FolkWorld Issue 39 07/2009
FolkWorld CD Reviews
McCalmans "Coming Home - live"
Label: Greentrax; No. CDTRAX336; 2009; Playing time: 54.14 min
The McCalmans have been a cornerstone of the Scottish music scene for ages, with huge popularity both in Scotland and internationally. Over the years, they have published an uncountable number of records, each consistent in quality of music and choice of material. However, for me, this their latest offering is the best Macs album I have heard.
Recorded live at various places in Scotland and Denmark, this is the most quintessentially Macs album you can imagine. The current Macs are Ian McCalman, Nick Keir and Stephen Quigg. The album features many of the favourites from over the years - including Ian McCalman's "The Moor Road", Nick Keir's "Portnahaven", "Five O'Clock". The mixture features serious songs as well as some wonderful comic songs - "Let's Recycle" is a classic being based on the complex recycling guidance from Midlothian Council, a song in which probably anybody in the UK can identify their own recycling guidance; another classic is Shel Silverstein's "Still Gonna Die". Some of the, generally humourous, intros to the songs have been included on the recording.
Besides being a fantastic collection of some of their best songs plus a few new ones, the strength of this recording is that it has capture the unique magic of the Macs. It brings the warmth, the homeliness of a concert of the Macs to your living room - the genuine enjoyment of the musicians in playing, the good humour and excellent atmostphere of their concerts.
Ian McCalman have recently announced that he will retire soon from the Macs, which will mean the end of this beloved and legendary trio. They will be missed. However, this album will be a beautiful memory. A wonderful CD which will be for me one of the favourite album of Scottish song. A real classic and a "must have".
I Musicanti "[...pi nun perdiri lu cuntu...]"
Label: Own; No.comcd001; 2007
This five piece band comes from Sicily, with the band members coming from different musical background such as jazz, rock and folk. Their latest, third, album, from 2007, presents Sicilian traditional as well as contemporary folk music. It principally features guitar, percussion, flutes and female voice. While the album starts with two lively and more happy sounding songs, most of the remaining album has a very melancholic flair to it, generally based on the melancholy of the singing of Debora Messina. Listening to the album as a whole thus does not lift spirits. The quality of the music is undoubtedly there, and the material is good. Maybe the right CD if you feel blue...
Jim Malcolm "The First Cold Day"
Label:Beltane; No.BelCD106; 2009; Playing time: 51.23 min
The new offering of Scotland's premier singer/songerwriter sees Jim Malcolm go back to a more usual format. The last three albums were all a bit different - the last "Acquaintance" was a Robert Burns collection, "Tam O Shanter and other tales" focussed on a spellbounding 15-minute song, and "Live in Glenfarg" presented a "Best of" Jim Malcolm songs.
"The first cold day" features 11 songs, many self-penned, with a few additions of traditionals and other people's material. Jim is accompanied on the album principally by his guitar, by fiddle (Marie Fielding) and keyboards (Brian McAlpine). There are a few great songs by Jim on the album - the title track "First Cold Day" is very hummable, "schiehallion" is a result from a songwriting project with schools in the highlands, and "The train from Perth to Lochearn" which may sound familiar to the listener, as it has put a great ballad to the melody from a tune from Jim's "Home" album ("The train to Killin"). There is also a more jazzy number with "Down in Alabama".
The material focusses overall more on the mellower side of Jim's singing. The songs are generally of the high quality you would expect from Jim. I do find that the song blends into each other. This is definite and clearly recognisable Jim Malcolm music. An album that feels in a friendly way familiar, it makes me hum along but does not necessarily excite me. Overall a good album, but not quite as brilliant as some of his previous albums.
Avishai Cohen "Aurora"
Blue note; LC054; 2009
Avishai Cohen is a jazz singer from Israel and comes from a musical family. In the past ten years he has build up an impressive career. He has worked several times with Chick Corea, sung with Omara and many other less and lesser known names. It’s the first time his music reaches my ears and although it’s a jazz album, it has this indefinable touch of worldwide music. It has a great touch of Hebreic music, some Arab Andalusian but most of all it’s pure and introvert jazz music. I love his soft way of singing, the careful way his songs are composed and arranged. It is music with an ancient soul but with a modern sound. From now on, this is one of the best jazz related albums in my private collection.
Daniel Kahn & the Painted Bird "Partisans & Parasites"
Daniel Kahn comes from Detroit and landed in Berlin in 2005. He is a multi talent, writing poems, acting, composing, playwriting, singing and multi instrumentalist. Together with the band Painted bird he mixes klezmer tradition with humoristic song writing and some free and easy folk rocking. This is the bands second album and it will take you on a funny, crazy and sometimes even serious journey through Yiddish-influenced folkrock fun. Nice start with Yosl ber, love this klezmer style punk song. Especially the crazy guitar passing through. Parasites shows the band’s more cabaret side. An unbelievably great story about a microscopic bug, an ode to parasites? It is just one of those lyrics that makes me want to hear every word he says. Like in Rats or: How I learned to stop worrying and leave the sinking ship. A song about hope, and that is exactly how it sounds. He starts telling an old joke in A rothschild in your house, sings about vampires and takes it a bit more seriously in the song Dumai, which shows that Kahn is not only a person with a rich creative mind, but also with his thoughts about the world, it’s history, present and future. This is an album that surprised me. it’s uncomplicated atmosphere really gives a relaxed and happy feeling and the texts often put a smile on my face.
Red Chamber "Red Grass"
Za discs; N-13; 2008
Red chamber is a Chinese orientated string band with master Zheng player Mei Han. She is joined by musicians on pipa, mandolin, banjo and many other Asiatic and more western orientated instruments. The group plays music from the past 1350 years, from the Tang Dynasty to modern compositions. The instruments and way of playing give the album a typical Chinese sound, but with some bluegrass, folk and light country influences. The furious string work is admirable and sounds very nice. It’s the perfect album to let a Western audience get acquainted with Chinese (more or less) traditional sounds.
Jaune Toujours "Kolektiv"
The Belgian band Jaune Toujours has a strong reputation in being a festival highlight wherever they play. This octet with stacks of trumpets, accordion, percussion and so on. Brings a nice blend of brass, klezmer, ska, folk, chanson and all those other styles. They fit perfectly in the new wave of brass-influenced-multi-crossover-folky-bands. This new album contains eleven new recordings, mostly sung in French but some English and Dutch as well. Like their previous output, a nice album. But not surprising in any way. Sure there are some differences with earlier albums, but somehow not enough to really make my ears stay focused. It’s like the band takes it a bit calmer and the different styles that in earlier work were so recognisable, now grew together into one kind of sound. So my personal conclusion would be that Jaune Toujours still is the nice band they were, but not as refreshing as they once were.
V/A "Singing Through the Hard Times"
Righteous Babe; 065; 2009
This various artist album is a 2 cd set tribute, dedicated to the works of Utah Philips. He is one of the best loved topical singers from the US and a collection of friends and colleagues honour him with this fabulous double album. It doesn’t matter if it’s Rosalie Sorrels singing the serious The soldiers return, Tom Paxton singing the love song I remember loving you, Jay Peterson singing Daddy what’s a train, Jean Ritchie, Carline Paton, Ani di Franco, Pete Seeger with Or else or many of the other top artists. It’s a remarkable collection of songs telling about many sides of the American live and history. Highly recommended album not only for the songs, but this is also one of those rare occasions when you can buy an album with such an unbelievable collection of top musicians.
Greg Copeland "Diana and James"
Greg Copeland is a Singer-songwriter from Southern Carolina who has been active as a song writer since the sixties. The band Ars Nova and Copeland’s friend Jackson Brown, recorded several of his songs. Even Nico recorded one of his songs which he wrote together with Brown and Joan Baez sung his ‘El Salvador’ in 1989. Copeland never recorded much himself. His first solo album was issued in 1982 and this Diana and James is his second one. That leaves about 25 unrecorded years. It started with picking up writing again in the year 2000. Slowly but surely he created enough material for a new album. Diana and James was worth waiting for. Copeland sounds relaxed in his personal songs. It’s down to earth, folky-acoustic music of high quality. It’s like he whispers his songs into the listeners ears. A bit shy, but powerful and pure. Nice string works, smooth female backings, definitely an album that will be enjoyed by many.
