Frigg "Polka V"
Own Label, 2012
I had heard of Frigg, but didn't think they were my cup of vodka until I saw them live in Edinburgh. Wow. For a folk band, they really rock. Their repertoire of traditional Nordic tunes and original compositions lends itself to upbeat arrangements, and their virtuoso playing puts them in the same entertainment league as top bluegrass players. Hence the sobriquet "Nordgrass" which Frigg use to describe their music. Embracing everything from Nashville to Nordkapp, Salzburg to Stornaway, this Helsinki septet manages to sound like a polka band, a rock group, or a Riverdance ensemble, while remaining purely acoustic and firmly string-powered. Four fiddles, an upright bass, guitars and mandos: that's all there is, but Frigg fill the air, live or on CD.
Polka V starts with a schottische by guitarist Tuomas Logren, a piece of dance music which could come straight off a Deep Purple album. Screaming fiddles, powerful rhythms, and all the atmosphere of a rock concert. Bo! is another full-on affair, written by bass-player Antti Järvelä with twisting rhythms over a simple 4/4 melody. The title track is a bit of fun, more like incidental music for a Keystone Cops car chase than a folk tune. Elina and Tero's Wedding Waltz shows a gentler side of Frigg, a beautiful modern melody in the Scandinavian style. Kjulupolska continues the pastoral theme, a polka for a bucket in a sauna, prettily flatpicked, and appropriately hotting up at the end, with trademark Frigg vocals.
Seronda and Summer Solstice both have echoes of classical music: the Nordic folk tradition has always been very close to the classical tradition, and players frequently combine both. Here, Frigg play a swirling dance tune with a classical ground and counterpoint, and follow it with another piece by Antti which incorporates fragments of Baroque melodies. Big Brother is probably the closest Frigg come to bluegrass on this recording, a swinging fiddle breakdown by Eric Öst and Antti - you can almost hear the banjo. The last two tracks are gentler again, a slow rag with space for sparkling solos, and the final Teppo's Waltz by fiddler Esko Järvelä which is more of a drunken swagger than a graceful dance: great expression in the playing of the whole band. Polka V is a highly accomplished and very entertaining album, and if you like this I guarantee you'll love the live show.
© Alex Monaghan
4Square "Hearth & Home"
Own Label, 2013
A young quartet from Manchester, 4Square combine English, Irish, Scottish and other influences in a fairly funky and contemporary sound. It's definitely folk, and mainly traditional, but verging on the modern: if you added a couple of electric guitars, this could quickly become folk rock, or worse! (Just kidding) As it is, the music is very pleasant, pretty much acoustic with a solid thump behind it, danceable and uplifting. This is the third studio album in their seven year history. The instrumentals on Hearth & Home are lively and imaginative, fiddle-led reels and jigs, some from the modern folk tradition, others by the band. 4Square certainly don't shrink from challenging tunes, tackling both Fred Morrison's limping Lochaber Badger and Gordon Duncan's breathless Pressed for Time. James Meadows' banjo provides a strong second line of melody, and steps into the limelight for his own reel Bakad Potatis - don't ask me what that means. The backline of piano and percussion is provided by Dan Day and Jim Molyneux.
Vocally, these youngsters don't quite pack the same punch. Fiddler Nicola Lyons is the only girl of the four, so her voice is identifiable. Day and Molyneux also sing, not sure which is which. Rumour asserts that 4Square's singing has flowered and fruited from the early buds of previous recordings. This may well be true, but it still lags behind their instrumental prowess. The second half of this CD is all vocal-heavy, and does not quite fulfill the promise of the earlier tracks: Sweet Jayne gets a very understated treatment, and there's a frail and slightly strained quality to both Everything in its Right Place and Hold Back the Tide. In fairness, the powerful instrumental Belly Dancer interlude exacerbates this contrast. Ironically, the final Lily of Barbary is perhaps the strongest song here, a fresh tale with a bit of a twist, and it doesn't have a punchy follow-on, so the albuim ends without the climactic closing number it deserves. Another diesel-sucking instrumental on the end might have turned a good recording into something more, but these guys are still worth hearing.
© Alex Monaghan
De Temps Antan "Ce monde ici-bas"
Own Label, 2013
A third dose of dynamic French Canadian music from this trio is welcome indeed. Eric Beaudry on bouzouki, André Brunet on fiddle, and accordionist Pierre-Luc Dupuis who incidentally also plays harmonica: their powerful instrumental skills are backed up by vocals in Canadian French, and by various guests. Ce Monde Ici Bas contains all the elements of great Quebec music. There are rollicking choruses and rich vocal harmonies. There are rhythmic dancing feet beneath the flying fingers. There's even a bit of humour. The classic Montreal mix of songs and instrumentals alternates throughout this album, with most songs skilfully welded to a tune or two. Notes are in short supply, but you can always try www.detempsantan.qc.ca for more details.
All three members of De Temps Antan sing, although Beaudry generally takes the lead. Mépriseuse de Garçons is the sad story of a failed seduction soothed by drink - it was ever thus. Adieu Donc Cher Coeur is a song of infidelity and despair, another poignant melody from the tradition. The title track is a modern nonsense song, tongue twisting lyrics which parody the workings of the world. The traditional L'América treats the common problems of emigration from a Canadian perspective, while the contemporary Méli-Mélo tells a story of romantic love with virtuoso instrumental breaks. The tunes are equally varied: pumping reels on harmonica and accordion, breathtaking waltzes from fiddler André Brunet, and everything in between. Medley des Couches starts with the unpredictable rhythms of old Quebec dance tunes, and ends on a reel which has almost certainly been borrowed from the Scottish and Irish repertoire. Valse St Sévère is another great Brunet composition to rival Valse du Chef de Gare. The final track, Matin d'Hiver, combines a slow atmospheric melody with a pulsating hornpipe tempo. De Temps Antan combine the best of new and old Quebec, highly recommended.
© Alex Monaghan
Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham "Five and Twenty"
Whirlie Records, 2012
It's a while since the last Phil & Aly CD, but they are still going strong after - you guessed it - 25 years. The latest news is that they are cutting back touring, as both are still extremely busy with other things, but that may change. I was speaking to some of their fans in the Scottish Borders the other week, people who would go to see them annually in small venues, and certainly their enthusiasm for Bain and Cunningham's music is undiminished. We shall see what happens, but my advice for now would be to take every opportunity to see this duo live.
If you can't catch a concert, Five and Twenty may be the next best thing: a mix of favourites from the past quarter century, plus some new material. This album concentrates on the slower side of Phil and Aly's repertoire, with just a few up-tempo numbers. It also departs from previous duo recordings in having quite a number of guests, adding variety and filling out the sound. There's nodilution of quality with names like Tom Orr, Jenn Butterworth and Mike McGoldrick.
