This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
LEVERET Inventions RootBeat RBRCD38
Photo: Judith Burrows
Listening to Leveret’s third album calls to mind an expression once uttered by my friend Tom King (legendary pub landlord, philosopher and traditional music aficionado) as we witnessed a particularly fine group of Irish musicians, late one night in Slough. “Ah,” he breathed, “the music just walks out of them.” That’s been true of Andy Cutting, Rob Harbron and Sam Sweeney since before ever they sat down together as Leveret, but, for some strange (and doubtless spurious) reason, their previous recordings haven’t affected me quite as keenly as this one does.
Perhaps the secret lies in these ten tracks all being original compositions by the band members, thus removing the baggage of cloth-eared expectation that comes with traditional dance tunes. They (the tunes and the players) are, of course, deeply implanted in tradition, and the fact that Harbron’s opening Rain On The Woodpile has an A part that reminds me of an Irish reel that I can’t recall the name of is merely a mark of its inherent authenticity. Several tunes, including Sweeney’s Proud Grove and Harbron’s Corton Ridge evoke specific locations, while others, like Cutting’s Henry Blogg and Lola Flexen honour individual people (or, in the case of Byron’s, an Old English Sheepdog) known to the composer. Recorded live at Real World Studios, every one of them emerges as a perfect assemblage of melody, harmony, spontaneity and precision.
Leveret aren’t really about the idea of three virtuosi forming a supergroup to show off their chops, but rather are a three-way conversation between musicians for whom the accordeon, concertina and fiddle are merely conduits for their authentic voices – a means of articulating something intangible, beyond the limitations of language. It’s therefore appropriate that the booklet notes are wholly comprised of handwritten notation for the tunes. The music just walks out of them.
• leveretband.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
GWYNETH GLYN Tro Bendigedig BEND11
Photo: Andy Morgan
Gwyneth Glyn is one of the most inspirational and consistent musicians in Wales and Tro is a kind of repositioning. After releasing three Cymru-centric albums between 2005 and 2011, she spent time supporting the Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita (himself an accompanist on Tro
) and collaborating, as Ghazalaw, with the Indian ghazal singer Tauseef Akhtar.
Even though lyrically the song is quite different, the opening track Tanau (Fires) has a dreamy Vashti Bunyan quality Diamond Day-style. The fourth track Ffair (Fair) is a blandly-titled (to this mind) setting of the supernatural She Moved Through The Fair. Here “arranged and translated by Gwyneth Glyn”, it is a fascinating development that propels the legacy of Padraic Colum, that towering figure in the Celtic Revival, and (no piss-take) Charlotte Church, a further step on into the ether. For me, Ffair embodies and epitomises what that blurry entity we call ‘the tradition’ is all about. Glyn also includes among the thirteen tracks, three originals in English – Dig Me A Hole, Far Ago and What’s A Girl To Do?. Dig Me A Hole is so good it seems destined for a ‘bright’ June Tabor future.
Tro is an inspired title for this brilliant album. The word has multiple meanings on themes ranging from turn(ing) and change to stirring (tea). Indeed, so pregnant with possibilities is it, it is fitting that varying definitions (in Welsh) and translation (into English) surface three times in the booklet notes. The packaging is superb. It begins with Andy Morgan’s English-language short story Under Moonlit Waters (haven’t cracked its relevance yet) and includes bilingual lyrics (inconsistently the three English-language songs aren’t translated into Welsh) and credits (alas not broken down track by track, but the ffidil on Dig Me A Hole sounds like Rowan Rheingans). The Bendigedig (‘blessed’) imprint is a collaboration with the Ceredigion-based Theatr Mwldan. A wow-factor release.
• bendigedig.org | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
LAL & MIKE WATERSON Bright Phoebus Domino REWIGCD102X
Bill Leader, Mike & Norma Waterson - Bright Phoebus
Not a great deal can be added to what has already been said about this hugely welcome reissue of quite simply one of the greatest folk recordings of all time. Indeed, I’m constantly debating whether this or No Roses
by Shirley Collins (also just reissued) is my favourite. A “legendary lost record” (not exactly true, we all knew where it was, it was just unobtainable), it is now apparently dubbed a “1972 folk noir masterpiece”, a description that would have likely appalled Lal and had Mike chortling his head off.
Not sure it’s accurate to say it was “viewed with suspicion from the conservative folk community” as the notes claim; surprised as it may have been listening to an album of accompanied contemporary as opposed to unaccompanied traditional songs, the folk world greatly missed the Watersons when they split in 1968 and welcomed their return with open arms.
