BEN GLOVER – The Emigrant (Proper Records PRPCD136)

The EmigrantBen Glover comes originally from County Antrim but it was clear from his first album that his heart dwelt several thousand miles to the west. Since then he has moved to Nashville and become The Emigrant of the title. You might assume that the subject of the album would be the Irish diaspora but it goes deeper than that. Yes, there are songs of people who are a long way from home with all the emotions that brings but there are also the stories of people who have no real home and live on the edges of society.

The album opens with a robust version of ‘The Parting Glass’, which I always tend to think of as a mournful song, forgetting that the final words are “Goodnight and joy be with you all”. In the context of this album, I suppose it represents the optimism of the emigrant at the beginning of his adventure. The title track is possibly the most autobiographical of these songs, albeit a co-write with Gretchen Peters, but I found it a bit heavy-handed on first hearing, especially in comparison with Ralph McTell’s ‘From Clare To Here’. Then again, very few writers have Ralph’s ability to paint a picture with so few words. It’s growing on me, though.

Three characters who live on the fringes, for whatever reason, are the ‘Moonshiner’ who does what he does from choice, in part at least; the prisoner in ‘The Auld Triangle’ who has no choice and the veteran whose choice was denied him in Eric Bogle’s epic ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’. Each one of them is in search of a place to be.

Musically, Ben blends his Irish heritage with his love of the sounds of Nashville. Eamon McLoughlin’s strings and Skip Cleavinger’s uilleann pipes and whistles add the traditional notes while producer Neilson Hubbard provides the bass and percussion and is one of three pianists employed on various tracks. I confess that I find Ben’s vocal style rather intense and when he tries to wind it back sometimes it becomes a gravelly growl although he does capture the weariness of ‘From Clare To Here’ without sentimentality.

The Emigrant is an album that takes its time with you and it took time for me to appreciate its musically subtleties. Ben Glover’s fans will have no such problems.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.benglover.co.uk

‘A Song Of Home’ – audio only:

THE JIGANTICS – Seconds Out (Rawtone RTR20078)

Seconds OutThe Jigantics’ debut album, Daisy Roots, was a fun, slightly eccentric set that failed to disguise the band’s serious intent and their second outing, Seconds Out, is rather less light-hearted. That’s not to say that there is any lack of imagination or music to rock along with – far from it – but there are fewer laughs here.

As before, they have drawn material from far and wide to add to four originals written by Martin Fitzgibbon with help from Mark Cole. The set opens with ‘Take Me For Longing’, originally by Alison Krauss but here nicely rocked up. That’s followed by one of the most original takes on a punk song you’ll ever hear. ‘Rebel Yell’ has been taken apart, cleaned and oiled and put back together in what initially reminds me of film noir, if that makes sense, but builds inexorably to a climax and is stretched out to more than five minutes – unheard of when it was written.

As well as the opener, Marion Fleetwood is given the lead on two of the slower, perhaps more dramatic songs. The first is Richard Shindell’s much-covered civil war song, ‘Reunion Hill’, and the second, which reflects its sentiments, is James Grant’s ‘I Will Not Wear The Willow’ on which she shares the vocals with Christine Collister and becomes a complete string section as the song moves to its close.

The light-heartedness comes from the original compositions. ‘Radio’ begins with a clever double entendre, ‘Frankly’ wraps up its politics in an upbeat arrangement and ‘Hate To See You Go Love To Watch You Walk Away’ speaks for itself. Martin Fitzgibbon’s closer, ‘Angels Wings’ proves that there is great depth to his song-writing and that he’s good for so much more than the light relief.

Every member of the band is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. Rick Edwards and Lyndon Webb produce note-perfect acoustic guitar fills with assistance from producer Aaron Taylor and Lyndon provides bass, keyboards and second fiddle while Rick and Mark Cole offer slide guitar. Throw in accordion, harmonica, mandolin and Fitzgibbon’s drums and percussion and you have a hell of a band here, not to mention a hell of fine record.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.thejigantics.com

The Jigantics’ album launch sound-check at The Convent:

THE STRAY BIRDS – Magic Fire (Yep Roc Records CD-YEP-2475)

Magic FireMagic Fire, The Stray Birds’ third full-length album, opens with three gloriously anthemic songs. They are rooted in the American tradition but explode from the speakers with such power. The band’s basic skeleton of guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo are augmented by drummer Shane Leonard and built on by the hands of producer Larry Campbell – the first time The Stray Birds have used an outside producer.

The first song, ‘Shining In The Distance’, a song-writing collaboration with Lindsay Lou, is already available in cyberspace and it’s the sort of song you put on a continuous loop as Maya de Vitry’s lead vocals are sent soaring by the harmonies of Charles Muench and Oliver Craven (and probably herself several times over). Second is the Dylanesque ‘Third Day In A Row’, a song with hints of Tom Petty in the vocal delivery and another one to add to that loop. In truth, I have trouble getting past the first few songs without wanting to go back to the beginning and start again.

Third up is ‘Sabrina’, a fiddle-led hoe-down of a song with an infectious chorus that must be a blast on stage. ‘Radio’ slows the pace down with a thoughtful metaphor about changing the station on your life and tasteful electric guitar. The next songs, ‘Where You Come From’ and ‘Fossil’ maintain that mood but each one builds imperceptibly towards a big finish – and we’re only at the mid-point of the album.

‘Hands Of Man’ features Appalachian-style fiddle and is followed by the sweet pedal-steel-led ‘Somehow’, a complete contrast, the rocking country-blues ‘Sunday Morning’ and the lyrical ‘Mississippi Pearl’. ‘All The News’ is definitely a song for our times and features organ – another first, I think – and finally we have ‘When I Die’, best described as a secular hymn and another anthem for the loop.

Magic Fire is a wonderful, uplifting record, destined to be one of my albums of the year.

Dai Jeffries

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.

Artists’ website: http://www.thestraybirds.com/

‘When I Die’ – live:

THE SMALL GLORIES – Wondrous Traveler (Self-released TSGCD002)

Wondrous TravelerFounding Canadian bluegrass trio The Wailin’ Jennies in 2002, following the self-titled debut EP and 2004’s 40 Days album, player Cara Luft left to again pursue a solo career. Two albums and an EP on the line, she’s again tied her reins to another hitching post, teaming up with earthier-sounding Winnipeg-based fellow Canadian singer-songwriter JD Edwards for this duo project. Fronting his own eponymous band, Edwards wrote and previously recorded opener ‘Had I Paid’ for their 2011 album, Roads and Roads; however, here it’s transformed from a punchy country rock tune with plangent guitar into an urgent bluegrass number (with a melody line sometimes reminiscent of ‘Jolene’) driven by handclaps percussion and Luft’s clawhammer banjo, their contrasting voices melding perfectly.

Edwards contributes to the writing of three other tracks, first up being ‘Home’, which, co-penned with Luft and her Darlingford collaborator, Lewis Melville, is the gentle, yearning folksy number with a lovely soaring choral midsection. A co-write with Erin Propp, the spare acoustic ‘Old Garage’ is another of his old songs, a slow, near six-minute jazzy-blues reminiscence about his grandfather on which he takes lead and also plays trombone. Trading verses and sharing the chorus, Luft and Edwards bring a British note to the collaboration with the gradually building, 70s Laurel Canyon country-rock coloured swayer ‘FastTurning World’, a co-write with Bella Hardy. Luft paired with Hardy at the Crossing Borders International Song writing exchange in 2013, from which both that and ‘Time Wanders On’ come, an uptempo banjo driven number with Edwards on harmonica and Luft taking lead.

There’s two other Luft-penned tracks, ‘Holding On’ a light and airy co-write with Karla Anderson that dates back to 2012, while the self-penned, punchy chorus ode to hope ‘Something To Hold Onto’ sees Edwards taking lead vocal, with Scott Nygaard on acoustic guitar.

The three remaining tracks are all non-originals. Featuring violin, upright bass, piano and military snare snaps and building to a  soaring climax, Winnipeg-based songwriter Greg MacPherson’s ‘1000 Stars’ holds a special place in that it was the song that brought them together when they were fortuitously paired to sing a song neither of them knew at Winnipeg’sWest End Cultural Centre’s 25th anniversary event in October 2012.

The two others close out proceedings, kicking off with the brisk shuffling everything and handclaps folk-gospel duet stomp of ‘Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key’, one of the lost Woody Guthrie lyrics put to music by Billy Bragg for the Mermaid Avenue tribute. An amalgam of two traditional Sacred Harp hymns, ‘Wondrous Love’ and ‘The Traveler’, the title track provides the final number, a tour de force that starts out with just banjo and Luft’s tremulous voice before, around two minutes in, the tempo and volume pick up as the drums kick in, Andrew McCrorie-Shand provides hurdy gurdy and Edwards and Luft share raspy lead vocals.

Luft once said she left the Wailin’ Jennys because she felt the music was too delicate and she felt the need for something with more dirt under the fingernails. The soil here is rich. Mike Davies

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.

Artists’ website: http://www.thesmallglories.com/

Recording ‘Wondrous Traveler’:

The Bills announce new album

The Bills 2

It’s been twenty years since Canadian quintet The Bills first formed, and the collective spirit of this wide-ranging, globally-inspired roots ensemble remains as vibrant as ever. Originating from a kitchen-jam exploration of traditional and modern styles, they’ve forged a sophisticated, down home blend of global rhythms that has been celebrated in dancehalls and festivals across the western world. If it’s not abundantly clear from the smiles of their devoted fans, take a look at the five beaming faces on stage when the full band joins force, and you can see how much love The Bills have for making music together.

With their new album, Trail Of Tales, via Borealis Records, The Bills are poised to release their most compelling set of music yet. To make the album, the band gathered together in the picturesque wooded splendour of tiny Mayne Island, an artists’ enclave just off the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. With the wind in the trees, a view of the Salish Sea, a wood fire for heat, and an old farm house wired up with vintage microphones, they set out to create a truly collaborative record.

“There’s never been a Bills album with five songwriters, that’s a first in the history of the band” says singer/guitarist Chris Frye. “Hopefully it’s bringing out the best we have to offer because we’re truly together as a unit.”

Part of what makes the new album so cohesive comes from how well each of these musicians know each other.

“The Bills have an almost chamber music vibe at times, especially instrumentally” says fiddler Richard Moody. “It’s caused me to really listen to the people I’m playing with.”

You can hear this on the tracks — how they can turn on a dime as an ensemble, effortlessly weaving complex and beautiful melodies behind captivating vocal lines. Despite the closeness, it was still a healthy challenge for band member fiddler/accordionist Adrian Dolan to produce the album. A fixture in Ruth Moody’s touring band, and engineer for The Wailin’ Jennys, Dolan drew from years of experience recording contemporary roots music and an intimate knowledge of every band member’s strengths to shape the final product.

The new album highlights the band’s commitment to compelling lyrics and themes; often drawing inspiration from their regional geography and culture. A diversity of influences can be heard with each song — from Frye and mandolinist Marc Atkinson’s anthemic title track to the forward-motion funk of Moody’s ‘Jungle Doctor’. Bassist Scott White’s carefree vocal pop song ‘Happy Be’ shows listeners a gentler side, while ‘Hittin’ the Do’ uncorks a Western Swing dance party. Throughout Trail Of Tales, the songs are tied together with remarkably detailed arrangements. It’s a testament to The Bills’ musicianship that the music always sounds so uplifting and effortless.

The Bills continue to hold court as one of Canada’s premiere roots acts. Two Juno award nominations (Canada’s Grammy) and countless tours haven’t changed The Bills’ basic formula: combine stunning vocal harmonies, poignant lyrics, sophisticated and captivating instrumental arrangements, and a healthy dose of good times, British Columbia style, and you have a band that proves there’s a surprising amount of power to be found in acoustic roots music today.

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.

Artists’ website: http://thebills.ca/

Video preview:

CHET O’KEEFE – Because Of You (Scarlet SR036CD)

Because Of YouOriginally released two years ago in digital only format, the dusty-voiced Washington singer-songwriter’s third album, Because Of You,  finally gets a full physical release, two of the ten songs being posthumous co-writers with the late Blaze Foley. The first of these, the title track, a slow march dirge featuring occasional bursts of moody electric guitar, is about someone haunted by memories of a past lover, the second being the mid-tempo Tex-Mex flavoured ‘Goin’ Downtown’, O’Keefe’s tapped guitar box percussion accompanying a world weary vocal about trying to escape the blues.

The remaining numbers are all either self-penned or co-writes, several of which wear their influences quite openly. The album’s final cut, ‘Talking Kerrville Blues’, a playful recollection of travelling 900 miles to play two songs at the famous country festival, is set to pretty much the same tune as Johnny Cash’s ‘A Boy Named Sue’, and with the same easy spoken delivery, although it does slip into Guy Clark on occasions, while the equally light-hearted ‘Star Café’ , an ode to Nashville, borrows its melody from ‘Desolation Row’ as he sings about an imagined diner staffed by the likes of Tanya Tucker, Garth Brooks, Vasser Clements, Gretchen Wilson and assorted Hanks, while also nodding to those who, like Lefty Frizell and Jerry Reed, have moved on. You’ll hear Dylan elsewhere too, though Clark is perhaps the strongest influence on O’Keefe’s style and delivery, which is an observation rather than a criticism.

Relationships, lost or found, provide the bulk of the subject matter, kicking off with the slow ticking rhythm of the downcast ‘Not Drunk Yet’ with its conflicting feelings that come with missing someone while trying to stay strong. A more positive note is struck on the waltzing and part-spoken ‘True Love’, the story of Janis, “a big girl with three kids”, and Jimmy, a widow who “wanted a woman to hold”, who get together through Craig’s List, romance sparking in a bar to the backdrop of a band playing Elvis Presley tunes and blossoming into marriage and two more kids.

His playful side is also evident on the frisky talking blues ‘High Tech(nology)’, a number reminiscent in feel of Clark’s ‘Home Grown Tomatoes’, as he sings about being a bumpkin DIY expert who fix anything from a broken muffler to a cat stuck up in a tree. Likewise on ‘Drinkin’ Day’, another slow guitar tapping number that turns the usual line about drinking to forget when your woman leaves on its head, the singer instead turning to the bottle because she’s come back. You could hear Jimmy Buffett doing this.

The first of the co-writes, with album collaborators Thomm Jutz, Jon Weisberger and Kim Richey (who provides backing vocals), is the slow, wistful ‘Oh Angel’, a song of thanks for emotional rescue as he sings “When I look homeward, you’re what I see…a light shining all around me.” The other is the album’s remaining track, ‘Blue Martin’, a song about a Noah-like flood with the titular bird singing at the window pane a reminder that, whatever comes, nature endures “whether we’re here or whether we’re gone”, but also an ode to the uplifting power of music to get you through the storms of life. A copy of O’Keefe’s album could it for you.

Mike Davies

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.

‘Talking Kerrville Blues’ – live in Kerrville: