FolkWorld #59 03/2016

CD & DVD Reviews

Orquesta Céltica Asturiana "Contra Viento y Marea"
Own label, 2015

Artist Video

“Against the Wind and the Tide”, this is the first album of a group of talented & experienced musicians from Asturias (N-Spain), who years ago were part of the remarkable folk band Gueta Na Fonte.[32][38] That group has now evolved into a Celtic music orchestra whose conductor is the veteran cello performer Mento Hevia. In a past issue of FolkWorld we reviewed the background history and the style of another folk orchestra: SonDeSeu (from Galicia, NW-Spain), which was mainly divided by sections of traditional music instruments (gaita bagpipes, zanfonas/hurdy-gurdies, Galician traverse flutes, Celtic harps, tambourines,…), and all together played with a sound of unquestionable Galician roots.[35] In this case of the Asturian Celtic Orchestra, their characteristic sound relies mostly on the classical string instruments: violin, viola, cello, double bass. This becomes evident in the jigs ‘Muñeiras de Tormaleo y Boal’, two dance tunes traditionally played by the Asturian gaiterus (bagpipers). However, in this this CD these two songs are only performed by the already mentioned viols section. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the traditional gaitas or the zanfonas are not audible in ‘Contra Viento y Marea’. The Asturian bagpipes become clearly relevant in powerful tunes such as: ‘El Poder de las Gaitas’ (a wedding march originally performed by Gueta Na Fonte), ‘Corro de Xanas’, ‘Boda en Navia’ (even incorporating Irish uileann pipes towards the end of the song), and ‘Muñeira del Arco Atlántico’. The album starts with a march written by William Marshall in 1775, and the tune ‘Ahora es Siempre’ is based on the Irish song ‘Has Sorrow Your Young Days Shaded’ (Henry Carsten, 19th century). Five songs are traditional dances from Asturias, the before mentioned muñeiras plus: ‘Al Pasar el Charco (Pasodoble de Antón)’. ‘Jotas de Leitariegos y Cangas del Narcea’, ‘Muñeiras de Antón y de Rengos’, and ‘Danza Prima en El Parche’. This orchestra evolves on a skillful and finely measured balance between the Asturian tradition and the Irish or Scottish melodic & instrumental resources. On top of the presence of the fiddles, cellos and pipes there are also harps, folk guitars, traverse flutes, whistles, Irish bouzouki, accordion,…, all of them placing the personality of the band on multicultural grounds that could be labelled as ‘successfully Celtic’. This gets reassured on the six final tunes in the CD, which are composed by the Orchestra and some of them even belong to the repertoire of the band Gueta Na Fonte. Such is the case of the last one `La Fuente Celta’ (The Celtic Fountain), an orchestral piece originally performed by Gueta Na Fonte since 2005. In this album such song combines the voice of Vanessa del Riego with the strings & winds sections, harmoniously landscaping a melodic forest of mythological atmosphere and epical reminiscences.
© Pío Fernández

Aislinn Gagliardi "The Thin Place"
Own Label, 2015

A young harpist from Chicago, playing a nylon-strung neo-Irish harp, Ms Gagliardi splits her debut CD into about two thirds Irish dance music and one third slower pieces. Both parts are highly entertaining, and young Aislinn's technique is certainly up to tackling reels and jigs as well as hornpipes and slow airs. In fact, to my ear the faster pieces are more confidently played. The expression and steady relaxed pace needed for slow airs takes time to acquire, and first album nerves can easily interfere. Not that Aislinn is a novice performer - and nor are her Chicago-based friends Teresa Shine (fiddle), John Williams (concertina) and the incomparable Liz Carroll.
As well as a wide range of music from the Irish tradition, Aislinn performs four of her own compositions. The title track is an air evoking the boundary between our world and the faery realm, the mundane and the magical, and resonates with ancient harp music as much as with modern Irish melodies. Trekkies may detect a musical reference to DS9. The Other Gate is a light jig which leads naturally into the following reel, again on the theme of a portal to a different reality. The air Teresaa takes its inspiration from Scandinavia, and has some of the formal stately character of many Swedish tunes. The final Crickets leans towards American oldtime with its simple melody and syncopated rhythm, a really fun tune to finish with. In her own music, and in her arrangements of other pieces, Aislinn's powerful rhythmic style accentuates the longer strings of the harp to bring these pieces to life.
There 's a fine choice of tunes on The Thin Place. Brendan Ring's Lisnagun Jig is definitely in the running for most recorded composition by a Frenchman in 2015, and Ms Gagliardi's version is a good one. She's chosen one or two lovely Paddy Fahy pieces too, as well as several traditional favourites. James Hill's The Stage is a surprise, a great hornpipe but rarely played in Ireland. Dan the Cobbler is a popular tune in Scotland but I never heard it in an Irish session - until last weekend in Birmingham actually. Jigs, reels, polkas and airs follow each other sweetly from a very promising player whose roots are one third Italian, one third German and two thirds Irish. Aislinn Gagliardi more than lives up to this huge heritage.
© Alex Monaghan

Dylan Foley & Dan Gurney "Irish Music from the Hudson Valley"
Own Label , 2015

Brilliant young Irish musicians are popping up all over the world these days. This pair hail from the Catskills in upstate New York, somewhere between Prattsville and Kerhonkson. They cut their musical teeth on local contra bands before getting into the Irish festival scene and urban session music of New York and Boston. As the front men of NY-based quartet The Yanks, Foley and Gurney have made a bit of a name for themselves with a couple of CDs and a few tours. The duo decided to produce a slightly more relaxed album, honouring the repertoire and style of Catskill residents Charlie Coen and Mike McHale who both left Ireland in the fifties before they lifted the speed limit on jigs and reels. What's more, the two lads decided to record this album in Ireland, and rounded up veteran accompanists Alec Finn and Brian McGrath to complete their sound with bouzouki and piano. Finn of course is no stranger to Irish music of all types and tempos, and McGrath can draw on vintage experience with At The Racket amongst other groups, so it's no surprise that this combination of two generations is an unalloyed pleasure.
Reel sets seem to come in twos on this album, so there are twice as many reels as anything else, and most of them are classics. The Dawn, The Yellow Tinker, The Flags of Dublin and The Four Courts: The Bag of Spuds, The Fair Haired Boy, The Musical Priest and The Limestone Rock fall from these nimble fingers like spring rain on a meadow, soft and welcome. The pair of reels known as Father Kelly's are given their proper names here, and delivered with a gentle swagger which brings out the best in melodies and musicians alike. There's humour too, and enough variation to enliven the old routine of three times through. Box and fiddle work in tandem the whole time, with excellent rhythm from the piano and delicate bouzouki filling out the sound. There are a few surprises - The Keys to the Convent, usually jealously guarded, and the lovely Miss Thornton's for example. With a handful of hornpipes and marches scattered among the reels and jigs, Foley and Gurney keep the pot simmering from start to finish, never letting it go off the boil, without building up a dangerous head of steam. Even the final pair of Paddy O'Brien jigs is taken at a steady pace: The New House and Dinny O'Brien's, gentle giants both, a fitting end to a fine album. There are good notes on the players and tunes too, with the CD and online.
© Alex Monaghan

Lydom, Bugge & Høirup "Gangspil"
GO Danish Folk Music, 2015

Artist Video

Three of Denmark's best musicians team up to present a relatively unvarnished set of traditional tunes, chosen mainly for their fine melodies. Kristian Bugge's fiddle and Sonich Lydom's free reeds flicker through waltzes, reels, hopsas and more, backed by Morten Alfred Høirup who plays guitar and breaks up the tunes with a couple of old songs.
Gangspil was recorded as if live - a single take, no overdubbing - so although Lydom plays both harmonica and button accordion he can't do both at once. The alternation of these similar yet separate sounds helps to give Gangspil a distinctive character, Danish but different. Kontra Fire has the spirit of a Quebec jig, while Rigel is more akin to an Irish reel. If Lyngberg Hopsa isn't played in Sliabh Luachra, they certainly have something very similar. The second Firmandsriil here comes close to the Scottish tradition. Other tunes are pretty much as labelled: Fransk Morgenstjerne, Polonaese, Dwight Lamb's. This is a broad view of the Danish tradition, full of interesting twists and turns, perfectly played and thoroughly enjoyable.
© Alex Monaghan

Paul Smyth "Paul Smyth"
Own label, 2015

German CD Review

A fine fluter from the extended Smyth family, Paul follows his debut recording Up and Away after a decade or so of playing locally around Ballina. He's accompanied here by some great musicians - Ged Foley, Tommy Hayes, Dave Flynn and Mary Corry - but it's a compliment to these accompanists that what comes across on most of this CD is pure solo flute. Paul's style tends towards the breathy rhythmic tradition of playing for dancing - listen to his versions of Johnny Henry's or The Mullingar Lea - but he also masters a more rounded and resonant tone on the single jigs Tommy Gaffey's and Jack Coen's. Single jigs aren't the only oddity here: Smyth includes two set dances, The Blackbird and Down the Hill, as well as two sets of hornpipes and two slow airs, leaving space for only four tracks of reels and two more jig sets. The faster pieces are worth waiting for, though: a nice touch on Peadar Ó Ríada's jig Spóirt, and a driving combination of Farewell to Ireland with The House of Hamill. This album ends with Smyth's version of The Cliff Hornpipe, a James Hill composition, and a trio of great reels ending with The Cloone. Paul's old website seems to have disappeared, but he can be contacted by email: paulsmythmusic at gmail!
© Alex Monaghan

The Rheingans Sisters "Already Home"
RootBeats Records, 2015

Artist Video

French and Swedish music, plus some of their own, played and sung by English fiddlers Anna and Rowan Rheingans: this is the sisters' second CD, and it's a fairly polished piece of work. There are a few guest appearances, but Already Home is mostly just the duo. Bourrées and polskas, an English 3/2 hornpipe and a new mazurka, the dance music is played with raw fiddle tones and rich harmonies. Fiddling and singing, separately and together, are light and gentle with none of the darkness of either English or Scandinavian traditions. The songs in Swedish and French are deliverd with convincing accents, but the Rheingans' own songs are written in English.
There's not quite enough energy in this music for dancing, and the songs aren't the sort you can easily join in with, so Already Home is for listening. Its slightly dreamy quality lends itself to lazy afternoons, perhaps with only one ear on the music. Songs such as Mackerel, Cuckoo and Keep The Whole Thing Turning evoke a mood rather than telling a story or teaching a lesson. Already Home maintains that mood across three traditions and several centuries, pulling disparate parts of Europe together musically. Rowan and Anna have lived in France, Sweden and England, and their ability to make this music into a coherent whole is a tribute to their skill and a further example of the common ground between different cultures.
© Alex Monaghan

Shona Mooney "Sensing the Park"
Own Label, 2015

A second CD from this border fiddler, and a very different one from her debut Heartsease which was mainly drawn from the Scottish fiddle tradition: Sensing the Park was commissioned to evoke the Northumberland National Park, a large and diverse area with much of its own music, and the Northumbrian character is clear from the opening notes of the smallpipes. Most of this CD is newly composed, although there are snippets of older tunes and one entire track devoted to the music of Northumbrian piper and fiddler Archie Dagg.
Shona starts with a very popular aspect of the park, Red Squirrels of Hareshaw Linn, expressing both the tranquility of this rare animal's natural habitat and its struggle against the larger grey squirrel. The reds have been saved, for now, but other things have been lost, including the local livestock auctions which are commemorated by the dramatic Last Sheep Sale combining archive recordings with new music which evokes a range of emotions. Sadness, anger and nostalgia are the most obvious to me. A quite different emotion is stirred by the slow piece Cawfield's Dark Sky, a sort of wonder and awe at one of England's few unpolluted skies, a place where the beauty and splendour of the stars can still be appreciated on a clear night.
Sensing the Park is actually quite light on fiddle music. Shona is joined by piper Paul Knox, accordionist Amy Thatcher, and guitarists Andy Watt and David de la Haye to create an impressive big band sound on most tracks which probably draws the ear to the Northumbrian pipes more than any other single instrument. A. Dagg is only one of several places where the smallpipes shine here. The arrangements are rich without being ostentatious, and the style of this CD is broadly traditional. In fact, it put me in mind of the recordings of Jedburgh fiddler Tom Hughes and his band, but that's another story.
The final two tracks are a little different again. Black Adam is a grisly narrative of everyday feuding folk in the Cheviot Hills around the time of Mary Queen of Scots, when the borderlands between Scotland and England were even more lawless and savage than they are today: actor John Nichol relates the tale for a full eleven minutes, and the musical backdrop is almost ignored as he pulls us into his story of murder, revenge, slaps in the face and spoiled shortcake. Follow that! Well, Shona does so with the rousing Black Rory set, following a slighty dodgy distilling process with a smuggling trip to England and finally a well-earned dram or three of illicit whisky at the Slyme-Foot Inn by Alwinton in Coquetdale. There's lots more information in the sleevenotes, and an interactive map (which means you have to unfold it yourself), so whether you have an interest in the Northumberland National Park or just enjoy good music and stories, Sensing the Park has a great deal to offer.
© Alex Monaghan

Tom Hughes & Friends "Traditional Fiddle Music of the Scottish Borders"
Springthyme Records, 2015

Some of these recordings from the late 1970s were released on a previous Springthyme record in 1981 - and perhaps even on CD - but this is a much larger selection of Tom Hughes' music and also coincides with the publication of a book of his music by Taigh na Teud press. There are about fifty tunes on this CD, and more transcribed in the book, taken from field recordings of a seventy-year-old Tom Hughes and other border musicians. As well as many tunes now well known from both sides of the border, there are some here which are new to me, and some which were probably unique to Tom's repertoire. Although recorded towards the end of Tom Hughes' long musical career, the quality of the music is generally very good and this new release provides well over an hour of entertainment in addition to its interest as a historical document.
From the Northumberland favourite Redesdale Hornpipe to the highland strathspeys Lady Mary Ramsay and The Braes of Mar, it seems the repertoire of a border fiddler ranged far and wide. Playing at fairs and country dances, christenings and wakes and everything in between, Tom Hughes and his band clearly served up a broad menu of music and dances. Among the several waltzes here, each with its own character, are Spanish and Polish numbers for the popular dances of the time. There's a shortage of Irish melodies compared with modern repertoires - one set of jigs, and perhaps a Donegal mazurka - but it's a long way from the Teviot to the Shannon so it's perhaps no surprise to hear more Scots pipe tunes than Sliabh Luachra polkas. A number of very local melodies have not spread much beyond the borders yet: Banks of Kale Water, Lilliesleaf Polka, Redeside Hornpipe and a couple of others seem to have sprung and stayed among the border hills.
Tom Hughes is joined by fellow fiddlers Wattie Robson, Bob Hobkirk and Tom Scott, Jack Carruthers on tin whistle, guitarist Sid Cairns, and incomer Brian Miller on additional guitar. About half the CD is solo fiddle from Tom, with accompanied fiddle, duets and band numbers making up the rest. Like most border musicians at the time, Tom learnt by ear from family and friends, and he plays unusual versions of several tunes, with extra beats or missing bars or unique phrasings which he either inherited or created. On the solo showpiece Huntsman's Chorus, Tom may well have played a different version every time, although only one is recorded here. It's fascinating to spot the slight differences in tunes like Morpeth Rant or Roxburgh Castle, and it's great to get reacquainted with grand Scottish jigs like Teviot Brig and The Rock and Wee Pickle Tow which have fallen out of fashion. The CD includes brief notes on Tom's family and musical history, but look out for the book too!
© Alex Monaghan

Dan Possumato & Friends "Mostly Melodeon"
Old Box Records, 2016

German CD Review

A compilation of the three previous Possumato albums, Mostly Melodeon is exactly that. The melodeon is a rare thing in Irish music nowadays, when everyone from Tyrone to Tasmania is playing chromatic button boxes, but this Pittsburgh native has stuck with one-row and two-row melodeons which force a rather different style of playing. Variety is the spice of life, and you soon get used to the slight jerkiness of Possumato's music, especially when it's leavened with legato fiddles and flutes. Dan is joined by some great musical friends on this recording, drawing on Irish connections such as Kevin Burke and Brian McGrath, and perhaps his Italian roots explain the contribution of Baltimore piper Eliot Grasso. On the Italian front, he has also released an audio book biography of his relative, the famous outlaw Giuseppe Musolino - but that's another story.
Possumato pours out an impressive array of tunes, some at a brisk canter but most at a more relaxed pace. The reels and jigs are largely familiar: Stenson's, The Haunted House, Trip to Hervé's, The Kerfunten, The Millstream, Rosemary Lane and Johnny "Watt" Henry's are good examples. There are also several fine traditional tributes to unmarried ladies. Tracks such as Da Eye Wifey, Breton An Dro and Valse du Chef de Gare testify to the eclectic nature of North American repertoires. I particularly enjoyed Land of Sunshine - a Martin Mulhaire composition - and Holly Geraghty's lovely tune Planxty Dermott Grogan which she recorded with Jonathan Roche on their delightful Ceolmhar CD a few years back. All are delivered in a warm, unpretentious manner - if they have front porches in Pittsburgh, that's where you'd expect to hear such music, rather than venues such as the Heinz Hall or the intriguing Manchester Craftsmen's Guild Concert Hall, both world famous in Pittsburgh. Isn't Google wonderful?
© Alex Monaghan

Líadan "In am Trátha"
Own Label, 2015

A third album from this pan-Irish all-female group, and judging from the CD number they're planning several thousand more. I'm not complaining - this is lovely music. A little genteel perhaps, I'd be even happier with a bit more bite and bravado on a few tracks: maybe next time. In am Trátha opens with a great set of polkas, and builds on those with a medley of a slide, a jig and a reel. Fish & Dolphin would benefit from a bit more emphasis on the offbeats, but otherwise this is fine Munster music. The instrumentals continue with reels of course, including compositions by fiddler Claire Dolan and fiddler Catherine Clohessy, plus the aptly named Beautiful Goldfinch Waltz, and a couple of fine jigs ending with the Scottish favourite Drummond Castle. Two fiddles, whistle, flute and accordion give great scope for variation in Líadan's sound.
In between the tunes are the songs, six of them. All the girls are credited with vocals, and the leads are shared between Valerie Casey, Síle Denvir and Elaine Cormican, while the others join in on the choruses or provide harmonies. The acapella Irish Girl contains a couple of surprising cadences, but the instrumental arrangements are spot on for the classic Child ballad Fair Annie and the Irish doggerel Muiris Ó Coinnleáin. The more serious subjects of Caisleán Uí Néill and Pota Mór Fataí are sung in strongly traditional style by Síle, with restrained atmospheric accompaniment on Deirdre Chalk's piano box. The final 1970s folk idiom song Sail Away to the Sea features Morrissey on percussion, part of a thoroughly modern interpretation which if they're not careful could see Líadan nominated as Ireland's entry in the next Eurovision. Perish the thought. Slightly more songs than tunes, and excellent in both departments, In am Trátha is a welcome return to album land after this charming group's six year absence.
© Alex Monaghan

Maggie Adamson & Brian Nicholson "Here 'n' Noo"
Own Label, 2015

Now in her early twenties, with at least four previous albums under her belt, Maggie Adamson deserves to be taken seriously as one of Shetland's most talented young fiddlers. She plays in the old style - not the really old style of forgotten fiddlers who garnered their music from the trows and the Norsemen and the long dark winter nights, but the old style of two generations ago, of Tom Anderson and Willie Johnson and Ronnie Cooper who could turn their hand to a Skinner strathspey or a swing waltz as easily as a Shetland reel. The same is true of guitarist Brian Nicholson, who has accompanied Maggie on all her solo albums for almost a decade now: a master of several styles, Brian makes his own mark on this music, with humour and understanding and great skill.
There are plenty of Shetland standards here, from the traditional Tilley Plump to the late great Willie Hunter's reel for Peerie Willie. The air Mrs Jamieson's Favourite has strong Shetland associations, as does Skinner's showpiece Madam Neruda, both recorded on the classic Silver Bow LP of Shetland fiddling. But Miss Adamson's music ranges far beyond her native shores: Murray River Jig by Canadian fiddler Graham Townsend, Hot Canary from the swing era by Paul Nero with some flash finger positions, Tom & Jerry and Orange Blossom Special from the North American fiddle competition circuit, and compositions closer to home by William Marshall and honorary highlander Mark Knopfler who sadly never met. It's nice to hear My Lily on a new CD, a beautifully simple waltz tastefully written by Joan MacDonald Boes, based on an old Gaelic song. Another pleasant surprise is Neil Gow's Coilsfield House, a formative memory of mine from Ossian's Sealsong LP.
In fact, Here 'n' Noo boasts a bewildering range of great music, all delicately arranged and powerfully played by this duo. A Ronnie Cooper two-step, a set of Willie Hunter reels, and great pieces by Phil Cunningham, Brendan Mulvihill, Dan R MacDonald and Peter Milne all spice up the brew. There's a handful of Maggie's own tunes too, all very distinctive, and a charming country waltz by Brian. The fiddle and guitar pairing works perfectly at every turn, and this hour of fine music passes very quickly.
© Alex Monaghan

Nick Hornbuckle "12x2 (+/-1)"
Corvus Records, 2015

Twelve by two (plus or minus one) - don't ask me what it means, but it's a slightly short album of old-time tunes played on a slightly short 5-string banjo by an accomplished bluegrass musician. All the other core instruments of bluegrass pop up on a few tracks too, with the exception of the guitar - no guitar here, why would you need one when you have a banjo? And what a banjo it is. Hornbuckle seems to favour a slack-strung instrument, where the notes are sometimes so low and sonorous that tuning becomes almost irrelevant. Bell's March, a variant on Old Joe Clarke, adds low grinding fiddle for a really earthy sound. The more upbeat Ninety Degrees is the only recent composition on this collection, and it shows off the slip-sliding notes of this Hawaiian banjo master.
Classics such as Cumberland Gap, Sail Away Ladies and Lost Girl are stripped back and presented unadorned. There's more arrangement to Virginia Reel or Yell in the Shoats (an adaptation of the Shetland reel Donald Blue). Too Young to Marry is related (by blood obviously) to the Bill Munro standard Fire on the Mountain, a hot little number. It's back to low and slow for Geese Honking, Julianne Johnson and Lost Girl before a slightly jerky Sally and the final chilling breakdown Cold Frosty Morning which also betrays European roots. If you're looking for cool banjo, this is it. If you're expecting to be dazzled, you can put the dark glasses away - but you will be entertained and perhaps enthralled by Nick Hornbuckle's music.
© Alex Monaghan

The Peter Wood Shetland Dance Band "Out of the Shadows"
Own Label , 2015

Artist Video

A classic Scottish dance band line-up with a Shetland twist, this 5-piece includes Brian Nicholson on guitar in place of a second accordion, alongside leader Peter Wood, fiddler Maggie Adanson, drummer Graham Jamieson, and bass guitarist Arthur Nicholson. Scottish standards such as Mrs MacPherson of Cluny, Roxburgh Castle, Davy Davy and Petronella are outnumbered by Peter Wood's own fine tunes, and by other Shetland favourites. The lift is good, the playing is great, and the tempo is usually perfect. Another nice touch is the suggestion of two dances for each track, a mix of common ceilidh dances and some more complex choices, catering for most levels of dancer.
As well as the jigs, reels, marches, waltzes, barn dances and two-steps for Scottish dancing, Out of the Shadows offers a Viennese waltz with characteristic Shetland swing, and a foxtrot to two punchy polkas. There's a couple of less well-known Ronnie Cooper reels, and a pair of Malcolm Scollay tunes in the final Black Mountain Reel set. Throw in the occasional Irish reel or jig, a Tyrolean polka and a Swedish waltz, and this collection covers pretty much everything you could need for a Scottish dance party. There's also a score or more of new tunes for most of us to learn, from the grand 6/8 march Geordie's Farewell to Sandwick School to the gentle Waltz for Karen. My only slight criticism is that the accordion is very dominant on most tracks, but that's not unusual in Scottish dance bands, and this band is certainly an outstanding example of the genre. Email for more information.
© Alex Monaghan

4Square "Fuel"
Transition Records, 2016

There's a pyromaniac theme to the album titles from this young Manchester quartet: previously Hearth & Home and now Fuel. 4Square's music is not particularly fiery, although it has its hot moments - it sits firmly in the category of contemporary folk, combining English, Irish, Scottish and other influences in a fairly funky and contemporary sound. The musicianship is excellent throughout this recording, whether on toe-tapping instrumentals or accompanying gentle vocals. You may not have heard of these guys before, but Fuel is actually the fourth studio recording from this young band, who have actually been together now for a decade, actually. To be fair, 4Square kept a fairly low profile until their third CD, but they are getting well-deserved attention these days. The combination of Nicola Lyons on fiddle and Michael Giverin on mandolin (replacing the banjo of James Meadows) gives a bit more of a bluegrass feel to many tracks over the creative backline of piano and percussion from Jim Molyneux and Dan Day.
The fire-raising thread is there in the opening instrumental Ignition too, a Day original which flickers and glows, more warming than burning. All four band members contribute tunes, making up five fine sets with the addition of Katriona Gilmore's provocatively-named reel Upper Badger's Bottom. The title track slows things a little, reminding me of those slomo scenes in Chariots of Fire, but the rest of the instrumentals keep the pace at a pleasing fast cruise. The vocals are improved since 4Square's last release, but still lag behind the tunes: as well as a rather rambling James Taylor song, there are three numbers by Molyneux and one by Day. Lyons sings a topical First World War song, perhaps with slightly too much of a happy ending for modern times. Day's Message from Cloud Nine is sweet and moving, probably the best of the five songs here. If Only smacks of too many nights spent in the woods with nothing to eat but mushrooms, while the Facebook ballad Digging Song is a great story well told. A couple of the vocal tracks are pegged to cracking tunes, including Brian Finnegan's Crooked Still Reel. 4Square finish with a satisfying high-octane instrumental, making a great job of some Spanish-style hand percussion as well as a strong piano line to turn their quartet sound into a Latin fiesta band. Fuel is a thoroughly enjoyable CD from a group on the rise.
© Alex Monaghan

Annbjørg Lien "Drifting Like a Bird"
Heilo, 2015

Starting from her position as Norway's most famous Hardanger fiddler, Ms Lien has covered a wide range of Scandinavian folk music on previous recordings. Her more recent albums have had a strong contemporary feel, and the most recent Khoom Loy incorporated Irish and Asian threads into a very eclectic mix. Drifting Like a Bird takes a step back towards home turf, still with Irish and American elements but predominantly Norwegian in character, inspired by the sea and the sailing traditions of that country.
Annbjørg's hallmark Hardanger fiddle and nyckelharpa appear on most tracks, combining with vocals and with a backing band which is capable of moods from hearthside session to heavy rock concert. There is only one fully instrumental track, the atmospheric Betty Mouat based on the true story of a 19th century Shetland knitter who set off to market and ended up drifting all the way to Norway. The Shetland connection is apparent again in the final Shetland Bus, a song about the support operation for the Norwegian resistance in the second world war. Annbjørg shares vocals with Cathy Jordan and Tori Wrånes who both sing in English and Norwegian. It must be the Eurovision influence. The title track could easily be Dervish in a more modern moment, and the flowing Golfstrømmen wanders from Norway to Latin America via the Caribbean. This is a wide-ranging CD, but it keeps coming back to familiar roots in Scandinavian and Celtic music. I enjoyed every track, and I think you might too.
© Alex Monaghan

Blackie O' Connell & Cyril O'Donoghue "Friars Green"
Own Label, 2015

Among the finest pipers and accompanists to come out of the Irish music heartland around Doolin, this pair have travelled far and wide with different musicians but their duet playing seems as natural as if they'd never left the shores and bars of their native West Clare. Whether on Cyril's three songs, or on the powerful piping instrumentals, O'Connell and O'Donoghue complement each other's music and produce a treat for the ears of any fan of the Irish tradition. Blackie pipes up a storm on jigs, reels, marches and a lovely Scottish slow air - he's on duty here, so he keeps pretty much to the speed limit, with clear crisp ornamentation and just a hint of the wildness lurking in his chanter. Cyril sticks to the slower songs, fine versions of Ron Kavana's Reconciliation and the late lamented Andy M Stewart's If I Never Spend a Morning Without You, plus a relaxed take on The Keg of Brandy with a great piping arrangement.
The instrumentals range from old old pieces such as The March of the King of Laois, a dramatic melody with earthy guitar backing, to a pair of fabulous new jigs from Maurice Lennon which are almost slides at Blackie's pace. The Doolin Piper was written for Blackie, and The Visiting Kittens may or may not be a reference to the exotic nightclub scene around the Burren. The title track takes its name from a tune by young Carlow piper Ciarán Byrne, followed by The London Jig which is ornamented like a Christmas tree in a sparkling display of piping virtuosity. Tunes learnt from Mickey Dunne, Paddy Keenan and Tommy Reck join classics such as The Old Pigeon on the Gate, The Rambling Pitchfork and Strike the Gay Harp. The mournful air Flowers of the Forest lends itself to regulator harmonies, deep and resonant, making other accompaniment unnecessary. Fingers fly on the final Corney is Coming, a grand old reel, and I'd say Blackie is just getting into his stride as this CD ends. Roll on volume two!
© Alex Monaghan

Joe Bonamassa "Muddy Wolf at Red Rocks" [DVD Video]
J&R Adventures LLC, 2015

Artist Video

Joe Bonamassa is a New England born Blues-rock singer and guitar player, he teamed up with a bunch of excellent musicians from Nashville and Los Angeles to give a concert at the drop-dead gorgeous Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado on August 31, 2014. The line-up included Reese Wynans on keyboards, Anton Fig on drums, Michael Rhodes on bass, Kirk Fletcher on guitar, Mike Henderson on Blues harp, Lee Thornburg on trumpet, Ron Dziubla on saxophone and Nick Lane on trombone.
He dedicated the 2 DVD Set to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and starts with some impressing pictures, “We went down to the Mississippi Delta”, he visits the land where they came from. Bonamassa in black and his mates with white jackets put some “Tiger in your tank” (W. Dixon) before the mouth harp joins in for “I can’t be satisfied” (McKinley Morganfield) and the guys alternatively play breath-taking solos. The setting is awesome and the audience has a fantastic view in addition to the finest Blues-rock music, the first standing ovation comes with “You shook me” (J.B. Lenoir/W. Dixon). The night slowly creeps in and Bonamassa starts with a guitar solo to bring forward another Muddy Waters song, “My home is on the Delta”, a slow Blues with minimum arrangement, terrific guitar work and powerful and passionate singing producing another standing ovation. But he also lets the stage for his mates, Fletcher gives a stunning guitar solo on “All aboard” (McKinley Morganfield), Rhodes and Wynans get their share too and Fig’s intoxicating drum pace is awesome.
A historic speech of Howlin’ Wolf explaining the Blues and a short film cut with his live performance of “How many more years” (Chester Burnett) starts the second set, then the guys are taking over the song, piano, mouth harp and guitar going wild. They end up by rocking the audience with Howlin’ Wolf’s “All night Boogie”, and soon come back for a series of original bonus tracks starting with “Oh beautiful” (J. Bonamassa/J. House), a heavy Blues-rock track showcasing brilliant guitar work, and finally playing the last song after 2 hours, the rocking "Ballad of John Henry” (J. Bonamassa).
This was the gig you never wanted to miss, I did and I envy each of those 9000 people who were part of it, cheers. The bonus DVD features some more impressions of Joe and producer Kevin Shirley’s excellent adventure to the Delta, interesting moments behind the scenes, some historic footage from Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and a beautiful gallery.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Krista Detor "Barely"
Tightrope Records, 2015

Artist Video

Bloomington, Indiana, based singer/songwriter Krista Detor (vocals, piano, accordion, organs, guitar) has released a new album with 10 original songs, produced by her partner David Weber (guitars, vocals) and featuring the additional vocals of Amanda Biggs, Mary Dillon and Moira Smiley.
David and Krista barely cover the beautiful crafted songs, Krista’s hauntingly beautiful singing shines through a transparent silk cape of music. On the old time Americana “Box of clouds” Krista sings a beautiful duet to the sound of the Country guitar with Los Angeles based singer Moira. The title song is a seducing piano ballad with Krista’s multi-tracked singing ending up as a hymn like aria and “From the pedestal” a cool bluesy song with piano and guitar showcasing Krista’s powerful Blues lament. Amanda, who also lives in Bloomington, joins in on “For all I know”, a romantic ballad and Mary took part at the Irish sessions, added as bonus tracks. She co-wrote “The coming winter” and mesmerizes with her brilliant co-singing, here meet two wonderful voices for a great showcase, accompanied by piano and Krista’s long time cellist Anne Hurley.
Detor’s 7th solo album is a breath-taking collection of carefully elaborated songs. It’s the second I heard, just as Cover their eyes[36] her new album inspired me from the first to the last time I pushed the play button.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Pura Fe "Sacred Seed"
Nueva Onda Records, 2014

Pura Fe is an heir of the Tuscarora Indian Nation and lives with her people in North Carolina. She recorded her latest album with Mathis Haug (guitars, banjo), Eric Longsworth (cello) and Stephan Notari (drums, percussion, piano).
Lawrence Dunmore translated Pura Fe’s prayer to the creator and to mother earth in Tutelo “Mohomeneh”, slow banjo pace, hand drums and Pura Fe’s hauntingly beautiful singing. The title song is a description of the Iroquois cosmology, wrapped in a bluesy tune and showcasing her powerful voice. Then Pura Fe performs the traditional Tutelo “Pigeon dance” with her hand drum, a hypnotic sound. She is also an activist and sings Cary Morin’s lyrics “Idle no more”, a tribute to the Idle No More Movement, as a brilliant mix of Native American chants, powerful Blues/Soul singing and Blues harp by Jean Jacques Milteau. Then Milteau plays the intro for Ellington’s “In a sentimental mood” and Pura Fe sings the Jazz, the guys join in on drums, harp, cello and guitar. The CD ends with the words of Northern Cheyenne Christopher Rowland “My people, my land”, Pura Fe has transformed them into a passionate Blues song featuring a breath-taking chant performed by five singers.
Pura Fe is Native American music melt together with traditional styles like Blues and Jazz. The songs are beautifully crafted, her vocal performance is brilliant and the arrangements are awesome.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Noa "Love Medicine"
Music & Words, 2015

Achinoam Nini is an Israeli singer/songwriter raised in the USA and living today with her family in Israel. Under her nickname Noa and together with long time musical collaborator and producer Gil Dor (guitars, programming, e-bass) and a bunch of great guest musicians she recorded her latest album with 9 original songs and 3 cover versions.
Noa has a beautiful voice and sings the romantic opening track “nothing but a song” accompanied by guitar, contrabass (Adam Ben Ezra), piano (David Feldman) and drums (Daniel Dor). Spanish singer/songwriter Joaquin Sabina translated the lyrics of “you-tú” and sings a hauntingly beautiful duet with Noa sostenuto by an orchestral arrangement featuring strings, flutes and horns. Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny wrote a fine tune and adds his stunning guitar to “eternity and beauty” and Noa sings her lyrics with much devotion. Contrabass, drums and guitar play the intro for “happy song”, Gadi Seri joins in and plays the Cuíca creating an intoxicating Samba rhythm, Noa inspires with her brilliant vocal performance. They translated Joao Donato and Gilberto Gil’s ballad a paz into Hebrew, “shalom”, and together with Gil she wrote the up-beat peace hymn “love love love”, featuring Itamar Borochov on trumpet.
Noa’s music is sometimes rhythmic, sometimes melancholic but no matter it’s always beautifully performed by excellent musicians and a wonderful singer.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Michael Falzarano "I got Blues for ya"
Hypnotation/Woodstock Records, 2014

Singer/songwriter Michael Falzarano’s (guitar, vocals) 45 years long career as a working musician includes bands like Hot Tuna, offspring of The Jefferson Airplane, The New Riders of the Purple Sage, a spin-off of the Grateful Dead, and many more. His current release has been recorded with The Extended Family, a bunch of brilliant musicians, and features 10 original songs and 2 cover versions.
They start with the grinding Blues-rock “The night King Curtis died”, Falzarano sings with a growling voice, Kane Daily adds his screaming slide guitar, Chris Matheos on bass and Ray Grapone on drums create the shuffling pace. The heavy title song is dominated by the two roaring guitars with Klyph Black on bass and Christian Cassan on drums and the up-beat “Snake Box Boogie” introduces Professor Louie on piano and Hammond Organ, Josh Colow on lead guitar, Frank Campbell on bass, Gary Burke on drums and Miss Marie’s backing vocals and percussion. “Crossroads Avenue” is a hypnotic Blues song with Alexis P. Suter’s awesome backing vocals, Kerry Kearney on slide guitar, Jimmie Fleming on mandolin, Pete Sears on piano, Charlie Wolfe on harmonica and the rhythm section with Frank Celenza (bass) and Eileen Murphy (drums). A virtuoso Live rendition of Reverend Gary Davis’ “Death don’t have no mercy” has been recorded with Jam Stampede, two acoustic guitars, keys, bass, drums, mandolin and fiddle, including some brilliant soli. Finally the guys play the Rock’n’Roll introducing the gorgeous back-up vocals of Lisa Bouchelle, “Trouble”.
Blues enthusiasts will love Falzarano’s powerful songs, brought forward by excellent musicians.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

The Young Folk "The Little Battle"
ARC Music/Pixie Pace Records, 2015

Artist Video

The Young Folk is a Dublin based 5-piece band and comprise Anthony Furey (guitars, vocals), Paul Butler (keyboards, vocals), Tony McLoughlin (bass, mandolin, banjo, vocals), Alex Borwick (trombone, synthesizer) and Patrick Hopkins (drums, percussion). Their debut album features 9 songs by Furey and one by Butler.
Furey has a beautiful alto voice and starts off with his rhythmic Country Folk song “My friends”. “Way home” is a Folk infused Pop song with intoxicating acoustic guitar driven pace and “Long time ago” a melancholic mid-tempo waltz. Butler wrote “Letters”, starting as a piano ballad it develops to a romantic Folk song. The final track “Drunken head / The little battle” is a hypnotic hymn like ballad with a somehow psychedelic end.
The Young Folk has delivered a stunning debut and they will certainly make their way in the Irish music scene.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Kyle Carey "North Star"
Americelta Records, 2014

Alaskan singer/songwriter Kyle Carey’s (vocals, guitar) sophomore album was produced by Seamus Eagan and recorded in Glasgow. She invited a bunch of fine guests featuring Chris Stout (fiddle, viola), Catriona McKay (harmonium), James MacKintosh (percussion), Ben Walker (guitars), Dirk Powell (banjo, mandolin, piano), Chico Huff (bass), Craig Werth (Appalachian mountain dulcimer), Nathalie Haas (cello) as well as singers Pauline Scanlon or Josienne Clarke.
Kyle and Josienne sing the rhythmic “June day” together, brilliantly accompanied by acoustic guitar, mandolin and bass. Then the banjo creates a mid-tempo folky pace, “Casey Jones whistle blow”, Pauline and Kyle mesmerizing the song with their hauntingly beautiful singing and Chris adding his great fiddling. Josienne joins again for the traditional “Cairistiona” (Christina), a breath-taking rendition in Scottish Gaelic embraced by wonderful guitar and mandolin harmonies. The title song is a tender ballad with the harmony vocals of Pauline and Eamon McElholm and Katie McNally’s fiddle laments to the melancholic “Let them be all reprise”. Ceana Chaimbeul translated the American traditional Down to the river into Gaelic, “Sios dhan an abhainn”, accompanied by the harmonium Kyle sings a duet with Gillebride MacIlleMhaoi before guitar and mountain dulcimer join in. The album ends with “Across the Great Divide”, a hauntingly beautiful song by the late Californian songwriter Kate Wolf.
After her debut Monongah[48] Kyle Carey confirms her prowess as singer and songwriter with 9 original songs, supported by some of the finest musicians and singers from Scotland, Ireland and the United States she excelled my high expectations.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Jon Spear Band "Old Soul"
Own label, 2014

Jon Spear (guitar, vocals), Dara James (lead guitar, harp, vocals), John Stubblefield (drums) and Andy Burdetsky (bass, backing vocals) have released their debut album with 9 original songs by Spear and a cover version.
Nate Brown’s congas add the funky Soul feeling to “I can’t help myself” and James co-wrote and sings “Devil’s Highway”, a mesmerizing Blues-rock in a driving pace. The hauntingly beautiful title track is a slow Blues featuring Ron Halloway’s stunning saxophone solo and James, who plays the harp since he was five, has the perfect showcase for his virtuoso playing on “Forever home”. Other highlights are the Jump Blues “Live music is better” with great choir singing and brilliant playing together of the four masters or the passionate cover of Bob Geddins’ “Tin Pan Alley”.
The different band members have played with some of the best Blues musicians in the states, now they participate active in the Central Virginia Blues Society. Let’s hope we get some more to hear from this stunning band.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Soul Suga´ & Diane Durrett "Soul Suga´ & Diane Durrett"
Blooming Tunes Music, 2014

Diane Durrett (vocals, guitar, piano) hails from Atlanta, Georgia, together with a bunch of excellent musicians she recorded 10 original songs and a Beatles cover. Yonrico Scott and Melissa “Junebug” Massey on drums, percussion and vibraphone, Ted Pecchio, Charlie Wooton. Gregg Shapiro and Greg Price on bass, Tinsley Ellis, Oliver Wood, Markham White and Critter Critendin on guitars, Randall Bramblett, Yoel B´nai Yehuda, Brandon Bush, Ike Stubblefield and Eric Frampton on keys, brass and woodwinds, strings and background singers complete the line-up.
They “Show up sexy” with an intoxicating Soul song performed by Scott, Pecchio, Critendin, Yehuda and Durrett’s awesome vocals and additional guitar. DJ Morris Baxter introduces the funky “Push the push back”, performed with the same guys besides Price takes the bass, Scott adds vibraphone, Massey the stunning percussion pace and Kathie Holmes bewitches with her virtuoso flute playing. Massey grabs the drum sticks on “Sassy Larue”, Wood the guitar, Wooton the bass, Lil’ Joe Burton wrote the horn arrangements for trombone, sax, trumpet and clarinet and Diane sings the up-beat Soul-Jazz fusion supported by the Sassy Singers. Tinsley Ellis on guitar, Shapiro on bass, Scott, Yehuda and the Sassy Singers accompany Diane’s powerful singing on the Soul-Blues “Woohoo” and the ballad “I know your nothings” introduces Frampton on piano and Peggy Johnson Still on strings. The CD ends with the classic Beatles song “Let it be”, featuring Bramblett on piano and sax, White on e-guitar, Stubblefield on Hammond B3 and Diane’s hauntingly beautiful singing.
Diane Durrett has invited some of the finest musicians to produce a brilliant album full of breath-taking Soul music.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Red Dirt Skinners "Behind the Wheel"
Sidegoat Records, 2016

24 march is the release date of Sarah (vocals, saxophones, harmonica) and Rob Skinner’s (vocals, guitars, banjo, bass, drums) fourth studio album. They recorded 8 new original songs about their experiences on the road and the people they have met.
The title track is a Blues ballad showcasing their beautiful singing together and Sarah’s soaring saxophone, it will be released as a single. On the romantic “The other half” Sarah and Rob alternatively sing the lead vocals, acoustic guitar and saxophone create the powerful sound. My favourite songs are “Bad apple”, a rocking song with Sarah’s virtuoso saxophone and Rob’s passionate singing, and the rhythmic 7 minutes Country song “Daybreak”, onomatopoetic saxophone, driving acoustic guitar pace and a wonderful duet.
In comparison to their former album Sinking the Mary Rose[54] the new album features more ballads and less Americana. Check their website for the promotional tour.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Gretchen Peters "The Essential"
Proper Records, 2016

Singer/songwriter Gretchen Peters (guitar, piano) was born in Bronxville, New York, raised in Boulder, Colorado, and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in the late 80ies. Deeply involved in the Nashville music scene she has published 7 studio albums by now. Her new double album is a compilation, disc 1 features 13 songs from her former albums and disc 2 some rarities and previously unreleased songs.
It starts off with the hypnotic rock ballad from her last album, “Blackbirds”, powerful guitar riffs, slide guitar, organ, piano, bass and drums accompany her beautiful singing. The title track of her debut album “The secret life” is a rhythmic Americana song and another sample of her latest album is “When all you got is a hammer”, a Country Rock with an intoxicating banjo-drum-bass-fiddle pace, nice slide guitar licks and Gretchen singing the Blues. Other highlights on CD 1 are the sample of her album with Tom Russell, the Americana ballad “Guadeloupe” with accordion and guitar, or her hauntingly beautiful duet with Bryan Adams on “When you love someone”.
Disc 2 features demos like the alluring ballad “The way you move me” from 2007, a radio edit of the mesmerizing ballad “Pretty things” from 2015 or a stunning Live rendition of “Woman on the wheel” from 2012. The piano accompanies Gretchen’s tender singing on “Independence day” and my favourite Rolling Stones song is also my favourite track on this double album, “Wild horses” featuring the voices of Matraca Berg and Suzy Bogguss.
The essential of Gretchen Peters, nearly 2 hours of wonderful Americana music, is a brilliant compilation, check it out!
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Chris While and Julie Matthews "who we are"
Fat Cat Records, 2014

Artist Video

Chris While (vocals, guitars, banjo, bowed psaltery, glockenspiel) and Julie Matthews (vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards, piano accordion, mandolin, ukulele) are celebrating 20 years of collaboration, they recorded 11 new songs together with Howard Lees (guitars), Neil Fairclough (bass), Bryan Hargreaves (drums, percussion), Kellie While (harmony vocals) and Joe Broughton (violins).
Julie wrote 4 of the songs and they start with the rhythmic “If this were your last day”, in spite of the rather grave title it’s an optimistic and energetic song with piano accordion and Julie’s beautiful lead vocals, backed up by Chris. “White feather” is driven by the steady pace of bass and percussion and includes some nice guitar licks as well as Julie’s powerful singing. Chris added 3 of her songs, the tender ballad “Heaven is changing” accompanied by piano, guitars, violin, bass and drums or the breath-taking a Capella song “Drop hammer” accompanied by fine percussion, lead vocals by Chris, harmony vocals by Julie and the 5-piece factory girls chorus grooving along. The other 4 are co-written by them. My favourites are the up-beat Country Folk “I don’t know”, banjo, bass and drums create the intoxicating pace, guitar and the two voices rock, the jazzy feel of “Mad men” or the melancholic piano ballad “That’s not who we are”.
Chris While and Julie Matthews are brilliant songwriters, wonderful singers and they work with inspired musicians.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Chris and Kellie While "Indigo"
Circuit Music, 2015

Artist Video

This duo has worked up a strong reputation as a powerful touring folk act. They have not had an album in seven years, but now offer these ten songs from other writers, including Kim Richey and Jimmy L Webb. The harmonies are the star, although the acoustic guitars offer enough intricate picking to help lay down a firm atmosphere. The vocals soar well and manage to have an emotional pull at the heights as well as the pullback times. This is a fine solid album which lands square in the middle of what folk fans generally enjoy.
© David Hintz

Joe Bussard presents "The Year of Jubilo ... Songs from the Civil War"
Dust To Digital, 2015

This collection comes from original 78rpm 10” records. These discs have been quite in vogue for collectors in recent years, although most collections focus on the early blues artists. This is a fine collection of early recordings of songs dated to and mostly relevant to the Civil War. It is a good array of 20 songs that start in Appalachia and head to the deep south. I am not exactly a fan of this era of early music, preferring much earlier and ancient musics. But this was an interesting compilation worth hearing at least once. And I really enjoyed Henry C. Gilliland and AC (Eck) Robertson’s crazy version of ‘Turkey in the Straw’, one of my favorites from my early early days on this planet. Ultimately this collection reminds me that no matter how much the present problems dominate the day, we are better off than we were.
© David Hintz

Chapin Sisters "Today's Not Yesterday"
Lake Bottom Records, 2015

The two daughters of Tom Chapin and nieces of Harry are by now well established singer songwriters of their own. The harmonies are unsurprisingly exquisite and the overall quality is strong throughout. What is amazing is the variety of songs present. The twangy southern California country songs interest me the least, but the pop nuggets, moody rockers and psyche-folk-rock moments are quite a surprise and quite excellent. This is a lot more challenging than I expected, but it is so very interesting and many songs are quite memorable. If their audience gives them a long enough leash, they should be quite pleased with the exciting songs the Chapin sisters come up with here. I AM impressed.
© David Hintz

Grain Thief "Animal"
Own label, 2015

Local DC’er some time back from the great Prog band, Little Bigheart, has now established himself in Massachusetts and has cooked up some strong Americana based folk rock with a full band adding the violins, banjos, and whatnot to the guitar and vocals. Although most songs have classic song themes that work well vocally, I am particularly impressed on the instrumental songs and passages, such as ‘Farewell, See Ya’ which have a great musical conversation going on. This band would have a very happy audience on the stage of Gypsy Sally’s or at Hill Country BBQ.
© David Hintz

The Wainwright Sisters "Songs in the Dark"
[PIAS] Cooperative, 2015

Artist Video

Martha Wainwright and sister Lucy Wainwright Roche have the pedigree as you can tell by the names (and the mother of Martha is Kate McGarrigle so it is just as big for each step-sister). There are no less than five lullabies in these 16 songs, as well as many more that work well ‘in the dark’. But rather than simply rocking you to sleep, the vibrato of the voice and the delicate spaciness in the arrangements may induce some magical dreams. They keep the music simple and stark with plenty of acoustic guitar working off the vocals. But there are so many subtle softening sounds throughout that help make this album special. The Wainwright Sisters have managed to capture the magic of British folk with the deep Appalachian and Americana heart of darkness style and come up with a balanced and composed hybrid that should appeal to fans of either. It certainly hit my sweetspot.
© David Hintz

Andy Poxon "Must Be Crazy"
Eller Soul, 2015

This red-hot blues guitarist is back with his sophomore release a few years after his debut that came right about the time he was eligible to drive.[47] He is still not old enough to drink and thankfully does not spend a lot of time writing drinking songs. Those may come, hopefully not though, as he seems like he is having a good enough time playing guitar, singing and working with a fine young keyboardist Kevin McKendree who adds a lot to the arrangements. Although this is blues guitar, it takes more of an early rock’n’roll approach with some nice horns and a rolling rhythm piano bouncing off the steady rhythm section. They slow it down a bit and when it is bluesy or lounge it is much better than the ballads. Still, I will take the rock’n’roll train every time and that is where Poxon and company shows most promise.
© David Hintz

Nikolaj Efendi "The Red Wine Conspiracy"
Dramatic Pause; 2015

Artist Video

I really enjoy the unique style here. It does not compare easily and that is always a good sign, especially with accessible songs. Efendi has a worldly Eastern European style (Slovenian specifically) and adds plenty of jazz style and rock moves. There is something bold about it all as if Jacques Brel were merged with Billy Bragg. So there is warmth with a strong stinging lyrical attack. These songs write their own little corner in the world and scream out in quietness, certain to be heard. So you do yourself a favor and listen in. This may just keep you attuned to and interesting musical vision.
© David Hintz

My Quiet Companion "My Quiet Companion"
MQC Records; 2015

Like Black Sabbath, this band’s self titled LP starts with a song that is also the name of the band, and of course that is the last thing they have in common with Black Sabbath. Their website succinctly says Americana with a Scandanavian edge. I think this Gothenburg trio is accurately described, but that does not quite hit on the delicate skills and subtleties of their music. On some songs, I am reminded by an older band from their most general part of the world, the Balladeers (Kirsten & Bernd). At other times, they head a little too much toward Americana for my liking, although they still play the style well. The guitar work is good and the voices are good and occasionally add much intrigue and emotion. Folk fans should easily gravitate to this.
© David Hintz

Auburn "Mixed Feelings"
Bat Country; 2015

I am not sure I particularly care for a singer telling me she has ‘mixed feelings about love and hate’ when there is a picture of her pointing a rifle at me in the inner sleeve. But I have always maintained that blues musicians need to stop wallowing and start rebelling, but just point this gun in another direction, please. And Auburn’s brand of blues moves toward a lounge style in the songs, which sometimes can work well but seems kind of odd here. There are some Americana elements as well and although all of the playing is good, the sum of the parts does not quite add up for me.
© David Hintz

Billy Hector "Old School Thang"
Ghetto Surf; 2015

Full band blues-rock is the format here. We have heard it before, but they add some funk to the mix, which allows them to stand out from the pack. I am sure this would be a kick live and it is decent enough on record. I rarely get overly enthused in this genre, but the guitar work was tough enough to create more interest than usual. And speaking of interesting, the drummer is Sim Cain, known for working with Greg Ginn in Gone and Henry Rollins in Rollins Band. This band is from Jersey (as in New, as we Americans say), so look for them at a club around the east coast.
© David Hintz

Svavar Knútur "Brot"
Nordic Notes, 2015

Artist Video

This is a rich folk album with a delicate touch. There are quiet moments of voice and guitar or ukulele, but there is also a rich production throughout giving this an ethereal touch. This is a lovely record that will take you back to folk LPs of the Dulcimer, Nick Drake, and Magna Carta era and somehow there is a little bit of all of that in here. This is a breezy album that has a lot of class and style and could propel Svavar Knútur to great heights, if there is room for more Icelandic talent (and of course there is).
© David Hintz

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