Bill Evans & Megan Lynch "Let’s Do Something"
Native & Fine;
Let’s do something is the result of a cooperation between two renowned musicians. Bill Evans is known worldwide for his bluegrass banjo style and Megan Lynch is a highly respected fiddler. Together they recorded eleven songs including two original compositions by Evans but mostly covers by artists such as Nick Drake, Mark Knopfler, John Gorka, Van Morrison and Teitur. They kick of with the Talan/Tannen composition Rocks and water a friendly folksong. Lynch shows her talent as a singer and the finger picking of Evans is fantastic. Nice is the Bill Evans composition The distance between two points. An instrumental where the two musicians bring together their two unique way of playing their instruments. It’s a funny choice of repertoire, putting Nick Drake and Teitur next to Mark Knopfler, but the duo chooses their own direction and does not try to imitate in any way. They play classical songs like Drake’s Northern sky, Morrisons Into the mystic and the beautiful Teitur song I was just thinking in a more accessible way than the original singers. On one side I like that, on the other side the songs have a bit the same sound and I miss the unique atmosphere of these great compositions. There is one exception, Song for Sonny Liston is better than the original. Powerfully played and sung, really nice one. Let’s do something is absolutely a strong album by two fantastic musicians. It contains some great pieces of music and is made in such a way that it’s accessible for a big audience.
The Gourds "Haymaker!"
The Gourds, I never heard of them and after hearing their latest album Haymaker! I’m very sorry I didn’t know them before. The band comes from Texas and has a history that goes back until the second half of the nineties. Their original songs might be called country-folk by many, but that wouldn’t do this ‘feel good’ music do any justice. I hear rock influences going hand in hand with Honky tonk and do I hear some Tex-mex influences flying around at the background? The Courds really make my day with their uncomplicated Roots-rock played by a bunch of nice musicians with great enthusiasm. Nice mixture of styles that are naturally melted together in the unique ‘Gourds sound’. Must be party to see this band live, but even on a sunny day in the Lowlands of Holland this album brings joy and relaxation. Thanks!
Beausoleil "Alligator Purse"
2195 ; 2009
For over thirty years Beausoleil is the leading USA group for Cajun music. The band includes the fantastic violinist Michael Doucet and on this new album the band works together with Natalie Merchant, Garth Hudson and John Sebastian amongst others. From the first until the last minte, beausoleil show exactly why they are such a world-wide appreciated band. Even after three decades their Cajun music sounds fresh and up to date, I love their bit raw way of playing and they are at their best in the fast and furious dances but also show that they can entertain in the more restful songs and even play a nice valse. Beausoleil fans wont be disappointed, they get exactly what they expect and what they want. For those who never heard of Cajun music before, this is a create introduction from one of the best bands in this style ever.
Pierce Pettis "That Kind of Love"
Steve Mednick "Sunset at the North Pole"
Own label; 2008
J. Shogren "American Holly"
JAHA! Records; 2008
Steve Noonan "Bringin’ It Back Home"
Own label; 2008
Robby Hecht "Late Last Night"
Own label; 2008
Danny O’Keefe "In Time"
Bicameral songs; 2008
In 1979 one of Pierce Pettis songs was recorded by the legendary Joan Baez. Many famous names, including Garth Brooks, Art Garfunkel and Dar Williams, would follow. That kind of love is his tenth solo release since 1984. Twelve new songs which describes his thoughts about the things in life that matters to him. Pettis has a great voice with which he shows to be a great storyteller. Backed by twelve musicians including Hammond, violin, backing vocals, pedal steel and so much more. He impresses with strong musical arrangement and an intimate, personal style. No weak moments, each song has it’s own quality and together they make this album a strong one. The second one is by Steve Mednick called Sunset at the north pole. Fourteen self written songs, recorded with six guest musicians on bass, violin, guitar, drums, backings etc. Mednick has been in music for many years and says to be influenced by famous bands as the Kinks, Traffic, Beatles, Fairport and many others. His music is not exactly folk, but more rock with some folk influences. The opening track Picking up my pipe dreams has the structure of a symphonic rock song, but without the symphonic sound. The song starts with vocals and piano only and slowly builds to the rock part. Mednick shows to be a nice singer, but with a limited reach. The song is full of nice ideas, but the result is a bit disappointing. I personally find the band to careful in this song, to decent. I mean, with such a rocking end, I think it should really rock! Much better is Stuck in the middle which is a catchy, unpretentious, folk-rock song which fits this band perfectly. Good backings, strong ‘band’ sound, really nice. Absolutely the best composition is Fragments. Great spinet sound, well arranged violins, a surprisingly strong and good composition, but again this limited possibilities of Mednick’s voice make that the song doesn’t get the power it deserves. He is at his best in a song like 5761 and the earlier mentioned Stuck in the middle where they play straight on folk(rock). This album leaves me with mixed feelings. I’m surprised by Mednick’s song writing qualities and really think that Fragment is one of the nicest songs I have heard in a long time. But I also notice that I think that this album doesn’t do his song writing justice at all. The third album for review comes from J. Shogren and is called American holly. It’s his latest album after his debut Jahamericana. On that debut he showed many aspects of his quality, but was still searching for the right balance. Shogren recorded seventeen new songs with the help of a big group of musicians. His songs bring many styles together, there is some Americana, folk, blues, country and so much more. One of my favourite songs is Early in the evening. Great to hear how he brings the intriguing lyric alive with his way of singing and the sober, but effective, instrumentation. Funny is Salt lakrits which has this old fashion banjo-band sound and I also like the more sensitive song She’s with me. Followed by another one of my favourites Baby on the tracks. Shogren over classed his debut album, he sounds relaxed and just does what he likes best; making funny, serious, sweet and energetic songs. And if you listen very carefully you might even discover some political statements. Steve Noonan recorded his debut album about forty years ago and finally his second album was published last year. His first album was on the huge Electra label and now he keeps it all in his own hand by releasing his music himself. Keeping in mind the bad experience he had with Electra and the ‘famous’ producer Rothchild. In those past four decades he kept performing in small café-like venues but always kept on the song writing. Bringin it back home shows his most recent work. Pure singer-songwriter, a men and his guitar with personal, intimate songs. Noonan sounds surprisingly laid back and impresses with good song writing, nice finger picking and a war voice. After forty years we finally hear the ‘musician’ Noonan as he really is. The fifth album in this review is the debut album of singer-songwriter Robby Hecht and is called Late last night. Hecht’s star is rising very fast since is the Kerrvill new folk winner 2008. He impresses with his personal songs and his intimate way of singing and excellent choice of musicians. Listen to the title song Late last night which combines moody strings, with good female backings and this frivolous banjo dancing through the song. Alone on a Saturday night shows his more easy going side. Jazzy sax in a dreamy love song, which is perfect for worldwide airplay. Impressive is Along the way which might be his most Americana-folk style song. Late last night is an impressive debut album from a fantastic singer-writer who has everything to become a big star in no time. Over thirty five years after his first album, US singer-songwriter Danny O’Keefe comes with In time which is his eleventh record. More or less discovered by Buffalo Springfield manager Charles Green, he recorded his first album in 1972 on the big Atlantic label. Since that moment o’Keefe has been a highly respected singer- songwriter and many of his songs have been recorded by world famous names. It’s the first time I really take the peace to listen to his music. I often see one of his seventies LP’s on record fairs and often doubted If I should buy it. After hearing this beautiful new work In time I feel a bit stupid that I didn’t buy all his albums I ever came across. This new album is a warm piece of music with good song writing and ditto music. O’Keefe has a warm voice and he works with highly professional musicians. Together they find the right balance to make this an absolute top album.
JD Souther "If the world was you"
Slowcurve records; 2009
JD Souther is probably best known as one of the Souther, Hillman, Furey trio member, but also as a solo artist he had great success. He released four critically acclaimed LP’s between 1972 and 1984 and stopped recording after the last album to focus on the song writing part. Again with great success, artists such as Brian Wilson, Joe Cocker, Roy Orbison and The eagles, just to name a few. With If the world was you he returns, with his first solo album since 1984, as singer-songwriter. And how! Backed by horns, bass, piano and drums, Souther makes a golden return. Fantastic vocals in an acoustic jazzy style of songs. Superb sound quality and a singer that sounds deeply inspired. This is music that comes from deep within, from probably one of the best songwriters of the USA. Check those Horns and soft guitar in I’ll be here at closing time which has everything to become a world wide hit. Just love the brass sound in his songs, or the way he plays with melodies and styles like in House of pride one of my favourite songs on the album. In my arms tonight, Rain, The border guard it doesn’t matter which songs I take. Sometimes some Latin sounds, sometimes wild, sometimes sensitive and gentle, but always timeless and of seldom heard purity.
Missy Raines & The New Hip "Inside Out"
7 4498 2; 2009
Miss Raines is by now a known name in Bluegrass music. She is a bassist and vocalist she plays together with the band ‘The new hip’, which exists out of Michael Witcher on guitars and vocals, Dillon Hodges on guitars and Ethan Ballinger on mandolin and mandola. Together with a bunch of guest musicians, the band reinvents Bluegrass music in a refreshing way. The opening track Inside out is a positive instrumental piece with a good touch of jazz mixed with some of the basic ingredients of Bluegrass. Nice is also the song Basket of singing birds in which Raines shows her nice voice for the first time on this album. On Magnolia they show their more introvert side. It sounds a bit like such a warm jazz-classic sung in the late night by a bluegrass band, very nice! Another highlight is Ides of March which is a delicate composition with the full rich sound of the several strings this band plays. Inside out is a beautiful album that has a strong sound and an own identity. Miss Raines and the New hip surprises me with this warm album.
Stompin Tom "The Ballad of Stompin Tom"
EMI; 5-0999242779-2-1; 2008
Chris Laterzo & Buffalo Robe "Juniper and Piňon"
Xampa records; 03892-3; 2009
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver "Lonely street"
Kelly Carmichael "Queen Fareena"
Richard Dobson "From a Distant Shore"
Legendary Canadian musician Stompin Tom has been in the recording business for over 40 years now. He has released an uncountable amount of albums and this latest one contains not only new songs but also three re-recordings of Stompin Tom classical songs such as The Olympic song and My hockey mom. Together with a group of guest musicians he sings his country-style songs with his entire hearth. It are songs as sweet as sugar which either bring you in a good mood or bring you in a totally opposite mood. It’s pure and honest music but not my cup of tea. Seem the fact that is a personal opinion, you should check his webpage to check if it is the style that fits you. Much and much better is the new CD of Los Angeles based singer-songwriter Chris Laterzo. Twelve years after his debut album, Juniper is his fourth solo album. Eleven (mostly) original songs sung and played by Laterzo and his band. The CD starts with a Neil Young style song called Hacienda. Strong opener, good sound quality and Laterzo shows his quality as a great singer. He mixes country, blues and folk with a nice (alternative) rock sound. The album is well produced and I cant detect any weak spots at all. From only the singer and his guitar in a song like Peculiar fate to the rich sound of his band in songs like Misfit child. Laterzo shows his quality as a crossover musician and a very talented singer-songwriter. Thirty two years after his debut solo album, forty years of music and Doyle Lawson publishes his latest album Lonely street with the band Quicksilver on the Rounder label. Lawson has a strong reputation in the /bluegrass style music with many influences from Gospel and country music. This new album contains some nice acoustic music in which the bluegrass style probably is most recognisable. Lawson is such a musician that has such a strong reputation that there is no need to proof anything. He can just do what he is best in, making accessible music for a wide audience. Easygoing and friendly to the ears. Next is Kelly Carmichael who, after a career in hard rock music, now published his second solo album with country-blues, Queen Fareena. Eleven acoustic country-blues song with a slight alternative sound. Carmichael keeps his music in the traditional style, this album could easily have been recorded forty years ago, which gives it a nice kind of timeless sound. Great horns in She’s funny that way, Cincinnati flow rag and many of the other songs. This is the sunny side of country-blues. Uncomplicated and like a nice warm summer. Richard Dobson is a singer-songwriter from Texas, who now lives in Switzerland. Inspired by artists such as Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, he recorded his first solo album in 1977 and an impressive discography follows. Dobson writes music that is deeply rooted in the country tradition but has some blues and contemporary influences as well. This From a distance shore is one of his most relaxed albums. Easy going country(rock) songs, a solid band and a singer who loves what he is doing and does it the way he likes it. Nice warm vocals sing uncomplicated lyrics, Dobson sings and writes for a wide audience. He keeps his music open minded and accessible. Very friendly!
© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 07/2009
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