FolkWorld #55 11/2014

CD & DVD Reviews

Mary Ann Casale "Running out of time"
Own label 2013

After a 30 year break, this American singer songwriter has gone back to the recording studio. Mary Ann Casale's fine voice works very well with her music style blending American folk, Blues and Jazz. She sings solely her own material, well written and composed, and presented primarily with her own guitar playing. Welcome back to the circuit!
© Michael Moll

Aryeh Frankfurter "The morning dew – Celtic Harp"
ARC, 2014

With its ghastly New Age cover design – a harp at dawn between standing stones – my expectations of this album were low. Yet thankfully no synthesizer or echo effect are to be heard – it is pure Celtic harp music, complemented by acoustic instruments such as cello, violin and flute. The American harp player not only plays on this album the harp, but also all accompanying instruments. A soothing album of mostly traditional Irish harp tunes.
© Michael Moll

Luka Bloom "Head & Heart"
Big Sky Records, 2014

A mature album of the well established Irish contemporary folk singer. The themes of the songs on "Head and Heart" are primarily love and loss. Two of the twelve songs are written by Luka himself, the others are refreshing new interpretations of classic songs from other songwriters, including Bob Dylan, John Martyn and Ewen MacColl. Some of the songs may normally have a reputation of highly commercialised and cheesy easy listening - but Luka's rich singing pulls them off into something expressive and wonderful. In fact, one of the highlights of the album is Luka's gentle yet impressive version of the classic "Danny Boy". And I find that his singing reminds more and more of his brother, Christy Moore - particularly on the beautiful traditional "Banks of the Lee".
Luka's singing and guitar playing is joined on this album by a Jazz trio, the Phil Ware Trio, adding additional depth to the album. Another reminder that Luka remains one of the leading Irish folk singers.
© Michael Moll

Janet Dowd "Sailing Away"
Blue Cow Records, 2013

Other than being also from Ireland, this album has one other thing in common with Luka Bloom’s album reviewed above – it also features the evergreen “Danny Boy” – and Janet Dowd created her own no-nonsense version of this often too commercialised song.
The County Armagh singer sings on “Sailing Away” songs steeped in Irish folk, with country and Americana influences. The songs are calm, sung with Janet’s clear light voice. Some of them – the highlights of the album – are written by her, for example the song “Leaving the Blasket” about the final departure of the inhabitants of the Blasket islands to the mainland. The other songs are a mix of American, English and Irish folk songs from the likes of Richard Thompson, Robin & Linda Williams and Tim O Brien, John Smith or Chris While. Janet Dowds’ music is very popular in Ireland, and I can understand why.
© Michael Moll

Tummel "Klezmerised"
ARC Music, 2002/2014

This Swedish-Danish Klezmer band dresses Klezmer into something new and refreshing. This is a re-release of their very first album, from 12 years ago. It features Tummel’s own compositions of Klezmer music, with Eastern European and Jazz influences. The musical arrangements are striking and exciting, and may feature, beyond the essential clarinet, also sax, drums, tuba, electric guitar, accordion or flute. A joy to listen to this old jewel again.
© Michael Moll

Les Chercheur d’Or "Les Chercheur d’Or"
Disque Nomade 2013

This is the second album of French-Canadian band Les Chercheur d’Or around singer Isabeau Valois. The music is steeped in American and Canadian roots – with a good dose of folk, country and bluegrass. All songs are in French, composed by or put from English to French by band member Francois Gagnon. Music with energy and spirit – just a shame that there is only just over 30 mins of it…
© Michael Moll

Jake Walton "Silver Muse"
Celtic Monkey, 2013

Only a few weeks ago I listened again, for the first time in years, to a sampler of the German Irish Folk Festival Tour 1991 – featuring amongst others the Cornish singer Jake Walton. I was musing that I had not really heard of him ever since – and just a week later I find in the post an album from Jake Walton!
On “Silver Muse”, Jake revisisted and rerecorded some of his favourite songs of his 40-odd year long career, along with a few newer ones. The album presents the distinctive sound of the Jake Walton I had just redisovered on that festival sampler – and this is full of beauty.
Jake's style is unique – the sound is incomparably poetic, harmonic and dreamy. No matter if it is his own compositions, traditionals, or adaptations of classic poems – Jake puts his unique mark on them. Joined by his old-time duo partner Eric Liorzou, the music to these poetic songs is based on guitar, dulcimer, hurdy gurdy and mandola – with a host of other musical guests.
An enchanting album, well worth to be discovered or re-discovered.
© Michael Moll

Kennedy's Kitchen "The birds upon the trees"

It's a hearty Irish folk stew that is brewing in Kennedy's Kitchen – and there are yummy traditional Irish smells coming from the kitchen, with sounds of flutes, whistles, bodhran, guitar, fiddle, mandolin. The tunes are played with energy, passion and sometimes with a good dose of speed. Blended in are four songs, including a mature and very relaxed version of the title track of the CD “The birds upon the trees”. Good quality Irish trad made in the US.
© Michael Moll

Francesca Incudine "Iettavuci"
Finisterre (distributed by Felmay), 2013

The debut album of this young Sicilian singer, songwriter and percussionist is certainly different to a lot of folk recordings we have reviewed from Sicily – it does not have the raw energy and delirious nature, dominated by tambourines and powerful often shrill singing that seems typical for music from the Southern Italian island.
This album is, all in all, a very gentle album, built around the warm pleasant voice of the singer. Several songs have the warming, comforting and calming qualities of a perfectly presented lullaby (and one song does actually start with some baby gurgling so it may well be a lullaby). These gentle songs successfully blend folk, classical and pop – mostly featuring piano, string quartet, accordion and/or guitar. Mixed in are a few more energetic songs closer to Sicilian traditions, featuring also more prominently percussion, clarinet and Sicilian bagpipes. Most of the material is written by the young lady.
A strong debut with music coming from the heart.
© Michael Moll

Trolska Polska "{moss}"
Go Danish Folk Music, 2014

Artist Video

This is a Danish tribute band to the trolls – those mysterious creatures that live in the Scandinavian forests – and it might be the first and only troll tribute band in the world! Now, the trolls' influence is obvious on the album, most notably from the wild unharmonic singing/shouting/shanting of the “trolls” in some of the songs. So it is only fair to say that the album is not a work of beauty as such – but boy these trolls show with their music that they can party: Mesmerising energetic tunes, featuing fiddle, mandolin, flutes, bagpipes, cello, percussion that will get any listeners' foot tapping – if not even pulled by the troll magic onto the floor to dance. I did notice that there is also a sweet female voice to hear on the album which does not sound like a troll – has an elve infiltrated the trolls?
© Michael Moll

Coope, Simpson, Fraser & Freya "Hark Hark"
No Masters, 2014

FolkWorld Xmas

If you want to buy one Christmas album this year, this one is an excellent choice indeed. “Hark hark” is an album full of harmony and Christmas spirit, yet at times with a sparkly twinkle in the eye. As you would expect of these exceptional singers, superb harmony singing can be found aplenty on the album – some a capella, others with tasteful music arrangements on piano, harmonium, sax, clarinet, whistle, fiddle, melodeon. Trad folk is at the heart of the music, yet it is venturing into music hall, barbershop or pop. A mix of trad, contemporary and self penned songs, the topics range from traditional shepherds via a song about the Christmas truce of 1914 to ironic songs about e.g. the commercialisation of Christmas or a 50KW Christmas tree. Yet there is the seasonal spirit throughout the album. An excellent album.
© Michael Moll

Songs for the Voiceless "Songs for the Voiceless"
Haystack Records 2014

Artist Video

The World War I Centary is soon coming to an end, and, to mark Remembrance Sunday, another impressive English folk album has been released, commemorating the individuals who gave so much during the Great War.
Songs for the voiceless brings together some of the leading lights of the new English folk scene: Bella Hardy, Josienne Clarke, The Young’Uns, Katriona GIlmare, Jamie Roberts, Ian Stephenson, Tom Oakes and the brainchild of the project Michael J Tinker. The songs, and the two tunes, are written by the musicians, and tell stories of individuals during the War – be it about women’s involvement, a headteacher deciding to serve, a very touching song about a gardener of Heligan and his final thoughts of his wife and daughter while dying at the front, a song based on an interview with a survivor, or one telling “true tales to raise a titter in the trenches” with some Tommy slang thrown in. Poignant songs, touching stories and lyrics, effective musical arrangements – this is a powerful album that will touch the listeners’ hearts.
All proceeds from this album go to the Poppy Appeal.
© Michael Moll

Deborah Henriksson "Traces"
Own label, 2014

Deborah Henriksson, New Jersey born and now based in Sweden, is singer and songwriter of all the songs on this album (all in English language), with Mars Nyman being responsible for the music (both composing and playing). The songs are all gentle and calm, showcasing Deborah’s pretty voice. The songs are mostly a blend of folk, easy listening and pop, yet the good arrangements rescue them from being shallow. I particularly enjoyed the uilleann pipe and piano contributions on some of the songs.
© Michael Moll

Allan Yn Y Fan "Cool, Calm and Collected"
Steam Pie, 2013 (2003-2012)

An album that charts the history of this jewel of Welsh folk. Featuring tracks from the five albums previously released by Allan Yny Fan between 2003 and now, “Cool Calm & Collected” showcases the band at its best: Lively acoustic tunes, some traditional but many composed by band members, alongside a few songs presented in more of a classical style. All of this sounds unmistakenly Welsh. Beautiful and entertaining.
© Michael Moll

The Albion Christmas Band "One for the Road – live in concert"
Rooksmere Records 2014

FolkWorld Xmas

Artist Video

Created 15 years ago following special seasonal shows of the last incarnation of the Albion Band, the Albion Christmas Band, as the name suggest, has specialised on performing seasonal songs on seasonal tours. This album is a live recording of last year’s tour. Featuring Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Kellie While and Simon Care (Edward II) (as well as the audience singing along), the album has a classic Albion feel to it. The titles are a mix of contemporary and traditional songs and (mostly morris) tunes – they are seasonal songs of Christmas and midwinter traditions, but there are only a few of the well known carols included. Alongside the songs and tunes, it being a live recording, there is some clapping after the tunes, two songs have introductions, and there are two readings – one of which “How the internet started” feels out of place on this album (and I did not find it particularly funny either).
Overall, I have to say that I did not really get from this album into a seasonal spirit until the last couple of songs of the album – a medley of “Sweet Chiming Bells”, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “The First Nowell” and the traditional “Seven Joys of Mary”. Albion fans will, I am certain, not be disappointed.
© Michael Moll

Aquabella "Ayadooeh"
Jaro, 2014

Artist Video

An impressive all female a capella quartet from Germany, singing world music songs in a wide variety of languages from around the world. For their latest album, Aquabella have selected some of the best known hits of the folk and world music scene, and gave them their amazing and enchanting a capella treatment(there is just some percussion in addition to the voice on a few songs). The range of songs includes “Mas que Nada” from Brazil, a Sari Kaasinen hit from Finland, “Hijo de la Luna”, the South African “Pata Pata”, as well as songs in Japanese, German, Irish, Bulgarian, Arabic and more. The a capella versions of these well known songs stay true to the originals.
This is a most impressive world music sampler – and compared to the “normal” world music sampler with various artists, this one has a wonderful consistency to it.
© Michael Moll

Rebecca Lappa "Ode to Tennyson"
Lappa Music, 2014

Only 17 years old, this young Canadian singer/songwriter presents here already her fourth album, with a high level of maturity showing both talent and the development of her own style. On this album, she sings primarily songs inspired by the famous 19th century English poet Lord Tennyson. The songs sit somewhere between folk and pop, with a slight Celtic perspective, and I found them pleasantly reminiscent of the early works of Katie Melua. The musical arrangements feature guitars and occasional accordion, violin, piano or drums. With that beautiful voice and writing talent she will no doubt make waves, in her homeland and beyond.
© Michael Moll

