Some reviews that we weren't able to fit into Stirrings 178...
THE ROAD TO HORN FAIR
Positively buoyed, of all things, by Joshua Burnell’s Christmas offering a couple of years back with his sprightly and seasonal The Official Brawl, he’s been on the radar ever since. He’s also been pretty busy since his Into The Green debut and his more recent Songs From The Season collection, as The Road To Horn Fair arrives as another set of traditional songs and tunes given a coating with the Burnell brush.
In the days when it seems to be less and less important, take a brief note of the packaging. There’s a shovel load of TLC gone into something that’s a delight to behold, even in the micro sized CD era. A fold out die cut castle, a whole piece of coded text in unusual (to these eyes) font and a possible (he says not having tried it out) solution if you twirl the CD in its holder. Plenty of info and background in the CD booklet which quotes both Martin Carthy and Jimmy Page and a hint of tongue in cheekiness as the crew stand in line on a country lane awaiting a bus dressed in full garb.
The music’s not bad either, as ye minstrels pool instruments modern and from an age gone by including ye olde Hammond(e) organ whilst unsurprisingly pulling in a songwriting credit for Henry VIII. The bulk is arrangements of traditional work – Jon Boden’s Horn Fair tune may be familiar to the work of the modern day bard and there’s his own setting of The Knight And The Shepherdes’ as the exceptions. The latter is a joyful romp of a tune despite the nature of the tale (the standard fair maid marries dastardly knight sketch) and provides an album highlight along with the lively jigs and reels. Drowsy Maggie & Rakish Paddy (brilliant title) is notable for the lovingly refurbished early banjo that makes an appearance and could easily be taken into a leg pumping and maverick Treacherous Orchestra territory with a bagpipe of two. It's a tune that finds the outfit folk rocking at their finest and suddenly may usurp The Knight And The Shepherdess as album star.
Enough said, suffice to confirm that Joshua and his merry crew have delivered a most(e) worthy(e) artefact(e).
THE REVERIE ROAD
Penny Fiddle Records PFR 1902CD
Mikey Kenney is a young Liverpool musician and balladeer from an Irish heritage who has also immersed himself in English traditional music. He has a love affair with landscapes and their inhabitants and the mystical elements they evoke. He released the solo CD with a tour In February. He plays with other musicians in the celebration Band Of Burns and in Donkey Hokey but here he is solo with fiddle,vocals and concertina and mandolin, often multitracked. He is an avid traveller and several tracks refer to friends and work in Italy. He studied musicology at Lancaster University and some of his songs and tunes evoke the hills and coast of North West of England.
The Reverie Road takes its title from the song Montagna Di Menta (Calitri), and a sense of searching on an intriguing journey ranging from his Liverpool haunts, sessions and friendships to poetry describing his travels in warmer climes. A search for a spiritual path pervades the album and the dreamy tune and his high tenor, almost falsetto, voice introduced by tremelo mandolin perfectly captures the moment. In Montagna Di Menta he evokes lying in the herb-scented grass in Campania and meditating, and The Path I Walk Upon builds on dream images and has a feel of an old Gaelic ballad in the sean nos tradition or other native traditions, with a fitting elegant string instrumental accompaniment that goes into a rhythm like a bourrée. A great white bear features in both songs like a spirit guide. These songs are very moving and express a yearning for a meaningful way forward in life. I have been listening to the work of The Gloaming and Kenney's work is as moving in the same way.The Italian-inspired work is also expressed by the song Napoli, which was visited after a buskers' festival. There are 14 tracks ranging from traditional and self-penned tunes songs. Having wandered in my own youth in Lancashire I I can identify with his feelings for the edgelands of lonesome shores and abandoned industry and Pennine uplands and marginal farms.
The tracks range from a version of the English Morris Bacca Pipes (Greensleeves ) with plucked and bowed fiddle, through well ornamented Irish tunes with great lift and rhythm like The Golden Castle and The Broken Pledge in hornpipe time, and self-penned ones such as a set of three reels (or polkas), on The Devil Goat of Keady, based on a charging billy-goat that put a hole in his friend Oscar West's fiddle near Derry. The tunes end with a meeehhh rather than an Irish nyaah. Brigid's Jigs are tunes he wrote for Hop The Sea a group, formed from musicians based around the Irish Sea, They celebrate Brigid whose festival falls as winter turns to spring As an enthusiastic fiddle student I recognise the Liverpool Irish influence that I also detect in the playing of my teacher Gina Le Faux. He also draws tunes from the tune book of the Winder family of Wyresdale in Lancashire. Winder's Hornpipe is in 3:2 time, a fine triple hornpipe. Other English tunes from the 1700s are Hunsdon House, Scotch Rebelling song and Hie Thee To The Ghyl: a nice set starting in the key of C and incorporating the concertina and fiddle. Liverpool figures a lot and the Old Bank Of Aigburth Waltz is a tribute to one of his session pubs at home. Coleman's Fireproof Depository is the name of a old furniture store in Toxteth but to a fiddler the nostalgic sounding reel, which has echoes of Poll Ha'penny, conjures up to me the legacy of Michael Coleman, the great Sligo fiddler of the 1920s. Up Hardman Street is a jig named by Mikey for the hill up to The Caledonia, another great session pub. The slow jig has a Scottish sound and reminds us that Liverpool is a city of strong Celtic influences. Kitty Wilkinson is a song celebrating the life of a Liverpool legend, a poor immigrant woman who survived hardship and poverty to care for the needy, working her hands to the bone and keeping the poor and sick clean and healthy. It was commissioned for a community arts centre bearing her name.
Soggy Desert is a song with a whole multitracked backing band sound telling of Aldcliffe Marsh,"outside Lanky by a mile", which was a favourite haunt in his twenties. Where human detritus meets the sea and the sense of solitude is accentuated by abandonment. It reminds me of The Lone'y on the same coast. The tune has a pop sensibility, calypso meets tra , with a tune like Belafonte's Yellow Bird. I can almost imagine Pulp doing it.
Mikey Kenney is obviously on a creative and spiritual journey and has an intriguing and dedicated approach to his artistic life and to nature both wild and human. This is much more than a fiddle album and gives much food for thought.
WE ARE MORE THAN WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND
own label, no cat. no.
This is New York City based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Dan Rauchwerk’s debut album. He sings well, a bit like Jonathon Richman on occasion but much more confidently, and the tunes, though not particularly memorable, give you that secure feeling – you know where they are going right from the start.
The lyrics are literate and cover a wide range of topics and emotions. Mrs McLaughlin, a dirge (though the bodhran player’s insistence on laying 6/8 inside every beat did not help here) about a mother’s reaction to her son's enlistment in the military. Alene, a melancholy yet hopeful reflection on a departed loved one. Victoria (our late Queen, God Bless Her), an anthemic chorus which I imagine will cause a few raised eyebrows, c/f Monty Python's Lumberjack song, at the last line "A devil to the Irish, grandmother to the Czar".
Despite the doom and gloom, the stoical It Just Is, the philosophical Till It's Over, and Carthage, "when we fall, we fall forever", Dan raised my spirits more than somewhat. Recommended.
THE VOX HUNTERS
own label, no cat. no.
The Vox Hunters, “voice hunters”, are Armand Aromin and Benedict Gagliardi who play and sing in Rhode Island state in New England and around Providence. They bring to life old songs and tunes from their locality. They visited the UK quite recently and a lot of people were impressed by their enthusiasm and talent as multi-instrumentalists and tight harmony and unison singers. This is their first CD and their book, The Ocean State Songster, has been well received. Their motto of “play local and play often” has the same ethos of the early folk clubs of the folk revival in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Anything was lapped up and belted out in an eclectic spirit, even in different accents! They have researched and tweaked and injected new life into the material as well as writing tunes and songs of their own in the traditional and folk idioms.
Armand plays fiddle, a Lachenal English concertina with some buttons moved around and air buttons near the pinkie fingers, and also does step dances; Ben plays a Jeffries Anglo concertina in C/G, from the 1870s, one row Hohner melodeon in C and tremelo harmonica. On the CD they are joined by Kyle Forsthoff who adds percussion on bodhran, snare drum, bones, chapchas (Andean goat hoof rattle) and Cajun triangle. They also bring to the music their experience in Irish and old time playing and acknowledge the influence of Irish fiddle and concertina players and have gone back to older players on German-made boxes, like Mrs Elizabeth Crotty and Kitty Hayes, as well as innovative cross-row players like Noel Hill and Cormac Begley. They are familiar with the effective use of ornamentation, chords and drones and were influenced by the sea-song accompaniments of John Townley and by Jeff Davis, who applauds their approach and contribution to the tradition.
Ben has obviously absorbed the “British harmonic style”, on Anglo, of using both ends concurrently for chords and melody, as used by Brian Peters, John Kirkpatrick, Will Duke and Jody Kruskal. This is an excellent album and one that has many echoes for an old skiffle and Americana fan who got into playing in the 1950s via campfire songs, shanties cowboy films and recordings by Leadbelly, Lonnie Donegan, Burl Ives and Pete Seeger. In fact I still have my little brown paper-backed school notebook with a guitar drawn on the front from 1956.
The programme includes traditional songs brought in by early settlers, several of which were collected by Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles in Appalachia. Come My Little Roving Sailor is like No Sir No. William And Polly is a version of William And Nancy or Lisbon; Edward is the murder ballad (Child no13). There is a sea song, Round Cape Horn, from Martha's Vineyard which they learned from Jeff Davis. Tin Pan Alley is represented by songs such as Before I Met You and Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me with a tune by Mississipi John Hurt. Irish traveller Mary Delaney was the source of Green Grow The Laurels and What Will We Do If We Have No Money. Songs influenced by new socal and economic situations and Minstrel shows such as the banjo tune Groundhog, with words from various sources and coupled with a tune by Armand, Pawtuxet, Little Falls in the local native language. This has a rollicking accompaniment with a whole range of instruments such as fiddle, jaw harp and percussion. The Old Moose and Wing Dance were from Long Island and collected by William Mount.
There is a feel that will be familiar to singers who came through the early British folk clubs and the influential movement in the US with the Kingston Trio, Seeger family and Woody Guthrie etc. plus the many great artists that led to the playing of a wider range of instruments than the guitar, washboard and tea chest bass. They have been influenced by the greater instrumental ability and the impact of Irish and other traditions. The CD is in the spirit of amity in the exchange of tunes and songs between the US, Europe and Africa with the energy of the New World added. It is gratifying to see the swapping of influences by a younger generation of talented singers and players.
SHE WYNDS ON
Magic Park Records, no cat. no.
The Snow Roads is an initiative led by the Cairngorm Business Partnership with the aim of encouraging visitors to make the 90-mile journey from Perthshire to Grantown-on-Spey. This EP is guitarist, singer and composer Calum Wood's contribution to that initiative, and its suite of five pieces is intended both as an audio accompaniment to, and evocative portrayal of, that journey and some of the landscapes, moods and wildlife encountered along the way. These range from the wynding lowland roads to Braemar and the impressive Cairngorm Mountains, Ballater and Royal Deeside to the tortuous high-level routes passing through Tomintoul. Calum’s gentle, accommodating guitar style is a lynchpin of the arrangements, which also feature the excellent musicianship of (among others) Charlie McKerron and Julia Dignan (fiddles), Ross Ainslie (low whistle), Robert Black (accordion), Tom Oakes (flute). The five sections of the EP are played in a more or less continuous sequence, beginning with the only song, which gives the disc its title. The remaining pieces each convey a section of the journey, rather in the manner of high-quality incidental music to a TV travelogue or documentary. Blairgowrie To Braemar is delicate and beautifully melodic, sporting some particularly lovely fiddle playing, while Braemar To Ballater takes the form of an animated slow reel with solo flute and electric guitar driving the action forward. Ballater To Tomintoul is a delightful pairing of two jazzy tunes, again building in momentum as the journey progresses in twists and turns. The final leg to Grantown-on-Spey is built around a cyclic piano motif, and takes a mood of reflection to a majestic, stately conclusion.
ANYWHERE BUT HERE
Own label, no cat. no.
Just another in the endless line of singer/songwriters? Well, no. This guy is really good in all departments. His acoustic guitar playing is a combination of flat pick and strum – he names John Martyn and Dick Gaughan as major influences; indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was Mr Gaughan himself playing the intro to Selkie (a song about a friend’s suicide), and the closing, minor key Caledonia.
He has a fine voice, strong, but never enough to distract you from the tale he’s telling – Cold In California (prospecting with a friend leads to betrayal), Ghosts (the death of a relationship), Half-Hearted (unrequited love), and Can't Face Calling You Today (Shame).
He is very strong on lyrics; just when you think that you can see the rhyme coming a mile off, he'll use an unexpected one which is nevertheless entirely apposite. I really liked the way he developed the boxing metaphor in Another Round Of Love, and Too Many Love Songs – a debunking of present day Nashville "“a grudge and a guitar go hand in hand"). I could go on, but that would just spoil the surprises you have in store when you get your copy. Highly recommended.
Clannad – the Irish folk band formed in 1970 in Gweedore, Co. Donegal by siblings Máire, Pól and Ciarán Brennan and their twin uncles Noel and Pádraig Duggan. Initially, their stock-in-trade was the wild, untrammelled purity of the traditional songs and tunes they'd grown up with or laboriously collected from local singers on their travels, performed uncluttered with a largely acoustic palette (primarily guitar, harp, flute, whistle, harmonica and bass) and relying on their own inborn musicianship rather than studio intervention or production. They made three albums during the first decade, and were a popular touring act in Germany from around 1975.
This live-in-concert recording, made by Radio Bremen in 1980, was the band's first live radio recording ever. It's a brilliant snapshot of the band at an absolute pinnacle, capturing the rugged quality of their native landscape with a remarkable purity that was never to be replicated thereafter during any part of the band's career. This was a point at which everything was about to change for the band with the arrival of Enya and her keyboards and the road to mainstream adulation was followed and embraced. So, for those who didn't get to latch onto Clannad until post-Crann Úll (Clannad's pivotal 1980 album), the unadorned acoustic purity of the band's music-making in those early years is likely to come as a revelation. There's none of the imperative to make an impression with tricky showoff note-spinning or epic washes of cinematic keyboard sound – just the relaxed, joyous artistry of five musicians completely at home with their music, whose eagerly-embraced role is to communicate the music with respect for the tradition whence it sprang and to keep their audience informed and interested.
The easy-going, natural demeanour of the rapport between the band members really brings out the beauty of the music, while the lively erudition of the song introductions – sometimes lengthy, but necessary for context – ensures the audience is as involved as the band in the stories and messages. The effortless solo and ensemble playing and naturally tight vocal harmonies are evidence of the close-knit family music-making that characterised this phase of their career. Interestingly too, the closeness born of fact of upbringing was accentuated when each of the band members stretched out into a spot of jazz improvisation (as opposed to session jamming), as on then-customary finale Nil Sé 'n Lá (on blind-listening, you might even think you were listening to Tull at one point). And I can't leave this review without spotlighting the exquisite singing and harp playing of Moya (Máire) Brennan herself – truly magnificent.
Yes, this Turas gig was as good as it got, and the previously unreleased 95-minute set enshrined on this pair of discs, which has only recently come to light, is something to be treasured. It also serves as a perfect memorial for Pádraig, who sadly died in 2016.