Issue 22 06/2002

FolkWorld CD ReviewsDog

Flook "Rubai"
Label: Flatfish Records; No. 004CD; 2002; Playing time: 44.04 min
If we would give out Awards to the most tastefully designed CD, "Rubai" would be my choice of the year, with its beautiful painting in shades between orange, red and green on the cover of one of those folding all-in-one boxes without much plastic. Yet it is not only the CD design that attracts, also the music on Rubai is absolutely outstanding.
Flook are on this, their second album in the established line-up at their very height of their abilities. The playing together is perfect, there is plenty of buzz in this music, and the choice of tunes is as good as ever. Flook has never before managed that well to ban the unique Flook experience on CD. To those few of you who have never heard of Flook: Flook features two of the best flautists from the British Isles, Brian Finnegan (also playing whistle) and Sarah Allen (also playing accordion), and likewise probably the best and most driving acoustic rhythm section around, with John Jo Kelly on Bodhrán and Ed Boyd on guitars and bouzouki. Most of the tunes on Rubai are composed by Sarah and Brian, taking their inspiration in the Celtic world and well beyond that, with influences from all over Europe.
And to add a new dimension to the unique Flook sound, they have invited for the recording some special guests, most notably on a couple of tunes Rory McLeod, offering some trombone blast - sounding superb in the Flook soundscape. Check out for example the tune set "Granny" - not only a great title, but also stunning music, featuring Rory and his trombone...
Rubai means "A four-line poem, in perfect rhyme, full of music, rhytm and breath". Full of music, rhythm and breath is also this album. A perfect and outstanding album.
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Michael Moll

Groupa "fjalar"
Label: Xource; No. XOUCD134; 2002
Groupa are today already nearly dinosaurs of the Swedish experimental folk scene, having started back in the early 80s. Yet they have not lost any of their experimental creativity on this their seventh album. On "fjalar" they offer an impressive cross over between Swedish traditional music, Jazz, free style experimental and world music. The Groupa line-up has not changed since their last album "Lavalek": While Mats Edén on fiddles and melodeon and Jonas Simonson on flutes and Härjedalspipa provide the melodic instrumental element, the a bit more chaotic element is provided in particular by the innovative and crazy Norwegian percussionist Terje Isungset with his most unusual set of all sorts of percussion instruments, and Rickard Aström adds his piano and synthesizer. The latest addition to the Groupa line-up is the young singer Sofia Karlsson, with a singing style that crosses traditional Swedish singing and Free Jazz.
The album offers a rather broad range of music, ranging from beautiful quiet music and wild nergetic yet melodic songs and tunes to jazzy trad songs and simply rhythmic noise. There are several genius moments on this CD, such as parts of the first track "Det brinner en eld" with impressive vocal combinations. As a whole, the album is nothing for people looking for musical harmony, as it sometimes tends to go quite a lot towards noice. This is very free folk music of talented and highly improvising musicians. A special CD in its very own right.
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Michael Moll

La Moresca "Senza cchiù terra"
Label: Dunya/Felmay; No.fy8039; 2001; Playing time: 44.34 min
La Moresca are a Southern Italian band from Campania. They have a very attractive line-up, providing an innovative, full and very atmospheric sound. In the centre of the sound is often a violin, an accordion, flutes, or a classic guitar; the percussion adds another distinctive feature, with djembe, darbouka, tambourine and frame drums. There are two singers in the band, one male and one female. Both have a rather heavy dark lamenting voice, providing an impressive although at times a bit depressive atmosphere to the songs. This is weighed out by the instrumental contributions, which are throughout the album very lively, joyful and happy.
The material is mostly written by the band, yet it is deeply rooted in Southern Italian traditions; many of the songs are also sung in local dialects. Another impressive Italian band to look out for!
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Michael Moll

The Chieftains "The Wide World Over"
Label: RCA Victor; No. 09026639172; 2002; Playing time: 71.31 min
Forty years is a long time to be in any business, let alone to be surrounded by virtually the same faces. But forty years it is since The Chieftains first came into being, and "The Wide World Over" is a celebration of a lifetime of music. There is quite a mixture on the album, including traditional tunes from the band just by themselves, not to mention a very impressive roll call of famous friends, ranging from the Corrs to Diana Krall to Los Lobos. Is there anyone out there they haven't played with? Highlights are plentiful. "The Magdalene Laundries" with Joni Mitchell is a choice of song with uncanny resonances of current events in Ireland. Some of the more straightforward traditional tracks are live recordings, and among them is a set of tunes from Matt Molloy's now famous pub, which provides a refreshing alternative to the staged version. My personal favourite however, without hesitation, is Bob Marley's "Redemption Song", performed here with Ziggy Marley. The success of this track can surely be attributed to its simplicity, with Marley's vocals very much to the fore, and the band providing beautiful accompaniment to an already stunning melody, even slipping into a reggae vibe on occasion. The Chieftains are now an institution in themselves, and their name has become bigger and better known than any other Irish traditional band. Perhaps because of this some would argue they have become somewhat removed from that same tradition. This compilation is certainly testament to the breadth of music they have been involved in making.)
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Jennifer Byrne

Various "Celtic Waves. Surfing the Ocean of Tradition"
Label: Magnetic Mudic; No. MMRCD1028; 2002
Magnetic Music has recently made the move from Germany to Doolin, no less, and this double CD set is something of a sampler of what they have to offer. CD 1 comprises ten songs from a range of singers and bands, while the second CD includes ten sets of tunes from some of the most exciting trad bands around at the moment. Despite the simple attraction of Wild Flowers "Fear A Bhata", among others, the first disc is, for me, the weaker of the two. Several of the younger acts currently on the trad circuit are represented on CD 2. First up are North Cregg, with a track taken from their latest album "Mi:Daza", surely one of the best of its kind released last year. The Mike McGoldrick influence is heavily evident, running from the Flook track, "Kishor's Tune" to Skrim and Dezi Donnelly's "Gold Ring/Rory's" set through to the final track, "Greenhouse", by Toss The Feathers. There is a certain charm to the elegant "Jenny's Dream" by Jennifer Roland, while At The Racket provide the opportunity for a spot of nostalgic reminiscing. Magnetic Music look set to make some serious inroads into the Irish music scene in the future, if their current signings are anything to go by. Some very wise choices on their part, which make for fantastic listening on ours.
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Jennifer Byrne

Jim Rooney & Rooney's Irregulars "My Own Ignorant Way"
Label: JRP Records; No. JRP002; 2001; Playing time: 45.15 min
Jim Rooney has been around the block more than once. In fact, he has been in the music business for almost fifty years. This album is a nod to just some of the influences he's absorbed along the way - almost as much folk as it is country. The first song to really catch the ear is "Lord Lovell", featuring one or two well known musicians more commonly associated with Irish music, Arty McGlynn and Nollaig Casey. The performance is tight, the melody is dark and commanding. "Hello Baby Its You" is a pretty and accessible waltz dedicated to the women in the lives of the composers, Jim Rooney and Herb McCullough. The lyrics to "One Morning In May" portray a moving story of love and music, and Jim Rooney's own melody has been covered by the likes of James Taylor. And next time you're looking for a catchy sing-song tune, try "Roving Gambler". One complaint I would have to make with this album is the sometimes questionable vocals. A painfully obvious example is "Pretty Fair Maid", in which the vocals are often weak and quavering, maybe even slipping out of tune on occasion, and unfortunately just do not do justice.
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Jennifer Byrne

Alasdair MacCuish & The Black Rose Ceilidh Band "Stepping Out"
Label: Macmeanmna; No. Skyecd 18; 2002; Playing time: 72.03 min
This is the fourth album from Alasdair MacCuish and the Black Rose Ceilidh Band. It is certainly not one to disappoint. But do not expect the usual, as this is ceilidh music with a definite twist, and, for the first time listener, I think you will be more than pleasantly surprised. "Ceilidh Cascade", from the opening notes of the cool piano riff to the rousing sound of the band going at it full tilt, is a prime example of the range of influences in evidence on this album. There are accordion parts which sound like something straight off the soundtrack to the recent hit movie "Amelie". There are drum sequences which would sound equally as comfortable in a jazz club. "Gaelic Waltz" pulls back a little, into a gentle, nostalgic, dance tune with truly evocative accordion playing. "The Swan" is a really lovely slow air, which lush fiddle arrangements doing justice to a very beautiful melody. "Captain Stretch's Mandolin" is a humourous, laidback set of hornpipes. Whoever said ceilidh music was unrefined should have a listen to this - the band just dangles you along, defying you to go faster, on and on, but preventing you with their smooth rhythmic unity. Brilliant music making. You could dance to this alright.
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Jennifer Byrne

Paul Stephenson "Light green ball"
Label: Stockfisch Records; SFR 357.6023.2; 2002. Playing Time: 46.05 min
Before I even listened to, let alone REVIEWED this album, I thought I would kick things off by doing a "vox pop". I asked ten longstanding members of my local folk club here on the East Coast of England, if they had ever heard of this artiste. None of them had.
Which is a pity. For the fact is that Paul Stephenson is a talented performer, but one who has built his reputation outside of his native country. True, the Folk Cognoscenti here in Britain know of his burgeoning career, but the ordinary guy in the Grimsby folk club is totally unaware of him: despite the fact that Stephenson hails from a part of England less than 2 hours' drive away.
But this was the first time for me to be able to sit down in a darkened room and have a CD of his before me. And just listen. And then just try and decide if this is a classic case of a performer being "a prophet without honour in his own land".
Well, I have now played the album three times, and I have to say, that I feel a bit like one of those ice-skating judges: those people who display one set of marks that are quite outstanding - straight "sixes" and all that - and then, with their second lot of marks, incur the wrath of the spectators, and thus the auditorium echoes to the sound of mass booing.
Which is a way of saying first that this is an extremely pleasant album on the ear. Stephenson has a most beguiling vocal delivery: he can really draw you into a song. (It is no surprise that he cites James Taylor as his greatest influence.) His own guitar is backed by some very tasty musicians, the pick of them being Grischka Zepf, who delivers some thrillingly authoritative electric bass. Backing vocals are sublime: mind you, what else would you expect when one of the harmony vocalists is none other than Mike Silver! Was there ever a more mellifluous voice to stem from these British shores?
So, it is clear that the "jury is not out" when it comes to the effect of this album on the EAR. It is an unqualified success. The problem comes when one considers the album's impact on one's "grey matter". And there, one is much less emphatic.
And of course it is the age-old thing: you cannot make bricks without straw. In the end it comes down to the SONGS, dear Reader, the SONGS. And the plain fact is that Paul Stephenson's self-penned songs, although not totally without merit, are really Lower Division songs for a First Division performer.
I cannot imagine any of these songs being covered by anyone. Which is a pity, since they obviously mean a lot to their writer, and probably to his family and friends.
Still, to finish on a more positive note, I can honestly say that there is much to commend in this album.
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Dai Woosnam

Blue Murder "No One Stands Alone"
Label: Topic Records; TSCD 537; 2002. Playing Time: 46.27 min
"Blue Murder" was the name first given to the occasional Supergroup that was first formed in 1986. It was then a merger of The Watersons and Swan Arcade. Nowadays it is more accurately a merger of the Waterson clan and CBS (Coope, Boyes and Simpson). And some 16 years later, the fusion of two such powerful forces STILL manages to create sparks: this is a seriously thrilling album.
Before I get down to the nitty-gritty, a word on the CD packaging. We have a beautiful photo of the artistes on the back of the box, with their names alongside them in case you have been on Mars all your life. Inside, we have 2 useful pages on the historical background of the group, but 3 pages of further portraits of the protagonists! These valuable 3 pages could have been taken up by information and comments on the songs. Is it egomania or laziness? I prefer to think the latter. But now, down to business.
The material is a mix of the traditional and the contemporary: the common denominator is that they are all songs that lend themselves to glorious "ensemble singing". And here we have the perfect artistes to present them.
I would not want to pick out a stand-out track. All of the tracks "deliver the goods", and make you want to sing along with them. No, rather than discuss the SONGS, I would prefer to say a word about some of the SINGERS. And one in particular.
I have to come clean: I have NEVER been a fan of Eliza Carthy. Oh sure, when I stood next to her in a restaurant queue at a folk festival some years ago, her PHYSICAL BEAUTY took my breath away. But her solo performances and her work with luminaries such as Joan Baez, have left me somewhat "underwhelmed".
But this album took the blinkers off my eyes. Her voice is the ONE voice I kept picking out of the seven. In contrast to her mum (Norma) - whose voice is now alas, a shadow of what it once was - Eliza's is so strong and true. And brave. She really GOES for the difficult harmonic lines. Her voice rings like a bell.
Far be it for me to be "ageist" - for I am of her parents' generation - but she sounds for all the world like a strong youth amongst geriatrics. Yes, THAT is how much she dominates the whole three quarters of an hour. She brings to this group the raw energy that her late Auntie Lal's voice provided for The Watersons some 30 years ago.
"Geriatrics"? A bit strong eh? Such energetic singers as CBS? Surely not? Well, yes, obviously I must admit that the description was a bit hyperbolic. But I promise you, THAT is the effect she has on this album.
It was not until track 5 that the great bass voice of Jim Boyes really made itself evident, and track 9 before Barry Coope really imposed himself. This latter fact in itself is remarkable, for Coope is surely the greatest harmony singer of his generation. But even HE seems to defer to Eliza in full flight. Maybe they would occasionally be going for the same harmonic line, and so he stepped back from the mike? Whatever the reason, he is not in the magnificent top gear we all know he CAN be in with CBS.
To sum up then: if they have a second pressing of this fine album, I suggest they re-title it as being by "Eliza Carthy and Blue Murder". Ha! I will never take her name in vain again.
Dai Woosnam

Tom Roznowski "Voice Beyond The Hill"
Label: Blazing Stump Productions; (un-numbered); 2001. Playing Time: 42.35 min
Roznowski hails from Indiana, a State with a tradition for good song-writing. This goes from the late Hoagy Carmichael up to the John Mellencamps and John Hiatts of the present day. Is it something in the WATER there, or is it that Indiana can also produce the occasional dud song-writer? Can it be that some of their much-vaunted sons just do not "have" it?
So I thought I would put this theory to the test with "Voice Beyond The Hill", my first chance to hear this artiste. Certainly, he comes backed with an impressive selection of heady quotes garnered by his Publicity Machine. I read that different characters call him, on the one hand "Americana's Troubadour"; and on the other, suggest he has "tapped the creative wellsprings of Walt Whitman and Stephen Foster". Those are SOME claims! And to top them all, one guy says that this album "creates a bridge that connects the past to the future".
These quotes really whetted my appetite for the album. I pressed "Play" and sat back, leafing through the attractive liner book containing the lyrics. And immediately, was almost blown away by the opening track, an intelligent and beautifully delivered song called "You Never Know".
Aptly named too. Because it was ME who "never knew" that I was already listening to the album's high-water mark!
True, his glorious "High Lonesome" voice remains in fine fettle all the way through the album - think of Jimmie Dale Gilmore and you won't be far wrong - but the songs never recapture the magic. True, they run the gamut in subject matter, and they are very well performed by some capable musicians, which include Roznowski; but they are, in reality, inconsequential "slices of life" that forgo memorability.
We can only hope his next album has songs that will do justice to his considerable talent as a vocalist.
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Dai Woosnam

Various Artistes "Free Reed - This Label Is Not Removable"
Label: Free Reed; FRTCD 25; 2002. 3 CDs: Playing Time: 68 mins/78 mins/78 mins.
This is a triple CD to celebrate 25 years of the Free Reed label. The CD arrives hot-on-the-heels of a double CD to celebrate a similar quarter-of-a-century clocked up by Fellside Records. And like the Fellside tribute, this CD is also one that can prove worthy of a place alongside the best Folk compilation CDs of recent years.
Now Fellside's 25 years were more-or-less continuous: Free Reed's had a 15 year virtual hiatus between 1981 and 1996. This was because the company had collapsed: possibly due to it diversifying too much and also moving too far in too fast a time. But that apart, the parallels between the two companies are quite striking, and the Traditional Folk scene in the British Isles owes a huge debt to both.
First a word regarding Free Reed: it gets its name from its owner Neil Wayne's love of the concertina (concertinas work using "free" metal reeds). It was originally something of a one-man cottage industry: I recall several months in 1975 when Neil still had his record shop near Belper in Derbyshire. I used to find any excuse to make a massive detour from where my travelling job in the Wine Trade had taken me, just to see him there. And to talk about Folk Music with him, buy rare folk LPs, and to listen to his plans for his label (which was just getting off the ground). Needless to say, I have watched the vicissitudes of his company with much interest ever since. And it is nice to see him come out on top. Sometimes the "good guys" really DO win.
The 3 CDs come handsomely presented in a box that contains a truly engrossing 78 page insert booklet, which gives you all the information you need on the over three and a half hours of music. Plus fascinating background on Neil and his company. But best of all, it contains a glorious gem of an essay by John Renbourn. Methinks he should have been wielding a pen these past 40 years, even more so than a guitar. The man is a born writer.
And Neil Wayne is/was a BORN judge of a talented performer. Amongst the illustrious names on this album (like Peter Bellamy and Nic Jones) there are the "unknowns": but it is a tribute to their abilities that you "cannot see the join". There is a fair amount of enjoyable concertina music, which given Neil's passion for the instrument, is understandable.
Add to this the fact that there are several previously unreleased tracks, and you have a Celebration Set that is worth every penny of its retail price.
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Dai Woosnam

Ellika Frisell & Solo Cissokho "tretakt - takissaba"
Label: Xource; No.XOUCD 133; 2002; Playing time: 56.21 min
This is one of those CDs where it is a joy to play that little guessing game with friends where this music comes from. The sparsely accompanied fiddle playing has definitely something Scandinavian about it, the music reflecting also the harmonic and unique music from the North. Then there is a second instrument, contributing an influence from some culture far away from Scandinavia. Finally, there is some male singing in distinctive African style...
And with these elements, the origin of this music is nearly discovered: Ellika Frisell is a Swedish traditional fiddler based in Stockholm, well-known through her works with Filarfolket, Den Fule or Rosenbergs Sja. And Solo Cissokho comes from Senegal, living today in Norway; he plays kora and is a singer and storyteller. He is known already from his African-Scandinavian collaborations from his work with Norwegian singer Kirsten Bråten Berg.
On this first duo album of Solo and Ellika, Swedish and African traditions and culture meet, melt and create a unique new blend of music styles. It works very well, sounds innovative, yet close to both traditions. An inspiring collaboration and a proof that folk cultures throughout the world might be closer than we would normally expect.
Michael Moll

Riccardo Tesi & Banditaliana "thapsos"
Label: Dunya/Felmay; No.fy8034; 2001; Playing time: 61.51 min
Riccardo Tesi and his band Banditaliana is one of the most inspiring bands currently found on the European music scene. They develop Italian folk music further, into their very own blend of Italian tradition, Mediterrean influences, Jazz and contemporary folk music. Riccardo Tesi is one of the European masters on the melodeon, and he is a brilliant composer of contemporary folk music in his own right. His Banditaliana features the joyful singing and guitar playing of Maurizio Geri, the wonderful Jazzy inputs on the saxophone by Claudio Carboni and the percussionist and vibe player Ettore Bonafè. Additionally, this CD brings together also a huge range of all in all twelve guest musicians.
Nearly all titles - both songs and tunes - are written by Riccardo Tesi. Many of the songs are real earwigs, such as "Carnival" or "Justin"; and all the tunes are very harmonic, with the melodeon always adding a unique colour to the music. The album features a wonderful range of music where styles do not matter; it is great music, and it does not really matter if it is now folk, folk-jazz, world or whatever else.
Highly enjoyable, full of Italian spirit and joy.
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Michael Moll

Pete Cooper & Richard Bolton "Turning Point - Fiddle & Cello Duets"
Label: Big Chain; No.BC101; 2001; Playing time: 52.41 min
Is this just another English folk music duo? Definitely not; the music of Pete Cooper & Richard Bolton is unique on the English scene. As the subtitle of the CD already suggests, this a fiddle / cello duo, and this is where the uniqueness already starts. The two musicians are highly respected in the worlds of tradtional fiddle music and jazz improvisation.
A lot of the material on their debut album is written by Pete Cooper, alongside some traditional numbers. The roots of the music are in England, yet they take up influences from the "Celtic" countries as well as the Balkan and Sweden. The musical pace changes between quiet and lively, and between improvising and more straight forward traditional. It is the cello adding that special spice and jazzy-classical atmosphere to the music.
Worth to check out!
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Michael Moll

More English CD Reviews: Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 3 - Page 4 - Page 5
More German CD Reviews: Page 1 - Page 2
Overview: CD Review Contents

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© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 06/2002

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