This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
OUMOU SANGARÉ Mogoya No Format! NOF 36
This is Malian diva supreme Oumou Sangare’s first new album in nine years and only her fifth in a career that spans three decades. It’s well worth the wait. The possessor of one of the finest voices on the planet, Sangare has taken a leap into the unknown here, moving from her longstanding home on World Circuit Records, over to the French No Format! label and spiking her sound with a more contemporary edge (the album’s title translates as ‘people today’).
Not that she’s abandoned the music of her Wassoulou ancestry. I doubt that she could, even if she wanted to. It’s in every inflection of her voice, its rhythms deeply ingrained into every song, with traditional instruments such as the n’goni cropping up all over the place. But on this album it’s incorporated into something daringly different. Recorded in Stockholm and Paris with producer Andreas Unge and the Parisian production collective ALBERT, Mogoya eschews the coffee table fusion that usually blights such attempts to internationalise a roots African sound and plumps instead for something raw and rhythm-driven.
Former Fela Kuti sideman and all-round godfather of Afrobeat drummers Tony Allen guests on Yere Faga; there’s an all-stops-out stomper in Fadjamou and Minata Wiraba (‘Minata The Lioness’) is a powerful tribute to her mother, the singer Aminata Diakite. But trying to pick out highlights is fairly futile given the high quality of all nine tracks. OK, the album clocks in at little more than 40 minutes, but the quality-over-quantity approach reaps some serious dividends.
And Sangare’s voice sounds as strong, sultry and agile as ever. Weaving around the backing singers and spare, imaginative arrangements, cutting loose with a few sustained soul-siren wails, totally in control, yet bursting at the seams.
With this album and the recent triumphant return of Orchestra Baobab, we appear to be in a golden age for West African musical comebacks. Although, with its slap-bang assertion of female power and sonic power and invention, the current release this reminds me of the most is Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band’s Big Machine. Yes, it’s that good.
• www.noformat.net | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
SHARON SHANNON Sacred Earth Celtic Collections CCCD1100
Ever since she first came into view as the brilliant but painfully shy accordeonist with the newly Celtic-ised Waterboys (making her debut with them at Glastonbury Festival), Shannon has consistently challenged our preconceptions and confounded our expectations. So deeply immersed in the traditional music of Clare she scarcely had reason to examine or question it, her natural desire to explore, develop and expand quickly kicked in to transport her seamlessly through a broad range of invisible musical barriers. She did, after all, absorb herself quite thoroughly in reggae with Dennis Bovell on Out The Gap
in 1994 and had a ball flirting with Latino styles on Libertango
We shouldn’t, perhaps, be surprised then to find her here in partnership with another fearless adventurer, guitarist Justin Adams and find them delivering an apparently mind-boggling mix of blues, country, hip-hop, classical, rockabilly and traditional Irish and Scottish styles. And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, either, that it all fits perfectly naturally together and doesn’t sound remotely forced or jumbled.
Even the potentially disastrous idea of inviting Finbar Furey in to sing the old Jim Reeves hit He’ll Have To Go works in this context, the cloying sentiment of the song and performance somehow converted into endearing charm; while, at the other end of the equation, the addition of six Shetland fiddlers belting out a New England/Canadian tune, Frenchie’s Reel is glorious in its sense of wild abandon. Seckou Keita turns up playing kora, underpinning the flowing elegance and freewheeling percussion of Sea Shepherd; The Merry Widow gives us a tranquil glimpse of an ancient operetta; and Cara Robinson gives us a pretty convincing flavour of pre-Elvis rockabilly on Let’s Go, with significant assistance from Buddy Guy’s son Greg Guy on guitar.
There’s a strangely compelling rap-reggae track (The Machine), a strong sense of First Nation culture on the title track and plenty of whoopy-let-your-hair-down tunes to remind us that contained within the disparate styles she loves to embrace, there remains one of the finest accordeon players on the planet. Maybe it shouldn’t… but it works spectacularly well.
• www.sharonshannon.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
LUKE DANIELS Making Waves Wren WRCD017
Recent sightings of Luke Daniels have seen him garnering acclaim as a guitar-playing singer-songwriter, performing alongside his extraordinary vintage Polyphon machine. Making Waves
finds him back on the instrument with which he first established his reputation – B/C button accordeon, with Celtic A-listers Aidan O’Rourke, Mike McGoldrick, John Doyle and Innes White.
But that’s only half the story of this album, which was painstakingly created from “over 500 pieces of open source samples, collected from the internet before being processed, detuned, warped and layered to create the arrangements for this record. The tunes were then recorded remotely by live players.” Those samples – sourced from the Alan Lomax Archive, the BBC and RTÉ are crafted into soundscapes which are, by turns, joyous (the re-purposing of Bukka White’s Aberdeen Blues), unsettling (the woman’s voice repeatedly asking “hello?” in Vinyl Vinnie) and thrilling (the wallopping techno of Retro Reel). Perhaps tellingly, the least affected track here is The Wounded Huzzar. Long a staple of Daniels’ repertoire (he first recorded it on his 1994 debut, Tarantella), it’s become his touchstone – something permanent at his restless musical centre.
Daniels’ stated aim is: “to reflect the times in which we live or as folk musicians find ourselves”, and it’s intriguing that Making Waves has arrived at about the same time as Stick In The Wheel’s back-to-basics From Here: English Folk Field Recordings – which explores diverse responses to the phrase: “from here”. On Making Waves, Daniels’ ‘here’ positions him as an individual whose music connects him to a folk community and continuum that transcends the borders of both time and geography.
It’s also an album that asks questions of the listener, and one that will provoke endless debates (watch out for: ‘would this album have been just as good if these musicians had simply sat in a circle and recorded these tunes in precisely the time it took them to play?’ and ‘how many singing horses does it take to change a lightbulb?’).
When all’s said and done though, Luke Daniels is one of the few musicians I know that I’d happily call a genius to their face, and tell him that this is a remarkable record, best played loud!
• lukedanielsmusic.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
LISA KNAPP Till April Is Dead: A Garland Of May Songs Ear To The Ground ETTGCD001
Photo: Judith Burrows
“Bringing in the May was important…” So begins The Night Before May Day
– the words spoken by folklorist and song index creator Steve Roud, in an interview extract blended with Knapp’s singing the Padstow Night Song
over a chorus of hooting owls. Its surprising impact is undiminished by the knowledge that Lisa Knapp and her musical collaborator/producer/husband Gerry Diver are actually old hands at this type of thing, now.
Indeed, this album’s been slowly fermenting for a few years, its ideas first manifesting on the Hunt The Hare: A Branch Of May EP in 2012. Two of those songs – May Garland and the Copper Family’s Pleasant Month Of May reappear here, alongside ten new recordings. Knapp duets with Graham Coxson on Searching For Lambs and with Mary Hampton (over Dave East’s concertina accompaniment) on Bedfordshire May Day Carol. Staines Morris features the distinctive enunciations of David Tibet (Current 93) on a version that alternates a galloping polka beat (think Iron Maiden’s Run To The Hills) on the verses, and slowed-down, woozy choruses.
Elsewhere, it’s pretty much all Knapp and Diver, who together artfully create arrangements filled with subtly shifting waves of overlapping instruments (viola, hammered dulcimer, and piano) spoken word, birds and bees, percussive cuckoo clocks and chimes (inevitably evocative of Pink Floyd!) and programming. Lark In The Morning is effectively sung over distant traffic and sampled street sounds, whilst Lily White Hand (a version of the morality tale recorded by Sophie Legg as Down By The Old Riverside) is a sparse and gentle waltz-time thing of beauty. The closing Padstow May Song joyously brings everything together with its anomalous (but contextually apposite) interjection of “The workers! United! Will never be defeated!”
Lisa Knapp’s never been short of ideas, but with Till April Is Dead she’s revealed her true identity as a tradition-immersed yet utterly contemporary and fearlessly original talent as never before.
• lisaknapp.co.uk | 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…
Monster Ceilidh Band: Mutation (Haystack Records HAYCD011)
Monster? OK Bellowhead it ain’t, but this exuberant six-piece certainly conjures a big sound from two fiddles, accordeon, octave mandolin, beefy rhythm section and a modicum of electronic distortion, in a faithful live-in-the-studio recording of a series of ingenious tune-pairings. www.monsterceilidhband.co.uk
The Sweet Water Warblers: With You (Sweet Water Warblers 888295539951)
Classy American acoustic music. Five tracks from a trio comprising the better-known Lindsay Lou and two lady friends who, like Lou, sing and play and write well. More than interesting debut. www.sweetwaterwarblers.com
Various Artists: The Greatest Country Hits Of 1957 (Acrobat ACOCD 7109)
120 tracks on four CDs from a fascinating time when Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis were high in the country charts. Hard core country was dominated by the big voices of Ray Price, Webb Pierce with Johnny Cash and the Louvin Brothers bridging the gap. Not to be missed. www.acrobatmusic.net
Harri Endersby: Homes/Lives (Harri Endersby)
Debut album by Durham-based songwriter and musician starts promisingly with her singing “you’re drenched in gore!” over a violin drone. It then heads into synthesisers, beats and warbly pop voice territory, before getting interesting again on closer The Snow. facebook.com/harriendersbymusic
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down