MAIREARAD & ANNA – Farran (Shouty Records SHOUTYCD04)

FarranFarran is the Scots word for the starboard side of a boat and is also Mairearad Green and Anna Massie’s fourth album as a duo. It’s a stripped back album recorded by Andrea Gobbi and co-produced by Calum MacCrimmon of Breabach, recorded off the floor with accordion, pipes, fiddle, guitar and Anna’s voice on one track.

The album kicks off at a pace with three pipe tunes by Mairearad’s teacher, P/M Norman Gillies, followed by ‘Wee McGhee’s’ which starts deceptively slowly but builds up speed as Mairearad starts to slip the triples in. It’s a really nice set as is ‘The Merton Set’ with Anna’s “peal of bells’ figure on the guitar’s bass notes on her own tune, ‘Laura Drummond’ Slip Jig’. It also lets the listener get some breath back for a while, although the third tune in the set, Mairearad’s ‘Emma And Ali’s Wedding’ picks up the pace again.

Up next is the only song, ‘Molly May’ – check out the cover – by Canadian singer-songwriter J.P. (John Paul) Cormier and given its country of origin and subject matter I don’t need to tell you who it puts me in mind of. It’s set in Nova Scotia, by the way, and I like it a lot. Then we have another pacy set, ‘Jamie’s’, followed by a chance for Anna to show off on guitar with a set of more reflective tunes, ‘Rachel Newton’s ‘The Eggshell Brewery’ and  Ian Henderson’s ‘Trip To Austin’ – I have a romantic notion of someone playing the latter as the boats come in to port but don’t ask me why.

‘Willie Macrea Of Ullapool’, another tune by P/M Gillies, sees Anna switch to fiddle playing in the style of a slow march before Mairearad joins in. There’s a traditional set before the album closes with a beautiful fiddle tune, ‘Mo Chailean – Dileas Donn’, written by Hector Mackenzie, an Ullapool fisherman.

Farran seems a little short but there is no doubt that Mairearad and Anna have produced another fine album.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://www.mairearadandanna.com/

‘Polkas’ from Summer Isle Festival:

John Smith unveils debut single from new album

John Smith

John Smith had just announced the release of his new album Hummingbird.  It features appearances from Cara Dillon, John McCusker and Ben Nicholls, and will be released on October 5th on his own Commoner Records (via Thirty Tigers worldwide).  He had also announced a huge UK headline tour (29 dates throughout October & November), and made the track ‘Willy Moore’, taken from Hummingbird, available to stream now.

An independent musician who has toured the world for almost fifteen years with his guitar and suitcase, he has independently released five albums, supported the likes of Ben Howard and Damien Rice, won critical acclaim in the UK and abroad, and performed a session guitarist and singer for the likes of Joan Baez, Lisa Hannigan and Martin Simpson.

Following his performance last weekend at the Cambridge Folk Festival, and having been played for the first time last night by Mark Radcliffe on the BBC Radio 2 Folk Show, John Smith can today reveal ‘Willy Moore’, the first song from his soon to be announced new album.

Recorded at Sam Lakeman’s Somerset studio in March, John explains how the track came into his life.

“Collected in Harry Smith’s Anthology Of American Folk Music, no-one knows who wrote it, but it’s probably from the early 20th century.  I first heard this performed by the gentleman genius Wizz Jones. It’s a heart-breaking account of two young lovers’ tragedy.”

Listen to ‘Willy Moore’ here:

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Artist’s website: https://www.johnsmithjohnsmith.com/

Live Dates

04 October Aberdeen The Lemon Tree
05 October Ullapool Guitar Festival
10 October Cork  IE Coughlan’s
11 October Cork IE Coughlan’s
12 October Limerick IE Dolan’s
13 October Dublin IE Unitarian Church
14 October Bangor NI Studio Theatre
17 October Chipping Norton The Theatre
20 October Whitby Musicport Festival
21 October Liverpool St George’s Hall
22 October Gateshead Sage Gateshead
24 October Leeds The Wardrobe
25 October Sheffield Picture House Social
26 October Thames Ditton The Ram Club
30 October Newbury Arlington Arts Centre

01 November Bury The Met Arts Centre
02 November Scunthorpe Cafe Indiependent
03 November Halifax Square Chapel
04 November York The Crescent
07 November Middlesbrough Town Hall
09 November Bristol Rough Trade
10 November Plymouth Barbican Theatre
11 November Dartmouth The Flavel
12 November Exeter Phoenix
14 November Southampton The Brook
15 November London St Pancras NEW Church (Bloomsbury)
16 November Brighton Unitarian Church
17 November Guildford St Mary’s Church

NIALL HANNA – Autumn Winds (own label)

Autumn WindsI have to say out the outset that this is rather lovely. Two years ago Niall Hanna received a Young Musician’s Platform Award from the Arts Council which gave him the opportunity to collect and record some traditional songs, mostly from Ulster. He threw in a couple of original compositions and Autumn Winds is the result. Of course, he had a singular advantage in that his grandfather, Geordie Hanna, was a notable singer and two of the songs come from his repertoire.

The album opens with an original song, ‘The Autumn Winds’, a typically lilting piece of Irish music which could be traditional and that says a lot for it. It’s about memory and loss. I must have noticed this before but Autumn Winds brought it home: how many Irish songs are named for a place, whatever the subject matter. Niall follows suit with his second original piece, ‘Sweet Lough Neagh’. After the title track comes ‘Lough Erne Shore’, originally collected by Paddy Tunney. Despite very few points of similarity it reminds of ‘Belle Isle’ as constructed by Bob Dylan who set the song on the banks of Loch Eiron. Given the number of Irish songs that travelled to the Americas I’m sure there’s a link.

‘The Granemore Hare’ is fairly well known but ‘The Mountains Of Pomeroy’ turns out to be a version of ‘Reynardine’. Niall says that the melody is commonly played as a barndance march but the lyrics were written by one George Sigerson. ‘The Stately Woods Of Truagh’ is the first song from Niall’s grandfather and tells of a soldier saying goodbye to his true love before riding off to fight in the Battle of Benburb. It has a happy ending as he survives and comes home to marry her. ‘The Rambling Irishman’ breaks the titling rule and is a song of emigration as is ‘Erin’s Lovely Home’, another song from Geordie Hanna. There is a set of reels and finally we have a real favourite of mine, ‘Banks Of The Bann’.

The album was produced and arranged by Niall and Dónal O’Connor who plays keyboards. Also in support are Ciaran Hanna on concertina and whistles, Rachel McGarrity on fiddle and percussionist Dermot Moynagh of Lonesome George. The arrangements can be delicate based on Niall’s multi-tracked guitars or as lively as ‘The Rambling Irishman’ demands.

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.

Artist’s website: www.facebook.com/niallhannamusic

‘The Mountains Of Pomeroy’:

DAN JOHNSON – Hemingway (State Fair)

HemingwayIn 1987, when Dan Johnson was just ten, his father, an injured US Air Force veteran, finding his skill set was not transferrable to civilian life, sank into depression and an eventual mental collapse that led to suicide. Thirty years later, his son is releasing Hemingway, a conceptual five-track EP cum audio book that seeks to raise awareness about the warning signs of suicide, especially among military veterans who, with, on average, twenty a day taking their own lives, account for 18% of all such deaths each year. In tandem with a non-profit online organisation based in Texas, he also wants to educate the public on the resources available to communities to help.

All the songs are autobiographical in nature, opening with ‘The Favor’, a brooding number with a sparse, desert-dry Weissenbaum guitar intro that harks to his own spiral down into a life of drugs and women, electric guitar snarling as Russell growls and part-speaks his way through the lyrics in way that conjures both Cash and Jennings at their darkest outlaw height.

Mingling echoes of Prine and Kristofferson and with Lloyd Maines on pedal steel, the mid-tempo waltzer title track is inspired by his father’s life. It tells the story of a young boy signing up at 18 and earning his nickname for his fiery nature as well as his tale-spinning, invalided out at 19 with loss of limbs and serious facial injuries, “too modest to speak of his pain”, unable to get work, and eventually taking “the Hemingway out.” Closing on haunting trumpet notes, it stands shoulder to shoulder with anything off Mary Gauthier’s similarly-themed Rifles and Rosemary Beads.

Opening on Springsteenesque piano, a six-minute stadium-sized muscular anthem with strings arrangement, ‘Bloom’ is a more upbeat number, one inspired by his three daughters and the experience of watching them grow and blossom underscored by a reminder that he came close to never doing so.

Heralded by the sound of a cigarette being lit and set to a flamenco guitar, Cuban percussion and Texicana shuffle, it’s followed by the punningly titled, trumpet-embellished ‘Tom Waits For No One’, a painful memory of a break-up, smoking with two empty glasses on the table waiting for a woman who never returns.

Framed by desolate sound effects of creaking boards and a cruel wind, it ends with another outlaw country-styled storysong ‘Lone Gunman’s Lament’, a song born from how, haunted by guilt and regret, Johnson came close to following in his father’s footsteps only to finally resolve to see things through and pour his pain and anger into his songs. It comes with a false ending as a sustained drone, punctuated by what sounds like the loading of a gun gradually, ebbs away into a final semi-spoken confession about making wise choices about “what you’ll live, or die even kill for.”

As mentioned, it comes with a second audiobook disc, a collection of short stories (running up to an hour) linked to or inspired by the songs, written in collaboration with novelist Travis Erwin, as well as spoken versions of the songs themselves. It’s also available as a paperback.

Following on from an eponymous 2015 debut with the Salt Cedar Rebels, itself firmly in classic outlaw country mode, this is Johnson’s first solo foray. On the evidence of both the songwriting and the music they feature, both he and the band deserve a far wider audience.

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.

Artist’s website: www.danjohnsonmusic.us

‘Hemingway’ – lyric video:

Duster Bennett – complete Blue Horizon recordings set for release

Duster Bennett
Duster Bennett (right) with John Mayall in 1970

Duster Bennett was one of the most distinctive and unusual artists to emerge from the very productive period of the late 1960s latterly dubbed the “British Blues Boom”. Tony ‘Duster’ Bennett was nothing less than a Blues-wailing ‘one man band’, playing guitar and harmonica whilst also providing his own rhythm section via a bass drum and hi-hat.

He scored a record deal with the British Blue Horizon label (helmed by the great Brit Blues producer, Mike Vernon), by way of a recommendation from none other than Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green. Bennett would become a real draw on the very active Pub, Club and Student Union circuit of the late 1960s and early 1970s, renowned for his energetic live performances, Mod sharp style and audience rapport. A cultured and skilful harmonica player, Bennett would open up his musical base to incorporate Funk and rhythm and blues styles after he left Blue Horizon, but his life was cut cruelly short when he died after falling asleep at the wheel of his vehicle – he was driving home from a gig with Memphis Slim in Warwickshire – on March 26th, 1976.

This excellent double disc set yokes all of the recordings made for Blue Horizon from the unique and gifted Duster Bennett, from 1968 to 1970, and chart his development as a fine, intriguing songwriter and magisterial musician. His back-to–basics approach can be heard in the sound of later acts such as The White Stripes, and Bennett’s name is still held in high regard by his musical contemporaries. The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions is released on the Retro World reissue division of North London indie label, Floating World, on Friday, September 21st 2018.

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.

Label website: www.floatingworldrecords.co.uk

‘Bright Lights, Big City’:

GREGORY PAGE – A Wild Rose (own label)

A Wild RoseHis mother lead vocalist London’s first all-girl pop band The Beat-Chics and his uncle Tom Jones’s dummer on ‘What’s New Pussycat’, born in North London of Irish-Armenian heritage (but now based in Southern California), Page describes the music on A Wild Rose, his twenty-seventh album in as many years, as Americeltic, a tag underscored by the presence of Uilleann pipes, an influence assimilated from his grandfather, Dave Page, a traditional piper who once recorded for Parlophone.

Co-produced with Robbie Robertson, the album seeks to establish a musical and spiritual connection with a country which, despite his Irish blood, he’s never actually visited, the pipes being juxtaposed with the more American sounds of fiddle, banjo and, featuring Doug Pettibone, pedal steel.

Opening with the suitably lively banjo-led sounds of ‘I’m Alive’ and with numbers rarely exceeding three minutes, it’s a generally mid-tempo or upbeat musical collection, the only slow number coming at the close with the piano-accompanied instrumental ‘Goodnight Jack’.

Placed second in the running order, the title track opening introduces the album’s Irish colours, with Eric Rigler on the pipes, a song that celebrates the meeting and union of two hearts that can readily been also seen as a metaphor for the music itself. That Irish ambience returns for the intro to ‘Dreams To The Rescue’ before giving way to a banjo and fiddle jog.

Country colours provide the musical palette for the easy rolling rhythm of ‘Waiting For The Sun Again’ and, Pettibone to the fore, the playful retro-like break-up waltzer ‘Say Adios’ and the cascading chords of the swing balladry styled ‘The Trouble With Me Is You’, while the swayalong ‘Born With The Shakes Inside’ sounds a more folksy note.

Page’s lived-in voice has a touch of a less raspy, smoother Randy Newman about it that, like the songs, tends to pleasantly wash over you rather than demanding your attention, but this is undeniable well worth a bramble through.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.gregorypage.com

‘Waiting For The Sun Again’ – official: