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A sampling of reviews from the current issue

MARTIN SIMPSON Trails & Tribulations Topic TSCD593
Martin Simpson
Photo: Judith Burrows
Martin Simpson
I’ve lost count of the number of albums Martin Simpson has made since that jaw dropping Trailer debut Golden Vanity way back in 1976 – it must exceed the several dozen. Along the way he’s veered – sometimes more comfortably than others – between sounding American and English, recorded traditional and modern songs, written his own, produced sets of instrumentals, collaborated with all sorts of singers and twangers from June Tabor to Wu Man, played acoustic, electric guitar and slide guitar, and had extra-marital affairs with banjos and posing boots. At times it has sounded like – in spite of his blindingly obvious ability – he thought he still had something to prove. So what’s next for the veteran enfant terrible?

Well, the story here seems to be that in the four year gap since Vagrant Stanzas, he’s completely relaxed. In what, no doubt deceptively, sounds like an effortless collection he’s allowed himself to range across the whole body of music he’s loved down those four to five decades. Old warhorses such as Jackson C. Frank’s Blues Run The Game and Alex Atterson’s setting of Charles Causley’s A Ballad For Katherine Of Aragon are brought to remarkable new life, mixed with traditional favourites from both sides of the pond like St James Hospital, East Kentucky, a jaunty banjo-driven Rufford Park Poachers and a sparsely intense Reynardine as a hang-in-the-air closer. There are new songs what he writ – notably Maps and Ridgeway – and instrumental pieces including a couple of atmospheric taksims to songs. Perhaps best of all is a version of Emily Portman’s sublime Bones And Feathers on which his daughter Molly sings striking backing vocals.

The album hangs together perfectly, due in no small part to Andy Bell’s engineering and spot-on mix – lots of layering of Martin’s guitars and banjos, all of which ring like bells and sit perfectly together, adding to rather than detracting from the songs themselves – and a completely sympathetic set of accompanists who work just right. But it’s the fact that Martin sounds so totally and naturally at home with this whole variety of music that does the trick. He really doesn’t sound like anybody else: just about the only ‘influence’ that I can spot is one of his earliest, Tom Rush, and that’s not a bad thing.

This is the ‘normal’ version. Apparently there’s also to be a ‘deluxe’ one with a bonus CD including a re-do of Joshua Gone Barbados (that’ll be that Mr. Rush again). I look forward to hearing it – the label didn’t have copies available at press date.

Martin Simpson in “probably made his best album ever” shock. Never take an old fox for granted, especially one who owns a banjo. | Buy from

Ian Anderson

ANAVANTOU! Brincantes Cypres Records CYP0609
MARINAH Afrolailo Kasba Music KM00717

Way back a decade and more ago, when we were young (OK, middle-aged), Europe was in union and world music artists received awards from the BBC, the roost was ruled by two bands: Belgium’s Think Of One and Spain’s Ojos De Brujo. Sadly, neither is now with us and the scene is worse off for it. However, pivotal former members of those bands play prominent roles in these two releases.

Former ToO head honcho David Bovee produces Anavantou’s debut album. “Brazilian forro fever meets surrealist Belgian groove” is how they describe themselves and that’s pretty much on the money. Anavantou is made up of two bands: Turdus Philomelos (“Brussel’s most flipped out folk band”) and Membrana from Aracaju in north-eastern Brazil. United by a love of the accordeon, they take the rough-house sound of north-east Brazil’s roots music (Music For Maids And Taxi Drivers, as the title of Globestyle’s forro compilation of some years ago had it) and put it through the musical wringer. Sometimes playing rootsy, sometimes adding gutsy brass and avant-garde twists and turns, at one point sounding a bit like Tom Waits singing over a Brazil-meets-dub-reggae hybrid (very much a good thing in my book). The accordeon pumps like nobody’s business, there’s a shedload of Brazilian percussion, Bovee adds vocals on one track, guitar on a few others and does a fine job in capturing this gloriously carnivalesque sound. | Buy from

Photo: Clara Cardona
Marinah & Chicuelo
Marinah aka Marina Abad was the striking and charismatic lead singer with Ojos De Brujo. Afrolailo is her third solo album since the band split and the most complete and confident-sounding so far. She’s joined by former ODB members Carlos Sarduy (who also co-produces) and Javi Martin. The sound here will be familiar to anyone who heard the De Brujos in full swing, flamenco and Catalan rumba worked over with more modern influences, but delivered here with a lighter touch than the all-stops-out sound of her former band (who, let’s not forget, emerged from Barcelona’s squat party and jam scene). Guayo and Medio Panfire blast out the speakers with skirt swirling catchiness; Rie Llorona is gentler and rootsier with guest flamenco guitarist Juan Gomez Chicuelo. | Buy from

You can hear tracks from both of these on this issue’s fRoots 65 compilation.

Jamie Renton

JUSTIN ADAMS Ribbons Wayward 705
Justin Adams
Photo: Judith Burrows
Justin Adams
It starts with a big deep desert twang, slowly merging with ambient echoes and distant, wordless voices – from featured guest vocalist Anneli Drecker of Norway’s Röyksopp – conjuring up an other-worldly, crepuscular landscape. Then it camel-lopes off behind the deep throb of a firmly struck guimbri and subtle krakeb percussion – those Moroccan castanets – into North African terrain, Justin’s spiritual homeland. That track’s called Wassoulou (and you can hear it on this issue’s fRoots 65 compilation) but the images it puts in your head are definitely more from the northern side of the Sahara, though those camels may be a mirage. Their spirit reappears later on Strand, by which time they’ve become shadows.

Don’t come here looking for tuneful instrumentals to Old Grey whistle: for all its deep twang this isn’t a Duane Eddy album. It’s all about subtle rhythms, repetetive and mutating patterns and phrases, multi-layed instruments, wall-to-wall atmosphere and detail that continually reveals itself with each play. Don’t expect conventional songs either, even when Drecker’s voice is more central as on Crow Dream, Fog March (with hints of throat singing) or Khamsa either – the latter a rare example of a desert joik. This is filmic music for which you construct your own pictures inside your head, aided by its seamless sequencing where tracks merge in and out of each other. I’m not suggesting you need to approach this album in a darkened room, but it has a habit of completely diverting your attention away from whatever you thought you were doing. Do not drive a car or operate heavy machinery while Ribbons is playing!

Maybe I don’t get out enough but I can’t think of anybody other than maybe legendary ‘60s experimenter Sandy Bull – conjured up somewhat on the multi-guitar piece Deep C – who has entered this sort of territory so successfully. It’s a small masterpiece and likely to become cult listening.

That nice Mr Plant should be pleased he allowed Justin the time off to make it! | Buy from

Ian Anderson

SNUFFBOX Playing For Free Skye Records SRCDX004
This is the debut album of the young Glasgow-based trio of Charlie Stewart (fiddle), Rufus Huggan (cello) and Luc McNally (guitar and vocals). Stewart won Young Traditional Musician of The Year at Celtic Connections 2017, and both he and Huggan are students of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Snuffbox mix Scottish traditional tunes with original material. They draw inspiration from the 18th/19th Century Perthshire fiddler-composers Niel Gow and his son Nathaniel, who performed widely as a fiddle/cello duo in Scotland’s stately homes and county balls.

This album brings the Gow tradition into the present day. Snuffbox’s elegant, poised rendition of the traditional Whistle O’er The Lave O’t displays to fine effect Stewart and Huggan’s musical training at the Conservatoire. The Lucy’s 25 set has fiddle and cello switching between melody and harmony in a graceful, lilting tune by Huggan, beautifully rendered in a finely-nuanced delivery that is not afraid of the pauses between the notes that maximise emotional expression. Lucy’s Lament segues nicely into Feis Rois 25 – a pulsating tune by Lauren MacColl, performed with skilful instrumental interplay and exchange of musical roles. In the Reels set, the darkly percussive cello suddenly bursts into melody and entwines in euphony with the fiddle: then the guitar takes over the melody with cello and fiddle providing splashes of harmony and punctuations of rhythm. The Limerick jig set puts a lick of bluegrass fiddle over a skipping pulse from the guitar and gristy cello harmonics. Sleeping Stars (composed by Huggan, sung by McNally) is a lyrical, waltzing, romantic song with jazzy wee flourishes on cello and fiddle.

Snuffbox inevitably invite comparison with the work of fiddler Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas, whose five albums since 2004’s award-winning Fire And Grace have sought to restore the cello to its historical role within Scottish traditional music. But Snuffbox are doing something different from Fraser and Haas. These young men are a product of Glasgow’s vibrant and boundary-stretching traditional music scene, and they have created a style that brings some of that city’s multi-faceted musicality to the Perthshire fiddle/cello tradition of Niel and Nathaniel Gow. You can hear a track on this issue’s fRoots 65 compilation.

Paul Matheson

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 Pop Makossa – The Invasive Dance Beat Of Cameroon 1975 – 1984 (Analog Africa AACD 083)
Terrific compilation of rare-as-they-come singles from the golden age of Cameroonian pop. West African rhythms combined with disco and funk. No one you’re likely to have heard of before but all utterly intoxicating. The sort of thing that gives crate digging a good name.

Ani Di Franco Binary (Righteous Babe)
Ani has written some of the sharpest songs of the last 20 years and delivered them with astonishing skill and invention, but… this is her funk album and while Justin Vernon and Maceo Parker are among the supporting cast, Ani is lost in the avalanche. Nothing to see here.

Ella Jenkins & Friends Camp Songs (Smithsonian Folkways SFW 45082)
Renowned veteran children’s performer Ella recreates her memories of summer camps by inviting parents, teachers and a group of kids along to sing classic campfire singalongs and rounds, with occasional guitar/banjo accompaniment. Dispatched with due gusto, and well documented.

Peach/Skeoch Peach/Skeoch (Braw Sailin’ Records CD003BSR)
Debut EP of acoustic, contemporary folk-jazz from young Glasgow-based duo of Joseph Peach (accordeon) and Becca Skeoch (harp). This absorbing, vivid music includes compositions by Rachel Newton and Corrina Hewat, and feels like the soundtrack to a Tim Burton movie.

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