Herr Roloff's Farewell was recorded by Aly on his Moonstone CD, and gets a lovely scaled-back treatment here. Phil's Palomino Waltz obviously comes from his second solo album: the addition of the fiddle is delightful, but I have to say that Couscous McCafferty is noticeable by his absence. Kimberley's Waltz is a new one to me, gorgeous sweet Cunningham melody and a beautifully simple arrangement. Sitting in the Stern of a Boat is one of those timeless magical Gaelic slow airs, achingly played here by two masters of the genre.
There are more waltzes and airs, interspersed with three faster tracks. Morven's March and Eliot Finn MacDonald are a pair of punchy pipe marches with enough twists and turns to keep the youngsters happy. The opening Irish slides are a surprising addition, harking back to Aly's time with Boys of the Lough. A couple of Wedding Reels bring in the North American influence, while the final Balkan Hills set is quintessential Scottish accordion. First class music from start to finish from two of the finest performers in the world - and the added bonus of no jokes! You can't go wrong with this one.
© Alex Monaghan
Davoc Rynne "The Humours of Ennistymon"
Own Label, 2012
From Prosperous in the County Kildare, Davoc Rynne was involved in the beginnings of the Irish folk revival of the sixties which spawned Planxty and other bands. He soon moved to County Clare, and has been a pivotal figure in Irish music ever since. After more than forty years playing and listening to Irish traditional music, Davoc took a notion to make a CD. While Davoc's whistle playing is entertaining enough, there are two greater attractions in this album for me: the first is the collection of friends and relations he gathered to help him out, and the second is the pretty faithful recreation of the atmosphere and sound of a 1970s traditional session.
The whole thing was recorded in an afternoon in Ennistymon, between chats and cups of tea. A host of well-known names dropped in - Christy Moore, Luka Bloom, Conor Byrne and other family mambers, as well as Trish Dillon, Johnny Hehir and Eoin O'Neill. Christy and Davoc's wife Anne provide the vocals on three songs: Carrigdhoun and Blackwater Side from Anne, while Christy sings the song Davoc first heard him perform at a mid-sixties county fleadh, The Galtee Mountain Boy. To be honest, there isn't much to choose between them: Christy's distinctive voice is in fine form, but his sister Anne has the same family talent.
In a dozen instrumental tracks there are a few that stand out. Johnny Hehir's harmonica leads The Munster Cloak and The Fairy Queen, as well as a bunch of reels and jigs including the title track which unites two favourites of mine, The Humours of Ennistymon and The Battering Ram. The tin whistle is almost incidental to Conor Byrne's flowing flute rendition of The Chattering Magpie and The Flax in Bloom, but Davoc's solo slow air Aisling Gheal shows his mettle. There's a nice balance of fast and slow, airs and dance music, finishing with the lovely march The Road to Abbeyfeale in suitably relaxed style. Though the starts and finishes may be ragged at times, the heart of the music here is pure and true. It wouldn't be such a bad thing if more sessions today sounded like The Humours of Ennistymon.
© Alex Monaghan
Mórga "For the Sake of Auld Decency"
Own Label , 2013
Now here's a thing. I put this CD into my laptop, and it came up with the category "General techno". How did that happen? Is this an elaborate joke by Mórga, a slip of the mouse by the producer, or just the category from the previous recording made in that studio? Not a big deal, and it makes a change from the "Alternative country" and "General World" categories which normally pop up, but maybe it's about time traditional musicians paid attention to these things and chose a label which helps people discover and appreciate the music for what it is.
Anyway, what Mórga's music is is neither general nor techno. Nor is this a conventional Irish group. Young, talented, Dublin-based, rarely doing a proper day's work: that's pretty much normal for Irish musicians, but Mórga are a bit different. For instance, you have to wait until track 5 of this second CD for the first full set of reels, and if it's a set of jigs you're after that might be on album number 3. For pretty much anything else, you've come to the right place: slides, polkas, marches, flings, airs, schottisches, lancers, old-time breakdowns, they're all here. No songs, though, and long may that continue. About the only nod to convention is the three sets of reels which anchor the more unruly tunes at strategic points through this collection: For the Sake of Auld Decency indeed.
Unruly is as good a word as any for the lovable roguish quality in Mórga's music. This bold approach to Irish music is if anything exacerbated by the band's new box-player: I was listening to the CD in the car at first, and wondering who to compare the button accordion style to, and the name that sprang to mind was Dave "Bullet" Munnelly. Well, of course it is the man himself who has replaced Barry Brady and is now Mórga's melodeon maestro. He joins founders Dominic Keogh, Danny Diamond and Jonas Fromseier to form a formidable foursome. Danny and Dave, with Dominic on flute, favour a slightly grimy style of ensemble playing: lots going on, great playfulness and intermingling, aiming for concertation rather than union. Much like a good session, although you'd be lucky indeed to get this quality and variety of Irish music in the wild.
Here's what I mean. The opening track, for starters, is wonderfully off the wall. The wayward melody of Paddy Cronin's Slide has Dave and Danny slipping and slurring, squeaking and scraping, in true Sliabh Luachra style. .The lads follow up with a Kimmel classic, complete with '20s banjo, issuing a challenge to At the Racket. Jonas leads into a rarely-heard single jig, which becomes a two-step, which Danny hijacks with the first reel of the album, but soon it's back to Stateside showmanship and flourishes. Fine flute and fiddle on Fred and Peter's, flying fingers on Devlin's Jig, more of that minstrel banjo, and subtle drumming where it's needed: you couldn't wish for better music. There are two gorgeous slow airs by Dave and Danny (such a light touch on the fiddle, I don't know where he gets it from), and a rousing set of straight reels to finish - because they can. Every tune here is traditional - if you admit the likes of Finbar Dwyer and Maurice Lennon compositions - so this really is Irish trad with the gloves off, and it punches well above its weight. Champion stuff. Put your money on Mórga!
© Alex Monaghan
Catriona McKay "Harponium"
Glimster Records, 2014
Another quite contemporary-sounding solo album from Shetland's harp queen, who is also a talented keyboard player with Fiddlers' Bid and others. Here she plays her Starfish custom harp and a German harmonium, with no additional instruments as far as I can tell. The music is modern without being mainstream, adventurous but accessible, with a traditional acoustic core: almost all Catriona's own compositions, with background notes which describe her inspiration. Each of the nine tracks on Harponium is different, distinct in form or feel. Kronos Reel honours the eponymous classical quartet, an intricate piece with a syncopated melody line and a bass part which ebbs and flows. One for the Sleeper is more mystical, inspired by magic and whisky in equal parts, dissonant at times but with a pleasing air of antiquity to the music. Roof of the World is what you might expect, a hypnotic piece evoking temple bells, high peaks, sun on snow, and a state of dreamy bliss.
The title tune is fun and funky, with a percussion line which I think is damped harp strings, but apparently this is possible at the same time as playing the melody and accompaniment: there's only one recorded harp track, and one harmonium track. Silenced with a Kiss brings us back to the celtic tradition, a striking slow air which shows Catriona's clarsach virtuosity over a harmonium ground. Maureen's Waltz is another challenging piece, sparkling runs and triplets in the right hand, chords and ringing bass notes in the left. The next track combines a piece for Catriona's teacher with an East European reel by multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan. Prayer for Ceren is a powerful and moving slow piece dedicated to the memory of a Turkish harpist. The final track joins two of Catriona's own reels into a pulsing rhythmic toe-tapper to end this fine album. As well as being an outstanding musician and composer, Ms McKay is a bit of a snappy dresser, and quite a tease: not for her the Fairisle sweaters and faded jeans. This CD, like her previous releases, sees Catriona clad as a catwalk model, a bare shoulder here, a flash of thigh there, with a glamorous sleeve design to match. Visually attractive and musically delightful, Harponium pushes all the right buttons, levers, pedals, keys and strings. You can see more of Ms McKay's on-stage wardrobe, and her other recordings, online.
© Alex Monaghan
Les Poufs a Cordes "La Trotteuse"
Violin and cello is not a common combination in the traditional music of the Auvergne and Limousin regions, but these two French musicians manage to sound like the more familiar bagpipes and hurdy-gurdy, as well as bringing their own unique character to these old tunes. Violin duets, violin and cello, and foot percussion make a surprisingly full sound. Two guests add variety on a few tracks, with accordion, harmonica and vocals, but most of La Trotteuse is down to Clémence Cognet and Noëllie Nioulou. Ms Nioulou also provides one of her own compositions here, a powerful twisting bourrée in triple time.
Bourrées, polkas, mazurkas, marches and waltzes: these are the typical dance forms of central France. Cognet and Nioulou power through them in an energetic earthy style, with Nioulou's cello doing as much work as Cognet's fiddle, and both instruments grinding out the low notes for a wonderfully visceral sound. Valse à Charrier and the mazurka Mariton are among my favourites on this CD, driving rhythms and great melodies with a dark core which is more like the music of Scandinavia than France. These two pieces, and several others here, come from the playing of Artense fiddlers Antonin Charrier and Alfred Mouret: there is a detailed list of sources on the CD sleeve.
Almost none of the material here is familiar to me. Les Poufs à Cordes have drawn on old discs and unpublished recordings, finding tunes from old musicians, and one or two more modern pieces. The suite of sautières is a definite highlight, quite unlike the other tracks, reminiscent of an Irish polka. I Eron al Liech brings vocals which are almost Gregorian, a piece with a medieval feel, and one of several with titles in old dialect. The title track is much more modern in tone, a waltz approaching Parisian café music, especially when the accordion comes in. There's no shortage of variety on La Trotteuse, with even a Bach minuet to show off the virtuosity of this duo. The final track returns to the familiar bourrées, but still only hints at melodies I know. Cognet and Nioulou have unearthed a great hoard of tunes, and play them beautifully on this album.
© Alex Monaghan
Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas "Abundance"
Great to hear this duo on CD again: Fraser and Haas still define the fiddle/cello combination in Scottish music, although many have emulated them since their 2004 debut Fire & Grace. Now on album number four, Alasdair and Natalie are still finding plenty of new possibilities in old Scots tunes. Strathspeys and reels, and a beautiful slow air, come from the East and West Coast fiddle and piping traditions: Neil Gow's Wife, The Old Reel, Little Donald in the Pigpen and The Braes of Locheil. The old favourite Tarbolton Lodge leads into a slip reel The Keys to the Cellar (perhaps better known as The Haughs of Cromdale), and then a jig which goes by many names but which Silly Wizard recorded as Donald MacGillivray. In three or four tracks, this duo presents a microcosm of the Scottish fiddle legacy. The rest of the recording is devoted to new compositions, mostly by Alasdair but also a couple of very fine tunes from younger Scots fiddlers. Farley Bridge is an outstanding piece, a slow reel by Inverness prodigy Duncan Chisholm. On the Wings of a Skorrie was written by Shetlander Michael Ferrie, a founder member of Fiddlers' Bid who died tragically young in 1996 but whose many tunes live on. This one tells the story of a kitten who unwisely attacked a seagull, and ended up taking an unscheduled flight on its back!
In a double handful of Fraser compositions, we are treated to the grand slow strathspey Howard Booster's Style which transfers perfectly to the cello, as well as a suite of dance music for Connie Muir which radiates energy and warmth. The Referendum has a celebratory feel, a party piece which I hope is not premature. John Alick Beaton of Teanassie may or may not be connected to the Teanassie by Beauly, but this stately march has all the beauty and grandeur of Strathglass and Glen Affric. Glenfinnan Nights evokes the other end of the Great Glen, just as breathtaking but without the sunshine. Fraser and Haas don't achieve all this on their own: there's a supporting cast of ten friends and family members, including accordion, percussion, strings, brass and piano. These sounds are used sparingly throughtout the album, but when everyone lets rip on the final Kelburn Brewer it's more like a bun fight than Abundance. Natalie's cello and Alasdair's fiddles are the heart of this CD, and it's a heart of solid gold: fire and grace, freshness and variety, evolution and tradition. In short, everything you could wish for - and I haven't even mentioned the kalimbas.
© Alex Monaghan
John Blake "The Narrow Edge"
Own Label, 2013
Better known as an accompanist, London-born John Blake has featured on more Irish traditional albums than most people have had hot dates.
John has been based around Dublin for fifteen years now, honing his skills on his ancestral turf. This is his solo debut, as a flute-player, a talent he previously employed with Sligo band Téada and other groupings. The Narrow Edge demonstrates mastery of the wooden flute in the Sligo-Roscommon style, and in the time-honoured tradition of Irish multi-instrumentalists John plays with himself on guitar and piano, as well as taking a couple of tracks on the old tin whistle. For those moments when he can't do everything on his own, John has enlisted round-backed bouzouki man Ruairí McGorman. This is a fine solo debut, and although probably not the best flute album you'll ever hear, it does have some of the tightest accompaniment on the planet. At times it's as if the soloist and accompanist were one and the same.
About half of The Narrow Edge is reels, true to form for Sligo musicians. The other half is more varied than usual: jigs of course, including hop jigs and slip jigs, but also a few hornpipes and a fine pair of polkas. John opens with his own hornpipe The Humours of the Neale, a grand melody which recalls 1920s American recordings, quick and jaunty. Then it's reels and jigs for a while, all traditional, varied by a set of slow reels including The Earl's Chair. There are few surprises but plenty of old favourites: Munster Buttermilk, Pay the Reckoning, Maud Miller, The Cloone Reel, The Battering Ram, the rather neglected Mug of Brown Ale, and of course as usual Coleman's Cross. John throws in another of his own compositions, the slip jig Colonel Sullivan's, before a personal version of the piping reel Toss the Feathers. There are unusual variations in some of the other tunes too, but mostly this is straight trad. The album ends on a pair of virtuoso waltzes with double tracked harmonies: Mrs Kenny's, often played as a mazurka, and Men of the West which is related to the humorous song about Brian Boru's amorous activities. Plenty to enjoy here, and some wonderful arrangements behind fine fluting: John Blake has certainly mastered The Narrow Edge.
© Alex Monaghan
Marit & Rona "Turas"
Watercolour Music, 2013
Normally whan an album starts with two vocal tracks I reach for the next album, or at least for the sleevenotes to see how many instrumentals are coming up - but in this case I was already intrigued by Turas with its raw and starkly beautiful mix of Scandinavian modes and Gaelic melodies. In fact, it probably took about five tracks before I began to get a handle on this CD, by which time I was excited to know what was coming next. This Edinburgh-based duo pack Norwegian and Finnish tunes alongside Gaelic songs and port a'beul, not to mention a range of styles from a 17th century pibroch to a new composition in 7/8. With that amount of variety in just the first two tracks, there's considerable pressure to maintain the buzz. You can form your own opinion, but in my view Marit and Rona manage to make every track fresh and exciting, and they keep the surprises coming to the very end.
Turas is the work of Rona Wilkie, fiddler and singer from Oban, and Marit Fält from Norway who plays citterns and percussion as well as singing. It is not a super-polished recording, and that's part of its appeal: the sound moves and changes, there's an intimacy and warmth which is washed away in some studio productions, and you get the feeling with Marit and Rona's music that this is a live session, just for you, not a mass-produced chocolate-boxed commodity. This applies equally to the vibrant fiddle tunes - Kilmartin Glen Campsite and Yes! by Rona, Reel de M Santé, Auchendoun Castle, and Halling fra Elverum from various traditions - and to the more soulful songs. Psalm 107 in Gaelic is very atmospheric, with authentic church acoustics and the wind whistling through the windows, while a ghostly figure plays viola. Bodach puts real venom into the lyrics, and the intertwined vocals are fascinating. The anguish of They Stole My Wife From Me pales beside the utter despair of This is the Year that has Left me Desolate, a Gaelic song of misery to end all misery, delivered with authentic Hebridean fatalism.
Roughly half and half vocals and instrumentals, every piece on Turas has been carefully arranged, whether to support the clear natural singing or to exploit the rhythmic and melodic possibilities of fiddle and cittern. There's additional percussion from Allan Òg MacDonald, and subtle use of a string quartet, but Marit and Rona carry this album between them. I haven't mentioned everything: you can discover the compositions of Paul Anderson and Patsy Reid yourselves, as well as the majestic Ebba Brahe Polska and the deadly serious Rory's Dinosaur Jumper. The final Cape Breton lullaby Tha Bò Dhubh Agam is simply enchanting, adding another aspect to a complex and absorbing CD.
© Alex Monaghan
Éamon McGivney, John Kelly, Peadar Ó Riada "The Drôle"
Own label, 2013
Forget polish, post-production and all the pattercaking about that normally goes into a recording. This CD is back to basics, old style, letting the musicians do their thing and just capturing what comes out. Alright, it probably wasn't quite that basic, but the sound and atmosphere of A Few Tunes for our Friends is pretty much what the title suggests: a trio of seasoned performers sitting down together and playing through some old favourites. Fiddlers Éamon McGivney and John Kelly are joined by Peadar Ó Riada on concertina and accordion for reels, jigs, slides, hornpipes, flings, polkas, waltzes and even slow airs. There are two pieces here which have not been recorded before, compositions by the late great Sean Ó Riada: The Kelly Ó Riada March, a collaboration between Peadar's father and John's father, and Sean Ó Riada's Waltz which was recently unearthed among John Kelly Senior's papers. Other rarities include the air Casam Araon na Géanna Romhainn, a spine-tingling old melody, and a local version of The Cliffs of Moher from John Kelly Senior again.
More well known tunes include Scattery Island, The Maids of Mitchelstown, Toss the Feathers, The Leitrim Fancy, Scully Casey's and The Pipe on the Hob. There are nods to revered concertina players - Mrs Galvin, Elizabeth Kelly - and mentions of Paddy Killoran and Joe Ryan as well as several other fiddlers. Each member of The Drôle takes a solo track, but the rest of this album is simply session music, three instruments mostly in unison, the sort of sound you'd hear in any old pub with a good pint that happened to have a few thirsty world-class musicians living nearby. A Few Tunes for our Friends is a very fine but unpretentious CD, similar in some ways to the Tap Room Trio recordings, or the more boisterous Moment of Madness from Begley and Ó Raghallaigh. For pure listening pleasure, it takes some beating. If you listen carefully, though, there are wrinkles and nuances, touches and turns to The Drôle's music which are rarely captured in more formal recordings. Visit www.peadaroriada.ie for more details: you may even find other music to your taste there.
© Alex Monaghan
Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh & Danny O'Mahony "As It Happened"
Own Label, 2012
Two great young box-players, one larger than the other: Mícheál Ó Raghallaigh from the county of Meath plays the little anglo concertina, while Danny O'Mahony from County Kerry plays the bigger button accordion. Both mix new and old instruments on this recording, Suttner and Jeffries concertinas against Soprani and Iorio accordions, and while the nuances of tone are discernible they are subtle indeed. The only place you'd really tell the difference is on the solo tracks, one apiece: I'm guessing Danny picks up his Iorio for The Humours of Scariff, while Micheál sticks to his preferred Suttner for The Cliffs of Moher.
As you might guess, most of the tunes here are established favourites. The joy of this recording is hearing them played so sweetly and so tightly by two new masters of the Irish tradition. Many of us can make our way through polkas like Brown's Kitchen and The Magic Slipper, but you won't often hear them imbued with such strength and spirit. Reels such as The Collier's and The Peeler's Jacket are delightful, jigs including The Boys of Tandragee and Tom Busby's are livelier than a Kerry christening. Although Ó Raghallaigh and O'Mahony throw in a couple of tasty hornpipes and barndances in addition to those polkas, still the main event here is the reels and jigs. This duo CD finishes with a storming version of three classics: Farrell O'Gara's, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, and Rolling in the Ryegrass, stupendously well played with a pounding rhythm and sparkling fingers, the final flourish in an outstanding performance.
© Alex Monaghan
Paul Anderson "Land of the Standing Stones"
Own Label, 2013
Breaking the mould, not least in its Japanese banquet format ("small portions, but so many courses"), this album is fiddler Paul Anderson's homage to his native Aberdeenshire. Almost entirely original, with fifty of Paul's own compositions, Land of the Standing Stones is nevertheless a completely traditional recording, full of the spirit of Scottish music, with little that would be out of place in fiddle concerts of a hundred years ago. Its stark beauty is perhaps most obvious in airs such as Lament for Jean Guthrie, Leaving St Kilda, Love in the Howe and the aptly named Beauty of Cromar: but the grace and lyricism of Anderson's music persist through jigs such as Brian Cruickshank's Capers and The Piper's Knowe, splendid waltzes and marches, and several towering sets of strathspeys and reels.
There's an edge to the acoustics on this recording, an echo of the windswept Cairngorms and the bleak Deeside landscape, which gives the music a raw and muscular feel, evoking the rough highland climate without romanticising it. Among many references to battles and burials, the bloodiest by far are in Anderson's historical ballad Bonnie Henry Gordon which recounts one of the clan feuds of the sixteenth century and the ill-fated young lovers who were its tragic victims. This isn't exactly Romeo and Juliet, but not so far from West Side Story. Another Shakespearian resonance is Farewell to the King, an air for Macbeth, king of Scotland from 1040 to 1057, not quite an Aberdeenshire loon but a lad from neighbouring Morayshire who spent a lot of time roaming between Inverness and Dundee.
I first listened to this CD on a long car journey from Galashiels to Bedford, long enough to run through all twenty-nine tracks a few times, yet the tunes stayed fresh and powerful. There isn't a dull moment in seventy minutes, and many of the melodies are quite breathtaking. Lament for the Gordons of Knock, Elsie Cromar, Nicola Auchnie of Auchterless, and several others stick in the memory and sound so naturally part of the North East fiddle tradition. The final few tracks are even more varied, adding vocals from Shona Donaldson, a piano solo from Ali Napier, and dramatic sound effects for the hymn to the Somme The Harvest of Men. Paul Anderson has released several previous albums, but none to match Land of the Standing Stones: this is his masterpiece in every sense, a monument to his music and his tradition, and a recording which any fiddler would be proud of.
© Alex Monaghan
Pádraig Rynne "Notify"
Own label, 2013
In something of a departure from his previous recordings, this young concertina star from Clare has moved far beyond the conventional in Irish music to experiment with audio engineering, asymmetric rhythms, and American musicians. Forget the post-everything repetitive ragas of The Gloaming. Forget Riverdance and its exotic rhythms. Forget The Pogues with their distorted rock versions of the Irish tradition, intentional or otherwise. Notify is a step beyond these innovations, an attempt to put Irish music - and concertina music in particular - into a contemporary dance music context. Rynne is responsible for the concertina, and for composing all the melodies on Notify, plus programming and synths. Tyler Duncan and Mike Shimmin of Millish supply additional noises, and Duncan is responsible for most of the arranging, production and mixing. Jeremy Kittel and Joe Dart provide fiddles and bass respectively.
Hiding in the Magic World builds on a basic concertina reel, a funky little number by Pádraig, adding drums and keyboards to hammer home the beat, then quasi-classical violin from Jeremy Kittel and distorted synth from Tyler Duncan, before the concertina returns with its catchy theme. Lost in an Idea is less easily described in traditional terms: it's as if Pádraig has thrown everything into the mix, and then sprayed it out again Jackson Pollock style, just to see what it looks like. The two parts of Strawberry Sun show the tensions within Notify, the way traditional forms are overlaid on the shifting sands of modern soundscaping, effects from Esquivel to Eminem, but in fact a jig such as True Logic would not be out of place in a Triad set or even a trad session.
Actually, don't forget Riverdance. The opening two tracks certainly have its Eastern-tinged dance rhythms and the flowing grace which seemed to come into Irish music from Bill Whelan's compositions. The Lookout Pack, by contrast, has more of a progressive rock feel, reminding me of ELP, OMD, and other TLAs who successfully combined classical with cool. Remembering April is another cool moment, an almost waltz with a deceptive beat. The uneven rhythm of A Beat Drop is given away by the title, and for me this is a disappointing track: any surprise comes very late, and the audio effects are spun out for too long. The final track makes up for this, returning to the sort of funky finger-tapping concertina music familiar from Buille and Guidewires. And so the experiment ends. Sandy Brechin's tune title Sometimes It Doesn't Work is always applicable to such experimental albums. Of course it doesn't always work - that's the nature of experiments - but Notify succeeds often enough to make it interesting. If you are sufficiently broad minded to want to know more, a visit to www.padraigrynne.com is in order.
Casey Driessen "Singularity"
Red Shoe Records, 2013
A third solo album from Nashville fiddler Casey Driessen, and this one is truly solo: just fiddle, and a lot of fancy electronics. Loops, effects, and distortions are applied to Casey's prodigious bowing technique, producing a powerful stew of virtuoso melodies and layer upon layer of pedal-pushed accompaniment. As the sleevenotes put it, everything .on Singularity is "created by the fiddle and altered live through these pedals." The material is Mr Driessen's trademark mix of customised bluegrass standards, cheery murder ballads, and his own eclectic tunes. Singularity is available online at www.caseydriessen.bandcamp.com - definitely worth a visit. Check out www.caseydriessen.com too. Casey is even coming over to Europe a couple of times this year, so look out for live performances.
This seven-track selection starts with a Michael Jackson number, new to me. Billy Jean is short on melody but long on atmosphere, and makes the point that Casey's fiddle can sound like an entire band, guitar bass and drums, plus the fiddle lead of course. Heartbreak Kid explores percussive possibilities, with some uke-like strumming too. Gaptooth is back on the bluegrass trail, a turbocharged take on Cumberland Gap, virtuoso fiddling even before he adds effects..The unmistakable Driessen vocals deliver Murder in the Red Barn and Working on a Building, two songs which would have Burt Reynolds reaching for his hunting bow. In between is a piece which demonstrates Driessen's outstanding chops - and we're not talking sideburns here. Finally, the beautiful Rose Tea Waltz shows another side of Casey's composing talent, a gentle tune from somewhere between Nashville and Nanking. And there you have it, an astonishing little album from a remarkable fiddler.
© Alex Monaghan
Two fiddlers and a gutarist from the affluent farming province of Hälsingland in eastern central Sweden, Draupner aim to recreate the stately and dramatic music of the old rural fiddlers. Much of the traditional music we are used to today comes from regions of poverty or from downtrodden minorities, but this music is rather different: in Sweden the fiddle was always valued for traditional dances, and it seems the wealthy folk of Hälsingland enjoyed elaborate music to match their taste for decoration. As in many parts of Scandinavia, geographic isolation led to a strong regional style and a slower adoption of the new European classical or pop music, preserving Hälsingland's fiddle tradition until quite recently. Draupner present the music of Hälsingland here, including several of their own compositions: stately, complex, beautifully played, on the border between rustic and baroque, full of soul and local sentiment.
There aren't a lot of notes to go on with this CD (although there is a very nice poster instead), so at times I've had to guess. Söndagspolska and Jerkers Polska are compositions by this trio, relatively up-tempo dance tunes with a driving 6/4 rhythm, indistinguishable from the traditional Hälsingland repertoire. Draupner follow this opening pair with four tracks of older tunes, probably learnt from local fiddlers: the starkly beautiful modal Norskpolskan, the gentler Änglagårdspolska, a G minor polka with gorgeous dynamic and melodic faded notes, and a whirling waltz which reminds me of a French bourrée. The next track is one of my favourites here, Einars doplåt written by Draupner's guitarist Tomas Lindberg, a sublime melody exquisitely arranged for guitar and fiddles. Lindberg composed a total of five fine pieces here. Görgen Antonsson and Henning Andersson, the other two members of Draupner, also have compositions to their credit on this release: the twisting jazzy Positivhalaren, the playful Victorias Schottis, and that totally traditional sounding Jerkers Polska.
The twin fiddle sound is the heart of Draupner's music, but the guitar provides the skeleton and foundation for the fiddles to build on. As well as underpinning the rhythm, it gives an eerie feel to Senpolska, takes the melody on Polska från Färila and elsewhere, and lends a lute-like quality to the mediaeval theme of the final minuet-style air Braveheart. I'm guessing Braveheart is a modern composition by marathon fiddler Snickar-Erik Olsson, whereas titles such as 1781 and 1909 may indicate tunes from old manuscripts, but I could be completely wrong. In any case, it's the music that counts, and Draupner deliver beyond my expectations on that score. Hälsingland is a splendid collection of tunes skilfully played and arranged, highly recommended for relaxed listening.
© Alex Monaghan
Gisen, Ulvsand & Tullberg "Diphtong"
Debut album by Swedish trio called Draupner. Two violinists and a guitarist playing fifteen Swedish folk melodies. The musicians choose a ‘traditional’ approach and play in a wonderful light and professional way the recognizable polka’s, schottis and so on. What I like is the temperament the musicians play their versions of the compositions and create a lovely, typical Swedish, folk sound. Interesting for all who like Swedish traditional (fiddler) music. A great debut album, nothing more nothing less.
Gisen, Ulvsand & Tullberg is another Swedish trio but with a longer history in Swedish folk music. With roots in bands such as Filarfolket, Trio Mio and Færd, the three musicians bring a lot of experience together in one band. Four traditional pieces in new arrangements and 5 original compositions played in a sober, melodic and passionate way. The recognizable sound of Malmquist his clarinet mixes beautifully with the airy flute sound of Tullberg and the delicate bouzouki sound of Ulvsand and his warm, bit shy vocals. Intriguing how the musicians create a personal style without losing the South-Swedish feeling. Their bit introvert music gets occasionally an ‘early music’ vibe, while at other moments they sound like a modern acoustic trio. Instead of focusing on the dance ability of a tune, they focus on the melody and they do this in such a professional way, right from their heart that this result in a stunning collection of songs and melodies that are of hypnotizing good quality.
© Eelco Schilder
Own Label, 2012
Same as every summer since the 1970s, the 2013 Lorient’s Interceltique Festival took place in this small city located in French Brittany´s southern coast. The ´Celtic’ country which was honoured as the key subject in many of the festival events was the north Spanish region of Asturias (in the summer of 2014, the festival will be dedicated to Ireland). A long list of Asturian bagpipe bands and folk artists such as Hevia, Llan de Cubel, Tuenda, Llariegu, Hector Braga,…. travelled to Lorient. It was in that festival that I had the chance to meet one of the musicians that has been more fruitful in the genesis & leadership of traditional music projects in Asturias: the diatonic accordion performer Xuan Nel Exposito. I mostly remembered him for his work in the legendary band Felpeyu, but Xuan is now involved in a number of different projects like the one that we introduce here. Aire is a band that makes an interesting & beautiful fusion between the traditional Asturian singing and instrument playing (accordion, percussions, gaita bagpipes, flutes,…), and several jazzy arrangements on the piano (Jacobo de Miguel), trumpet (Juan Piedra), sax (Mero Gutiérrez), electric guitar (Moisés Suárez), electric bass guitar (Miguel Uría, Dani Jiménez, Luis Senén Fernández), or drum set (Antón Barquero). This CD is a compilation of 10 traditional songs performed by a very long list of local artists such as the female singers Anabel Santiago, Mapi Quintana and Marta Arbás, the gaiteru Diego Pangua (Felpeyu), Elías Garcia (bouzouki, Llan de Cubel), Merce Santos (gaita rabil / hurdy-gurdy), Ruma Barbero (bodhran), Lisardo Prieto (fiddle), … Some beautiful tunes to recommend: Danzas d’Ambás, the happy Xota Xichón, or the deep Soi de Llangréu with the powerful voice of Anabel Santiago. There is even room for a tango style song, dedicated to the Argentine football player Enzo Ferrero, who played in the team Boca Juniors from Buenos Aires and ended his career in 1985 in the Asturian Sporting de Gijón. ‘Aire’: A rich example of the latest traditional music made in Asturias by some of the top artists from that enchanting land.
© Pío Fernández
Kepa Junkera "Galiza"
Fol Musica/BOA, 2013
Kepa Junkera, the Basque diatonic accordionist that became broadly popular across Spain in the 1990s, keeps working hard in the nowadays volatile field of folk music. It is true that he has been very prolific, and has published as many as 17 CDs, some of them as relevant as Lau Eskutara (1995) with the Portuguese musician Xulio Pereira. But now in 2013, Kepa comes back with a large scope project named ‘Galiza’. Back in 1998 he published the similar project ‘Bilbao 00:00h’ (whose title was a tribute to the record ‘Buenos Aires 00:00h’ from the Argentine bandoneon performer Astor Piazzola), where he was surrounded and inspired by bands and artists from a broad diversity of places, such as: Hedningarna, Xosé-Manuel Budiño, Carlos Núñez, Bela Fleck, Alasdair Fraser, Liam O’Flynn Paddy Moloney, La Boouttine Souriante,… . This time, instead of aiming for such an ambitious multicultural panorama, Kepa has centered the focus on the fusion of the music from his homeland Euskadi (Basque Country), with the traditions from another region in the northern coast of Spain: Galicia. Along his career, Kepa has been a frequent companion in the projects of several Galician artists, many of them gaita bagpipers: Carlos Núñez, Xosé-Manuel Budiño, Susana Seivane,… In this CD ‘Galiza’, he has joined an endless list of talented & acknowledged Galician guests : Cristina Pato, Emilio & Daniel do Pando, Budiño, Banda Das Crechas, Leilía, Luar Na Lubre, A Central Folque, Davide Salvado, Treixadura, Susana Seivane, Radio Cos, Xabier Díaz & Adufeiras de Salitre, Pandereteiros de O Fiadeiro, Os Cempés, SonDeSeu, Uxía, Ceo de Sil & Centro Galego de Barakaldo & Alberte Sanmartín, Manuel Pazos de Merexo, … ‘Galiza’ is published as an almost 60 page book with 2 CDs, and colorful drawings, pictures & collages that illustrate many aspects of the Galician musical tradition of the last century. There are truly remarkable songs, such as the introducing alalá in the beginning of CD-1, the medley of Galician & Basque tunes with the band Treixadura, or those with Os Cempes, the orchestra Sondeseu, Uxía, … A great album and a magnificent tribute from a truly creative Basque musician to the land that is Spain’s main referential when thinking of traditional & folk music: Galicia.
© Pío Fernández
Korrontzi "Tradition 2.1"
Baga-Biga Musika Ideiak, 2013
Around 2008 – 2011, the Basque band Korrontzi started to become more popular in the folk music scene across Spain.
Now in 2013 they come back with this huge project ‘Tradition 2.1’ : CD (17 songs) + DVD (2 music videos), with the largest list of guest artists that I have ever found so far. More than 35, with names such as : Michael McGoldrick (Irish pipes & traverse flute), Phil Cunningham (accordion), Eliseo Parra (lyrics), Jesús ‘Celtas Cortos’ Cifuentes (lyrics), Ibon Koteron (alboka), Eoghan Neff (fiddle), Susana Seivane (Galician gaita), José Manuel Tejedor (Asturian gaita), Diego Galaz (fiddle), Justin Vali (valiha, lyrics), Javier Limón (flamenco guitar), Ricardo Tessi (diatonic accordion),…… Korrontzi’s tenacious leader Agus Barandiarán and his crew work focused and open minded in this project aiming to fuse the Basque music and its traditional trikitixa (diatonic accordion), txalaparta (kind of large size xilophone), alboka (hornpipe),…. playing together with instruments and traditional tunes from diverse places. For example: with Javier Limon’s flamenco guitar playing ‘La Foule’ (Édith Piaf’s version of a popular Argentine waltz), with the Sardinian singer Peppeloisu Piras & the Tenores di Neoneli together with Susana Seivane, Luis Peixoto (hurdy-gurdy) and Naseem Alatrash (cellos), or with Fernando Barroso (bouzouki) & Eoghan Neff playing a fusion of Basque and Portuguese polka style rythms. In ‘Parfums de Musiques’, the trikitixa, Justin Vali’s valiha harp from Madagascar, and the violin played by Diego Galaz (La Musgaña, ZooBazar, ….), join a Zimbabwean chorus in a joyful tune of multi-ethnic imprint, and effective in strength & emotion. The two videos in DVD display the other facet of Korrontzi’s music: Its symbiosis with the traditional Basque dance, and its adaptability for modern ballet as proven by Igor Yebra & Oksana Kucheruk (Opéra National de Bordeaux). ‘Tradition 2.1’ is a colorful project, where the soul of the happiest Basque tradition embraces sonorities across the planet, and creates a lively and talented musical family album. Not forgetting that folk music is still for a minority, I still hope that this magnificent project gets the attention of the cultural media, in the broad extent that it unquestionably deserves.
© Pío Fernández
Port City Prophets "Mule"
Own label, 2013
Troy Tolle (guitar), Tim Kirkendall (bass, vocals) and Henry Ancrum (drums) are the Port City Prophets, after three years of touring they recorded their debut album in South Carolina between The Swamp and ancient oak trees.
Most of the 10 self-crafted tracks are accompanied by Bill Nance on keyboards, on “Close your eyes” he adds a funky Soul groove to the intoxicating Blues-rock song. Troy shows some fantastic guitar work on “Jesus saved my soul, but…”, bass and drums create a slow shuffling rhythm and Tim sings the Blues with his powerful voice. “Mule in a one horse town” is an up-Beat Blues-rock and “When the lights go down in St. Louis” captivates the listener with Slide Guitar, brilliant back beat rhythm and piano. But they also play hauntingly beautiful Blues ballads like “Let me breathe”, extended to a nearly 7 minutes track with virtuoso improvisations and soli. The final track, the instrumental “Pluff mud”, is a perfect showcase for the boys to let their instruments get hot.
St. Louis born Tim and his two South Carolina pals present a brilliant studio debut, they are excellent musicians, great songwriters and Tim’s singing is incredible. It is certainly one of my favourite Blues albums in my CD rack.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup
The Two Sisters "Songs & Chansons"
Acoustic Records, 2013
Hilary James (vocals, guitar, double bass, mandobass) from The Mandolinquents met her sister Janet Giraudo (vocals), who lives in France, and they started to sing together as they'd done when they both lived in England. Six years later Simon Mayor (guitar, violin, mandolin, mandola, mandocello, percussion) recorded and produced their debut album with 14 English songs and French chansons.
They start off with "Sea fever", a poem by John Masefield set to a charming ballad accompanied by strings by Mayor. American singer/songwriter Harry Woods wrote "What a little moonlight can do" in 1934, two great voices sing to the up-beat mandolin groove, violin joins in and lead to a breathtaking final. Hilary sings the melancholic French tango "L'auberge au crépuscule" from 1939 with much devotion and Janet adds the beautiful harmony voice. Janet takes the lead on the 1931 evergreen "Dream a little dream of me", her warm and tender singing matches perfectly with Hilary's crystal clear soprano harmony voice. Mayor arranged Vivaldi's Gloria for mandolin, mandola and mandocello, a mesmerizing "Laudamus te". Another highlight is the ragtime "Hot time in the old town tonight" from 1896, breathtaking playing together of Hilary and Simon accompany the jazzy voices. The Provencal carol "Un flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle", originally a dance from the 16th century, and the traditional Scottish ballad "My faithful Johnny" complete the diversified program.
