FolkWorld Issue 35 02/2008
FolkWorld CD Reviews
Mat Callahan & Yvonne Moore "Welcome"
Broken Arrow; A424-07; 2006
Two musicians who have participated on each others solo works and discovered that working together adds a lot of extra’s to their music. On this first CD as a duo, the sing fourteen own compositions by Mat Callahan. He has been part of the Looters and has released three solo CD’s before. He origins from San Francisco. His partner Yvonne Moore origins from Swiss, where she has a career in music since the early eighties. Her first LP she recorded as a blues singer with the band bluesfinger. She has released four solo CD’s before Welcome. The result of the cooperation is a bunch of nice songs, but somehow their music doesn’t really touch me in any way. It doesn’t irritate me but it also doesn’t appeal to any of my emotions as well. Sometimes I get the feeling that a song is recorded as a demo, it’s not really finished like in The hunted. A song with potential, but that doesn’t show in this recording. The vocals, the guitar it all sounds ok but stay very safe on the surface of music. With two such experienced musicians, expected a more adventures and music with more impact than this result.
Twee violen en een bas, Madlot, Tjane & Lirio "De manuscripten"
Stichting volksmuziek Nederland/Music and Words; CUP 8034; 2007
One of the goals of the Dutch folk music foundation is to spread the traditional music of the lowlands. They organise many courses throughout the year, publish sheet music and now and then issue a CD. On this latest release they asked four known Dutch folk groups to play their interpretations of seventeen manuscripts. The oldest manuscript was first published in 1703 by J. Hanekuijk, the others are from the 19th century including the book for violin by Wieger Miechels Visser. Together with this CD the foundation also republished the old manuscripts so you all can play them your self at home. About the groups, Twee violen en een bas already exists for more than twenty years and they are famous for their violin duets. On this CD they show their quality on the beautiful interpretation of Le pisan nr 8. Lirio is the newest group with four musicians on bagpipe, violin, bass etc. They kick off this project with Menuet nr 67 & 68, a tune in which the bagpipe takes the leading role. A bit restless and somehow unbalanced version of this menuet. The third band is Madlot, a band that has a reputation in playing traditional Dutch music. This band includes Peter Koene on strings and vocals and has Bert Lotz as bagpiper, one of the best in Holland. Their interpretation of tunes like Allemand nr 72 and Doden dans nr 30 are very nice. The fourth band is Tjane, which includes Guy Roelofs on strings and keyboard. Roelofs also produced this CD together with Peter Koene. Tjane interpret ate the music in a very different way. They use these keyboard sounds which might be interesting for these readers who like Clannad’s interpretations of Irish traditional music. In Goden dans nr 19 this keyboard sound bothers me, to my personal opinion an unnecessary addition to a beautiful dance. But in the song Ick vrijde een mijsie teer it somehow fits perfect to the beautiful vocals by Nele Martens. Here Tjane found the right balance between lyrics, acoustic and keyboard. In general this CD is a nice addition to the library of Dutch traditional music. Because there are four different groups playing, there will be always something you like. Personally I think that Twee violen en een bas together with Madlot give the most constant quality. Lirio has great moments, but I still miss a unique “lirio sound” and Tjane, well as you can read above I loved one of their songs but I’m not a big fan of their keyboard sound additions. But don’t let my personal taste stop you from buying this nice CD!
Ro:toro "Estonian Bagpipe"
Tutl; SHD 78; 2006
Estonia, slowly but surely the music from this Baltic state reaches the rest of the world. For many years I only could find Latvian music, but the past two years things have changed and Estonian music showed it’s beauty outside the country borders. One of the latest releases is by Ro:toro, a young group of musicians centred around the Estonian Bagpipe. Two bagpipe players form this band together with a saxophonist and percussionist. The band has toured in many countries already including concerts at the Faeroe Islands. Knowing this, it seems a bit more logic that it’s the Tutl label from these islands, which has published this first CD. Fourteen traditional tunes, all arranged by the band, are included on the CD. The result is a fresh hour of music. I like the cooperation between the saxophone and the bagpipes a lot. It almost sounds like a natural combination. Also the subtle percussion adds a lot of extra’s to the CD. Listen to the hypnotising Kollase nokamütsiga rändaja, this is a highlight on the CD and one of the best example of the natural blend of the bagpipes and the saxophone. What an amazing technique, virtuoso musicians and most of all what a group of talented musicians. With such musicians, the future of Estonian music is going to be a very sunny one.
Aztec; CM2185; 2007
Plantec, a young band from Bretagne. Their new CD A-Raok has just been released and is a pleasure to write an review about. The typical sound of the Bombarde and Biniou mixed with modern electronics is the main ingredients for this album. The opening andro A-raok starts with heavy electric guitars soon followed by the bombarde and drums. This modern Andro dance shows an energetic band full of passion and fun. That it’s not only the heavy stuff shows the beautiful song Mintin. A typical Breton song, in which the band shows that they know how to handle the music in both the modern and the, more or less, traditional way. Plantec surprises with this new CD. It’s not just the average mix of tradition and electronics but Plantec show on this CD that they understand the music they play and that they know what they are doing. Somehow they manage to create a modern sound without loosing the feeling of an ancient tradition. Well done!
Téa Hodžić Trio "Stay Awhile"
Taith; 0005; 2007
Téa Hodžić now lives in the UK but originally comes from Sarajevo. After a study classical guitar and opera, she often performs on the Yugoslavian radio and TV and collaborated with Goran Bregovic amongst others. After her move to the UK in 1989 she continued her musical career in both classical and traditional music. She played with Eliza Carthy and toured through Europe as member of the Balkan band Szapora. This trio is her latest project in which she collaborates with Luke Carver Goss on accordion, guitar and vocals and with Oliver Wilson Dickson on violin, darbuka and vocals. This first CD as a trio contains thirteen traditional songs from Serbia, Macedonia and other Eastern-European countries. Besides that it has an occasional new composition including the title song Stay awhile. This song being promote as a love song and sung in English because (and I quote) “we felt this might bring the sentiment of the song closer to a non-Balkan audience”. Well, to be honest to my personal opinion it’s one of the weaker songs on this overall nice and warm CD. Opening song Corore is a nice start in which this trio shows in a very careful way their quality. After the second song, the earlier mentioned Stay awhile, the CD really starts. With each song the music gets more passion and more emotion. An absolute highlight is the Serbian song Zašto sike zašto. Followed by, also from Serbia, Zar ja nemam ruse kose. Here Hodžić is at her best and sings right down to my heart. But somehow the trio sounds to careful again in the Macedonian song Eleno kerko eleno which asks more wildness than this bit brave version. This Stay awhile is a very nice CD with a few heartbreaking songs. Téa Hodžić is at her best in the traditional Serbian songs but has enough to offer to please many listeners with her interpretations of Balkan tradition.
V/A "Nuit Tsigane - Gypsy night at the Divan du Monde"
Crammed; CRAW 43; 2007
This CD is a remix CD compiled and remixed by DJ Gaetano Fabri, who is the resident DJ of the Parisian Nuits Tsiganes club. On this CD he has brought eleven of his remixes together so you can get the feeling of the Tsiganes nuits at your own house. He has remixed songs by Fanfare Ciocarlia, Balkan Beat box and many others. The result is a collection of nice dance songs with this typical Tsigane sound. What I like at such Tsigane nights is that the music slowly takes you away and hypnotizes you. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way when listening to the CD. The songs are about 4-5 minutes long and somehow the CD lacks a clear structure. What is left are eleven remixes, some better than others, but not the feeling of such a long and sweaty Tsigane night.
Jude Johnstone "Blue Light"
Bojak; 40105-2; 2007
Jude Johnstone is a US singer who has a passion for the jazz music since her childhood. In the past she sung background vocals with artists such as Leonard Cohen and Bette Middler. She released her first solo CD in 2002 and this Blue light is her third CD. Johnstone is a singer-songwriter who creates songs in the jazz vein. Sometimes an old fashioned jazz feeling, but in a song like New York Morning she shows influences from Randy Newman. Blue light is not a folk CD in anyway, but if you like beautiful, moody and well sung contemporary jazz music this is the perfect CD for you. Johnstone shows to be a good songwriter but most of all, she shows being a wonderful singer.
Artie Traum "Acoustic Jazz Guitar"
Roaring Stream Records; RS-J04; 2004
Artie Traum "Thief of Time"
Roaring Stream Records; RS-J07; 2007
Artie Traum, a legendary name in music! Since the early sixties he has recorded, composed and produced many LP’s and CD’s. Together with his brother Happy Traum he recorded his first album in 1970 but before and after he worked with musicians such as Pete Seeger, The Band, John Sebastian and many others. The past thirty years he has recorded solo albums and in this review a short comment on two of them. First one is Acoustic jazz guitar on which he gives an overview of instrumental tracks he recorded between 1992 and 2004. His fresh and virtuoso guitar play mixes with a jazzy-pop band. Smooth, easy going music with light influences from folk, jazz, blues and world music. At a few occasions the guitar drowns in to much standard keyboard sounds and the compositions have to much middle of the road pop arrangements to my taste. It’s very safe and easy going music, made for a wide audience. For me it sounds a bit to sterile. His latest CD is called Thief of time and contains nine new compositions and two traditionals including the famous Cuckoo bird. The difference between this Thief of time and Acoustic jazz guitar is big. This new CD has a much more personal sound and it also shows that his music has much more power without keyboards etc. Also the vocals gives an extra dimension to his music. His version of Cuckoo bird is very nice. It sounds like a classic jazz song now instead of an old folksong. Thief of time is, to my opinion, a much better CD than the compiled CD from 2004. Well produced, a nice mixture of blues, folk and jazz with still this easy going sound that makes his music very accessible.
Mitch Marcus Quintet "The Special"
Jazzcubed; 20061231; 2007
I don’t know what's happening but this time I got a lot of jazz CD’s for review. Here the latest by Micth Marcus quintet called The Special. According to the press info they play 21th century jazz. But it’s very clear that this quintet is influenced by 20th century artists such as Monk and Mingus. Great solo’s on sax by Mitch Marcus in person together with another saxophonist, drums, bass and guitar. This is jazz the way I (not a jazz expert at all) love it. It’s energetic, well played and has a very pure sound. I love the heavy guitar interruptions in Paisano or the rock start in Last mourning but also the beautiful acoustic sound of Indritanego in which the bass plays a central role. But also the more laidback sound of The joey rubber special works for me. Between all the jazz CD’s I have to review for this issue of Folkworld, this is by far the most adventures and the best one. I don’t know what the real jazz experts will say, but this is such a CD that makes jazz interesting for me.
The Farewell Drifters "Sweet Summer Breeze"
Own label; 2007
The Farewell Drifters is a band from Nashville Tennessee. Five musicians on guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass and vocals. This is the bands first CD with fourteen self penned songs. The band plays in the best bluegrass tradition with a good taste of old folk music. Listen to Love comes easy in which the band plays a nice love ballad with well done vocals and good finger picking work. Or if you like the more energetic Bluegrass music, You can have her is the more up tempo kind of song. On this debut CD The farewell drifters show that they are a big promise for the future. Although this first Cd is occasionally a bit careful, this band has all the potential to grow and become a big name in the world of bluegrass. Their music is well played, fresh and accessible for a wider audience. If in the next few years the band develops their own unique sound a bit more, than I’m sure their second CD will surprise fans worldwide.
V/A "Allons boire un coup -
A Collection of Cajun and Creole Drinking Songs"
Valcour; VAL-CD-0002; 2006; Playing time: 54:42 min
‘Yes Cajun and Creole musicians do get drunk’ this sentence from the CD booklet might say it all. It’s a nice and funny introduction on the way people party, drink and than write songs about it in Southwest Louisiana. A collection of these songs are now brought together on this CD by a band called Allons boire un coup. Songs with titles such as Whiskey Cést mon ami, Drunkards dream and Drunkards waltz give a nice introduction in Cajun and Creole drinking songs. This CD has a fantastic authentic sound. The typical, indeed a bit drunk, vocals, the up tempo dances or the small, sad ballades. They play it perfectly. Of course with the traditional fiddle, accordion and foot tapping but an occasional saxophone and organ gives the music a bit extra’s. A fine collection of songs from a long (drinking) tradition brought by a group of musicians who know exactly how to create the right atmosphere for this type of music.
La Fleur Fatale "Night Generation"
Killer Cobra; KCR103; 2007
La Fleur Fatale, according to the press info, a band that started again after years of total apathy. The musicians have put all their divergences aside, so they say, and recorded this debut CD. The result? A CD that is impossible to take out of my CD player, a CD that drives me nuts, and a CD in the best psychedelic tradition. The four musicians of la fleur fatale delivered a great debut CD. Pure psychedelic rock with a good touch of the late sixties and early seventies but also surprisingly up to date. Fantastic work on the organ, screaming guitars and folky flutes, mandolin and sitar. The CD kicks off with Straightway ride which starts like a typical hippie psych song including the sitar and this great organ somewhere at the background. A strong start and a good song to get a bit used to the bands sound. The next song Night generation is even better. Energetic music, beating drums and again this lovely organ running through the song. In this song the band shows that they know perfectly how to build up a song by making small changes in rhythms, vocals and arrangements. I know it’s hard to believe but the third song I wanna be adored is at least as good, maybe even better than the first two. A bit more sober, vocals and acoustic guitar play a central role, but with again these subtle changes in the arrangements, the way they sing and the mandolin sound (by now I don’t even know if it’s a mandolin or they let their guitar sound like one) makes it perfect. Children of neon lights check the introduction on flute (or is it the organ?) and drums, another great song. Well, I can continue like this for a long time. Great guitar work at Sister fatale, a dark and rough Sunshine underground one of the psychedelic highlights on this CD with again such a great, raw organ totally going it’s own way. The almost sweet start of Out of our dreams, or the Sitar and piano start of Golden hair. It doesn’t matter which song I describe, I enjoy every minute of this CD. So, if you are into neo-psychedelic, progressive or what ever you want to call this music. Don’t hesitate, buy it!
Own label; 2007
Esquisse is a French quartet of young musicians playing Bal folk music in a non traditional way. This Dual is their second CD and contains sixteen dances including Gavottes, Dro, plinn and Scottish. The group mixes traditional Bal folk instruments like the Bombarde and the Diatonic accordion with drums, clarinet and saxophone. The result is over seventy minutes of nice French folk-jazz of high quality. The band plays some nice slow Gavotte like He’s born a tune in four parts with a central role for the saxophone. This instrument is often used at places where traditionally the bombarde would sound. Also in dances that go a bit faster Esquisse shows a great talent. Donnons l’âme aux rats is a nice start with a good mixture of the clarinet and the bombarde. Some songs have a strong klezmer feeling like Faut qu’j’arrête. Beautiful is et alors one of my favourite songs on this CD. In this tune it’s a kind of calling-answer song between the bombarde and clarinet, with a light sad touch. Another highlight is the song Bodligan, le lendemain d’hier with great guest vocals by Therese Le Glaunec. The band gives her all the space she needs to sing her beautiful song, while faraway you hear them create a dark and spooky atmosphere and slowly creep closer and closer. This second CD of Esquisse is a very nice French folk-jazz CD with influences from many wind directions, and an overall balanced sound.
Kefir Kvartet "Kefir"
GO Folk; GO 0607; 2007
The Kefir Kvartet is a young and dynamic Danish band. The four musicians have experience in several types of music and on this debut CD they bring their personal taste, experience and musical dreams together. They started to record in 2005 and it took them two years to finish the CD. The result is an intriguing tour through many styles of roots music. The opener is an Indian raga written by Zakir Hussein. This eight minutes tune is a great start of a CD full of variation. The drone of the sitar mixed with the violin and soft percussion create a nice, dreamy start. The second composition Urin urin urin is written by one of the band members and has a touch of flamenco, while Django Rheinhardt’s Nuages has this typical gypsy-jazz sound. Nicely done, but this version is a bit to calm compared to the passion of Rheinhardt. I like very much the bands interpretation of the Turkish traditional T kaninus. It has a typical Turkish atmosphere but mixed with a Northern style of playing. One of the highlights on this CD is the combination of the songs Buksen 1 og 2 and Smells like clean spirit. The introvert start of the Buksen songs which slowly builds up to the rock style of Smells like clean spirit, really well done. This Kefir is a strong debut by this new Danish band and shows a group with an ear for good music and lots of talent, a big promise for the future.
Percival is a Polish band with a fascination for music from the Early Middle ages. Especially the music from the Slavic and Scandinavian cultures have their interest. They try to reconstruct the music from that time and to create the atmosphere of that time. They use instruments such as the saz, lyre, percussion and vocals. The first tune Saga is an energetic dance with simple but effective percussion and a catchy melody. A nice tune to start with and a composition that exactly reflects the atmosphere of the CD. The second song is The feast and here the female singers Yngvild and Thordis show their sharp and raw voices together with primitive beats and powerful work on the string instruments. The same for many of the other songs and dances like Jare and Mikligardr. Music for the haunted so to say. But the CD also has more peaceful music like The moonrise. Although I love the vocals and feel the pure energy of the music, this debut CD has a few small things that bother me. The sound quality is sometimes not 100% and it’s like they took all the low tones out of the music, which is a pity because some more deep, low percussion would have made some tunes much richer to my opinion. Besides that the CD lacks a kind of subtlety, after a while it’s hard to see the difference between the tunes. And the constant furious way of hitting the strings asks for more variation. But on the other hand, great vocals and some beautiful atmospheric moments. But I think Percival is more a live band than a studio band at this moment.
Cousin Emmy "Cousin Emmy and her Kinfolks 1939-1947"
Bear Family; 16853; 2007
Cousin Emmy was a young woman from Kentucky and one of the best known names in the golden age of early country music. They say she was a colourful and flamboyant entertainer who lived for her music. She was a multi instrumentalist who played, besides the banjo of course, guitar, fiddle, jaw harp, harmonica, piano, ukulele and the singing saw. This beautiful and well taking care of CD by the Bear family label is the first time CD release of her music ever. The recordings are made in the studio and at several radio shows. At the time she was most popular, artists got known through radio and often never, or hardly ever, recorded their work. The quality of the recordings are absolutely stunning! What a good sound, it’s hard to realise that these recordings are almost seventy years old, they sound much newer. The music is an absolute must for everybody who loves country, banjo or just pure and authentic roots music. Together with the very informative, thirty three pages thick booklet and the pictures of her original Decca LP sleeve, which was edited by the great Alan Lomax, this CD production is perfect in anyway.
Jim Lauderdale "The Bluegrass Diaries"
Yep Roc; YEP-2158; 2007
Jim Lauderdale is a big name in the world of Americana, Country and bluegrass music. His songs are recorded by many artists such as the Dixie Chicks, The nitty gritty dirt band, John Mayall and many others. He was the host for the Americana music awards for the past three years and won both the artist and song of the year award in the past. This Bluegrass diaries is his fifteenth solo CD and is already Grammy nominated. This new CD contains eleven songs and from the first until the last song it’s pure quality. His warm voice catches me from the first second of the opening track This is the last time I’m ever gonna hurt. Besides his fine vocals and guitar play he is backed by some great musician such as Jesse Cobb on Mandolin, Richard Bailey on Banjo, Jay Weaver on bass, Cody Kilby on guitar, and Aaron Till on fiddle. Together they create a intriguing modern Bluegrass sound which will be liked by many.
David Celia "This Isn’t Here"
Seedling Music; (8294 76283 05); 2006; Playing time: 37:34 min
Celia is a native of Toronto who sounds like he has long worshipped at the altar of Jackson Browne. And that is not a criticism: just an observation.
However, he has still got a way to go before he can be quite mentioned in the same breath. As things stand now, his vocals and guitar work are almost up there with The Master: it is just that the song writing needs a lot of that “extra something”!
All songs here are from his pen, and very pleasant listening they make. But they don’t make you suddenly gulp your coffee or sit up straight in your seat. They are instead, pleasantly PREDICTABLE.
The jury is out on his gift for melodies: whilst one happily sings along, I have to say that you could put a gun to my head and tell me to hum any one of the 12 songs (that I have just heard three times), and I would have to say “0kay, shoot me now and get it over with.”
I liked best his song “Cactus” track 4. That is probably the standout track. Probably because of the hook. Though track 7 - a guitar instrumental – pushes it close.
David Celia is clearly an artiste with a lot of potential. I look forward to hearing an album of him interpreting folk “standards”: just to see if his take on them can be sufficiently “different” as to add something to the listening experience.
Harry Manx "Mantras For Madmen"
Dog My Cat Records;
DMCR 13982; 2006; Playing time: 46:12 min
Have you ever fancied listening to the secret love child of Ravi Shankar and Bonnie Raitt? No? Nor me.
Well not until yesterday. And then I heard Harry Manx for the first time. And golly the guy is good!
I jest of course re his parentage! But in some ways they really ARE his spiritual parents because he is a curious mix of the Indian sub-continent and the North American, though in truth he is strictly speaking a Manxman. For you non-Brits reading this, I ought perhaps to say that a Manxman is the name given to someone born on the Isle of Man (an island just off the coast of North West England). His surname seems too serendipitous to be for real, though that said, if it IS an adopted name, it is the only thing false on the whole album.
Harry grew up in Canada, and this his sixth album, has already made a mark there. Indeed it was a minor hit, just making the top 20 album charts.
Most of the songs are self-penned, though he puts his stamp on two numbers by other songwriters. And what an illustrious pair of “others” these are.
First there is JJ Cale and his “San Diego – Tijuana”. A compelling number at even the worst of times, here given added impetus by Harry’s playing of his mohan veena.
[“Eh? What’s a mohan veena?” I hear you ask. Let me tell you.]
Harry has used this instrument on previous albums. It is a cross between a sitar and a guitar and was created by Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, something of a musical legend in the Indian subcontinent (and beyond). And the great VH Bhatt would be proud of the way that Manx plays it. So atmospheric! Vibrations that go up and down your spine.
But it is the second “other” writer that provides the standout track. The great Robbie Robertson’s “It Makes No Difference”.
And why this is such a scorcher of a track is due in no small measure to the work of bluegrass mandolinist John Reichman. His mandolin here is worth the price of the album alone.
Extraordinarily tasty. Worthy of David Grisman at his best.
And the album too is worthy of anyone’s money. Doesn’t put a foot wrong. One or two of Manx’s songs fall a little short, but hey, you cannot have EVERYTHING.
Maybe, time permitting, I shall hunt out the previous five albums.
Paul Joses "Roadstories"
SW 501 CD; 2006; Playing time: 46:30 min
This is a curate’s egg of an album. One that has many signs of real quality. But golly it also exasperates.
Paul Joses is a Scotsman domiciled in Germany. He is clearly a talent. The voice is redolent of Mike Silver, and at his best, so – alas only occasionally - is the song writing.
His masterstroke here is to surround himself with some real quality in the studio in Borchen. Too many fine instrumentalists to mention here but the contribution from Jens Kommnick really shone like pure gold.
And the idea behind the album is a good one. Travelling around western Europe Europe, it occurred to Paul to tell the stories that resulted from the roads he travelled.
Reading this really whetted my appetite as I put the CD in to the player for the first time. Were we going to have a Scottish-German musical version of Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road”, I wondered?
Alas, not quite. The songs are in the main fairly slight. They lack brio and memorability. One or two exceptions. “Kairo Lights” is a solid song about a girl he once met in the Kairo Club in Göttingen.
And I also was taken by another song, but perhaps for the wrong reason. “Eindhoven On A Sunday Afternoon” is guaranteed to ensure that I never end up in that city on the Sabbath Day after lunch!
But I cannot decide whether this is perhaps some sort of genius on Paul’s part. After all, the song describes ennui – albeit not with Eindhoven itself, but rather his guitarist’s boredom with the quasi-groupie who had travelled all the way from Garding in Nordfriesland in a fruitless attempt to get it together with the man of her dreams – and it succeeded in boring me rigid. And paradoxically that might mean that Paul hit the bullseye with it!
There are one or two songs here from the early 80s that Paul is now recording for the first time. Indeed one - from 1981 - that he says has never played LIVE before. What took you so long Paul? I think we know. You did not think that the song could cut the mustard. Fair enough.
So don’t foist it on us now.
Look these things are better OUT than IN. I have said it and it needs saying. But let me leave on a positive note.
Paul Joses has talent to burn. So Paul, get out there and sing OTHER people’s songs, when your own don’t make the grade.
Oh, and let me finish by congratulating Carsten Mentzel on a fine production. Everything was as clean as a whistle.
Barry & Beth Hall "A Feast of Songs"
HMCD-001; 2006; Playing time: 45:59 min
Eileen Ivers "An Nollaig - An Irish Christmas"
7 4467 2; 2007; Playing time: 43:33 min
Matt & Shannon Heaton "Fine Winter's Night"
ESL CD 007; 2007; Playing time: 50:06 min
V/A "Wish You - Best Christmas Ever"
US-0377; 2007; Playing time: 57:44 min
It is reported that William the Conqueror had himself crowned King of England
on Christmas Day 1066 in Westminster Abbey. His followers cheered so loudly
that the guards outside thought something wrong. They rushed inside, killed
some people and burned some houses nearby. Well, Christmas celebrations in the Middle Ages did not mean people enjoying themselves:
on Christmas Day the poor had to
pay their rent; the Clergy banned carols within churches, i.e. singing
and dancing in a circle. Furthermore, December 28th had been Childermass Day, the day when King Herod ordered the children to be killed. In some European countries
children were reminded of Herod’s cruelty by being beaten.
These CD reviews were originally published in FolkWorld's Newsflash, December 2007.
A Feast of Songs is undertitled Holiday Music from the Middle Ages.
Barry & Beth Hall recorded
medieval and renaissance music from the 12th to the 16th century for Christmas
time and the winter season. Mostly English and French carols,
"Gaudete" is best known from Steeleye Span,
as well as chants and tunes from Germany ("In dulci jubilo", "Quem pastores laudavere"), Bohemia ("Good King Wenceslas") and Poland ("Jesuza Judasz Przedal").
After all, music that sounds not too novel, and you can take it quite literally,
because the tracks had been recorded between 1989 and 1992 and only remixed in 2006.
Barry & Beth Hall play violin and vielle, flute and recorder, lute and mandolin, dulcimer, French horn and herald trumpet, as well as bodhran and African and
Middle Eastern drums.
Sometimes reminiscing Gregorian chant, sometimes following the ways of the
troubadours and minstrels.
The result is rather warm and cordial, opposed to the relentlessness
which some of the customs cited before might suggest.
And indeed, as the Middle Ages were not too
dark and gloomy, so medieval Christmas music is not.
If listening only superficially, you will not notice the Christmas connection at all.
It is a medieval music album with music for all seasons, and a fine one too.
Ireland has a number of Christmas customs that are quite unique and maybe are rooted in the Middle Ages, at least in Gaelic culture. On Christmas Eve a lighted candle is placed
in the window, being a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph when looking for shelter. The door to the house is unlocked. The candle should be lit by the youngest member
of the family and only be extinguished by a girl bearing the name Mary. On St. Stephen's Day a procession takes place where a pole with a holly bush is carried from house to
house and families dress up in old clothes and with blackened faces. In days of yore a wren would be killed and placed on top of the pole.
The Irish are no people of desolation and dreariness,
and Christmas is not only about contemplation and reflection,
but an expression of joy and cheerfulness.
Fiddler Eileen Ivers
grew up in New York's Bronx of Irish born parents from County Mayo.
She played with Cherish the Ladies
and the Riverdance show,
before eventually founding her own folk rock band.
Her An Nollaig - An Irish Christmas is classic folk music and she
demonstrates all sides of an Irish Christmas, featuring Anglo-American classics such as "Hark the Herald Angels Sing",
Johann Sebastian Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (ft. a jig giving an Irish twist),
the "Wexford Carol" and the Gaelic "Don Oiche Ud i mBeithill"
(vocals by Susan McKeown).
When the angels have finished playing their harps,
it is time for the jigs and reels.
Reels such as "Christmas Eve" and "Oiche Nollag" (Gaelic for Christmas Eve),
jigs like "Apples in Winter", "Frost is All Over", "A Merry Christmas".
For sure, these dance tunes have not too much to do with Christmas
but their names. However, it reminds us that only
dancing makes an Irish Christmas complete.
Eileen also playes the Danish tune "The Time is Approaching" (Sig Nærmer Tiden)
learned from fiddler Harald Haugaard
Indeed, the festival season is approaching fast,
as Gaelic speakers put it: Nollaig shona daoibh.
Matt and Shannon Heaton
are a musical couple from Boston, Massachussetts, playing traditional Irish music on guitar and flute, respectively.
Their Fine Winter's Night features the
inevitable "Wexford Carol", but Matt and Shannon mainly
follow unbeaten tracks: Edmund Sears' "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear"
(set to music by Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert & Sullivan) and
Phillips Brooks' "O Little Town of Bethlehem"
are both from the second half of the 19th century.
The traditional negro spiritual "Fisherman's Lullaby"
and the English 17th century poet Robert Herrick's "Star Song" are both
set to a new tune. Matt and Shannon wrote three songs themselves
and included five instrumental sets. The performance is
delicate and sensitive without getting unduly sentimental.
This is a promise for a very fine winter and holiday season indeed.
I probably will listen to it until spring (or even next Christmas).
According to Gatemouth Moore:
Don't bring me nothing for Christmas, but a brand new Cadillac and a good woman for me.
Jimmy Butler cheekily adds:
I'm gonna bring along my hatchet, my beautiful Christmas balls,
I'll sprinkle my snow up on your tree.
The song trilogy about the festival of love is not complete without
it's so chic to be pregnant at Christmas
by Nancy White.
Christmas may have different sentiments and different colours,
none so colourful whatsoever as on this collection from the German
which has been renowned for its rather bizarre and whimsical compilations.
Wish You - Best Christmas Ever starts with a grand country rock track
by Florence Dore, where she states that Christmas means little to me,
and you can listen to in every season.
Most of it is from the blues and swing era, e.g. including the
There are loads of humour: "I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus"
"Santa's in the Unemployment Line" (Peter Bandit).
And classical Christmas songs, though ... well ...
George Michael's "Last Christmas" has been countrified by
"White Christmas" is played on the ukulele and
"O Tannenbaum" comes from a musical box.
"Leise rieselt der Schnee" is gracefully performed by Austrian
accordionist Otto Lechner and guitarist
In the end, this is dead serious.
You cannot escape Christmas, they say,
but you can make the best of it.
V/A [EP's & Demo CD's]
Emma & The Professor & Friends (England):
Singer Emma Heath and percussionist Mark Davies
at it again. This time supported by their friends, cellist Jonathan Draper
and bassist Kevin Willoughby, featuring the original "Eastern Sunrise"
and the traditional songs "Rain & Snow", "She Moved Through the Fair" and "Beggarman".
John Graham Leslie (Northern Ireland):
Four track EP from a gutsy singer-songwriter from Northern Ireland.
John plays guitar, mandolin, melodeon, his original songs are a lively
folk and folk rock mix of British and American provenance.
The full album is said to follow in February 2008, and we are curious about it.
Bill Price "The Circus & The Gallows" (USA):
A big fan of the Beatles (the circus?) and Bob Dylan (the gallows?)
as a teenager, the singer-songwriter from Indianapolis
published a CD single with three original songs. Very bluesy,
though very cathy too.
© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 02/2008
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