Kylie Carey "North Star"
Americelta Records; 2014

This young American singer successfully blends Americana and Scottish music traditions. On “North Star”, she presents self penned songs, with the exception of two lovely Gaelic songs and Kate Wolff’s “Across the great divide”. Her reputation in the folk scene is obvious from the range of talent that she attracted to produce this album – produced by Solas star Seamus Egan, there is a long list of guest musicians, including the likes of Shetland fiddler Chris Stout and cellist Natalie Haas. Despite this lot of talent, Kyle’s singing always remains at the hear of the album.
© Michael Moll

Nell Robinson "The Rose of No-Man’s Land"
Compass Records, 2014

This album by American folk singer Nell Robinson presents an American musical perspective to his family’s history of serving for the country in wars. Published in the year of the WW1 centenary, the album covers a wide range of wars over the last 250 years. Traditional and contemporary songs, interspersed with five short and poignant extracts of family letters / journals, tell the story of the sorrows and losses that come with war, yet also the patriotism and glory that leads people to serve for their country. Blending country music with Celtic folk influences, Nell Robinson managed to join an impressive range of guest musicians around him, including Kris Kristofferson, John Doe and the legendary Ramblin Jack Elliot.
© Michael Moll

Jaerv "Vol. 2"
Own label; 2014

This Swedish quintet presents traditional Swedish and self-composed music to greatest effect. There are strong and distinctive features in most tracks, including the enchanting full sound of the nyckelharpa, jazzy inputs on sax, wild tunes on fiddle and flute, and some brilliant harmony singing – backed by guitars and drums. My highlights on the album are the songs, boasting not only excellent vocals and harmonies, but also the best musical arrangements on this generally classy album.
© Michael Moll

Lynched "Cold Old Fire"
Own label; 2014

Artist Video

This album ended up for a while at the bottom of the review pile, as I felt the unappealing sleeve design too unpromising – a minimalist cardboard CD box with gothic / psychedelic design. But – to my pleasant surprise – the music on this album is indeed appealing.
On this album, the five piece Irish band has focussed on ballads, serious ones as well as drinking and semi-nonsense songs, from Irish traditions in English language. The influence of trad Irish singer Frank Harte is obvious in many songs. There’s some great harmony singing, with pleasant instrumentation (fiddle, banjo, concertina, uilleann pipes, guitar, snare drum and more), with a choice of material that is lesser known in the folk scene. And the psychedelic folk punk history of the band is, bar the cover design, completely forgotten on this album…
© Michael Moll

Celtica "Legends and Visions"
Own label; 2014

Artist Video

Celtica is, in one sentence, melodic hard rock with a combination of electric guitars and highland pipes. We know at least since Wolfstone what a powerful blend electric guitars and pipes can be (but as we have seen from Saor Patrol, reviewed in this issue, this combination might not always be a melodic success).
Despite the live photo in the album suggesting that the live experience might be a bit gimmicky, the CD proves that Celtica have pulled it off to create an attractive and quite mesmerising blend of music. On “Legends and visions” the band presents primarily their own material, added by pipe versions of “Whisky in the Jar”, a blend of U2 hits and “Don’t Stop Believin’”. The music is largely instrumental, with the pipes being the central melodic element, yet some numbers feature some chanting which tends to be more in the background of the music. Recorded as a truly global project, the pipes were recorded in Edinburgh, the drums and guitars in Vienna, Bass in Phoenix (US), and vocals partly in the UC, partly in Edinburgh. I would probably prefer to listen to one or two tunes at a time rather than a full CD – but once listening to the album I do find it difficult to stop!
© Michael Moll

Gargamas "Musique traditionelle du Perigord et du Limousin"
AEPEM, 2014

The picture on the CD sleeve, of the back of a naked man having a wee, may be a bit odd and by some perceived as rude – yet the music inside the sleeve is to be recommended. The album presents simple yet effective traditional French folk from the music traditions of the Perigord and Limousin regions in central France. Gargamas are the duo of Gilles de Becdelievre on accordion and vocals and Antonin Duval on violin and feet percussion. There are a few guest musicians on the album, but really this is all about these two musicians presenting an interesting album. It’s mostly songs they perform, many in local dialects, a few in mainstream French, with a few dance tunes thrown in. The album has an elegance and pleasant swing throughout. Only 40 mins, yet of very good quality.
© Michael Moll

Feidman & Gitanes Blondes "Back to the Roots"
Pianissimo Musik, 2014

Giora Feidman is probably the best known clarinetist in the world. On his latest album, he has tried to capture the energy and experience of a live concert. On his trip back to the roots, he expresses the music that he has learnt from his father, who played with Klezmers and Gipsies when he was a child. The clarinet is in the centre of the album throughout, and while Klezmer is at the core, there are influences from southern america, south eastern Europe, tango. The album has been played in with his group Gitanes Blondes (featuring violin, accordion, guitar, double bass). The quality of the music is as high as it can get, yet I have found the CD a bit intense.
© Michael Moll

Kouglof "Maistjarnen"
Brambus, 2014

Jiddish and Klezmer music are also one of the elements of Kouglof's musical universe, but it is much wider than that - Kouglof's world music takes us to all sorts of musical traditions, particularly to Eastern Europe, but also to Iceland or Southern Italy. The music has an intoxicating flow and energy, with all instruments having an equal prominence: Cello, clarinet, guitar, percussion, bass. Gentle romantic tunes gently float alongside wild dances and melancholic music - this is imaginative world music full of variation.
© Michael Moll

Johnny Coppin "Borderland"
Red Sky Records, 2014

"One of our most underrated folk artists" is how the Living Tradition described Johnny Coppin - and indeed this is the first time I have heard music from this artist, and I am pretty impressed. The singer/songwriter from Gloucestershire in South West England has a very fine voice indeed, as well as a hand in choosing good songs. The album features a mix of self-penned and contemporary songs, a lot of it is gentle, romantic, full of beauty. As many other English folk singers, Johnny also pays tribute to the WW1 centenary in three songs. Guest musicians on this album providing subtle beautiful backing include the wonderful accordionist Karen Tweed, Paul Burgess on violin and recorders and Mike Silver on guitar. Excellent.
© Michael Moll

Ulli Bögershausen "Summer and Fall – Tunes from a Lifetime"
Laika Records, 2014

Ulli Bögershausen is one of Germany's foremost folk guitarists. On his latest album, he presents top class solo guitar music. The album features his own compositions as well as instrumental versions of well known pop songs, from the likes of Bob Dylan, Jon Bon Jovi, Lennon/McCartney or Tanita Tikaram. A beautiful album for day dreaming...
© Michael Moll

Ulli Boegershausen "Spring Summer and Fall"
Laika Records, 2014

This record is subtitled ‘Tunes from a Lifetime’ the wide range of cover songs selected—from Bob Dylan to Seal. Over half of the songs are original and it is quite a mix of songs. Yet all are instrumental versions played on acoustic guitar with relish and style by this fine guitarist. He has two guitars going much of the time and there may be some finger style in there, but the striking plectrum sound is apparent much of the time. This is fine guitar work and the interpretations are clean and well though out.
© David Hintz

Ian Anderson "Homo Erraticus"
Kscope (Edel), 2014

Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson seems to be on another wave of prolific writing and creativity. Following 2012's epic follow-up 'Thick as a Brick 2', he has continued with a theme oriented song cycle. He has brought back the fictional Gerald Bostock to 'write the lyrics' which cover the rather large cradle to the grave theme of humanity working across these fifteen songs. The music matches the breadth of these themes as not only will fans make many connections to previous Jethro Tull sounds, there are other classical and world elements embedded in the arrangements. There are the heavy moments in 'The Turnpike Inn' and the folkier elements of 'Puer Ferox Adventus'. Is this his best since 'Roots to Branches' (which I felt was brilliant)? It is hard to say as there have been a string of fine albums in between. Suffice it to say, that long-time Jethro Tull fans have little reason to be disappointed with the choices Ian Anderson is making in his songwriting and the execution of these fine albums in the 21st Century.

Songs to try first:
© David Hintz

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