” really resonated with me, and this song about the murder of Salvador Allende (that could well have come from the pen of Victor Jara), abruptly stops with the 1973 date of the Chilean coup: September 11th. It made my mouth go suddenly dry. I had not until that point noticed that it shared the same day/month with a 2001 event that was also going to bring untold misery to a country: just as America had been behind the Pinochet coup, so a thirst for revenge from America saw them outdoing any horrors in Iraq that the one-time CIA thug Saddam Hussein could ever have conjured-up.
Tracks 10-12 are the artistic high point of the album. Track 11, the Jimmie Hendrix title track, is delivered with tremendous brio, with Lin Van Hek showing that if Bonnie Raitt ever loses her voice, then Lin can sit in for her. Gorgeous, trippy lead guitar from Joe brings the piece to an end.
And then we come to my favourite cut. It is what Joe calls “Death of Bach”. I nearly said “his” death of Bach. But in truth, seeing as Bach melodies e.g. “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” make up a chunk of the track, the least Joe could have done is shown it as “Bach-Dolce” (instead of simply “Dolce”) in his liner notes! But that’s a cheap shot from me perhaps.
However it remains my favourite track because there is something gloriously sincere about it. And nothing disingenuous. Pure hero worship. And I have to say Joe, that you could not have picked a better hero. JS Bach is one of mine too. Especially when reincarnated by the late great Glenn Gould.
So there you have it. A bit of a curate’s egg of an album, but real high spots
that had me, if not crying out with pleasure, then at least, grinning with delight.
Little Windows "Just Beyond Me"
Own label; 2006; Playing time: 62:51 min
Were you to ask me what is the best thing about being a CD reviewer, I would unhesitatingly tell you that it is NOT getting the CDs by your favourite artistes. Often they prove a disappointment.
No, the best thing is the polar opposite. It is getting a CD from artistes you have never heard of – despite a lifetime writing on the subject – and finding yourself being swept off your feet by their sheer aplomb and good taste.
This is one such. Oh my gosh. I don’t want to deal in hyperbole, but I cannot help but say that the whole 62 minutes just oozes pure CLASS.
But when I took the CD out of its packaging and read some background publicity before inserting it into the player, I slightly feared the worst.
Get this. This isn’t the two artistes talking, it comes from the programme of a venue they were playing:
Little Windows (Julee Glaub & Mark Weems) tours nationally and internationally specializing in the art of pure voice with tight harmonies. The tunes are a mix of Appalachian, Irish, Old-Time Gospel with instrumentation including guitar, fiddle, banjo, flute, piano, and mountain dulcimer. Julee and Mark do not like to think of themselves as entertainers, but as two people who have felt the power of unadorned music in their lives and who want to share it with others. They regularly lead retreats and vocal workshops as well as perform. Their hope is to open up little windows into the timeless spiritual land of traditional song to those unaware of its power. Visit littlewindows.net to hear their music.
I had no problem with the first half of that. But the second half raised my eyebrows somewhat. Wasn’t I going to find them just slightly “precious” perhaps? Living here in this tough little industrial town on the east coast of England, it is not the sort of thing the locals in these parts would have much truck with!
But then Mark (originally from Alabama) and Julee (from North Carolina) live half a world away from me (which partly explains why they were new names on my radar with this debut album together, even though they’d both independently made previous forays into the recording studio). A world where they despise the “precious” and the “twee” every bit as much as in my neck of the woods.
Forty years ago I recall someone playing me a Frank Proffitt record of him accompanying himself on his fretless banjo singing the songs of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There can be no higher praise for this CD than to say that this duo’s rendition of some truly classic songs, captures the SPIRIT of that album while at the same time raising both the vocal and instrumental element a notch or two: there are no rough edges.
Now of course that said, there are many who say “I want my folk as rough as possible: the rougher the better”. Well worry not: this CD is the very antithesis of the bland and the cellophane-wrapped.
Two voices in lovely harmony, and some achingly beautiful instrumental contributions from some fine fellow musicians. Pete Sutherland’s fiddle on “Wayfaring Stranger”, Carl Jones’s mandolin on “Home’s Across the Blue Ridge Mountains”, and – especially - Chuck Eller’s Hammond B organ on “Feel Like Goin Home”, all just blew me away.
And guess what? After playing this lovely CD three times all the way through, I have to say that that final sentence from their credo which I quoted earlier in this review, has proved highly prophetic.
Their hope is to open up little windows into the timeless spiritual land of traditional song to those unaware of its power.
You see, whilst I was always aware of its power, I needed reminding of it.
And I was truly reminded here. Thanks for transporting me.
An album well worth buying.
Tom Clelland "Life Goes On"
Whistleberry; 2005; Playing time: 48:38 min
Whenever a new “artistes’ cooperative” record label arrives on the scene, one automatically wishes it well in its struggle to find its feet in the hard commercial world out there. But when it provides the launch for a fairly substantial album like this one, then somehow one DOUBLY wishes it a fair wind.
Tom Clelland is clearly a talent. I regret to say that he was a totally new Scots name to me. His gigs tend to be North of the Border and thus he does not get down to Lincolnshire, the part of England where I reside. And I’d missed his debut album “Little Stories”. But if this second CD is anything to go by, then that was my loss.
But I have to declare an interest (of sorts). He won me over from the moment I read the liner notes (before actually playing the CD): he took his album title from a remark of the great Robert Frost. Now, I have been a Frost aficionado all my life, so I figure that anyone who revered that American giant just CANNOT be wanting in the “good taste” department.
And so it proved. This is a thoughtful, easy-on-the-ear album, where Clelland’s warm, Eric Bogle-ish voice is splendidly supported by some classy musicians under the direction of multi-instrumentalist and producer, Davie Scott.
It is nice to find songs that rhyme, scan and MAKE SENSE. I am not sure that any of them are assured of real longevity, but that said, they all provide decent stabs at achieving memorability when it comes to the first-time listener.
I particularly liked “The Wine Song”: his interesting liner notes quote Sir Walter Scott’s famous paean of praise to the fruit of the noble grape. Trust me, this song does a better job than the “The Laird of Abbotsford” – left to his own devices - ever could. It is the standout cut on the album. If only the makers of the relatively recent smash-hit movie “Sideways” could have heard the song before finishing film production! I’m sure they’d have snapped it up as the theme song.
If all the songs don’t scale the heights, it is still fair to say that there is not a dud song on the album. But one other song also made a real impact. Indeed it is fair to say it quite moved me. I refer to his closing number “Slip Away”.
This shows he has sat at the feet of the John Prines and the Guy Clarks. But that said, it is not especially derivative: and apart from its strong rhymes, its constant refrain “don’t let it slip away” proves a bit of a masterstroke.
Why? Well, because it is so cleverly placed at the end of the album. And thus it works in the overt way (i.e. it’s a strong song that leaves you wanting more), but it also works on the subconscious: one feels that one must not let this talent “slip away” either.
This East Lothian singer apparently waited until he was over 50 to record his first album. It would be a shame if his light was to quickly vanish after it took so long to start to burn.
The Shin "EgAri"
Jaro 4278-2; 2006
The Shin, a group consisting of Georgians and Georgian expats, don't see themselves as destroyers of Georgian tradition. They say so themselves in the liner notes to EgAri. This is great news, but a bit of a surprise, given what they are doing on the album. The group alternates Georgian polyphonic singing with instrumental passages in jazzy arrangements. They even insert scat singing and bols (syllables recited by tabla students in imitation of the different types of beats). They don't blend the various elements, but rather move between with admirable skill. Unfortunately these styles do not reinforce each other. They remain strange bedfellows, in a lukewarm relationship, touching only very briefly. If they are serious about using their own tradition as a point of reference, they should study with Hungarian reed-player Mihály Dresch who is a master in incorporating the traditional music from his country in his compositions and improvisations. I don't know if they have it in them to destroy the Georgian tradition, but they certainly do not improve on it.
René van Peer
V/A "Gamelan of Central Java VIII - Court music treasures"
Dunya Records; fy 8119; 2007
V/A "Gamelan of Central Java IX - Songs of wisdom and love"
Dunya Records; fy 8120; 2007
The idea behind the Gamelan of Central Java series, to present the stately court style from the area around Yogyakarta in a wider context and through recent recordings, is in itself quite laudable. Releases of such music are relatively rare these days, and attempts at more or less comprehensive collections are non-existent, as far as I know. More's the pity, therefore, that the quality of the individual titles in this series is so uneven; and that editor John Noise Manis hasn't so far tried to provide the individual titles with a general background that makes clear how they fit into this collection. He doesn't seem to have had a thought-out plan when he conceived the series.
