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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
OLD SWAN BAND FORTYssimo WildGoose WGS407CD
Photo: Judith Burrows
Old Swan Band
FORTYssimo…see what they did there? A lot can happen in 40 years. Walls can fall. The same old wars can keep getting fought. Scotland can almost get independence. And English country dance music can make a comeback. Big time. They can’t be held responsible for the first three but much of the latter is involves a group called the Cotswold Liberation Front who, taking on the mantle of English music champions heroically fighting off the dominance of the all-conquering, all-powerful Celtic groups, evolved into the Old Swan Band.
And here they are, all these years later celebrating the big Four-O with a big, fat chunky selection of classic, wildly infectious dance tunes proving they’ve lost nothing in the way of verve, pizzazz, sense of mischief and joy of playing. The line-up has remained surprisingly constant in that time, the distinctive brass backbone supplied by John Adams on trombone, with Neil Gledhill and Jo Freya on sax, Jo’s sister Fi Fraser joining Paul Burgess and Flos Headford in the flowing front line of triple fiddles, while the key rhythmic charge is guided along by Heather Horsley’s piano and Martin Brinsford’s deliciously engaging shuffling percussion.
All, of course, also feature in numerous other bands but there’s such an easy familiarity about the way they unite on this, their first album since Swan For The Money three years ago, it feels like stumbling on a favourite pair of slippers, all warm and toasty from the fireside, and finding they still fit perfectly. Except you can’t dance in slippers and this is very much an orgy of toe-tapping dance tunes. Hornpipes from Dorset, Northumbrian marches, stirring morris tunes, Playford jigs, something from the Jimmy Shand repertoire, a rather fine Paul Burgess original tune and a wonderfully impudent performance of that great old grandstander Whistling Rufus, with the brass section building up an impressive head of steam.
Old Swan Band are an English folk music institution and this delightful collection shows exactly why. More power to their ankles.
• www.wildgoose.co.uk | www.freyamusic.co.uk | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
ROSS DALY The Other Side Own label
Photo: Judith Burrows
This is the sort of album that, if it’s on while friends are round, after a while as it sinks in is likely to evoke the reaction, “What are we listening to? It’s lovely!”
Ross Daly (see the piece about his musical centre Labyrinth in fR373) is a central musical figure in Crete, not just for Labyrinth and for playing Cretan music but for enriching it with his compositions, which draw on his deep experience and stringed-instrumental skill in the wider geography of modal musics beyond Crete and Greece.
The album opens slow and stately, moving gradually and naturally to breathless peaks of fast-bowing, thrumming high energy. Winding, long-phrased tunes full of subtleties of pitch and rhythm in which Daly’s lyra, tarhu, rabab or saz curl and keen. He’s joined by an array of top players (including partner Kelly Thoma and others interviewed or mentioned in the fR feature) on lyra, laouto, ney, hurdy-gurdy, oud, double-bass and percussion often playing unison, octaves or complementary lines over the slap and snap of tar and tombak.
All the compositions are his own, but have the richness and associations of ages, rich with the twists and intrigue that make traditional musics so capable of endless exploration, just as the appearance and misty, aching, sympathetic-stringed sound of the tarhu, while it’s a new development, fit and enhance the old musical forms like it’s always been there.
• www.rossdaly.gr/en | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
KASSÉ MADY DIABATÉ Kiriké No Format! NOF26
This album starts gently. Balafon and ngoni set up a water-running-over-stones motif that combines dignity, calm and a sense of play. Then in comes the voice, also calm, until suddenly a moment of emotion bursts through. In comes a cascade of kora. A cello, quite shockingly, appears. The magic perks up. A performance of rare and intimate quality is under way.
Traditionally, Manding jelis or griots are not paid a set fee for their outpourings. They receive gifts from the audience who cough up according to their inner barometer, how much they have been moved. Thus is a jeli rated, and Kassé Mady, with family line going back centuries, is rated very highly indeed. Salif Keita says he is the greatest singer in Mali.
What higher accolade? You quickly spot Kassé’s similarity to Salif in terms of phrasing, the end-of-line cadences, the sudden rush to cram more into a line than good measure would permit, contrasting preceding contemplation and repose with sudden heart-stopping intensity. One area where they differ is the volume knob. Mady doesn’t have – or chooses not to use – Salif’s extreme blowlamp technique. He’s more contemplative and close-quarters, especially as heard here on this CD. But his baritone doesn’t lack intensity. Absolutely the reverse. It just is not so loud.
Cellist Vincent Segal and kora player Ballaké Sissokho had already released two albums when they asked Kassé Mady to join them on a third – this one. In addition to Segal, Sissokho and Kassé Mady are Lansiné Kouyaté on balafon and Makan Tounkara on ngoni. What a tight ship, what complexity from a small acoustic orchestra, what a voice. All-star indeed.
• www.noformat.net | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
LUTINE White Flowers Front & Follow F&F032
Heather Minor and Emma Morton claim “a shared love of traditional folk and modern classical, distorted through a lens of mediæval and baroque music, traditional Indian and Chinese music, dream/synth pop, minimalism, experimental music and 60s/70s folk.”
White Flowers (their debut album) was recorded in a Brighton church, predominantly accompanied by Minor’s organ piano and keyboards, with sparsely deployed cello, autoharp and shruti.
Nature provides rich inspiration and imagery, in titles like White Flowers, Sallow Tree and To The Sea, while lyrical references to trees, lakes, the land, the river and a garden are abundant. That skinny-looking cloaked fellow, carrying a scythe, is often lurking in a Lutine lyric too, but their siren songs are the most melodic of melancholies. Like South Park’s Butters, theirs is truly “a beautiful sadness”. Brilliant arrangements of the traditional songs Died Of Love and Death And The Lady and a beguiling cover of Come Wander With Me (sourced from a 1964 episode of The Twilight Zone) blend in perfect sequence with the seven originals, forming a rarefied sonic atmosphere over the listener.
Those seeking similarities with other female duos may discern traces of the folk-classicism of Twelfth Day, the received pronunciation harmonies of Smoke Fairies, the Askew Sisters’ love of traditional ballads or First Aid Kit’s fondness for an autoharp, but Lutine sound like genuine originals. As English as cricket on the village green, or the dead hand revealed by the plough, this is music to listen to by candlelight, with no distractions, and the superb cover artwork, booklet, miniature postcard and inserts that comprise the CD package make it well worth acquiring the physical artefact.
• www.frontandfollow.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…
Keston Cobblers Club A Pocket Guide To Escaping (Cobblers Records 2756506041)
Highly accomplished and beautifully packaged five-track EP, which neatly avoids the overly-earnest and/or twee elements that bedevil some of their ukulele, accordeon, banjo and waistcoat ’n’ beard-sporting contemporaries. Memorable, uplifting, modern folk-pop toe-tappers. Hugeness beckons. www.kestoncobblersclub.com
No Blues Kind Of (ONusual Records 8713762039486)
Laudable though their intentions are, this longstanding collaboration between Dutch blues and jazz musicians with players from Palestine and West Africa never quite works. And given that this is a double album (one live disc, one studio) there’s a lot that doesn’t quite work here. www.noblues.nl
Yasmin Levy Tango (World Village 450026)
Levy has the vocal chops to govern anything she chooses, but with some exceptions (eg Vuelvo Al Sur), the Israel Kibbutz Orchestra overpowers the intimate passion of classic tango. It’s about poetic anguish and the spare human voice, up front, flayed to the bone, not twinkly show-biz orchestration. Includes live DVD. yasminlevy.net
Maria Kalaniemi Quartet Kaustinen Live 2003 (Åkerö ÅKERÖCD014)
There’s something about the natural flow of a live recording, particularly when it just happens to be recorded rather than being a tense special event, and as here where punctuating applause is left out. Lovely, melodic, Finnish. Kalaniemi (accordeon, vox), Timo Alakotila (piano), Olli Varis (guitar), Timo Myllykangas (bass). www.mariakalaniemi.com
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down