FolkWorld #49: CD Reviews
FolkWorld #49 11/2012

CD & DVD Reviews

Duncan Chisholm "Affric"
Copperfish Records, 2012

www.duncanchisholm.co.uk

I think landscape historically has played a huge part in the inspiration of the Scottish people and I don’t think it is too much of a coincidence that we live in one of the world’s most beautiful countries and our music is admired in equal measure. Still playing with Scottish folk rock band Wolfstone, fiddler Duncan Chisholm dedicated himslef to the task putting the homelands of his family and forefathers in the Highlands of Scotland (Glen Strathfarrar, Glen Canaich, Glen Affric) onto the musical map.[37][42] "Affric" is the third and final part of this trilogy. Several tunes have been composed by Duncan, which haven't been heard before, of course. The opening traditional "An Ribhinn Donn" and Eamon Doorley's "Rubha Nam Marbh" have also been unknown to me. However, there's also well-known tunes provided by Phil Cunningham ("House in Rose Valley"), Rory Campbell, Allan MacDonald and Liz Carroll. This gripping suite includes both majestic airs, flowing waltzes and dramatic pieces. In his monumental task Duncan had been supported by accordionists Phil Cunningham[24] and Iain MacFarlane,[24] fiddler Patsy Reid,[38] whistler Ali Hutton,[43] piper Jarlath Henderson[36] and guitarist Tony Byrne, with Allan MacDonald[21] reading an excerpt of Neil Munro's poem "To Exiles".
© Walkin' T:-)M


Calum Stewart & Lauren MacColl "Wooden Flute & Fiddle"
Make Believe Records, 2012

www.calum-stewart.com
www.laurenmaccoll.co.uk

Fiddle and flute, the regal combination of traditional music. This time the music of Scotland's north east (Moray and Black Isle), and wooden flutist Calum Stewart[46] and fiddler Lauren MacColl.[33][40] Both young artists possess an extraordinary technique and a mutual understanding with Laura exploring several fiddle tunings to fit and counterpoint Calum's flute tone, thus creating a range of quite different moods. Andy May on harmonium[40] and Éamon Doorley on bouzouki[42] back up a couple of sets. Most of them are traditional jigs, reels and strathspeys, though seemingly not recorded very often. Calum and Laura wrote some tunes, so did the late Canadian fiddler Jerry Holland. The album finishes off with a great Highland air. Fitting majesty!
© Walkin' T:-)M


Maeve MacKinnon "Once Upon an Olive Branch"
Own label, 2012

www.maevemackinnon.com

Compared with Maeve MacKinnon's debut album "Don't Sing Lovesongs" five years ago,[37] we find a more confident and mature artist at the follow-up "Once Upon an Olive Branch". Thanks to the back-up and support of artists such as Innes Watson (guitar, fiddle), Angus Lyon (piano, accordion),[32] Fraser Fifield (whistle, saxophon),[37] James Lindsay (bass) and Signy Jakobsdottir (percussion), the Glaswegian singer created an easy-going jazz lounge mood. Maeve MacKinnon sings in both English and Scottish Gaelic. The latter includes Ann MacLean's "Gilleasbuig", the stripped-to-the-bone ballad "A Mhic Dhughaill 'ic Ruairidh" (known from the singing of Julie Fowlis)[42] and the thwacking "Fionnghuala" from the Bothy Band repertoire. She chose the popular ditties "Kind Friends and Companions" and "She Moved Through the Fair," and a bit more off the beaten track, Ewan MacColl's "Father's Song" and the Saw Doctors' "Sugar Town". Last but not least, her own mesmerizing and fragile "The Olive Branch" about the troubles in the Middle East.
© Walkin' T:-)M


Silly Wizard "Live Again"
www.birnamcd.com, 1983/2012

www.sillywizard.co.uk

Even if you're only casually interested in traditional Scottish music, you probably have heard about Silly Wizard. The Scottish folk band was formed in Edinburgh in 1970. They played with a panache unheard at the time and was the sexiest band besides the Tannies[28] and Batties.[46] Silly Wizard called it a day in 1988, their swan song was the LP "Live Wizardry", a shortened version of a concert from Sanders Theatre, Cambridge, Massachussetts in 1983, originally released as two separate albums in 1985. Silly Wizard bass player Martin Hadden's company Birnam CD has finally remastered and repackaged the complete live recordings. Now you can hear all instrumental sets with the virtuosic Cunningham brothers Phil (accordion)[24] and Johnny (fiddle),[27] storming forward in all their glory through a series of Scottish and Irish tunes (mostly reels). Vocalist and banjoist Andy M. Stewart distinguished himself as a clever songsmith, whose songs are often thought to be traditionals. His most famous and often covered songs are featured here, of course: "Queen of Argyll", "The Ramblin' Rover", "The Blackbird" ... After the last note has faded away, 1,200 enthusiastic folks jump to their feet and give the band standing ovations.
P.S.: In December 2012, Silly Wizard will be inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame. About time!
© Walkin' T:-)M


Allow Céilí Band "Rince Go Maidin"
Own label, 2012

Allow is the river running through the village of Freemount in the North of Co. Cork. The Allow Céilí Band has been formed in 2003 from members from North Cork and West Limerick, with banjo player Adrian McAuliffe being its most prominent member.[45] In 2007 the ten piece ensemble, ft. double flutes, fiddles and accordions as well as concertina, banjo, piano and drums, became All Ireland Senior Ceili Band champions at the fleadh in Tullamore. "Rince Go Maidin" is a decent céilí band album with selections to dance to Sliabh Luachra and Caledonian Sets. The first means slides and polkas. There's reels and jigs, once hornpipes, well-known tunes with one exception only, the "Mountcashel's Brigade" march which is not familiar to me. The Allow Céilí Band only produced their debut album with "Rince Go Maidin", so we might assume that the band will still play some céilí dances, although their website www.theallowceiliband.com is not working at the time of writing.
© Walkin' T:-)M


Caitlín "Caitlín"
Own label, 2012

www.caitlin.ie

Caitlín Nic Gabhann grew up in a musical household in the Irish Co. Meath, her father being the renowned fiddler Antóin Mac Gabhann. She was trained as a step dancer who joined the Riverdance show for two years from 2009 to 2011 (indeed Caitlín also dances here on two tracks), but her mutual love is the concertina. She started playing at the age of 8, greatly influenced by the playing of Micheál Ó Raghallaigh and Catherine McEvoy[36] who lived nearby. The three time All-Ireland champion co-formed her first group Cruinniú in 2005 and released the album "Live in Corofin".[34] In 2009, Caitlín and her sister Bernadette formed the trans-Atlantic group NicGaviskey with Americans Sean McComiskey and Sean Gavin.[44] The charming young blonde plays C/G Jeffries and Bb/F Suttner concertinas on her self-titled solo debut, with sparse accompaniment of Waterford’s Caoimhín Ó Fearghail on guitar. The CD is kicking off with reels, the well-known "The Rookery" has been composed by flutist Vincent Broderick, a good friend of her da's.[37] After a jig set, more reels, this time featuring her dancing, comes the most daring: "Bo na Leath-Adhairce" (One-Horned Cow), a song taken from Bua's "Down the Green Fields" album turned into jig. (Is it the same jig that can be found in O'Neill's collection?). Caitlín is writing tunes since the age of ten, six original tunes are included here: a swinging slide, two straight reels, a haunting air, and two waltzes ("Sunday's Well" not being identical with the tune of the same title from Donal Donnelly).[48]
© Walkin' T:-)M


Sandén-Nygårds-Carr "Tänk om - Imagine if"
Westpark Music, 2012

Ahlberg, Ek & Roswall "Vintern"
Westpark Music, 2012

www.sofiasanden.com

Sofia Sandén[31] has proven with the Swedish group Ranarim[44] that she is a gorgeous singer. This time she teamed up with fiddler Anders Nygårds and English guitarist Ian Carr.[35] Besides an instrumental set from Ian and Anders, respectively, "Tänk om" is highlighting her vocal qualities and her bright and expressive voice. She selected traditional songs - mostly love ballads from Dalarna and Värmland, a herding song from Leksand, and a chorale from Rättvik. Sometimes the words have been reworked, at other times the music has been made up. The end result is quite beautiful and passionate, thanks to the backing of Ian and Anders at the same time full of energy and power. The booklet has the Swedish lyrics and partial translations into English.