This is further underscored by the latest two titles. Whereas Songs of wisdom and love has a wonderfully transparent clarity, Court music treasures comes nowhere near that. In music as delicate and intricate as this, the recording quality is significant to enjoying it. Listening to Songs of wisdom and love you do get the impression of sitting close to the ensemble. Court music treasures sounds as if it reaches your ears after having been dragged through a cardboard tube. The series is rather more consistent in its liner notes, which are at best confusing. Sometimes they are downright nonsensical, as in the essay on the appreciation of Indonesian music that accompanies Songs of wisdom and love, written in a hopelessly outdated opaque postmodernist vein.
The substandard sound quality of Court music treasures made sitting through it an unenviable task, one that I would not want to repeat, or recommend to others. Songs of wisdom and love, on the other hand, is wonderful throughout. The modestly sized ensembles lay down melodies that radiate a lush and velvet sheen - an ideal texture for the sings to weave their lines through, mainly ancient Javanese poetry. This disk is of an other-worldly beauty.
René van Peer
Uun Budiman & The Jugala Gamelan Orchestra "Banondari"
Felmay fy 8098; 2006
Jaipongan is a style that evolved in the 1970s out of the collision between traditional Javanese gamelan playing and the energy of rock music, which increased the pace considerably. Gugum Gumbira was one of its pioneers, setting up the Jugala cassette label through which he released numerous recordings. Especially for his label he founded a gamelan ensemble that earned acclaim far and wide. Although the label continued to release new albums Gumbira for some time stopped working as a producer in its studios. After ten years he has taken the helm again to record Banondari.
He paired the Jugala Gamelan orchestra with jaipongan singer Uun Budiman, a combination that works wonderfully. The ensemble plays near perfect in its timing and in the way it moves through the melodies. They gently embrace Budiman's voice, the rebab (a particularly husky fiddle) engaging her in elegantly meandering dialogues that wind and branch out at leisure. This album is a true joy to listen to, not just because of the performance of the musicians, but also because of the marvellous clarity with which they have been captured.
René van Peer
Ustad Shahid Parvez "Kushal"
Label: Felmay; fy8102; 2006
Ustad Shujaat Husain Khan "Gayaki Ang"
Label: Felmay; fy8106; 2006
Lalgudi G Jayaraman "Violin Soul"
Label: Felmay; fy8121; 2006
Lalgudi GJR Krishnan & Lalgudi J Vijayalakshmi "Bow to the Violins"
Label: Felmay; fy8105; 2006
The Italian label Felmay is producing many cd's with good Indian classical music. They seems to know which artists they should pick and don't lack a broad view in the field. Many western companies only look at the north of India, but Felmay is paying attention to the southern so called Karnatic tradition as well. The four cd's that reached me to review, have good examples of those two worlds. As the sitar is the most prominent instrument in the north, without doubt, the violin plays that role in the south.
Shahiz Parvez and Shujaat Khan are both sitar players from the same family. Shujaat Khan is the son of Vilayat Khan, which was Shahiz Parvez' uncle. Vilayat Khan was lesser known in the west than Ravi Shankar, but his status in India is much bigger. The music of Vilayat Khan is nowadays the standard of the sitar-idiom. Shahid Parvez is a musician in the more conventional way. He recreates the music of his family as close to original as possible. On this cd, a long exploration of one raga, Raga Shyam Kalyan, you can hear al the different aspects of the Imdad Khan gharana. (his family-style). It's always melodic and lyrical with a long alaap (introduction without the tabla) in which the typical gliding technique is to be found. Shahiz Parvez has a very soft touch, and the melodies of the raga are singing in your head the rest of the day, once you listened his cd.
Shujaat Khan has the same developed master ship as Shahid Parvez. But he is following more and more his own path. Besides his crossover projects with Iranian musicians, he has also issued a couple of cd's with his translation of the folk music of his former village in Uttar Pradesh. And he also sings folksongs during his classical performances, which is very uncommon among sitar-players, to say the least. But folk music is also echoing on his classical cd's, such as Gayaki Ang. The cd consist one raga, Raga Khem, and a folk tune, Janna Meri Janna, adapted in a classical performance. More than any other sitarplayer, he is able to let his instrument sing. Gayaki Ang proofs once more, that if there's one sitarplayer that can reach a status in the west like Ravi Shankar, it's Shujaat Khan. This makes him one of the most important Indian musicians of his generation.
Much harder to appreciate for western listeners is the music from the south. You have to grow into it a bit to understand the beauty, but once you do, it can be sensational. The violin was once introduced by the English and became the prominent instrument in classical South Indian music. It doesn't sound like a western violin however. Mainly because the playing-technique is very different. The don't use vibrato at all. It sounds very harsh at first. But instead of vibrato, the players play everything with gliding tones. They don't jump from one note to the other but glide bask an forth. In the beginning of the raga very slow, but faster and faster as they reach the climax. The violin players on the two felmay-cd's take this principal to the highest imaginable level. The big difference between the two cd's is that G. Jayaraman plays as solo-performer, and GJR Krishnan and J Vijayalakshmi are playing duets. I like G Jayaraman the most because the slow parts on his cd, for instance on Raga Thodi, are quite dark and melancholic. This creates a bigger pallet of musical colours.
Nadaka & The Basavaraj Brothers "Living Colours"
Rain Tree Records; 2007
Behind the Indian name Nadaka hides a guitar-player from Canada. Although for many years now, he lives in a South Indian town and is plays his music with musicians from that region. As a guitar-player he discovered the main differences of Indian music and his own heritage. That's why he changed his instrument with drone-strings and larger frets to be able to play the more subtle gliding of this music. Besides his efforts to create Indian music on his western instrument, he also takes music from his own background. Mostly jazz, which sounds very natural in the environment of improvisational music that South Indian music is. The guitar is prominent in the music, but there's also room for the sitar, flute and violin to make solo's or to play all kinds of duels with Nadaka.
The Babylon Arabic Band "Samra"
Own label; BABCD01; 2005
The Babylon Arabic Band is based in Edinburgh. The lead singer from Iraq is surrounded with German and Scottish musicians. Mostly when I see a line-up like this, I expect a crossover with western, mostly jazz and Arabic classical music. And mostly I won't be very excited about it, because the European musicians often try to put their own music into the Arabic genre. The result doesn't get the taste of one world or the other. Not the Babylon Arabic Band. These musicians just learned Arabic music in a very professional sense. The bass player and the percussionist create the same drive as Arabic musicians would do. Singer and oud-player Mohammed can play his songs, mostly love songs, in a way that you would never guessed that most musicians are not Arabic. His voice is great, not in an academic fashion, but low and graspy, like he is singing the blues. And in a way he is.
This cd is absolutely great.
Fred J. Eaglesmith "Milly's Cafe"
A Major Label FSE011; 2006
Fred Eaglesmith has the ability to amaze his fans and critics. His last cd Dusty was full of electronic sounds and strange sound-scapes. People might thought, he lost his mind, but he just wanted to explore all his options instead of sticking to the conventions of Americana. A good approach but the Fredheads, that's how the most fanatic fans of Fred Eaglesmith call themselves, will probably be very glad with the result of his new album. Because he is back to his roots, without sound-experiments this time. With the musicians who are also with him when he is not performing solo, he made a very fine classical country-album. Of these musicians Willie P. Bennett is the most important one. His mandolin, harmonica and vocals are the steady background for the edgy way of singing of Eaglesmith. Because the album is a bit laidback, with no mid- or up-tempo songs it takes a couple of times to get really into the music. But once you are there with Fred, it's gets finer to listen to every single time. The best songs of the cd are Kansas and The Rains. Songs that will probably live-standards very quickly and reason enough to watch him play, when you get the opportunity. To me this is his best album since 50-odd dollars.
© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 11/2007
All material published in FolkWorld is © The Author via FolkWorld. Storage for private use is allowed and welcome. Reviews and extracts of up to 200 words may be freely quoted and reproduced, if source and author are acknowledged. For any other reproduction please ask the Editors for permission. Although any external links from FolkWorld are chosen with greatest care, FolkWorld and its editors do not take any responsibility for the content of the linked external websites.
FolkWorld - Home of European Music
Layout & Idea of FolkWorld © The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld