LOWRI EVANS & LEE MASON – A Little Bit Of Everything (Shimi Records ShimiCD0011)

Lowri EvansI have to confess that when Lowri Evans released her debut English language album I really wasn’t a fan and I wasn’t allowed anywhere near her records again. Things have changed in the decade since. Lowri’s voice has warmed somewhat and her songwriting has certainly matured. Lee Mason was her producer, guitarist and sometime songwriting collaborator then and now, on her sixth album, A Little Bit Of Everything, he gets equal billing.

This album is live in the sense of being “off the floor” with no supporting musicians and all the songs, with the exception of two covers, have been heard before. The oldest, in terms of recording history, is the final track, ‘Merch Y Myny, which Lowri has returned to more than once. From that first English album comes ‘Maria’s’ (originally ‘Not At Maria’s) and all I can say is that if Lowri had performed it then as she does now our musical relationship would have been very different. She displays a power in her voice that I couldn’t detect back then.

My two favourite songs are ‘Deep Inside, a sort of character study and ‘Seventeen’, which seems to hold a mirror up to Janis Ian’s seminal work. Even when writing in the first person, as here, Lowri is able to step outside herself and bring some balance to the situation.  The covers are the standard ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out’ which allows Lowri to extend her voice again, and ‘Cân Walter’ by unheralded Welsh songwriter Meic Stevens.

I like this stripped down recording with just two guitars and two voices. I’d felt that there was a tendency to wrap Lowri up in a cocoon of orchestration leading to a soft jazz/pop sound and A Little Bit Of Everything proves that she doesn’t need that.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.lowriandlee.co.uk

‘Seventeen’ – official video:

PETE COE – The Man In The Red Van (Backshift BASH CD 63)

Red VanPete Coe is one of the old guard, one of the last. He’s been in this business for more than forty-five years and still has all the moves. I expected The Man In The Red Van to be something of a political work, akin to It’s A Mean Old Scene. It would be appropriate but even Pete couldn’t have known what is lying in wait for us in June. This album is a collection of songs, most of which will be familiar in some form. And that’s the key – halfway through the second track I was hooked.

That track is ‘The Spanish Lady’. Pete learned it from Al Donnell, was given extra verses by Mary O’Connor and added the chorus from Frank Harte, so this is a combination of at least three versions, but it is Pete’s treatment of the song that lands the killer punch. Forget the rollicking folk club chorus version; Pete slows it down, plays it on acoustic guitar and includes more verses than I’ve seen in a single text before. There’s an odd, noirish feel about the finished product and I’d be prepared to say that this is what Pete does best.

The opener is ‘King Henry’, a variant of the ‘Lord Randall’ story with poisonous toads instead of eels, and I’ve heard versions of the song many times but not this one. The same is true of ‘World Of Misery (Shenandoah)’, a song I wouldn’t mind not hearing again. Except that Pete’s version comes from Saint Vincent and includes lines I’ve never heard before. It’s nice to be surprised.

Pete includes two of his older songs. The first is ‘Joseph Baker’, which he has been performing live recently, and the second is the song that flagged him as a songwriter, ‘Farewell To The Brine’, about his home town of Northwich, and two covers; Terry Conway’s ‘The Walls Of Troy’ and Vic Gammon’s  ‘Ash And Alder’ which come the closest to making political points.

Musically, the album is deceptively simple. Pete plays most of the music with sparing support from Andy Peacock and producer David Crickmore plus a chorus of colleagues and friends. He doesn’t need any more than that.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.backshift.demon.co.uk

‘Joseph Baker’ live:

TRADARRR – Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! (Hedge Of Sound HOS25)

Further TalesBetween their first and second albums Mark Jolley left has Tradarrr to be replaced by Tim Harries (more serious folk-rock credentials) and Phil Bond has moved on with his place taken by singer, fiddler and pianist Gemma Shirley. Thus Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! sees a seven-piece band plundering the English folk tradition even further.

This is straight down-the-line folk-rock – no Ralph Vaughn Williams or Oliver Goldsmith this time and individual members of the band have taken songs and done their own thing with them rather like Steeleye Span in their pomp. Some of the songs are perhaps not very well-known. Greg Cave reworks ‘The Bonny Lass Of Anglesey’ as Martin Carthy did forty years ago. ‘Dream Not Of Love’ was collected by John Clare and adapted by Cave and Guy Stevens as was ‘The Crafty Lover’. Similarly, Cave amalgamates several variants of ‘The Bailiff’s Daughter Of Islington’ and throws in a Stones’ riff for good measure.

The material that is more familiar can come as bit of a surprise. ‘Rap Her To Bank’ is now almost pretty – just don’t let the Wilson Family hear it – and if I didn’t know better I’d say that Pete Scrowther and PJ Wright didn’t really understand what the song was about but the final verse is a protest at the closure of the mines so I know that’s wrong. Instead of a song of anger at a tragedy it is here presented as something like a lament but with Mark Stevens’ cornet and Wright’s electric guitar giving it an edge. It took me a couple of plays to get into it but I think I understand what they’re doing now. Marion Fleetwood’s interpretation of ‘The Cuckoo’s Nest’ is quite sensuous – we all know that it’s about sex but it’s not always presented quite so blatantly.

‘Lowlands Of Holland’ and ‘Spencer The Rover’ are pretty faithful adaptations but the instrumental set ‘Madame Bonaparte/The Golden Eagle’ gives the rock part of the band free rein. PJ describes Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! as “still with the silly name but a serious bid, musically” – he knows that I really don’t like the band’s name – and I can’t argue with any of that.

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 TRADARRR – Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! 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.tradarrr.com

‘The Bonny Lass Of Anglesey’ – live rehearsal:

NIGEL STONIER – Love And Work (Shameless SHAME017)

Love And WorkNigel Stonier is probably best known as a producer and a man who writes songs with and for other people so it came as a surprise to discover that Love And Work is his sixth solo album but not that it’s a work of great class.

I suppose that you would describe Nigel’s music as sophisticated pop-rock but don’t be put off if you think that sounds a bit MOR. It isn’t. Nigel is a multi-instrumentalist and a witty songwriter and his wit extends to his arrangements. Take the single ‘You Need Love’. Nigel says that he didn’t want it to sound too sweet so asked James Hallawell to impersonate Al Kooper’s Hammond style – and then topped it off with as fine a Dylan harmonica impersonation as you could wish to hear. It only lasts a few seconds but it’s just perfect.

It is inevitable that Nigel is a bit of a musical magpie given that he’s worked alongside Thea Gilmore, Robert Plant, Gretchen Peters and Fairport Convention among others – things are bound to rub off. He’s no mere copyist, though, and everything undergoes a transformative process. You might say that the opener, ‘Ready To Begin’, is Byrds-like but it’s not really; it just embodies the spirit of Roger McGuinn’s guitar. ‘You Breathe New Life Into Me’ features a pulsing mellotron which Nigel describes as “Strawberry Fields” and it is but it gives the feeling of bellows on a pump organ, breathing life into the song.

Other top tracks are ‘Turnaround Town’ – lots of clever words that I haven’t figured out yet – and ‘Work In Progress’ and I really like the last track. ‘The Extra Song’ is just that and Nigel ropes in his children, Asher and Egan on percussion, fiddle and vocals. The cover doesn’t tell you that they are aged five and ten and you wouldn’t know it to listen There’s a lot of talent in that family. The icing on the cake of that particular song is Nigel’s wife Thea Gilmore playing whistle on the coda. Love And Work is a brilliant, clever album.

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 NIGEL STONIER – Love And Work 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://www.nigelstonier.com/

Videos of Nigel are about as rare as rocking horse droppings but we couldn’t resist this one:

BOO HEWERDINE – Swimming in Mercury (REVEAL072CDX)

Swimming In MercuryBoo Hewerdine’s new album Swimming In Mercury will be released on April 28th and the single ‘Satellite Town’ on April 21st. He has a pedigree which stretches back more than thirty years and is acclaimed as one of the UK’s best songwriters: ‘Patience Of Angels’ was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award in 1995; his musical partnerships include Eddi Reader, Brooks Williams (in State of the Union), Chris Difford, Kris Drever; he is in demand as a producer; and he has written music for film and television.

