This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
THE RHEINGANS SISTERS Already Home RootBeat Records RBRCD28
Photo: Elly Lucas
Anna and Rowan Rheingans
Anna and Rowan Rheingans currently reside in the south of France and the north of England respectively, having previously lived in Sweden. The music on this album was composed and collected all over Europe, recorded in Wales, and performed on instruments made by their German father in his Peak District workshop (which provides the location for Elly Lucas’ cover photographs).
‘Home’, it seems, is not so much any specific geographical location as a state of contentment in connectedness with family, friends, their environment and their art. Their fiddles speak a wordless, secret sibling language – not just an outward expression of the ties that bind, but the very fabric of them.
Musical traditions connect in surprising ways. Banjo Branle is (as the name suggests) a traditional French dance tune arranged for five-string banjo, while the hypnotic French wedding march Peyrat’s Cat subtly mutates into the Northumbrian 3/2 hornpipe Our Cat Has Kitted. Their own compositions – Anna’s Slängpolska Pour Une Auvergnate and Rowan’s Dancing In The Cow Shed are full of unexpected melodic twists and harmonic turns.
While Rowan’s distinctive bansitar (heard on Mazurka Ethiopienne) evokes the sonic conjurations of COB for this listener, this is a very contemporary-sounding record. Dylan Fowler’s unobtrusive production and their judicious deployment of kantele, jaws harp and percussion combine in something often more akin to the folk-drone experimentalism of the likes of Aine O’Dwer than the majority of their bright young folk person contemporaries.
And then there are the songs. Anna’s Adieu Privas sounds great to my linguistically ignorant ears, but Rowan’s songs are quite simply extraordinary. Mackerel – inspired by a tragic incident at a festival in Norway – is a powerful contemplation on the preciousness and fragility of life. Cuckoo (“a pretty bird who sings as she flies”) articulates ‘home’, in zen-like lines: “We are moving, we are home and we’re still here…” Finally, there is the closing Keep The Whole Thing Turning, about which I’m unable to write anything because I’ve got something in my eye…
Hopefully not released too late for the end of the year ‘best album’ polls, I’ll be surprised if I’m the only one already growing a teeny bit obsessed with this album.
• www.rheinganssisters.co.uk | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
BELLOWHEAD Pandemonium: The Essential Bellowhead Navigator NAVIGATOR093
Photo: Judith Burrows
The helplines are fully manned, the Samaritans are on full alert and the ads placed for a new supergroup to fill the vacant headlining summer festival slot as Bellowhead prepare to dance off into the sunset. Symptomatic of the way they’ve electrified the British folk world over the last decade, they depart with a giant whizz and a hearty bang, culminating in one last, explosive hurrah in the time-honoured manner of greatest hits albums.
Theirs has been the most dominant role in the uplifting evolution of British folk music over the last decade and if they didn’t quite crack the mainstream in the manner they’d clearly hoped, it has been an heroic effort. With energy, wit, imagination, flair and professionalism, their live shows, particularly, have been consistently joyous and their flagship contribution to the music will hold durable influence, setting the bar intimidatingly high for anyone who follows.
Selecting the thirteen best Bellowhead tracks to wave them on their way is, of course, a purely subjective matter and a degree of democracy holds sway here with representatives from each of their six albums, along with the peerless crowd favourite Prickle-Eye Bush from their original revelatory mini-release, EPOnymous, combining to focus primarily on the joyously frenetic approach favoured in their charge for popular acceptance. So most of the big singalongs are present and correct… New York Girls, 10,000 Miles Away, Gosport Nancy and London Town are all here in their frenzied glory.
These are the calling cards, but Bellowhead have always had a quiverful of many-shaped arrows to their colourful bow and with a membership of eleven outstanding musicians of contrasting pedigrees, they utilise their dazzling skill sets in often outrageous ways that still leave you grinning stupidly all these years later. For, whether it’s the brass reverting to a jazz jamboree behind Yarmouth Town, the funky Motown undercurrent to Let Her Run or the gorgeous, cascading arrangement of Betsy Baker, nothing is perfunctory and listening to some of their key moments away from the glitzy blast of their stage shows does afford the opportunity to appreciate the full might of their enterprising panache and dexterity.
Great sleeve design, stimulating music and a treasure chest of smiley memories… thank you Bellowhead.
• www.bellowhead.co.uk | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
KANDIA KOUYATÉ Renascence Sterns Africa STCD1126
Pure class. This is a truly special record, artistry of a high order, a triumph over adversity. But along with the joy of the music – as deep and sound as Mali gets – there is an undertow of sadness. Kandia Kouyaté was recognised young as a sensationally gifted diva – they called her ‘La Dangereuse’ because of the effect she had on listeners, going into trance, passing out and the like. She was doing well but had a severe stroke in 2004, losing both her voice and her confidence. A soaring talent was seemingly wrecked but the great Senegalese producer Ibrahima Sylla (see Baaba Maal, Thione Seck and Africando) tried to persuade her back into the studio. At last, seven years after the attack, his persistence succeeded. But with much of the recording done, Sylla, already ill for some time, himself died. It was his daughter Binetou, alongside arranger Francis Bréant, who picked up the pieces.
Recording continued, resulting in this exemplary piece of work. The material is a mix of traditional and modern, praise songs and patriotic anthems, played with a mixed palette of West African, western and electronic instruments. The production is full of subtlety and flair, and the performances from Kandia are simply superb. This is an authoritative, imaginative and delightful recording – the inviting warmth of the backing chorus, the sparkling interplay of kora and guitar, the intensity and penetration of Kandia’s voice.
• www.sternsmusic.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
VARIOUS ARTISTS Chekhov’s Band – Eastern European Klezmer Music From The EMI Archives 1908-1913 Renair Records REN0129
Opener, Dance In A Circle
, by the Jewish Wedding Orchestra, features a hitherto undiscovered freylekhs, energetically travelling with a Moldavian dance, with despairing and bucolic melodies above dignified arrangements. A set of new and experimental klezmer, then? Not so. This is a set of klezmer music from much nearer the source.
Taking its title from Anton Chekhov’s description of a “famous Jewish orchestra” in The Cherry Orchard, this is a remarkable compilation of klezmer music from throughout Eastern and Central Europe, and all recorded close to the very dawn of recorded music. The album is compelling in what it has to tell us about the essence and origins of klezmer, its geographic and cultural influences and freedoms, and the nature of musicians who were often on the road searching for the next gig, the next rite, the next inn or concert hall or wedding.
1913 represents the moment that both joy and the klezmorim who played such joy, began to disappear. But this is a strikingly clear and arresting introduction into what formed klezmer, including significant classical influences. This is the fortuitous end product of a decade of research within the EMI archives and deserves to be widely heard. It should really become a major influence in terms of how the next experiments might happen. The sources here tell us that the possibilities are huge. The Rebbe’s Melody by Veinbren’s Orchestra, for example, is presented as near classical, scored and sharp, spiritual and precise, more than a nod to the rich traditions of Yiddish theatre arrangements of the time.
Violinist Oscar Zehngut featured on numerous early recordings. He is a star maestro here, headlining the album as he used to headline stages throughout the Austro-Hungarian empire and beyond. His romantic showcasing of Oriental Themes is outstanding above detailed and haunting background arrangements. But we also travel to revered Odessa, where klezmer soundtracked a much seedier locale. The 606 Dance is unusually brassy, a riot for a riotous time and place, the title referring to an early syphilis drug.
War, the twentieth century and totalitarianism would soon obscure this trove of borderless and vital music. But this precious collection is an immersive, emotional and insistent wander back in time.
• www.honestjons.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 Nostalgique Egypte – Crooners, Love Songs And Improvisations 1925-1960 (Buda Musique 860275)
Enjoyable compilation documenting an interregnum in Egyptian music when indigenous forms were out and string orchestras and movies were in. Often sounding like Rembetica, it takes a couple of oud solos to return us to the world of quarter tones and improvisation. Delightful. www.budamusique.com
Maja & David CPH-Café-YUL (GO’ Danish Folk Music GO0615)
Québécois and Danish fiddlers and singers David Boulanger and Maja Kjær Jacobsen combine thoughtfully non-obvious material from their respective traditions, and add to them, in this lively and attractive second duo album. www.gofolk.dk
Ric Kemper To Speed The Plough (Own label, no cat no)
Ten songs inspired by a Dorset earthwork. Kemper’s enthusiasm for prehistoric sites and folk music make him an ideal rambling companion, but not a recording artist. “Bless our ancient rites!” he implores. “Bless our candle bright!” Bless his cotton socks. www.ricsongs.bandcamp.com
Lura Herança (Lusafrica 762352)
Lura’s bittersweet reflection upon her Cape Verdean heritage (herança) includes commentary on emigration and loss, poverty and inequality, womanhood, ageing, injustice and the legacy of slavery, with cameos by Elida Almeida, Nana Vasconcelos, and Richard Bona. lusafrica.com
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down