KARINE POLWART releases TRACES

I was Farrah Fawcett… You were Steve McQueen… And we rode your silver Grifter half the way from Aberdeen…

So sings Karine Polwart at the beginning of her fifth studio album Traces. It’s an unlikely opening for a “protest” song about the evils of the Trump Corporation’s politically controversial executive golf development in rural North East Scotland. But then Polwart is a writer who’s long favoured a subtle knife.

“Och, sometimes I wish I could be just a wee bit more Billy Bragg”, she laughs.

Written in response to Anthony Baxter’s multiple award-winning documentary film You’ve Been Trumped, and now incorporated into the feature film’s end credits,

‘Cover Your Eyes’ is, says Polwart, “essentially about what we value and what we don’t. With guys like Trump, it’s about power, money and spin bulldozing through generations of intimate connection to a place, collective memories. That stuff doesn’t count in the world of number crunching. But it’s ultimately all there is.”

With its spare use of atmospheric percussion and swelling vocals, it heralds a new cinematic sensibility both in Polwart’s writing and arranging and in the intricately layered production of Iain Cook (one half of Glasgow band The Unwinding Hours, and an experienced composer for television). Indeed it sets the tone for an album of songs united by a fascination with the intimate and fragile vestiges of people’s lives and stories.

Traces draws inspiration from the history and symbolism of St Paul’s Cathedral via The Occupy Movement (in the sweeping ‘King of Birds’), ponders the ways in which Charles Darwin’s family life might have impacted on him as a thinker (in the poignant ‘We’re All Leaving’) and recalls the childhood mystique of the BP petrochemical plant at Grangemouth on the River Forth (in the uplifting ‘Tinsel Show’).

A visceral connection to “the crimson towers of the city you were born in” underpins the hypnotic and percussive insistence of ‘Tears for Lots Wife’; whilst the elegiac harmonium and accordion duet of ‘Sticks N Stones’ conjures the leaving of a family home via “inch marks on door frames” and the imprint of “hopes in the plasterboard”.

Supported by her two regular touring collaborators, brother Steven Polwart (guitars & vocals) and Fair Islander Inge Thomson (accordion, percussion and vocals), Polwart’s own direct musical contribution to Traces has expanded beyond her usual acoustic guitars to include Indian harmonium, floor percussion, and even modest use of field recordings.

Throughout the album this core trio is sympathetically augmented by producer Cook on piano, keys and percussion, and by judicious use of guest musicians on tuned percussion (marimba, vibraphone), wind (including Admiral Fallow’s Sarah Hayes on flute) and horns.

These additional musical textures support songs such as ‘Salter’s Road’, a gentle eulogy for Polwart’s elderly neighbour, Molly Kristensen, and add drama and intensity to the unsettling ‘Strange News’, which captures the hour immediately after Polwart heard of the sudden death of her younger cousin, Ewan.

A humane response to the darker side of life has rarely ever been far from Polwart’s pen. But ‘Half a Mile’, the unflinching closing track of Traces, is, by her own reckoning, the most difficult song she’s committed to record yet. Written in memory of Northumbrian schoolgirl Susan Maxwell, who was abducted and murdered 30 years ago, Polwart explains her reasons for writing it:

“I remember Susan’s story very clearly from my childhood because she was the same age as me and we grew up in very similar places. I used to walk the back road home alone from netball practice all the time, whilst she was snatched on her first ever walk home on her own after playing tennis in Coldstream in The Borders. I know the road she walked. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare. Susan has been back in the news in recent years, along with all the other lassies whose lives were stolen by the same man. I just wanted to write something that made her close up and real, not just a faded old photo in a newspaper.”

And it’s the flipping of perspective between child and parent that makes the short journey and subsequent quest of ‘Half A Mile’ such a devastating close to Traces.

“To me it’s an album of love songs,” says Polwart, “Not romantic songs but songs to honour all those many other kinds of love and longing and loss that shape all of our lives”.

Indeed Traces might just leave its own quietly indelible emotional mark.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Click here for UK tour dates: http://www.karinepolwart.com/

Juno nominated Jeremy Fisher new release Mint Juleps

Juno nominated Jeremy Fisher new release Mint JulepsListening to Mint Juleps, the fifth album by two-time Juno Award nominee Jeremy Fisher, is like ambling through the long and relaxed dog days of summer. The acoustic-driven collection of 12 songs reunites Fisher with his folk-drenched musical roots and is a veritable throwback to the golden era of the singer-songwriter.

An ode to the glory of the record as a whole, the sophistication of Mint Juleps is in its inherent simplicity. Recorded live off the studio floor, this decidedly unembellished method of capturing the songs was a challenge for Fisher, but it was also a liberating experience.

In between the interpretations of songs by the likes of Greg Brown, Jean Leloup, and Lowest of the Low are a mélange of songs penned by Fisher that capture him at his absolute finest.

“Built To Last” is a catchy parable of taking care of oneself and the world at large by embracing a simple kind of life. It’s a pointed message for the current political landscape set to an irresistible toe-tapping melody.

The trademark whimsy and wit of Fisher’s lyricism drives songs like “Tetris Song” where he creates perhaps his sweetest love song yet through the not-so-obviously romantic metaphor of a mathematic equation.

Then again, Jeremy Fisher has never really been one to build his career by travelling down the most obvious – or easiest – paths. His commitment to touring by bike is a case in point.

Since 1998 he has completed the journey across North America an astonishing three times, and in 2010 he launched a unique tour of the west coast called The Malahat Revue with fellow artists Said the Whale, Hannah Georgas, and Aidan Knight. Together, they travelled by bike with gear in tow, and pedaled roughly 500km across British Columbia.

That sort of DIY attitude that infuses Fisher’s touring ethos replicates itself in the strong visual component of his music. Having become renowned for his hand-crafted music videos, he has produced animated works for artists including Adam Cohen, Hannah Georgas, Xavier Rudd, and Hawksley Workman.

Call him a renaissance man, or even a modern-day folk hero. Whatever you call him, it’s clear that Jeremy Fisher is bringing back the nearly forgotten art of making a great record from start to finish, and forging a career path that is built to endure.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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The Agnostic-Phibes Rhythm and Blood Conspiracy releases CAMPFIRE TALES…

Folkmaster – This may not be to everyone’s folking taste but I’ve had a few beers and have decided why not?

Sort of reminds me of an early Blue Oyster Cult line-up that have been kidnapped by the Hammer House horror team. Here’s the press release with a couple of SoundCloud tracks…

In the deep, dark woods of Canada, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, there is a dilapidated cabin. Illuminated only by a single gas lantern and a wood stove, the frontman of garage-punk, underground legends Forbidden Dimension and the three members of twisted roots-music cult-heroes Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir compose haunting and raucous tales of death and mystery. What? Did you hear right? Garage-punk misanthrope Jackson Phibes playing with THAT Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir? Yes, you did. You heard perfectly well. There is no need for us to repeat ourselves.

The unlikely collaboration started when the AMGC went on hiatus in 2010 and guitarist Bob Keelaghan found the exact location where the mysterious Forbidden Dimension singer/guitarist/tunesmith Jackson Phibes had decided to turn his back on humanity. As it turns out, Phibes was hard at work on new Forbidden Dimension material when the AMGC guitarist, along with bassist Vlad Sobolewski and drummerJason Woolley, found him in his remote shack. At first, Phibes was suspicious, belligerent, and suffering from ailments brought on by a steady diet of squirrels. After persistent badgering, Phibes was satisfied they were sincere musicians with chops to boot and he agreed to collaborate on an album.

While excited about Phibes’ rediscovery, people were at first confused. The AMGC had developed a world-wide cult following from St. Hubert, Fighting And Onions andTen Thousand, their three albums of updated, raw, ragged, pre-WW II acoustic-blues and Appalachian banjo freak-outs. They boasted fans like Seasick Steve and former BBC Radio DJ Mark Lamarr. They drew standing ovations at prestigious festivals like the Big Chill Festival in England and the Winnipeg Folk Festival in Canada.

Since the late 1980s, Jackson Phibes fronted the longest-running punk rock band in Calgary, now in its 23rd year of existence. FD built its reputation on pile-driving rock music with lyrics inspired by classic horror movies. Across the globe, fans of garage trash eagerly devoured his classic tunes of cartoonish morbidity like ‘Tonight I Paint In Flesh Colour’ and ‘Graveyard Line’.

How could such a partnership work? Anyone who bothered to get past the garish, grease-paint stage show and listen to a Forbidden Dimension record knew Phibes was well-versed in the R&B of early garage rockers, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Link Wray, and pioneering psychobilly. Above all, he is a killer songwriter and storyteller. He just happens to dwell on monsters, madmen, and libidinous biker women. And on the other side of the coin, music critics have frequently referred to the ferocious punk elements in the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir approach to blues and country. Common ground? Plenty.

With patience and coaxing, the combo recorded Campfire Tales, an album that sews together the worlds of garage rock and roots music, building a bridge between the old-time tradition of the murder ballad with modern macabre storytelling. The dark imagery is augmented by guitars that simultaneously howl with electricity and brood acoustically. Woolley’s clanky drums accent growling vocals while Sobolewski’s upright bass pounds away. Together they create an atmosphere both moody and rowdy. Surely, this disc will spin the punk-blues scene on its pointed, little head.

Listen to the eerie, country ghost-ride that calls itself ‘Campfire Tales’ or the dual-guitar hooks on country-blues-meets-gypsy-freakout ‘Wolfman Franz’ (an ode to an eastern European madman); or ‘Necking Party’, a hypnotic swamp rock tale of teenage lust and voyeurism gone horribly awry that gets extra spooky with Phibes’ ghostly wails from his feedback guitar. The guitars of Phibes and Keelaghan meld seamlessly and the band seduce listeners with their superb musicianship. After prying your eardrums away from your stereo the pairing of Phibes and the Agnostics will make perfect sense.

Yes, Petunia, the collaboration between members of Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir and Jackson Phibes of Forbidden Dimension is here and ready for your consumption. After all the delays and false release dates, July 16, 2012 marked the release of Campfire Tales by the Agnostic-Phibes Rhythm & Blood Conspiracy.

Shoutin’ Abner Pim proudly says this CD could be the shocker of the year. Musically, it rests somewhere between the garage punk of Forbidden Dimension and the clang-banging country blues of the Agnostics, but it goes to places neither band does. The songwriting strengths of Jackson Phibes and Bob Keelaghan are brought to the fore as is their intricate guitar interplay. It’s a wild ride and we trust it will appeal to your discerning tastes.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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BRUCE COCKBURN – Small Source of Comfort

Bruce Cockburn has always been a restless spirit. Over the course of four decades, the celebrated Canadian artist has traveled to the corners of the earth out of humanitarian concerns – often to trouble spots experiencing events that have led to some of his most memorable songs. Going up against chaos, even if it involves grave risks, can be necessary to get closer to the truth.

“My mother once said that I must have a death wish, always going to what she called ‘those awful places,’” laughs Cockburn. “I don’t think of it that way. I make these trips partly because I want to see things for myself and partly out of my own sense of adventure.”

Released in April 2011, Small Source of Comfort, Cockburn’s 31st album, is his latest adventurous collection of songs of romance, protest and spiritual discovery. Winning this year’s Juno Award for Best Roots and Traditional Album, and his 12th Juno Award to date, the album, primarily acoustic yet rhythmically savvy, is rich in Cockburn’s characteristic blend of folk, blues, jazz and rock. As usual, many of the new compositions come from his travels and spending time in places like San Francisco and Brooklyn to the Canadian Forces base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, jotting down his typically detailed observations about the human experience.

Bruce Cockburn’s songs, along with his humanitarian work, have brought him a long list of honours, including an induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award and several international awards. In 1982, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Officer in 2002. Last year, the Luminato festival honoured Cockburn’s extensive songbook with a tribute concert featuring such varied guests as jazz guitarist Michael Occhipinti, folk-rapper Buck 65, country rockers Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, country-folk singers Sylvia Tyson and Amelia Curran, pop artists the Barenaked Ladies and Hawksley Workman, and folk-pop trio The Wailin’ Jennys.

Never content to rest on his laurels, Cockburn keeps looking ahead. “I’d rather think about what I’m going to do next”, he once said. “My models for graceful aging are guys like John Lee Hooker and Mississippi John Hurt, who never stopped working till they dropped, as I fully expect to be doing, and just getting better as musicians and as human beings.” Small Source of Comfort, a reflection of Cockburn’s ever-expanding world of wonders, is the latest step in his creative evolution.

With a career spanning more than four decades, producing an acclaimed body of work that has sold over 2 million copies worldwide, Bruce Cockburn continues to be revered by fans and fellow musicians alike as one of the most important songwriters of his generation.

Small Source of Comfort is Cockburn’s first studio album since 2006 – a rhythmic and highly evocative collection of 14 new tracks inspired by his renowned unusual and diverse muse – recent trips to Afghanistan and ponderings on the re-incarnation of Richard Nixon, to road trips and unreturned phone calls. The album boasts some of the best musicians recording today, including violinist Jenny Scheinman, former Wailin’ Jenny Annabelle Chvostek, and long time collaborators Gary Craig, Jon Dymond and producer Colin Linden.

As both a songwriter and a guitarist, Bruce Cockburn is considered among the world’s best. The New York Times called him a “virtuoso on guitar”, while Acoustic Guitar magazine placed him in the esteemed company of Andrés Segovia, Bill Frisell and Django Reinhardt.

Cockburn’s songs have been covered by such diverse and talented artists as Elbow, Jimmy Buffett, Judy Collins, Anne Murray, Chet Atkins, K.D. Lang, Barenaked Ladies, and the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist web link: www.brucecockburn.com

Mary Black, The Night Is On Our Side (3ú Records/Blix Street)

The Night Is On Our Side is the latest single to be released from Mary’s recent album, Stories From The Steeples– her first studio recording in six years. In a career spanning over twenty-five years, Mary’s success has been attributable to her discerning taste when it comes to choosing material, and not least her ability to get under the skin of a song and tease out its innermost sentiments; Stories From The Steeples offers reaffirmation that this artistry shows no sign of diminishing.

Ever willing to support burgeoning, Irish song writing talent, this latest single comes from the pen of the young Dublin songwriter, Danny O’Reilly. It’s a carefree, pop-tinged number, with lyrics that tend to lean on the brighter side of life. Lead by a breezy arrangement of guitars and piano, the song is underpinned by a string section that adds warmth and class.

And then there’s Mary’s voice- a precision instrument of beauty that the passing years only seem have furnished with yet more grace and compassion. Mike Wilson

Mary’s record company, have given, folking.com exclusive permission, to stream the latest single as part of this feature below… Click on the play button to listen to the track!

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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HIDDEN PEOPLE – Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman

“HIDDEN PEOPLE” is an apt title for this long-anticipated debut CD from husband-and-wife duo Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman.  They have been lynchpins of the UK’s burgeoning folk-acoustic revival over the last two decades – but a case, perhaps, of always the bridesmaid and never the bride.

Now, at last, it’s their turn to burst out from the shadows of their siblings and former musical partners to make a big noise in their own right.  This bold and superbly – crafted album includes eight self-penned songs, one traditional arrangement and a poignant cover version.    With Kathryn’s sublime voice and effortless delivery, Sean’s masterly guitar arrangements and the sonic quality of the production this CD, this is one the most eagerly awaited modern folk albums of the year.

The esteem in which they are held is reflected in the list of artists who queued up to make a contribution: Sean’s famous brother Seth Lakeman; the award-winning Irish singer Cara Dillon (who is married to another brother, musician and producer Sam Lakeman); Levellers’ lead singer Mark Chadwick; veteran folk troubadour Dave Burland, singer-songwriter Jim Moray, Megson’s Stu Hanna, Caroline Herring from the USA and Greta Bondesson from Sweden’s sister trio Baskery.

Steeped in the English tradition, Yorkshire-born Kathryn, 37, was a teenage sensation in a duo with Kate Rusby. They made the Folk Album of the Year in 1995, “Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts”, and Kathryn also won the first-ever BBC Young Folk Award as a solo singer.

They both teamed up with the three Lakeman brothers to form the folk -pop “supergroup”, Equation, which was signed to Warner Music’s cool ‘Blanco Y Negro’ label.  Rusby and Seth then left to begin successful solo careers.

Equation, with Kathryn and Sean at the head, spent more than five years touring in the USA and performed at top venues from New York to Los Angeles. They played the legendary Newport Folk Festival, the Golden Gate Festival inSan Francisco, the Strawberry Festival in California’s Yosemite National Park, the Rock ‘N’ Roll hall of fame in Cleveland and concerts from Arizona to Seattle, Chicago to Denver, Boston to El Paso.

“We must have seen more of America than most Americans” says Sean.” An incredible experience and a unique musical education.”

Meanwhile, Seth Lakeman wrote his seminal “Kitty Jay” album, which led to a Mercury Music Prize nomination – and a musical roller coaster ride. Sean was at his elbow, playing guitar as Seth achieved international fame with subsequent albums. Gold and silver albums sit on Sean’s walls, as producer of Seth’s groundbreaking CD’s, one of which (Poor Man’s Heaven) became the rarest of things, a folk album in the Top Ten.

Like Kathryn, Sean’s musical pedigree is formidable. After emerging on the English folk scene as one of ‘The Lakeman Brothers’ he studied jazz and contemporary music at Leeds College of Music. But he learned more by staying at the Yorkshire home of family friend and guitar maestro, Chris Newman, and touring the UK’s folk clubs with veteran folk fiddler Tom McConville.

Kathryn and Sean have had a low profile as a duo over the last eight years. As Sean toured the world with Seth’s band, Kathryn has been busy at their hideaway Dartmoor home raising twin girls, Poppy and Lily, who are now nearly five.  Now, finally, they have found breathing space to produce “Hidden People” for the Navigator label and will be heard performing live throughout the summer and autumn at festivals and gigs.

Kathryn’s vocals – lush, sultry and faultless – are the signature of the album. She has an extraordinary range, from husky to soaring. She also provides all the piano, keyboards, flute and woodwind. Sean contributes six-string guitar, mandolin, bass guitar, bouzouki and of all things “wooden ruler bass.”

The sonic quality of this CD is testimony to Sean’s impressive production and recording skills and demonstrates why other folk artists and bands like the Levellers have beaten a path to his door to employ his services as a producer.

The tracks on “Hidden People” range from Kathryn’s haunting lead vocals, to rousing a cappella harmony, mellow and heart-rending piano ballads, foot-tapping rockabilly beats, tunes with a world-music tinge and full-on folk-rock. Yet the core of the album is good old-fashioned story-telling.

“These are stories, first and foremost,” says Kathryn, but she warns, “My home-life is so ‘roses round the cottage door’, that I tend to prefer music with an edginess, so some of the tracks on the album are quite dark and brooding, to say the least.” The messages and meanings behind these songs belong to the “Hidden People.”

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Latest festival and tour dates: http://www.kathrynrobertsandseanlakeman.com/gigs/