FolkWorld #75 07/2021

CD Reviews

Basco feat. Jullie Hjetland "Ræk mig Faklen"
GO' Folk, 2021

German CD Review

Artist Video

www.bascoband.com
www.julliehjetland.dk

A Danish band with Scottish frontman and a Danish-Norwegian singer seems to promise a lot of mixtures, and musically this is exactly what we get. We can hear Danish musical traditions, Norwegian singing styles, many times Scottish rhythms in the background, elements which are not that easy to define and even loans from Oriental music. The link between them all is formed by the subject: European ballad contents in Danish (and Swedish and Norwegian dress). It starts with a Danish variant of Child ballad „Prince Heathen“, where the bold knight has to realize that the fair maiden cannot be won with brutal force. We meet (not so) wild watermen, the deed which nowadays sometime euphemistically is labelled „honour killing“, blood, passion, revenge. An album full of action, so to speak. Revenge should be wrought on whoever is the culpit behind the booklet, (a name is not to be found) – to design such an illegible lay-out is almost an amazing feat in itself.
© Gabriele Haefs


Basco & Julie Hjetland "Ræk mig Faklen"
GO Danish Folk Music, 2021

Artist Video

www.bascoband.com
www.julliehjetland.dk

Based in Denmark but with a very eclectic approach to their music, Basco are an instrumental quartet combining fiddles, fretted strings, accordion and trombone. On this album they add vocals from Jullie Hjetland on nine tracks, with rich arrangements for songs old and new, all pretty grim, although in Danish it's hard to tell. Hjetland sings strongly and sweetly about drunken lovers, dangerous beasts, betrayal, murder, and some surprisingly hard-hearted women: standard fare for folk songs perhaps, and very easy on the ear, while Basco weave their way around and between her words.
The five instrumental tracks here are almost all under a minute: the dreamy Det var en Julemorgen, the catchy but brief Vid Havets Kant, the lute-like Lindetræet, and the almost sacred De Høvre Nykien på Havets Skrei which really serves as a prelude to the final song in which the singer Heimo is coveted by a sea monster who frightens away all the guests from the feast, but Heimo stabs him in the heart and leaves him for the dogs and ravens, as you would. The only longer instrumental track, Old Granny Asta's Clock, is a gentle piece quite out of character with the blood and mayhem in these songs. All good clean family fun, with a pleasing body count by folk club standards, Ræk mig Faklen is pleasant enough unless you read the Danish and English lyrics in the accompanying booklet.
© Alex Monaghan


Teyr "Estren"
Sleight of Hand Records, 2021

German CD Review

Artist Audio

Artist Video

www.teyr.co.uk

Teyr, the name of this trio is Cornish and means „3“, in the female version, the Celtic languages are very strict in this way, have a new CD with the lovely Cornish title Estren (meaning stranger, in the masculine noun) – and once we’re finished rejoycing about the Cornish words and start listening with concentration, there is only one possible reaction: Enthusiasm! Which surely will appear even if you don’t know any Cornish. The trio’s love belongs to Cornwall and their language and culture, but Teyr sing mainly in English. We can listen to a merry mixture of songs and instrumentals, the latter clearly show international influences: Basque, Spanish, Finnish and are adaped to the unmistakeable style of Teyr. A wonderful addition is guest singer Ruth Cory with an unusual verson of „The female drummer“, not the wellknown melody, and she makes this ballad into a fascinating anti-war song. Simply great, this Estren!
© Gabriele Haefs


Teyr "Estren"
Sleight of Hand Records, 2021

German CD Review

Artist Audio

Artist Video

www.teyr.co.uk

It’s been a long while since the debut album of Celtic trio Teyr - “Far from the tree” was released five years ago. The trademark powerful and evocative raw live sound has survived into their new offering, “Estren”, with uilleann pipes (Dominic Henderson), fiddle and guitar (James Patrick Gavin) and accordion (Tommie Black-Roff). While the sound of Teyr is still what we have known, change has been ever present to the trio - the members of originally London based trio have over those years not only produced their own albums but also relocated to the Nordic countries. And indeed there is a bit of “Nordic noir” and Nordic trad flair in these primarily new and Irish/British trad based compositions. A mix of strong and engaging tunes, soundscapes and songs (featuring English and Cornish language), creatively blending the sounds of their instruments, show that Teyr are on top form. And whilst the album hosts a wealth of guest musicians of the British folk and world scene, this album has very much a Teyr trio sound.
© Michael Moll


Honey and the Bear "Journey Through the Roke"
Own label, 2021

Article: Songs of Suffolk… and Survival

www.honeyandthebear.co.uk

“Honey and the Bear” are the English folk duo of Jon and Lucy Hart. Their second album, recorded between the 2020 Covid lockdowns, features impressive contemporary folk ballads that often draw inspiration from their home county of Suffolk in East Anglia: songs about heroes of today and days gone by, local folklore, as well as songs related to the couple’s passion for nature. The songs are beautifully arranged, featuring tight vocal harmonies of the duo, and their instruments - double bass, guitars, banjo, mandolin, bazouki. With the addition of some splendid contributions of guest musicians: Toby Shaer (whistles, harmonium, flute, fiddle, bass), Evan Carson (drums, bodhran, percussion), Archie Churchill Moss (melodeon) and Graham Coe (cello)- the album has an exciting contemporary folk sound.
But it is the song lyrics and their stories that really stand out and showcase the best of contemporary folk songwriting. We hear about a woman who was part of three major shipping disasters (including the Titanic) (and in the end settled down in Suffolk); about early Suffolk industries - the tide mill and the Garrett works in Leiston; and (more going a bit more global) a tribute to Sir David Attenborough,. My highlight of the album is “Freddie Cooper” - a song about one of the rescue missions of the RNLI lifeboat in Aldeburgh - a dramatic tribute to all the RNLI heroes. Suffolk is ever so present in their songs, giving the album a wonderful local anchor – given that (other than a certain song about a Castle on a hill by a rather well-known singer) there are not many contemporary songs about this special county, Honey and the Bear are just the perfect Suffolk ambassadors.
Catch them if you can in live. Alternatively, you could always watch out for one of their Facebook live streams - during the long Covid period without concerts, their weekly livestreams have become a bit of an institution, and I understand that more livestreams are planned in the future even with restrictions being lifted.
© Michael Moll


Thommy Wahlström "Låtar på sopransaxofon"
Krex Records, 2020

www.thommywahlstrom.se

The title of the album says it all - Swedish tunes played on the soprano saxophone. Solo saxophone throughout: playing traditional polskas and “vall låtar” (herd songs) as well as a few new compositions, all in the purest of interpretation. The album has a hauntingly beautiful and often melancholic flair. The album was recorded in an old water mill in Swedish forests, without electricity - and this simplicity and live approach and the setting gives the music additional magic.
© Michael Moll


Himla "Himla"
Go Folk, 2021

Artist Video

facebook.com/...

Himla is a Danish-Norwegian project of singer/ songwriter Adine Fliid (DK/NO), cellist Oda Dyrnes (NO), and clarinetist Siri Iversen (DK). According to the sleeve notes, the project draws primarily inspiration from pop music, but the result is in my view far removed from pop music - it’s an elegant blend of Scandinavian folk, Scandinavian jazz (the kind of style of Lisa Ekdahl) and chamber music. The three musicians create an intimate and creative soundscape; the free flowing arrangements around vocals, clarinet/bass clarinet and cello create an impressive sound. An album that has melancholy but equally the lightness of summer.
© Michael Moll


Ar Vro Bagan "War hent Youenn Gwernig"
Paker Prod, 2020

Artist Video

www.arvrobagan.bzh

The Breton theatre company Ar Vro Bagan celebrates on their album the music of late Breton musician, singer/songwriter, poet and sculptor Youenn Gwernig; the album featuring the music and songs from the theatre production of the same name. Featuring accordion, double bass and guitar, as well as three singers (male and female), the music is beautifully presented. The songs, as far as I can make out from the French and Breton sleeve notes, are about Breton identity, and draw on Breton music traditions. Yet, perhaps reflecting the songwriter’s time as an ex-pat in the US in the 1950s/60s, there is some influence of jazz/cabaret of the time, and indeed one of the songs is in English language.
While this may primarily be the musical souvenir of a theatre production, this album can easily stand up as a standalone quality folk album.
© Michael Moll


Ray Cooper "Land of heroes"
Westpark Music, 2021

Artist Video

www.raycooper.org

A superb album of primarily new songs by singer/songwriter/multi instrumentalist Ray Cooper. Probably best known as former cellist of the Oysterband (until 2013) -and also known as Chopper - Ray proves with his latest album that he is a man of many talents - as gifted songwriter, tunesmith, cellist, guitarist, pianist, mandolinist, kantele player. Having been based in Sweden for a while, the Brit used last year’s lockdown as an opportunity to have a “lock-in” in a remote Swedish wooden hut, fully focussing on writing new material. The result is impressive. Songs about today, with meaningful and powerful lyrics - “Eyes of mercy”, as a tribute to hospital nurses, takes the perspective of an inpatient in hospital; “Whistleblower” talks about journalists and the risks associated with whistleblowing, “The Beast” is a pessimistic reflection on how humankind does not learn from the past, and the final song on the album praises “dark sky parks”. Two songs reflect on death - “Circles” is a warm tribute to a close friend of Ray’s who passed away recently, and “Dark Father” reflects on a quote from Mark Twain - that death gets us back to what we have been billions of years before we were born.
The album is rounded off by a couple of beautiful instrumentals, including a solo cello tune. The earthy sound of the cello is often the distinctive backbone of the music, with most songs having a full contemporary band sound – with all instruments played in by Ray himself.
A top recommendation.
© Michael Moll


Dagadana "Tobie"
Own label, 2021

Artist Video

www.dagadana.pl

A colourful band from Poland and Ukraine - colourful both musically and in their outfits. Dagadana plays largely traditional Polish and Ukrainian songs in a fascinating blend of trad, jazz, electronica, tribal and world music. Each song finds its own style, often featuring mesmerising chants: You hear trance-inducing tribal sounds, followed by more contemporary tracks perhaps with a (pleasant!) touch of Eurovision, then songs with modern jazz flair featuring brass instruments, yet others are much more aligned to the traditional interpretation of the songs: such as the lively “Hej leluja” or the paired back (nearly a Capella) “Hola hola”. An inspired, fascinating and highly entertaining album.
© Michael Moll


Valkyrien Allstars "Slutte og byne"
Grappa/Heilo, 2020

Artist Video

www.valkyrien.live

This Norwegian quartet is centred around two hardingfeles and the Norwegian songs written and sung by Tuva Livsdotter Syvertson(who herself plays one of the feles). The songs have a contemporary backing of drums, double bass and synth. Based on Norwegian folk traditions, the Allstars take a free interpretation to their musical heritage and respectfully blend them with rock, pop and a dose of world music. The result is an appealing modern take on Norwegian folk.
© Michael Moll


Lune Bleu Trio "The other road"
Klam Records, 2021

Artist Video

www.clotildetrouillaud.com

The Blue Moon trio takes us into a fascinating and engaging sound landscape in a musical world where music styles do not matter, as the sounds freely move from folk to jazz improvisation, then maybe to rock and film music, and onwards to world music and tango. Central to the trio is the lever harp, played Clotilde Trouillard who also composed the music on the album. Imaginative guitar playing (Erwan Berenguer) and drums (Jean-Marie Stephant) take the harp music to ever new horizons. How exciting music this is - groovy, rhythmic, melodic and unique.
© Michael Moll


BmB "Ge vindt wel een taal"
Own label, 2021

www.bmbfolk.nl

The debut album of this Dutch trio directly sets a high standard of melodic and lively ”balfolk” music and song. There is a strong Breton/French influence to this Dutch balfolk music, with a number of French traditional songs (including an excellent version of the Malicorne classic “Prince de l’Orange”) sitting alongside Dutch songs. All songs and tunes on the album are danceable (and the sleeve notes indicate the dances). With accordion, bagpipes/recorder and guitar, plus vocal harmonies, BmB’s sound is perfect both for listening and to dance along to.
© Michael Moll


La Talvera "A tu vai"
Own label, 2020

Artist Video

www.talvera.org

La Talvera are the most important stalwarts of traditional Occitan music, looking to keep alive the traditions of this ancient language found in Southern France – and having pursued this goal already since 1979. While for many years, the band produced more or less annually a new album, it apprears that it took them this time six years since their previous La Talvera album. The recipe of the music remains the same – rooted in music traditions, the band is looking to take the music into the future. Main features of La Talvera are the intense female vocals, the high pitched pifre, oboe and bagpipes, combined with accordion, drums, violin and clarinet/saxophone. The music is lively and happy, and brings across the atmosphere of a Southern village fair.
© Michael Moll


Gnoss "the light of the moon"
Own label, 2021

Article: The Light of the Moon

German CD Review

www.gnossmusic.com

Gnoss, one of the shining new stars on the Scottish folk scene, impress once again on their second album “The light of the moon”. Originally an Orkney duo of Aidan Moodie (vocals, guitar) and fiddler/mandolinist Graham Rorie (whose brilliant solo project is reviewed elsewhere in this issue), the band has long evolved into today’s quartet, with the addition of Perthshire flautist/Whistler Connor Sinclair and Clackmannanshire’s Craig Baxter on bodhran and percussion.
The new album has been for me one of those albums which sounds good on first listening but further grows on you after repeated listening - quickly rising into the “superb” category. The tunes, largely original ones by Graham Rorie, have the already very distinctive Gnoss sound: Built on Orcadian and Scottish trad, they often having an atmospheric and cinematic magic, creating images in the listeners mind - frequently building up from more atmospheric to upbeat energetic sections. The songs are equally impressive - penned by Aidan Moodie, they are lyrical and arranged in a highly appealing contemporary folk style.
Some of the tunes were used as sound track to this year’s virtual Orkney Folk Festival which makes the album also a lovely reminder of one of the best virtual festivals of the lockdown period.
A real favourite album that I happily listen to on repeat…
© Michael Moll


