ANDY WHITE – Imaginary Lovers (ALT ALTCD16)

imaginary-loversFollowing the recent box set issue of the self-explanatory Studio Albums 1986-2016, the all-new Imaginary Lovers now gets a standalone release for fans who didn’t fancy forking out to buy albums they already had to get it. A sequential follow-up to his divorce album, How Things Are, this is the recovery collection, a less polished but more upbeat affair about putting your life back together and forging new relationships punctuated by the occasional look back at past events.

He’s been compared to Dylan in the past, but, while there’s inflections evident, opening indie rock strummer ‘Half-Time For You And I’ reminds more of Gerry Rafferty as, seasons changing through the song, he sings of the push-pull nature of a relationship that could go either way. It’s a mark of the altogether poppier and peppier nature of the album, a buoyancy carried over into the bouncy romance of ‘The Girl From The Twilight Hotel’ which might be best described as Al Stewart had he been in Brinsley Schwarz. ‘Rewriting The Rules of Beauty’ is quieter and slower, a softly tumbling acoustic song about realising you’re falling in love, a feeling that is also at the heart of the equally acoustic fingerpicked ‘Anywhere With You Babe’, while, on the softly shuffling, strings sprinkled, Every Time I Look Around he’s singing how “there was someone to get over” and “it was something had to go through oh baby to find you.”

If all this sounds like there’s a danger of drowning in a marshmallow sea, he does leaven the newfound bliss with the occasional note of caution, not looking to rush things (”take it easy baby, you don’t have to hurry, take it slow”) on the echoey slide guitar and keys backed ‘Sideways No Shadows’ or, as on the rather lovely ‘Nonchalant’, a reflective look back on how playing it cool might have dimmed the potential spark, wistful regret.

Which, perhaps inevitably, gives way to the album’s only song about loss, ‘The Only Thing Missing Here Is You’, a plaintive piano refrain backdropping a lyric which, repeating the title line at the end of almost every brief verse, details the rather chic flat (complete with “a fantastic shower”) in which the singer now lives alone, his lover having given him the keys and gone off.

If I’m being totally honest, the album does slightly peter out towards the end. ‘And I Want You’ is a throaty guitar rocker with Lou Reed inclinations ( not to mention a nod to the Eurythmics’ ‘Love Is A Stranger’ in the chorus) that probably works better live, dripping strings ‘You Mean Everything To Me’ is another number about leaping in heart first that doesn’t really add anything to what he’s already said and ‘Lonely International Guy’ (the travails of a long distance relationship) is, frankly, a bit of a plod. It does, however, end on a high note with ‘Everybody Wants Somebody’, even if it does borrow the opening line from Fred Neil’s ‘Everybody’s Talking’ and sounds remarkably like an Oasis ballad. Personally, I prefer White when he’s baring his teeth rather than his heart, but there’s some good stuff here it would be churlish to begrudge the man the warm glow of a rekindled flame.

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 ANDY WHITE – Imaginary Lovers link 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.andywhite.com

‘Half Time For You And I’ – official video:

MARTHA FIELDS – Southern White Lies (own label)

southern white liesOne of the joys of reviewing is picking an artist you’ve not heard before and realising you’ve been missing out.  Southern White Lies, the second album from Martha Fields certainly falls into this category.  It’s a glorious procession of Americana, Country and Blues  but delivered with lyrics that steer well clear of apple pie and are not afraid to look at the darker underbelly of life and challenge the American Dream.  Martha hails from Austin, Texas, but has a family history of music stretching back to the Appalachians of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia so the pedigree is certainly there and used to good effect on the album.

My immediate port of call was the title track ‘Southern White Lies’ because it has an ambiguity about it; are these white lies from the south or lies relating to the southern white, which has a very different interpretation?  It turns out to be both.  The South is, in turn, treated with suspicion

Rest of the world sees us full of hate, Don’t mess with Texas – it’s too late

whilst being used to further the aims of others to its own detriment.

Big box [UK = superstore] killed all them mom and pops, Big man gets all the handouts”.

This feeling of injustice and not getting a fair roll of the dice occurs throughout the album.  In particular the final track ‘American Hologram’ is a protest song with real strength of feeling, again with reference to the real sense of social inequality felt in the Southern states whilst also criticising the right wing commentators who try to capitalise on that.

I’m a blue state girl with red state roots,
We were poor white trash… now we’re the underclass
They send us to war, we don’t know what for
We got no jobs so we come back for more

No need for education, no money for schools
Easier for Limbaugh, to play ’em like the fool
”.

It isn’t all protest, though.  There’s plenty of other material to both attract and enjoy and Martha isn’t afraid to dip into tradition when it represents her roots.  ‘What Are They Doing In Heaven?’ is an American Methodist hymn from the early 1900s given a real country feel with fiddle and steel guitar.  The blues are not ignored either, with a cracking up-beat version of Janice Joplin’s ‘What Good Can Drinking Do’ amongst others.

Martha’s voice has that distinctive southern drawl which suits these songs well and has been compared by more than one person to Loretta Lynn.  Backed by a band that enhances, rather than competes with, the lyrics this is an album which will appeal to anybody interested in modern American roots music and is highly recommended.

The album can be downloaded from the artist’s website or usual sources although I have been unable to track down a physical version, which does exist.

Tony Birch

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 MARTHA FIELDS – Southern White Lies link 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

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

‘Dead End’ – live at the O2, London:

The Lost Songs Of St Kilda rediscovered

the lost songs of st kilda

The Lost Songs Of St Kilda, an album of songs from a remote Scottish island kept alive by a man in a care home who performs on the album, has hit  number 1 on the iTunes and Amazon Classical chart, as well as reaching number 9 on the Amazon overall charts in the US.

In connection with this project and for the first time ever, a concert has taken place on St Kilda – the deserted Scottish island dubbed “the edge of the world”. Internationally-renowned composer Sir James MacMillan performed  The Lost Songs Of St Kilda in front of a handful of people who endured an eight-hour boat trip from Skye to be there. It is the first time music has been heard on St Kilda since its evacuation in 1930.

The Lost Songs Of St. Kilda have been brought back to life on a this new Decca album (available now) thanks to a 73-year- old retired teacher, Trevor Morrison, who lived in an Edinburgh care home and enchanted fellow residents with his strangely haunting music played on a rickety piano. Trevor was taught these tunes as a small boy by an itinerant piano teacher from St Kilda, who sat him at the piano and placed his fingers on the keys to help him remember the melodies.

A volunteer at the care home, enthralled by their beauty, persuaded Trevor to let him record the songs. Stuart Mackenzie recalls: “I bought a £3 microphone and recorded Trevor playing that knackered care home piano.” That is exactly what you hear on The Lost Songs Of St Kilda – eight simple melodies, exactly as Trevor remembered them from those childhood lessons on Bute.

The songs made their way to Decca Records after Classical A&R Executive Fiona Pope, a cellist from Glasgow, heard about the existence of the recordings and was asked to transcribe the melodies. She later took them to Scotland’s foremost contemporary composers to reimagine, reinterpret and remix their favourite tunes. Each song is named after part of St Kilda (including its magnificent sea stacks) and evokes the wild beauty of the landscape.

Leading Scottish composer Sir James MacMillan wrote a string arrangement of the track ‘Hirta’ and conducts the Scottish Festival Orchestra on the album. He remembers his excitement at hearing the story of Trevor and his musical memories of St Kilda: “Forgotten songs, melodies that had disappeared from popular remembrance, and he’s kept them alive playing them on the piano. Very beautiful, simple accompaniments.”

Other composers who’ve transformed the original songs include Craig Armstrong, Mercury Prize nominee Christopher Duncan, Rebecca Dale and Francis MacDonald (also drummer of Teenage Fanclub) whose orchestration of the track ‘Dùn’ includes a poem, ‘To Finlay MacDonald From St Kilda’, written by the late Norman Campbell – read and sung in English and Scots Gaelic by North Uist singer Julie Fowlis (who performed on the soundtrack to 2012 film Brave).

Before Trevor Morrison died in 2012, he wrote a letter thanking those who helped him record the songs which he said had haunted him all his life, conveying his wish “that these few tunes from the long-forgotten isles can be preserved and given a future.” With the The Lost Songs Of St Kilda his wish is finally fulfilled.

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 The Lost Songs Of St Kilda link 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Label website: http://decca.com/

Luke Jackson – new album

tall-tales-rumours luke jacksonSome young artists arrive on the scene seemingly from nowhere and disappear just as quickly.  Others stay and grow and fine tune their craft. Kent’s Luke Jackson is definitely a keeper. Few would argue that he is one of the most exciting singer songwriters and live performers out there – totally unafraid to stray across genres, always delivering top notch original material and still only 22.

He first started making waves when barely a teenager, hitting the acoustic ground running. Belying his years with his a powerful, distinctive voice and songwriting prowess way beyond his years his debut album More Than Boys was judged outstanding by many critics and triggered a double nomination at the 2013 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards (Young Folk Award and Horizon Award for Best Emerging Act). Continue reading Luke Jackson – new album

THE BLACKHEART ORCHESTRA – Diving For Roses (Right Track Records)

diving for rosesIt is almost impossible to categorise The Blackheart Orchestra. They could be the loudest duo in the world producing a rich sound that is sometimes reminiscent of Moulettes. Diving For Roses is their first album under this name following three recorded as Blackheart.

Chrissy Mostyn and Richard Pilkington mix conventional instruments: guitar, piano, flugelhorn, with electronica and vintage synths. Sometimes their sound is cut down to keyboards and a drum loop, at others it is rich with multilayered vocals. The album opens with their two singles, ‘Sebastian’ and ‘Keep The Light In’, the latter becoming a real ear-worm after two or three plays. I must confess that The Blackheart Orchestra do not represent my usual musical style and I’ve found myself listening much more carefully than I would to more familiar material. That is no bad thing and some of the instrumental passages really stand out as a result. The ending of ‘Right By Your Side’, for example, is superb and I’m not even going to guess what was being used. The opening of ‘Hypnotize’ has a suitably hypnotic quality as ringing guitars circle over the keyboards.

‘Darling Africa’ begins with more mysterious sounds and is one of the album’s top tracks. In contrast, ‘I’m Yours’ is an almost conventional piano driven ballad and ‘Born To Live’ is an almost conventional rock song. I’m still not sure what to call what it is that The Blackheart Orchestra do but they do it very well.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.theblackheartorchestra.com

‘Sebastian’ – official video:

Emily Smith announces Christmas album

Emily Smith

Multi-award winning Scottish folksinger Emily Smith has been a leading voice of the Scottish and UK folk scene for over a decade.  2016 sees the release of her sixth solo album Songs For Christmas. (Produced by Jamie McClennan & Brandon Bell)

Emily’s career began in 2002 when she became BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year.  Subsequent accolades include Scots Singer of the Year 2008 & 2014 and two nominations at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2012 (Folksinger of the Year & Best Traditional Track).

On Songs For Christmas Emily presents a beautifully crafted album of original and traditional material drawn from her folk background.  The material has been written and collected over the last few years in response to the popularity of her annual Christmas show held in Emily’s home region of Dumfries & Galloway.  The result is an album of songs that inspire, comfort and celebrate Christmas and the winter season.  Forgotten gems such as the ancient Scots ‘Christ Has My Hairt, Ay’ and soulful American ballad ‘Heard From Heaven Today’ feature alongside contemporary covers and favourite carols.  Smith’s songwriting also features two originals ‘Winter Song’ and the single ‘Find Hope’.

Joining Emily on Songs For Christmas are multi-instrumentalists Jamie McClennan (fiddle, guitar, vocals), Matheu Watson (guitars, viola) and Ross Hamilton (bass, drums, vocals).

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 Emily Smith link 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Emily will be touring the UK throughout December. Full details at www.emilysmith.org

‘Heard From Heaven Today’: