FolkWorld Issue 41 03/2010
FolkWorld CD Reviews
Hot Club of Cowtown "Wishful thinking"
Gold strike records; 2009
Casey Joe Abair and Hunter Robertson "If you want to go to sleep, go to bed"
Yodel-ay-hee; 074; 2009
Joe Iadanza "Traveling Salesman"
Oasis; 88-004; 2008
The Gibson Brothers "Ring the bell"
Bob Cheevers "Tall Texas Tales"
Inbred records; 005; 2009
Craig Bickhardt "Brother to the Wind"
Stone barn records; 1003; 2009
A bunch of albums that have the Americana music in common but interpretate it often in a very different way. First of all some swing with The Hot Club of Cowtown a trio that just recorded Wishful thinking. Elana James takes the female vocals and plays the violin, Whit Smith does the male vocals and the guitar and Jake Erwin plays the bass and does the background vocals. Fourteen new recordings with mostly original material but also a Gershwin song and their version of Tom Waits's The long way home. Itís pure, acoustic roots music with some swing and blues influences. Very easygoing and friendly to the ear. Uncomplicated music for a Sunday afternoon, well played and very enjoyable. Casey Joe Abair and Hunter Robertson take it a totally different way. Their music on banjo, violin and vocals is energetic and raw. The banjo sounds occasionally like a wild storm and impresses in combination with Robertsons raw and heavy voice. I like the way this duo totally give themselves to the music. They keep the ancient soul of the compositions and force me to listen to their music with superb music and compositions in which the musicians search for the outer limits of their possibilities and have the guts to ignore standard conventions. I appreciate that and the result is an album with good old banjo/violin music that both sounds like itís decades old and modern at the same time. The third one is by Joe Ladanza with his new album called Travelling salesman. Although this album is almost two years old and his new one is announced to be released this year, itís a real pleasure to review this one. This is such an album that grows each time I listen to it. Ladanza shows to be a creative songwriter and a great musician. A nice start with the folky title song is followed by a great Once upon a time which starts with this nice fragile guitar but ends with some uplifting big-band jazz music, a highlight on this album. And this continues with Lovers in the park, a nice country-like up tempo song. His blues song Sunshine blues is not that bluesy as the title might suggest, but just a nice song. He even has some hit potential with Your song. Ladanza is a real surprise to me, a nice album with good music (great violin!!) and strong singer-songwriter. Back to some more traditional Americana with The Gibson Brothers and their album Ring the bell. Banjo, violin, harmony vocals, bassÖthis album has it all and the great musicians know how to play their country/bluegrass/folk music. Itís the brothers ninth album in fifteen years of music. They create uncomplicated American music for a big audience. A light, happy atmosphere, smooth harmonies, good old instrumental parts in the best tradition. An album that will be appreciated by many, thatís for sure. Bob Cheevers has been representing the US folk and such like, traditions for many years. On Tall Texas tales eleven new compositions starting with the nice country rock song Grown up people. Funny how he changes from this rock influenced music to the accordion-lead song Lukenbach which is a bit out of my league to be honest, although it sounds like a real night of fun at the ranch. Then I prefer a ballad like Give this heart where Cheevers shows the beauty of his voice in all its glory. Tall Texas tales is a nice album that is exactly what his fans want to hear. A few songs impress me, others are not really my cup of tea. But itís professional and well played music from the first till the last second. Finally in this review Craig Bickhardt. This American singer-songwriter recorded twelve new songs in a nice Americana setting with Celtic elements. Bickhardt sings his songs with a warm voice and his careful guitar play is friendly and easy going. The album is in the tradition of the many other solid US singer songwriters, no experiments just good old line up (guitar, bass, female harmonies, fiddle etc). Occasionally some rock flavour added, but always well dosed to protect the acoustic and warm atmosphere if the album. Bickhardt recorded a nice album, thatís for sure
Beth Wimmer "Miracle Girl"
Own label; 2008
Miracle girl is the fourth album by USA singer-songwriter Beth Wimmer. To be honest, the far from professional looking sleeve did me fear the worst. Fortunately Wimmer proofs me wrong, never judge the looks. Ten new songs rooted in the US folk, country and pop music. Wimmer has a pleasant voice and the talent to write catchy folk-pop like songs. Backed by a solid electric band she must be able to please a lot of people. Itís uncomplicated folk pop that is sometimes almost a bit too easy to listen to. I prefer musicians who have a more outspoken style of playing, but I canít deny that what Wimmer does, she does it really well.
Shiner Twins "Southern Belles"
The Shiner twins is a quartet from the Netherlands that focuses on the styles played in the Southern parts of the USA. After their successful, debut album, their second album is already over a year old when you read this review, but really has to be mentioned in this issue of Folkworld. With slide-acoustic-electric guitar, bass, tuba, drums and vocals this band really knows how to entertain. Thirteen compositions, solid as a rock with a good touch of blues, some soul, gospel and a lot of rock. The Shiner Twins proof again to be Hollandís best kept secret if it is about Southern-rock. Itís pure, uncomplicated and straight from the musicians soul.
Dare Dukes "Prettiest Transmitter of All"
Funny, when hearing Ballad of Darius McCollum, I would swear this is a new UK underground rock band. The way of singing, the structure of the song, but no, this is all made in the USA. Dare Dukes is a composer, singer, guitarist and plays the keyboards as well. On this debut album he sings seven of his own compositions backed by five musicians on cello, trumpet, trombone, bass and drums. Dukes has a fantastic voice that impresses in both the more introvert songs like Samís cathedral as in the more rock orientated songs like the fabulous Kick + Holler. Good choice of female backings, perfectly fitting his voice. Good alternative sound with the warm sound of the cello, solid finger picking like in From a plane which is one of the seven highlights on this album. Dare Dukes impresses me with original, creative, open minded rock with a touch of alternative folk and a nice underground sound. Must be bought!
Boister "Some moths drink the tears of elephants"
Wing and prayer recordings; 5766; 2009
For over thirteen years the band Boister spreads itís creations all over this world. With the great Anne Watts on vocals this band impresses again with creative song writing and fantastic performance. I love the way this band plays with styles and create their own universe where Brecht meets Waits, folk meets big band and accordion meets the trombone. Great start with Limes but Songs of the eighth elephant is a masterpiece and one of the many highlight on this album. Stone has this nice chaotic style, with a touch of darkness, the title song Some moths drink the tears of elephants is one of the more accessible songs, but the ones that follows Bubble up the melodies chooses a totally different direction again. With a Balkan Soul and a trombone getting totally nuts, this is another great composition. And then, totally unexpected Boister plays Lia a pure acoustic piece of finger picking of the best quality and gives a moment to relax. I love the bit avant gardistic style of Boister, this music is alive, itís inventive and impossible to ignore. Great album!
Massimo Ferrante "Jamu"
Massimo Ferrante is a singer who represents the traditions of the Southern parts of Italy. Jamu is his third album and even better than his second album Ricuordi, which I liked a lot. This one has, somehow, a more typical Southern Italian atmosphere, sometimes acoustic and singing a story like an old troubadour, but in a song like La piov e la fai soulelh itís pure energetic folk rock of the best kind. Itís a divers album which gives a good picture of the many types of music this area has. Sometimes theatrical, than with heavy electric guitar leads and suddenly a small ballad strokes my ear. When you see the sleeve of this album, a man with guitar in a sunny forest, you might expect a totally different kind of music than what you get. Donít let this picture confuse you, this is a beautiful album with a wide variation of songs deeply rooted in an ancient tradition.
Dave Rawlings Machine "A Friend of a Friend"
Dave Rawlings Machine impresses with his album A friend of a friend. No press info and the webpage doesnít reveal much either, but a great album form this Tennessee USA singer-songwriter. Starting with Ruby which sounds like a classical singer-songwriter song from the seventies including the harmony vocals, guitar and light orchestration. Rawlings shows to be a great singer and a perfect songwriter. Nice is the contradiction between the opening track and the second song To be young with some raw American roots music including the banjo, sharp vocals, female backings and violin. I hear them all shows a fragile singer and guitar only. To the end of the album a few up tempo songs, but it all ends beautifully with the Bells of Harlem. A nice album with some great roots music but Rawlings convinces me the most in his introvert, sober and more fragile songs. He has the right voice for that.
John Kruth "Splitsville"
Smiling fez records; 3; 2008
Tribecastan "Strange cousin"
Own label; 2009
John Kruth is an American singer-songwriter who got inspired for this ninth album by his many trips to Croatia. Sixteen new songs, backed by eleven musicians with a lot of accordion and strings. Often acoustic but occasionally some drums, keyboards and electric mandolin amongst others. The album has a good touch of the American folk tradition, I donít recognize much Croatian traditional elements, or it must be in the way the accordionist plays his part. So I guess he puts his inspiration into the lyrics mostly and choose the more American approach in his music. For those who expect Croatian tradition, this album is probably not the right one. For those who are more into American folky/bluesy singer-songwriters, this might be a nice album. Check his webpage to see if this fits you. Intriguing is Kruthís cooperation with Jeff Greene under the name of Tribecastan. Together with five guest musicians this duo mixes musical styles from all over the world in a new kind of blend. I hear USA folk with bamboo flutes, Arabic rhythms with bluesy melodies, fabulous string works, compositions for flutes only, the atmosphere of a Greek island, belly dance, the chaos of the city traffic in a great improvised jazz piece in which twelve instruments fight for their place on the road. Strange cousin is a strong album which goes from one end of this world to the other without getting to uncontrolled. Itís well played and has a good acoustic and sometimes even authentic sound. An album like this, with so many styles, often sounds forced. Not this one, the musicians found the right, natural balance between the instruments and the typical rhythms and melodies of all those cultures.
Melech mechaya "Budja ba"
OvaÁ„o; 714CD; 2009
?Shmaltz "Welcome to Malwonia"
Own label; 2008
Kottarashky "Opa Hey!"
Asphalt tango records;
V/A "Balkan Grooves"
EBM 016; 2009
V/A "Balkan Beats - A Night in Berlin"
Gattamolesta is an Italian quartet that fits perfectly in the hype of the Balkan-beat music. This is their third full length album with thirteen danceable tracks. I donít think this album will surprise you in any way, itís the known predictable (ska) sound mixed with Italian and Balkan themes. Happy party music, made for pleasure and party animals. It misses the magic ingredients to make it taste better than the hundreds of other albums in this genre. Very different is the approach of Portuguese band Melech Mechaya. This band exists out of five outstanding music and mixes the tradition of Klezmer and Yiddish music from several (European) regions mixed with an occasional Arabic or Balkan vibe and also some Portuguese traditional influences now and then. They can be party animals but also play more melancholic like the beautiful Fado tantz. Most material they play is known (yes, hava nagila is there as well). A nice album, well played and occasionally really catchy but also predictable at moments. Than to a German band called ?Shmaltz. This sextet, I think from Berlin, brings Balkan and Klezmer style music in an acoustic setting. Nice brass music with some nice raw vocals and energetic music on a high level. Not that this band has such a different line up from other similar groups but somehow it sounds better. Especially in the more traditional pieces. A song like Molwa beat/tejkos lament, which has a more modern approach is nice, but doesnít have the impact of the sad composition Troim fun moldowe or the energetic brass style in Purid and Malwe dschuka. A nice debut album by a band which has the potential to get above the average level of the hundreds of similar bands on this planet. Malwonia needs time to grow and Iím sure will flourish within a few years like a big, multi coloured flower. An artist that is already flowering is Kottarashky and that on his debut album! Opa hey shows the work of this young Bulgarian artist. He is one of the few that takes the Balkan beats beyond mixing so called Ďmodern beatsí with traditional melodies. Kottarashky plays with sounds, melodies and beats and creates an intriguing album with twelve tracks with wonderful Balkan jazz, blues and brass and with an edge of progressive and psychedelic vibes. Interesting how he managed to use the field recordings in a respectful way and let his compositions sound as if they were mend to be like this. Probably the best Balkan beats album from 2009. Balkan Grooves and Balkan Beats are both two sample albums for those who want to create their own Balkan disco. Both party albums, Heavy, funky, reggae, gypsy and many beats per minute. Far from subtle, this is made for dancing and Iím sure the compilers were not planning on recording an album that sounds different than what the mass wants. Although I prefer the Balkan beats album A night in Berlin because it leaves the tradition more intact. Two albums that you need when you are sick and tired of the last compilations of Balkan beat tracks.
DŁzgun Celebi "Lichtermeer"
Non food factory;
Celebi is a musician from Turkish origin who now lives in Austria. He is a master on the Baglama and toured since he was ten years old. He performed solo and as one of the members of several bands (Cooler istanbooler). This album Lichtermeer is a solo project with the sound of the Baglama only. Celebi has a powerful way of playing and he mixes traditional techniques with pop-rock techniques which gives his music a timeless character. He is clearly a fan of the fast and furious string work, which he plays full fire. Personally I like his more calm pieces better like the title song Lichtermeer, they show his wonderful technique and have a deep sound. Nice how hypnotizes his listener by repeating parts of the melodies and add subtle changes. Celebi might have put a bit too much of his ideas on one album, but he shows his quality and presents himself as a big promise for future release. But besides that, Lichtermeer is a strong solo output from a great musician/composer.
Karl Skaarup "Musiker"
SvÝbsk "En klang af tidlÝshed"
Gateway Music; ALF 0409; 2009
Over Sundet "Over Sundet"
Karl Skaarup was born in 1924 and for decades he is part of the Danish world of folk. Besides playing the accordion, he teaches at the Academy in Odense. On this album thirteen dances taken from his over 60 years spanning career. Solo works but also material which he played with the Skaarupís trio, which he founded in 1942. On some of the tracks he is assisted by violinist Kristian Bugge, but besides that itís the accordion pur sang. Traditional, a little bit conservative but also virtuoso and warm. A must have for all accordion freaks! The next album from Denmark is En klang af tidlÝshed by the SvÝbsk duo, containing Maren Hallberg on Accordion and JÝrgen Dickmeiss on various string instruments, including violin and mandolin. Some of you might know him from his work with the folk-rock band Tumult, in SvÝbsk he shows his more delicate side. With their debut album the duo was nominated for the Ďbest debutí award and this album got good critics in and outside Denmark. On this new work they continue in the same vein as their first one. Thirteen, mostly original, compositions with an easy going sound. Both are excellent musicians with the guts to keep their music simple, but effective. On those tracks were they are backed by Nikolaj Busk on piano and Tira Skamby on percussion, the music has a richer sound without losing the intimacy of the other songs. Although I do think this is a very nice album, I also get the feeling that the musicians stay a bit too much on the safe side. Great songs, beautiful musical arrangements bit occasionally predictable and somehow a very little bit dull. Then the Over Sundet quartet, a new Danish band with their nameless debut album. The band, existing out of three girls on cello, saxophone and clarinet, and one guy taking care of the percussion part. They brought together Scandinavian traditions in their own high quality compositions Besides the Danish tradition this album is clearly inspired by the Swedish folk tradition. The more melodic, airy music reminds me of those who reinvented the Swedish traditional/acoustic music in the late seventies, nice melancholic melodies played at a high level. Listening to this album Iím amazed about the top quality and the fact that their compositions sounds like they are hundreds of years old. The composers listened very well to the structures and atmosphere of the folk tradition without neglecting the fact that we are living in the 21st century. They gave their music a timeless sound which is great to listen to now and in the next five hundred years. Great debut!
Wardruna "Runaljod Ė Gap var ginnunga"
Wardruna is a Norwegian project and Gap var ginnunga is the first album in a trilogy inspired on the Runes. On this first part, eight runes inspired multi-musician and composer Kvitrafn to write this album. He plays all instruments and creates the sounds that accompany them. On two tracks hardanger fele Hallvard Kleiveland joins in and Lida Fay Hella and Gaahl take the vocal part. This album is inspired by the ancient Nordic cultures, myths and history and have influences from many Nordic traditions. The album has a mystical atmosphere like it was recorded when the first human being was about to arrive into the forests of Norway. You will hear water running from the stones, beautiful melodies sounding in a far distance and indefinable beings singing from the sky, or is it the earth? This kind of projects often result in many sound brought together without any structure. This album is one of the good kind, it tells a story, it enchants and shows the richness of the ancient Nordic culture as well.
Valravn "Koder pŚ snor"
The man who turned into a Raven, thatís behind the name of the Danish band Valravn. After a successful debut album, they have recently released their second album which is called Koder pŚ snor. The band was founded in 2003 and has close connections to famous Danish folk(rock) groups like Sorten muld and Virelai. To be honest, I found their first album interesting, but somehow a bit unbalanced. To many ideas and lack of somebody who dares to divide the necessary ideas from the unnecessary additions. A few monthsí later friends returned from a festival and told me Valravn was the highlight of the weekend. That made me curious, would the band convince me with their second album? The answer is yes, they did. This album is ten times better than their debut album. It has a mystic atmosphere with great vocals, good electronics mixed perfectly with the traditional instruments. The title song is a more than seven minutes highlight which shows the Faeroe roots of lead singer Anna Katrin ōssursdottir, who sings in the tradition of Icelandic legend Bjork and the lesser known, but at least as good, singer EivÝr. The good thing is that she gets inspired, but follows her own path and adds new elements to the singing which makes it exciting and new. Add this to the excellent compositions and instrumental play and you have a price winning album. For sure one of the highlights of 2009.
Suden Aika "Armas"
Three years ago I wrote a great review about Suden aikaís former album and interviewed singer Tellu Turkka for FolkWorld (FW#33). I was surprised to see that she has left the band a year later and isnít singing on this new album. She is replaced by Veera Voima who, together with the three other singers, recorded this new album. Armas has twelve new recordings of traditional songs. The album isnít a big surprise and stays close to the styles of the earlier albums. Sometimes nice, edgy songs with bewitching vocals, but other moments crystal clear harmony singing, always with subtle instrumental backing. Armas is a solid album with beautiful music played in the typical Suden aika style.
Les Triaboliques "Rivermudtwilight"
Les Triaboliques is an English trio with three top (string) musicians. The trio exists out of Justin Adams, producer of albums by Tinariwen, Natacha Atlas amongst others, played with Brian Eno, Hector Zazou and many other. Lu Edmonds, the former The Damned musician, The mekons and Billy Bragg amongst others and the third one is Ben Mandelson best known as one of the 3 Mustaphas 3. The trio recorded eleven tracks with fabulous string work on instruments such as the guitar, mandolin, saz, banjo and many others. Their raspy vocals do the rest, an irresistible combination. The album starts strong with Crossing the stone bridge followed by Gulaguajira a song that is original, but constantly gives me the feeling I know it for many years. Great repeating rhythm! Itís the variation in styles that makes this album so nice to listen to. A beautiful acoustic song like Turns the worm is mixed with African/Arabic/Mediterranean influences songs like Afsaduni. They even play a strong version of Donít let me be misunderstood. Three masters at work in an album that I guess will be appreciated by string-freaks and lovers of good old alt-folk with world influences.
La Talvera "Sopac & Patac"
Own label; TAL15; 2009
Talvera is part of the in 1976 established Occitan research centre and one of the leading representatives of the Occitan musical culture. One of the more interesting musical traditions in Europe and unfortunately highly underestimated. Because of the geographical location, Occitan music often contains influences from many cultures. You will hear French and Mediterranean influences amongst others. This new album Sopac & Patac is a big surprise to me as I think itís one of the best Occitan albums ever. (and I have a lot of them on Lp from the seventies and eighties and on CD from the pas twenty years) The music is passionate, diverse and of the highest quality. Starting in a happy mood with A bal de la Talvera an uplifting dance with light electronic beats. Fantastic is Balada. What a great vocals by Edith Bouygues who sounds so uncomplicated in A bal de la Talvera but sings straight out of her heart in this Balada. Strangely enough I would never have filled this song under Occitan, I guessed it would be a traditional from Quebec, but I guessed wrong. North Italian influences can be heard in Canti canta cantem and a beautiful mystic, mediaeval atmosphere in Lo terrible de pena. All eighteen compositions show the many sides of Talvera and the Occitan musical culture. This album is over one hour of fantastic music, from dances to heart breaking ballades. The main ingredients are the traditional instruments and the strong vocals sometimes supported by light electronic beats. A must have!
Kroke "Out of Sight"
I love Poland! Not only its beautiful cities and nature, but also its musical revolution of the past fifteen years. So much going on, such inventive music that surprises me time after time. Take this Kroke Quartet, by now one of the best known Polish bands world-wide and with reason. After an interesting start as a trio, (maybe they still are? Itís not really clear if the percussionist is part of the band or only supporting the three others) this group developed into a creative and innovating group. Both live and on studio albums this group impresses with strong compositions, breathtaking techniques and surprising crossovers. Out of sight is their eighth album and includes ten new compositions. On this new album the band brings their best ideas together and play at the highest level. Subtle (instrumental) compositions with influences from Polish, Klezmer, Arabic, Balkan, Mediterranean and African influence melted together in a tasteful blend. Listen to the weeping of the violin, the comforting bass or the intimacy of the accordion. Be amazed about the natural way of playing and the high quality of the musiciansí techniques. Out of sight is the best Kroke album until today and a new highlight in the recent history of Polish (folk) music.
Stockholm Lisboa Project "Diagonal"
The Swedish band Stockholm Lisboa project, is everything the name suggests. Itís a meeting between Portuguese and Swedish musicians and musical styles. Mixing the warmth of the Fado with the down to earth atmosphere of the Swedish polska, schottish and other dances. Itís the groupís second album, after a successful debut. This time they take the music even a bit beyond the Portuguese/Swedish border and they have a new musician; harmonica virtuoso Filip Jers. The album starts in fado style with Rosa da noite. Nice vocals by lead singer Liana, backed by subtle strings and a frivol harmonica, a nice blend of sadness and happiness. What follows is a tune called Apaga e vela which is a more uplifting Portuguese style song. Third is the very Swedish Martin begravning with both male and female vocals. Very different in style but again with the harmonica as most recognisable element. Even more Swedish are the violins playing Utlandspolska and in Všrlingeschottis. This second album has a few beautiful songs, but I personally think that on their first album they reached a better symbioses between the different cultures. Nevertheless a very enjoyable album.
Tsuumi Soundsystem "Growing up"
Sibelius Academy; TSS001; 2009
Tsuumi soundsystem is a Finnish folk band playing original compositions. The eight musicians, on instruments such as violin, harmonium, accordion, sax, cello, drums etc, create their own new-tradition. On this new album thirteen new compositions in which the band blends traditional elements from Scandinavia and the Celtic tradition with light rock, jazz and world sounds. The violin plays a central role in the nice, well arranged, compositions. The musicians reach a high level and create a recognisable, bit mellow, sound that constantly stays in the comfort zone of the listener. Not an album that will surprise the fans of this album, but will satisfy them, they get what they are used to hear. One way thatís good news, on the other hand itís also a bit predictable.
© The Mollis - Editors of FolkWorld; Published 03/2010
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