FolkWorld Issue 43 11/2010

FolkWorld CD Reviews

Nadine Maria Schmidt "Nylonsaiten & Saitenstrümpfe"
Label: Own label; 2010
Nadine Maria Schmidt is a German folk singer/songwriter who has a strong, unique style. It is no surprise that the music contained within this artistically attractive CD package is much more creative than most of the material released these days. On one hand, Schmidt sounds like she fits in with the many Joanna Newsome like singer/songwriters around these days. Yet, she moves beyond this with a very intriguing vocal delivery that has quiet intensity in the way someone can quiet their voice to show their intensity as opposed to clichéd screams. The musical arrangements are smart leaving much room for the vocals while creating nice melodies and subtle rhythms to allow listening to become active participation. “Pictures” is the most intriguing arrangement here with its keyboard work that sounds like the progressive band Goblin at 5% of the volume. Themes are dark and troubled, yet there is much optimism by many of the songs’ conclusions. All lyrics are in English, although I am not finding much promotional material in anything other than German. From what I gather, Ms. Schmidt is an active performer in Germany and I can only hope she will make it to my side of the Atlantic some time.
David Hintz

Fiery Blue "Fiery Blue"
Label: Doubloon Records; 2010
Immediately one hears American singer/songwriter material on this record with its eighteen songs. Band members are spread out from New York to Austin to San Diego, which is fitting as the songs more subtly spread out from folk to country to light California rock. As usual, the countryesque material moves me the least, but I only found that apparent a couple of times. Most of the time it was more of a western style sound that is heavy on atmosphere and deep feeling. There is a nice wide space created with the mix. Female vocals are clean and right on top with room to bring it down a notch and not get lost in the sound. Guitars have a nice twang and keyboards sneak into the mix at various times. A steady rhythm keeps things moving at a down-home pace. The songs are good enough, the playing is fine, but the production and arrangements win the award on this one. Nicely realized debut from some savvy music veterans. I would recommend beginning with the more intriguing songs like “Neon Age” or “Virtue”, but there is probably something for everyone here.
David Hintz

John Carrillo "Von Karma"
Label: Own label; 2006
For some reason, I have John Carrillo’s 2006 album to review and not his latest released some time this year. This features eleven songs of slick pop-rock or power-pop music. He seems to strive for somewhere between the Raspberries and Jonathan Richman. I don’t think he fully succeeds, but there some nice songs here. I think the quieter poppy songs may work best, although I like the guitar bite on “In the Market Square”. And with a line like “Life is so strange when you’re a Siamese twin and you don’t realize the mess your in” on “Third Wheel” either has me thinking he is hitting the Jonathan Richman/John Prine zone or he is pretty naïve in his attempts. I am not entirely sure, but I lean to the latter. Still, this was an interesting listen.
David Hintz

Marc Cohn "Listening Booth: 1970"
Label: Saguaro Road; 2010
If you like themed albums, this one may have some appeal. Marc Cohn really likes the music of 1970, so he decided to cover some of his favorites from what he feels is a pivotal year. He mentioned some of his favorites he would not cover and for some reason the thought that Badfinger would probably show up here came to my mind. By song nine, I was proven correct. There are many recognizable hits like “Baby I’m Amazed” and “Tears of the Clown”, so this is far from a trip down Esoteric B-Side Avenue. The best thing to do for these types of albums is to do the songs in your own manner without completely losing site of the original (unless you are Jesus and Marychain or someone like that). He also has some nice vocal accompaniment from the likes of Aimee Mann and India Arie. The vocal quality is present and the arrangements mostly work, but every listener will vary their opinions quite a bit song by song, I would think. I always enjoy listening to these albums once, but I am not sure how much life it has thereafter.
David Hintz

Dafni "Sweet Time"
Label: Daffer Doodle Music; 2010
Dafni sings a variety of styles here with a solid distinct confidence. The music varies from pop-rock to country to lounge jazz/soul with smooth transitions due to the competent arrangements. It is a little too slick at times for me and the moves toward country are rarely endearing. But there are several people out there that would enjoy this well performed music. And if there were more cuts like the smoky, mysterious “Oh How I Wish”, I would also become a big fan. For now, I have that song and a few others here that give me hope that this is someone who can make some nice music in the days to come.
David Hintz

Charming Hostess "The Bowls Project"
Tzadik; 2010
What is the secret to combining many musical styles and succeeding in creating a wonderful gumbo for the ears as opposed to a gray tasteless pile of goop? If I knew that, I would be out there creating music and not writing about it. If I were creating music, I would be proud to be part of something this fascinating. It is far easier to read the band’s descriptions themselves than trying to come up with my own adjectives and comparisons. But better still, is to give this wonderful new album a listen of your own. You will hear everything from classic folk, multi-ethnic singing from at least four world regions, heavy metal, jazz moves, and just about everything else. At one point I thought I was hearing Dead Can Dance crossed with Katzenjammer and including a couple members of Megadeath and the Klezmatics. If I were not listening to this as I write, I would think that combination of bands completely bonkers. But it works and perhaps it is bonkers. This is exciting, vibrant music not for the squeamish with limited vision beyond their comfort-genres. But there are great examples of folk music here with “Hangman Devil Man”, “Demon Lover” (actually House Carpenter) and the more experimental folk offering “Early in the Morning”. At song seventeen’s end, I have an excellent album from an exciting band in my collection that will be getting many re-listens.
David Hintz

Justin Rutledge "The Early Widows"
Label: Six Shooter Records; 2010
If you like Americana and want to explore Canadian roots music is a similar vein, Justin Rutledge’s latest album would be a good place to start. His songs have a certain creative vitality to them that separate them from thousands of others out there. He has a clear emotion filled voice that has all the necessary restraint to allow the lyrics to sink in and the musicians to fill the background with a variety of sounds. The arrangements are quite full, but not overbearing. I think the choices made are excellent and with very good songs like these, it would take some effort to screw them up. Listen to the wonderful “Snowmen” for an example of a heavy arrangement, yet memorable pop melody. Even the leanings to country music are well placed for me. There is plenty of folk moves and solid rock foundations along with some nice electric guitar work. There are even some songs that make me think of lush pop rock music like Radiohead. This is not quite in that league, but it shows Rutledge is capable of creating some nice pop hooks that can really resonate long after the song has ended. He is a fine performer and writer and certainly someone to keep an eye on, or rather an ear to.
David Hintz

Amelia Curran "Hunter Hunter"
Label: Six Shooter Records; 2009
Amelia Curran plays nice stripped down folk songs with lighter arrangements and stark lyrics. There are rarely more than one or two instruments playing along with her singing, which is a good choice. Her voice and lyrics are best up front as they really have a nice immediacy to them, while retaining enough depth to be ranked with the many fine folk artists working today. I think “The Mistress” exemplifies this point and became my favorite cut on the album. But the album played through beginning to end with twelve songs that kept my attention throughout. This Canadian artist toured through Ireland, her homeland, and select American cities at time of publication and I would certainly recommend attendance based on this fine effort.
David Hintz

The Tansads "Rough and Ready – The Early Tapes"
Label: Voice of Reason; 2010
See also the German
review in this issue
The Tansads were an interesting post-Pogues punk/folk band from Wigan in the UK. They had a rough time catching on despite some very devoted fans. Their bass player wrote a book on the experience that was well received. They have done some reunion shows and have this “new” release to celebrate. It is a must for their fans as it is a compilation of early more folk-oriented songs that they sold on cassette at gigs prior to the release of their first album in 1991. The material has a lot of female lead vocals and is folk-based and lighter than their subsequent material. There is an “indie rock feel” present in several songs as well. There are also early versions of subsequent hits like “Fear of Falling” and “Big Wednesday”. The music is better than average folk rock for the most part. Even without the history, it stands up well today. See “Shandyland” for an example with great dual vocals, strong pop-rock song, good lyrics--a real gem of a song.
David Hintz

The Duke & the King "Long Live"
Label: Silva Screen Records; 2010
This is the second album in less than a year of an interesting project for Felice Brothers’ Simone Felice. In addition to Bobbie Bird Burke, they have added Nowell Haskins of Parliament-Funkadelic and “The Sensation” Simi Stone. There is a nice combination of styles with folk, soul, Americana, psychedelic pop and gospel all snaking their way in and out of the ten songs. I think this album makes for an intriguing listen with several smart and emotional songs. Sometimes it gets a little too precious with quivering vocals and a flower children vibe, but for the most part the variety succeeds. “Shine on You” with its simple Americana tinged dreamy folk feel coupled with the ubiquitous Neil Young styled lead guitar is the highlight. The highlights easily outweigh the missteps on this album. The Felice Brothers play on and I am certain based on the quality here, The Duke & the King will live long as well.
David Hintz

Two Chix & a Beer "Friends of Dolores"
Label: Butterama; 2010
I settle back in the chair as this Bob Dylan voice serenades me with typical folk song whilst a Roger McGuinn Byrdsy guitar picks away in the background. I have heard it all before when all of a sudden a Lou Reed song breaks out and I am in some dank bowery bar in the lower east side. Dylan never sang those words. The rest of the nine songs all have their own unique flavor where I hear a lot of folk and rock elements and even some oddball Frank Zappa moves. Most of the music is quite steady and accessible, but with this murky undercurrent. It did not transcend mortal boundaries or do anything wildly exciting, but it offered up nine challenging little songs that kept my mind working overtime. That does not happen enough.
David Hintz

Timber Timbre "Timber Timbre"
Full Time Hobby; 2010
While I was aware of a buzz surrounding this band, I knew little about them. As I listened mesmerized by this excellent album, I began my research. Well, they are from Toronto. How Shocking. 90% of what I hear out of Toronto immediately goes to the top of my playlist. There is so much great music coming out of Toronto that every band seems to know that they have to really come up with something creative to stay in the conversation and get gigs. I am sure I am overrating the consciousness of Toronto bands, but I am not overrating the talents of this one. The big key to the success is that the sparse arrangements have the illusion of a big sound. This type of production was virtually created by Martin Hannett with his work with Joy Division. It sets the stage for these mysterious and lovely songs that are steeped in various aspects of Americana with blues, gospel and folk all being prevalent. The bonus five-song live ep that comes with the album also has some amazing live strings that create cinematic drama with their tone and dynamics.
David Hintz

Johnny Duhan "The Burning Word"
Label: Bell; 2010
From County Galway in Ireland comes this veteran folk singer/guitarist. His themes are overtly Christian, which from what I gather was not always the case on previous albums. You hear both the Christian themes and the Irish folk roots in each of these eleven songs. Voice and guitar are prominent with some strings, keys and vocals in the background. There is a steady charm to this album and a dedication to its themes that works well. However it really does not stand out in a significant way for a listener who has many other interesting folk acts in their collection. It still has something to offer for fans of Irish or Christian folk as the professionalism is present in all songs.
David Hintz

Yann Tiersen "Dust Lane"
Label: Mute/EMI; 2010
If you are looking for some smart compositions that blend folk, classical, progressive, shoegaze, krautrock, pop and rock, then this record will suit you well. These eight compositions sonically soar at a pace and feel of a hang glider. The balance of styles is successful and Tiersen creates a hypnotic rhythm for his flowing melodies. He recorded this on his home island Oussant, west of Brittainy, although he finished it in the Phillipines and finally in Leeds. It does have a quiet island feel to it with a sense of isolation and trance. Although I see the term minimalist is bandied about, I hear a lot going on with the layers of instruments. There even are some choral moments in addition to his soft nearly spoken vocals. And just when you get caught up in the lush sounds, he tosses out some racy lyrics to finish off the album with a seemingly incongruous lyric/music mixmatch. Although the only other Tiersen music I have heard is the soundtrack for “Amelie”, I am interested in hearing his catalogue. I sense he has the creativity and skill to put out a lot of exciting music. You can certainly start right here with this album.
David Hintz

Mick Ryan & Paul Downes "Away in the West"
Wild Goose Recordings; 2010
Here’s a nice classic folk sound for those of you who want to add to your Martin Carthy and Nic Jones album collections. Ryan (formerly of the Crows) does the singing and Downes plays most of the stringed instruments with a couple of musicians adding some viola and accordion. There are sharp original songs like “The Pauper’s Path” which have the classic UK folk feel of the sixties and a really nice long song called “Jack in Luck” based on a Grimm’s fairy tale. The first half was a lot stronger than the second half of this album, but it still warrants a full listen by any fan of this genre. I have hundreds of albums like this, but I always have room for another when it is as well done as this.
David Hintz

Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band "Tim Robbins and the Rogues Gallery Band"
Pias; 2010
Tim Robbins is the excellent actor of such films as Mystic River and The Shawshank Redemption. He takes a break from his main job to pursue some Americana based folk singing. He also plays guitar and is not exactly brand new to music. So is this a credible venture? Unlike every celebrity who thinks they can write a children’s book, this time the end product is mostly decent. The songs are good, if not a bit too low key at times. On most songs, his singing is excellent, but at others it seems more like a breathing exercise. The band is steady and has some nice accents. This band would make a good night’s entertainment at the local pub. And the record is pleasant enough, but just not quite memorable enough to warrant further playing in this household. But curious fans should give it a listen. At a minimum, they should find a few songs to enjoy. I recommend “Toledo Girl” which could stand tall and proud on almost any album in this genre.
David Hintz

Lizzie Nunnery "Company of Ghosts"
Fellside Recordings; 2010
The venerable Fellside Recordings has been going for 34 years strong and continues to present classic UK folk records along with new folk efforts. This leans heavily toward the new, although a certain classic UK folk feeling is present. The songs are sparse and sometimes as simple as voice and ukulele. There is some nice acoustic bass at times and even more acoustic guitar. Nunnery sings in a wistful fey style, which is appropriate for the title cut and many of these songs. The lyrics tend to grab me and pull me into the song more than most of what I listen to. No surprise that Ms. Nunnery is also a playwright. This is a fine record that should find an audience of older folk fans who enjoy new songs and newer folk fans looking for quality.
David Hintz

Eric Heatherly "2 High 2 Cry"
Label: AGR Television Records; 2010
There is earnest attempt here at classic rock music with the rootsy country blues and folk undercurrent. There is nothing wrong with anything, but nothing really stands out either. This is one of many records I hear where I know I would enjoy a night out with the band in a club, but I really would not hear anything to convince me to visit the merchandise table so I could have the songs to listen to many times over. Nothing wrong with this and there is a nice gutsy production, but—and there is that but again—I have heard better songs than these on many other albums. And I hate to play the geography game, but it just seems that so many artists from Nashville just do not rise into something unique for my ears.
David Hintz

Kirsty McGee & the Hobopop Collective "No 5"
Label: Hobopop; 2010
This is a live album of new material recorded in a similar manner to that of the new Richard Thompson album. The production is fine with a lot of instruments balanced in the mix with McGee’s voice on top with a strong folk style with even a touch of jazz now and then. Although, maybe it is that saxophone or stand-up bass that makes me think of jazz. No, there some songs that clearly move in a jazz direction. The music is smart, yet easily accessible. At times, I am reminded of Sandy Denny’s solo work or Vikki Clayton perhaps. The song “Dust Devils” is particularly intriguing. Nice effort.
David Hintz

Les Babacools "Son Maldito"
GLM Music;; 2010
From Germany, comes this interesting blend of reggae, rhythm and blues, dancehall and hip hop. There is good use of male lead vocals and female backup vocals throughout the album with a variety of arrangements. There are a lot of horns and rhythms throughout and the mood is happy with the purpose clearly for dancing and partying. All is well done, if not a little predictable, but to be fair, this is not exactly something I would gravitate to. I would guess the band could be quite successful and would be a fun night out. I could have done without the dead bee pressed in the CD booklet. That was odd and hopefully not part of the packaging. Better than the old urban legends of finding someone’s finger I suppose.
David Hintz

Justin Townes Earle "Harlem River Blues"
Bloodshot Records; 2010
Sadly, I read that Justin Townes Earle had to delay several tour dates while he checked in for rehabilitation. Well sad that it happened, but good that he is doing something about it at the age of 28. He is the son of Steve Earle and was named for Townes van Zandt, so unfortunately those are names that have also been seen on similar paths. But I will be optimistic and hope that he can continue his career by making quality music such as he has done here. This is his fourth album and continues in that Woodie Guthrie Americana vein hovering between folk and country. In fact, each song seems to head in one direction or the other (the steel guitar is but one clue). Voice and acoustic guitar lead the way, of course, but there is some tasty lead guitar and the drums are strong in the mix. There is a rich tone and feeling to this album that does command attention in its own quiet way.
David Hintz

Murder by Death "Good Morning, Magpie"
Label: Vagrant; 2010
There’s a different Americana sound brewing in this pot. The vocals are murky and restrained and sound almost like an old 78 record. Musically, aside from all the basic guitars and rhythms, there are cellos and some deep distant loops that are hard to identify but aide in creating a rather twisted landscape. I think “White Noise”, as is obvious by the title, is the best example of this. This band occupies an interesting space between classic Americana acts and the shoegaze psychedelic scene. They are far closer to the Americana scene, but like the brilliant Woven Hand, they are creating some exciting music for a lot of rock fans that may not have come their way, otherwise.
David Hintz

Becki Sue & her Big Rockin’ Daddies "Big Rockin’ Boogie"
Label: Underworld Records; 2010
Electric blues is the order of the day on this record. No apologies, no genre crossovers, just the usual line-up of drums, stand-up bass, electric guitar, saxophone and vocals. There is a lot of this out there, but this stands up well enough against most. It has an immediate live feeling, although it is a studio record. That is a positive for any roots-based music I would think and they have succeeded here. And that is the important thing here, as although this makes for good listening, I think the real fun is to be had at a live show.
David Hintz

Audiofolk "Saggie ‘u mare"
Label: Own label; 2009
This is a fascinating Italian album that is far more than “audio folk”. There are world rhythms, progressive moves, ethnic folk, classical moves and pop music. They blend things together well with exciting, vibrant production that highlights the many instruments and voices they use to keep things moving. The seventh song “Mia amate oggetto amate/Tarantella di San Nicandro” is the most stunning example of their successful approach. The song begins with what I think is going to be a cover of “Paint it Black” but moves in other directions, adds some up tempo folk music with a classical feel in the tarantella. This fits in nicely with great Italian music, as Italy was known far more for its progressive scene than its folk scene. Italy did have a few nice folk bands such as Folk Studio A, but this release seems closer to the classic progressive bands taking a stab at folk music. This is great music for adventurous minds who seek vibrant and exciting original yet familiar sounds. My blood is flowing and my feet are tapping as this one goes on the “replay frequently” pile.
David Hintz

Groove Eddy "Overload"
Label: Own label; 2010
I hear more light rock music than folk, kind of in the singer songwriter mold of the early seventies. It is a bit like the rockier work of an Al Stewart, maybe with some Dave Mason thrown in. Tough to place exactly, but Groove Eddy has a nice quivering soft rock voice which stays on top of decent rock music. There is plenty of electric guitar, while the drums and bass emit a strength through most of the songs. There is a bit of variety with a bluegrass styled stomp which leads into an almost progressive lounge song? But if I can’t neatly classify a record and it has enough hooks to keep me listening, then that is a positive result. “Don’t Cry for Me” does have an infectious hook to it that could be enough to make it a hit (however that works these days). Groove Eddy is from Australia which is always challenging in terms of being able to export music to the world, but hopefully he will be able to tour through other continents.
David Hintz

Bill Parker "Texas Tales, Vol. 1"
Label: Bopadu Records; 2010
This is about as lo-fi and do-it-yourself as it gets. It is pretty much Mr. Parker singing and playing acoustic guitar with audible tape hiss the whole way. Not that that is a bad thing, but this may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I think it is decent enough and does have a certain charm as these releases often have. The songs don’t quite stay with me as much as I would like. The guitar style and playing is the better part with some nice picking. His voice is breathy and good enough, but maybe a bit tiring after a while. There is a second slide guitar that joins in very late and even some drums and harmonica on the last track, but that is about the only variety here. I have heard a lot worse and I think I would enjoy seeing this guy play live at a local folk club.
David Hintz

Steve Mednick "What Remains"
Label: Cottage Sound Recordings; 2010
When lawyers and musicians get together do problems ensue? Listen here and you tell me. Actually in this case Mednick is a practicing attorney and has released a bit of music over the years as well. Unfortunately I would bet his lawyer skills are a bit higher than his musical gifts. This is passable singer/songwriter material and is nice sounding. However, the phrasing of the vocals seems really awkward and distracting. There are a lot of musicians assisting so the arrangements are full enough and can be easy on the ears. It just comes down to the songs, which really do sound so much less interesting than that of many other CDs available. I will stick with Tom Rapp (Pearls Before Swine) as my favorite lawyer/songwriter performer.
David Hintz

Ace Elijah "The Lonely Nights are all that’s Left"
Label: Own label; 2010
Ace Elijah is a singer songwriter from Annapolis, Maryland. He has a voice that balances power and sensitivity about as well as anyone I have heard recently. The music is a lounge, mainstream sound that focuses on voice and has light touches of jazz and some folk. I would like to say it is timeless, but that is not quite true. It takes me back to the early sixties where pop music could draw from both folk and jazz with a focus on quality songs and strong vocals. But you can’t settle back too often as he may throw a change of pace such as the nice slowly paced swampy blues-rock tune called “Lay by the Riverside”. In addition to that, I particularly liked the full six minutes of “The Darkest of Hours” which created a dreamy atmosphere and had nice lyrical work. It is mostly guitar and keyboards handling the background melody and structure. Some times it gets a little too relaxing for me, but it is a fine record that has is unique enough for the year 2010.
David Hintz

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

Sandy Denny "Sandy Denny" (Box Set, Universal, 2010): 19 CD box set, featuring Sandy Denny's complete commercial recordings with Alex Campbell, Johnny Silvo, Fotheringay, Strawbs, Fairport Convention and solo, plus 8 further CDs of unreleased songs, demos, alternate takes, live recordings, acoustic versions, and radio interviews. A 72 page hardback book contains rare and unseen photos.

Gregory Jolivet "La Reine Menthe" (Demo 2009/2010): 6 tracks introducing French hurdy gurdy player Gregory Jolivet who also plays with Blowzabella, La Machine etc.: gentle airs and fanciful 7/8 ditties, more Middle East than Central France, arranged in a contemporary fashion. Could do with a bit more diversity.,

V/A "Le Grand Barbichon Prod" (Demo, 2009): 13 songs and 1 promotional track introducing the Le Grand Barbichon Prod agency from Henrichemon, France. The rooster includes traditional French music from bal folk to experimental roots music - mostly of the latter. Best known is Belgium Naragonia (FW#38), plus La Machine, Thierry Pinson ...

V/A "Tønder Festival 2010" (Millstream Records, MIL-CD 2010-2): Same procedure as every year: 2 disc set introducing the participants of Denmark's premier folk festival @ Tønder (FW#43). Especially recommended: Fred Morrison (#41), Caladh Nua (#41), John Jones (#41), Luka Bloom (#42), Mairtin O'Connor (#39), Karan Casey & John Doyle (#43), Seamus Begley (#39), to name but a few.

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