CHAIM TANNENBAUM – Chaim Tannenbaum (Storysound 161-017)

Chaim TannenbaumAnyone who has been a fan of the McGarrigles will be familiar with multi-instrumentalist Chaim Tannenbaum. Friends with Kate and Anna at high school in Montreal, he joined their group, the Mountain City Four, in the mid-60s and, after a brief hiatus as they went their separate ways, reunited with the sisters for their debut album and subsequently played on a further eight of their albums. The relationship also led to his involvement with Kate’s then husband, Loudon Wainwright III, first serving as executive producer on 1984’s I’m Alright and then going on to play on a further ten, as well as producing several of them. He has also been a regular touring member for both Wainwright and the McGarrigles.

In addition, he’s also appeared on albums by both Martha and Rufus Wainwright, Linda Thompson and Beck. However, in all that time, content to remain the background, he’s never released anything of his own. But now, at 68, encouraged by producer Dick Connete, with whom he worked on Loudon’s Grammy-winning High, Wide & Handsome, he’s just recorded his debut album. In keeping with his quiet, modest and somewhat studious persona (he’s also a teacher), it’s an understated but impeccably tasteful affair that draws on his formative exposure to the work of Guthrie, Seeger and other singers and songwriters from the early years of American folk music. As such, there’s several traditional tunes here, Tannenbaum restricting himself to either banjo or guitar, with one excursion on piano, while various guests provide the other instrumentation, most notably long time cohort David Mansfield on violin and slide with Wainwright providing backing vocals on three of the numbers.

The album makes its bow with just voice and guitar on a simple just under two-minute reading of Rev. A.W. Fletcher’s much recorded ‘Farther Along’ before being joined by Wainright, Mansfield, Connette (on percussion) and backing vocalist Margaret Glaspy for a fine piano-backed version of prison work song “Ain’t No More Cane on the Brazos”, apparently learnt from a Lonnie Donegan recording, with Tannenbaum’s reedy vocal investing spiritual dimension. The traditional repertoire continues with the violin and guitar arrangement of the lazing, whistling ragtime ‘Coal Man Blues’ and, with just Connette on harmonium, the celebration of a tipple or two with the hymnal-like ‘Moonshiner’, the ‘too ra loo la roo la roo’ refrain nodding to Irish roots.

A fuller sound returns with ‘Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit’ which features accordion, tuba, trumpet and taps for a frisky, thigh slapper riverside spiritual learned from the recording by Luther Magby, though, even earlier, is the waltzing ‘Mama’s Angel Child’ which, featuring mandolin-banjo, stems from the canon of Sweet Papa Stovepipe, aka, African-American bluesman Johnny Watson, who’s thought to be the earliest example of an American bluesman recording.

The first of the four Tannenbaum originals is something of an epic, the near ten minute semi-spoken ‘London, Longing For Home’, on which, backed by cornet, accordion, clarinet, flugelhorn and euphonium, he recounts a sojourn in London with its crowds, dirt, rain, tradition and mouths full of brown broken teeth, namechecking Acton and Tottenham and interpolating the chorus of the classic homesick longing of traditional American folk song Oh Shenandoah.

He mentions Milton, Marvell and Dickens here, but it’s another English literary source that underpins the Music Hall-like ‘Business Girls’, a London-set poem by John Betjeman set to music variously by Erik Satie and Tom Gilbert and featuring French horns, violin and cello. It’s back to self-penned material for ‘Brooklyn 1955’, a simple voice and guitar exercise in nostalgia of summers spent watching the Dodgers play at Ebbets Field before they moved to L.A. It’s not autobiographical (he’s a Yankees fan), but it does address the feeling of being in exile from your own past, its markers gradually eroded.

Tracking back in time to the 30s, a rosy glow hangs over the album’s best known number, tuba and accordion accompanying him on a short slow ballroom waltzing rendition of the Hartburg, Rose and Arlen romantic evergreen ‘It’s Only A Paper Moon’. Then comes what must have been the most moving, but also the most difficult number to include as he’s joined by Wainwright, with Marcus Rojas on tuba, for his tribute to his late friend Kate McGarrigle on her own achingly wistful homesick anthem ‘(Talk To Me of) Mendocino’, a song he must have performed with her many times, and here given a beautifully heartfelt and reading that brings a lump to the throat.

The album ends with the final self-penned number, ‘Belfast Louis Falls In Love’, an eight-minute shaggy dog storysong about seizing romance when and where it offers itself that mentions Cagney, Garbo, Caruso and Coltrane and sports such philosophical observations as “there are men who think the future is all bicycles and ice cream”, staying in Ireland as he’s joined by Wainwright for a rousing 58-second a capella coda of shanty ‘Paddy Doyle’ taken from a recording by Ewan MacColl.

From Broadway to Appalachia, from the antebellum South to sepia tinted memories of New York, Tannenbaum brings warmth and honesty, running his fingers through the dust of American folk music, stirring up sparkles and a sense of a world we have lost as it shimmers in the light.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the one 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 CHAIM TANNENBAUM – Chaim Tannenbaum 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: http://storysoundrecords.com

‘Brooklyn 1955’ – official video:

ANDREW DAVISON – MineFolk (own label BCCD 003)

MineFolkAndrew Davison is half of the duo Brother Crow and he’s also a guide at Kilhope – The North Of England Mining Museum in County Durham. MineFolk brings these two parts of his life together: he now conducts musical tours with songs based on real-life stories.

MineFolk comprises just six songs which concentrate on the people and their work. The opening cut, ‘What You’re Put On This Earth For’ is a scene-setter pointing the finger at the Church of England which owned the land and the piece-work contract that means no pay until the ore is found. Andrew points out that even the pit-ponies have a greater value than the men. Not much changes, does it? ‘Walk On Water’ has a marvellous punchline: “If I could walk on water at least my feet would then be dry” and while you’re smiling at that it hits you with the tragedy of a rockfall and the death of a life-long friend

‘The Stoping Song’ is a jolly piece concerned with a detail of the mining operation (Google it – I had to) and ‘Names Carved In Stone’ is a not-unexpected tribute to the miners. ‘The Man Who Greases The Wheel’ is another upbeat song by the man who would seem to have the best job in the mine; he can stand upright while the others are bent double in the seam. It’s a happy piece – until the bit about the man who fell into the wheel!

Finally, and listed as a bonus track, is ‘My Dad Says (It’s A Hard Life)’. This song is the only one set above ground with the singer’s father remarking on the hardship of life underground and the boy saying that it sounds all right to him. Then he talks about going to sea and his father tells him that sailing is a hard life, too. For the working man, everything is hard.

The album has Andrew singing solo with acoustic guitar and the songs are pre-eminent. Andrew’s voice and diction are clear as a bell as they have to be when he’s using these songs as a narrative underground. Six songs may not seem a lot but they cover all the essentials. Any more would just be covering the same ground.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.brothercrow.co.uk/

A look at what it’s like underground at Kilhope:

KIT HAWES & AARON CATLOW – The Fox (Big Badger Records BBRCD006)

The FoxKit Hawes and Aaron Catlow are two-fifths of Bristol band Sheelanagig and The Fox is their first recorded exploration of their music as a guitar/violin duo. Their parent band is well-known for its pan-European influences and they can’t quite escape that – Aaron’s ‘Peddler’s Leg’ is a high-energy instrumental – but they try to stick to their British roots.

The opening track is ‘The Fighter’, written by Kit. It’s set in a fairground boxing booth but the twist is that challenger is female and what’s more she wins her bout. There may be a story there but Kit doesn’t let on and leaves us with the message that “winning don’t come cheap” but it’s worth the pain if it confounds expectations. Next come a pair of traditional songs, ‘John Barleycorn’ and the title track. Both are played fairly straight and I couldn’t help but reflect how out of date ‘The Fox’ is – around here you can’t drive at night without seeing a fox or two out scavenging and there’s no need for them to go to town at all. Both songs are well done but I am a bit disappointed at such safe choices.

‘Crossfire’, also by Kit, is the album’s political song, short and bitter, and that’s followed by ‘Lofoten’, a part traditional, part original instrumental again drawing on the Sheelanagig heritage. ‘Country Blues’ is a departure and, although it’s labelled traditional it feels like an assemblage of verses; certainly some it comes from Dock Boggs and some from Ralph Stanley. The final song, ‘All On A Day’, takes us back to the mythical rural idyll inhabited by the fighter of the first track – here Robin O’Ribbons and Kindling Kate are heading for the woods and definitely up to no good.

The Fox is a nice mixture of simplicity and complexity. There are just two voices and two instruments, no guests and no multi-tracked overdubs. The execution is simple but some of the music, particularly the instrumental tracks are complex enough for anyone.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one 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 KIT HAWES & AARON CATLOW – The Fox 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]

Artists’ website: www.kithawesandaaroncatlow.com

‘The Fighter’ live:

Georgia Ruth Williams announces new album

Georgia Ruth

Welsh singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Georgia Ruth has announced a new album Fossil Scale, due for release on October 7, 2016 via Navigator Records. The record is the follow up to 2013’s Welsh Music Prize winning Week Of Pines – a feat Georgia never contemplated she’d achieve for her critically acclaimed, bilingual debut album. The record prompted The Guardian to tip her as ‘One of the British folk discoveries of the year’, with Georgia going  on to be twice nominated in the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, alongside radio support across Radio 1 and BBC 6 Music. UK live dates to support the release of Fossil Scale are expected to be announced shortly.

Switching out her previous go-to writing tool – the harp – for a piano in search of a more expansive yet ambient sound, Georgia headed into the familiar setting of Snowdonia’s Bryn Derwen Studio in January 2015, to lay down the foundations of what would become Fossil Scale. When the sale of the studio just 5 days into recording threw plans awry, recording time was then split between studios in London and Cardiff – in the case of the latter, at friends and collaborators Manic Street Preachers’ Faster Studios (Georgia sung on ‘Divine Youth’, a track that featured on the Manics’ Futurology album). The album was finally pieced together in Mwnci Studios, co-produced with Italian producer Marta Salogni (Phil Selway, Eliot Sumner) and long-time collaborator David Wrench (Caribou, Bat For Lashes) some 11 months after those initial sessions began.

Talking of ‘The Doldrums’, Ruth says;

“The Doldrums was one of the first songs I wrote for the album. I’d just moved to Caernarfon, and had become totally transfixed by the view out over the Menai Straits (a narrow stretch of tidal water about 16 miles long that separates mainland Gwynedd from Anglesey). It was absolutely beautiful. But there was something that felt ominous, something to do with the stillness of the water. And this sort of chimed with how I’d been feeling; the sometimes disconcerting stillness of being happy! According to people who sail, the doldrums are a sea-state of mild inactivity, stagnation. It’s caused by low pressure and heating at the equator. My dad was in the merchant navy as a young man, and he confirmed that the looming threat of those parts of the Pacific sea are really unnerving. Coleridge has this amazing description of them in the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner: “Day after day, day after day, we stuck, nor breath nor motion; as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.”” 

There are no videos from the new album yet but this is ‘Hwylio’ live at The Covent last year.

Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage launch new album

Before The Sun

Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage

Huddled round a single microphone, singing intimate duets with just mountain dulcimer, dobro and guitar Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage are a folk duo that look & sound classically timeless, yet feel refreshingly unique. Fleetingly, they may evoke a memory of Gram & Emmylou, Shirley & Davey, or Gillian & David but their warm distilling of influences from both sides of the big pond produces a refined sound that is decidedly their own. Both hailing from folk singing families in the flatlands of East Anglia, Hannah spent much of her formative years touring Europe with her family band in a converted school bus, singing folk songs acapella in the street in order to make enough money to move to the next city. However, a sea change and relocation to the US saw her soak up the influences from the American North East and take up the dulcimer. Meanwhile Ben was writing and touring with celebrated UK folk band The Willows whose albums Beneath Our Humble Soil and Amidst Fiery Skies were championed by the likes of the BBC’s Bob Harris and Mike Harding.

Within weeks of moving back to the UK, Hannah braved her first time out solo at The Black Fen Folk Club, Cambridge and as fate would have it, Ben had just returned from tour. Ben went on to produce Hannah’s solo debut Charms Against Sorrow, released in early 2015 to critical acclaim.

The album was launched at the The Green Note, 106 Parkway, LONDON NW1 7AN on Monday 5 September 2016. Support came from Emily Mae Winters.

If you would like to order a copy of the one 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 Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage 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]

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

‘The Fall’ – official video:

Damien Dempsey – new album

Damien Dempsey

Damien Dempsey Ireland’s preeminent singer songwriter is bringing a very special set to some very special venues in England and Scotland in 2016.

He has recorded a unique album, No Force On Earth as a celebration and commemoration of the Easter uprising of 1916 that saw the birth of the Irish Republic. In his homeland Damien is held in the highest regard by peers and audiences and as well as a string of number 1 albums he has a haul of Meteor Awards.

Damien is already known for his searing live shows with his band after several tours across the UK, however the close up intensity of his acoustic performance has, until now, only been a pleasure that Irish audiences have witnessed.

This is a one off opportunity to see Damien in an intimate setting sharing his story of this centenary year, a golden opportunity to hear the man regarded by many as the next wave of Irish musical heritage.

Many of the tracks he wrote himself for the album and some are classic covers of the period, all arranged by Damien and producer John Reynolds.

Opening track Aunt Jenny is a Damien original, ” About my great aunt Jenny (or Jinny as she was known)” says Damien. Aunt Jinny, a woman at the heart of the uprising and who’s story must be heard.

Damien will launch a new studio album in 2017 and return to touring with his band, in the meantime this is your chance to hear a very personal performance of this album along with some of Damien’s finest tunes.

If you would like to order a copy of the one 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 Damien Dempsey 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.damiendempsey.com

‘James Connolly’ courtesy of Trade Union TV: