This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
CANZONIERE GRECANICO SALENTINO Canzoniere Ponderosa Music CD142
Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino
saw Italy’s Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino garner worldwide acclaim with a sound 40 years in the making, but with roots that go back centuries in the tarantella tradition around their native Lecce. How do you follow up something like that? Leader Mauro Duarte took a long, surprising path for CGS, working with composers better known for their work in American rock and pop, and enlisting Joe Mardin (son of Arif, of Atlantic Records fame) to produce. That could have meant veering towards the middle of the road, but while the resulting sound might be bigger and fuller, not a gram of the band’s integrity has been compromised.
Only one of the songs (Pizzica De Sira) is traditional, but the rest feel utterly, absolutely authentic, as if they were hewn from the dry earth. New singer Alessia Tondo adds plenty, a great foil for Duarte’s voice, and there are big choruses to sing on Lu Guistacofane and Moi. But it’s an album of experimentation, beginning with the spoken word loop on the opener, Quanna Te Viscui, and the incisive guitar of guest Justin Adams on Aiora. Rhythm is vital, as it should be in any trance music, but it’s done with great subtlety, while Subra Sutta carries echoes of place far beyond the homeland in its ululations and drifts. The band is sharper than ever, the arrangements all push the songs, and the production is like crystal; every element fits perfectly. It a grand gesture in the very best way, and a complete triumph. How could CGS top Quaranta? They’ve just done it.
• canzonieregrecanicosalentino.net | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
LAURA SMYTH & TED KEMP The Poacher’s Fate Broken Token TOKEN002
Laura Smyth and Ted Kemp
It’s been three years since Laura Smyth and Ted Kemp’s sole previous recording (the five-song The Charcoal Black And The Bonny Grey
EP) alerted the English folk scene to its new favourite duo. While both are very fine musicians (Laura plays cello and concertina, Ted banjo and guitar), their instruments are deployed effectively but sparingly, and often not at all.
What we’re mainly dealing with then is the singers and the songs – all but one of which are traditional. The exception, Laura’s Alizon Device, is a fantastic piece about the 1612 Pendle witch trials which is sure to find favour with many singers. They’re not averse to a bit of blood and thunder either, as evinced by the stirring two-part harmonies on the “fantastically gory” Brave Benbow and Ted’s chilling delivery of the first-person Murder In The Red Barn.
Laura is an arresting and authoritative singer on tracks like the lovely There Is A Tavern, the atmospheric Here’s Adieu To All Judges And Juries, the unaccompanied Cecilia and the cello and banjo-backed The Manchester Angel. When both sing traditional songs in harmony, as on the title track or the unusual Suffolk version of Wild Rover, the listener is left asking whether Laura and Ted are just exceptionally good at this stuff? (A: Yes, they are) or if some of their contemporaries are actually making unnecessarily hard work of a relatively easy job? (A: Quite possibly, but lets just focus on that first thing for now, eh?)
Sporting lovely artwork and informative sleevenotes, this is a beautifully conceived album. The sheer quality of the performances and the trademark subtlety of Ian Carter’s production ensure that it’s also one that won’t date. Older readers will doubtless be familiar with Folk Songs Of Old England – the 1968 Tim Hart & Maddy Prior album that attained the status of a folk singer’s instruction manual for a whole generation of club singers. The current crop should just start with this one.
ORCHESTRE LES MANGELEPA Last Band Standing Strut 159
Orchestre Les Mangelepa
There’s a point in each of the eight songs on this album when the guitars kick in, which gets me every time. I’m expecting it (waiting for it, to be honest) and yet always taken by surprise. The musical equivalent of roaring out of a tunnel into brilliant sunshine.
Les Mangelepa have their roots in the Congolese musicians who headed east in the 1970s, lured to Kenya by the locals’ addiction to Congolese rumba. Combining the shake and swing (and ringing guitars) of that sound with then contemporary local styles (benga, chakacha) and the sweetness of Swahili melodies (the band originally hailing from the Swahili-speaking east of the Congo). It proved a winning formula which kept the Orchestre afloat for the following decades. More recently, their luck appeared to have finally run out. However, last year, a new version of Mangelepa toured Europe and recorded this album, featuring new interpretations of some of their best-known songs.
African veterans redoing their old stuff is becoming quite a sub-genre and this is a healthy addition to it. Producer Guy Morley gets a crisp, bright sound for this big band which, apart from those aforementioned heavenly guitars, features a big bank of horns, warm honeyed vocals and a light, tight-on-its-toes rhythm section.
Who knows whether the band have got more to offer than do-overs of their old hits? But, really, who cares? Just them doing this, more than justifies their continued existence.
• www.strutrecords.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
VARIOUS ARTISTS Down Home Blues Chicago: Fine Boogie Wienerworld WNRCD5100
Great – another boxed set of vintage Chicago blues. Just what the world needs, right?
Hang on a minute, though, because this particular set turns out to be a far more attractive proposition than you’d think. Covering the period 1945-1958 over five CDs, it combines a deep dive into its big names’ lesser-known repertoire with an expert trawl through the era’s unknowns. I’ve got a pretty decent blues collection, but there’s at least a couple of CDs’ worth of first-rate stuff here I’d never heard before.
Let’s start with the big names. There’s nine tracks here by Muddy Waters, eight by Little Walter, six each by Elmore James and Jimmy Reed and five by Howlin’ Wolf. Thankfully, though, the set’s compilers have avoided the tracks we all know from a thousand greatest hits packages to excavate each man’s lesser-known gems instead.
Most of us know Muddy Waters only from his Chess career onwards, for example, but half the Waters tracks here were recorded before Chess even existed. His opening 1946 session is a particular treat, its booming vocals and stinging guitar licks revealing a man already fully in command of his gifts. It’s the same story with all the other blues stars here too: their talent is present and correct on every cut, but there’s a good chance the track itself is one you’ve never heard.
The collection’s host of forgotten musicians include Willie ‘Long Time’ Smith (a pianist), Baby Face Leroy, Blue Smitty, Johnny Shines (all singer/guitarists) and a useful gob-iron merchant called Dusty Brown. They’d be worth treasuring for their names alone, but I’ve singled them out here because they also supply some of the set’s very best music. Given one crucial bit of luck – or in Baby Face Leroy’s case a few months off the gin – they could all have been stars themselves.
The collection’s 88-page booklet has short but informative essays on all these gents, plus some background on the Chicago ‘Jew Town’ neighbourhood where they played. Compilers Mike Rowe and Peter Moody clearly have a genuine love for this music, and that love shines through in every decision they’ve made here.
• www.wienerworld.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…
Megan Henwood River (Dharma Records DHARMACD30)
Since winning the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2009, Megan’s songwriting has matured significantly. For River, her third CD, she employs musical settings that stray ever further from folk into the realm of gentle pop. Good though. www.meganhenwood.com
Geoff Muldaur Is Having A Wonderful Time/Motion (BGO Records BGOCD1261)
The reissue of two seminal Geoff Muldaur mid-’70s albums originally recorded for the Warner/Reprise label show what an eclectic and talented musician Geoff Muldaur was (and still is). Wonderful Time was produced by Joe Boyd while Motion was produced by New Orleans master Allen Toussaint. Few albums these days have the breadth of vision, the wide range of material, or the sheer panache of these two. geoffmuldaur.com
Kingston Trio The Five #1 Billboard Albums (HooDoo 263580)
The commercially successful, but musically sanitised part of the American Urban Folk Revival. First track sounds like an out-take from Monty Python. Bland, musically unchallenging but sold in millions, so what do I know? www.hoodoo-records.com
The Sick & Indigent Song Club Shinbone Alley (Rualla Records RUR0217)
Mongrel Dublin six-piece indulges in some third-album genre-hopping on favourite staple shanties and forebitters, with a couple of choice obscurities thrown in. Exceedingly enjoyable in fact, and rather reminiscent of Lankum in a good (rough-house-with-respect-and-attitude) kind of way. facebook.com/thesickandindigentsongclub
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down