www.ahlbergekroswall.se
Ex-Ranarim[44] members Daniel Ek (harp guitar) and Niklas Roswall (moraharpa, nyckelharpa) play together with fiddler Emma Ahlberg for quite some time; Emma even guested once with her musical partner's former outfit. Eventually comes the trio's debut album with instrumental music from the north of Sweden. Despite its CD title and title track, a polska called "Vintern", this is not really a seasonal album but can be played throughout the year. Actually, tunes were only gathered, arranged and recorded during the cold, snowy and stormy winter of 2011/12. The 15 tracks are mostly traditional polskas from their home counties Medelpad and Skåne, a waltz, plus some original compositions by the trio, namely polskas, schottis and a gånglåt. The execution is both cheerful and dazzling, the overall sound is quite contemporary. The booklet features brief Swedish and English background infos.
© Walkin' T:-)M

Broom Bezzums "Winterman"
Steeplejack Music, 2012

FolkWorld Xmas

www.broombezzums.com

British folk duo Broom Bezzums,[36][39][44] i.e. fiddler Andrew Cadie and guitar player Mark Bloomer, who both are based in the Palatine area of Germany, [46] return with guest vocalist Kate Doherty[35] to present an album of seasonal songs in their unmistakeable style. The instrumental music has been chosen because of the Christmas word in the tunes titles. So is the Shetland tune "Christmas Day in da Mornin'" followed by the Northumbrian jig "Christmas Day in the Morning". "New Christmas Day" features a Northumbrian pipes duet with Andy May.[40] The "Cherry Tree Carol", "Good King Wenceslas" and "A Soulin'" (which Sting recorded) have close connection to Christmas and its traditions, so has rock band Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody". The often played and recorded American "Rain and Snow" and the British-Irish "The Snows They Melt the Soonest" explain themselves. "Buy Broom Bezzums," which gave the duo its name, is no Christmas song but, eventually recorded, a gift to all fans. Finally, Kate's street hit "Salt Sea and Coal" is calling everybody to celebrate wintertime with drink, cake, music and dance: Join with us in this ... topsy turvy party ... your merriment is our desire.
© Walkin' T:-)M


Lou Seriol "Maquina Enfernala"
Own label, 2012

www.louseriol.it

Auça las jambas encara ... Lift up your legs again, move your feet, jump with us if you can ... That's the motto of Occitan folk rock group Lou Seriol from the Italian city of Aisone. Lou Seriol has been founded in 1992, a time of both the rediscovery of Occitan music and a new political conscience as well. The thirteen songs, belted out by Stefano Degioanni in the Occitan language, have political and topical agendas throughout. Initially a strictly acoustic folk band, they soon started experimenting with drums and electric guitars. Two years ago they collaborated with Brazilian singer Silvério Pessoa.[46][49] These days flutes and bagpipes compete with a rhythm section utilizing reggae and ska beats to find a place in the contemporary world. I like it a lot, though this infernal machine (which is also the title of a song about TV: de luns a la diamenja a vos crema i nerons ... Monday to Sunday it burns your brain cells) sometimes it is a bit too indistinguishable. It could have been saved with some more work on the instrumental parts, soloing etc. Otherwise it's a merry entertainment, a dance party with catchy tunes. The sleeve notes include Occitan lyrics and translations into English, Italian and French, which is very welcome.
© Walkin' T:-)M


Réalta "Open The Door For Three"
Own label, 2012

www.realtamusic.com

It seems that Altan's fiddler and singer Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh was delighted with this band, when they both were touring with the Irish Folk Festival in 2011,[46][47] and she praised their stellar music (Réalta means star in Gaelic). The tour clearly made an impact on the Belfast based band, if only by adapting the Ulster song "Gathering Mushrooms" and the march "I'll Mend Your Pots and Kettles," learned from Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Harry Bradley, respectively. Indeed, Deirdre Galway (guitar), Conor Lamb (uilleann pipes, whistles) and Aaron O'Hagan (uilleann pipes, whistles) present an exciting selection of tunes on their debut album "Open The Door For Three," named after a slide from O'Neill's collection which opens the album. Conor and Aaron grew up together and stimulate and complement each other with their corresponding piping styles and techniques. This works perfectly on the jig set ft. "Tom Busby’s" (with a counter melody from "Willie Clancy's Jig") or "The Galtee Reel". The majestic slow air "Sliabh Geal gCua" is gorgeous, with Conor und Aaron playing fancy harmonies on the pipes. The 16th century dance "La Volta" is a less obvious choice, though recently done by At First Light as well, [46] and it also works quite well here. I'm not quite convinced about the songs, where Deirdre Galway's girlish, fragile voice is unfortunatly not supported by her band members (it works best on "An Trucailín Donn," but less on "Siobhán Ní Dhuibhir" and the already mentioned "Gathering Mushrooms").
© Walkin' T:-)M


Stevie Dunne "Banjo"
Own label, 2012

www.steviedunnebanjo.com

Cathal Hayden's playing of "The Drunken Sailor" hornpipe on his "Handed Down" album (here featured in A minor) once got Stevie Dunne hooked. Over the years he turned into one of the finest tenor banjo players in Ireland.[43] Only in his mid 30s, he played alongside Barney McKenna[48] in the last year. Barney's passing has nearly left a vacuum which was soon filled by banjo players of Stevie's calibre. He makes everything right on his second album, simply titled "Banjo": a carefully chosen selection of traditional and contemporary tunes (by Josephine Keegan, Charlie Lennon, Ed Reavy, Vincent Broderick), a couple of fine originals thrown in for good measure, slick performances, and support from fiddler Stephen Hayden, accordionist David Munnelly,[27] guitarists/bouzoukists McGlynn, McCague and O'Donnell, bass player Sean Og Graham and bodhran player Eamon Murray (of Beoga fame).[46] Towards the end vocalist Tracy Ryan even delivers a sweet-tempered "Ye Rambling Boys of Pleasure," though you might argue about the necessity of including a song. My advice is listen to: "Road to the Rock / Home Before Dawn," both written by Stevie.
© Walkin' T:-)M


Flynn Cohen "Dead String Rhythm"
Own label, 2002

German CD Review

www.flynncohen.net

The red-headed acoustic guitarist was first exposed to bluegrass music in his native Ohio. In the early 1990s, he studied with John Renbourn.[48] He eventually made his home in Boston, Massachussetts, and became acquainted with the Boston Irish session scene (that produced names such as Schneckenburger[38][43] and Cassel [43]). All along the way he recorded a string of albums of which "Dead String Rhythm" is an album of traditional Irish tunes picked on guitar and mandolin and featuring contributions from fiddle, flute, banjo and pipes by Boston session players. It is a trad album as good as can be and an enjoyable romp through mostly familiar tunes (mostly reels, some jigs and a hornpipe thrown in for good measure) with some original tunes such as the splendid "Planxty Catherine Hart" and the paceful jig "The Visitors". Flynn Cohen is a superb guitar player, and he successfully joins the pantheon of better known names that made the guitar an accepted instrument for playing melody in traditional Irish music.
© Walkin' T:-)M


Flynn Cohen "Fierce Modal"
Own label; 2011

German CD Review

www.flynncohen.net

I do not hear anything approaching ‘fierce’ in these nine instrumental songs, but they are indeed fiercely modal. There is guitar with some mandolin and a guest fiddle now and again. Cohen has that easy going comforting Irish style which makes this a pleasure to listen to it. There is nothing wildly innovative, just skillful and emotive. The fiddle adds a bite, which is welcome and helps break things up into recognizable songs that leads one to active listening. But the passive relaxing qualities are there as well. So if you like clean Celtic based music, you will enjoy this.
© David Hintz


Blackmore’s Night "A Knight in York"
Sony Music; 2012

www.blackmoresnight.com

What is more amazing—that this band has been around for fifteen years now or that Richie Blackmore and Candace Night had their first child in 2010 in a 20+ year relationship? I suppose it is the latter (given their ages especially), although the mercurial Blackmore rarely keeps a band going without breaks for this long. And there have been the usual changes in band members here although the sound remains focused and high quality. I have long been a fan of Blackmore’s Night, or for that matter Deep Purple. Blackmore is a bit underrated as a sixties rock guitar great and when he went into Renaissance music full-time with this band featuring his wife and former Rainbow back-up singer on vocals, many music snobs completely looked away. Their loss, as the band keeps churning out fun albums that although have medieval music in the heart of the sound, incorporate plenty of rock moves as well. This is their second live album with only one song repeated from the previous album (Fires at Midnight). The sound is excellent here, as is usually the case for any of their albums, with the music exploding out of the speakers. Night’s singing and instrumental work is quite good, even if the lyrics don’t exactly make one think of Robin Williamson. Blackmore still has the magic and has a capable crew behind him as usual. This is as good a place as any to start if you have not yet heard them. The fans will already have their copy by now.
© David Hintz


Kieran Wade "Out on the Back Roads"
Own label; 2012

www.kieranwade.com

Kieran Wade manages to deliver meaningful and accessible folk music. I enjoyed his previous album and extolled its virtues in a previous Folkworld review.[43] Nothing has changed with this Dublin-born singer songwriter who has spent time in Canada, but presently is back in Ireland. He combines traditional forms and presents them in a classic manner that is comfortably contemporary. The songs are quite catchy and show a nice range. There is the traditional Scottish lilt in “Caledonia’s Sleeping” to the more modern “The Silent Stones” which concerns issues in Northern Ireland. I also like the adjustments in instrumentation such as the rolling piano and harmonica gallop in “Going Home”. He follows that with bit of fun with a deeper song, “The Spanish Girl”, that focused on voice and ringing acoustic guitar strings. These shifts and song ordering keep everything fresh and less predictable without losing the overall sound. This is easy to listen to, yet deep enough that you will want to come back to it.
© David Hintz


Guitar Mikey and the Real Thing "Out of the Box"
Earwig; 2012

www.guitarmikey.com

One of the problems I have reviewing blues records is trying to find something new or interesting as I invariably compare them against the classics. And that is why I usually prefer blues-rock or hybrid-blues as Mike McMillan describes the music he presents here. Hybrid blues is a great term as his guitar work is searing electric blues, yet his vocal style has more of a soulful element. The rhythm section is pure classic rock and there is great organ work, horns, and lots of fun elements giving this a very personal feel. The opening two cuts offer a blistering attack that is quite enjoyable and if you don’t want some straighter blues, “It’s Goin’ Down” offers something a little more pure. These 15 original songs breeze by with efficiency and energy. Nothing completely reinvented here, just combined and arranged for fun with enough creative spark to keep even the careful listeners fully engaged.
© David Hintz


Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman "Hidden People"
Navigator Records, 2012

www.kathrynrobertsandseanlakeman.com

Fans of the Unthanks and other modern yet traditional UK folk acts, take note. Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman have delivered a lovely album that offers nice variety in their ten original songs. The first cut, “Huldra” has an exotic psychedelic folk feeling to it, while something like “Money or Jewels” has the more traditional feel. No matter what direction they take with the mood and emotion, they deliver strong singing, particularly that of Ms. Roberts. There are a good variety of instruments that add and subtract layers of intrigue among the folk and rock backdrops. Take the contrast from the intricacies of “Hang the Rowan” which leads into piano and vocals on “The Ballad of Andy Jacobs”. They then head back into a thick folk-rock classic with multiple vocals and instruments weaving magical patterns in “The White Hind”. While it was not terribly surprising that brother Seth Lakeman appears on this album, I was pleased to see veteran Dave Burland also lend a hand among many other fine musicians. Strong effort here that will reward its listeners for many a spin.
© David Hintz


Grady Champion "Shanachie Days"
GSM Music; 2012

www.gradychampion.com

The Shanachie days refer to his days on the low-key and interestingly diverse label known for Augustus Pablo and many great Irish folk bands and artists among other things. This compiles 17 tracks from 1999’s “Payin’ for my Sins” and 2001’s “2 Days Short of a Week”. It’s original music and this collection hits the ground running hard and fast with plenty of blues-rock power in “Brother, Brother”. There is a lot of traditional blues, but the pace and rock moves keep things brisk and vibrant. There are some soulful horns and the sound is generally quite big. The players are good, the spirit is there and this is a fine introduction to the music of Grady Champion if you missed these cuts the first time around.
© David Hintz


The Mad Maggies "Shake Those Bones"
Own label; 2011

German CD Review

www.themadmaggies.com

This is music that creates a vivid picture of what their live show would look like. In the manner of the Klezmatics, I picture an older crowd hearing familiar sounds that are somehow pushed to higher levels and loving it along with younger patrons who dive right in and make some motion. But in lieu of klezmer-jazz-rock, the Mad Maggies cook up a gumbo of ska-Zydeco-folk-rock. It has hard driving acoustic instruments with a touch of electric and a heavy dosage of rhythm and soul. Then again, “Cold Hearts Abound” does have a Klezmatics feel with a nice guitar solo to boot. Maggie’s vocal work has a real classy feel and is subtler than you would expect which is one key why this works as well as it does. This San Francisco group offers up a smorgasbord of sound and most importantly should put a smile on most listeners’ faces.
© David Hintz


Pat Green "Songs We Wish We’d Written II"
Sugar Hill; 2012

www.patgreen.com

Yes, and if Pat had written these twelve songs, we could all rave about this album. But, Tom Petty, Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely and seven more songwriters get the credit. Green does a nice enough job mixing electric and acoustic rock instruments to give an Austin-style take on these songs. It’s all good, but it is an album of covers competently done, and not re-imagined in an overly unique style. You certainly would not be disappointed hearing these versions in your local club.
© David Hintz


Mietek Szczesniak "Signs (Znaki)"
4Ever Music/Warner; 2011

www.mietekszczesniak.pl

This is pretty mainstream material here. There is plenty of quality production and just enough in the variety of arrangements to ensure that this Polish singer songwriter may be worth a listen. His voice is a pleasant soft slight rasp that he can cut loose on when needed. There are just too many elements I have heard before where nothing terribly original or fresh is brought out here. The lyrics may suffer from English being a third or fourth language as well. There was also a gospel choir that was used in a really straightforward manner, which only served to remind me how much I appreciate Spiritualized and their use of gospel singing. Although it is never a good thing for an album remind you of better albums, this clearly has an audience, just not with me.
© David Hintz


The Phil Langran Band "Juke Box Love Songs, Leaving
Blues, Border Crossings & Lovers’ Laments"
Folkwit; 2011

www.phillangranband.com

With this album’s title, I am not sure you need a review. But let’s do one anyway. This is first and foremost a folk record with a full band adding some light rock moves on occasion and even a touch of country. Eight of the twelve songs are musical adaptations of Langston Hughes poems. The lyrical quality in the poems works well and they sound fresh. The band is solid, the vocals simple and clean with a touch of harmony. This one will not knock anyone’s socks off, but provides a smooth engaging listen for the folk music lover who likes it straight and true.
© David Hintz


Katrin Navessi "17 Shades of Blue"
Lindo, 2012

www.katrinnavessi.net

Here is a nice little gem for those searching for a classic folk sound that sounds relevant in 2012. Katrin Navessi plays a clean guitar and has a voice that leans toward cute, but steers clear of cloying and instead has a worldliness to it that elevates her songs to something you want to dig in to. There is some violin, which is a nice touch, and a bit of keyboards, harmonica, and percussion but arrangements are mostly simple and straightforward in a good way. And there are a few intricate moves such as the propulsive violin and guitar synchronization in “She’s Riding”. Ms. Navessi is Austrian, although all songs are in English bereft of any distinguishable accent. “The Tower” shows off the deeper ‘shades of blue’ and is a strong song that can hold its own anywhere. This is a record that is both immediate and rewarding with subsequent listening.
© David Hintz


CS Nielsen "Man of the Fall"
Melodika; 2012

www.myspace.com/csnielsen

CS Nielsen is a singer-songwriter from Denmark that presents songs in a mostly folk style, sometimes heading into folk-rock. He is a bit like Ralph McTell, but his songwriting is not quite at that level. However his guitar style is quite impressive with deft finger picking and a nice intensity in the tone, even as he plays in the background. This has a gritty authentic feel, although he is not necessarily firing for blues intensity and keeps a nice even pace throughout. And yes, there is yet another version of a classic folk staple. In this case it is “Blackjack Davey” which is a complete success with great guitar work and a spirit that keeps the song moving and my foot tapping for over six minutes.
© David Hintz


Brooke Miller "Familiar"
Stockfisch, 2012

www.brookemiller.ca

Brooke Miller is a Canadian singer-songwriter who took the opportunity to revisit her previous work and rerecord the songs in the ‘Stockfish manner’ on the long running German folk label. This is stripped down music with Miller’s acoustic guitar and voice only getting a little bass or keyboard assistance on half the cuts. This is her fifth album and based on only the briefest of explorations into her past, she has converted singer-songwriter rock songs with only a trace of folk into folk numbers with a touch of lounge comfort. Her guitar work is better than I expected as she has some modestly intricate runs. Satisfying work here and there is just enough to recommend it to those beyond her fan base, as she may be able to pull in more people who like this acoustic side of life.
© David Hintz


Katrin "Frail to Fearless"
Own label; 2012

www.katrinmusic.com

Boston-based Katrin Roush writes the songs, sings them, and plays acoustic guitar. She assembles a full band to bring her songs into a contemporary light to moderate rock setting. But a reading of the names show Peter Gabriel sideman Jerry Marotta on drums and production, Tony Levin on bass, and even John Sebastian on one cut, among other sharp musicians. So there is plenty of quality on paper that does work its way into the songs. The only problem for me is that I don’t see a particular individual distinction to the overall approach that draws me deep into this music. “Cobblestones” would be something I would listen to again. Many people would disagree with me on this record, but either this will require a few more listens or perhaps a live experience would provide the fire I would like to see. But if you lean toward high quality yet radio friendly fare, give this one a listen.
© David Hintz


Mark Wonder "Working Wonders"
Oneness Records; 2012

www.markwonder.com

Mark Wonder is a Jamaican/English reggae singer who took chose his last name from Stevie Wonder. So take one guess as to which way his reggae strays? Sure, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, maybe a touch of Marvin Gaye, too. The production and instrumentation is clean and lively and his voice is definitely headed to the soul-side of singing. Normally I like my reggae with a little more bite, but the feel-good vibe is pretty intoxicating here, so the album won me over.
© David Hintz


The Kenn Morr Band "Worth Imagining"
Own label; 2012

www.kennmorr.com

There is a gentle approach to this homespun full band folk music. Every sound has a careful touch as if they were handling egg baskets. This makes for music you can drift off with and relax as you absorb it. There are some nice guitar moves, harmonica, and backing vocals that stand out a bit, but the lead vocals are also soft and breathy—perhaps too much so. Still, the feelings here are welcome when in the mood. Perhaps they understand this as their last song is entitled “Sunday Morning”. This is not much like fellow New Yorker, Lou Reed, but it is good Sunday morning music. It also works after a long, hard day at work.
© David Hintz


Kate Campbell "1000 Pound Machine"
Large River Music; 2012

www.katecampbell.com

The 1000 pound machine in question is piano and it features heavily in these songs. It’s not quite exclusive as some slide guitar makes a startling appearance late in the album on “Alabama Department of Corrections Meditation Blues”. But the rest of the time it is the piano with a bluesy voice with touches of straight rock and a bit of lounge country. The piano work is solid, but this is a songwriting showcase for this Nashville singer/pianist, in the most part featuring good simple arrangements. I rather liked the classical leanings in the title cut and the reprise as much as anything here.
© David Hintz


Grace Griffith "Sailing"
Blix Street; 2010

www.seamaid.org

Grace Griffith has a nice mix of sea shanty and English pastoral folk mixed into her music. The violin and double tracked vocals are especially vibrant in the ”Ripples in Rockpool/Kiss of the Fiddle”, which has a great traditional feel with a touch of that reborn 1960s folk era sound. This record moved me quite a bit as I enjoy that era so much. It does not hurt a bit that Al Petteway is the guitarist on a majority of the tracks as his technique and emotional touch has dotted many a record album over the years in the mid-Atlantic area of the US. Of particular note is the classic “The Cuckoo” where he battles a violin and a fiddle to a three-way draw. There is only one problem I have and that is with me, as this is the first I have heard of this Washington DC area singer, despite reviewing over 200 live shows a year in recent years. I will widen my viewing and hopefully rectify that problem soon.
© David Hintz


Tom Kell "This Desert City"
Seventeen Degree; 2011

www.tomkell.com

This started rather slowly, but grew on me. There’s a good smooth sound to it all, but when some nice rock moves and Western slide color was added to the agreeable light rock music, things got more interesting. “Don’t Let Be Misunderstood” was welcome with its good beat, slide work, and back-up vocals. Ultimately, the vocal quality and sting in the guitar breathe enough life into this album to give it a nice sense of character and worthy of many listens. If the Laurel Canyon, California feeling is something you desire in a contemporary setting, then give this a try.
© David Hintz


Willie McBlind "Live Long Day"
FreeNote Records; 2012

www.myspace.com/williemcblind

I guess the first thing I am happy about is that Willie McBlind is a band name and not an overly derivative individual choice. As such, it pays homage to old blues men with a nod and a wink to this century. And best of all, musically it takes a blues homage and moves forward with a fresh approach that many other blues based acts fail to grasp (or choose not to). You hear the electric blues in every song from this quartet, but they add lots of modern rock moves that keep the music ebbing and flowing in challenging ways leading to rewarding results. I even lasted the full nine minutes of ‘2001’ style noise that concluded the album. Even if you weren’t aware that they used fretless guitars and microtonal scales, you can hear something different going on. But the blues is always there as well and I highly recommend exploring this band at least for one listen. I will be back for more.
© David Hintz


Tim “Too Slim” Langford "Broken Halo"
Underworld Records; 2012

www.tooslim.org

Tim Langford does the blues, but adds a lot of folk touches and changes arrangements around to keep things interesting at all times. The great touch displayed on slide guitar is showcased in the opening instrumental track. He then proceeds to show off his classic bluesy voice in many of the other songs. “Princeville Serenade” shows off more folk moves and is a great interlude among the bluesier songs. This is the second album I have heard from him and both were a pleasure to take in. The instrumental prowess of Langford and his band is what works for this record. It succeeds more for their touch and interpretation than their prowess, although the skills are there, too. This is worth a listen and will find a healthy sized audience. I am still there.
© David Hintz


Punch Brothers "Who’s Feeling Young Now?"
Nonesuch, 2012

www.punchbrothers.com

So you are a young rock band intrigued by studying fresh approaches to rootsy Americana and bluegrass songs. How to proceed… Well, I would start with listening to this warm album with lots of sharp instrumentation surrounding warm vocals and melodies. The mandolin bounces around as the violin weaves in between guitar chords with some of the subtler and playful bass punctuation you will hear. These instruments can switch from overt and daring runs to subtle accompaniment in flash. There are even elements of creative post-punk trickery, yet it stays in the acoustic world. This is vibrant, exciting music that is amazing in how it is so comforting and easy to grab hold of. But that is what happens in Brooklyn these days. Creative musicians congregate and bands form with loads of diversity. Great results usually follow and they certainly have here. This is a band that I can recommend to just about anyone.
© David Hintz


Rupert Stroud "Chasing the Night"
Xidus Music; 2012

www.rupertstroudmusic.com

This maelstrom of acoustic guitars greeting the listener is a wonderful opening. Things settle quickly into more of a standard indie rock/folk rock hybrid. Stroud’s voice reminds me a bit of the Decembrists, but the music is a little raw and rootsy. It’s hit/miss for me, but the hits are well worth going back to. I love the easygoing rock jam in “Sunday Night Blues” and his vocal work is as fine as the guitar work. Each song does not always make me want to come back for more, but then another one comes along and I want to keep listening.
© David Hintz



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