This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down
A sampling of reviews from the current issue
ELIZA CARTHY Wayward Daughter Topic TSCD772D
Photo: Jak Kilby
I’ve said it before but by jingo I’ll say it again – English folk music was in a sorry old state until Eliza Carthy came along with her blue hair and nose ring to grab it by the scruff of the neck in the mid-1990s. Headstrong, determined, passionate, fearless and, yes, visionary too, Eliza’s background, pedigree and musical understanding not only afforded her the confidence and freedom to dismantle and reconstruct various sacred cows and take some breathtaking liberties with the music, but forced others to take it seriously when she did.
Now she’s part of the furniture it’s easy to forget the sort of impact she made back then – effectively opening the door for the young cavalry that has charged in behind her – but this 31-track double compilation CD is a salutary reminder of the sheer breadth of musical challenges she’s vigorously confronted in the 21 years or so since it all started in earnest.
In the meantime we’ve had Eliza the peerless traditional song interpreter who gave us a new benchmark with the Anglicana album, magnificently represented here by Worcester City and the whimsically nostalgic Willow Tree; Eliza the genre explorer teaming up with Salsa Celtica on the still delightful Grey Gallito; Eliza the experimentalist flirting with hip-hoppery on Billy Boy and Adieu Adieu; Eliza the ebullient playing with impudent rhythms with the underrated Kings Of Calicutt on the dancing Mr Walker; Eliza the charismatic, delivering her uncle Mike Waterson’s Jack Frost with a majestic sense of wonder; Eliza the Imaginary Villager as popstrel re-interpreting Ewan MaColl’s most bizarre song Space Girl with husky relish; Eliza the eager duettist with Nancy Kerr on I Know My Love and Martin Green on Lemady; Eliza the colourful songwriter, offering widely contrasting ingredients of sauce, morality tales, keen observation and personal reflection on the likes of Little Big Man, The Company Of Men, Britain Is A Car Park and Mohair. And, of course, always at the heart, there’s Eliza the Waterson, gloriously belting out May Song with the family while her peerless delivery of The Nightingale reminds us of the brilliance of her Gift album with mother Norma Waterson.
Of course, someone who takes so many risks won’t always get it right but the art of a good compiler – in this case our very own Editor – is to omit all that stuff and, drawn from 22 albums, this collection gets it absolutely right. It’s a proud career CV but more importantly it stands powerfully alone on its own considerable merits – vibrant, modern and relevant.
• www.eliza-carthy.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
DAVID WAX MUSEUM Knock Knock Get Up Own Label
David Wax Museum
Dontcha love it when the more enlightened US musicians cross the border and start mixing it up with music down Mexico way? I know I do. Recent examples have included Calexico and Mariachi El Bronx and now we can add the unusually monikered David Wax Museum to the list. The Waxers, as I’ve just decided to call them, are a new name to me. Featuring Harvard-educated, Boston-based singer-guitarist David Wax and Suz Slezak on fiddle and quijada
(the donkey’s jawbone favoured by Afro-Peruvian musicians), plus percussion, accordeon, brass and bits and bobs of field recordings, they create a heady mix of folk and pop which they describe as Mexo-Americana and is a lot less ethno-muso and a lot more fun than all that makes it sound. Wax sings in a light tone, a bit like Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, but minus the self-consciousness. An attractive affair all round then, and one whose melodies worm their way further into my consciousness with each play. Harder Before It Gets Easier
(heard on this issue’s free fRoots 44
compilation) and Vivian
sound like they were made to blare out of radios and make you smile; The Rumours Are True
is the sort of tune that could give wistful plaintiveness a good name and the whole thing sounds tailor-made to be danced to very badly (by me at least) in a festival field. Good news then that they’ll be coming over this summer to play Womad.• www.davidwaxmuseum.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
BABA SISSOKO & DJELI MAH DAMBA KOROBA Baba Et Sa Maman Goodfellas GF2724
BABA SISSOKO Afro Blues African Griot Groove Goodfellas GF2720
Italian-based Malian tamani master Baba Sissoko took his time in recording this CD with his djeli muso mother, an evocative and emotive acoustic recording, exploring their griot roots. And it feels unhurried, a loose and luxuriant unfurling of ngoni, kamalengoni, soku – all played with skill and warmth – and varied percussion and voices. I’m particularly struck by the babbling, trance-like Djasere and the scratchy melodic lines of the soku throughout.
Mah Damba Koroba’s open, bountiful voice is redolent of red earth and heat and homecoming and Baba Sissoko’s spoken proclamations add weight to the feeling of paying homage to the ancestral music flowing through their veins. A really lovely project. You can hear a track on this issue’s fRoots 44 compilation.
The solo release from Baba continues the theme, but with a more conventional contemporary Malian studio line-up of drums, bass and drums. Interesting textures, deep rootsiness and well executed.
• www.babasissoko.com | Buy from Amazon.co.uk
THE RHEINGANS SISTERS Glad Gold Hearts RootBeat RBRCD17
Photo: Elly Lucas
The Rheingans Sisters
Here’s an unexpected little gem. Rowan Rheingans – she of Lady Maisery – teams up with sister Anna on a positively forthright and bold collection of songs and tunes recorded live by producer Andy Bell in such a fashion that they appear to sitting next to you on the sofa playing and singing. The scrapes of their fiddles are right in your face and the soul of the music almost palpable.
At times they sound like a couple of old-time country musicians sitting on a porch in the Deep South, though their terms of reference are far broader than that as they mine tunes from Norway and Sweden, where they both studied folk music; one of the most intriguing tracks is the closer Reiselått Frå Nes, a slightly weird traditional Hardangar fiddle tune which evolves with arresting mystery into a ghostly chorus. Bookended with an opening version of the old warhorse Sorry The Day I Was Married, inventively set to raucous Estonian rhythms, it’s indicative of exploring minds and an obvious passion for playing.
This capacity to inject genuine freshness into well-worn themes and ideas is ably demonstrated by their mesmerising banjo arrangement of the Incredible String Band classic October Song (on this issue’s fRoots 44 compilation) while the old-timey influence is underlined by a lively treatment of The Factory Girl, neatly intertwined with the lovely tune Shenandoah Falls. Their willingness to revisit folk music history – not just for material but for its integral spirit – is one of the facets that makes the album so appealing, as proven by their thoughtful rejuvenation of Bread And Roses, inextricably linked with the women textile workers’ strike of Massachussetts in 1912 (and a question that defeated the Eggheads team on TV recently, triv fans!).
It may not be instantly obvious, but this is an album of substance and depth.
• www.rootbeatrecords.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…
Frugal Puritan: Frugal Puritan (Folk Police PENDLE 03)
On first encounter a classic example of early ’70s lo-fi twee godfolk (or psych folk as it gets called nowadays), complete with extensively fawning reissue notes. But then you smell a small furry rodent and spot that the release date was 1st April. Aha! Musicality rating 1; work of art rating 10 (it is, frankly, authentically awful – but a clever and classic spoof). Galactic Ramble Vol 2 ahoy. www.folkpolicerecordings.com
The Dustbowl Revival: Carry Me Home (Own label, no cat no)
Great name for a band, but things get iffier once actual listening commences. This ten-member outfit from Los Angeles traffics in show-offy arrangements of folkish originals and trad standards intended for the less discerning out there. If not exactly the New Christy Minstrels with a brass section, still too close for comfort. www.dustbowlrevival.com
Nynke: Alter (Crammed Discs CRAM 209)
Elegant European chanson from Dutch gold disc winning singer/writer Nynke Laverman with declared Mediterranean and Latin inspiration but, despite producer Javier Limón’s guitar and guest flamenco vocal breaks, closer in style to, say, Norway’s Kari Bremnes. Main unusual aspect is that she sings mostly in her native Frisian. www.crammed.be
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou: Vol 3: The Skeletal Essences Of Afro Funk (Analog Africa AACD 073)
Third volume culled from Samy Ben Redjeb’s musical archaeology in Benin. Extraordinary energy and groove on fourteen tracks never before released outside Africa mean dance-floor heaven for the faithful. Quality stuff, with a fat booklet. Vinyl available. www.facebook.com/AnalogAfrica
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This month’s issue •
Come Write Me Down