The album did, of course, also feature many of the great and the good from the folk fraternity of the time: Tim Hart & Maddy Prior, Martin Carthy, Richard Thompson, Ashley Hutchings, Dave Mattacks and Sue Harris, as well as Norma Waterson newly returned from DJ-ing in the West Indies – and Bob Davenport all but stealing the whole shebang with his extraordinary vocal on Child Among The Weeds.
While the original itself may have been out of reach, the material has long been fêted in other ways, not least the all-star Shining Bright album of 2002 and Bright Phoebus Revisited tour of 2013 with Jarvis Cocker, Richard Hawley et al, various Lal tributes and regular cover versions of the material through the years from June Tabor and Fairport Convention to Dick Gaughan and King Creosote.
But it’s great to have the original in full wonder once more, alongside a selection of demos in the deluxe version. Lal’s songs still sound gloriously unworldly, with no obvious reference points – not even traditional song – just the dreams and scattered thoughts in her own head, defying the wisdom of conventional songwriting patterns in her tumble of words and images. While, full of puns and vivid characterisations, Mike’s contributions (“ditties” as he modestly referred to them, always deferring to Lal as the primary talent in the writing stakes) give the album its beaming smile. A frisson of excitement still cuts through as he begins to sing – in that brilliantly individual manner – Bright Phoebus, Magical Man and Rubber Band.
A joyous liberation.
• www.brightphoeb.us | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
MEÏKHÂNEH La Silencieuse Buda 5754744
Photo: Claire Huteau
Some records are so instantly, obviously good that they jump up and shake you by the lapels. Others take their time to seep their subtle brilliance into your consciousness, but end up being even greater favourites. This is definitely one of the latter.
Meïkhâneh are a French/Iranian/Mongolian-influenced trio plus guests. Singer, flautist, player of the tovshuur lute, morin khuur fiddle, and linguist – some of this in an invented language – is Maria Laurent. It’s her beautifully restrained but deeply involving singing that binds all this together: deceptively light, floating but somehow packing a subtle, implied punch. Possibly the best example is the ear-worm Hungarian Eszmélet.
Twanged strings man is Johanni Curtet, who knows his way around acoustic guitar and dombra as well as being a dab at overtone and throat singing. In the percussion corner is Iranian Milad Pasta with a bewildering selection of daf, udu, zarb, frame drums and “additional percussions”. The guests are the celebrated Bijan Chemirani on more percussions and lutes, Uuganbaatar Tsend-Ochir on Mongolian double bass and Martin Coudroy on diatonic accordeon.
Somehow, without even hinting at being one of those dreaded ‘world music fusion’ outfits, they manage to bring elements of Eastern European, Mongolian, Persian, Asian and even Andalusian musics together – and (perhaps imagined) hints of Appalachia and Sahara too – in a completely organic and unforced way. How does that work? What’s the common thread? Well it’s the natural spaces – in the music and the big sky landscapes that they conjure up, and then deftly decorate with soft, refreshing rainshowers of improvisation. Earth, sky, sun, water and wind: elementary stuff, perfectly in harmony but with just a thrilling edge. Something in there, though there are no obvious similarities, says ‘Incredible String Band’.
When this one first showed up, I gave it an inattentive spin and put it on the pile mentally labelled “listen to this one properly when you’ve got the time”. Now it’s one of those which I’ll just leave in the player on repeat, two or three times in a row. Hard to imagine it won’t be one of my handful of favourites of the year.
• budamusique.com | 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 I Love My Love (Albion ALBCD032)
Re-issued pre-war 78s from when people sang the folk songs collected and arranged by Vaughan Williams, Cecil Sharp, Grainger etc in posh, plummy BBC accents to piano (Conchita Supervia’s O No, John! takes the biscuit!) or in choirs. A bit of a classic – though possibly not for the reasons the compilers intended – which at least proves we had some great songs. rvwsociety.com
Robert Plant Carry Fire (Nonesuch 563057-1)
His undiminished enthusiasm for North African music, blues, folk and dark country continues to shine through all he does: the combination of one of the great Britrock voices with the likes of Justin Adams and now Seth Lakeman makes him the finest gateway drug to our music. nonesuch.com
Ifriqiyya Electrique Rûwâhîne (Glitterbeat GBCD 045)
Tunisians involved in trance rituals meet French rock and electro musicians and they chant, bang and clatter away together. Perhaps you had to be there. glitterbeat.com
Shirley Collins An Introduction To … Shirley Collins (Topic TICD002)
This fifteen-track compilation introduces newcomers to the fragile power of Shirley’s voice. Drawing almost exclusively on her ’60s releases on Topic (especially Sweet Primeroses), this is a good value primer if you don’t already have these recordings. topicrecords.co.uk
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down