This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
THE RHEINGANS SISTERS Bright Field RootBeat RBRCD39
A long, slow bow stroke… a distant plucked string… the violin slowly beginning to get more intense, building and building and building… I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m instantly hooked. As album openings go, Anna Rheingans’ gloriously mystical and slightly sinister Glattugla
is magical. Bold, forthright and uncompromising in a similar manner to the beginnings of Lankum’s latest album.
Follow it with a Rowan Rheingans song, This Forest, a darkly damning, but brilliantly conceived vision of the world and the way we live in it, and you know you are in the presence of an exceptional record.
This is the third duo album by the Rheingans Sisters and while the first two both carried memorable moments, this is by some distance their finest yet. The range and variety of the music they produce is a telling factor in the way it holds the interest – a lovely French-language song Appel, followed by a traditional French dance tune Lo Segoner, so sedate you want to cuddle it, until Anna’s flutey thing kicks in and it jumps out of your arms and leaps around the room in delight. Just one example of their natural instincts for arrangements that keep the music fresh and the juices flowing.
In this respect, banjos play a formidable role in the success of Green Unstopping (heard on this issue’s fRoots 68 compilation), but it’s the striking strength of their fiddle playing that really carries the album. The evocative introductory theme to title track Bright Field is magnificent – indeed if it carried on through the whole album there wouldn’t be any complaints from this corner – until the music fades to a drone to allow the gentle voice of Dafydd Davies-Hughes to recount a spiritual RS Thomas poem urging us to stop and examine the beautiful vignettes enveloped within our mad, rushing world.
Indeed, from the sleeve design to the melancholy imagery of another startlingly well-constructed Rowan Rheingans’ song Edge Of The Field, it’s an album driven by thoughts of nature and the countryside, albeit often used as a metaphor for other things. The sort of album, in fact, where you discover fresh nuances with each re-visit.
• rheingansisters.co.uk | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
TAL NATIONAL Tantabara Fat Cat FATCD149
Photo: Jason Creps
In the 1980s, I used to make pilgrimages to West Africa and return with piles of cassettes bought in street markets – everything from the latest hits by big local stars like Youssou N’Dour to intriguing-looking impulse buys, mostly bootlegs, by wild bands like National Badema, Mori Djeli De Kankan and Super Djata, the latter of whom would eventually show up in London and fry us with blindingly exciting gigs. At the same time we were discovering the rawer roots of Congolese music – Zaiko Langa Langa, Bavon Marie Marie and so forth – and pretty much overnight, most Western rock bands sounded deadly dull by comparison with their leaden, four-square drumming and risible lead guitar posturing. I never really recovered.
But inevitably, Western interest and slick Parisian production influence filtered down, and the ubiquitous global culture-flattening of rap and reggae reached into most corners. It seemed likely that all the really raw, wild local stuff was pretty much gone for good.
We reckoned without the Songhai, Fulani, Hausa and Tuareg musicians who have coalesced in dusty Niamey, Niger, in the ranks of Tal National (see fR389). It’s as if those classic big Malian electric bands of yesteryear are reborn with fresh energy.
Stick this new CD – their third – into the player, crank up the second track Belles Reines, and tell me when you last heard anything so exciting on a new release. Whiplash sharp, distorted electric guitars riffing like their lives depend on it, bouncing bass, layers of ferociously hit percussion, propulsive keyboards and manic shouty singing. It takes you by an arm and swings you around its head. There needs to be an adjective for a level that goes above exhilarating like this! And it continues like that. There are marginally slower tracks like Duniya or Trankil where the desire by listeners to engage in injury-threatening idiot-dancing is temporarily replaced by an urgent lope, but then that guitarist cranks up again…
The press release says they self-describe as a ‘rock band’. Don’t be silly. Even the extremes of raw rockabilly sound like wet fart pantywaist ninnies by comparison. Punk? Nah! I’m quite sure the heroic Joe Strummer would be genuflecting to tracks like Akokass.
Probably should come with a health warning. Though being prescribed by the NHS as a cure for indolence and depression might be equally appropriate.
• fat-cat.co.uk | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
CATRIN FINCH AND SECKOU KEITA Soar bendigedig BENDI2-1
Photo: Andy Morgan
Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita
A few years back, not long after they’d released their debut album together, 2013’s Clychau Dibon
(Astar), the duo of Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and Senegalese kora player Seckou Keita gave a notable performance at Whitby’s Musicport Festival. If that initial release was the sound of two kindred music spirits from very different traditions staking out common ground on which to communicate, then the live set was the sound of that communication in full flow. It was gentle and cleansing. Music to make you shut your eyes and follow. On the way out of the hall that afternoon, I saw festival organiser Jim McLaughlin. “Hammocks,” I said to him. “Next time they play here, you should issue the audience with hammocks.”
Five years down the line and their second album finds the communication has reached a point of seamlessness. It’s hard to tell where the harp ends and the kora begins. Over eight tunes, the duo work together and round each other. These are mostly original self-composed pieces, the one exception being Bach To Baisso, an unlikely but winning combination of an excerpt from JS Bach’s Goldberg Variations and one of the oldest compositions in the West African kora player’s repertoire.
This doesn’t really feel like a set of separate compositions, but rather one flowing musical conversation. Full marks too to Keita as producer and engineers Jared Planas and Hywel Wigley for getting the all-important excellent sound quality essential for a recording of such delicate instruments.
Now, where did I put that hammock?
• catrinfinchandseckoukeita.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
ANNA & ELIZABETH The Invisible Comes To Us Smithsonian Folkways SFW40229
Photo: Brett Winter Lemon
Anna & Elizabeth
Ah, ‘the difficult third album’. We all know how that story’s supposed to go, right? It’s taken Anna & Elizabeth six years (and the 550 miles between Cedar Springs, Virginia and New York City) to get here, but this sounds like the place they’ve been headed toward the whole time.
For this album (their first for the venerable Smithsonian Folkways label) the dynamic duo have enlisted the services of Dirty Three drummer Jim White and pedal steel voyager Susan Alcorn (whose occasional collaborators include fellow travellers of the musical outerverse like Pauline Oliveros, Eugene Chadbourne and Mike Cooper) along with some cunningly-deployed brass, woodwinds and synthesisers.
Anna’s enthusiastic integration into New York’s experimental and improvised music community has clearly been a liberating experience. Always a highly accomplished musician, here she and co-producer Benjamin Lazar Davis subtly wreathe the songs in lovingly-crafted and surprising soundscapes. Elizabeth’s still that extraordinary traditional singer who first bedazzled us with Rain And Snow back in 2004, but her willingness to explore these old song texts within a new, contemporary context has resulted in performances in which she sounds somehow even more authentically connected to her material. This time it’s personal.
Always scrupulous collectors and researchers (they spent a whole year in collecting these songs) Anna & Elizabeth credit both their source singers and and their sonic influences as equally important. The latter category includes the likes of Laurie Anderson, Patti Smith and Meredith Monk. (Interestingly, Monk is also acknowledged by English singer composer Kerry Andrew on the similarly-configured and contemporaneous You Are Wolf album Keld – also reviewed in this issue).
This is an album of traditional songs on which each track offers the listener something uniquely satisfying – from Black Eyed Susan’s minimalism to Ripest Of Apples’ more conventional rock structure and from Irish Patriot’s jazz saxophone textures to Virginia Rambler’s fractured drumming. The bowed drones behind Farewell To Erin are reminiscent of Lankum (another acknowledged influence) while Woman Is Walking is just a lovely high and lonesome thing. By The Shore is a piece of storytelling with overlapping spoken word and sung passages that is strange, hypnotic and beautiful.
It turns out this isn’t ‘the difficult third album’ at all. It’s a straight-up masterpiece.
• annaandelizabeth.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…
Bert Jansch A Man I’d Rather Be (Part 1) (Earth EARTHCD023)
Endlessly re-issued down the decades, but you can now get Bert’s first three LPs Bert Jansch, It Don’t Bother Me and Jack Orion, plus the instrumental set Bert & John with John Renbourn, remastered in a beautiful hardback digipack with notes from Bill Leader and a selection of Brian Shuel’s photos from the album shoots. Much better sound than vinyl and a great package too. Essential. earthvinyl.com
Irka Mateo Y La Tirindanga Vamos A Gozá (Irkamateomusic 91079-85614)
Dominican singer-ethnomusicologist Irka Mateo has collected folk songs around the country to infuse the original pop material she unleashes with her lively sextet (accordeon, electric guitar, horns, organ, bass, drums, percussion). irkamateo.com
The Watersons/Waterson:Carthy An Introduction To… (Topic TICD006). An all-embracing primer collection presenting fifteen representative, enthralling examples culled from eleven recordings of the massively influential family group in sundry permutations, usefully including solo releases and expanded group lineups. A great vantage point from which to survey four decades’ achievements. topicrecords.co.uk
Various Artists Exotica (Saydisc CDSDL447)
Achingly awkward title on a poorly conceived and sequenced selection running from David Fanshawe’s Pacific field recordings to studio confections by bands like Caliche, Arabesque and Burning Bush. The final coup de grâce is a cheap and nasty black-tray jewel box package with zero design values. Barrel scraping. saydisc.com
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down