This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
SAHRA HALGAN TRIO Faransiskiyo Somaliland Buda 4758652
Somaliland is a country in north-east Africa, or else it isn’t, depending on who’s talking. Officially it’s a self-declared state in northwest Somalia, internationally unrecognised. But according to Somalilanders, sizeable communities of whom live in Britain, Somaliland is a free and independent nation. It has been so since 1991. Sheffield, Cardiff and now Tower Hamlets Councils agree.
Singer Sahra Halgan is a kind of cultural flag-bearer for the nation. She now lives in Hargeisa, the capital. But she lived in Lyon for the last 20 years where she met two sympathetic French musicians who play on this CD. Aymeric Krol plays percussion – ‘strange drums’ as it says on the album credits – and ngoni while Mael Selètes plays guitar. And that’s the trio we hear here. With no more than occasional overdubs and the odd guest musician, they conjure a big, varied sound of direct appeal and considerable depth. They fill their stage.
Sahra has a voice capable of everything from high-power declamation to soulful murmurings. The parallel that springs to mind might be Ethiopia, someone like Aster Aweke. Mael Selètes’ guitar is reminiscent of a Tuareg bluesman, but with more variety and complexity. He really is a one-man lesson in what a single electric guitar can be made to express with minimal electronic treatment. A fine and resourceful musician, as is drummer Krol who conjures powerful syncopation and propulsion from slender means. All serve Sahra, and Somaliland. It comes with accompanying film on DVD.
Hear a track on this issue’s fRoots 57 compilation.
• www.budamusique.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
SHOW OF HANDS The Long Way Home Hands On Music HMCD39
Photo: Judith Burrows
Show Of Hands
Immaculately packaged, beautifully produced, finely recorded…the Hands (as we groovy types in the meejah like to call them) don’t put many feet wrong wherever they happen to tread.
In this case it’s a carefully measured twelve-track path that embodies trad songs (a rather magnificent Hambledon Fair included), contemporary songs by Chris Hoban, Andrew Cadie, Dick Gaughan and Brian McNeil and five new Steve Knightley songs. Yet this isn’t quite the Knightley extravaganza we tend to anticipate from SoH albums. The arrangements are well-rounded and more varied than we’re used to hearing, Phil Beer gets to take lead vocal on a couple of tracks (including a rather moving cover of one of the late Tony Rose’s greatest hits, ’Twas On One April’s Morning) and there are guest appearances from Ange Hardy, Phillip Henry, Hannah Martin, Jackie Oates (harmonising sublimely on Hambledon Fair), not to mention Knightley’s thirteen-year-old son Jack on cajon.
They definitely benefit from sharing the load; Hoban’s two songs Hallow’s Eve and The Old Lych Way offer a wholly different dimension, rooted as the songs are in a mystical past and accorded suitably spiritual, atmospheric arrangements; while Keep Hauling, written by Cadie (of the Broom Bezzums) is a glorious modern sea shanty that will soon surely be accorded the ultimate accolade of being attributed to Mr Trad.
Previous accusations of being formulaic certainly can’t be laid here. Knightley rather cleverly references his own back catalogue on Walk With Me (When The Sun Goes Down) and in Mesopotamia he’s constructed a love song of rare tenderness and fragility, ably abetted again by the harmonies of Jackie Oates.
With ol’ gravel voice reining in his more grandstanding inclinations and Beer excelling himself with his sweeping array of fiddle landscapes, the accustomed freneticism is rarely heard on a thoughtful album of warm shades and lower temperatures that sounds surprisingly… well… folkie.
• showofhands.co.uk | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
VARIOUS ARTISTS Songs Of Separation Navigator 094P
Songs Of Separation
Another of these thematic ensemble affairs where a bunch of people are shut away in a remote location for a week with the brief of coming up with a collection of songs on a certain theme, Songs Of Separation
involves ten prominent female singers and musicians – Karine Polwart, Mary Macmaster, Eliza Carthy, Hazel Askew, Rowan Rheingans, Hannah James, Kate Young, Jenn Butterworth, Jenny Hill and Hannah Read – examining the topic of parting, be it personal, geographical or ideological.
The brainchild of bass-playing Hill who’s also shared production duties with Andy Bell, this album – recorded on the island of Eigg in the Scottish Inner Hebrides – is the prelude to a short tour which culminates at Celtic Connections, and listening to the exquisite close harmonies, delicate arrangements and yearning material, you’d imagine it will be magical.
These team projects always offer formidable challenges in the quest for balance and variety. When you get someone as wonderful as Karine Polwart on board it must be a great temptation just to give her all the songs, let her get on with it and tinker around behind while she weaves her magic. She and Eliza Carthy are certainly the dominant voices and when they sing The Flowers Of The Forest together – even before the track dives into a wonderfully uplifting Anglo-Scottish dash – all resistance is hopeless.
Yet the more you get into this the more you realise it’s not just the Polwart-Carthy show. From wondrous unaccompanied Gaelic singing to nods at music-hall, old ballads, Americana and a spot of Kate Young weirdness too, full of offbeat handclaps and dark atmospherics, its range stretches far and wide. The tone is set by an African-style vocal that creates an arresting crescendo on Polwart’s affecting opening salvo, Echo Mocks The Corncrake – hear it on this issue’s fRoots 57 compilation – while a pleasing banjo arrangement around Hannah Read’s understated version of It Was A’ For Our Rightful King brings an American flavour into the mix…
And so it all ebbs and flows in tone, content and presentation. Hazel Askew’s swaying music-hall style delivery of London Lights over Carthy’s fiddle with the ensemble delivering a quietly rousing chorus round her is a showstopper in waiting; and closing track Road Less Travelled – there’s that banjo again – finds Polwart, Young and Rheingans gliding through the bird noises to a lovely, mellow endpiece.
And for anyone not a scholar of Scottish history, Eigg (‘the island of the big women’) takes its name from a group of Pictish warrior women who successfully defended it against invasion by a bunch of Irish monks intent on replacing the islanders’ paganism with Christianity. There’s a moral in there somewhere.
• www.songsofseparation.co.uk | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
BARETO Impredecible World Village WVUK 030
Despite frequent association with chicha and cumbia, Peru’s Bareto defies solitary confinement within those genres. Impredecible (‘unpredictable’) certainly nods in that direction with space-age surf guitar instrumentals such as País De Las Maravillas, Mamá Motelo
and La Voz Del Sinchi
(the latter an apparent cultural reference to Sinchi Ruq’a Inka, a pre-Hispanic ruler of Cusco). But over the past dozen years, Bareto has crafted a distinctive voice, melding samples and electronica with strains of reggae (Viejita Guarachera
), Latin American folk idioms (No Es Para Mi
and the title track), Afro-Peruvian traditions (Bombo Baile, La Negra Y El Fantasma
, and El Loco
, the latter with a vocal cameo by Peru’s Susana Baca), salsa, rock, and global popular sounds.
The most provocative and inspired of the album’s eleven tracks is La Pantalla (‘the screen’), a wicked critique of the base stupidity of Peruvian television, a song best apprehended by viewing the corresponding music video (easily found on YouTube). Its over-the-top performance brilliantly mimics the medium’s subliminal manipulations, dismissing TV personalities as “swinish clowns without talent” who produce “zero content”, pandering to voyeuristic instincts in an unending torrent of morbid, hallucinatory vulgarity that the band condemns in particular for its noxious effect on Peruvian youth.
Medellín producer Felipe Álvarez – known for his signal work with ChocQuib Town, Calle Trece, Monsieur Periné, and Bomba Estéreo – manned the boards for the Peruvian and Colombian sessions, with expert mixing by Sidestepper’s Richard Blair, making for a thoroughly unpredictable, eclectic, and engaging result with pan-Latin appeal.
Hear a track on this issue’s fRoots 57 compilation.
• worldvillagemusic.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: Moonshine (Earth Records EARTHCD005)
Timely reissue of Jansch’s eighth (vintage 1972) studio set, rescued from obscurity and beautifully remastered. Boasting accompaniment from folk’s aristocracy and sporting a classy tracklist including an unrivalled January Man, this represents one of Jansch’s finest hours. A mandatory acquisition. www.earthvinyl.com
Various Artists: The Ultimate Guide To Scottish Folk (ARC Music EUCD2606)
Two-and-a-half hours of Scottish music! Nice mix of old (Ceolbeg, Ossian) and new (Mischa MacPherson, Breabach). Classic tracks by flagship artists (Capercaillie, Dick Gaughan), plus examples of the musical genre-crossing that the Scottish scene does so well (Martyn Bennett, Lau). www.arcmusic.co.uk
Gordie MacKeeman And His Rhythm Boys: Laugh, Dance And Sing (Own label no cat no)
Sorry, but recordings like this are an affront to my ears. MacKeeman leads his band on fiddle and vocals with pulsating drums and anything else he could find adding to the noise. Moderation may help. www.gordiemackeeman.com
Trader Horne: Morning Way (Earth Records EARTHCD006)
In 1970, a duo comprising Judy Dyble (ex-Fairport) and Jackie McAuley (ex-Them), recorded this inexplicably underrated sparkling, magical-mysterious cult psych-folk masterwork; its latest remastered incarnation, including both sides of non-album single, forms the complete recorded Trader Horne. Unmissable and zeitgeist. www.earthvinyl.com
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down