Issue 31 1/2006
FolkWorld CD Reviews
Dan Treanor & Frankie Lee "African Wind"
Blues; NBM 0023; 2004; Playing time: 54:31 min
The African roots of the blues are often more a field of a writer´s speculations
than for recording activities. But there are exceptions. Here is one of them.
White blues artist Dan Treanor has teamed up with veteran black soul voice Frankie
Lee, who works in his field since more than forty years. Dan Treanor´s special
interest lies in playing and crafting African instruments. On this album he
plays the one-stringed diddley bow, the ngoni and the khalam, which are more
or less African versions of the banjo and the guitar. All these instruments
are played with a slide or bottleneck. Even African percussion and cane flutes
The result is a mix of musical styles. There is Mean Woman Blues which recalls
Bo Diddley, the bluesy hard rock of Got No Lifeline and Out With Dynamite with
a hookerish boogie. Most interesting of course are the pieces which feature
the African instruments prominently, like the beautiful title cut, the driving
The Droit Man and a great rework of Tommy Johnson´s Big Road blues which he
calls Lonesome Road, Texas Son and Black Hanna. The dark Love a Woman´s Soul
with effective flutes and majestic drumming is my favorite while tracks like
Tell Me Mama and Who´s Playing Who are standard pieces which don´t add anything
to the „African“ aspects of the album.
You should note that this indeed very interesting album is a mixed bag and not
on the whole the concept album that you could expect and that the singer is
a soul shouter who for my money is not the best choice for a record like this.
Nevertheless I would like to hear more stuff like this.
Liam O'Connor & Lisa Aherne "Live in Concert
from Citywest Hotel, Dublin"
Entertainment; 2001; Playing time: 57:19 min
Liam O'Connor & Lisa Aherne "Live in Concert
from Citywest Hotel, Dublin" [DVD Video]
Entertainment; 2001; Playing time: ca. 74 min
A couple of years ago, button accordionist Liam
O'Connor invited a couple of musician friends to join forces for an evening
of songs and tunes at the Citywest Hotel in County Dublin. Born in the hinterlands
of Newmarket, County Cork, Liam was sought after by Michael Flatley to join
his "Lord of the Dance" show. He subsequently played on the soundtrack as well
in it's successor "Feet of Flames". The Citywest show is starting with the beautiful
"Lord Mayo's" march, ending with the furious Mairtin O'Connor's (-> FW#22,
FW#24) "Liquid Sunshine" reel. Another
great accordion player. Inbetween an Irish music (and dance) extravaganza. The
tune sets on CD and DVD are most grasping, a mix of old and new. Liam O'Connor
live in concert has much commercial appeal. It is strictly contemporary sounded,
meant to be cool and sexy, and it becomes the more with the more adventurous
selections, e.g. Gerry O'Connor's "Funk the Cajun Blues". That's Gerry "Banjo"
O'Connor (though he's playing a wee bit of fiddle here -> FW#30).
Other musician friends include Colin Farrell (fiddle), James Blennerhasset (bass),
plus step dancers. Liam's partner Lisa Aherne chose a couple of songs drawn
from the pop song box, nevertheless beautifully rendered. Lennon/McCartney's
"I Will", Kieran Halpin's "4th of July" (see the review of his new recording
below), and so forth.
Liam O'Connor Entertainment
Kieran Halpin "A Box of Words and Tunes"
Label: SOS Records; SOS 017; 2005; Playing
time: 61:22 min
Kieran Halpin (-> FW#24)
and a couple of musician friends, e.g. percussionist Yogi Jockusch of Garifin
(-> FW#18), bass player Maart Allcock
and the late guitar player Chris Jones (-> FW#12,
FW#28), set out again. Starting with
the big opener, you did black like Edouard Manet and yellow like Van Gogh,
the singer-songwriter from Drogheda, Co. Louth, Ireland, pulled on his singing
boots and painted his masterpiece. And where he once was walking on eggshells,
he now walks like a champion and dances in the street. Kieran may
have missed the bigger picture, but definitely all I'll leave you when
I'm gone is a box of words and tunes. Could possibly be his best effort
Caoimhín Vallely "Strayaway"
Label: Own label; CVCD001; 2005; Playing time:
Another son of the famous musical family from County Armagh, Northern Ireland
(-> FW#29). Caoimhín
Vallely grew up with whistle and fiddle. He joined Upstairs in a Tent (alongside
Brian Finnegan, -> FW#7, FW#11,
and Kathryn Tickell, -> FW#15, FW#29).
He co-founded North Cregg (-> FW#9, FW#19,
FW#26), recorded and performed with
Nomos, Karan Casey (-> FW#20, FW#25),
Alan Kelly (-> FW#23), and his brothers
Niall and Cillian (-> FW#24). Caoimhín
studied the piano with Micheal
O Suilleabhain (-> FW#4), and that's
what he chose for his first solo album. Playing jigs & reels, hornpipes & slow
airs on the piano. Right, not as accompaniment but a fully fledged solo instrument.
Featuring his brothers Niall on concertina and Cillian on uilleann pipes, he
strays away on an unapproved road (which is the title of a jig composed
by Niall). And it works extremely well for this brave and adventurous son of
Armagh that the northern hero Cuchullain couldn't have done better.
Robin Laing "Ebb and Flow"
Label: Whistleberry; CD001; 2005; Playing
time: 57:44 min
There's new life round the corner, new start, new direction, so take a deep
breath, now, here goes. Robin Laing
is known in our FolkWorld as the connoisseur of the Scottish water of life
(-> FW#1, FW#2,
FW#26). However, there's more than just
a dram, though he's in good spirits as well. Robin offers us 14 new originals
with great lyrics. Indeed, his first record entirely consisting of original
material. He even wrote a couple of songs in spirit of a big ballad. "Jamie
Penman" had been a covenanter (too less place here to make you understand this
period in Scotland’s history) who fought against the British crown, was imprisoned
and exiled to the West Indies. But the ship only got as far as Orkney where
it was driven onto the rocks. Everything that makes a good story. "Donald Cameron
VC" from Carluke, the nearest town to where Robin lives, was a submariner on
a midget submarine and was involved in the attack on the Tirpitz, the biggest
destroyer in the German Fleet, in 1943. Robin tells us that they managed
to place the charges under the Tirpitz but then had to abandon their craft.
They were pulled aboard the Tirpitz and were given hot coffee and Schnapps by
the German Captain. They took the Schnapps but said nothing, waiting for the
ship to blow. Blow it did, and the explosion lifted it six feet out of the water
and made such a hole that it never took part in the war again. Other inspirations
had been Bram Stoker's Dracula ("Bloofer Lady"), written by an Irishman in
Scotland about a Transylvanian Count coming to England, and the Odyssey
("The Lotus Eaters"), a drug song, where Ulysses and his men came under the
spell of a rather quiet, drug-dulled, hippy crowd who got permanently high
on the Lotus fruit. There's a lovely love song: I don't believe in Heaven
and I won't believe in Hell, I don't believe in witches or in black magic spells.
People look up to the stars and see a strange celestial zoo, I just don't have
the time for superstition and voodoo. But I believe in you. So follow the
last song's advice: skip back a track and replay!
Peter Nardini "Rain Din"
Label: Whistleberry; CD003; 2005; Playing
time: 57:27 min
Alongside Robin Laing (see above), Peter
Nardini is featured on the new Scottish songwriters cooperative record label
Whistleberry. The title (and title song) of his debut album obviously is an
anagram of his surname. Anagram which comes from latin "ars magna" which means
great art. And here we are. Is it just a word jumble or a message? A simplistic
word game or complex cryptanalysis? Himself a painter as well, the singer-songwriter
from Dundee brings people, stories, colours into a musical canvas. Portraits
it is. Like a Scottish early Bob Dylan, with acoustic guitar and mouthie and
singing through the nose. No harm intended, Peter isn't one of those plastic
Dylans that Eric Bogle ridiculed (see review below). Here's some great wee songs
that grow bigger every time I listen to the CD. A talented man himself.
Eric Bogle "At This Stage"
CDTRAX286; 2005; Playing time: 74:55 + 73:00 min
Eric Bogle (-> FW#1,
had to be forced doing a live album again. Eventually he delivered the goods.
Fine for us all, because the native Scotsman turned Aussie reveals again the
great performer he is. With a four piece band he sings the big hits we all know,
"No Man's Land", "Now I'm Easy", "Leaving Nancy" etc., and a couple of other
ditties. If you never heard it, then listen to "Do You Know Any Dylan", which
is a faster rewrite of "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" (of course, also
featured). A great entertainer, folksinger, storyteller. Eric is special, pure
magic and funny. And he has something to say. There can't be enough Eric Bogle
records, live or otherwise. So: To those of you who have bought this recording,
I hope you enjoy it, and thanks. To those of you just idly reading the blurb
and song list on the CD sleeve and who have no intention of buying it, please
stand aside and let a paying customer through.
Ion Petre Stoican "Sounds from a Bygone Age
CD-ATR 0805; 2005; Playing time: 45:05 min
Legend has it that Romanian fiddler Ion Petre Stoican (born 1930) once observed
a suspicious looking man who turned out being a long-sought spy. Ion took the
man to the next police station. The secret police asked what reward he would
like to have: "Should we give you a house?" "I don't need a house", Ion responded.
"I want to make a record." We don't know what happenend to that James Bond,
but we know the record Ion made. Eventually. And that's certainly a thing to
be more proud of than this obscure story from the Ceausescu era. In 1966 the
violonist from Constanta recorded a four-track album, in the mid 1970s he convinced
the authorities again. Ions one and only full-length record drew more famous
musicians than Ion ever was into the studio and united Bucharest Roma musicians
to an All Star band. Some were quite legendary Romanian Gypsy musicians: trumpet
player Costel Vasilescu, cymbalom player Toni Iordache, accordion player Ionica
Minune. Fourteen artists in all. There's standard wedding music, ritual dances
and songs. Most of all, fast dances such as the hora or the sirba. However,
regarding tradition, there is a strong jazz influence. The record established
Ion firmly in the Bucharest market and he played until the end of the 1980s
at numerous weddings. Ion Petre Stoican died shortly after the revolution swept
the dictatorship away. No need for spys anymore.
P.S.: "Sounds from a Bygone Age Vol. 1" is from the young Asphalt Tango label,
dedicated to the rich variety of easter European music. There's promises that
more from the vaults is to come.
Patsy Watchorn "Irish Rebel Heroes"
Label: Rare Auld Times; PGW001; 2004; Playing
time: 46:29 min
I haven't heard an entire album of Irish rebel songs for quite some time. It
had been en vogue to do so when Ireland was celebrating the 200th anniversary
of the 1798 United Irishmen rebellion (-> FW#4,
and 20 years before that when the Dubliners (-> FW#23)
took to the road. Today it is rather the domain of obscure pub bands. Doing
it at the beginning of the 21st century, some people would consider it rather
odd and raising wrong sentiments. But anyway it is history and according to
the late Frank Harte (-> FW#7, FW#30)
it is part of history - all sides of the traditions. And who's the man to do
the old rebel song better than Patsy
Watchorn (-> FW#28), the Irish balladeer
who tirelessly follows the path of the likes of Luke Kelly and Frank McCann
etc. (-> FW#18). In 1969 Patsy formed
The Quare Fellas whose first album depicted the group inside a prison cell of
Dublin's Kilmainham Jail. Ten years ago he left The
Dublin City Ramblers and went solo on the pub music circuit. So Patsy came
full circle. Everything's there. From 19th century Republican ballads to 20th
century IRA. The United Irishmen rebellion, Robert Emmett, 1848 and 1867, the
War of Independence up to the recent troubles in Northern Ireland (-> FW#23).
Thank God most of it is over. Only in music the fight is still going on.
Miranda Sykes Band "Miranda Sykes Band"
IRR058; 2005; Playing time: 41:38 min
A decade after her first appearance on record and a year after her solo debut
"Don't Look Down", Miranda Sykes [->
FW#29] has now released a full-length
album under the name of "Miranda Sykes Band". To record this, the classically-trained
double-bass player with the remarkable vocal range has gathered together the
crème de la crème of her long-standing musical cooperation. The band's exciting
line-up consists of Maartin Allock (g, b, voc) out of Jethro Tull and The Fairport
Convention, Gareth Turner, melodeon player with the Albion Band, the Phil Beer
Band and Little Johnny England, Imogen O'Rourke (fl) out of the Celtic folk
group Firebrand, and Martin Fitzgibbon, drummer in the original Rocky Horror
Show production and now member of the exceptional ColvinQuarmby quartet.
Although her "second debut" again contains no original compositions of her own,
Sykes's choice of material and arrangements are clearly out of the ordinary.
As on "Don't Look Down", she has recorded several folk traditionals (such as
"Deep in Love" or "Ten Thousand Miles") and set two pastoral poems of the English
Renaissance to music (Christopher Marlowe's "Come Live with Me" and Sir Walter
Raleigh's response "The Nymph's Reply to the Shepherd", from which we may infer
that her next album could include a modern version of John Donne's variation
on the same theme…). Moreover, the Miranda Sykes Band render new interpretations
of two songs lately made popular by Mary Black ("By the Time It Gets Dark",
"Barbara") as well as Kirsty McGee's composition "Bliss". In addition to these
deep-rooted traditional-style songs, Sykes and her companions also succeed in
swinging while doubtless winning ("Killing Time") as well as embarking on a
brief folk-rock trip along the veins of Penelope Houston unplugged-no-more ("Mysterious
If the album has a distinctive style to it, as it certainly has, this is because
of the proficiency of the musicians involved. The homogenous sound of The Miranda
Sykes Band is due essentially to the extensive use of the melodeon, which often
functions as the number-one accompanying instrument; simultaneously, most of
the tracks are flavoured with a great helping of Sykes's imaginative double-bass
lines and O'Rourke's outstanding flute playing. Finally, with the unmistakable
"live" feel to the songs, which were recorded in one take each, the Miranda
Sykes Band's debut reckons among the most refreshing albums of the summer.
Mr Love & Justice "Homeground"
VRCD004, 2003; Playing time: 44:43 min
Ages after the success of the legendary XTC, the English town of Swindon has
brought forth a new promising band known by the name of "Mr
Love & Justice", who have recently released their first album, "Homeground".
Reviewers have praised the quintet's debut variously as the "finest example
of English acoustic rock available anywhere today", an "album that has a lot
to offer" or a collection of "wickedly achieved pop songs", if not "rolling
pastoral tunes". The band name The Beatles, Billy Bragg, XTC and Richard Thompson
as their major inspirations, whereas others have identified the influences of
The Byrds, Loving Spoonful and "perhaps even" Jefferson Airplane and Paul Weller.
One way or the other, "Homeground" is a well-crafted album with excellent guitar
work, clever lyrics (such as their statement in favour of British multi-culturalism
in "Welcome to Our Garden") and a genuinely "English" feel to it: a promising
debut in the realm of acoustic roots/rock music!
Colvin Quarmby "A Short Walk to the Red Lion"
CAQ3594; 2004; Playing time: 42:21 min
Over a period of three albums, lots of festival and arts centre appearances
as well as concerts in Britain, France and the Benelux countries, ColvinQuarmy,
an "eclectic roots-based" quartet (as they characterize themselves) headed by
Gerry Colvin (voc, g) and Nick Quarmy (voc, b), have developed into a highly
original music group. The "Froots Magazine" writes of them, "If The Beautiful
South had gone down the roots road, they may well have sounded something like
this". This comparison is definitely justified, because both bands have developed
their sense of catchy melodies, faultless harmonies (and harmony vocals) and
tongue-in-cheek lyrics to the state of perfection. No matter what the influence
on ColvinQuarmby exactly are, they like to call their style "town and country
music". Their fourth full-length album, "A Short Walk to the Red Lion", bears
testimony of this in both words and sounds. Musically, the urban influence prevails;
however, with the accordion-based French-style song "Go and Ask Somebody Else"
and the nearly purist country-and-western piece "What I Did to Her Last Night
I'd Rather Do to You" [!], they cater for peasant folk, too, as well as blending
town and country in "The Poacher, the Highwayman and the Rustling Wheelwright".
Lyricwise, the impression is more varied, ranging from town to suburb to country
to seashore (remember Kleisthenes's constitutional reform in ancient Athens?!)
and on to the ubiquitous problems around self and the opposite sex. Moreover,
ColvinQuarmby prove to be excellent story-tellers throughout the record, with
their topics as diverse as the settings they're in.
All in all, "A Short Walk to the Red Lion" comes across as a faultless record
with an astonishing number of catchy tunes packed onto it. If you can, enjoy!
Label: Flatfish, 005CD
Flook are a phenomenon in the traditional music scene. An unusual pairing of
twin flutes (Sarah Allen & Brian Finnegan) with guitar (Ed Boyd) and bodhran
(John Joe Kelly), they play mostly neo-Celtic tunes. Despite their apparently
constrained instrumental palate, they play with the kind of frenzied energy
and (literally) breathtaking skill that has listeners shaking their heads in
Their third studio album continues in the same happy groove as their previous
albums, although guest appearences on harp (Catriona Mackay) and banjo (Leon
Hunt) vary the feel a little. There's also more melodic work from Boyd on guitar
(eg "Souter Creek") and Kelly on mandolin ("Mouse Jigs"), and perhaps more emphasis
on Allen's accordion work. But when it comes down to it, the best moments on
"Haven" are when Flook are flying full throttle on their main instruments, with
guest musicians hanging on for dear life. Good examples include "Mouse Jigs",
"Wrong Foot Forward" and "Padraig's".
One small niggle: at just over 42 minutes "Haven" ends rather sooner than I
would have liked. Nevertheless this is an incredibly tight and talented band
playing some of the most exciting folk music around at present.
Karen Matheson "Downriver"
There has never been any doubt about the vocal skills of Karen Matheson. The
superb lead singer of Scotland's Capercaillie has one of the finest voices in
the entire folk or world music scene. On this her third solo album she has finally
matched that voice to songs that fully illustrate its supple yet vulnerable
The songs are a deft combination of traditional and contemporary. Many are in
Gaelic, some harking back to Matheson's childhood (the achingly beautiful "Chi
mi bhuam" and the delicate "Gleann baile chaoil"); others of more recent provenance
(eg Brendan Graham's haunting "Crucan na bpaiste"). James Grant (fretted instruments
and backing vocals) provides two of the English language songs. The touching
"Singing in the dark" is unusually but effectively in waltz time.
Another outstanding feature is the musical input of Ireland's Donal Lunny. His
characteristic bouzouki work and co-arrangements with Matheson and producer
Donald Shaw give considerable rhythmic drive to a number of tracks. An exquisite
Gaelic song "O nach eisdeadh" and a mesmerising "Puirt a beul" exemplify this.
The result is to broaden the appeal of an album that was already full of heart
and soul. And it tends to reinforce my view that it's in the marriage of Gaelic
language and Celtic music that Karen Matheson's talents are most powerfully
manifest. Without doubt this is her finest solo album so far.
Michael McGoldrick "Wired"
Hold the presses on 2005's folk album of the year! Mancunian wizard of flute,
whistle and uilleann pipes Michael McGoldrick has produced another brilliant
solo album. "Wired" is a rich fusion of styles including jazz, funk and World-beat.
Yet it retains an essentially Irish core. This may be McGoldrick's special gift
to traditional music: to have somehow liberated the inherent funk, the sheer
wild syncopated bliss of Celtic music for a 21st century audience. (That my
teenage daughter anticipated the album as much as her 50-something father is
testament to this.)
Of course McGoldrick is not alone in this venture. Band mates from Capercaillie
are there - especially Donald Shaw, who produced the album, co-wrote a number
of tunes and plays a range of keyboards. Asian spice is supplied by Parv Bharat's
scintillating tabla and James Mackintosh's burbling udu. Plus there's an uncredited
(sampled?) Asian singer on "Sophie's". This is a stand-out track, a fascinating
fusion of many music styles that somehow coheres. It bodes well for the role
music might play in bringing disparate cultures closer together.
Jazzy touches also suffuse the album, with Neil Yates' trumpet and flugelhorn
and Signy Jacobsdottir's marimba surprisingly at home amongst the folk fiddles
of Dezi Donnelly and John McCusker. Bridging all styles superbly is Ewen Vernal's
upright bass. But of course it's McGoldrick's kaleidoscopic playing that gives
the album its strongest colours. Whether on slow and soulful wooden flute ("Strange
Journey"); frenetic low whistle ("The Jolly Tinker"); or blazing pipes ("The
Sporting Days of Easter"), he seems at the height of his powers. This album
is both a gem and a joy.
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