This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
OLIVIA CHANEY The Longest River Nonesuch CD400251
Photo: Judith Burrows
This has been a long time coming. I mean, it’s five years or so since we first interviewed her as one of the new upcoming young forces in British folk music. At a time when everyone is making CDs almost as soon as they’ve learned to play guitar or written their first song, such a lengthy gestation is almost refreshing although it does, of course, allow the potential of anticipation to boil over to such a degree that it has no hope of being matched by the reality of what ultimately surfaces.
This album survives that fate without quite hitting the great heights we might have hoped. Passing time has allowed her to eradicate the irritatingly prim vocal mannerisms that so often afflict the classically trained and her singing here is serenely impeccable throughout, from the faultless delivery of opening track False Bride to the tender vulnerability of closing number Cassiopeia.
It’s understated and surprisingly minimalist. When accompanying herself on piano sounding reflective and stark, there’s something of a nascent Laura Nyro or even Regina Spektor about her, which augurs well for a future that might well lie most productively with America. She paints from a commendably broad palette – Purcell’s There’s Not A Swain, Norwegian composer Sidsel Andresen’s Blessed Instant, a terrific treatment of Chilean Violeta Parra’s La Jardinera (gorgeous Spanish guitar) and a slightly awkward interpretation of Alasdair Roberts’ Waxwing.
What really marks her out as a special talent, though, is the sombre quality of her songwriting – Swimming In The Longest River and The King’s Horses (which carries an eerie reminiscence of Sandy Denny) have already been accorded plenty of attention and Too Social and Loose Change, with a beautiful guitar arrangement, are right up there too. But it’s the promise of what she may have up her sleeve that really excites. A vivid cinematic edge and sense of drama is embedded in Holiday, helped along by an irresistible chorus; and while stripping back most of the music here to its barest bones is highly commendable, the one time the production does let its hair down and goes for the throat on Blessed Instant, the results are spectacular and you realise how the whole thing might wield a great deal more muscle.
This is a very fine debut album offering plenty of evidence that she will become a major artist. At which point it will be seen merely as that… a promising debut.
DERROLL ADAMS Banjo Troubadour Starman Records SMR037
WIZZ JONES A Life On The Road 1964 – 2014 Sunbeam Records SBRCD5103
Two legendary songsters for whom the term ‘on the road’ has always meant considerably more than just the title of a paperback book stuck in a duffel coat pocket.
Photo: Dave Peabody
With most albums by the late Derroll Adams, the wandering Zen banjo master from Oregon, long out of print, this brand new twelve-inch vinyl release (CD included) is very welcome indeed. Recorded live for Belgian National Radio 1973-1980, the ten solo tracks here are mostly traditional songs – Darling Corey, Blue Ridge Mountain, Columbus Georgia, Wildwood Flower
(heard on this issue’s fRoots 53
compilation) along with Woody Guthrie’s I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore
, and his own The Sky
It’s always thrilling to hear that wonderfully rich, deep and strong singing voice, and that remarkable instrumental technique, but this live recording also offers the opportunity to hear Adams’ laconic introductions and gentle, often self-deprecating humour (“here’s a song we used to do together, 97 years ago – we were only 48 years old at the time…”)
Derroll Adams was the songwriter and singer that the others (Ralph McTell, Finbar Furey, Donovan, Wizz Jones and Allan Taylor among them) wrote and sang about. This record – lovingly packaged in a gatefold sleeve bearing a striking Dave Peabody photograph, reminds us why.
• www.derrolladams.org | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Photo: Judith Burrows
“Derroll Adams and Jack Elliott were my heroes…” declares Wizz Jones, in the highly entertaining sleevenotes of A Life On The Road
. “…when they performed in London in the late ’50s I followed them around like a little dog.” Since then, of course, he’s inspired countless followers himself and this 23-track retrospective of a career spanning half a century should gain him a few more.
The best of his own songs – Night Ferry, Burma Star, Happiness Was Free, and (the Bruce Springsteen-covered) When I Leave Berlin are here, alongside enduring repertoire staples like Corrine’s Blues, Shuckin’ Sugar and Glory Of Love. Long-term writing collaborator Alan Tunbridge is represented with Dazzling Stranger and National Seven, and there’s a song apiece from Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Ewan MacColl – the latter a duet with Martin Carthy on Moving On Song, previously only available on the Guitar Maestros DVD. Many of these tracks are rare recordings or alternate versions, making this both an essential purchase for long-time Wizzfans and a perfect introduction for new ones.
The album is dedicated to Wizz’s fallen comrades Bert Jansch and Clive Palmer, both of whom feature, as do Ralph McTell, John Renbourn, Lazy Farmer and Pete Berryman. Nary an issue of this magazine passes without us bemoaning a world that affords so little acclaim to such a giant as Wizz Jones, so buy this album and make him famous!
• www.wizzjones.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
BELLA HARDY With The Dawn Noe Records NOE08
With The Dawn
is a title redolent of new beginnings. Not without reason. This, as the editor would have it, is a Great Leap Forward of a record.
Bella’s voice, like a razor-winged bird in a clear blue sky, speaks for itself. But her writing here is a breath-halter – articulate, earthbound and disarmingly honest. Rather than drawing inspiration from the traditional canon, the songs document, and attempt to make sense of, a turbulent year on the road: a relentless year of displacement, of heartache and of joy. Her intimate observations and revelations are sharply focused and poetically crafted, from the hearth-embrace of friendship in The Darkening Of The Day to the misfit-relationship study of Gifts or the hopeful resolution of And We Begin.
And the writing on With The Dawn explodes into life as a result of the instinctive match of sound to lyrics. Its great, enveloping bigness, its aching starkness and melancholy, its mellifluous loveliness! The artful and intuitive sound-painting of (my new favourite!) producer, Ben Seal is masterly. It sweeps you into Bella’s world, to share not just the blurred landscapes she sees from the trains, the tumbleweed existence of life on the road, but also the moments of revelation in a sunrise, the Damascene clarity of a homecoming, the revised expectations, the making sense of lost and found love, the search for meaning.
The Only Thing To Do is a case in point, matching Bella’s litany of incessant motion, her frenetic physical and raw emotional ride of a year, with anthemic horns and edgy electronic blips and neon buzzes. The wistful First Light Of The Morning (hear it on this issue’s fRoots 53 compilation) builds and drops back from a bare-boned banjo melody and a tsunami-swell of brass, exquisitely framing Bella’s tumbling cascade of a vocal. On the dark and bruised Another Whisky Song, we hear a scratchy gramophone-filtered fiddle and drunken, lurching percussion. And there is also a glorious magpie collection of sounds here to add texture and depth and colour: the rough-edged immediacy of an iPhone-recorded intro on You Don’t Have To Change (But You Have To Choose) bursting into vivid studio crispness; plunky koto-esque sounds; high, reedy violin motifs; rushes of harmonies.
Whilst all the songs bear witness to Bella’s year, two songs fit in a slightly different capacity: the moving Jolly Good Luck To The Girl That Loves A Soldier (from the WWI-themed Songs For The Voiceless project) and the traveller’s eyes of Time Wanders On, co-written with Cara Luft as part of a Canadian exchange project.
Just as with the Unthanks’ wonderful blurring of musical boundaries, the 6Music market surely beckons for Bella, as well as reaffirming her status as a shining star in the folk scene’s firmament. With The Dawn feels like a game-changer.
• www.bellahardy.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
RE NILIU In A Cosmic Ear Alfa Music AFMCD173
Thirty years ago, the first band who opened our English ears to the notion that the south of Italy had some utterly wonderful music were Calabria’s Re Niliu. Formed in 1979 and rooted in a lot of deep research into local traditional music, by the time they reached the UK in the late ’80s they were beginning to head in an invigorating electric direction. They’d made a number of increasingly adventurous albums through which it became obvious that their region, right out in the middle of the Mediterranean and closer to North Africa and Greece than the main European continent, had been an historic receptor to many cultures and influences which were reflected in the music. Their 1994 CD Pucambù
, on which everything seemed to come together, remains a classic, but after that they effectively vanished, with leader Ettore Castagna not entering our vision again until 2005 in Nistanimera. This was another fantastic band specialising in songs in the local Greco (ancient Greek) dialect and introducing us to another force of nature, the amazing Anna Cinzia Vilani from neighbouring Puglia.
So you don’t need much imagination to picture the glee when I opened a jiffy bag recently and out came the first Re Niliu album in two decades. And even more to discover that the unfortunately-titled In A Cosmic Ear (it’s really nothing like Gong meets Donovan, honest!) is a logical follow-on to Pucambù. Three of the musicians from then still remain in the current six-piece – Castagna, Salvatore Megna, Mimmo Mellace – and a wealth of local traditional instruments like zampugna, lira, chittarra battente and tambureddu sit perfectly in a bed of ‘conventional’ bass/kit drums rhythm section, electric guitar and accordeon. And it swings like crazy: this is as far from folk-rock plod as you can get. The exhilarating drive and relentless pulse of tracks like Setta Pianeti or Mara Tundu (heard on this issue’s fRoots 53 compilation) is as great as anything that Congo or Kenya (or the neighbours in Puglia) can put up. Sounds like they’d be a fantastic festival band, with all their roots in the right place.
So a big welcome back to one of the world’s great bands, and yet more proof that – if Charlie Gillett’s wiggy theory that at different times in history there’s a spaceship hovering over somewhere, beaming down musical creativity – the south of Europe has it sewn up right now. Cosmic, man!
• www.reniliu.it | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
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…
Various Artists Rosekolla: Vokal Folkemusikk Fra Seterlivet (Norsk Folkemusikksamling NFS-3)
This is niche, even by our standards. Beautiful, clarion cattle-hollering for Norwegian cows. 57 tracks thereof. Grieg couldn’t get enough of it but he’s been dead some considerable time, and what with cattle not having CD players, not sure of the target audience demographic. Norsk Folkemusikksamling on Facebook
Razia Akory (Cumbancha CMB-CD-33)
Many studio hours and plane tickets went into this, but not much came out. Eco campaigner from Madagascar struggles to impose her voice over all kinds of elaborate musicianeering. Cumbancha
Hat Fitz & Cara Robinson Do Tell (Hatman 2033)
Live, Australian Hat Fitz (vocals / guitar / banjo) and Irish Cara Robinson (vocals / percussion / fife / flute / acoustic guitar) are really sparky. Smoothly recorded, this CD has many quality moments, some strong original songs, but doesn’t quite capture the duo’s raw individuality. Manhaton Records
Michael Chapman Window (Light In The Attic LITA 124)
This 1970 album had some of his best songs of the day like Among The Trees and In The Valley, but a thin guitar sound swamped by the rhythm section. It turns out Harvest couldn’t wait and had released it with just the guide tracks, and unfortunately this isn’t a remix. Still a frustrating listen, even with the iconic cover pic to distract in tiny form. Light In The Attic
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down