FolkWorld Issue 33 05/2007

FolkWorld CD Reviews

Shona Kipling + Damien O'Kane "Box On"
Focal Music; FMCD02; 2006; Playing time: 49:42 min
Shona Kipling and Damien O'Kane is an exciting duo bursting onto the traditional scene in recent years. Shona Kipling (piano accordion) is English with Irish roots, her mother being from Kerry, she grew up in County Durham. Damien O'Kane (tenor banjo and guitar) is Irish from Coleraine, County Derry. Both are three-time All-Ireland champions, Shona also became BBC Radio 2 Young Folk AWard finalist and received a BBC Fame Academy Bursary. Damien also plays with the band CrossCurrent and is working alongside Kathryn Tickell (see below) as director of the youth project Folkestra. On their second album "Box On" they are supported by guests such as Aaron Jones (bouzouki -> FW#31). They are both composers in their own right; Flook recorded Damien's "Shuffle" on their "Haven" album (-> FW#31). Damien also sings the 19th century Irish lament "Airdi Cuan" (which is a peak in Northern Ireland) and the well-known "P Stands for Paddy". According to the album's title Shona and Damien tackle their tunes with spirit and verve. Box on, i.e. carrying on through hard times. We hope they'll do. It is awarding in the end.
Focal Music
Walkin' T:-)M

Bilja Krstic & Bistrik Orchestra "Tarpos"
intuition; INT 3406 2; 2007; Playing time: 41:19 min
Belgrade singer Bilja Krstic has been on the Yugoslav pop scene since the 1970s. After a successful career in pop music, Bilja Krstic took to the roots of her country's music. She collected folk songs from all over Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, resulting in two previous albums "Bistrik" (2001) and "Zapisi” (2003). These songs date back to Ottoman rule in the Balkan, when there was a kind of a common culture, at least there were many similarities from the Balkans to the Middle East. The old songs and tunes are interpreted in a contemporary way, some songs have new tunes. The Bistrik Orchestra is an eight-member fusion band from Belgrade, featuring violin, pipe, duduk (a traditional woodwind instrument of Armenian origins), plus guitar, bass and percussion backing. Bilja Krstic is a great singer, the songs are proficiently put together. No folklore but traditional music for contemporary audiences.
Walkin' T:-)M

Laimas Muzykanti "Orkla Bolss - The Voice of a Plough"
UPE AM; UPEAMCD 005; 2006; Playing time: 49:38 min
The Laimas Muzykanti started out a decade ago as a group of musicians to accompany the Daugavpils folk dance group Laima in the Latgale region in South East Latvia. On one hand there is a small group that plays traditional instruments and for folk dancing, on the other hand there is a bigger group adding electric guitar, bass and drums playing folk rock. "Orkla bolss" (i.e. the voice of the plow) is the latter one. The eight piece band sing traditional songs in Latgallian about young fellas that steal horses, cheat people, drive round young girls, and what folk songs are generally about. Accordion, kokle (a type of zither derived from the Finnish kantele) and flute direct to an ethnic sound. There are quite a few great ethno rock songs. "Sielejis dancs" on the contrary is a Pogues-like polka (-> FW#22, FW#30), which doesn't work that good. It's okay for a fun song, but lacks the seriousness of most of the other tracks. I am not sure if I ever listened to a Latvian band before, here is one I would strongly recommend.
Walkin' T:-)M

Robin Laing "One for the Road"
Greentrax; CDTRAX313; 2007; Playing time: 50:16 min
From the Lowlands to the Highlands, from Japan to the Hebrides. from Orkney to Kentucky and the far Antipodes, from Tennessee to Canada and Ireland’s emerald land, there’s a world of whisky out there, so let’s have another dram... "One for the Road" is the third in a series of albums about the world of whisky in song and music. Robin Laing (-> FW#5, FW#13, FW#24, FW#26, FW#31), a fine interpreter of traditional and contemporary Scottish song, is one of those lucky individuals who has turned his hobby into a career: whisky, uisge beatha, the water of life, Scotland's most important export, and her greatest contribution to humanity. This time featuring less Scottish music. There are still good Scottish whisky songs to be uncovered but I wanted to do something different, Robin says. I had picked up a few good non-Scottish songs and was writing songs in a different style. In any case, whisky is an international phenomenon. He wrote a couple of songs himself, others were taken from Karine Polwart, Mark Wise, Amy Allison, Simon Haworth, Harley Allen & Carson Chamberlain and Tegwen Roberts. The arrangements are catchy and go straight into the heart. Or is it into the veins? Or into the belly? If you’re fightin' off a lurgie, you can gargle wi’ Glenburgie, and Balvenie is Viagra in a glass. Robin is just like his favourite single malt whisky, A'Bunadh, which means something like origin or source: full-bodied, powerful, of great complexity, just the pure stuff of the old style.
Please read the interview with Robin in this FW issue too!
Walkin' T:-)M

Lautari "Azaran"
Label: Samograj; SAMCD 01; 2006; Playing time: 49:12 min
There is an old Armenian fairy tale about "Azaran", the bird of a thousand trills. It says, when Azaran sang everything blossomed. The quartet Lautari from Poznan in Poland chose this as an inspiration. Its music is ethnic jazz, deeply rooted in the traditional music of the Balkan countries, Romania and Greece. The blend of violin, flute, clarinet, piano and drums take care for an ambient sound. There are eastern influences, there is gyspsy music, and a jazzy feeling throughout. Then, from time to time it sounds like a chamber orchestra. When Azaran sang everything blossomed. It does so still today.
Distribution: Multikulti Project / FRIPP
Walkin' T:-)M

Alasdair White "An Clàr Geal"
Temple; COMD2099; 2006; Playing time: 46:40 min
Lauren MacColl "When Leaves Fall"
Label: Make Believe Records; MBR1CD; 2007; Playing time: 53:03 min
Lori Watson "Three"
Label: ISLE Music; ISLE 02CD; 2006; Playing time: 48:59 min
David Garner & Pete Airey [Demo]
Label: Demo; Playing time: 41:17 min
Fiddle part I, Scotland: Alasdair White hails from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Only in his mid twenties, he has been the fiddle player of the Battlefield Band for five years (like John McCusker before him -> FW#26) and is featured on the albums "Time & Tide" (-> FW#23), "Out for the Night" (-> FW#28) and "The Road of Tears" (-> FW#32). His debut solo album "An Clàr Geal" (i.e. "The White Album") is no tribute to the fab four. He gathered colleagues such as Aaron Jones (bouzouki -> FW#31), Mike Katz (bagpipes) and Alison Kinnaird (harp) to execute the Scottish repertory of tunes and rhythms. The Hebridean fiddle style is influenced by the piping tradition, and Alasdair handles his instrument with the skills of a matured performer. It is the pure stuff, and the only reminiscence of the contemporary world is the slow air "An Draigheann": I recorded Allan MacDonald singing the tune into my mobile phone memory, and learnt it from there. It wasn't like that in the old days!
Though one of her self-penned tunes is called "God is an Accordion", Lauren MacColl is a divine fiddler. The debut album of the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winner from Ross-shire features traditional and original Scottish tunes, including source material from the Shetlands the Highlands and Islands, Scott Skinner, and once straying as far as Norway. "When Leaves Fall" has been produced by Chris Stout (Fiddlers' Bid -> FW#29, FW#31). Guitarist Barry Reid (Croft No. 5 -> FW#30) and pianist James Ross form her usual trio, and guest accordionist Luke Daniels (-> FW#31) is featured on one track. Well, if God was a fiddler...
Fiddler and singer Lori Watson teamed up with Fiona Young (piano accordion) and Innes Watson (guitar) to form a tremendous band called "Lori Watson Three". Lori is in good shape, both as an interpreter of the Scottish fiddle tradition as well as writing her own tunes. She is from the Scottish Borders, thus featuring tunes like "The Lowlands of Scotland" and "Lasses of Hawick". Songs as well are mostly from her native Borders, written or collected by Robert Burns and James Hogg.
David Garner has been born in Durham in the North East of England in 1985. He took up the fiddle when only nine. When moving to Dumfries in Scotland at the age of 13, he joined the school ceilidh band. Soon after David became All-Scotland and All-Britain fiddle champion. Recently he started studying Engineering Design at the University of Bristol, besides playing music with different kinds of outfits. Two years ago David met veteran guitar player Pete Airey. Pete started playing the guitar at the age of 8 following the example of his jazz pianist father. While at University in Bristol, he played the folk club circuit. In the 1970s he formed a band with Dave Evans, a duo with Steve Tilston (-> FW#32) and joined the legendary folk rock band Gryphon. David and Peter went on to form a folk act, gigging around Bristol. The repertory is mainly Irish, partly Scottish. A bit of the Celtic fringe in southern England.
Walkin' T:-)M

Oisín McAuley "Far From the Hills of Donegal"
Compass; 7 4446 2; 2007; Playing time: 55:55 min
Niamh Ní Charra "Ón Dá Thaobh - From Both Sides"
Label: Imeartas; IMCD001; 2007; Playing time: 52:58 min
Fiddle part II, Ireland: Oisín McAuley has been a member of Danú (-> FW#1, FW#5, FW#7, FW#16, FW#27, FW#29, FW#30) since 2001. He grew up in Carrick, County Donegal. These days Oisín is based in Boston, Massachussets, and he breaks out from the more traditional mould of his band. Starting off with some Quebec reels (overheard in Britanny), finishing off with "Port na bPucai", the famous slow air from the Blasket Islands off the Dingle Peninsula (-> FW#28). However, Donegal music is in his blood, so is the Donegal style of fiddling (John Doherty etc.), though Oisín is trained in all styles from bluegrass to jazz. Guests include Shane McGowan (guitar) and Ronan Browne (uilleannn pipes -> FW#21, FW#24, FW#24). Oisín proves indeed, he came far from the hills of Donegal to bring us the best.
Niamh Ní Charra is another Irish fiddler who broke out to stand on her own feet. She did tour the world with the Riverdance show for 8 years and eventually returned to her native shores to record her debut solo album. Niamh hails from the lakes of Killarney, so a couple of Sliabh Luachra slides are featured. The air "Caoineadh Eoghain Rua" possibly refers to the 18th century poet Eoghan Rua Ó Súilleabháin from just outside Killarney. However, there is more: Irish tunes, traditional and original, Cape Breton tunes, Bill Monroe's hornpipe "Crossing the Cumberlands". A Hungarian csárdás taken from Muzsikás' Bartók album (-> FW#13) is followed by the "Gravel Walk" reel. Guests include ex Moving Hearts bass player Eoghan O Neill and accordion player Brendan Begley, who is now with Boys of the Lough (-> FW#32). Brendan sings "An raibh tú ag an gCarraig?" in a version containing both Gaelic and English verses. Niamh also plays the concertina, and she chose Giulio Regondi's "Allegretto #4" as her test piece. The Italian composer was one of the first who performed on Wheatstone's newly patented concertina in 1834, and he was probably the first to introduce the instrument to Irish audiences. The allegretto was written for the English concertina, but Niamh worked it out for the Anglo-German concertina. A talented lady indeed!
Walkin' T:-)M

Pat Broderick & Ann Marie Murray "The Good Friday Session"
Label: Own label; 2006; Playing time: 36:46 min
Danny McLaughlin Band "Dark Wood"
Label: Own label; 2007; Playing time: 45:01 min
Kathryn Tickell "Strange but true"
Park Records; PRKCD90; 2006; Playing time: 62:53 min
Ceri Rhys Matthews "Pibddawns"
Label: fflach:tradd; cd293h; 2006; Playing time: 47:34 min
East Galway is an area in the west of Ireland that produced its special treatment of traditional Irish music. Generally it is more relaxed and less rhythmical. Many tunes are in flat or minor keys lending a melancholic feeling. Must be in the water or in the turf! Fiddler Martin Hayes took it to the extreme trance-like, but usually the music is not quite that bizarre but much more accessible. Uilleann piper (and whistler) Pat Broderick is the heir to a long family tradition. "The Good Friday Session" is recorded live and in full flight in Cregg Castle, his family home, and he is joined by his partner for three decades, Ann Marie Murray, on bodhran. He is further accompanied by concertina player Tim Lyons, and drummer Jason Duffy (of the Corrs) on a ceili-like track. It is a fine session indeed, including an exciting selection of tunes and a strong performance. Pat Broderick pays homage to the East Galway tradition, mind you, travelling piper Johnny Doran often passed through, piper Patsy Touhey had been from the area and became quite famous in the U.S. a hundred years ago. Thanks to the flourishing economy, Irish musicians are allowed to stay home these days, which is great, they can record their music, which is even better. (Distribution by Claddagh Records.)
Danny McLaughlin was born in Manchester to Irish parents. He had a couple of uilleann pipers in his family and was early exposed to giants such as Liam O'Flynn (-> FW#27) and Paddy Keenan (-> FW#30). Nowadays Danny lives in New York. In 2005 he met guitar player Ziv Shalev and formed The Danny Mclaughlin Band as a Celtic rock outfit. Danny plays uilleann pipes and low whistle, plus a rock band as backing. Moving Hearts without the songs. Most tunes were written by Danny himself, with some borrowings from traditional Irish music. It's good craic listening on disc, and I suppose live even more
Northumbrian piper Kathryn Tickell (-> FW#15, FW#17, FW#29) needs no introduction. Though still in her prime, she had a 25 years career and decided looking at a few of the collaborations I've been involved in over the years, ranging from the sublime (I hope) to the ridiculous, and yes, there are some strange moments on it. There are duets with Karen Tweed (-> FW#24) and Catriona Macdonald (-> FW#13), jazz saxophonist Andy Sheppard, the Norwegian Brazz Brothers, harpist Corrina Hewat (-> FW#26) and youth folk ensemble Folkestra, performing both Tickell compositions as well as traditional Northumbrian and Shetland tunes. Kate Doherty wrote a new tune for Burns' "Winter is Past", there is also a rendition of the traditional Tyneside pressgang song "Here's the Tender". Kathryn's friends haven't been pressed into service, there is joy and fun throughout.
Ceri Rhys Matthews (featured on -> FW#29) has been a key figure in the renaissance of Welsh traditional music. Being it as a producer (e.g. Cass Meurig's solo recording of crwth music -> FW#28), member of the group Fernhill, or as a soloist. A solo album of pipe music is not too amazing, but it is when it comes to Welsh pipe music. The Welsh pipes had disappeared decades ago. John Glennydd built a set of pibe cyrn (i.e. bag hornpipe) based on existing ancient instruments, with some innovations to enable a wider repertoire to be played. It sounds quite as sweet and sticky as the Northumbrian pipes or the Scottish small pipes. Many of the tunes, traditional dance music of Wales, have never been sounded on a bagpipe before, and "Pibddawns" is the first recording entirely devoted to that kind of instrument.
Walkin' T:-)M

John Munro "Plying My Trade"
Greentrax; CDTRAX312; 2007; Playing time: 49:26 min
Scotland by birth, down under by choice. John Munro has been born in Glasgow. Just like Eric Bogle (-> FW#32), he chose to emigrate to Australia. John recorded on some 50 albums, he always felt most comfortable as Eric Bogle's accompanist or member of Colcannon, but he never made a solo recording before. Ian Carr of Greentrax Records eventually bullied him to do and we're glad he did. John Munro selected a dozen own that matter to him, playing guitar and mandolin, backed up by the creme of Adelaide's musicians. John Munro's songs are about Australia, e.g. there is an instrumental tune about bushranger Ned Kelly (-> FW#31). About Scotland, there is an adaption of Tannahill-McPeake's (-> FW#32) "Wild Mountain Thyme". In "While I'm Here" John promises: Whatever I may do I'll do the best I can, I will try to make a song that touches someone's heart. He certainly did.
Walkin' T:-)M

Tony O'Leary "Pump the Box"
Label: Own label; 0207635; 2006; Playing time: 43:00 min
Welcome to a kitchen party, Newfoundland style! Viking Leif Eriksson came to these shores looking for supplies for Greenland's settlements. The Irish and Scots came, following their saint Brendan's route who went there even before the Vikings, and brought the music. As people with a high regard for home and hearth but also for partying and dancing, they invented the kitchen party and developed the traditional dance music. This environment created some masterful performers over the decades, in recent time you can add button accordionist Tony O'Leary to the list. Quite fittingly Tony dedicated "Pump the Box" to all the transient workers both past and present who travelled many miles to earn a living for their families. He selected traditional Irish tunes and songs (from "Far Away in Australia" to "Banks of the Lee"), a couple of his own, and his uncle Frank O'Leary's Labrador tunes. It is an accordion-led ceili band with drums and all. Tony O'Leary knows a good tune, and how to execute it. So pump the box, Tony, go on!
Walkin' T:-)M

Rónán Ó Snodaigh "The Last Mile Home"
Kíla Records; KRCD 104; 2007; Playing time: 38:49 min
Tinariwen "Aman Iman: Water is Life"
Label: Independiente/Skycap; CAP040; 2007; Playing time: 54:18 min
By coincidence I got these two cd's on the same day. However, this is not the reason that I decided to review them together, but it is the same trance-like and shamanistic music that connects them.
In 1992, the rebelling touareg guerilleros made peace with the government of Mali. They traded their kalashnikovs for electric guitars and fight for their unique culture and their language with their traditional music ever since. The band Tinariwen (-> FW#31), which means means empty space or desert, recorded their third album "Aman Iman - Water is life" in Mali's legendary Bogolan studios, where Ali Farka Touré produced many of his hit records. Imagine a one chord groove, a female chorus chanting, clapping hands, the groove going on for minutes and minutes and not much happens, time stands still, one guitar player after another is drawn in, until half a dozen are swinging to the beat. Their songs are about wandering, displacement and exile, self-sufficiency and freedom, about homesickness and longing, separation from family, their loved ones and the land, about the beauty and mystery of the desert, but also about the lack of water and the ignorance of their native language.
Rónán Ó Snodaigh is the enigmatic singer of Irish world beat band Kíla (-> FW#4, FW#19, FW#26, FW#30). Rónán already recorded two solo albums before ( -> FW#26, FW#30). "The Last Mile Home" is a singer-songwriter album with mostly English lyrics, occasionally in Gaelic. Relaxed songs, but tough folk music with tendencies to acoustic folk rock. Though rough and ready all along the way on the last mile home, it is Rónán's most accessible work to date. And maybe the one where he took the greatest number of turns. Some people think that the desert is everywhere the same. But there is sand and rock, salt and lava, and a lack of water only means that somewhere there must be water.
Walkin' T:-)M

Erol Parlak Baglama Quintett "Threshold of Light"
Acoustic Music; 319.1378.2; 2007; Playing time: 46:03 min
Folks in Western Europe and North America have the guitar, people in Turkey and the Middle East think highly of the baglama (also called saz), a long necked lute with three steel strings. Erol Parlak is a star in his home country, a renowned musicologist and baglama virtuoso. Erol is a champion of the almost forgotten polyphonic playing style (called: selpe), i.e. not played with a plectrum but plucked with fingers. Strings are often sounded by hammering onto the fingerboard with fingers of both hands. The Erol Parlak Baglama Quintet had been formed in 2001, the album "Esik" (Threshold of Light) dates from 2004, and Erol and his students throw a light on the peculiar tradition and repertory of the baglama. The quintet performs original compositions and improvisations, folk dances from Northeast Anatolia and Azerbaijan, and religious music of the Alevis. Finishing off with the popular song "Istanbul Türküsü" and Mozart's "Turkish March". (Mozart's "Rondo alla Turca" is the last movement of his "Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331". It imitates the sound of Turkish Janissary bands, which was much in fashion in the late 18th century.) If only any encounter between east and west could be so beneficial.
P.S.: Erol Parlak's baglama instruction books will soon be available in English and German by Acoustic Music.
Acoustic Music
Walkin' T:-)M

"Born in the Honey - The Pinetop Perkins Story" [DVD Video/CD]
VizzTone; SB101; 2007; Playing time: 60:08+ min
Pinetop Perkins had been born Joe Willie Perkins in 1913 on the Honey Island Plantation outside Belzoni, Mississippi. He began playing the blues in 1927, originally a guitar player, but he dropped the instrument after a serious injury in the 1940s (and a colourful story it is) and changed to the piano. He came under the influence of boogie woogie inventor Pinetop Smith, hence his nickname. When Otis Span left the Muddy Waters band, he called on Perkins. Pinetop he come from the part of the country that really know what he's doing with the blues, said Muddy (-> FW#25). Pinetop plays the barrelhouse piano that he learned in the juke joints of Mississippi, a more straight and more bluesy style than Otis Spann did, fewer notes, fewer fills, less jazz. At the age of 83 Pinetop launched his solo career, never looking back ever since. At the beginning of Peter Carlson's film-biography he says: I had a rough time, but I made it. The hour long documentary features historical film footage, some life performances, and interviews with friends and fellow artists. A bonus cd features 10 tracks live in concert from Chicago. In his 90s, Pinetop is still playing and, I guess, other performers who are in their prime would like to have his ability and verve.
Walkin' T:-)M

The Reckless Ramblers "Lowdown Hoedown"
Great Meadow Music; MM 2021; 2007; Playing time: 48:49 min
They call it contra music (-> FW#27), however, with The Reckless Ramblers there is more than meets the eye. Featured is the bluegrass line-up of fiddle, guitar, mandolin and bass (no typical contra piano in sight!), and there is more than just a slight touch of jazz in it. Larry Unger, Nat Hewitt, Ginny Snowe and Sam Bartlett start from the scratch, the common contra dance tunes, mostly reels and jigs, polkas and waltzes composed by guitar player Larry Unger (who plays both rhythmic and melody guitar). They play as they would do for dancers, rhythmically and accentuated, though infusing different styles into it (jazz, swing, blues). Thus it is also a pleasure to listen if you've got stiff legs.
Great Meadow Music
Walkin' T:-)M

Mick Sands "The Ominous and the Luminous"
Label: BoxRoomRecords; BRR0001; 2006; Playing time: 49:57 min
Mick Sands is a fine singer and flutist from the West Durham coalfields in the North East of England. After university Mick moved to London, where he was briefly a member of the legendary London group Le Cheile. Today Mick concentrates on theatre work, specialised in adapting medieval and ethnic vocal music for use in classical plays on the one hand, and in composing original music on the other. He mixed with the London Irish session scene and eventually has found some time to record his debut album. "The Ominous and the Luminous" is centred around his remarkable singing voice. Songs from Northumbria ("Up the Raw", "I Drew My Ship", "When the Boat Comes In"), Ireland ("Lough Erne's Shore", "Donal Og", "Cunla") and the Appallachians ("Silver Dagger"), even a traditional Sephardic text ("Tres Damas") set to original music. There is a Louis MacNeice poem and Burns' "The Slave's Lament" (compare the Battlefield Band version -> FW#32). The original "Where the Deerness Flows" is about the decay of the coal industry in his native home. In the end, Mick takes up the flute and treats us to three self-penned reels and a medley of a Romanian air, a jig and a slip-jig. The album title "The Ominous and the Luminous" might be intended for guiding any reviewer, but there is some truth in it.
Walkin' T:-)M

Amy Speace "Songs for Bright Street"
Wildflower; WFL 1309; 2006; Playing time: 53:49 min
Singer-songwriter Amy Speace is based in New York. Her second album "Songs for Bright Street" is a gas, featuring great musicians and well-written lyrics. Amy has a strong voice, each of the 13 songs has a different face, from dreamy and melodic ballads to straight roots rock, with a bit of folk and country music thrown in for good measure. The old timey "Two" is a duet with Gary Louris (Jayhawks), and there is a countryfied version of Blondie's "Dreaming". Even disco queens write excellent songs, they only need an adequate interpretation. Amy Speace is the right choice.
Wildflower Records
Walkin' T:-)M

Sally Spring "Mockingbird"
Label: Sniffinpup; CD-SNP-0001; 2006; Playing time: 44:55 min
North Carolina folk singer Sally Spring is playing music since her teen years. She has a warm voice, and slips easily in the footsteps of roots singers like Eliza Gilkyson (-> FW#29). Sallys fourth album "Mockingbird" is a mix of folk, blues, country, old time, pop and roots rock, featuring elusive guests such as Tift Merritt, Caitlin Cary (Tres Chicas) and John Teer (Chatham County Line -> FW#31). Gene Parsons (ex Byrds) joins in on Gram Parsons's "Hickory Wind". However, Sally has no need to make an impression, she is impressive enough on her own terms. Besides the traditional "Pretty Peggie-O", Sally concentrates on a series of original songs that form a mature body of work.
Walkin' T:-)M

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