This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
LULA PENA Archivo Pittoresco Crammed Discs CRAM270
Photo: Lucile Dizier
The fact that Pena’s third album in nineteen years is named for a fairly obscure 19th Century art movement in her native Portugal offers a hint that she’s not chasing after huge commercial success. But the title also offers a broad hint to her musical approach, exploring the landscape of the soul and the mind, just one woman with her voice and guitar on a journey through the interior. It’s a disc that floats on soft beauty, meandering through six languages, taking in poems and songs from mediæval times to the present day, although she’s penned very few of the words herself. Pena’s unusual guitar style creates constant, light percussion behind melodies which offer hints of Brazil, of ‘phado’ (her very deliberate spelling of the word), flamenco, a nod to chanson in her deep voice, and more. She offers a broad landscape, one to travel time and again. Often one tracks flows into the next, a step that turns a corner and opens up a fresh view. Closing with a song from the Twilight Zone TV show called Come Wander With Me
(the piece she generally uses to start her concerts), it’s as if the invitation is there to begin all over again. Somehow, with such basic ingredients, Pena has achieved that rarest alchemy of turning words and notes into art, something far more than the sum of its parts. It transcends language, goes beyond style, and works its gentle magic.• lulapena.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
VARIOUS ARTISTS Stick In The Wheel Present From Here: English Folk Field Recordings From Here Records SITW005
I first heard murmurings of this project via Peta Webb and Ken Hall, who told me that they’d been recently visited by Stick In The Wheel’s Nicola Keary and Ian Carter. “We just chatted and sang and they took the recordings away – we’ve no idea what they’re going to do to them…”
The answer, it happily transpires, is pretty much nothing at all. Nicola and Ian’s stated intention is that in listening to the performers on these recordings “you feel like you’re in the room with them”.
For anyone who’s recently seen the likes of Peta & Ken (Just A Note/Wild Wild Whiskey) or John Kirkpatrick (Here’s Adieu To Old England) in any one of Britain’s venerable traditional folk clubs, much of this record will be reassuringly familiar. Those clubs, however, are now few in number and one is more likely to first encounter English traditional music through the PA system of an Arts Centre, or via recordings produced to sit comfortably among the sonic output of mainstream radio.
The idea of From Here (ask a bunch of folk singers and musicians to perform something personally meaningful from their repertoire) is very simple, but the results are startling effective.
Stew Simpson (Hadrian’s Union) belts out Ed Pickford’s A Cud Hew in an a cappella style best described as ‘bloody exciting’, while Bella Hardy, accompanied solely by her own sparse fiddle, is utterly captivating. The stories behind the artists’ selections are fascinating and revealing. Jack Sharp (Wolf People) confesses that he “used to hate country dancing and all that”, but subsequently discovered his local song Bedfordshire May Carol after hearing it on a Shirley Collins record. Fran Foote learned The Irish Girl from the singing of her mother while Jon Boden and Sam Lee both recall youthful encounters with traditional song at Forest School Camps. Nicola Kearey learned Georgie from Martin Carthy (who himself sings The Bed-Making). Eliza Carthy and Lisa Knapp both deliver strong, distinctive performances, as does Men Diamler, on an unaccompanied reading of his own 1848 (Sunset Beauregard). Instrumentals come from Spiro, Sam Sweeney and Rob Harbron – who plays a lovely pair of morris tunes.
Recorded by Ian Carter with artwork by Nicola Kearey and supported using public funding by Arts Council England, From Here succeeds both as a brilliant compilation of top-notch performers and perhaps to prompt a timely appraisal of the state of the folk nation.
• stickinthewheel.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
AURELIO Darandi Real World CDRW216
Photo: York Tillyer
Following a performance at WOMAD UK back in 2015, Aurelio Martinez (the finest living exponent of the music of the Garufina people of Central America’s Caribbean coast) took his five-piece band and trio of backing singers over en-masse to nearby Real World Studios, set up in one room and recorded a collection of the best-known songs from his 30-year career. The result is this, his fourth album and, while an artist re-recording material from their back catalogue usually suggests a need to fulfil contractual obligations and a dearth of creativity, this is an absolute joy. A celebration of a sound that’s well worth celebrating.
Best known thanks to the late and much missed Andy Palacio from Belize, the distinctive Garifuna musical blend of sweet, aching vocal harmonies, skittering rhythms and the twangiest of guitars has found a worthy champion in Honduran singer, guitarist, songwriter and activist Aurelio and recording live without overdubs suits him well, bringing the high quality of his voice and the fiery precision playing of his road-tested band into sharp focus. Full marks to Aurelio and co-producers Alejandro Colinas and Ivan Duran for capturing such a bright and lively sound,
This is a lovely package too, with the CD nestling in a 24-page hardback book, featuring fulsome text providing historical context on both Aurelio and the Garifuna, alongside all sorts of photos and drawings.
Aurelio, apparently, sees this album as an end of an era, close of this chapter in his musical career type of thing. I’ve no idea where he plans to take things next, but it’s bound to be worth listening out for.
• realworld.com/aurelio | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
DIPPER MALKIN Tricks Of The Trade Dipper Malkin DM001
John Dipper is one of Britain’s most sophisticated fiddlers. The lyrical richness of the melodies, textures and accompaniments he draws from his viola d’amore and his seemingly endless fund of strong compositions and creative expansion of mostly English traditional tunes, drawn from a deep knowledge of 17th and 18th Century collections such as those of Playford and Walsh, as well as living tradition, are always a delight.
That’s if ‘fiddler’ is the right word. He plays a long-headed fourteen-string viola d’amore, tuned in his own way which borrows ideas from Sweden’s keyed moraharpa, so that the top strings sound like a normal violin, while the melody can descend to the lower ones that also provide dark harmonies and drones. Just listen to the way he accompanies Dave Malkin’s song King Storm (based on a broadside in the Kidson collection), developing the instrumental sections into a lovely, winding exploration and extension of the tune Daniel Cowper from Playford.
Dave Malkin makes a fine foil in his guitar parts to the instrumentals and in his three songs which he sings in a relaxed, natural way reminiscent of Chris Wood. King Storm, his rewrite of The Parting Glass in the hope that it might replace Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve (it deserves at least to stand alongside it), and a setting of the version of All Things Are Quite Silent collected by Vaughan Williams from Ted Baines of Lower Beeding, in which Dipper’s viola d’amore multitracks a gorgeous arrangement fit to delight RVW.
At first glance the latter two titles might cause the track-list reader to think “Oh, I know those, nothing new here”, but that would be a big mistake. In the songs and instrumentals, both traditional and new, the duo casts a lot of new light and creativity on the material. The new compositions, mostly by John, meld with the traditional seamlessly; melodic, never clever to impress, but always actually very clever.
It’s just the two of them, except for touches of percussion by Corrie Dick on a couple of tracks and Tom Dennis’s beautiful counterpointing and improvising flugelhorn in Daniel Cowper.
AND THE REST… The albums - good, adequate and plain bad - which didn't get the full-length treatment, contributed individually by a selection of our various reviewers cowering under the cloak of collective anonymity. For example…
Cara Dillon: Upon A Winter’s Night (Charcoal Charcd008)
Seasonal albums can be a poisoned chalice or revelation. Cara Dillon’s vocals float on a largely acoustic celebration of the Christmas repertoire. Breathing new life into established traditional carols with supple arrangements and superb vocal work, this collection avoids the bland morass. caradillon.co.uk
Subsonic Trio: Sonic Migration (Bafe’s Factory MBA 014)
We’re lucky to have great, subtle Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale living in Britain. Here he, Finland-dwelling former Forcione bandmate Nathan Riki Thomson (double bass) and Sibelius-Academy prof Kristiina Ilmonen (ethnic flutes) make airy, multi-textured, atmospheric music flowing from Finnish, Brazilian and Antipodean sound-worlds. bafesfactory.fi
Cunning Folk: Ritual Land, Uncommon Ground (Dharma Records)
The artists previously known as Gentle Folk undergo a line-up change and return with beautifully-rendered pastoral and Pagan acoustic folk-pop. Evocative of summer days walking the Ridgeway and grooving in long barrows, it’s all very pleasantly Gently Johnny. cunningfolkmusic.com
Daria Kulesh: Long Lost Home (Daria Kulesh)
Moscow-born Daria celebrates the identity, spirit, history and traditions of the southern Russian republic Ingushetia (her grandmother’s home) through a sequence of literate original songs powerfully sung. Bold, exotic, lavishly clothed (musicians include Swan & Dyer and Kate Rouse). Impressive. daria-kulesh.co.uk
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down