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A sampling of reviews from the current issue

KATHRYN TICKELL & THE SIDE Kathryn Tickell & The Side Resilient Records RES006
Kathryn Tickell & The Side
Photo: Judith Burrows
Kathryn Tickell & The Side
Ever the pioneer, probing new ways to challenge herself and her beloved Northumbrian pipes, Kathryn Tickell has formed a new band with a fresh approach in what certainly sounds like the beginnings of a brave and rather wonderful enterprise for her. Alongside her here are accordeonist Amy Thatcher – who also delivers a tender vocal on Queen Of Pleasure, an entrancing adaptation of a poem by the slightly outrageous and controversial Northumberland-based poet Algernon Charles Swinburne; and two musicians predominantly of the classical world, Northern Sinfonia cellist Louisa Tuck and Ruth Wall, a Scottish harpist living in Cornwall who’s previously worked with everyone from Goldfrapp to the Philharmonic Orchestra.

Between them they muster quite a pedigree, which is never any guarantee of collective worth, of course, and past attempts to marry folk and classical music have largely been disappointing, if not outright embarrassing; but this feels like something very special. Everything sounds like a natural, organic blend on an album of gently fluctuating textures and neatly moulded moods.

Ranging from a Percy Grainger tribute that encompasses a gorgeous re-interpretation of Early One Morning to Tickell’s rhythmic Bonny Breezes, an impishly upbeat variation on Blow The Wind Southerly, it chances its arm a tad with a more left-field doff of the cap to Penguin Café Orchestra on Penguin Road and goes tenderly jaunty on us with fiddle to the fore on the impossibly catchy Tickell tune Dark Skies Waltz. There are handclaps, moody cello interludes, a strong Northumbrian consciousness, a mysterious, medieval foray (on Ad Gefrin) and plenty of tense atmospherics on The Prior’s Standard, an expressive, cinematic piece relating to one of those pesky skirmishes they used to regularly endure in the Borders. There’s also some minimalist percussion, which is the only thing that sounds marginally contrived and unnecessary… apart from Rosie Calvert’s extremely effective steel pan on the subtly dramatic Ship Tyne Main. The rest is such a blissfully intuitive and empathetic mix of styles and instrumentation you don’t go anywhere near the dreaded ‘fusion’ word or even consider how it should be classified. ‘Magnificent’ will suffice. | Buy from

Colin Irwin

SAM AMIDON Lily-O Nonesuch Records 543642-2
Sam Amidon
Photo: Piper Ferguson
Sam Amidon
Oh my, what joyous noise. Sam Amidon’s much-anticipated Nonesuch follow-up sets out its intent from the off: a no-holds-barred banjo-driven powerhouse version of Walkin’ Boss (learned from Jeff Davis), fuelled by funk, grit, ringing guitar and that distinctive removed, rasping holler that Amidon inhabits so well. And so it continues – a sonic rush of an album: Amidon’s “reimagined folk songs” allowing new shards of light to re-focus the listener on well-worn material.

Yes, that apparently dispassionate voice strips the tender balladic themes down to the bone, but also Amidon has the balls (and, of course, the earth-rooting in traditional music) to tease and enrich melody and rhythm with bold musical experimentation. And it feels right. Shape-note spareness and modern-jazz lushness remain bedfellows throughout, with Amidon joined here by his musical hero, and recent collaborator, Bill Frisell, on some gorgeously horse-frightening guitar, as well as sterling work from former compadres, drummer Chris Vatalaro, bassist Shahzad Ismaily and producer Valgeir Sigurðsson. Mighty fine player himself too – no messing with Amidon’s banjo on Pat Do This, Pat Do That, or his bird-like skips and flights on fiddle on Blue Mountains – here are musicians who clearly fit. As well as being master craftsmen, they create atmosphere – cinematic, mesmeric and groove-rich.

And so to those contrasts… Down The Line, the only self-penned song here, sees Amidon’s lonesome howl rising from a sonorous, trance-like soundtrack with loping rhythms, rolling guitar motifs and Frisell’s extraordinary neon, crashing, dissonant electric guitar. At the other end of the spectrum, sits the spacious sacred harp hymn Devotion, with its ambient chords, and solemn cello-burred vocals. Tearjerker Your Lone Journey is a stripped-bare and heartrending farewell song to Doc Watson written by his widow Rosa Lee, resonant with hymnal soul. The soul-rousing Won’t Turn Back, complete with chordal ringing bells and a particularly briar-barbed vox, throws out a charmingly unexpected Ethiopian jazz-style pentatonic piano noodle coda. Expansive, smooth jazz-chord rich, Maid Lamenting (learned from the singing of Eliza Carthy) is a beauty.

In the liner notes, Amidon muses on some musical inspirations: “That is beautiful music. It lifts you up, doesn’t it.” And uplifting is what Lily-O is too. Unfurling, twisting and turning, and uplifting music. | | Buy from

Sarah Coxson

RACHEL NEWTON Changeling Shadow 01
Rachel Newton
Photo: Judith Burrows
Rachel Newton
Having played key roles on harp, fiddle, viola and singing with the likes of The Shee, The Emily Portman Trio and The Furrow Collective, Rachel Newton is well equipped to take centre stage in her own right and this second solo album is a beauty.

Amusingly it is officially categorised as “country and folk” by Larry the laptop, which is like saying Isaac Newton was interested in apples. Using a loose thematic based around the folklore and mythology of faeries and changelings, it embraces a widening interest in the weirder, more mysterious and disquieting elements of folk music without dwelling unduly on the wishy-washy side that makes pretentious dullards out of so many of these so-called nu-folk/psych-folk advocates.

No, amid the fragility and sense of Celtic spirituality, there is real richness and substance in a well-thought-through musical canvas that dances from an opening Gaelic lullaby to stories of night-time visitations, faerie belief in the magical qualities of human breast milk and other more sinister events surrounding changelings with the notion that faeries swapped their offspring for human babies sometimes given as an explanation for children with learning difficulties.

It’s fascinating stuff and Newton’s gently reassuring tone applies exactly the right temperature… with enough understated weirdness to make its point. Adam Holmes contributes an effective vocal to The Fairy Man, with a musical saw also suddenly appearing in the background; French horn adds a sinister edge to A Phiùthrag ‘s A Phiuthat; and elsewhere Su-a Lee adds bold cello, Lauren MacColl plays fiddle as mellifluously as ever, Mattie Foulds adds empathetic percussion and Corrina Hewat joins in on backing vocals on a mix of tunes and songs that explores its subject with real intent and purpose rather than the novelty ideas that often get hurled into this ball park. There are moments when it recalls some of Alasdair Roberts’ most imaginative shots at blending the tradition with his own contemporary feel, and that in itself is strong recommendation. | Buy from

Colin Irwin

LES AMBASSADEURS DU MOTEL DE BAMAKO Les Ambassadeurs Du Motel De Bamako Sterns Africa STCD3066
Les Ambassadeurs Du Motel De Bamako
Les Ambassadeurs Du Motel De Bamako
For me, the epitome of Salif Keita is Nyanafin on Amen. Produced by Joe Zawinul, it crams so many fine and beautiful passages and juxtapositions into just a few minutes – the glorious frenzy of Carlos Santana’s guitar, the mythic elegance of the shimmering background ladies – and above it all, the immaculate testifying voice of Salif, ripping like a dagger across a stretched sheet. It’s a titanic performance.

This double album may be a little less apocalyptic. For a start, production is basic. No tricks bar a little reverb. But it shows a supremely original band blessed with more than its share of great musical innovators, blending Latin and West African into a new formulation in the mid-1970s – taut but relaxed, by turns charming and soulful, with a fabric woven from organ, balafon, hand drums, trumpets and electric guitar. The main singer is a young Salif Keita, and CD1 closes with a track called Djandio – which very happily turns out to be an embryonic Nyanafin. Slower, more classically Mandé in pace and sound, it is a praise song for heroic warriors, a tour de force for voice, guitar and trumpet. The young Keita sings like a man possessed.

Salif started his professional career with the Rail Band in Bamako – very popular, a band playing largely to please itself and devoted fans. But in 1973 he was recruited to their great rivals, the Ambassadeurs – real intellectuals, according to Keita, a step up, who took their professional responsibilities more seriously. They rehearsed hard and they could play everything, from Fela to Celia Cruz, even Russian and Chinese songs to please visiting dignitaries. Already in the band was the great guitarist and arranger Kanté Manfila, who stepped aside as lead singer when Salif joined. The band took off.

They recorded singles and in 1976 an album. They played in Guinea, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast. Two more albums followed as political circumstances declined. In 1978 the owner of the Motel, benefactor Tiekoro Bagayoko was arrested. Their protector gone, the band split. A handful remained in Bamako, but most members, Manfila and Keita included, decided to try their luck in Abidjan. They became Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux and, standing on their own feet, achieved success.

This historic anthology shows exactly why that should be. Well-selected, well-packaged – with a couple of rare tracks from Radio Mali broadcasts – it shows Les Ambassadeurs as a band of vision, creating a new music from old roots. | Buy from

Rick Sanders

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…

Tárkány Müvek & Dresch Mihaly Öszi Vázlatok (Own label)
Exhilarating, sometimes beautiful, sometimes scary more-jazz-than-folk pairing of Hungarian trad-inflenced band (cymbalom, violas, bass, saxes, voice) with top class post-Coltrane sax player. Julianna Paar’s vocals have something of a smoky Amira feel to them. Well recorded live in front of about six dead people by the sound of it – they should have edited out the desultory applause.

The Magic Lantern Love Of Too Much Living (Smugglers Records SR0020CD)
Not Taffy and Bill (ask an old folkie) but Jamie Doe, an arrestingly-voiced singer-songwriter, gifted with the knack of turning memorable phrases, both poetic and melodic. Recorded live, as nature intended, with some neat nylon-strung guitar picking.

The Devil’s Jukebox Sure is Righteous (Jelly Roll JR003)
Promising hokum band let down greatly by weird, disjointed production that puts the mush-mouth vocals far too much in front. Probably a hoot live, but not here.

Rachael Dadd We Resonate (Talitres, no cat no)
Rachael Dadd is a musician and textile artist who creates surprisingly accessible poly-rhythmic, acoustic art-pop; utilising voice, ukulele, prepared piano, clarinet, and a plethora of percussive objects both musical and mundane. An intriguing and really rather lovely record.

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