Swimming in Mercury is an album of stories from his younger days, beautifully smooth in its production. On ‘The Year That I Was Born’, he takes us back to 1961 not just with a reminder of historical events (an American in space, building the Berlin Wall, the Beatles in the Cavern) but also with a language that you don’t hear nowadays “you had to count each penny” and ending with “another mouth to feed/…….that was me”.

‘A Letter to my Younger Self’ is classic Hewerdine – a lyric which captures the idea (impossible to achieve and something we’ve probably all wished for) of letting his younger self know what he’s learned as an older person. It has catchy rising lines in the verse and imagery like “On Battersea bridge with a mindful of rain” topped off in a chorus with brass and bop bop bop ba da ba driving the conclusion “After all I’ve been through and I’m still just the same”’ and the hard learned truth “Let somebody love you”.

The title track was written about David Bowie: “You were the ultra violet on our new colour TV” and “So many mothers and fathers said is it a he or a she” – if you saw the performance of ‘Starman’ on Top of the Pops in 1972 you’ll know how well this takes you back to that evening.

‘The Boy Who Never Cried Wolf’ is another gem. ‘The Voice Behind The Curtain’ is about those who “never got to shine” and could only have been written by a man whose greatest hits is self-effacingly called My Name In The Brackets. ‘American TV’ references California and has Beach Boy harmonies played delicately in the background. ‘My First Band’ sings of “broken strings and cheap guitars” and “on old cassettes I find/ from time to time/ my first band”. These are all songs that recreate that period in the sixties and seventies when, for those of us who weren’t Twiggy or John Lennon et al, our lives were much harder than the backdrop of glamour we saw on the TV.

Swimming In Mercury is an album that repays more, and closer, listening. To give two examples: ‘My First Band’ has a line about the old band meeting up and “we slip into the old routine” – to no more than three seconds of crashing drums and loud lead guitar; ‘Gemini’ didn’t strike me as a stand out track as I listened to the album as a whole but when I had new music on shuffle in the car it came on and blew away the tracks that had been playing previously. It is an album crafted by, as Ian Cripps says on Hewerdine’s website, “a unique talent”.

We may not be able, knowing what we know now, to write that letter to our younger self but this album recreates Hewerdine’s youth with all the skill of his older age. His own summary of Swimming In Mercury is “Time is precious and this is the music that I needed to make”.

Mike Wistow

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 BOO HEWERDINE – Swimming in Mercury 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://boohewerdine.net

‘The Year That I Was Born’:

ELEPHANT SESSIONS – All We Have Is Now (Elephant Sessions CDTES02)

All We Have Is NowThis CD, All We Have Is Now, recently released by Elephant Sessions has nine exceptional tracks. Each one is a masterpiece of arrangements and instrumental skills. Many of the tracks are over five minutes long and should be described as ‘productions’. However, I find it difficult to place their music. I don’t know if you need to, but I am afraid music does fall into categories. I am aware that Elephant Sessions play at folk festivals but the heavy drum accompaniment and jazz like arrangements do not fit into the folk world I love. Some of the tracks could be described as ‘drummer’ with musical accompaniment.

When I first listened to All We Have Is Now, I had lost interest by the time I had reached the fourth track. I then listened to the CD many times but only a few tracks at a time. The production of each track varies considerably from any others on the CD and as I said earlier, is brilliant. I love each track but I will never listen to the full CD in one hit.

I am struggling to fairly assess the album because it is obviously very good but it is a bit overpowering. The cover is, in my opinion, very poor. It gives us absolutely no information about the reasoning or the origins of each track. It is in black and white with a collage of photographs of very little interest to anybody.

Elephant Sessions fans will love this. The heavy drumming will delight young festival goers but out and out folkies will struggle with it. Still, it is a top-quality production and will, I am sure, do very well.

Fraser Bruce

Artists’ website: http://elephantsessions.com/

‘Wet Field Day’ – official video: