BLAIR DUNLOP – Gilded (Gilded Wings GWR001)

GildedThe son of Ashley Hutchings, Dunlop’s follow-up to House Of Jacks contains a dozen self-penned songs, all recorded as live with a basic instrumentation of Jacob Stoney on keys, drummer Fred Claridge and bass player Tim Thomas, that find him pushing deeper into the more radio-friendly and catchily melodic frontiers of contemporary folk. This is particularly true of the opening track, ‘Castello’, a song inspired by the experiences and dreams of a Balkan/Latin woman from Manchester he met while touring Europe and which, just as ‘45s’ referenced The Kinks and Dylan, namechecks Joy Division and James. He’s been likened to Jackson Browne and, while this holds true in places (most especially on ‘The Egoist’, a relationship-centred number that wouldn’t have been out of place on Late For The Sky) , listening to ‘She Won’t Cry For Me’, a song seemingly about a relationship fractured by his chosen career (“Your dreams were only ever big enough for two. My dreams are born from other people passing through”), I’m more put in mind of Don McLean playing Richard Thompson, who’s clearly an influence on the stunning guitar work.

Social comment is part and parcel of Dunlop’s work and this is no exception. Built around fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a repetitive, almost mechanical, drum pattern of just three clicks, ‘Eternal Optimist’ addresses the way our lives are dominated by our screens and the way it distances up from real interaction while, as the title suggests, the fingerpicked ‘No Go Zones’ concerns the way the news (and the BBC is specifically mentioned) and scaremongering can inculcate fear in the uninformed Western traveller as well as nodding to the way the ban on fox hunting is blatantly ignored. Which isn’t to say, of course, that some no go zones aren’t very real.

Then there’s ‘First World Problems’, a commentary on giving up control of the manufacturing process, whether that be in terms of a third world farmer’s forced concessions to economic trade (“we can always make it cheaper”) or musical compromise (“the words fall on stony ground without the roots to hold them down”). It’s the first of three co-writes, here with his former Albion Band colleagues, while ahab’s Dave Burns collaborates on the starry-skies mood of the love lost ‘I Don’t Know’ and he teams with Gita Langley for album closer, ‘Phoenix’, a keyboards-led bluesy exploration of the parallels between the mythological bird and someone close to Dunlop.

On a different note, tapping out percussion on his guitar, ‘356’ is a wry song about a man dreaming of buying a classic luxury Porsche sports car with just 40,000 on the clock from a Mayfair showroom before riding off on his bike, and perhaps subconsciously intentionally, reminiscent of Paul Brady’s ‘Crazy Dreams’.

Two tracks make very specific reference to historical figures. That said, the solo acoustic ‘Let’s Dance to Paganini’ is actually another relationship number, here at its birth, hearts sparking to the line “then I knew that it was fate. Let the violins arpeggiate”.

By contrast, and something of a lyrical departure from everything else, opening on an acoustic strum and adding drums and organ ‘Up On Cragside’ is essentially a folk rock potted biography and ode to engineering, sung in the voice of Lord (William George) Armstrong, recounting how he dutifully followed his father into the legal profession before giving it up to pursue his love of machines, first designing a piston for use with the Tyneside dockyard cranes, then setting up a company that forged a light field gun used in both the Crimea and the American Civil War before eventually building the first house (the Northumberland country pile of the title) to use hydroelectricity.

So, songs of the conscience, the heart, the human spirit and the lousy Manchester weather. Sounds like pure gold to me.

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://blairdunlop.com/

‘Eternal Optimist’ live in the studio:

Moddi streams English translation of ‘Punk Prayer’

Moddi

Many will be familiar with Russian feminist collective Pussy Riot, but perhaps few will be familiar with the music that had them trialled and imprisoned in 2012. Norwegian singer/songwriter Moddi today unveils the first English translation of their infamous satirical hymn ‘Punk Prayer’, breaking down the barriers – political, cultural or otherwise – that led to its systematic suppression.

“It’s one of the smartest lyrics that I have ever read,” Moddi says. “Pussy Riot were imprisoned for religious hatred, but their performance of ‘Punk Prayer’ never sought to criticise religion. Rather, it speaks about corruption at the very top of the Russian Orthodox church, and about its close ties to Vladimir Putin. It is telling about the power of the Russian propaganda apparatus when a chorus that goes ‘Holy Mary, drive Putin away!’ can be presented – and even convicted – as blasphemy,” he says.

Moddi’s reinterpretation of ‘Punk Prayer’ is stripped of noise and returned to its melodic roots in Rachmaninoff’s ‘Ave Maria’, but the lyrics are no less subversive. “I was afraid that my interpretation would take it too far into the acceptable form of a psalm,” Moddi says. However, when he tried to film the video in Norway’s most northern King Oscar II Chapel – just 500m from the Russian border – he was told the lyrics were “unfit for the Lord’s house”. He proceeded to perform the song on the church steps in minus five degrees. “It was freezing, but reassuring. It proved that I still had the forbidden core of the song intact. It is still bannable.”

It’s a concept that forms the basis of Moddi’s upcoming album, Unsongs – a collection of songs that have, at one stage or another, been banned or suppressed. With a list of more than 400 songs, spanning multiple continents and centuries, Moddi arrived at a final selection of 12 tracks for the album – the attempts to make sure they could not be heard were as mild as an airplay ban and as brutal as murder. Unsongs simultaneously celebrates the censored and exposes the censors.

Pål Moddi Knutsen, a 29-year-old from northern Norway, was an activist before he was a songwriter – most notably, rejecting a €100,000 grant from Norwegian oil company Statoil on environmental grounds (2010) and cancelling a concert in Tel Aviv in protest of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories (2014). With three acclaimed LPs in his stride (including Norwegian Grammy Award-winning Kæm va du?) and tours spanning the globe, Moddi’s impetus has never been clearer: “The most important thing about Unsongs is not the songs themselves, but the stories they contain. I have chosen twelve stories that I believe deserve to be heard.”

“Informed by a political entanglement of his own, Norwegian artist Moddi is releasing a concept album of songs that have fallen foul of the censor.” – Q Magazine

Watch the video here:

Artist’s website: http://www.moddi.no/

MATTHEW CRAMPTON – Human Cargo

Muddler Books – ISBN 978-0-9561361-2-1 – Softback 164 pp

Human CargoHuman trafficking is never far from the news these days, whether it’s young women from eastern Europe being brought to the west and forced into prostitution; immigrants fleeced by people smugglers before being trapped by gang-masters or refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean and dying in the attempt. Behind all the stories is the profit motive but I for one have never linked today’s news to the slave trade, the press gangs and forced emigration of the past. Matthew Crampton’s book makes that link.

The book is divided into two parts. Firstly, Matthew examines slavery, kidnapping into indentured servitude, military recruitment by whatever means and transportation and secondly, he discusses the stories of those emigrants who volunteered to go, often lured by false promises and whose fates were frequently no better than those of the slaves who preceded them.

Initially, I found Matthew’s short punchy chapters and rapidly changing time-frames a little irritating but once I’d got into the pattern and the rhythm of Human Cargo everything fell into place. Although most of the book is taken up with historical accounts, old illustrations and folk song texts, its focus is very much in the present and the modern reports which parallel the historical text show that very little has changed since the 17th century. Modern villains may not be the rich traders in Liverpool or Bristol nor the greedy landowners clearing the Scottish highlands and the west of Ireland for their own purposes; nor yet governments (as far as we know) but the stories are the same.

Human Cargo is well laid out with facsimile broadsides and posters tempting the unwary and is an easy read. It is a primer rather than an academic treatise but the sources of the various narratives are properly documented as are the song texts and Matthew doesn’t restrict himself to English sources which is refreshing. It will prick your conscience and raise your awareness and then point you in the direction of further reading and for that it achieves its purpose admirably.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the book 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.

Author’s website: www.matthewcrampton.com

To give you a flavour of the book, you can have a listen to a previous live concert performance by the “The London Lubbers” which used excerpts from “Human Cargo” via the soundcloud link below:

Adam Beattie – new album

Adam Beattie

The Road Not Taken is the new album release from Adam Beattie. Masterful songwriting with influences of jazz and blues create a cinematic feel to this fine collection of nine self-composed tracks and a co-write with Mairearad Green. The slow jazz beat of the opening track ‘The Man I’ve Become’ perfectly displays Adam’s heartfelt delivery and sets the tone for album.

From the blues-tones of ‘The Man Who Loves Too Much’ to the melancholy jazz ballad ‘Catch the Biggest Fish’ and ‘Let it Go’ via Turkish infused 5/4 groove ‘I’m On Your Side’, this really is an album to savour.

Co-produced by highly respected jazz musician Fred Thomas, the album was mostly recorded at his studio. Thomas studied piano and composition at the Royal Academy of Music and is one of London’s most sought after multi-instrumentalists and composer/arranger/producers. He has worked with artists such as Lisa Knapp, Basquiat Strings and the CBSO.

Also appearing on the new album are Brooke Sharkey who supplies backing vocals, Marco Quarantotto drums, violins from Piotr Jordan and Fred Thomas plays all other instruments.

Scottish singer songwriter Adam Beattie’s “folk stews and dirty blues” mixes Celtic folk, American blues, country and early jazz balladry. Emotional but laced with wry humour, gentle but gutsy at the core, Adam’s beautiful melodies combine with inventive lyrics to tackle themes of life, love, death and hope. His exquisite voice and intricate guitar work fuse to create an intoxicating musical experience.

Adam has created a breathtakingly beautiful sound that is all his own, and a show that has earned him support slots with the likes of Bert Jansch and Jolie Holland. His band, The Consultants is a fluid line up of musicians featuring piano, violin, double bass, French horn and drums. He is often joined by long-term collaborator and singer-songwriter Brooke Sharkey.

Adam has been playing and recording since 2003 and has released three studio albums; Songs Of One Hundred Years (2012), We’ll Wave From The Shore (2009) and Abu Bozy (2006).

As well as extensive touring in the UK, Adam has toured in Germany, Ukraine, France, Italy, Cyprus, Holland and Belgium.

Artist’s website: http://www.adambeattie.com/

‘The Man That I’ve Become’ – official video:


 

ROB LEAR – Motorcycle Heart (Self Released)

Motorcycle HeartOkay, so opening track ‘Grace’ has early REM written all over it, but the biking Welsh singer-songwriter is no slave to influence. His second album, produced by the Grammy nominated Simon Tassano, ranges across the Americana spectrum, ‘Look Me Up’ a catchy chorus folksy sawayalong strum with a hint of accordion, ‘Light Of My Life’ a joyous, uplifting banjo bubbling pop song, while, again featuring Liz Mullens’ accordion, ‘Michael’ is a slow swaying number that puts a Romeo & Juliet spin on ‘Michael, Row The Boat Ashore’.

Lear has clear and sweet tenor vocal with a slight dusty edge coating that (notably on ‘Carry On’) adds a yearning emotional ache, indeed on ‘Strung Out’ you might even detect a touch of Orbison in there, delivering his songs in a relaxed style that’s hard not to warm to, Given his way with easy on the ear melodies and a songwriting versatility that can bring shades of Paul Simon to the jaunty ‘Elfinman’ one moment, set a funky groove to ‘Too Beautiful’ and build a ringing pop punch on the descending chords of ‘Beseeched,’ that, as Bruce might put it, make you want to grab a helmet, put in those leathers and “strap your arms ‘cross his engines” .

