Issue 15 8/2000

FolkWorld CD Reviews


Asturiana Mining Company "Patrimoniu"
Lochshore Recordings; CDLDL 1298; 2000; Playing time: 48.24 min
The original Asturiana Mining Company was founded in 1844 to exploit the Asturian coal resources, triggering an immigration wave of workers from many different countries. The AMC's musical incarnation is a project initiated by Michael Lee Wolfe, an American ex-pat singer, songwriter and guitarist who has been living in Spain since the mid-1980s. He is joined by a diverse bunch of Asturian musicians: bagpiper and singer Alberto Varillas, classically-trained accordionist Margot Lorences and pianist Xaime González plus a full rhythm section of percussion, bass and drum kit.
The music is partly Asturian, partly American in origin and is presented as a successful amalgamation of both (with Spanish-only lyrics). Arrangements are as varied as the line-up would suggest and show some similarity to the Galician "folk orchestras" like Berrogüetto, Milladoiro et al. The result is a very enjoyable mix of powerful songs and tunes in which the Asturian bagpipes often - but not always - take centre stage.
Anja Beinroth

Barachois "Encore!"
Magnetic Music [in America: House Party Productions]; MMR CD 1030; 2000; Playing time: 50.33 min
Barachois from Prince Edward Island are a small band (a quartet) with a great impact - especially when you see them whirl around on a stage. To people who haven't seen them play live, their albums may sound a little frantic, such is the level of energy and spirit of adventure with which they present their tunes and songs. The sense of fun is ever-present, but it doesn't mean they don't take their music seriously. They draw heavily on the traditions of their island home, ie. Scottish speed fiddling and percussive step dancing plus French folk songs.
All four are accomplished musicians, mostly on multiple instruments including fiddle, jaw harp, keyboards, harmonica, sousaphone, french horn, guitar and assorted percussion between them. As if that wasn't enough, they all sing as well. Despite all this variety, "Encore!" sounds a little more rounded to my ears than the debut release "Barachois". Something a little different from the spate of (often excellent) fiddle albums from Prince Edward Island and certainly worth exploring. Better still, try and catch a live performance if you can!
Barachois website
Anja Beinroth

Pier Paul Berzaitz "Baratze Bat"
Elkarlanean; KD-555; 2000; Playing time: 63.10 min
Pier Paul Berzaitz is a singer/songwriter from the French side of the Basque country who sings in the Basque language. Unfortunately that means that most of his listeners won't be able to understand him. I like the album anyway, but I'm sure I'd have enjoyed it more if I could follow the lyrics. From the way he sings them, they obviously matter, and the short song notes (in French and Spanish only) in the booklet aren't really an adequate substitute.
On the plus side, Pier Paul Berzaitz is a very good singer and the musical arrangements are very nice, lots of piano and percussion, strings, occasionally a bit of guitar, accordion and flute, even sax, on the whole somewhat closer to chanson than folk song in style perhaps. Do non-French speakers listen to chansons? If so, perhaps there is a market for Pier Paul Berzaitz outside the Basque Country.
Anja Beinroth

Eric Bogle "Endangered Species"
Greentrax [in Australia: Acmec Records]; CDTRAX 196; 2000; Playing time: 69.35 min
Eric Bogle, author of classic, much-covered songs like "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" and "The Green Fields of France (No Man's Land)", should need no introduction after all the years he's been writing, recording and touring. His latest album lives up to expectations - a collection of moving story songs, some funny, some thoughtful, some personal, some singing the praises of everyday people, unsung heroes like five Australian firefighters who died on the job in 1998 ("Our National Pride").
The album was recorded with Bogle's current touring band - multi-instrumentalists Ian Blake and David O'Neill plus percussionist Jonathan Jones - and additional musicians Gillian Pratten (cello), Scott Dodd (bass), Fred Pilcher and Karen Strahan (backing vocals). Thus its sound is fuller and more varied than on some of Bogle's older recordings, but it still sounds distinctively like an Eric Bogle album. If you liked any of his previous work, you won't be disappointed by this.
More details on the album; a good Eric Bogle fansite
Anja Beinroth

Vincent P. Brophy "Down to the Sea in Ships"
Hard Yacka Records; HYR CD 1013; 1999; Playing time: 39.33 min
Hard Yacka Records is a South Australian independent label mostly producing recordings of folk music by local artists. "Down to the Sea in Ships" is the re-release of a concept album (originally a 1986 LP) of "songs about Australia's south-eastern seaboard and inland waterways that brings the maritime heritage of Australia to life in music and song." It was put together by Irish-born singer/songwriter Vincent P. Brophy who brought in numerous musicians and singers to record ten songs he had written on the subject. Most of them are catchy chorus songs; you can sample five of them on the label's website.
Contact Vince Brophy; Hard Yacka's CD information
Anja Beinroth

Elspeth "Attitude"
Scottish Harp; ES43; 2000; Playing time: 54.15 min
Elspeth Smellie has been playing and teaching the Scottish harp for many years. Her album is a solo recording; a mix of harp tunes and Scottish poetry set to harp music (about half of each). All harp tunes (including the accompaniments) are Elspeth Smellie's original compositions - and they work very well, displaying the strenghts of the instrument beautifully. They aren't as catchy as traditional Scottish dance tunes, but much more complex and subtle affairs, perfectly suited to the clear, bell-like sound of the (presumably wire-strung) Scottish harp.
Her singing style won't be to everyone's taste, but the voice is very powerful and distinctive and may appeal to people who like blues singers like Sally Barker and Rory Block. Sample MP3s of some tunes and songs are available from the website, along with the full track notes and lyrics, so if you think this might be for you, visit
Elspeth Smellie's website.
Anja Beinroth

Kimiz "Za Zjivota"
Wild Boar Music; WBM 21011; 1999; Playing time: 46.27 min
Kimiz is a Belgian klezmer band playing mostly dance tunes with a quite jazzy sound. They take their material from a wide range of sources including not just Yiddish traditions, but also Turkish, Greek and Bulgarian ones. Their declared aim is to choose and play "music with a soul".
The founder and heart of Kimiz is clarinet-player Christel Borghlevens; she is joined by guitarists Filip Verneert and Dirk van Esbroek (the group's singer), violinist Jean-Michel Alexandre, bassist Christophe Devisscher and percussionist Johan De Baedts. The musicians have varying backgrounds in assorted musical genres, hence the unusual choice of material and inventive arrangements. Anyone who likes both klezmer and Eastern European gypsy music is likely to love this.
Kimiz website (in Flemish)
Anja Beinroth

Rick Lee "There's Talk About A Fence"
Waterbug Records; WBG 0047; 1999; Playing time: 50.22 min
Rick Lee is an old-style American singer/songwriter - a singer of songs that tell stories in a condensed, but straightforward manner. He looks like quite a character (and probably is). His voice is quite deep and he wisely sings in a pitch which suits it, thereby sounding comfortable and giving the words maximum impact.
Arrangements vary from the simple - typically Rick Lee on banjo or keyboards, producer Andy May on guitar - to the more elaborate with the addition of backing vocals, mandolin, pedal steel guitar or dobro, creating a very rich acoustic sound. The choice of material ranges from traditional ballads like "The Ballad of the Tinker's Daughter" to fairly recent songs by Rick and his contemporaries.
A well-produced, enjoyable album by one of the better singer/songwriters.
More album info from Waterbug (with a longer review); Rick Lee's website
Anja Beinroth

Lyrical Folkus "The Persimmon Tree"
Hard Yacka Records; HYR CD 1011; 1998; Playing time: 51.37 min
This album sounds to me more like something from the 1960s than a recent recording, but I have rather come to like it after a few plays. It may sound a bit old-fashioned, but it's pleasant all the same. The oddly-named Lyrical Folkus seems to be mainly singer Cate Burke and guitarits Chris vonderBorch, joined here by an assortment of others in various combinations (additional vocals, guitars, bass guitar, fiddle, viola, piano, concertina and whistle) and often sounding like a singaround session.
This impression may be reinforced by the choice of material, which includes well-known tracks like Sandy Denny's "Who Knows Where The Time Goes", "The Mingalay Boat Song", "The Silkie of Skule Skerry" (whose tune Pete Seeger used for the chilling "I Come and Stand Every Door"), "Hard Times (Come Again No More)" and Carolan's "Blind Mary". Not all tracks are folk standards, though, and Cate Burke contributes two original compositions. Her singing uses a bit too much vibrato for my taste. Other than that, it's all very nice.
You can sample the album on Hard Yacka's website.
Hard Yacka's CD information
Anja Beinroth

Morgan "Born of the Sea: Celtic Ballads"
Label: TeLeN
; TeLeN 0698; 1998; Playing time: 60.27 min
If I understand the French notes correctly, the person behind this recording is a French harp player whose full name is Morgane Trouze. She has studied English in Ireland and hence manages to sing in a reasonably convincing accent. The choice of material is mostly Irish, Scottish and American folksong, from "The Banks of Claudy" via "The Silky" and "She Moved Through The Fair" to "Silver Dagger" and "Wagoner's Lad", arranged for voice and harp plus intermittent sound effects (from nature to traffic sounds).
According to the sleeve note, the album aims to evoke a mystic Celtic voice which is supposed to carry the listener off into some kind of magical dream world. The music is better than that kind of silly waffle would suggest - pleasant singing, competent playing - but hardly ground-breaking. Nice though.
Morgane Touze, Lestréminou, Rte de St Jean Trolimon, F-29120 Plomeur, France
Anja Beinroth

Son Candela "Llega, pero no te pases"
Cuba Chévere Musikproduktionen; 02-0500; 2000; Playing time: 55.36 min
Son Candela is the Cuban group led by Adalberto Avila (nicknamed "Candela", hence the band name). They play a modern version of Cuban son with a big sound (it's a large group!) - driving piano, lots of percussion, orchestrated brass, and a multitude of male voices.
Competent Cuban party music catering to the expectations of the market, but sincere and home-produced (in Havana). So if you pick this out of the current flood of Cuban CD releases, at least you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you're supporting a working band, as well as a small independent record label.
More information
Anja Beinroth

Iona "Open Sky "
Label: Alliance Records
Iona continue to ring the changes on this, their 5th studio album. Original member Frank Van Essen returns to replace Terl Bryant on percussion, and adds his classically tinged violin playing to the ensemble. However, it is still guitarist Dave Bainbridge who calls the shots, having a hand in writing all the material as well as producing the album. To this extent it could be viewed as just another Iona record, but the sound continues to change and evolve to match the bands' changing line ups. Gone are the rockier days off Nick Beggs' Chapman stick and Mike Horton's soaring sax solos. The addition of Troy Donockley on pipes and whistle, plus the more considered percussion of Van Essen gives Open Sky a more symphonic feel.
Any doubts that their rock heritage has been completely abandoned are blown away as early as the first track, Woven Chord, an instrumental which gives both Bainbridge and Donockley a chance to show their chops. Vocalist Joanne Hogg remains the key instrument in the mix, and her performances on this album are strong as ever. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of some of the material she has been given to work with. It seems the proliferation of soloists in the band has tilted the writing in favour of the instrumental passages, though the slightly stilted narrative may also be partly due to the storytelling nature of many of the lyrics.
Fans of the band will go and buy this in complete confidence, but for the rest of us it may be wise to hear this before purchase. True to the standards they have set themselves in previous releases the album contains a good 73 minutes of music, and the packaging is of the standard we have come to expect from Britain's leading Christian folk rock band. Though the band are always worth seeing live, I suspect this album may be seen in retrospect as marking something of a transitional period in their development.
Alliance Records
Colin Jones

Baka Beyond "Sogo"
Label: Hannibal Records
Baka's first album 'Spirit of the Forest' burst onto the scene like a literal breath of fresh air. Combining Martin Craddick's lively, bubbling guitar sound with a backing track recorded in the rainforests of the Cameroon, the sound was happy and joyful. Since then, however, Baka have shown all the signs of being a one-trick pony, seeming to repeat themselves in an entertaining but ever diminishing loop. Just as it seemed all might be lost, a saviour has appeared in the somewhat unlikely form of Breton Paddy Le Mercier. The addition of Le Mercier's fiddle and whistle has given the African rhythms a contemporary sounding Celtic edge in the manner of Sin É and the Afro Celts. The album's opener, an Africanised version of Runrig's Chi Mi'n Geamhradh, marks a new era in the Baka sound and sets the tone for the rest of the album perfectly.
Le Mercier's influence also extends to a tune selection, and many times during the course of the album he can be found overlaying the trademark African polyrhythms with his jazz tinged whistle and fiddle. Craddick plays his usual storm, stepping out on lead or underpinning the rhythm when the percussionists take off. I've had the pleasure of seeing this band live, and if you like the album then the live show is even better. Craddick says in the sleeve notes that most of the material was worked out on the road, and as a result the arrangements are as tight and crisp as you would expect. There could be a slight criticism of Craddick's production in that he doesn't manage to convey the full dynamism of the show to the record, but if you haven't seen the show it's not an issue. Sogo, by the way, is the name of a Ghanaian drum, supposed by legend to contain 'The Lightening Spirit'.
It remains something of a mystery to me why Baka have never been fully embraced by the World music crowd. This may partly be due to Craddick's former incarnation as one half of the slightly crusty Outback duo or the two distinctly British singers' dodgy pronunciation of the various dialects, but if there is any justice this album should see them welcomed fully into the fold. Dancier than Sin É, more African than the Afro Celts, this is a very good album indeed.
Hannibal Records
Colin Jones

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