Janet's 10 years young daughter Chloé sings "Dream a little dream of me" herself as a bonus track, that's how great singers pass their passion on. Intrigued? Have a listen!
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup
Sugaray Rayford "Dangerous"
Delta Groove Music, 2013
Sugaray Rayford, singer of The Mannish Boys, teamed up with his band mates Randy Chortkoff (harmonica), Frank Goldwasser (guitars), Jimi Bott (drums) and Willie J. Campbell (electric bass), gathered some of the finest Blues musicians and recorded an album with 14 original and covered songs.
Gino Matteo plays the lead guitar on “Stuck for a buck” (R. Rayford/R. Carter), a brilliant Blues Rock, guest musicians include Fred Kaplan on organ, Ron Dziubla on saxophones and Mark Pender on trumpet. Chortkoff wrote “I’m dangerous”, Sugar Ray Norcia plays the blues harp, Anthony Geraci adds piano and Bill Stuve acoustic bass, Rayford sings the Blues with his powerful voice. “Two times Sugar” by Norcia shows some fine guitar playing by Monster Mike Welch and a passionate duet by the two Sugar Rays. Kaplan on piano, Stuve on acoustic bass and Goldwasser’s virtuoso lead guitar accompany Rayford’s soulful singing on “When it rains it pours” by the late Texas Blues guitarist Pee Wee Crayton. Kim Wilson plays the Blues harp on Chortkoff’s “Goin’ back to Texas”, Goldwasser joins in on slide guitar and Geruti on piano, bass and drums create the slow shuffling pace and Rayford inspires with his great singing. Junior Parker’s “In the dark” is dominated by the horns and Chortkoff’s breath-taking harp playing and on Rayford’s “Need a little more time” Goldwasser plays National Steel Guitar, Chortkoff harmonica and Kid Anderson rhythm guitar, a stunning slow Blues. Goldwasser wrote “Keep her at home”, an intoxicating up-Beat Blues Rock with Big Pete on harmonica, and “Preaching Blues” by the late Eddie Son House is a passionate Gospel Blues with slide guitar and acoustic bass.
Sugaray Rayford is an outstanding Blues singer and together with his friends he recorded a brilliant album, produced by Randy Chortkoff and Jeff Scott Fleenor.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup
Kara Grainger "Shiver & Sigh"
Eclecto Groove Records, 2013
Australia native singer/songwriter Kara Grainger (vocals, guitars) moved 2008 to Los Angeles to record her debut solo album. Now she presents her third album, produced by David Z. Together with a bunch of great musicians she recorded 5 original tracks and six cover versions.
Kara starts off with the twangy sound of the slide guitar driven by the rocking pace of drums, bass and keys, “Little pack of lies” is one of her own songs. The title song was written by Kevin Bowe, Kara’s hauntingly beautiful singing mesmerizes the Country rock ballad. On “I’m not ready” she sings the Blues to intoxicating percussion rhythm and slide guitar, another original song. Other highlights are Robert Johnson’s Delta Blues song “C’mon in my kitchen”, Blues harp, guitar, bass, drums and brilliant singing, and Kara’s “You’re the one”, Soul rock with The Pacific Coast Horns and Kara’s inspired singing and lead guitar. The musical journey ends with a Wayne Perkins song, “Overdue for the Blues”, a solo performance with virtuoso acoustic guitar playing and soulful singing.
Kara’s new album is a perfect showcase for her powerful voice, she sings a brilliant mix of Blues, Rock, Americana, Soul and ballads. Visit her homepage and enjoy!
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup
Chris James & Patrick Rynn "Barrelhouse Stomp"
Earwig Music, 2013
Chris James (vocals, lead guitar, harmonica) and Patrick Rynn (electric bass) are based in San Diego, but their music is rooted in traditional Chicago Blues. For the recordings of their third album they invited a bunch of great Blues musicians, 3 piano players, 3 drummer, 3 saxophone players, as well as an additional guitar and harmonica player.
They start off with an intoxicating original song, "Goodbye, later for you", Rob Stone on harmonica, David Maxwell on piano and Willie Hayes on drums accompany them on this brilliant Blues. Rynn steps out with a driving bass solo on "Just another kick in the teeth", Jody Williams adds a great lead guitar and 3 tenor saxophones, Eddie Shaw, Johnny Viau and Robert W. Johnson, create the Soul groove. "Messin' with white lightnin'" is an instrumental up-beat Jive introducing Aaron Moore on piano and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith on drums and on "It always can be worse" James plays an inspiring blues harp. They also added some great cover versions, Robert "Nighthawk" McCollum wrote "Take it easy", a tribute to Pinetop Perkins, Rock'n'roll at a breakneck pace and fine piano groove by Maxwell. Finally they close the sessions with "Last call Woogie", Henry Gray plays the Boogie Woogie piano, Eddie Kobek takes the drum sticks and the vigorous brass sound rounds it up.
James has a powerful Blues voice and is an exceptional guitar player, now add Rynn's driving bass work and the first class guest musicians and you get an awesome Blues album.
© Adolf „gorhand“ Goriup
The High Bar Gang "Lost & Undone"
True North Records, 2013
Diana Jones "Museum of Appalachia Recordings"
Proper Music, 2013
A few country/bluegrass and sort like albums, starting with The High Bar Gang. This Canadian band released their debut album a few months ago called Lost & Undone, three years after their official birth as a band. In these three years they concurred a steady place in the Canadian roots scene and gained popularity by day. If you like pure, bit raw soulful bluegrass rooted music, this is your album. Mixed with a great gospel sound, the band plays straight form the heart in a warm and contagious way. I like the way they kept the unpolished sound of the music, sounding like it’s sung in a small chapel or during a country side meeting, but also sound professional and perfectly in balance. Not suitable for the ones who like mainstream country/bluegrass influenced pop music. Great for those who like the more authentic sound in a modern performance.
From Canada to the Appalachian with Diana Jones. On her latest album called Museum of Appalachia Recordings Jones sings eleven newly written songs inspired by the tradition of the Appalachian music. Jones did an impressive job here. The songs have indeed the beauty of this intriguing tradition, but also sound like pure, modern singer-songwriter songs that have a timeless character. Together with a fine group of fellow (old time) musicians she surprises with a fragile, beautiful song like Sparrow which indeed feels like an old country side ballad, fabulously sung. Or what about Goldmine in which she sings like a both vulnerable and strong person, if that makes any sense. It´s the best English way to express what I can think of. With this new album Jones impresses and proofs to be a shining star in the world of tradition influenced singer/songwriters.
© Eelco Schilder