Gnoss "The Light of the Moon"
Blackfly Records, 2021

Graham Rorie "The Orcadians of Hudson Bay"
Rumley Sounds, 2021

Article: The Light of the Moon

German CD Review

www.gnossmusic.com

Orkney music has never had the attention in the folk world that is lavished on Shetland or Cape Breton or the Outer Hebrides - most folkies would struggle to name more than three Orcadian artists - yet this is another island tradition, distinctive, on the edge, and Gnoss is probably the finest example of Orkney's current folk music. They're young still, steeped in tradition but writing their own songs and tunes, and this second album confirms them as a musical force to be reckoned with. The exceptional instrumental talents of Graham Rorie and Connor Sinclair on fiddly and flutey things respectively are matched by the accompaniment and creative skills of singer-guitarist Aidan Moodie and drummer Craig Baxter. Moodie and Rorie brought their island influences to Glasgow, enlisting Sinclair and Baxter from central Scotland but retaining that accent of Drever, Wrigley, saltfish and whisky which is unique to Orkney.
The Light of the Moon presents four songs by Moodie and eight new instrumentals by Rorie and Sinclair. Don't forget the vital contribution of Baxter's bodhrán - he's a big part of Gnoss' live performances, and drives every track here, gentle or gritty, together with guest James Lindsay on upright bass. The front line has that dour Drever way with words, not a cheery song to be found, but melodies that tug at a smile, words that smooth a frown. Honey Dew, The River, Cold Clay - all the charms of nature are here, and the fickle nature of humans. The tunes tell a more upbeat tale, of friends and home and young love, good times and bad puns and new experiences. Reels and jigs, the obligatory 7/8 rhythm, airy melodies with space to breathe, one or two high-energy party pieces: I particularly liked Gordon's, Adelaide's and That's Me, but they're all good and this CD is over all too soon. Round we go again - another cycle for The Light of the Moon.

Article: The Orcadians of Hudson Bay

German CD Review

www.grahamrorie.com

Inspired by the fascinating history of Orkney migrant workers, this collection of new music from Gnoss fiddler Graham Rorie captures many moods and moments in an epic journey from his native islands to the frozen north of Canada. The 18th and 19th centuries saw large-scale migration from Orkney, much of it facilitated by the Hudson's Bay Company which at one time was almost 80% staffed by Orcadians.
Rorie's research and composition concentrates on the characters and locations of this period. John Rae, the man who finally discovered the North West Passage and should have sparked a re-write of the song Lord Franklin, gets a growling reel for his Arctic outpost Fort Hope and an air for his Inuit nickname Aglooka meaning Strider in recognition of his long Orcadian legs. Isobel marks a sadder tale, a woman who disguised her sex and worked like any man for two years but was shunned when the deception was discovered. Red River springs from the story of Andrew Bannatyne, a trader and politician involved in the evolution of Canada in the late 19th century: he gets a stirring strathspey and a springy reel for his part. The Haven and The Last Calling Port honour the Stromness end of this transatlantic connection, a place of opportunity but also sadness and loss.
The Mouth of the Hudson Strait and particularly the final reel Giving Back have a stronger Canadian character, in recognition perhaps of the lasting impact this period had on both Canada and Orkney. There is another side to this story, of how Orkney fiddle music was adopted by the Cree nation and became part of their culture, along with many Cree with Orkney names from those who fathered Canadian children or even stayed in Canada. There's a fascinating film about the rediscovery of this music, and the concerts in Orkney where the Cree fiddlers performed in the 1970s - but that's for another album, perhaps with Graham Rorie and his excellent band of Kristan Harvey, Signy Jakobsdottir, James Lindsay, Padruig Morrison and Rory Matheson.
© Alex Monaghan


Graham Rorie "The Orcadians of Hudson Bay"
Own label, 2021

Article: The Orcadians of Hudson Bay

German CD Review

www.grahamrorie.com

This impressive musical folk music suite by Orkney fiddler and composer Graham Rorie (of Gnoss) is inspired by the story of all those Orcadians who joined the Hudson Bay Company in the 18th and 19th century, looking to find new fortunes in Canada. Graham researched this rich Orcadian history during his studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and then wrote the music inspired by those stories. Premiered at Celtic Connections Festival 2020, I was fortunate to watch the album launch concert, held virtually at the online 2021 Orkney Folk Festival (a hugely enjoyable weekend). At the concert, Graham told the story to the music which added a fascinating historical insight to understand the musical suite. Listening to the album on its own though, you may need a lot of imagination to draw from the music the history that inspired it - but no matter, it is simply beautiful music. Perfectly played by Graham and a top cast of musicians - James Lindsay (bass), Kristan Harvey (fiddle), Párduig Morrison (accordion), Rory matheson (piano) and Signy Jakobsdottir (drums and percussion) - this is Orkney music at its finest.
© Michael Moll


Helen Gentile & Lewis Wood "Alors, On Danse!"
Own Label, 2020

Artist Audio

www.gentileandwood.wordpress.com

Two musicians leading double lives: Lewis Wood is the fiddler in Granny's Attic, but when he gets out he likes to play for European dances, while Helen Gentile wields her clarinet in bands somewhere between Edward II and Little Richard, occasionally coming down from the throne to breathe life into a balfolk. Together they operate under the name "Helen Gentile & Lewis Wood", and this is their debut album, recorded in the confines of a 2020 lockdown with the thinly-veiled excuse of having to do a livestream concert. It's brilliant, inspired, full of great tunes and fully equipped with authentic floor percussion and random house noises - possibly penguins. It's also probably quite cheap, available on bandcamp, and likely to lead to great things so get in early!
That's my verdict - now for the charge sheet. Starting with two great scottisches from Blowzabella stalwarts Andy Cutting and Grégory Jolivet, the duo are also guilty of an achingly beautiful arrangement of the Finnish/Estonian waltz Metsakukkia (often known as Woodland Flowers), a driving Trip to Barnard with no political agenda, and a trio of Swedish tunes which certainly get the feet tapping. Helen and Lewis would like their luscious performance of Johsefins Dopvals to be taken into consideration, technically another Swedish tune but aggravated with chalumeau, as well as a pair of new bourrées by Helen, a fresh mazurka and a Breton hanter dro. To sum up, three lively scottisches are served consecutively: Wood and Gentile take responsibility for two of them, but the third is the work of Jolivet again. If you see this duo, approach with caution and hand over enough cash to buy their album - and if they invite you to dance, we suggest you comply!
© Alex Monaghan


Ciara McElholm "Amergin Fire"
Copperplate, 2020

Artist Audio

www.ciaramcelholm.com

If you enjoyed Shaun Davey's Brendan Voyage, Máire Breatnach's Branohm or Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin's Between Worlds, then you may well like this recording of Irish-classical crossover compositions. Violinist Ciara McElholm has taken inspiration from old Norse sagas, Irish legends and even the 2020 pandemic to compose a suite of music for strings, piano, bodhrán, and of course pipes. Some traditional melodies stray into the mix, but mostly these are new themes and variations, including three vocal numbers. There's not much in the way of new tunes for the Irish tradition - nothing for the people to hum, as Tom Lehrer put it. Instead, there is material here for the concert hall, and perhaps for the stage.
Full disclosure - I've just finished watching Game of Thrones for the second time - but much of Amergin Fire seems to me more like a film score than a folk album. I can see this CD fitting somewhere between Braveheart and The Wind that Shakes the Barley - although chronologically it's almost all done and dusted well before Wallace appeared in the 13th century. There are some exceptions - Planxty Alice & Wilf for example, a piece for a niece, following the trend of Planxty Joe Burke and Planxty Crockery. The rest of Amergin Fire is pleasant listening rather than toe-tapping, evoking the mists of early folk tales before our traditions were formed, a setting rather than a story.
© Alex Monaghan


Andries Boone "T.I.M.E.L.A.P.S.E"
Trad Records, 2021

www.andriesboone.com

A short and intriguing album featuring the accordina, a very rare instrument similar to the button accordion but mouth-blown, T.I.M.E.L.A.P.S.E follows on from Boone's previous experimental compositions. This recording tries to capture times of day - starting with SUNRISE and running through to 2 AM, not unreasonable for a musician during winter lockdown. Other tracks include MIDDAY, EARLY SUNSET, MIDNIGHT and other specific times to mark off the day in nine pieces or moods.
The music, on piano and mandolin and a couple of other instruments as well as the accordina, takes familiar forms from northern European folk music with a few more contemporary touches. SUNRISE veers from lounge jazz to something more like a Spanish alborada. 10 AM reminds me of a French dance, a bransle perhaps, while 2 PM is a slow waltz, ready or not. Things liven up at night to some extent, but the mood is still quite relaxed through a quicker waltz and an intermittent tango, before the final slow promenade to bed. Nothing startling, but the sweet gentle sound of the accordina is worth hearing, and T.I.M.E.L.A.P.S.E is a pleasant half hour as well as an interesting concept album.
© Alex Monaghan


Lisa Ward "Utopia"
Own Label, 2021

Artist Audio

www.lisawardmusic.com

A short second album from this fine Leitrim fiddler, a little under half an hour, but every minute of Utopia is a delight. Miss Ward has mastered a style which is both rhythmic and lyrical, gritty in the Scots or Ulster fashion, yet light and airy in a more Connemara mood. The jig Come Now or Stay has a relaxed playful tone, while the old reel Paddy Ryan's Dream reminds me of Tommy Peoples with its crunchy bowing and easy double stops. While the title tune is Lisa's own composition, the rest of this album draws on the tradition and on compositions by Leitrim greats Charlie Lennon and Joe Liddy, as well as Paddy Fahey and others. Reels, jigs, hornpipes and one slow air are beautifully handled on true solo fiddle.
Many pieces here have apparently not been commercially recorded before, and certainly they are unfamiliar. The Aghacashel, Damn Me But, The Ironworks, The Impish Hornpipe and others are new and enticing, rarely if ever heard before. The Drogheda Lasses, Dog Big and Dog Little, The Fiddlers' Contest and a lovely pair of slip jigs including one I know as Brose and Butter are sweetly played with style and precision. Every note is carefully placed, every ornament perfectly executed, and the timing brings each melody to life. With its clarity and openness, Utopia is a masterclass in Irish fiddling: I'm not qualified to say whether it is representative of the Leitrim style, but it's certainly a style worth emulating. The final Castle Jig is an excellent example, a well-known and oft-recorded tune given a fresh and compelling interpretation here, at the point where you realise that Lisa Ward's fiddle has filled a whole album without a whisper of accompaniment.
© Alex Monaghan


Paul Hutchinson "Petrichor"
Own Label, 2021

Artist Video

www.paulhutchinsonmusic.co.uk

English piano accordion from one half of Belshazzar's Feast,[40] Petrichor is as earthy as its name suggests. The style ranges from the contemporary 5/4 of the title track to the Playford-like formality of Cuckoo Lamb. All the pieces here are Hutchinson originals, with parts played by a cast of characters from around the globe, including three full bands: Våsen from Sweden, Naragonia from Belgium, and Sheepstealers from the UK (Hampshire in fact, surprisingly). There are forays into classical and country, Klezmer and gypsy jazz, but that solid English folk hawser runs throughout.
The notes on each track are informative and interesting, pointing out inspiration and intention. It would be wrong not to mention one unfortunate reference, describing a white settler as "the first American woman to be born and raised to maturity West of the Rocky mountains" [sic] - were the many thousands of indigenous women not American, then? This may just be sloppy writing, or sloppy thinking, but it needs to be pointed out and corrected. Partial atonement is provided by the final Minicab Road, a mocking anagram on which all the contributing musicians play their part, well over a dozen voices raised in European union to end a very English and outward-looking album.
© Alex Monaghan


Duncan Lyall "Milestone"
Red Deer Records, 2021

Artist Audio

www.duncanlyall.com

The man behind the bun behind the bass - Duncan Lyall is normally to the side, or in the shadows, working his magic at the lower end of the mix, down in the dirty groove - but not on Milestone. Here he is front and centre, composer, arranger, performer, producer. Lyall's synth sounds are the backbone of six sizable pieces, fleshed out by the fabulous talents of his Glasgow buddies: Patsy Reid, Lori Watson, Jarlath Henderson, Angus Lyon and more. From his history with Croft Number Five, Treacherous Orchestra, Kate Rusby and Damien O'Kane and more, you would expect great things - and you wouldn't be disappointed. Surprised perhaps, but generally in a good way: this album ranges far beyond Scottish or even Northern European folk, although much of it is still distinctly Scottish.
The opening keyboard theme put me in mind of Debussy, and that relaxed but controlled mood persists throughout the track, becoming more Celtic (Sibelius perhaps?) but still staying on the classical side of folk, ELP or Bo Hansson creeping in with the synthesiser lines. Barnacarry Bay continues the mix of ambient sounds and synth, with a clear folk thread from low whistle and fiddle, plus a good helping of the electro-punk mayhem associated with Croft and Treacherous music, and a touch of Knopfler-style guitar to hold it all together. Lori Watson's suitably gloomy vocals make the Border ballad Twa Corbies stand out, a web of woven samples supporting her grim words. Then the band kicks in - pipes through a glass of darkness (aren't they always), backing vocals, chorus effects, more keys than you can shake a bunch of keys at - a cheerful madness.
The cover photo reminded me of the unexplained metal obelisk found in Utah in 2020, and there is a lot on Milestone which is unexplained. Much of it seems to have sprung raw from Duncan's mind, and been shaped by his musician friends: the rabbit-inspired Roli with its relatively unprocessed pipes and fiddles, trance-like loops and synth-sax solos, percussion still pounding at the creative forge, or the even more enigmatic Z, born of frustration and formed into a musical scream of passion, demanding to be heard. There's a big sound on every track - not all the way through, as gentle keyboard and strings interject, but this is a heavyweight album, there's so much going on, it's easy to drown in the detail. Coming up for air, I can surf on the final Titans, an island wave that curls and keeps on curling, funky written all over the board as bass riffs and guitar solos slide across the surface. I'm winging it now, I admit, but the music keeps me afloat until the final break, and then the wave is gone with a gentle farewell kiss. Glorious.
© Alex Monaghan


Grosse Isle "The Bonesetter"
Compagnie du Nord, 2021

German CD Review

Artist Video

www.grosse-isle.com

French Canadian fiddle and song meets Irish piping, with the guitar and tapping feet of André Marchand, and a touch of banjo of course! French Canadian fiddler and singer Sophie Lavoie released a duo album Portraits with her Irish partner Fiachra O'Regan, and now that duo has become a trio with the addition of the multi-talented Monsieur Marchand. Curiously, Grosse Isle seems to have a stronger Irish character than the previous duo - maybe Irishness just increases with the size of the band! In any case, there are about four Québécois tracks, four Irish tracks, and the rest are a mélange. The whole album blends both traditions, but the addition of André may allow Fiachra to cut loose on the pipes more, as he does on the storming Hawthorn Hedge jig set which evokes Joe McKenna for me, and on the set of reels which ends with a transatlantic take on Jack the Lad. Elsewhere there's an Irish accent to melodies and accompaniment, and a lovely version of Ned of the Hill as a piping air with piano from Sophie.
This recording is a nice balance between the driving dance music with pipes and fiddle screaming, guitar and feet pounding, and the often more restrained vocal numbers. There are seven songs here, five sung by Sophie and two by André, with the usual folk themes of love, regret, death, and whisky - sometimes more than one in the same tale! Slow sad songs, quick comic songs, and everything in between are delivered by two fine voices, all in French. The words to Sophie's powerful original song of shipwreck and loss À Grosse Isle are given in the sleeve notes: the rest you may have to work out for yourselves. Many of the songs are paired with a tune in the Quebec style, and one of these is also a Lavoie composition, the catchy crooked reel Daniel. In fact there are four of Sophie's creations here, because the two title tunes are also hers: The Bonesetter and Le Bonhomme Sept Heures which is the French title of this album. It's a long story, but an interesting one, and well worth reading when you get a copy of this very enjoyable CD.
© Alex Monaghan


Northern Resonance "Northern Resonance"
Own Label, 2020

Article: The Scandinavian String Trio

www.northernresonance.se

I first saw this trio on a live stream from Stockholm - it's the modern way. Their music is serious and yet highly engaging, their stage pesentation is polished and attractive, and this debut album is already winning great praise. Northern Resonance specialise in sympathetic strings: Petrus Dillner on Swedish nyckelharpa, Jerker Hans-Ers on Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, and Anna Ekborg on viola d'amore. Jerker also fills the bass lines on octave fiddle as needed. Together their ringing sound supports a wide range of contemporary Nordic folk tunes, and one traditional piece, perhaps just to show that this music fits neatly into the old repertoire. A reinlender, a lullaby, polskas, marches and gangars are mixed with some more descriptive pieces, all carefully arranged to take advantage of those resonances.
With several beautifully crafted and decorated instruments on stage, this band is a visual treat as well as a feast for the ears. I strongly recommend seeing their performances, in addition to hearing their album. The sweet pure notes of the nyckelharpa, the weeping strings of the viola d'amore, and the lower tones of the fiddles create a varied soundscape. The emphasis is on tone rather than rhythm or lift - much of this music could be for dancing, but here it is mostly presented for listening. Bowed or plucked, droning or cascading, the notes from this trio can soothe or excite: the driving Hemfärd and Forskarlen, the sleepy Tjönneblomen, the joyful Going To Dalárna. Northern Resonance have achieved a compelling sound, which I'm sure will impress audiences around the world.
© Alex Monaghan


Staran "Staran"
Own Label, 2021

Artist Audio

www.staranmusic.com

A young band and an unusual line-up for a Scottish folk group, Staran deploy guitars, bass, mandolin, keyboards and percussion - plus a fiddler and a vocalist. Their sound is a long way from the country or classical pop world usually associated with these instruments - many tracks consist of intricate piano and guitar lines from John Lowrie and Innes White, and strong melodies are struck on fiddle by Jack Smedley. The singing lead falls to Kim Carnie, three Gaelic songs and one in English. If any or all of these names are new to you, prepare to see them a lot more in future, with Staran or with other groups, because these are definitely some of the stars of the next wave of Scottish musicians. Trusty bassist James Lindsay gets a bit more freedom than usual, and is joined by his Breabach buddy Megan Henderson on guest vocals, both relative oldtimers now - a scary thought!
Enough about the people - how's the sound? Staran open with a traditional Gaelic song which I think translates roughly as Two Hands on the Pipes and is sweetly arranged and sung. An instrumental track follows, a couple of the band's own compositions: Smedley's Deichead made me prick up my ears, as Joe Orton would have said, a fine driving fiddle tune written for someone unspecified. Another gentle Gaelic number brings us to two impressive instrumentals, Lowrie's flowing Einbeck and the thumping Casino by Hallu Kella, another highlight. Mandolin and piano introduce the rippling Little Waves, also from John Lowrie who sparked the formation of Staran. The traditional Gaol a'Chruidh is probably my favourite song here, one of those heart-tugging West Highland melodies arranged in multiple layers with a strong slow beat, to sway to at future festivals I hope! Balcarres is another band original, slow to build but bouncy at the end, reminding me of a late night walk home as the distant lights grow and reflect off the puddles. Staran end on a song by Kim, English lyrics, and finally that Country & Western line-up comes into its own with nods to Tammy Wynette and maybe Garth Brooks. This is a pleasant and quite gentle debut, with plenty of places where the energy could be pumped up - let's see how Staran handle it live.
© Alex Monaghan


Maura O'Connor "It's Handed Down"
Sliabh Luachra Records, 2021

Artist Audio

This short album of concertina music captures the spirit of Sliabh Luachra, that mist-shrouded magical land between Cork, Kerry and Limerick. The area has always been famous for polkas and slides, sometimes at breakneck speed for enthusiastic dancers, and Maura plays four sets of these hallmark tunes here, as well as reels, jigs, and the less well-known flings which are similar to hornpipes or barndances. She also squeezes the lovely Blackbanks Waltz (composed by Maura with Thomas Barrett who joins her on this track) in front of the classic Ceanngulla Polka. Other recent compositions are The Honeymooners by PJ Teahan, and the wonderfully named Dirty Trettles by Francis O'Connor. The other pieces here are all traditional - a local variant of Rakes of Kildare, the sparky Knockaclarig Slide, a quick-fingered rendition of The Girls of Farranfore, and several old favourites. With lovely tone and fluidity from the concertina, backed by Kevin Murphy's mandola, every track is a treasure: not too fast or flash, but with a deep feel for the music, and a joy and warmth which really comes across.
A little bit of background about the label is in order, I think. Sliabh Luachra Records is the brainchild of fiddler Eoin O'Sullivan who was appointed Sliabh Luachra Musician in Residence in 2018. Funded by Irish arts bodies and local councils, this is an initiative to promote the musical culture of a remote region which has been known for its musicians for centuries but which is losing ground to the cities these days. The original idea was for outreach to schools, and working with local groups and festivals, but because of the Covid situation Eoin's efforts have taken a different direction. Thanks to him, there are several nice albums available on the Sliabh Luachra site or through Bandcamp, including Maura's of course.
© Alex Monaghan


Lily Honigberg "Sunrise Summit" [EP]
Lily Honigberg Records, 2021

Artist Video

www.lilyhonigberg.com

This twentysomething US fiddler has done a lot, starting with being born into a very musical family, learning classical violin early but having an eclectic ear, and travelling around Europe to experience the folk traditions. Now based in Massachusetts, and still with one foot firmly in the classical world, her folk debut recording is technically impressive and also convincingly true to the folk idiom. All the material here is her own, and I would not call any of it traditional, but this is absolutely in the top bracket of contemporary folk fiddling. The opening Reunion, featuring Irish American accompanist par excellence John Doyle, is full of fire and excitement, more Americana than Celtic, a great tune and a driving performance.
The next three tracks feature excellent backing and duets on bowed bass from James Heazlewood-Dale. Eleanor starts as a soulful Scandi air, and morphs into a funky almost oldtime breakdown, grinding those low notes and ringing multiple strings, great fun. Reverse Simulacra - perhaps a reference to Arcalumis, a small town in New Mexico - is more modern, more conceptual, more spiky, leading to the title track, a swung jig which reminds me of Jeremy Kittel and Mike Vass, a Scottish feel. The final piece combines James and John - Lily should really have called it Apostles - and is a smooth slow 6/8 in the style of Hayes or Cunningham, bittersweet, beautifully played. One thing that struck me is that there's no fancy bowing, no third and fifth position fingering, nothing that puts this music out of the reach of an ordinary fiddler - but Lily Honigberg is clearly no ordinary fiddler.
© Alex Monaghan


Andrew Finn Magill "Festa!"
Own Label, 2021

German CD Review

Artist Audio

www.andrewfinnmagill.com

It's been a while since I reviewed an album by this North Carolina fiddler, master of many styles Magill's first recording, Roots, showcased his handling of traditional tunes old and new from the wider Irish tradition: his second CD Branches offered ten original compositions drawing on influences from oldtime, bluegrass, African and Brazilian music.[63] Now we have an entire album of Brazilian choro music, the old dance form from before modern Latin and jazz, although those newer styles certainly influence the music here. Choro is reckoned to be based on indigenous music as well as early immigration from Portugal and the coastal areas of north-western Spain, so there's already quite a mixture before you add more recent ingredients, but it's still unique in a few key ways. First, it's essentially dance music - the rhythms and tempos are crucial, and the lift is dramatic. Second, it's relatively simple music - simple melodies, simple instrumentation. Third, it's fun! There's humour in almost every track, and like all good folk music it can be enjoyed by anyone - especially when it's played by the virtuoso musicans on this recording.
These ten tracks are actually all newly composed by Magill in the Rio style, and he is backed by a band of four excellent Brazilian musicians who have surely kept him right on the choro tradition. Festa! sounds quite modern to me - compared with my previous limited exposure to choro through Carlos Nuñez, Chris Stout, and Grupo Falso Baiano - but all traditions evolve. From the almost Mariachi mischief of Cheio de Mordidas to the touches of Bourbon Street in Saxofone na Ilha, there are hints of several traditions here but there's a common choro thread, and not a bad vibe to be found. The sweetness of Chorinho pra Alice and �s Escuras is balanced by the bite of P� Quente and the dramatic Fuga para a Argentina. Nando Duarte does sterling work on strings, keys, bass and percussion, turning this into a real dance band sound, with a little help from three fine guests. Magill caps an excellent album with the frolicsome O Homem Vermelho - if they have kitchen sinks in choro then there's one in this piece, just before the final snippet from Jingle Bells - I suppose the largest Christ statue in the Americas deserves a nod!
© Alex Monaghan


Chad Wolfe "Clogs & Jigs & Reels ... Oh My!"
Own Label, 2020

Artist Audio

www.chadwolfestudio.com

Breathtaking doesn't really cover it. I was on the edge of my seat, heart in mouth, as the notes seemed to cascade from Chad Wolfe's fiddle faster and faster, edging closer to disaster, waiting for him to lose control - and he didn't! Sure-footed in the most treacherous of tunes, this champion dancer and fiddler has found space for sixty great pieces here, all dance music, and all scintillatingly played. You may not go for the sequinned shirts and sparkly fiddle, but you can't fault the technique or the timing, and while the lift may not be what most traditional players are aiming for, it certainly gets the dancers to pick their feet up! This is Ottawa Valley stepdance music, with all the schmalz and razzamatazz a performer can muster, and Chad does it so well.
A sparky selection of tunes from Ireland, Scotland, Canada and the USA includes old favourites and many showpieces, sometimes handled in unusual ways for this dancing, but always impeccably played. Martin Rochford's and The Maids of Castlebar are powerfully delivered, as are The Hurricane and Jenny Dang the Weaver. A silky slow version of The Old Man & Old Woman and a graceful Valse Clog show off the more decorous side of Canadian fiddling. A romp through Reel Béatrice sees Wolfe channelling Sharon Shannon for a couple of tunes, vigorously virtuosic. James Hill hornpipes, oldtime reels, jigs old and new from at least three countries, are arranged in clever medleys, with a bit of flash footwork and backing from a fine five-piece band. The cheese wiz graphics and Frank Baum references don't detract from the music, but you might want to put your green glasses on before you look at the cover. An outstanding and individual album, this is well worth checking out.
© Alex Monaghan


Mats Edén "Alvaleken"
Taragot, 2021

Artist Audio

www.matseden.se

Here's an unusual thing - a digital-only album of new Swedish fiddle music! Well not really an album, but a collection of tracks, available to download online: twenty-three compositions by iconic folk fiddler and accordionist Mats Edén who has written hundreds of tunes. Much of Mats' music is influenced by Norwegian fiddling, so this material spans Scandinavian traditions. All twenty-one tracks were recorded at home, with the wonders of modern technology and Covid isolation, and are crisp and detailed enough for a professional recording, but with little or no post-production. This partly explains the raw sound, but Edén's taste in fiddles also runs to old, unrefined sounds, gut strings, Baroque bows and folk set-ups which produce an older, less sophisticated tone. Much of this is set out in the accompanying booklet which gives a bit of Mats Edén's history, a description of each piece, the fiddles and bows used, and the musical notation.
As you might expect, this is dance music - a dozen polskas, a handful of hallings, a pair of swirling waltzes, two polkas, and a few other forms. Solo fiddle throughout, it is tricky to follow the rhythm at times, but the written music solves any problems. Mats adds the distinctive Norwegian foot-tapping on a few tracks, a mysterious art which is not directly related to the beat of the tune - Annbjørg Lien discusses it in her 2020 thesis at the University of Agder, if you are interested to find out more. While these pieces have all the elements of traditional Scandinavian dance music, they are also unusual in mixing styles and forms across multiple regions: Dalarna, Värmland, and eastern Norway at least. It is also quite unusual to have such prolific composers of new Scandinavian tunes, I think: very few Swedish or Norwegian tradtional composers number their compositions in the hundreds, and even the great Byss-Calle only passed down about sixty tunes. Mats Edén plans to publish a book of over two hundred compositions for fiddle and accordion, so that is something else to look out for!
© Alex Monaghan


Irish Millie "Thirteen"
LaunchPad Records, 2021

www.irishmillie.ca

Not many teenagers get to make a solo album which sounds totally professional. Even fewer can do it when they are just thirteen, and I can't think of any others who have been performing solo Irish fiddle for the world since before they were even a teenager, with a distinctive sound, a unique concert persona, and a fully developed stage act. Irish Millie has all of this, and more - if you haven't met her yet, you are missing out.
From deepest Ontario, Amelia Shadgett has crafted her own world of Irish music, with great support from her parents, particularly her dad Murray who is the indispensable accompaniment and on-stage foil for her stunning performances. Yes there are shamrocks, yes the accent occasionally slips (although the cap never does), and yes there is room for improvement - but you know what, in the twelve months since this CD was recorded the amount of improvement has been remarkable. If you follow Irish Millie, you will quickly see the constant progress, the increasing confidence, the extra strings to her bow as she adds guitar, vocals, more compositions and even a new hat. Thirteen is a polished and impressive album, a huge accomplishment, but already there has been a step change in Millie's music, and this now fourteen-year-old phenomenon is ready for anything just as soon as she can travel!
Playing traditional and contemporary tunes without fear or favour, mixing Scottish, Irish, and home-grown Canadian material, and throwing in over a dozen of her own creations from the soulful Shadgett Waltz to the stomping Sturm und Drang (a German cultural movement from the 1700s), Irish Millie is a stylish and technically superb fiddler. Accompanied by Murray's finely honed guitar and her own hallmark percussion, provided here by Gregory Pastic, Millie thinks nothing of launching into Adam Sutherland's Road to Errogie in B, Natalie MacMaster's equally challenging Volcanic Jig, or full-gallop reels inspired by The East Pointers. Frank's Reel, Father O'Flynn, Trip to Ballyshannon, Lad O'Beirne's - they're all here, all compellingly played, always with a twist or a flourish. Irish Millie's debut album is top class entertainment, consummate showmanship, outstanding musical talent - and she's only just getting started.
© Alex Monaghan


James Lindsay "Torus"
Oir Recordings, 2021

Article: Experimentation Within Folk Music

www.jameslindsaymusic.com

This solo album from Breabach bass-player James Lindsay may not be what you expect - it certainly surprised the stuffing out of me! I hadn't appreciated the breadth of Lindsay's tastes and talents. A visit to his website is an eye-opener, and puts Torus in more context. Combining folk, contemporary jazz, and experimental rock, this is James' second album and takes him further away from the core of Scottish music and perhaps further towards a unique sound. All the material here is his own. His point of departure is the more extreme Celtic folk of current bands like Treacherous Orchestra, Moxie, Lau, Niteworks, The Olllam - or going back to Bongshang, Nightnoise, Nahoo. From there, Lindsay strikes out into the unknown, following clues left by Jarre, Knopfler, Esquivel, and many more that I don't recognise. This is certainly not your typical folk music.
Electronic sounds underpin accordion on the opening track, but soon give way to sax and synths and suchlike. There are enough Scottish elements to keep the tradition in mind, but Lindsay goes far beyond even the most adventurous folk bands. The exuberant sax solos on Lateral Roots, the cool West African jazz sounds of Cycles, even the twisting guitar riffs of The Smiddy are pushing the boundaries of what we think of as folk. James Lindsay plays guitars and keys, and is joined by some familiar names - accordionist Angus Lyon, fiddler Jack Smedley, and the incomparable Signy Jakobsdottir on percussion - as well as a few less familiar ones. There are plenty of gneiss Scotch snaps on Lewisian Complex, a fine evocation of folk customs in the sudden menace of Skekler, and a lovely fiddle line on Observatory, but the lasting impression is of modern music, jazz with a folky edge, more Lounge than Lounge Bar. The final track Holon, which taught me a useful new word, sums up the music here: cool, sparky, with a bit of Scottish and a lot of pure James Lindsay. A Torus is basically a donut of course, so have a bite, see if you like this new flavour.
© Alex Monaghan


Kathryn Locke "La"
Own Label, 2021

www.kathrynlocke.co.uk

Cellist Kathryn Locke's compositions here alternate between the rousing and the restful. In what she terms "Chodompa music", she is assisted by Jo Freya and Sarah Allen on woodwind and brass, Geoff Coombs on mandola, and Jo May on percussion. From the swirling near-eastern melodies of Dervish and Dancing in the Ancient Dirt (is there any other kind?) to the Himalayan resonances of Firebear and When the Heart Roars, this is world music in the sense of embracing a world of sounds and rhythms. There are also some more experimental pieces, innovative cello technique combined with improvisation, balancing on tradition with the ever-present risk of falling. Locke's Lope reminds me of the creative mayhem of Trolska Polska. Kuching is a gentler form of jazz, harking back to the likes of Cauld Blast Orchestra perhaps, but with new elements built on an older foundation. The Price pulls at the heart strings, and Hugger Mugger simply rips them out like a playful tiger. Bewitching and bewildering, impossible to categorise, La is full of fresh takes on tradition - new wine in old bottles, a tasty surprise.
© Alex Monaghan


Stringflip "Stringflip"
GO Danish Folk Music, 2021

Artist Audio

facebook.com/...

A young quartet of string players - but not a string quartet - this band's debut CD combines Swedish, Danish, Irish and Klassisch material on two fiddles, one cello and one cittern. The name of Danish violin/viola player Emma Kragh-Elmøe may be familiar from her album Vandkanten with guitarist Villads Hoffmann. The other three members of Stringflip are new to me - fiddler Sophie Bollen and cellist Veronika Voetmann from Denmark, and Sweden's Albin Sundin. There's a spot of trumpet from guest Malthe Kaptain, but otherwise the gang of four is responsible for all the music here. Not just the performance either: seven of nine tracks are composed by the band members, with everyone contributing, and the remaining two tracks have been assimilated from the Swedish and Danish traditions.
Starting with A Slight Change of Events, a dramatic composition by Emma, Stringflip holds the ear until the final gentle Sønderhoning Fisken Ligger på Hviden Sand. Rich harmonies and rhythmic effects underpin some beautiful melodies. The almost English jig Down to the Docks is paired with a more Celtic tune, gloriously titled Setting to Sail in perfect Sweglish. Voetmann's Ganger is distinctive with its 3/2 rhythm, and Kort Etta is a classic polska full of delicious Nordic foreboding. The rousing Swedish march Skåningen is complemented by Sophie's Schottis 2.0, an urgent night-time scramble, again with that threatening edge. The graceful Marie & Nikolaj, a wedding present I'd wager, offers an island of calm in this storm of resonant strings, folk simplicity tinged with Baroque grandeur, then it's back to driving dance music, growling bass lines and brilliant fiddling from this innovative and appealing foursome.
© Alex Monaghan


Wouter en de Draak "Zonnewachter"
Own Label, 2021

Artist Video

www.wouterkuyper.nl

New old-style Flemish music on accordion and bagpipes mainly, Zonnewachter is surprisingly wide-ranging and very enjoyable. There is very little information available about this duo on the album, online, or indeed anywhere else, but I believe this is not their first album although it's the first time I've really listened to their music. They describe their sound as "Balfolk with emphasis on guitar, a hint of Irish and a taste for Breton music", which seems to fit this CD pretty well. Balfolk, for anyone not familiar with the term, is a Europe-wide melting pot of dance music, largely French and only minimally Celtic, but basically whatever fits for schottisches, bourrées, waltzes, polkas, polskas, mazurkas, marches, gavottes, and even old English dances. Wouter Kuyper plays button box and Flemish pipes, and wrote most of the material here. Guitarist Joris Alblas expertly fills the gaps as accompanist and composer, chipping in on melody from time to time. The pair are joined by guests on flutes, bombarde, high brass and percussion, and of course you can't have Flemish Balfolk without a hurdy-gurdy.
The opening melody Fireflies and Mosquitoes is delightful, bright and dancy, with a bit of bite. There's a strong dance beat throughout Zonnewachter, and each track is marked with the appropriate Balfolk dance. Most tracks are a single tune, but most of the tunes are worth hearing several times and the arrangements are nicely varied. I preferred the faster pieces generally - Scottish Périphérique, and the deceptively simple double-time bourrée Dusgemint - although there's a delicious dark edge to the Breton-sounding Costa Gwad, and the lovely Valse Draque builds to a glorious climax with Spanish or even Mexican fiesta brass. There are several fine Flemish bands on the scene just now, many of them working with the Studio Trad team who mixed this album, so if you like the sound of Wouter en de Draak you should check out Studio Trad on YouTube.
© Alex Monaghan


Adeline "Adeline"
Own Label, 2021

www.adelineoldtime.com

I first encountered this new oldtime quintet through the wonderful Facebook live-stream project Quarantine Happy Hour. That performance was quite similar to this recording - relatively unscripted, full of variety and spontaneity, and seriously impressive. This debut CD was put together in a cabin which conveniently isolated five budding bluegrass/Americana stars for a few days, long enough to get acquainted and bag an album's worth of music. They didn't stint on quantity or quality, and they also came up with a great concept for the CD presentation - like a mini LP, complete with record sleeve, and a bright orange cover with garish blue and yellow around a tufted owl motif. The t-shirts look awesome!
There's music too of course, on fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, mandolin, and the big harmonica. John Showman and Chris Coole lead most tracks - names to conjure with alright - supported by Adrian Gross, Sam Allison and Mark Kilianski. Described as oldtime fiddle tunes, all bar one of these numbers come from the tradition, but the arrangements are fresh and original. Evening Prayer Blues has an almost classical feel before the scratchy hoedown sound of Shelvin' Rock. There's a pleasing light touch to Hickory, a gentle swagger on Poplar Bluff, and an insistent five-wheel drive to Katydid. The more familiar jug-band sound of Josie-O and Battle of Cedar Creek gives way to Garry Harrison's modern classic Red Prairie Dawn at a fair clip. Good ol' tunes keep coming - Stoney Fork learnt from James Bryan, Whitehorse Breakdown from Bill Monroe, and several more before the title track finale. Hot and flash, dark and lonesome, richly rhythmic, this is oldtime in fine form, swinging on the porch, kicking back and kicking ass - or maybe mule.
© Alex Monaghan


Ridge Roberts "Lone Star Fiddler"
Branded Man Records, 2021

Artist Audio

www.ridgeroberts.com

With such a memorable name, this young man was always destined to be a fiddler - or a NASCAR driver - or maybe both. Luckily for us, he chose the competitive fiddle circuit over the race track, and in his teens has won many titles including US Grand Masters and World Championships. Performing lead fiddle with the Western Flyers was curtailed by COVID, leaving time to make this album, an excellent showcase for a competing and concert fiddler - lots of short solo pieces, catchy and varied, from the smooth Kelly Waltz to the Clark Kessinger craziness of Sally Johnson. The fiddling benefits from fine backing by Dennis Crouch on upright bass and Joey McKenzie on guitars - if I had my druthers I'd dial them down just a whisker, but for dancing or broadcast the strong beat is probably perfect.
Hailing from Texas, between the pecans and the walnuts south-west of Fort Worth, I assume Roberts plays in the Texas style but my ear is not experienced enough to tell: there are certainly some dandy breakdowns and rags here, but also pieces such as Paddy on the Turnpike and Big John McNeil which I associate with styles from further north. This is not an overly showy album, but the playing is rock solid throughout and the pure tone and harmonies seem almost effortless. Gardenia Waltz oozes sweetly like honey from the fiddle, Sunnyside is the perfect bright start to the day, Apple Blossom sounds more like a West Virginia tune to me, while Brilliancy has more of that Texas competition vibe. The last few numbers are classics - Lone Star Rag with aching double-stops and funky shuffle-bowing, Lily Dale a country waltz with knobs on, and finally a star-quality oldtime rendition of Sally Goodin. Ridge must be turning eighteen about now, resuming his career as a performer, perhaps continuing his studies, and unless he is seduced by the petrol and burnt rubber of high performance cars, I expect we'll be hearing a lot more of him.
© Alex Monaghan


Nellie Quinn & Chris Meredith "The Greenside Sessions"
Own Label, 2017

www.nelliequinn.com

A Canadian fiddler and a Scottish guitarist, there's not a lot of information on line and the sleeve notes are brief but this pair have produced an attractive album of tunes old and new, with two contemporary songs thrown in. The tunes are definitely the main event, fiddle-led with firm accompaniment: Nellie covers Scottish, Irish, and various Canadian fiddle classics, adding a sweet Danish waltz and three of her own more modern compositions. Moody Meredith originals top and tail the tally here, the dark Humours of Poverty and the enigmatic eMK's, sandwiching a smorgasbord of Brenda Stubbert's, La Fée des Dents, The Humours of Tulla, ’S Iomaidh Rud A’Chunna Mi, Blue Reel, Superfly and more.
Expressive fiddle with strong tone drives Point no Point and Lost in Bulgaria, percussive guitar staying low on the stave and lending a spooky edge to the arrangements. Miranda Rutter's Oak Hill brings a more English taste to the table, contrasting with the strathspey Cutting Bracken and the Québécois Reel d'Issoudun. There's an energy and vitality to every track here which puts a smile on the face and a twitch in the toes. Chris's vocals add variety and a different aspect, but it's the fiddle music that makes this an interesting CD for me. The Greenside Sessions was the product of Nellie's peregrinations around the UK, and she's back home in BC now so expect to see more of her music emerging from that rich Canadian melting-pot. She might even update her website!
© Alex Monaghan



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