FolkWorld #45 07/2011

CD & DVD Reviews

Emily Smith "Traveller's Joy"
White Fall Records, 2011

Scottish folk singer Emily Smith (vocals, piano, accordion) has recorded her fifth album "Traveller's Joy" together with her fellow countrymen Duncan Lyall (double bass) and producer Jamie McClennan (guitar, fiddle), Iceland's drummer Signy Jakobsdottir, Irish flute and whistle player Alan Doherty, Australia's James Fagan on bouzouki and Stuart Duncan from Nashville on fiddle and mandolin.
Helen Fullerton wrote the lyrics of the title song in the 1950s and Emily sings her words to a traditional melody, a hauntingly beautiful love ballad. Duncan's fiddling, Doherty's whistling and Fagan's bouzouki create the musical background for Emily's crystal clear singing. Emily's original songs are pretty varied. "Take you home" is a rhythmic Americana with guitar, mandolin and fiddle playing the intoxicating pace and "Dreams an Lullabies" a romantic piano ballad. She also brings traditional words to music like on "Sweet Lover of mine", a wonderful folk song with guitar, percussion, double bass and flute. Then Emily sings Richard Thompson's "Waltzing for Dreamers" only accompanied by her bluesy piano waltz or Rick Kemp's melancholic song "Somewhere along the Road" with accordion, flute, bouzouki and Jamie on fiddle. My favourite track is the traditional "Gypsy Davy", an up-beat folk song with breathtaking musical accompaniment, jazzy solos and Emily's rhythmic singing.
With the self-speaking a Capella performance "What a Voice", a traditional song, another brilliant album of one of the best singers of the contemporary Scottish folk scene comes to an end. You should not miss this outstanding collection of songs, brought forward by the finest musicians from different corners of the world.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Brian Ó hEadhra "An t-Allt"
Brechin All Records, 2011

Originally from Dublin singer/songwriter Brian Ó hEadhra today lives in Inverness and writes Songs in Scottish Gaelic and English. The accomplished acoustic guitar player has invited his wife Fiona MacKenzie (vocals), Sandy Brechin (piano accordion), Chris Agnew (double and acoustic fretless bass), Pat Garvey (banjo) and Richard Werner and Louisa Rafferty on piano to record six original tracks, four cover versions and two traditional Irish songs.
It starts off with the intoxicating banjo rhythm of "Fathainn" (rumour), an original song in Gaelic about the evacuation of St. Kilda island off the Outer Hebrides; hauntingly beautiful singing together of Fiona and Brian as well as the accordion create the fine harmonies. The sad piano ballad "Take this Moment" was written when Brian was with the band Anam, guitar and piano play the fine melody and Brian adds his soulful singing. My favourites are "Peigi is Peadar", a traditional Irish song performed by Brian and Fiona a capella with Brian beating the bodhràn rhythm and Fiona MacKenzie's "Now you're gone", another song about St. Kilda from the viewpoint of the island. Fiona begins with a brilliant Gaelic lament before the band takes a traditional Bluegrass tune and accompany the virtuoso singing of the two singers with a fantastic Blues vibe. The Gaelic bard Donnchadh MacDhomhnaill wrote "Cha Tig Mòr Mo Bhean Dhachaigh", a sad song about a man's grieving brought forward perfectly by a modern bard. The only instrumental track is "Fonn Fhinn/ Fionn's Tune", a mesmerizing piano tune presented by Louisa Rafferty on piano and Brian on accordion.
Brian Ó hEadhra's second solo album is a wonderful collection of Gaelic and English songs featuring some excellent musicians and brought forward perfectly. The two extraordinary singers and the fine musicians have recorded breathtaking contemporary folk music from Celtic lands. A must for friends of Gaelic songs.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Adrian McAuliffe & Cathal Flood "Between the Strings"
Own label, 2011

German CD Review

Adrian McAuliffe (banjo) and Cathal Flood (guitars, bouzouki, bodhràn, snare, bass) are two natives from County Cork playing traditional music since they were kids. They started playing together in 2008 and now they've released their debut album "Between the Strings" featuring Aileen Dillane on piano and DJ Curtin on box.
They've recorded 12 Sets with traditional and original tunes from Ireland and Scotland and it starts off with "The Maid in the Meadow/The wandering Minstrel", two traditional jigs performed on banjo and guitar. Adrian takes the lead and Cathal adds his fine guitar rhythm. The following up-beat reels "Marion Egan's/Darby's Farewell to London" include Aileen's piano accompaniment. Then Cathal plays the hauntingly beautiful air "Séan O'Duibhir an Ghleanna" solo and Adrian combines it with the intoxicating banjo hornpipe "The Boys of Blue Hill". DJ joins in on the brilliant slides set "The dirty Trettles/The Rathawaun/Merrily kissed the Quaker", driving guitar and banjo rhythm accompany his virtuoso playing. "The Subulter Set" includes three traditional Irish polkas in an incredible pace played on bodhràn, bouzouki, box and banjo and they finish up in a moderate rhythm with the lovely reel set "Maid of Mitchelstown/Martin Wynnes No 4".
The debut of McAuliffe and Flood is a brilliant collection of dance tunes brought forward by two exceptional musicians and guests, a musical gem for friends of instrumental folk tunes.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Susan James "Highways, Ghosts, Hearts & Home"
Own label, 2010

Article: Highways, Ghosts, Hearts & Home

After 12 years Californian singer/songwriter Susan James returns to stage with her fourth album "Highways, Ghosts, Hearts & Home". She invited her friends of I see Hawks in LA Paul Lacques (guitar), Paul Marshall (bass) and Shawn Nourse (drums) as well as fiddler Gabe Witcher (Punch Brothers) and Danny McGough of Shivaree on Hammond B3 to record 11 self-crafted songs.
James is a brilliant singer and fine guitar player, together with these top musicians she develops simple and beautiful songs to perfection. Her hauntingly beautiful singing mesmerizes the shuffling rhythm of "A Weed is not a Weed" and mandolin and guitar add their terrific playing together. The song reminds me of Joni Mitchell with whom James often is compared, but her music is like no one else's. The following up-beat Country song "Thank you tomorrow" is a perfect showcase for Witcher's virtuoso fiddling accompanied by great steel guitar work. The dramatic road song "Cold Moon on the Highway" or the Old Time Country "Old Jug Song" show the broad spectrum of her songs. "Falling Waltz 2" is a psychedelic Blues Rock ballad in three-four-time... outstanding vocal performance, special effects, impressive fiddle work, B3 and awesome bass lines make it my favourite track. Another wonderful song is "How to fix a broken Girl", a sad folk song with fiddle and guitar.
I love this album, each one of the songs is a highlight, fine song writing brought forward by first class musicians distinguishes James' music. Check out her tour dates, she'll be in Europe this spring.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup

Susan James "Highways, Ghosts, Hearts & Homes"
Own label; 2011

Article: Highways, Ghosts, Hearts & Home

Susan James has got something going on here. This is lovely folk music with light rock touches in the California style where it was recorded. She takes listeners back to the 1960s and 70s, but also has a contemporary indie rock feel as well. Her voice is clear and involved with the song. The accompanying guitars have that western landscape tremolo that lifts the acoustic guitars and percussion to great heights—or perhaps widths, as “Cold Moon on the Highway” gives one the feeling of that endless desert highway. “On Your Side” has excellent backing vocals and a sharp arrangement. Most good albums have distinct songs that seem to flow together. This one does as well, but the segues are sharp and are like following the chapters of a taut mystery novel. Gripping and rewarding listening is available right here in this smart and melodic album.
© David Hintz

Freak Owls "Taxidermy"
Sing Engine Records; 2010

There are some elements of folk here (a cover of Nick Drake’s “Place to Be” being most notable), but mostly this album contains fetching pop music with classic elements and lush modern electronic and ambient soundscapes. The songs are the focus with Brooklyn-based Josh Ricchio in control of delivering his tuneful lyrics within the pop melody. This band is a lot lighter than Dungen and also lighter than Caribou, but the sonics are similar. Certainly the use of mandolin and ukulele signifies folk elements, but like the darker Current 93, Freak Owls add significant amounts of contemporary electronics to the mix for crossover appeal. Ultimately, this is a solid entry into the field, but will mostly appeal to pop music lovers first.
© David Hintz

The Riverbreaks "Get You Right"
Own label; 2011

The Riverbreaks are a DC area band with five members that grew up in various spots in the US. Perhaps that is why to my ear, there is not an obvious geographic placement of this record, in spite of the sound that many would place it terra firmly in the Americana camp. That is not a complaint, but a rather refreshing observation, as this music stands on its own, instead of being compared to whatever local scene or college scene dominates the area. Although Brooklyn is the classic melting pot where the poor huddled masses of bands amass, Washington DC does have many bands made up of diverse elements as well. "Get You Right" is the debut of the Riverbreaks and will be released shortly in conjunction with a live show at the DC9, Thursday, April 7th. I mentioned Americana, but there are moments of straight ahead rock, folkrock, and thoughtful pop music. Even more interesting to the balanced heartland feel to the record, is the timeless elements. I hear sounds and styles from the 60s, 80s, and present day music scene. The arrangements are varied and the keyboard sounds and style have much to do with that. The rhythm section is solid, the vocals assured and the guitar work is quite good. There is a ringing quality to the guitar solos and the tone varies nicely as well. The band has put a lot of thought into the writing and arranging of the songs. I think half of the songs would work about as well on acoustic guitar and voice, but it is nice to hear the expansion into a full-band format. There is a lot of quality music in the DC area, but the Riverbreaks can hold their own with anyone in the indie rock scene.
© David Hintz

The Minnows "Leonard Cohen’s
Happy Compared to Me"
Good Vibrations; 2010

This Northern Ireland band released this record in their country in 2008. They rereleased it for world consumption early last year. It is not clear how active this band is, but they are around and have sent this for review. The songs are nicely produced and there is a fair amount of quality here. I especially enjoyed the power within “Why Don’t You Call Me Anymore?” Unfortunately, many of the other songs lapse into simple soft rock territory where there is not much distinction to be had. Again, this is all competently done and the production is top notch. But I don’t hear that spark that makes me want to listen to this again or recommend it to a specific audience. Yet some of these songs would fit in nicely with a classic rock/modern rock radio broadcast, so there is an audience out there if this band can find it.
© David Hintz

Brendan Murphy "Walk with Me"
Future Records; 2010

Brendan Murphy is the main songwriter of the popular Irish band, The 4 of Us, who had a single rank 4th all time in Ireland behind a few noteworthy artists like U2, Rory Gallagher and the Frames. Ergo, it is no surprise to find that this solo venture is so easy to latch on to and enjoy. Murphy’s songs are nicely balanced between pop hooks, light rock, and folk settings. It is mostly voice and acoustic guitars with keyboards, percussion and bass showing up only on a few of the songs. The passion and resonance in the singing easily carries the songs along with the subtle guitar underpinnings. The album succeeds in building an interest from song to song to its conclusion. I do not think that is necessarily due to the better songs being at the end, but rather by having full command of the material and presenting it in a consistent powerful manner. Most folk fans of old and new will enjoy this album.
© David Hintz

Waldner "Found & Lost"
Blue Fleur Musik; 2011

German CD Review

David Waldner is the singer-songwriter, producer and multi instrumentalist behind this album. He is Canadian, working in London, England, although the sound is more Canadian and American. The Decembrists come to mind with a song like “In Stone” which has a great lush pop-folk sound. What separates the Decembrists and other really top acts from this is that some of the poetry on this album sounds a bit forced. The production is good and a few of the songs are catchy, but there needs to be a bit more flow from deep within these songs. There are a lot of good elements at work here, so it is within this artist’s reach. And this is still a good listen.
© David Hintz

Jude Davison "Outskirts of Eden"
Own label; 2011

German CD Review

27 songs is quite a workout and it took two CDs to hold them all on this loosely themed collection. The styles vary from rock to tex-mex blues-rock, Americana, country-folk, and just about any combination of those. There are lighter touches with plenty of space for his vocals and then there are dense spacey rockers with four or five players on five to ten instruments. Strings, brass, percussion… there are many accompanying sounds to give a nice variety, which certainly helps over two CDs. Davison comes up with interesting lyrics when he sticks to poetry and broader themes. His real world subjects sound a little off to me. But overall, there is a lot of good work here. I prefer the songs with the Southwestern desert feeling, some of which are folk oriented, while others rock out. But there are plenty of songs for all tastes.
© David Hintz

Gandalf "Erdenklang und Sternentanz"
Prudence; 2011

This comes from Austria, and has no relation to the Swedish and US Gandalf’s in year’s past, let alone the local Kettering, Ohio band comprised of high school kids playing rock covers at our junior high school dances. There is over 67 minutes here of soaring new age music. That will turn off a huge amount of readers right there. I will say it is well done with some good chorale arrangements early and a nice searing guitar later on. But it is mostly strings, piano and various ambient dynamics. I will reveal the guilty pleasure that I actually like new age music, but do not listen to it regularly, nor do I really know what makes Yanni better than John Tesh or not. They are playing this material at live concerts this year.
© David Hintz

Bob Pressner "Honor Among Thieves"
Own label, 2011

This seemingly straightforward debut/home release carries a surprisingly dense and accomplished production. There are layers of instruments and backing vocals that still allow enough room for the lead vocals and melodies to shine through. I was expecting this to go a little over the top, but to my pleasant surprise, Pressner’s heart and songwriting routinely shine through. I particularly like the opening five songs where he places a couple of rockers like “Honor Among Thieves and the sharp “Bleeding Me Dry” in between three singer-songwriter outings. The contrast is excellent and really highlights his skill. The second half of the album gets a little bit more toward average, but he closes with a nice finisher, “Friend of Mine”. This is a good record with moments of being very good and distinct. Not bad, for a former commodities trader. Hopefully his muse will continue to lead him through this musical journey.
© David Hintz

Chaz DePaolo "Bluestopia"
Blue Skunk, 2010

If this record label does not give you an idea what type of music is, the title will. No irony, straight-up blues--the type of blues that is electric and rocking. There is a steadiness and control present both in the guitar work as well as the vocals and accompanying musicians. The horns are particularly nice here and everything balances well. This is mature music, with a lot of old-school feeling, but yet modern in the overall sound. For a dose of the urban blues, you could do a lot worse than this. Credit to Mr. DePaolo for a ratio between originals and covers of two to one.
© David Hintz

Terry Davidson & the Gears "Damnation Blues"
Bang Shift/Blue Skunk, 2009

More guitar based blues here. And the guitar work is good, I mean is it ever really bad on a blues album? Maybe, but there are other factors creating a less than interesting listening experience. For instance, the title cut which starts this record off has a rather mainstream glossy rock feeling that reminds me of the kinds of sounds punk was rebelling against 35 years ago. Fortunately, the record goes on to show some more versatile and grittier playing. Ultimately there are plenty of credible blues workouts here, but there are steadier and heartier records available elsewhere. Now as for a live show, I think these guys could deliver a really good performance.
© David Hintz

Kevin Selfe & the Tornadoes "Playing the Game"
Blue Skunk, 2011

This is a blues trio with bass, drums and singer/guitarist/harmonica player who wrote all the songs on the album. I preferred the nice laid back pace of “How Much Longer” than the self-referential “Blues Don’t Take a Day Off.” I do get rather tired of how blues songs always refer to the genre. Although I realize the genre is the name of the universal feeling that the music is based on, it still leaves me feeling the blues environment is a bit claustrophobic, unless people branch out from the over-populated core of the music. I guess I’ve got the blues blues. With all that aside, this is an above average blues record with plenty of space for the playing to shine through, thanks to nice steady and even quiet drumming. The bass is smooth and the vocals are solid with the requisite blues guitar moves weaving throughout it all. This was a good blues listen.
© David Hintz

Skuffle "Skuffle"
Joey's Jukebox, 2009

Here’s the premise. Take three acoustic musicians playing guitars, mandolins, bass, and percussion (skuffle box, congas etc.) and have a good hard rock singer wail away at 16 classic rock songs while playing faithful arrangements, albeit at significantly lower volumes. It’s hard not at least be amused by this, as it is nicely done. I am not sure there is enough here to warrant repeated listenings. In fact, I started tiring of the concept about half way through. I did enjoy the Black Sabbath and Deep Purple covers. “Black Night” is an interesting choice as it is not the Purple song people remember most. “Pinball Wizard” was interesting since like the song it starts with acoustic guitar, but this time stays that way. This may make a good gift, but the novelty premise alone will be enough to convince people one way or the other.
© David Hintz

Stevie J "The Diversity Project"
Blue Skunk, 20101

This is a two-CD set which clearly demarcates the “diversity”. The first CD is dedicated to Stevie J(ohnson)’s blues work, while the second covers his love for soul music. The blues side works best, as it seems to incorporate some mainstream R&B flavorings to the mix. It is smooth, but has nice guitar bite. The soul sessions are slick, but I would be worried about being Stevie J’s best friend as the first three songs all concern the singer coveting thy neighbor’s wife. Thankfully, he lightens things up a bit with some covers including George Clinton and Bernie Worrell’s “Cosmic Slop”. Still, this record is a good effort. I hope that experience will lead him to finding some more themes to write-up. That is one of my personal problems with the blues that only the masters and musicians that combine genres seem to battle and win at. Life is diversity, so live it, play it, and write about it.
© David Hintz

Lick and a Promise "Come Together in the Morning"
Frontside; 2010

This German rock band apparently decided to mix it up a bit for this, their second record. They bring in a lot of interesting twists and turns in their songs from the blues of “The Highway” to the rootsy folk rock of “Pale White”. They get even a little bit more folk oriented in the delivery with “Loser and a Fool”, even with the slight Roger Daltrey sounding vocals. But it is in “Come Together” where they seem to hit their stride with their heaviest sound, that of a rocking blues band from the universe of the Rolling Stones. Even in the folkier elements, I do hear that young Mick Jagger sneer coming through. This is a decent record, but I am guessing the live show would be steadier and even more fun.
© David Hintz

Susan Werner "The Gospel Truth"
Sleeve Dog Records; 2007

Country styled folk mixed with, dare I say, gospel? Well it is in the title, yet the ironic point to this album is that this is “agnostic gospel” with much questioning of churches and religions. These would be simple enough themes that I have heard plenty in rock music, punk, hardcore, and many more forms. But country music has sadly become the bastion of the right wing at the top of the charts. It is refreshing to see someone establish that status quo. Fortunately, the folk world is more open to these themes and is more open than it was several decades back. Musically, this is decent, but unspectacular. Fortunately, Werner has a nice voice, which makes it an easy enjoyable listen. Although this is an older record and she has released a few since, she appears to be quite active with extensive tour dates on her calendar. Glad to see it, as it is always refreshing to see people taking hammers to walls of musical genres.
© David Hintz

Babylove & the Van Dangos "The Money & the Time"
Pork Pie; 2011

It did not take me too long into this album before I came to the conclusion that it is pretty hard to write a negative review of a ska album. The music is so infectious and fun that most listeners cannot help but get into the spirit. There are so many musicians in ska bands and since most all of them are competent if not excellent, it is hard to find any overall flaws. All of the expected instruments and quality are present here in this, the third album from this German band. I particularly liked their lyrics, which are quite short making them direct and to the point with plenty of sting to them. The production is solid and the brass playing is quite nice.
© David Hintz

Signe Tollefsen "Baggage"
Cavalier Recordings; 2011

Tollefsen is a folksinger/guitarist who has American and Dutch roots. That may serve her well as she has both the classic American heartland folk style along with a nice icy northern Europe atmosphere present in these six songs. This ep is all cover songs and she has selected some interesting choices ranging from PJ Harvey to David Bowie to an old pop nugget, “You are my Sunshine”. I found “Dirty Diana” to be a strong emotive folk song, which seems a bit surprising coming from the songbook of Michael Jackson. One could argue for Harvey’s “Down by the Water” as also being the gem here, but it is mining the same territory as the original. Creating original interpretations of off-genre songs is what can make a record of covers so interesting. Tollefsen does a great job here and is an artist I will continue to pay attention to.
© David Hintz

John-Alex Mason "Jook Joint Thunderclap"
Own label; 2011

From the very first notes of this CD, I was planning on comparing the sound of this particular blues-rock sound to that of the “Colorado Sound” bands such as 16 Horsepower, Woven Hand, and Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. I was therefore not too terribly surprised to see in reading the biography that Mason is from southern Colorado and this was recorded in Boulder. There is something quite appealing to me in the Colorado sound, and Mason has both that and the songs to bear repeated listenings. The sound is a deep, backwoods, spiritual searching, dark side of life sound. There is some upside here, as he does not spend his time brooding. Even more of a surprise, are some guest raps which seamlessly fit the blues rockers. Mason’s own voice is assured and expressive with the music dancing around the vocal lines nicely. This album flows smoothly but has some nice variety within, making it one of the more entertaining listens I have had in the blues arena.
© David Hintz

Yacouba Dembele "Djeli-Kan"
Materiali Sonori, 2011

Dembele is from Burkina Faso, a land locked country in West Africa. West African music has been quite popular for many years now, so there are a lot of great opportunities for the many musicians there. Interestingly, I find that the percussion base and the female backing vocals remind me more of the music of Zimbabwe by Thomas Mapfumo, as opposed to the desert blues guitar work by the closer Mali musicians. But I am not really expert enough to comment on this. Suffice it to say, if I hear some of the things I hear in Mapfumo, then I like this very much. Only the precision guitar work is lacking here. The songs have pace, heart and lots of great singing. Dembele also performs some fine flute work, but only sparingly. I think this appealing music should be easily enjoyed by novices and experts of African music alike.
© David Hintz

Carus Thompson "Caravan"
Proper; 2011

Australian roots music on display here, although Carus Thompson brings a universal quality to his songs. Although from Perth, he understands European folk songs, and even more, Americana songwriting. At times and in spite of the quality, the songs sound a little too universal as if any one of many artists could be playing. But the gems like “Imperfect Circle” and the title cut make this album worth a listen. Perhaps a little more distinction would be nice, but I always have some room for a person who has opened for Ed Kuepper in Australia back in their teens.
© David Hintz

Twilight Hotel "When the Wolves Go Blind"
Cavalier; 2011

This is a lovely little record that snugly fits in between a few musical categories. Maybe it is the dual guitarist/vocalists, male and female, that immediately remind me of moody garage rockers, the Raveonettes, but Twilight Hotel does achieve a similar vibe. They do so through more of a folk, lounge-jazz, Americana sound. A few songs do go a bit psychedelic and have a bit of that Doors “Riders on the Storm” flowing feel, particularly “Ham Radio Blues”. I think a comparison to Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan is more apt, although I like the variety on this record more. There are no bad songs here and the album flows seamlessly in spite of the style shifts. It will be interesting to see how these native Canadians (from Winnipeg) do now that they have moved to the warmer (and musically hotter) climate of Austin, Texas. Aside from the weather, it will not be much of a change as both are modest cities with plenty of wide-open landscape near-by.
© David Hintz

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