JEB BARRY – Milltown (DollyRocker DR2015-1)

MilltownBarry grew up and still lives in a mill town in the Berkshire hills of rural Massachusetts, so he knows of what he sings when, on ‘Milltown #2’, he talks about how, in his daddy’s day you could find honest pay before the 80s came and everything changed, destroying hope and promises, while the lucky few may find escape through college or the military, mostly “no one ever gets out of the cold grave of a milltown”.

The track reveals a worn and weathered voice that may not always stay on pitch or in tune, but which, full of character and expression, has earned comparisons to Earle and Isbell, but, although that is just him and a guitar, the album also sees him backed by the wonderfully named The Pawn Shop Saints, featuring Mike O’Neill on guitar and dobro, Ernie Barufa on uke, bass and percussion, Pat Powers on banjo and harmonica and Heather Austin on vocals.

At 15 tracks, there’s a couple of numbers (notably the ragged ‘Weird Times’) that might have been judiciously pruned and, save for getting high on some roll your own in ‘Homegrown’ or the refusal to be pulled under despite everything in the defiant, mandolin-accompanied ‘Pinebox’, it’s almost relentlessly downbeat.

Here, then, are ‘Drag The River’ with its Christmas Eve tale of desperation, depression and drowning (“Bootleg whiskey and a little meth… Are far from my, only regrets”), the van Zandt-like innocent man hanging folk blues ‘Waiting’ Around To Die’ (“never laid a hand on a girl long as I lived”), and, echoing the theme of the title track, the banjo-flecked ‘Hard Times Come Around Again’ and the storysong ‘No Way Out Of This Town’ with its devastating line “when the cancer came, she let it win”.

And, while comfort may be found in resigned acceptance and settling for the ‘$10 Girl’ on a barstool in a town where there “Ain’t no diamonds, but there’s pearls”, love is generally bruised and bitter, a relationship balanced on the edge of collapse in ‘It’s Going To Snow Soon Sara’, shattered on ‘Gone’ (“She never gave a damn but she sure damn left a note … ‘Drop dead’ on the back of a torn, gas bill envelope”), pushed away on ‘Dry Summer Rain’ and suicidal on ‘Shoot Out The Moon’ with booze the only escape in ‘Why I Drink Alone’ (“better than going home thinking she’ll show”) and the standout, harmonica haunted ‘If You Were Whiskey’ (“I wouldn’t be a mistake, you learned to hate”).

Probably not one you want to listen to at your lowest ebb with a razor blade or bottle of pills nearby, but, like Cohen, Townes and other poets of wounded souls, Barry understands the often forlorn beauty of despair and misery and the catharsis and sense of not being alone that these songs can bring.

Mike Davies

If you would like to download a copy of the track or just listen to snippet of it then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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. 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’s website: http://www.jebbarry.com/

‘Body In The River’:

Young Musicians sought for National Youth Folk Ensemble

Young Musicians

The English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS) has launched a nationwide search for talented young musicians to become the first members of the new National Youth Folk Ensemble.

A series of Sampler Days will be held throughout England during May and June to audition musicians aged 14 to 18 for up to 25 places in the Ensemble, which is supported by Arts Council England.

Led by the Ensemble’s Artistic Director, BBC Radio 2’s Folk Musician of the Year 2015 Sam Sweeney, each Sampler Day will include creative workshops with a team of professional folk artists, individual auditions, and a question and answer session with Ensemble staff.

Selected musicians will be invited to a final audition in London in July. To register for a Sampler Day, musicians have to be aged between 14 and 18 on 1 September 2016, live in England, be able to play confidently on any instrument and have an interest in folk music.

Places on the Sampler Days are free but limited and booking is essential at  www.efdss.org/nationalyouthfolkensemble.

Katy Spicer, EFDSS Chief Executive and Artistic Director, said: “We are looking for excellent instrumentalists who are dedicated to developing as folk musicians and excited about collaborating with others who share their passion.

“This is a unique opportunity for young musicians and the first time a group of this kind has been established on a national basis. It offers a chance to develop in a nurturing environment with experienced and skilled musicians.

“We are hoping the Ensemble will discover, encourage and inspire the folk performers, educators and leaders of the future, and we would encourage as many young musicians as possible to sign up to the Sampler Days.”

National Youth Folk Ensemble Sampler Days 2016

Sunday 8 May – Birmingham Conservatoire, BIRMINGHAM

Saturday 28 May – Sage Gateshead, GATESHEAD

Sunday 29 May – Leeds College of Music, LEEDS

Monday 30 May – Royal Northern College of Music,  MANCHESTER

Tuesday 31 May – Derby LIVE, Guildhall Theatre, DERBY

Thursday 2 June – Exeter Phoenix, EXETER

Friday 3 June – Cecil Sharp House, LONDON

Saturday 11 June – West Road Concert Hall, CAMBRIDGE

Sunday 12 June – Cornerstone, DIDCOT

The National Youth Folk Ensemble will formally launch in October. Members will take part in four weeks of intensive residential courses around the country, receiving high quality tuition and guidance from leading professional folk artists. They will also develop skills in performance, arrangement, leadership and facilitation and give public performances.

Keep up to date with news about the ensemble at  www.efdss.org/nationalyouthfolkensemble and tweet @theEFDSS #youthfolk

Sam Lee at the Radio 2 Folk Awards and singing with Nightingales

Sam Lee

The BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards returned on Wednesday 27th April 2016 and was held at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall in London. The event featured live performances from ground-breaking folk singer and song collector, Sam Lee, as well as the singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading and Northumbrian folk act The Unthanks.

Since bursting onto the folk scene at the end of the 1990s, Sam Lee has blazed a dizzying trail as an outstanding singer and song collector but also as the driving force behind the eclectic, award-winning folk club, The Nest Collective, which has brought traditional music to younger audiences, to all kinds of new stages and venues.  In the past few years, Sam has taken his dynamic interpretation of ancient songs worldwide, to more than 20 countries. Awarded the prestigious 2011 Arts Foundation prize, nominated for the 2012 Mercury Award for his debut album, Ground Of Its Own, Lee’s most recent album is The Fade In Time which was released to critical acclaim in 2015.

If you would like to order a copy either of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.




As well as a varied career (which has included working as a part-time Burlesque dancer), London born and bred, Sam Lee, is an experienced naturalist. In marked contrast to the Royal Albert Hall performance, during the spring of 2015, saw Sam providing small audiences with a very special opportunity to join him and guest musicians in Sussex woodlands, to sing with Nightingales.

Sam Lee hosted a series of these outdoor feasts at a secret location in East Sussex at which music, stories and folklore celebrated one of Britain’s rarest birds – the nightingale.

The idea for the celebrations grew out of a sell-out event Sam ran in 2014 for the Brighton Festival and listener reactions to his award-nominated radio programme marking the 90th anniversary of the BBC’s first ever outside broadcast, featuring a nightingale and cello duet.

As yet we have not had any word from Sam if he plans to run this again in 2017 but details about the original event can be found via this link: http://thenestcollective.co.uk/shows/singing-with-nightingales-sam-lee/

DOUG EUNSON AND SARAH MATTHEWS – Song And Laughter (own label COTHCD010)

Song And LaughterSometimes simple is best and Song And Laughter bears that out. Two voices, melodeons, fiddle and viola and a repertoire you could imagine hearing in any folk club. There is no need for deep textual analysis here, the title says it all.

The set opens with ‘In Praise Of Alcohol’, a poem by Robert Service with the sort of rhymes that signal themselves so you can wince at them well in advance. The music was written by the late Canadian singer David Parry who made a speciality of Service’s work. The same theme is taken up again in ‘Good Ale For My Money’ although in this case the singer is more particular about his choice of tipple.

Doug and Sarah cast their song gathering net far and wide. There is John Tams’ ‘Lily Gilders’ from one of the later Radio Ballads; ‘The Dutch In The Medway’ from the brilliant songwriting partnership of Rudyard Kipling and Peter Bellamy and Leon Rosselson’s ‘The Ant And The Grasshopper’. Doug adds some new verses to ‘The Grey Goose And The Gander’ which make as much sense as the originals do and Sarah provides the music for the jolly ‘Windmill At Heague’, a poem by Shelley Posen. It’s not all fun and games – ‘The Ordeal Of Andrew Rose’ is the true and horrific tale of the cruel fate of a sailor at the hands of his captain and mate. It’s not sung very often mostly, I suspect, for reasons of delicacy but Doug does the only thing possible and sings it straight without an excess of emotion.

There are two instrumental sets to round out the album and the record finishes with a wassail which complements the Rosselson song which precedes it but I can’t help but think that the take-home message that now comes from the latter song is not the one that Leon intended when he wrote it. In these days of austerity the ant should help the grasshopper. No deep textual analysis? Maybe not.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to download a copy of the track or just listen to snippet of it then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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. 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.

Artists’ website: www.dougandsarahduo.wordpress.com

MALCOLM HOLCOMBE – Another Black Hole (Gypsy Eyes Music)

Another Black HoleHaving released The RCA Sessions retrospective re-recordings last year, Holcombe makes a swift return with a 10 song set of brand new material, recorded in Nashville with regular collaborators Jared Tyler (dobro, baritone guitar, banjo, mandolin), Dave Roe (bass), Ken Coomer (drums), swamp legend Tony Joe White (electric guitar), drumitar inventor Future Man and Drea Merritt (harmony). The voice is sounding increasingly gummy these days, the ‘sh’ of the sibilances making you wonder whether he might need a set of dentures, but that just compounds the lived in quality of his singing and songwriting.

‘Sweet Georgia’ kicks things off with banjo and string bass riding a relaxed rolling rhythm that’s rather in contrast lyrics about small town darkness, parental abandonment and cheap thin walls with cobweb corners. That edge also seeps into the swamp blues ‘Another Black Hole’, White’s slide guitar underscoring the air of menace and life in the city’s underbelly. However, while ‘To Get By’ continues the theme of scraping by and making do, musically – and in Holcombe’s phrasing – it comes over like one of Guy Clark’s good time strums. On the other hand, it’s early Kristofferson who comes to mind with ‘Heidelberg Blues’ where wartime images of bombs and ruins are at odds with the fact that the town was never targeted by air raids, though memories of the many souls who “will never know springtime once again” does remind that it was from here that many hundreds of Jews were sent to concentration camps.

With the line about “California wanna be’s feedin’ the famine in my backyard”, the loping, throaty semi-spoken ‘Don’t Play Around’ returns us to America’s urban recession and inequality and things don’t much lighten up on the rest of the album, either. The choppy “Someone Missing” talks of volatile relationships and “the bumpy ride way outta of town”, the strut-rocking blues ‘Papermill Man’ delineates a life of the daily grind for “a dollar a day” as you ask “do you live to eat, do you eat to live” while the “damn Vanderbilts hold the keys to the city” and the spoken, acoustic picked ‘September’ talks of loss and how “the hearts of the dead leave you empty”.

It ends on, if anything, even darker notes. ‘Leavin’ Anna’ (which references Cormac McCarthy, just as ‘Don’t Play Around’ name checked Larry McMurtry) recalls the Great Depression where working men “travelled where the money was good” at the cost of not having “a soul I can call a friend when darkness settles in” before ending on images of floods and drownings. And, finally, comes ‘Way Behind’, a song of loss (“a precious tiny hand holdin’ on and turnin’ cold”), guilt (“the neighbors all remember the fancy funeral homes I never set foot in to comfort anyone”) and the need for mercy and redemption “when shadows follow clouds too heavy with my tears.” Don’t come here looking for “happy go lucky”, as he says on the title track, that ain’t his “set o’ wheels”; but if you want raw hurt and blackened despair then this is your ride along.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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’s website: http://www.malcolmholcombe.com/

Another Black Hole – promo video:

Desert Songs – Dawn Landes and Piers Faccini

Desert Songs

Desert Songs was released by Beating Drum on January 15th 2016 in Europe and in North and South America by Six Degrees. It will be released digitally as well as on limited edition 12” vinyl.

The two songwriters, Dawn Landes (US) and Piers Faccini (UK) met in 2013 when they recorded a Lead Belly song for Faccini’s cover project, Songs I Love. Later that year, Piers invited Dawn to France to perform in a 12th Century Romanesque Chapel in the remote Cevennes region of the south of France near Piers’ home and studio. Inspired by their first experience of performing together, they met up a few months later to write and record the intimate suite of songs that would become the EP, Desert Songs.

The bare autumnal skies and rugged mountainous landscapes provided the perfect backdrop for their collaboration. In between sessions, they walked the footpaths in the hills around the studio, swapping tales of the mystics and seekers that inspired the stories and lyrics in Desert Songs. Where Dawn would quote the Desert Fathers or Thomas Merton, Piers would would cite Sufi poets Rumi and Hafez or the poems of St John of the Cross. Dawn and Piers wove the arrangements together using the rich collection of instruments in Piers’s studio, a Malian Kora, a 1930’s National resonator guitar, West African percussion and an Indian dulcimer and tampura. Back in her Brooklyn studio a month later, Dawn recorded drum parts with Ray Rizzo. Desert Songs was then mixed in NYC by Pat Dillet.

Both songwriters have released critically acclaimed albums to their names, Piers Faccini’s most recent album Songs of Time Lost was in NPR’s top 10 world music albums of the year as well as in Songlines UK’s 10 best albums of 2014. Dawn’s most recent album Bluebird won the 2015 IMA award for “Folk/Singer-Songwriter album of the year” and featured guest appearances by Norah Jones and members of Bon Iver. In 2015 she was invited to give a TED Talk and perform in Lincoln Center’s prestigious American Songbook Series.

If you would like to download a copy of the EP or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click on the banner link below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

Artists’ websites: http://www.dawnlandes.com/ / http://www.piersfaccini.com/?cbg_tz=0

‘Heaven’s Gate’ – official video: