Issue 9 5/99

FolkWorld CD Reviews


Gjallarhorn "Ranarop - call of the sea witch"
Finlandia Records Innovator Series/Warner Finland; FINLANDIA0630-19627-2; Playing time: 57.33 min
Although Swedish is the second official language of Finland, only 6 % of the Finns have Swedish as their mother tongue. Still, a strong music tradition of the Swedish-speaking Finns has survived, and Gjallarhorn are a fascinating proof for this. This four-piece has its roots in Ostrobothnia and Uusimaa, and play old traditional songs and tunes from the Swedish-speaking Finns as well as their own compositions.
These young musicians bring excitement and freshness into the old music. Mostly in the centre of the music is the innocent, pretty voice of Jenny Wilhelms, who also plays the fiddle. While Christopher Öhman adds some more Scandinavian flavour with viola, fiddle and mandolin, Jakob Frankenhaeuser gives with his didgeridoo a new, exciting dimension to Swedish music (he also plays mandolin and pecussion). Finally, David Lillkvist and his innovative percussion add a modern feeling, that still is in tune with the tradition. Three of them are studying (folk) music at diverse Scandinavian music schools, so you can expect a high level of musicianship.
Gjallarhorn have been nominated as "festival group" at the Finnish Kaustinen Festival, one of the biggest folk festivals around. This CD secures Gjallarhorn a safe place at the very top of Scandinavian folk music.
Finlandia Records Innovator Series/Warner Finland
Michael Moll

Sari Kaasinen "emo"
Finlandia Records Innovator Series/Warner Finland; FINLANDIA 3984-23073-2; Playing time: 42.36 min
Sari Kaasinen is best known in the folk scene as a long time member of Finland's folk/roots music stars Värttinä, having been their leader for 13 years until 1996. Since then she has started a successful solo carreer; and this is her first solo album.
What we find here is very modern music that is still firmly rooted in Finnish music traditions. All eleven songs on Emo (= Mother) are written by Sari, and are very lyrical, sometimes a bit naive, but always in a strong connection to the old traditions. The recording is not a "real" solo album of the singer and kantele/harmonium player Sari, as many musicians are helping her on as diverse instruments as violin, accordion,organ, drums, percussion, keyboards and programming to create a unique blend of old and new. There are also some great backing vocals, and all in all this recording has a similar feeling as the newer Värttinä stuff, although Sari has found her very own style.
This is an extraordinary album of destinctive Finnish roots music, with modern beats and catchy songs and tunes, full of that special Finnish flavour. A great CD to play to your non-folkie friends to convince them of the magic of folk and roots music; and most of all a firm favourite for yourself!
Finlandia Records Innovator Series/Warner Finland
Michael Moll

Steve Kritzer "Keeper of the Stones"
Label: Swallowtail Music; SK 104; 13 Tracks; Playing Time: 50.11 min
Steve Kritzer started his musical career playing folk music in the sixties, and these roots are still very apparent in his style today. He sings, mostly his own songs, and on this recording accompanies himself on acoustic guitar and mandola. The album was recorded live with a small band consisting of Jim Hoke (tin whistle, soprano sax, clarinet and accordion), Marrianne Ossiel (oboe), Lee Stevens (mandolin and bouzouki) and Mark Prentiss (bass), who add welcome variety to the basic singer-songwriter formula.
Stylistically the album moves in the usual singer-songwriter territory, with slightly bluesy arrangements to a few of the songs. Steve Kritzer's voice and the overall style reminds me of Harvey Andrews, and chances are that people who like one of them will also enjoy the other's work.
Contact Steve Kritzer; Steve Kritzer website
Anja Beinroth

Olla Vogala "Live"
MAP Records; MAP CD 98005; 12 Tracks; Playing Time: 42.28 min
Olla Vogala are a large group of musicians (17 on this recording) from the Belgian city of Ghent, who have developed into a unique roots music orchestra under the musical directorship of Wouter Vandenabeele. The album was recorded live at the Music Academy of Ghent on 26 February 1998, but doesn't sound like a live recording as there is no evidence of any audience being present.
This is a real chameleon of an album. Olla Vogala incorporate musical influences from all over the globe - from jazz to Indian music, from French to Scandinavian sounds, from Dutch to Italian medieval dances. The CD is thus impossible to categorize, and may find it hard to find an audience as it doesn't target any particular market. I'd recommend it to very open-minded people who enjoy jazz and listen to world music mainly for its exotic flair.
Contact Olla Vogala
Anja Beinroth

Pressgang "Movers & Shakers"
Vox Pop; VOX 024; 10 Tracks; Playing Time: 53.45 min
English folkrockers Pressgang are well known as one of the busiest live acts around, touring regularly round Britain and Europe, usually with a bunch of loyal fans in tow. Their gigs are always great fun, and have given many people at festivals their first-ever taste of folk songs and music. So it comes as no surprise that many of their regular audience have long been nagging Pressgang to immortalise one of their performances and release a live album.
Following a change in the band's line-up and the decision to go back to releasing their albums on their own Vox Pop label, apparently the time seemed right to give in to the fans' demands. The album, "Movers & Shakers", is not a document of any one particular gig, but a compilation of highlights from festival appearances in Germany and Italy last summer as well as a concert in San Jose, USA, and one in their hometown of Reading. It includes many of their best-loved songs like "Flanders", "Devil's Away" and a terrific, eight-minute version of "The Brandy of the Damned", also four rocking arrangements of songs from their more mellow last album "Mappa Mundi", and three instrumental sets of stomping accordion-led dance music.
All tracks were recorded in 1998 with the well-established line-up of Damian Clarke (vocals, guitars), George Whitfield (accordion, whistle, vocals), Miranda Sykes (bass, vocals) and Tony Lyons (drums, vocals). Tony has since left the band and been replaced by Maclaine Colston who will add an extra dimension to the music in that he plays dulcimer as well as drums. So here's your final chance to catch the old line-up with their entertaining and thoroughly modern approach to English roots music.
Pressgang are "so confident that this is the record you have all been waiting for" that they are offering it to direct mail order customers on a trial basis at a special price of only £ 10 in the UK until May 31st. This means you can order it and see if you like it, and if you don't, you can return it for a full refund. If you like British folkrock and don't live too far away for postage to be prohibitively expensive, you certainly ought to give it a try: find out more by following one of the links below.
Pressgang website; contact Pressgang
Anja Beinroth

Tarras "Rising"
Magnetic Music (licensed from Topic Records; only for certain countries); MMR CD 1027; 13 Tracks; Playing Time: 47.38 min
Tarras from the Borders region separating England and Scotland caused a bit of a stir when they first hit the roots music scene last year. The first unsigned band to make it onto the cover of Folk Roots Magazine, they were much praised and soon signed to Topic. They also caught the attention of Magnetic Music, who invited them to perform in this year's St. Patrick's Day Celebration tour, introducing them to German audiences with great success.
In the FolkRoots feature, Colin Irwin describes them as "young, gifted, exciting and different". As indeed they are - a border band in every sense, musically as well as geographically. It's a subtle departure from the tradition, though, not a radical one. Where other bands beef up traditional tunes with a full drumkit, Jon Redfern of Tarras uses djembe and congas to create a gentle percussive backbeat. Where other bands add a folk fiddle to their rock songs, Tarras use a classically trained violinist, 16-year old Emma Hancock, capable of adding subtle nuances to their songs and tunes. Where others use lead guitar, Rob Armstrong of Tarras plays the seldom heard cittern. Then there is Joss Clapp, an accomplished player of the acoustic bass guitar, and piano accordionist Ben Murray.
Tarras' music manages to sound quite traditional, but at the same time, the inventive arrangements echo the five band members' wide-ranging influences - from Rock, Rhythm 'n' Blues and Classical via Eastern European gypsy and Klezmer music to English '70s folkrock and Scottish bagpipe tunes. Their musical cocktail is not a million miles from the also-much-celebrated Shooglenifty sound, but with a slightly stronger acoustic edge and with songs mixed in with the tune sets to provide variety.
Tarras are a young band (average age 21) who could go far, so this album may become a valuable collector's item one day... but even if it doesn't, it's still a good album which should not be ignored!
Magnetic Music's Tarras page (in German)
Anja Beinroth

Ysdryd Chouchen "La La"
Sain; SCD 2212; 15 Tracks; Playing Time: 41.25 min
This one's the pick of the bunch this issue, at least for me. A wonderful modern roots album by a young Welsh band which starts off well enough, and just when you think you've got the measure of it (i.e. another roots/rock album by a young band full of promise but nothing really outstanding) along comes the amazing 13th track, "Marwnad yr ehedydd", which is a pure joy of a song and lifts the whole album into a different league.
It starts of with a lone male voice, which is then joined by the other voices in delightful harmony. The guitar joins in next, followed by the flute, then some gentle percussion, and finally the full blast of the drums. I wonder what story it is telling? Sadly, the album sleeve is entirely in Welsh and offers no clues as to the content of the songs.
Ysdryd Chouchen was formed by some students from Aberystwyth University in order to take part in the Inter-College Eisteddfod at Swansea, where the newly-formed group promptly won a folk group competition. They perform traditional Welsh music and also compose their own. The five full-time members - Llyr Edwards (vocals, guitar, mandolin), Erddin Llwyd (vocals, bass), Huw Roberts (vocals, guitar, mandolin, keyboards), Cerys Bowen (flute, vocals) and Rhodri Gruffydd (drums, congas) - are all Welsh and they are joined by sixth member, Breton Patrick Bechard (percussion), whenever possible, and sometimes by Carwyn Fowler (harp). In addition, the album also features extra singing by Siwan Llynor and Iola Evans on flute - both make notable contributions to the delightful "Marwnad yr ehedydd".
It's a lovely album which deserves to be heard. If you like beautiful music, do contact Sain for further information.
Anja Beinroth

Various "Transatlantic Sessions 2 Volume 1"
Iona Records; IRCD 063; 14 Tracks; Playing Time: 58.51 min
Various "Transatlantic Sessions 2 Volume 2"
Iona Records; IRCD 064; 16 Tracks; Playing Time: 61.21 min
The Transatlantic Sessions are a unique musical collaboration project headed by Shetland fiddler Aly Bain and American dobro master Jerry Douglas. The idea is simple: give a bunch of ace musicians the run of a top-class hotel for a few days and see what happens as they all enjoy themselves in the hosts' and each other's company. The first Transatlantic Sessions in 1995 were turned into a television series, but to the regret of many viewers never appeared on CD. So when the experiment was repeated in 1998, the organisers made sure everyone would get a chance to listen, including those of us in countries where the 7-hour TV version won't be broadcast.
There are two separate CD releases of the second Transatlantic Sessions: the one reviewed here which was compiled for European release by Scottish label Iona, and one compiled by participant Ricky Skaggs for the Skaggs Family's label in the US. Knowing neither the US release nor the TV series, I have no idea what the compilers at Iona have missed out, but what they have picked is certainly excellent. Both these CDs are musically varied enough to keep the listener's interest, but consistent enough to sound like proper albums rather than compilations. The musical mixture includes country, bluegrass, Cajun and Celtic folk, with a mix of contributors from Scotland, Ireland, England and America. It strongly reminds me of the "Bringing It All Back Home" compilation album, which was similarly taken from a TV series exploring the common roots of US and Irish musicians.
The contributors are too numerous to name them all here - perhaps the best known are Nanci Griffith, Roseanne Cash, Paul Brady, Maura O'Connell, Sharon Shannon and Michael Doucet, as well as those already mentioned above. Musical highlights include a new solo recording of "Arthur McBride & The Sergeant" by Paul Brady, a fine rendition of Russ Barenberg's mandolin tune "Magic Foot" led by accordeon wizard Sharon Shannon, Ricky Skaggs' all-star arrangements of "My Father's Son" and "A Simple Life", and some moving instrumental sets displaying Aly Bain's fiddling skills in tasteful arrangements. But there are so many fine tracks it is hard to know what to single out. A full track list is included in Iona's album website.
Mail for further information
Anja Beinroth

Angelit "Mánnu"
Finlandia Records Innovator Series/Warner Finland; FINLANDIA 3984-23073-2; Playing time: 47.27 min
Angelit, formerly known as Angelin Tytöt (Girls of Angeli), come from a small village in Northern Finland, and are part of the Northern European indigenous Sámi people. The band is centred on the pretty, singing sisters Ursula and Tuuni Länsman. The girls are joined by guitarist Alfa Häkkinen and since 1997 also by Kimmo Kajasto on Keybords and Programming.
Angelit blend old Sámi traditions with very modern elements. The joik is still the strongest element in Angelit's music - joiks are an ancient Sámi style of singing, combining a sort of shamanistic lilting with stories. While a few years ago Angelin Tytöt still sang traditional and self composed joiks in a pure form (you can check them out at their first three albums which are now again available via Finlandia), they today interweave them with modern beats and soundscapes. All in all this is an exciting venture; sometimes the modern sounds are a nice addition to the traditional singing, while at other times - from a folk music perspective - the music is based too much on techno beats. Still, Angelit do not make the mistake to change the singing style to a boring, poppy anything; the singing itself remains mostly close to the roots, with its roughness and edges.
A CD which will help to create interest for Sámi culture in mainstream music markets, while it is still able to represent this old and unknown culture. But definitely, an Angelit consumer must be open for modern beats that normally do not belong to traditional music.
Finlandia Records Innovator Series/Warner Finland
Michael Moll

La Bottine Souriante "Xičme"
Mille Pattes; MPCD2040; Playing time: 51.18 min
Folk Music sensation La Bottine Souriante have always more to offer than just their highly enjoyable and happy music to entertain the listener. In live they offer an energetic impressive show - making them to one of the best live acts of this universe. And with this CD they have also an entertaining bonus: The booklet has full pages of photos of the nine members, all cut into three halves - so that you can create your own La Bottine musician, with - e.g.- the head of Yves Lambert, the body of Michel Bordeleau and the legs of Jean Fréchette.... Great fun!!
Now to the music. The album offers the typical high energy mix of French traditions form Québec and diverse other music styles. About half of the numbers are songs, with the funny Yves Lambert style of singing. The next typical La Bottine element is Yves' accordion; then the foot percussion (+ fiddle, mandoline etc.) of Michel Bordeleau; the fiddle of the new "Smiling Shoe" André Brunet. Add to this piano, bass and - yes - a four piece brass section! The brass gives the music a unique groove and excitement; it gives the French Canadian traditions a new very tasty flavour. For the fans of La Bottine, I will name a few of the titles on this CD, which are also popular live pieces: Arin Québec written by Basque accordion master Kepa Junkera, Yoyo-Verret, Ami de la Bouteille.
Special music from a most special band. Get this wonderful high-energy album and play it loud at your summer garden parties - or, if you have a huge garden, invite the band itself!
Mille Pattes Homepage; e-mail Mille Pattes
Michael Moll

Ed Dunne "Sleeping in the Ocean"
Ed Dunne Music; 9 Tracks; Playing Time: 32.41 min
"Forget Enya and Yanni and their new age friends...", someone advertised the debut album of the Dublin born guitarist. But that's misleading, Ed Dunne's relaxing music has little in common with Celtic sounds. Studying classical guitar and playing in traditional sessions led to atmospheric music somewhere between folk, jazz and pop, I always associate with the old pause melody of the Northern German television (does anyone remember the title and composer?). Ed is accompanied by jazz percussionist Roland Peil and bassist Marius Goldhammer from Cologne. Except the traditional jig "Lark in the Morning", which is played afar from any traditional dance tune, the album contains only original compositions. The vocal tracks, concerning voice and feeling, remind of the jazzy pop songs of Sting. "Sleeping in the Ocean" is the title of the album and maybe an excellent image of Ed's musical ideas at all.
Ed Dunne Music Homepage
Walkin' T:-)M

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