This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
ELIZA CARTHY & THE WAYWARD BAND Big Machine Topic TSCD592P
Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band
Boldness, irreverence, adventure, skill, ambition, daring… Eliza Carthy has never wanted for any of these things throughout a game-changing career that’s had a profound impact on the musical landscape which nurtured her. She’s had her failures, too, but the important landmarks along that path – The Kings Of Calicutt
(1997), Red Rice
(1998) and Anglicana
(2002) – not to mention significant collaborations with Waterson:Carthy and The Imagined Village, still shine brightly.
We can certainly add the name Big Machine to this proud and influential list. No quarter is spared in the pursuit of the grand gesture designed to sweep all before it in an exhausting whizz-bang barrage of sounds, ideas, technique and colour. A twelve-piece band including the likes of Barn Stradling, Dave Delarre, Saul Rose, Beth Porter, Lucy Farrell and Sam Sweeney, brass-a-go-go and guest vocals from Teddy Thompson, Damien Dempsey and MC Dizraeli offers a surfeit of appetising promise by anyone’s standards and the first cap-doffing should go to Jim Sutherland, who’s done miracles at the production end making such a sweepingly broad source of musicians, material and arrangements sound so coherent, organised and vibrant.
Comparisons with Bellowhead are natural enough, but even Bellowhead perhaps never quite mastered the conversion of an irresistible, all-conquering live appeal into recorded form as satisfyingly as this. Much thought seems to have gone into the programming as a brilliant take on Ewan MacColl’s The Fitter’s Song – full of wailing brass and thunderous drums – segues into an infectiously rhythmic bout of scat singing before exploding into the ferocious instrumental Love Lane which, all guns blazing with demonic guitar and basslines, flying fiddles and headbanging drums, really could be Bellowhead.
Even if Eliza’s own song, You Know Me, was the only decent track it would still be a great album. An anthem for sanity in an increasingly scary world, it’s a beautiful response to the hysteria surrounding the refugee crisis, with a funky rhythm and a highly effective Dizraeli rap. But there’s plenty more here to get you jumping, including inspired arrangements of several Broadside ballads gleaned from Manchester’s Chetham’s Library, notably Devil In The Woman, a study of domestic abuse with galloping percussion and a morris tune in the middle.
Songs of the sea are a primary ingredient. Great Grey Back deliciously recalls the shanty glories of Rogues Gallery, while there’s an ingenious arrangement of Rory McLeod’s Hug You Like A Mountain with Teddy Thompson and a sombre I Wish That The Wars Were All Over, on which Damien Dempsey gives a master class in emoting.
The only thing I dislike about it is the cover photo. Hear a track on fRoots 62.
• www.eliza-carthy.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
ENSEMBLE ÉRIU Imbas Ensemble/Raelach Records ESM0002/RR007
Ensemble Ériu are a band without walls or ceilings. With Imbas
, they assert their confidence with their windows-wide-open approach to tradition in which they dipped their toes with an impressive eponymous release in 2013. The seven-strong band, led by double-bassist/flautist Neil O Loghlen and concertina player Jack Talty, offer up a thoughtful and engaging modernist take on Irish traditional music, rooted in the styles of west and north County Clare, but drawing on a deep and diverse well of musical and creative inspiration, sources and moods: minimalism, improvisation, experimental jazz, organic ambience.
Imbas feels more cerebral than heart-led in construct, but is none the less beautiful for it. In part the instrumentation dictates effect: the core of pure drop fiddle, lilting concertina, flutes and whistles set in a bed of louche jazz percussion, billowing Bonobo-esque clarinets, earthily resonant marimba, minimalist guitar lines and rolling bass.
But more so, the effect is created by a determinedly experimental attitude, including the players from more traditional backgrounds. The six tracks each offer a fulsome exploration of ideas (up to ten minutes per track) built from an exposition. The Tempest rises (and fades) from minimalist, tongued clarinet motif, underpinned by a rolling marimba, into meandering unison fiddle and concertina-led melody over softly-syncopated drums. There’s almost a sense of parallel play, with them all staring out in different directions but aware of the same horizon.
Elsewhere tracks are launched with familiar and rooted lilting traditional tunes before wandering into uncharted experimental soundscapes, rife with dynamic contrasts: perky concertina vs pentatonic string plucking; flowing flute vs gritty bass clarinet; mellifluous vs spiky. The West Clare Reel sees a meditative calm build to an agitated urgency.
Both complex and conscious; simple and abandoned. No mean feat! Hear a track on fRoots 62.
MOSE ALLISON I’m Not Talkin’: The Songs And Stylings Of Mose Allison, 1957–1971 BGP/Ace CDBGPD 304
Sadness. I had this wonderful 24-track anthology on regular play here in the dungeon, but before I could sit at the keyboard to construct some deservingly glowing words about it, the news came in that Mose had passed away a few days after his 89th birthday. Well, at least his many recordings like these make him immortal.
Although Mississippi-born Mose started his career as a busy, inventive post-bebop pianist, he adapted that to song accompaniment after it became apparent that singing and songwriting was to be his USP. Look online and you’ll find that the most common descriptions of his cool, almost throwaway, bluesy and utterly unmistakeable vocal style and song lyrics are ‘laconic’ or ‘sardonic’, but that’s just scraping the surface.
In the early 1960s, Prestige put out a compilation of vocal tracks titled Mose Allison Sings. It was an underground hit in the UK. He never was a household name but he became a hero among musicians. His songs like Parchman Farm, Young Man Blues and Everybody Cryin’ Mercy got covered by The Who, Georgie Fame (who completely adopted Mose’s vocal style), Van Morrison, John Mayall, The Clash, The Yardbirds, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello and Bonnie Raitt, and his music influenced many more from the Stones to Hendrix, Tom Waits and beyond. Even his covers of blues classics by others, like Sonny Boy Williamson’s Eyesight To The Blind or Willie Dixon’s Seventh Son and I Love The Life I Live – all included here – became the iconic versions beyond the originals. He’s one of the ‘definites’ for my Desert Island Discs selection.
Five tracks that were anthologised on Mose Allison Sings are here, along with nineteen other favourites from more than a dozen Prestige, Atlantic and Columbia albums covering the fourteen years in the subtitle. Excellently compiled and with extensive notes by Dean Rudland, and great remastered sound by Duncan Cowell, this is a fabulous testament to those early years and, if you’re new to him, as fine a belated introduction to his work as you could ask for.
Whether inter-label muzikbiz politics could make a second volume possible with the best of his later works for Discovery, Elektra, Blue Note and Anti, I can’t imagine. For he went on from here to other, occasionally even greater things, especially in the ’80s and ’90s when he was creating things like Middle Class White Boy, Ever Since The World Ended and Ever Since I Stole The Blues. But start here and then you’ll want to track down those later ones too which, right now, are looking a bit pricey. They deserve this kind of treatment too.
• www.acerecords.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
VOXTRA The Encounter Of Vocal Heritage Muziekpublique 08
This works, wonderfully. Sardinian vocal group Tenore de Monte Arvu, Albanian vocal ensemble Gjini, Belgian Raphael De Cock (who’s also in both those groups), singer Talike Gelle of the Antandroy people of southern Madagascar, and Finnish singer Anu Junnonen, all of them Belgian resident, bring together their distinctive traditional vocal techniques and styles. Not in the form of a sequence of separate songs in each style, but interweaving them simultaneously, each contrasting tradition maintaining its strong character without ever blanding into levelled-out sameness. Each singer is full of individuality and ability, and there’s not a weak or even similar-sounding track on an album that flows beautifully through its bountiful 23 tracks, one of which you can hear on this issue’s fRoots 62 compilation
For example, in the opening track Talike and Anu combine, each in their own language, a Malagasy song by Talike and a Finnish trad song, underpinned by a rhythm from deep grinding Sardinian bass vocal. Or track five, where the down-drifting, melismatic weep of Albanian singing alternates with the Finnish song Läksin Minä Kesäyönä Käymään, rhythm-propelled by jew’s-harp and pandero. Most tracks are unaccompanied and don’t lack anything, but in the track that follows, a duet between Junnonen and De Cock in an intertwining of Flemish and Finnish trad songs, Anu plays glockenspiel and Raphael kantele.
Throughout, the conjunction of these traditions brings out their differences, and each singer and ensemble uses a full range of their techniques; there’s no sense of suppression of individuality to make it all blend. On the contrary, we hear each delving into what makes their tradition special, the contrast between them making those features all the more evident. And it touches areas that are rare in the traditions’ homelands, such as a female voice (Manuela Deledda) in the traditionally all-male Sardinian cantu a tenore.
Superficially it might appear that this project has similarities to Breton singer Erik Marchand’s 2001 Albanian/Sardinian/Galician/Malian/Breton Kan. But Peter Van Rompaey of trail-blazing multicultural Brussels organisation Muziekpublique, who put together Voxtra (and also this year’s very successful Amerli – Refugees For Refugees project, and much more), says, “The great album Kan was an inspiration to start the project. Originally there were Georgian singers in the band, but as two of them were expelled from Belgium, we were lucky to discover that the former Ensemble Tirana soloist Gramoz Gjini was living here. The result may on first sight resemble Kan but is quite different. We hope the result can match in a way the quality of Marchand’s excellent work”.
It certainly does, and more.
(So… Belgium, population 11.27 million; UK, population 65 million… I wonder…)
• www.muziekpublique.be | 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…
The Ian Campbell Folk Group: The Complete Transatlantic Recordings (Cherry Red CRTREEBOX016)
Unbelievable value! 105 songs – the entire Ian Campbell Folk Group catalogue 1963-1968! Originating from Aberdeen, this influential group formed in Birmingham in 1958. This collection encapsulates the British folk-revival: emotive ballad-singing, passionate socialist commitment, and humorous music hall influences. www.cherryred.co.uk
Ponk: Postfolklor (Ponk)
“Folklore is dead,” say Ponk. “It has been dead for ages despite the best efforts of publicly displaying and worshipping its decorated and embalmed corpse in the pursuit of convincing many of its immortality.” So doom-laden traditional Moravian murder ballads, played with tremendous dexterity and subversive style on cimbalom, violin and double bass. www.ponktrio.com
Napoli Mandolin Orchestre: Mandolin Al Cinema (Felmay FY7048)
The title tells all! Mandolins make much movie music managing merely moderately. At least the Spaghetti Western selection manages to raise the odd titter. www.felmay.it
Hank Williams: The Complete Singles As And Bs (Acrobat ACQCD 7104)
Four CDs, 103 cuts from the greatest country music singer ever. What more do you want. Willams’ voice epitomised country music. Whatever he sang came out unadorned country. Soul and an Alabama accent you could cut with a knife. acrobamtmusic.net
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down