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: http://roblearmusic.com/

‘Light Of My Life’ live under less than ideal circumstances – the electricity had failed. What a trouper:

KATY ROSE BENNETT – Songs of the River Rea (Own Label KRB001)

Songs Of The River ReaBorn in Oxfordshire, part of the prolific musical family that also includes brothers Joe and Robin of the magnificent The Dreaming Spires (Joe also a member of Co-Pilgrim), the former BBC Young Folk Award finalist artist hitherto known as KTB (and erstwhile founder member of Little Sister) has been penning her own songs about “elephants, vegetarianism and unrequited love” since she was 12. These days, she’s based in Birmingham where she works as a musical therapist with children with autism and mental health problems and also leads a variety of community choirs, including One Voice, a project for those who have suffered brain injury, she co-directs with her partner.

In-between all these, she has found time to release three terrific albums, All Calm In Dreamland, Bluebird and Indelible Ink, variously earning comparisons to such names as Dory Previn, k.d.lang, Nick Drake and Kate Rusby. It’s been six years since the last album, but the long wait is finally over with this first release under her own name. Taking its title from the Birmingham river also celebrated in song by Red Shoes, as you might gather there’s a strong autobiographical vein here, most notably so on the jaunty, countrified ‘Driving Home’, a song about coming back from the hospital after her partner gave birth to their son, and again after he was briefly readmitted three weeks later.

There’s a family connection too on the lazingly lovely ‘Soul In The Soil’, a song about her grow-your-own self-sufficient gardening grandmother and her love of the land. It features Robin on flute who joins drummer Mike Monaghan, guitarist Phill Ward, Oxford singer Hannah Rhodes and pedal steel player C J Hillman (not to be confused with pedal steel player Chris Hillman) in lending their musical talents to the album, while Joe produces, play keyboards and adds harmonies.

The album opens with the rippling ‘Cold November Day’, a song of remembrance that references the River Rea and which, from the lines ‘you’re still here in the air around us, still here, in the earth beneath us, the lettuces we grow’ seems to also be about her late grandmother. There’s a playful note to ‘Counting Kettles’ as, backed by humming background vocals and Robin’s flute , she sings about distracting herself from ‘self-destructive reverie’ on a Chiltern Railways journey Marylebone to Moor Street by thinking of what life still has to offer, despite someone listening to “bad trance music” and a father and son loudly discussing football.

From here, she turns her attention outward with ‘Jack & Ivy’, a gentle waltzing song of love, memory and loneliness about former elderly neighbours as Ivy remembers her late husband who used to chauffeur the local postmaster around Birmingham for 25 years. Heavily percussion driven with cowbells and shakers, the buoyant ‘One Day’ perks up the rhythm in a tumbling, chorus catchily ‘Gracelands’-style.. The lyrics mention the army of darkness and, while I’m not sure whether that’s an ‘Evil Dead’ allusion or not, there’s a definite movie reference with ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’, a lazily rippling, summery fingerpicked lighthearted character sketch of herself, which interpolates a guitar line nod to Neighbours when she talks about watching her favourite Australian soap.

While folk, both English and American, is her bedrock, as I say, she’s equally partial to country flavours, evidenced in fine form with ‘Rusted Ring’, a classic up-tempo snare-driven, leg-slapping broken relationship number with lap steel and an infectious chorus that you could imagine getting the crowds going in some Texas honky-tonk. Definitely a highlight among highlights.

On a quieter and more reflective note the alum heads into the final lap with dreamy defiant ode to positivism ‘We’ll Keep Trying’ with its lilting swayalong chorus and ‘One More Time’, a close harmony piano ballad forever love song to her partner, before closing with the strummed, military beat ‘My Friend’, an anthemic song about not wanting to lose a friendship just because a romantic relationship has come to the end of a road that builds to a trumpet break and a capella chorus before the big final flourish.

Despite critical acclaim, Bennett has never quite found the wider audience she deserves. The River Rea could well open the floodgates.

Mike Davies

If you would like to download a copy of the album 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.

Artist’s website: https://www.facebook.com/Katy-Rose-Bennett

‘Driving Home’ live: