FolkWorld Issue 38 03/2009

FolkWorld CD Reviews

Brian Hebert & Friends "Any Time At All"
Label: Own label; 2008
Brian Hebert from Boston, Massachusetts, got into music when he heard the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. He got his first guitar which eventually led him into blues and folk music and into many an Irish session. On "Any Time At All" Brian is kind of back to his roots and turning everything upside down. Brian is playing Beatles songs. However, Brian does not simply play the Beatles songs just as songs (let me remind you that Irish group De Dannan did a version of "Hey Jude" in the 1970s): "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "Yesterday" are jigs, "She Loves You" and ""Help" slip jigs, "A Hard Day's Night" a reel, "Penny Lane" a hornpipe, "Paperback Writer" a march, "Strawberry Fields" a waltz, only "Eleanor Rigby" is "Eleanor Rigby". Inevitably there are changes in key and meter, an extra or missing measure, an added part, a twist of melody, or a different harmony. Brian plays mandolin, resophonic tenor guitar, tenor banjo, acoustic bass guitar; there are guest performances by John McGann (mandolin), Pelham Norville (uillean pipes) and Joey Sullivan (bodhran; who's citing Ringo as his major musical influence). The playing and arrangements are gorgeous. Well, I'm a Stones man, and I believe if there is one thing in life you have to make a decision about whether you're digging the Beatles or the Stones. But I'm having fun with Beatles songs like never before, you can dance to it and you might even scream. I wonder when the first one will turn up in an Irish session as a traditional tune.
Walkin' T:-)M

Dikanda "Ajotoro"
Label: Amadeusz Studio; CDASN_018; 2008
Having experienced the Polish group Dikanda live in concert, you are completely blown away (-> FW#38). The quintet was founded way back in 1997 with members from Szczecin and Zakopane, in the north and south of Poland respectively, and is going from strength to strength in the meantime. Anna Witczak (vocals, accordion), Katarzyna Dziubak (vocals, violin), Piotr Rejdak (guitar), Grzegorz Kolbrecki (double bass) and Daniel Kaczmarczyk (percussion) partly take traditional tunes, partly write their own songs. They created a somewhat original and unique folk sound. It is not Polish folk and traditional music, and not what to expect from a typical Polish folk band. On the other hand, Dikanda is not one of those crossover roots bands springing up all over the place. They take their source material from the greater east European area. "Ajotoro" features six traditinal songs (coming from Macedonia, Russia, Gypsy traditons, etc.) and four original compositions in the very same vein, including the catchy title track. One might suspect the worst, but Dikanda circumnavigates all crags and cliffs. They make such songs their own and create a highly original roots sound, including all emotions traditional music has to offer: the highs and lows of a life, joy and pain, love and death.
Walkin' T:-)M

A L Lloyd "Ten Thousand Miles Away"
Fellside Recordings; FECD219; 2008
Enoch Kent "One More Round"
Label: Borealis; BCD190; 2008
Peter Bellamy "Fair England's Shore"
Label: Fellside Recordings; FECD216; 2008
Maddy Prior "Seven for Old England"
Label: Park Records; PRKCD100; 2008
Graham & Sam Pirt "Dance ti' thee daddy"
Label: Fellside Recordings; FECD218; 2008
Alongside with Ewan MacColl (-> FW#35), Albert Lancaster Lloyd (1908-1982) was one of the architects of the British folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s. He was a singer and collector of songs, published many books on folk music, at one time being the artistic director at Topic Records who turned the label from political songs to traditional music, and became somewhat of a mentor to many of today's folk musicians. You can see his face as he appears in the film Moby Dick as shantyman. It's nice to review the double disc of a man born almost a hundred years ago (29 February) with the earliest recordings he made in the 1950s. Disc 1 features traditional English songs from "Lord Bateman" to the "Dark Eyed Sailor", but also strays away down the "Coast of Peru". There are songs of love and murder, shanties and carols, Child ballads and those that didn't make it in the collection for its supposed vulgarity. Bert Lloyd sings accompanied by Alf Edwards on concertina. Disc 2 contains Australian songs (he went to Australia in the early 1920s for nine years), accompanied by Peggy Seeger (guitar, banjo -> FW#35) and others, including songs of penal transportation, the exploits of Australian buhsrangers ("Wild Colonial Boy", "Bold Jack Donahue" -> FW#31), and shearer's work songs. There are both the familiar and the unfamiliar, and the booklet has extensive notes on Bert and the songs.
Enoch Kent (-> FW#24) is a singer from the MacColl period, and he's still alive and kicking. He learned his songs way back in his native Glasgow, his group The Reivers performed on Scottish TV throughout the 1950s, though he moved to Toronto, Canada, in the 1960s. Over there he wasn't silent, but stopped recording. When he retired from the advertising business, he returned into the studio to make up for lost time. On his 5th CD since 2002, he maintains his Scots brogue: I was born of Glasgow parents one day when I was young, that's why the Glasgow dialect became my native tongue. And: My name is Enoch Kent, frae Glasgow toon I came, my place and habitation I'm forced to leave wi' shame, frae my place and habitation I now maun gang awa', far frae the bonnie hills and dales o' Caledonia. Ok, that actually was "Jamie Raeburn", and there are other Scotch songs such as "Harlaw" and "Coulter's Candy" (-> FW#36). Some songs are turned into Scots pieces ("Itches in Me Britches"), and there is great stuff such as "McFarlane o' the Sprots o' Burnieboosie", "Supper is na Ready" and "Johnnie Lad". He wrote "Childrens' Games," after seeing a boy sitting alone with an electronic game computer, and displays some dark humour: When you see the crematorium, remember some day this is where you'll come. And when you see the smoke curlin' oot the lum, there's gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight, A wee Glasgow man, Enoch was his name, died of whiskey drinkin', it was his favourite game. When they struck the match you should've seen the bloody flame. There was a hot time in the old town that night. Indeed, his voice is just like an excellent glass of whisky. He's a veteran, a pensioner now, but not retired from duty.
In his lifetime, Peter Franklyn Bellamy (1944-1991) was a respected folk singer with a distinctive, nasal singing style, who is said having influenced today's singers such as Damien Barber and John Boden. Born and bred in Norfolk, he was a founding member of The Young Tradition in the 1960s, a trio that sang mainly traditional songs in close harmony and mostly unaccompanied. After the break-up he continued a successful solo career, until he committed suicide in 1991. This double CD includes his first three solo albums, which have been deleted for many years. On the first, Bellamy sang unaccompanied, from the second he began to accompany himself on the concertina. There is also Barry Dransfield on the fiddle and Chris Birch sings harmonies. From the witty "German Musicianer" to "The Fox Jumps Over the Parson's Gate" from the Bellamy family repertoire. There is some more familiar stuff inbetween, buy why bore you here with name-dropping, covering the entire spectrum of English rural song, from the high Classic Ballad down (or up?) to outright bawdry. For folks that are accustomed to Bellowhead & Co. these days (see review above) it is hard to sit through solo singing, but it's worth, if only for a great deal of source music.
Maddy Prior (-> FW#21) of Steeleye Span fame (-> FW#33) is back to the roots with a couple of English rural ballads, most of them have never been recorded by Maddy though familiar for ages. The record is starting with "Dives and Lazarus" (Child #56), the tune of "Star of the County Down," followed by stuff such as "Martinmass Time" (Bert Lloyd once came up with it), "In Sad and Ashy Weeds" (dating back to the 16th century), "Staines Morris" (a Playford tune), and John Dowland's "Come Again". The title track is her own "Magpie," she wrote it in the late 1960s, but never sang it, forgot all about it, and here we are again. Fantastic! The arrangements are kept rather simple, featuring luminaries such as Benji Kirkpatrick (guitar, bouzouki, banjo), John Kirkpatrick (accordion, concertina) and Giles Lewin (violin, recorder, flute, ud -> see review above). John had been a member of Steeleye's 70s line-up, Benji and Giles play in Maddy's Carnival Band. Maddy's voice has altered and slightly mellowed through the years, but is still excellent.
Last but not least, a father and son team from Tyneside that connect the generations. Graham Pirt has been singing in folk clubs since the 1960s. He recorded three albums with the band Cockersdale, and today is the director of the Whitby Folk Festival. His son Sam Pirt is a respected accordion player, performing and recording with the group 422 which won the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 1999. This collaboration presents a selection of songs from (mainly) the north east of England. Songs about pitmen and keelmen, some traditional, others written by Ed Pickford and Tommy Armstrong. "The Snow It Melts The Soonest", "I Drew My Ship" and "Lavender's Blue" are known throughout the world, but there's much to discover. The title track "Dance ti' thee daddy" is one of the most popular songs in the north east, here followed by a Galician tune learned from Galician bagpiper Carlos Nunez. There's more dance tunes to come, including a traditional tune from the Basque country and a tune by Finnish accordion player Maria Kalaniemi. "Jean Jamieson's Ghost" is interesting, the chorus being the B part of "The Butterfly" slip jig, only with a different time signature. Anyway, it is good to see that the tradition continues somehow. At least, by the River Tyne songs are still passed on from generation to generation.,,
Walkin' T:-)M

Tony Trischka "Territory"
Smithsonian Folkways; SFW CD 40169; 2008
Welcome to Banjoland! With his five-string banjo, Tony Trischka (-> FW#38) is still one of the most inspiring players. He walked a long way from listening to the Kingston Trio in 1963, and his recording debut in 1971 with 15 bluegrass instrumentals. Since then he recorded numerous solo and band albums, introducing rock and klezmer music into the bluesgrass scene with bands such as Breakfast Special, Skyline and Psychograss, and he never looked back. Well, indeed he looked back with "Territory". He is digging the roots of historical banjo styles, way back to the blackface minstrel tradition. 21 tracks, 30 tunes, both traditional and original, including two tunes using only two strings out of five. Tony is playing solo, banjo duets (Mike and Pete Seeger, Bill Evans, Bill Keith), with fiddler/banjo Bruce Molsky, and Tony's current touring band (Michael Daves - guitar and vocals, Brittany Haas - fiddle, Skip Ward - bass). "Territory" is a tour de force over 19th and 20th century American banjo traditions. The extensive booklet includes notes about Tony and banjo history in general. To say the least, Tony Trischka is a master in his art, and he will be influential for quite some time.
Walkin' T:-)M

Robbie Hannan "The Tempest"
Na Piobairi Uilleann; NPUCD016; 2008
"The Tempest" is volume III of Na Piobairi Uilleann's , the Irish Pipers Association, Ace and Deuce of Piping series (-> FW#37). I first became aware of Robbie Hannan (sometimes spelled Hannon) on Niall and Cillian’s album "Callan Bridge" (-> FW#24) where a jig is named after this piper from Belfast in Northern Ireland. Robbie became interested in the uilleann pipes in 1977 after listening to The Chieftains' Paddy Maloney and Planxty's Liam O'Flynn. He cites his major incluences as pipers Séamus Ennis, Willie Clancy and Tommy Reck, and the tight staccato style of uilleann pipes playing. He made a couple of recordings including a solo album and a duet with fiddler Paddy Glackin, where Robbie flirted with Co. Donegal's fiddle repertory. On "The Tempest" Robbie performs on an early 19th century Kenna set of pipes pitched in B, with a modern chanter made by German Andreas Rogge. The sound is great, Robbie's style excellent. Unaccompanied pipe playing throughout, except for drones and regulators. The tunes are from the kanon of traditional Irish music, and may have been taken up from Ennis, Clancy and Reck. I love the airs: "The Rocks of Bawn" or "The Bold Trainor O" (there are several songs set to this tune, e.g. "The Green Linnet"). If you are into faster stuff, listen to the jig "Down the Back Lane," you will never grow tired of. He who aims for the stars might never get there, Robbie says, but he will certainly get higher than the man who aims for the chimney pots.
Walkin' T:-)M

Kerfuffle "To the Ground"
Label: RootBeat Records; RBRCD06; 2008
Kerfuffle is a young band from the English Midlands and they already have created a stir. Right so, this quartet is hot: Hannah James is a haunting vocalist, reminiscent of Irish singer Cara Dillon (see review below). She also plays accordion, Sam Sweeney plays the fiddle and bagpipes, backed up by Jamie Roberts (guitar) and Tom Sweeney (bass). Kerfuffle's performance is not the old-fashioned English folk sound, like other contemporary bands there are influences from all over the place to create their most mature work to date. It still is an English folk record, no bother. On their already fourth album, there are some striking harmonies and the ensemble playing is tight. The dozen tracks include seven songs (Child ballads such as "Two Sisters", the traditional "The Snows They Melt the Soonest", and a couple of not so familiar gems) and five instrumental tracks (e.g. tunes from 17th century Playford's English Dancing Master a morris tune, a tune by Breton artist Dan Ar Braz -> FW#38).
Walkin' T:-)M

Fingal "Fingal"
New Folk Records; NFR 0502; 2008
Fingal is a king from Irish mythology, it is the name of an area north of Dublin (piper Seamus Ennis' hometurf), and "Return from Fingal" is a well-known hornpipe (e.g. on Lunasa's "The Merry Sisters Of Fate" -> FW#21). Now Fingal is also the name of a trio consisting of James Keane, Randal Bays and Daithi Sproule. Each one became an ambassador for Ireland's native music in his own right. James Keane hails from Drimnagh, Dublin, and took up the button accordion surrounded by legends such as Seamus Ennis and Leo Rowsome. In 1968, he emigrated to America and lives in Queens, New York. Indiana born and Seattle based Randal Bays is a self-taught fiddler on the Irish-American scene with a critically acclaimed live album under his belt. Dáithí Sproule is a native of Derry in the North of Ireland, but lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is best known for his guitar playing with the group Altan (-> FW#36, FW#37). Most of the tracks were recorded live in concert on Whidbey Island, Washington, in June 2007, plus some later studio additions. This trio is straight to the point, tight but effortless. Most of the jigs & reels are taken from the Irish tradition, plus a couple of originals by Randal and James. The 15 tracks also feature some songs from Dáithí, in both Gaelic ("Oro Se Do Bheatha Abhaile", "Bean Dubh a'Ghleanna", "O Bhean A' Ti") and English ("The Bonny Light Horseman", "The Riddle of the Rum"). Actually, the group's name is of no meaning. Originally the name should be Errigal after the mountain close to Daithi's home county.
Walkin' T:-)M

The HiBs "40 Acre Notch"
New Folk Records; NFR 1627; 2008
The HiBs is the name when Jode Dowling (fiddle) and Kate Dowling (whistle and flute) are performing as a duo or team up with a couple of friends for a party of Celtic jigs & reels. Kate is the Director of the Center for Irish Music in St. Paul, Minnesota. Both Kate and Jode were founding members of the Doon Ceili Band (-> FW#33). "40 Acre Notch" features 15 instrumental tracks, jigs and reels, of course, polkas and hornpipes, but also a waltz, barndances and a mazurka. The latter had been composed by Tim O'Leary, otherwise it's traditional stuff. The playing is first-rate and rock-solid, as is to expect from a pair that is playing together for more than ten years. And the friends and guests are more than talented, let me just mention virtuoso guitarist Dáithí Sproule, who is residing in St. Paul for quite some time. That's the ceilidh, Minnesota style.
Walkin' T:-)M

Molly's Revenge "The Western Shore"
Label: Molri Music; MR-007; 2008
I still remember the excitement when I first heard the debut album of Irish supergroup Solas (-> FW#32). And here it is again, which came as a big surprise since I never heard of this band ever before. But is it any wonder when ex Solas guitarist John Doyle was behind the control panels? "The Western Shore" is the seventh album in eight years made by North Californian quartet Molly's Revenge, for about five years in the line-up David Brewer (pipes, whistles), John Weed (fiddle), Pete Hayworth (bouzouki), Stuart Mason (guitar). Their ensemble playing is very powerful on eight instrumental tracks, tunes from trad to Liz Carroll, Niall Vallely and Tommy Peoples. On "The Western Shore" the four were joined by percussionist Fraser Stone (Old Blind Dogs) and vocalist and accordionist Moira Smiley (who sings with a group called Voco). The latter is a gas. Moira is enchanting the listener with two songs, the traditional English "Weave My Love A Garland" and the Irish "I Am a Youth Inclined to Ramble". Pete sings the Irish-Scottish worker's song "Mickey Dam" (courtesy of the late Frank Harte -> FW#34), which is nice but not as spine-tingling. (More songs from Pete that didn't make the album can be downloaded from the website.)
Walkin' T:-)M

Follenn "Joli petit joli"
Coop Breizh; FOL 06; 2008; Playing time: 47:08 min
"Joli petit joli" already is the sixth album of the Breton band Follenn since the late 1980s, though there have been some minor line-up changes in these twenty years. This six-piece ensemble is rooted in the dance music of the Vannes area. Sometimes, it seems to me, they are straying away in neighbourhood areas (Leon etc.), on "Joli petit joli" there also are some valses irlandaise. The opener and title track is a characteristical Breton question-and-answer-song, followed by a tour de Breton from airs to marches to rondes. Mostly traditional, some have been composed by the group's members. The overall sound is produced by Yannick Le Sausse (fiddle, bombarde, vocals), Jean-Philippe Mauras (flute, piston, bombarde, vocals) and Jean-Michel Mathonnet (piano, keyboards, diatonic accordion), spiced up by percussive beats (percussion - Younn Lagadec, acoustic guitar - Christophe Rio, cister - Jean-Marc Lesieur). Follenn is rather nice and gentle, rarely getting too dramatic, however, this doesn't mean that the band isn't able to captivate you. It never gets boring. Follen is the perfect band for both bal folk dance and the concert stage.
Walkin' T:-)M

Vägilased "Väga Ilusad"
Label: Own label; 2004
Vägilased "Ema Öpetus"
Label: Own label; 2006
There is the century-old tradition of regilaul or runo singing, in Estonia but also in the neighbouring countries. It is a kind of music that is rather inaccessible for the uninitiated, which includes foreigners but most Estonian people as well. So here comes Vägilased, young graduates from the Viljandi Culture Academy who try to revive the old dance music and game songs. Vägilased means the mighties, and it could be considered a giant task. Following in the footsteps of Nordic roots music, Meelika Hainsoo (vocals, fiddle, bowed harp), Cätlin Jaago (flute, whistles, Estonian bagpipe, jew's harp), Toomas Valk (karmoshka, i.e. Russian diatonic accordion), Jan Viileberg (acoustic guitar), Reigo Ahven (percussion) and Marti Tärn (bass guitar) did develop a mighty sound in the past eight years that is not folklore, but jazz, rock and pop. Yet deeply rooted in traditional Estonian music, the tunes are trad as can be. The outcome is väga ilusad (i.e. very beautiful).,,
Walkin' T:-)M

Mimmit "Hats, Hats Harakkainen"
Plastinka; PLACD060; 2008
Värttinä "25"
Label: Westpark Music; 87171; 2009; Playing time: 74:46 min
"Hats, Hats Harakkainen" actually is a children's album, but never mind, you wouldn't notice if you don't speak Finnish. The music is the same as in the artists' music for adults. Mimmit is a Finnish duo consisting of Pauliina Lerche (vocals, accordion, kantele) and her younger sister Hannamari Luukanen (vocals, fiddle) from Rääkkylä near the Russian border in eastern Finland, plus a backing band. The music is joyful and infectious, seems somewhat simple but indeed it is not. Old Karelian sounds freely mix with contemporary world and roots music and lyrics from mythical Finnish folk tales (all the lyrics had been written by Pauliina). The song "Jo mie viikon" already featured on Pauliina's latest solo recording, it was too good to be forgotten. As many Finnish children I am enchanted by Mimmit's music, though it is not only for listening, you can dance to it too. (Please have a look at the Pauliina Lerche interview in this FolkWorld issue!)
Pauliina Lerche was a founding member of one of the most famous Karelian groups, Värttinä. This band is presenting music that is less folksy than Pauliina's solo efforts, but more medieval and archaic incorporating weird jazzy sounds and gorgeous harmony singing. Värttinä's 25th anniversary compilation "25", featuring a selection of the records "Värttinä" (1987) to "Miero" (2006), has been released originally in the fall of 2007 and eventually arrives on the European mainland thanks to Germany's Westpark Music. With one slight change, the song "Marilaulu" replaces "Miinan laulu". There will be a full review of the album in the next FolkWorld issue.,,
Walkin' T:-)M

Southern Tenant Folk Union "Revivals, Rituals and Union Songs"
dandyland; 2009
Bluegrass is the essential American idiom of folk music. Today bluegrass music is played all over the world (including a lively scene in the Czech Republic). I certainly don't have to remind you that Bill Monroe drew on English, Scottish and Irish songs and dance music to speed it up and turn it into something new. So there is no real problem with a bluegrass band from London - London, Britain! not London, Tennessee! The Southern Tenant Folk Union has named themselves after a multi-racial union of sharecroppers and non-landowning tenant farmers of the Depression era. This new Union is a sextet which got together two years ago and released their second album now. This is no traditional bluegrass band, the line-up is classic fiddle, 5-string-banjo, mandolin, two guitars, bass, they play folk music with a bluegrass and country feel. The excellent original songs are very melodious, aim straight at the heart, edifying and joyful at the same time. The harmony singing is fine, and most band members should be able to sing lead more than acceptable. It is guitar player Oliver Talkes who seems to do most of the job. Let me also mention Belfast-born banjo player Pat McGarvey. He is in a league with the world's best banjonistas, and what's the best, he invented a banjo style that is not strictly American, but somehow reminsicent of his native Celtic heritage. If the Beatles and Stones robbed rock'n'roll music and merged it into a global sound, the Southern Tenant Folk Union does it with bluegrass music.
Walkin' T:-)M

MacGregor, Brechin, Ó hEadhra "Sonas"
Brechin All Records; CDBAR006; 2008
Sonas means happiness or bliss, and this must be the state of consciousness when these veteran players of the Scottish folk scene play together. At least, that's what I hear in their music. Fiddler Bruce MacGregor is one of the pillars of the Blazin' Fiddles ensemble (-> FW#36). Sandy Brechin played the piano accordion with folk rock band Burach (-> FW#9, FW#32). Brian Ó hEadhra (guitar, harmonica, vocals) actually is a born and bred Dubliner, but settled in Inverness after a long stint with the group Anam (-> FW#9, FW#14). They play together since 2006, and eventually recorded a CD to fulfill request after gigs and probably require some more work. From 13 tracks 5 are songs, contemporary Gaelic pieces plus one mouth piece. Brian Ó hEadhra sings like the music of the clarsach and like the voice of the song-thrush in the dewy grass, to cite from "A Chailin Alainn". "Taladh na Beinne Guirme," the tale of the Blue Mountain in Cape Breton has it: a culture, a rich, beautiful, living culture, rarely do I hear the melodious, sweet language. It hasn't become a mass phenomenon yet, right, but the Gaelic language can be heard again and Brian does his bit of keeping it alive. The booklet features the Gaelic lyrics with English translations. From the tunes I like to single out the hauting air "Sitting in the Stern of a Boat"; three strathspeys are followed in a rather unorthodox way by an Irish jig, "Hag at the Churn"; and there's a really bubbling "Zito the Bubbleman".
Walkin' T:-)M

Whisht! "The Cuckoo's Note"
Label: Own label; 2007
Fiona Kelleher "My Love Lies"
Label: Own label; FKCD001; 2008
Cara Dillon "Hill of Thieves"
Charcoal Records; CHARCD002; 2009
Janet Russell "Love Songs and Fighting Talk"
Label: Harbourtown Records; HARCD 052; 2008
Lissa Schneckenburger "Song"
Label: Footprint Records; FR2008; 2008; Playing time: 41:00 min
The human voice is the queen of musical instruments. Generally song is more popular than pure instrumental music. Sadly this is not true for unaccompanied singing. It's audience yet has to be born to fully appreciate it.
Whisht!, or in Gaelic éist means silence please! hush and listen! And the idea behind this band is to listen to unaccompanied solo singing. It is a bunch of traditional singers from the Irish county of Wexford, featuring sisters Elaine and Darina Gleeson, Paul O'Reilly, Niall Wall, Helen Kirwan, and Paddy Berry, the latter is the most prominent who played part in the Irish folk revival over the past 50 years. It is a nice selection of songs, the usual suspects left out, from the big ballads to the bawdry, from the plaintive to the uplifting, from "Sliabh na mBan" to Helen Kirwan's own "The Cold Hand of Greed" about the Great Irish Famine of 1845. Some are deeply rooted in Co. Wexford, but because there always has been coming and going in south east Ireland since Viking times and long before that, also some Northern songs are included. Some have never been recorded before. The booklet contains song lyrics and notes. So whisht! stop and listen ...
Fiona Kelleher, if the name don't ring, maybe you've seen or heard her as lead vocalist of Irish band North Cregg (-> FW#29). The singer from Macroom in Co. Cork went solo, the only accompaniment on her solo debut "My Love Lies" album being Capercaillie's Donald Shaw (piano, accordion), Jim Murray (guitar) and Ewan Vernal (double bass). Her voice is clear and strong. Songs include the traditional Gaelic "Ta me i mo shui", the English "I will put my ship in order", Cyril Tawney's "Grey Funnel Line", and Bill Caddick's "Waiting for the Lark". A quote from one of the songs is the perfect motto: As I walk the hills my heart is light and as I go I sing. My brothers talk of land and gold and sorely do upbraid, My mother says I'll rue my pride and die a lonely maid, but I roam the hills my heart is light and as I go I sing.
Cara Dillon is a well-known face on the folk circuit, and on "Hill of Thieves" without exaggeration in her finest hour. Forgotten and forgiven are her days with folk pop band The Equation, or the gorgeous start of her solo career which seemed to turn again in pop territory after a while. Her fourth album "Hill of Thieves" is a sparse affair with Cara's beautiful singing, her musical partner and husband Sam Lakeman's accompaniment on the piano, and some colours added by flutist Brian Finnegan (of the demised Flook), fiddler Zoe Conway and bodhran player Eamon Murray among others. But the less the better. The opening title track is an original song by Cara and Sam , celebrating home in Dungiven, Co. Derry, Northern Ireland, followed by a series of rather familiar Irish and English songs: "Johnny, Lovely Johnny", "The Parting Glass", "False, False" etc. Only "Spencer the Rover" I heard for the first time from Fiona Kelleher (see above), "The Lass of Glenshee" I never encountered before. The unaccompanied Gaelic "Fil, Fil a run o" at the end is spine-tingling. (If I'm not wrong I heard the song from Cara's elder sister who used to play with a band called Deanta.) Cara seems confident, they do what they want to do and they do it great.
Janet Russell is on the British folk circuit since the 1980s, being a one-time member of Sisters Unlimited with Sandra Kerr, Peta Webb and Rosie Davis. She is another fine singer, and her third CD "Love Songs and Fighting Talk" a nice selection of traditional Scottish and Northern English songs. To give you some examples, the traditional "Pretty Polly", the Irish "Donal Og" (that June Tabor recorded), the "Waxie's Dargle", a Dublin candlemaker's song known from the Pogues, the English "Mary Ambree" about a female Captain at the siege of Ghent in 1584. A speciality is "The Creole Girl's Lament", an answer to the well-known American folk song "The Lakes of Pontchartrain" (using the same tune). "The Pigeon and the Sparra" is about birds gossiping about the weather and global warming. Some songs are unaccompanied, some only with Janet playing guitar. Further accompaniment is sparse, assisting the vocals. Support comes from Tom McConville (fiddle), Najam Jawed (tabla; great on "Eppic Morric"), Steve Tilston (guitar) and Gill Redmond (cello).
Lissa Schneckenburger is a top fiddler who has specialised in her native New England's dance repertory that is an offspring from British and Irish traditions with some French-Canadian influences that crept in from Quebec. The same could be true for New England's singing tradition. After several albums Lissa's "Song" is entirely devoted to songs which she already heard when a young girl, many of them largely forgotten and had to be uncovered through archival research at the University of Maine and elsewhere. She is a nice singer too. Accompanied by musicians from the North East including guitarist Matt Heaton (-> FW#35). Lissa selected ten traditional ballads, some came ashore as far back as the 18th century. There are traditional songs with European origin such as "The Fair Maid by the Sea Shore", "Little Musgrave" and "The Old Beggar Man", English hymns, and American ballads from the Maine area that probably originated over there. Her next album entitled "Dance" is scheduled for 2009 and will feature dance tunes, of course.,,,
Walkin' T:-)M

Maria Dunn "The Peddler"
Label: Distant Whisper Music; MARCD04; 2008
My first intention was to review Canadian singer Maria Dunn with the Irish and British singers above, wasn't there a notable exception. These songs are about love and death, the entire theme spectrum that folk music is about. "The Elder Sister" is a take on the well-known traditional murder ballad (no younger siblings were harmed in my writing, Maria says jokingly) The "Sailor Song" is about the female pirate Mary Read, the lyrics goes I played on the ships and I played in the ports, and I played for the pennies, played for the sport, and I played for my life, played for my drink, now I play just to help myself think, may your music flow ever across the high seas... I can imagine you thinking, well, that's fine what you are talking about, but isn't there something familiar? No, there isn't! Though the words and music on "The Peddler" sound traditional to the core, none of these ten songs here are traditional at all. Its author however is well known, and it is Canadian neo-Celt Maria Dunn without any exception. The singer-songwriter and accordionist from Alberta was inspired from her Irish and Scottish ancestry to write some songs in the traditional Celtic vein for her fourth album. including some jigs and reels that she'd written to go with some songs. There is almost no weak song, and the accompaniment is done by Canadian folk band The McDades (-> FW#34). Altogether, one of my favourite albums that's have been made in 2008.
Walkin' T:-)M

V/A "Primal Twang - The Legacy of the Guitar" [DVD Video]
Adams Entertainment; 2007; Playing time: 2:01:01 min + extras
In the beginning was the big twang, says Dan Crary, and thousand centuries later we hear its reverbaration. Next to the dog, it's man's best friend, says Mason Williams jokingly about the guitar. At least the guitar made its way. When Dan Crary started to play the guitar, 50 accordions came to 1 string, but in his lifetime the guitar made it from an obscure instrument to the universal instrument, from the old starvation box to the great common denominator. In September 2006 Dan Crary, himself a flatpicking bluegrass player, hosted the show "Primal Twang: The Legacy of the Guitar" in at San Diego’s Birch North Park Theatre, a theatrical journey through the centuries from the guitar’s ancient ancestors to steel-strung, nylon-strung and electric guitars. The story was told through a combination of a both informed and witty narration, historical footage and, most important, live performances of classical music, flamenco, country, blues, jazz, folk and rock'n'roll by a cast of renowned guitar greats: John Doan (harp guitar), Fred Benedetti & George Svoboda, Andrew York, Peter Sprague, Doyle Dykes, Doc & Richard Watson, Eric Johnson, Albert Lee. The DVD also has some special features, interviews and behind the scenes. Primal Twang is a must for guitar afficionados, to say the least.
Walkin' T:-)M

"Tuesday Letter"
Label: Big Blue Zoo Records; 2006
Greensky Bluegrass "Five Interstates"
Label: Big Blue Zoo Records; 2008
I have a rather shallow knowledge of US geography, and to get a grasp I like to connect the country with certain bands and artists. Greensky Bluegrass puts the state of Michigan on my map. Indeed, their latest album is a travelogue: train junkies on an Indian trail through a dry county, 200 miles from Montana. The name says it all, they are playing bluegrass. Kind of, since balancing on the very edge of bluegrass as we know it and contemporary sounds and classic folk and country music. Railroad Earth came to my mind (-> FW#25), and indeed, as I read later on, Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth produced the band's second and third studio albums, "Tuesday Letter" and "Five Interstates". The line-up is banjo, mandolin, dobro, guitar and bass. The band's mostly original songs have a consistent high quality - they rightly say: you can be the greatest pickers in the world and not have great songs -, though I cannot single out any particular hit. Nice overall sound, though definitely not your grandfather’s pick.
Walkin' T:-)M

Rachel Hair "Hubcaps & Potholes"
Label: Own Label; 2006; 11 tracks, 45 min
Time was when a debut recording by a harpist was a rare event. Not so now, but this solo CD is still something special. Rachel Hair plays a mix of Scottish and Irish music, with her own compositions in between. Based in Glasgow, Rachel has Antrim connections and was born and bred in Ullapool on Scotland's west coast. There's a high proportion of slower tunes on Hubcaps & Potholes, which suits the harp and also makes a pleasant change from the reels-only approach on some debut albums. Starting with the sprightly strathspey Braes of Castle Grant, more full of snap than a croc in a kindergarten, Rachel switches easily to the Shetland air Da Day Dawn in much smoother vein. The brooding Eilean Algas is an old Scottish melody which is new to me, and I'm grateful for the chance to hear it: a marvellously evocative piece on the harp.
Rachel's compositions grace about half the eleven tracks here. The title track is a complex medley of Rachel's own jig Hubcaps and Potholes, which sounds like one of those bizarre insurance claims but actually stacks up well against its neighbour The Noon Lasses in jig time before moving into the familiar reel. Marie's Tune is a charming little minuet, another Hair original, playfully paired with Art O'Keefe's Polka. Her big jig Starry-Eyed lads starts a trio of tunes finishing with The Rolling Waves. Other notable tracks include the Lady on the Island medley, the 7/8 challenge of 52nd Street, and the contemporary Asturian composition Cancro Cru. This is an enjoyable and diverting album, a cut above the average debut CD. More info is online at well worth checking out, not just because Rachel is the only harpist I know with a hit musical named after her.
Alex Monaghan

Rachel Hair "The Lucky Smile"
Label: March Hair Records; MHRCD002; 2009
Rachel Hair's (-> FW#33) new album "The Lucky Smile" is not a departure from her previous work, but something bigger. Whereas "Hubcaps & Potholes" was a solo Celtic harp CD, the follow-up features her trio of harp, guitar (Paul Tracey) and double bass (Andy Sharkey), both from a jazz music background, plus jazz fiddler Graham McGeoch, drummer Scott Mackay and percussionist Paul Jennings. The tunes are a mix of traditional and original stuff, interpretated in a very contemporary way, embracing jazz, pop and rock music. The rather strict structure of traditional Scottish and Irish music makes soon way to improvising. The groove reminds you it is dance music though. There are also two traditional Gaelic songs, "A Fhleasgaich Oig as Ceanalta" (sung by Joy Dunlop and "Leis an Lurgainn". After all, this young lady from Ullapool in the Scottish Highlands should be able to straighten you out and put a smile on your face.
Walkin' T:-)M

Sophie Barker "Earthbound"
Label: Emperor; 2006
The leadsinger/songwriter of London-based band Zero 7 has released her first solo album of acoustic music that, leaves the listener not earthbound but seeking some kind of ethereal, spiritual experience. Although Barker has written and performed with Grooverider and Groove Armada on their million selling "Vertigo" album, the eight tracks on her debut solo album are of a very different nature. The tracks can perhaps best be described as a cross between new age soundscapes and melodies based on more traditional folk sources. The effect is reminiscent of a mix between Enya and Dolores O'Riordan of the Cranberries. "On My Way Home" and "Angel" are a couple of the more haunting tracks, while "Wintertime" and "Dreamlife" to my mind, are inspirational. If you like the likes of Sarah McLachlan and the Cranberries, have seen and drooled over Sinead O'Connor at least ten times live in concert, then you should grab a copy of Sophie Barker's Earthbound. It does have it's more repetitive and bland moments, but if female alternative is your music taste, then overall the CD's probably worth your money.
Kathy-Ann Tan

Jens Kommnick "Síúnta"
Label: Siunta Music; SM 2204; 2008; Playing time: 50:54 min
Layers of sound, textures and styles are the hallmarks of Jens Kommnick’s 2008 album, „Siúnta“. The Irish word has a variety of meanings, including sound, layer, and grain. The term marks Kommnick’s wide interest in different styles and sounds, with an emphasis on the guitar and traditional Celtic melodies.
Kommnick’s choice of material, ranging from traditional Irish, Scandinavian, and Asturian tunes to works by Dowland, Telemann and Kommnick himself could strike some as a strange mix. By selecting such a wide range of styles, is he spreading himself too thin, or worse, arrogantly inserting his own compositions beside time-honored works? An overall impression of the album lays these arguments aside. The various sources and styles of the tracks, on paper somewhat mismatched, are quite convincing in the ear. A baroque undercurrent connects all of these inventively arranged and conceived pieces, underlined by Kommnick’s studied and confident guitar playing.
Studying the liner notes could raise similar questions about Kommnick’s audacity in playing all instruments himself. Can an individual really convincingly play guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, celtic harp, lute, violin, viola, cello, fretless bass, piano, uillean pipes and tin whistle without losing some credibility, at least with regard to certain instruments? The answer is, Mr. Kommnick can, and both compellingly and professionally at that. From the interlocking strains of Telemann’s „Concerto for 4 Violins“ played on four Irish bouzoukis to the evocative harp rhythms of the original „The Ferris Wheel“, Kommnick convinces with both his playing and his arranging.
The one instrument some listeners may miss on this album is the most hands-free: the human voice. It’s a good thing Jens Kommnick knows how to sing through his guitar. For lovers of traditional and baroque-flavoured melodies, played and accompanied in a variety of styles, from traditional dance tunes to expressively meditative pieces, Kommnick’s „Siúnta“ is the perfect introduction to a gifted artist.
Gabriel McCaslin

The Ortner-Roberts Duo "A Trip to America"
Label: Own label; 2008
Friday night. The candles are lit, and the wine is on the table. Why not try something musically different? The CD “A Trip To America“ by the Ortner-Roberts Duo seems perfectly right for the occasion.
That there were mutual influences between (jewish) klezmer music and (black) jazz has been assumed for a long time and lead to prejudice and persecution. This duo now makes this issue a concern of theirs. But the description as “A Yiddish / Creole fusion“ seems misleading as “Creole” makes me think of South America.
After a jazz intro, a typical sher begins and makes you feel “heymish”. Susanne Ortner-Roberts has a soft and melting tone on her clarinet. She uses the traditional ornamentation of klezmer music quite in the style of Naftule Brandwein and Dave Tarras.
Tom Roberts’s accompaniment also is very traditional, and sometimes he takes the lead, too. In the New World, the piano took over the role of the eastern-european “tsimbl”. It is interesting to find out that there are some similarities in the playing of the old jazz style (for example, a kind of “tremolo” on long notes). But also jazz is an integral part of this CD.
The booklet gives detailed information for example on the “terkisher” rhythm – a topic on which further studies would be interesting …
Klezmer music and jazz blend perfectly on this CD. The elaborated way of playing the clarinet and the sensitive piano arrangement has a very emotional effect (or was it the wine?). Sheyn!
Christian Zastrow

V/A [Samplers, EP's & Demo CD's]

Lo Kivikas "Master of Your Mind": "Master of Your Mind" is a six track EP debut release from a female singer/songwriter from Stockholm, Sweden, a subtle mix of rock, country and folk music. In its best moments quite masterful and passionate.

V/A "Absolutely Irish" (Compass 744802, 2008): Unique once-in-a-lifetime concert that brought together the stars of the US traditional Irish music scene. Three generations of musical virtuosos, featuring Liz Carroll, Karan Casey, John Doyle, Seamus Egan, Eileen Ivers, Joanie Madden, Susan McKeown, Mick Moloney, Robbie O'Connell, Jerry O'Sullivan, Athena Tergis, ... Excellent music!

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