JOAN OSBORNE – Songs Of Bob Dylan (Womanly Hips Records WHCD001)

Songs Of Bob DylanI should say from the outset that I’m a sucker for covers of Bob Dylan songs. Artists can and do so much with them and occasionally transcend the originals even though that may sound like heresy. So when Joan Osborne’s Songs Of Bob Dylan appeared on my horizon I practically demanded a copy at gunpoint.

Joan avoids the trap of going straight to the obvious acoustic titles – ‘Masters Of War’ is the oldest song here – and some of her choices are quite surprising. She opens with ‘Tangled Up In Blue’, a country-rock treatment with that crack in her voice giving the song an edge of fatalism. Surprise number one comes with ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’, stripped of that insane marching band and driven by Jack Petruzzelli’s electric guitar. ‘Buckets Of Rain’, very much a guitar piece in its original incarnation, is taken over by Keith Cotton’s piano before acoustic guitar picks it up at the end.

Surprise number two is in the shape of ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. Joan slows it down a fraction and turns it into a blues-rock shouter with an accompaniment that maintains sufficient elements of the original arrangement to make you smile knowingly. ‘Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)’ begins with a late-sixties organ swirling through it, which is nice touch, before taking on a gospel vibe and ‘Tryin’ To Get To Heaven’ comes close to transcending the original, partly because of the clarity of Joan’s vocals, but because she succeeds, for me at least, in painting a different mental picture.

If I must be critical I have to say that Joan misses the opportunity to take at least one song back to its bare bones until we get to ‘Masters Of War’ with its throbbing acoustic and piano and I find ‘Dark Eyes’, for example, to be rather too busy. That said, ‘High Water (For Charley Patton)’ has the kitchen sink thrown at it and works really well and ‘Ring Them Bells’ is a glorious finisher with Cotton’s piano ringing out and Joan’s voice clear and…well…bell-like.

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 Joan Osborne – Songs Of Bob Dylan 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.

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Artist’s website: www.joanosborne.com

‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ – live:

DAVID RAWLINGS – Poor David’s Almanack (Acony)

AlmanackThe material is all new, but, in part because several are based on traditional stories and songs, the feel is ageless as David Rawlings evokes a sense of a vanished rural America in a similar gothic folk manner to his longtime musical partner, Gillian Welch who, as ever, joins him here.

She brings effective harmonies on the album’s leaving-themed train song opener, ‘Midnight Train’, Rawlings ably demonstrating his acclaimed acoustic fingerpicking. Next up, opening and underpinned with her handclap and foot percussion and featuring Willie Watson on banjo, ‘Money Is The Meat In The Coconut’ is one of several playful numbers, this derived from African roots but with a hoe-down feel, albeit the lyrics carrying an underlying anti-capitalist message about subsistence living.

Watson also lends his vocals to the brooding Appalachian drama of the Rawlings-Welch duet ‘Cumberland Gap’, the former’s restyling of a traditional number previously assayed by the likes of Guthrie, Seeger and Donegan, here filtered through the musical lens of CSN&Y’s ‘Ohio’ with its fierce electric guitars and ominous atmosphere.

‘Airplane’ shifts the mood to a yearning reflective ballad that, bolstered by Brittany has on dreamy fiddle, conjures passing thoughts of Guy Clarke as Rawlings passionately sings how “ life’s a bitch cause you don’t want me” and about having wings to escape from heartache. At five minutes the album’s longest track, ‘Lindsay Button’ is another minor key number. Featuring in his live sets last year, it’s a slow spiritual hymnal telling of the “pretty young girl” who “come’ down the mountain long time ago” and “carved two names in a white oak sapling” that essentially about the role of of folk music to preserve history.

Another steeped in old-time music, Kathy Secor on fiddle, ‘Come On Over My House’ is another upbeat good time track, the title pretty much speaking to the narrator’s intentions in inviting his honey to drop by. Things shift again for the electric guitar driven, nasally sung slow-paced southern country rock ‘Guitar Man’, not a Presley or Bread cover but with echoes of The Band clearly sounding as Welch provides the steady drum beat.

Two further playful numbers are set back to back, first up being the lurching rhythm ‘Yup’, Rawlings on scratch, Welch on bongos and Austin Hoke on saw on a tale about the devil visiting a farm to take away the scolding wife only to find she’s more than he bargained for, each line ending with Welch and Rawlings adding the titular interjection. The second also nods to biblical references with ‘Good God A Woman’, a jaunty jamboree spiritual romp about the “big man” needing to create woman from a rib bone to complete creation, saving the best until last.

Not a variation on Ry Cooder’s ‘Tamp ‘em Up Solid’, the album ends with ‘Put ‘em Up Solid’,  Rawlings on harmonium and Haas on fiddle for a simple acoustic folk hymnal about building a firm foundation, whether that’s for a building or a life. A fine companion piece to Nashville Obsolete, and, were it needed, a reminder that neither Rawlings nor Welch play second fiddle to the other.

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 DAVID RAWLINGS – Poor David’s Almanack 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.

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Artist’s website: www.davidrawlingsmusic.com

‘Midnight Train’:

THE YOUNG ‘UNS – Strangers (Hereteu Records YNGS17)

StrangersThe Young’Uns have come a long way in a few short years. Strangers is their fourth studio album, coming a mere three years after they turned professional. The trio are strong singers, they enjoy the sort of on-stage banter that only good friends can get away with and they have a fine songwriter in Sean Cooney. The theme of the album is, I think, that there are no strangers, or if there are it doesn’t really make a difference. Cooney’s songs in this set are full of “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things on behalf of people they don’t necessarily know.

The album opens with ‘A Place Called England’ which suggests that we are now strangers in the country we thought we knew. They take it a bit fast for my taste but I’ve heard Maggie Holland’s original so many times that it feels “right” now. Next is ‘Ghafoor’s Bus’, the story of a grandfather from Teesside who converted a bus into a mobile kitchen and drove to Europe to feed refugees. To him, they weren’t strangers. Switching from accompanied harmony we have ‘Be The Man’ with David Eagle on piano and Michael Hughes on guitar with support from Rachael McShane on cello and a topping of flugelhorn from Jude Abbott.

‘Carriage 12’ tells the story of the terrorist attack on a French train two years ago. We’re back to unaccompanied harmony with a tune inspired by the familiar cadences of country music that suits the song perfectly. The four heroes of the attack could have run and saved themselves but they stood and fought. ‘Cable Street’ is a story familiar to all of us and ‘Dark Water’, the story of two refugees fleeing by swimming five miles of open sea, returns to the accompanied style and features Mary Ann Kennedy on harp.

Sean borrows the idea of pairing a jolly, singalong tune with a lyric that carries a serious message but he doesn’t overuse it. ‘Bob Cooney’s Miracle’ tells how fifty-seven men in the Spanish Civil War were fed from a loaf of bread and a tin of corned beef. OK, it’s not exactly Biblical but the humour makes it. Arguably, the best song is ‘These Hands’, the story of Sybil Phoenix, the first black woman to be awarded the MBE for fostering children in London but who faced racism throughout her life. The song is uplifting and ultimately ends happily. Finally we have ‘The Hartlepool Pedlar’, about a Jewish refugee named Marks who opened a shop in Leeds and took on a partner – and we all know what happened to them.

So The Young’Uns go from strength to strength with an album of great, thought-provoking stories and they probably have another forty years left in them yet.

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 THE YOUNG ‘UNS – Strangers 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.

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Artists’ website: www.theyounguns.co.uk

‘A Place Called England’ – live:

ELEANOR McEVOY – The Thomas Moore Project (Moscodisc MOSCD4015)

Thomas MooreWell, you certainly can’t accuse Eleanor McEvoy of being predictable when it comes to releasing albums. Over the past six years she’s done stripped down solo (Alone), bluesy (If You Leave), a collection of fan-requested rarities (Stuff) and studio recordings of songs played as in a live show (Naked). Now, for her 14th album she’s recorded a collection of her arrangements of songs and poems by the Dublin-born 18th/10th century poet, singer, entertainer and songwriter Thomas Moore who, along with John Murray, was responsible for burning Byron’s memoirs after his death.

Although regarded as Ireland’s answer to Robert Burns, and with poems having been set to music by the likes of Schubert and Britten as well as referenced by James Joyce, his work is probably less popularly well known to contemporary audiences not of Irish heritage, so the album serves as both homage and introduction.

One of his best known songs is ‘Oft In The Stilly Night’, a song about memory quoted by Joyce in Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man and recorded by, among many, Sarah Brightman and John McCormack, and it’s this that opens the album, giving it a tumbling, pop-folk melody etched out with piano, Hammond and electric guitar. Another much adapted and covered lyrics is ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, with recordings by Clannad, Charlotte Church, James Galway. Indeed Beethoven used it twice, although McEvoy’s arrangement is somewhat different, the jaunty glockenspiel, ukulele and trombone belying its meditation on mortality.

‘Come Send Round The Wine’ is a celebration of good company and good drink, and not allowing differing opinions get in the way of a good night, and, featuring piccolo trumpet, Hammond and even maracas and flamenco clapping, is suitably endorsed here. The theme of good company further extends to ‘Though Humble The Banquet’, Damon Butcher’s Hammond and Eamonn Nolan’s flugelhorn giving it a late night jazzy vibe.

Lyrically rather less upbeat, ‘At The Mid Hour of Night’ takes the form of a one sided conversation with a loved one who has recently passed, McEvoy’s musical box arrangement for piano and strings resonating with the fact all five of Moore’s children died in his lifetime. An Irish patriotic song, ‘The Minstrel Boy’ is another popular work concerning a warrior harpist, often played at the funerals of American police and fire department officers, McEvoy eschewing the usual military snare arrangement with the rousing finale interpolating the crowd vocals of “The Minstrel Rabble” (among then Ronan Kelly, author of The Bard of Erin) before a flugelhorn last post.

The Rabble return for Moore’s song of enduring true love, ‘Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms’ and, while you might not recognise the title, those familiar with Warner Brothers cartoons, usually starring Bugs Bunny, featuring a keyboard rigged to explode at a certain note will know the glockenspiel tinkled slow march melody. You’ll be pleased to learn McEvoy makes it through unscathed.

Arranged for moody Rhodes and spare jazzy piano and flugelhorn, ‘The Song of Fionnuala (Silent Oh Moyle)’ is based on the Irish legend of the Children of Lir, whose wicked stepmother turned them into swans, spending 900 years on the Sea of Moyle before returning home and having the spell broken by St. Patrick (only to die soon after, being 900 years old). Butcher’s minimal piano underpins Erin, ‘The Tear And The Smile In Thine Eyes’, is themed about the contradictory entwined aspects of the Irish persona as echoed in the mournful, reflective flugelhorn and McEvoy’s dreamy violin solo.

At just over a minute, ‘Oh! Breathe Not His Name’ is the album’s shortest track, its title inspired by the words of Irish revel Robert Emmet, a close friend of Moore’s regarding his epitaph, shortly before his execution, sung here with just an itchy percussive backing of matchbox, congas triangle and woodblock.

The Minstrel Rabble return (as drunken crowd) for the final number, a rousing romping reel on the back of ringing guitars, shuffling snare beat, tambourine, Hammond and bass through ‘The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls’, a deftly ambiguous lyrics about Irish nationalism (Tara being the hilltop castle home to the Irish high kings, here symbolising Irish rule and the harp its people’s culture and spirit) but also the fleeting nature of fame. Though, for Moore, with the likes of McEvoy’s fine album keeping the flame burning, not that fleeting after all.

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 ELEANOR McEVOY – The Thomas Moore Project 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.

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Artist’s website: www.eleanormcevoy.com

The Thomas Moore Project launch event:

RICHARD THOMPSON – Acoustic Classics II (Beeswing BSW015P)

Acoustic Classics IIThe latest batch of new solo, stripped back acoustic recordings from the Thompson songbook brings together material previously only available in band format or not on his solo releases. Fairport devotees will be particularly enthused by a version of the song that launched it all, ‘Meet On The Ledge’, a number that has lost none of its power or mystique over the years. He also visits 1969’s Liege &  Lief for the traditional-styled ‘Crazy Man Michael’, while, originally played on dulcimer and released as the B-side of ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’ before resurfacing on Unhalfbricking, ‘Genesis Hall’ continues to feature regularly in his solo shows.

The Richard and Linda years are represented by an achingly plaintive ‘A Heart Needs A Home’ from Hokey Pokey and the catchy folk pop sensibilities of ‘Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair’ off Pour Down Like Silver. Moving on to his second solo album, 1983’s Hand of Kindness, there’s a particularly striking and to the musical point revisiting of ‘Devonside’. The follow-up, Across A Crowded Room provides this collection’s opening track, the barbed ‘She Twists The Knife Again’, here in a brittle bluesy arrangement sung with an almost venomous pent-up intensity.

Moving to 1988’s Amnesia, there’s a resonant, brooding reading of the socioeconomics-themed ‘Pharaoh’ while 1991’s Rumor And Sigh, has one from each side; the almost hymnal-like fingerpicked ‘Keep Your Distance’ (a song the Byrds would have done brilliantly) and, closing proceedings here, ‘Why Must I Plead?’ A double album came along in 1996 with You? Me? Us?, the material split between the electric Voltage Enhanced and the acoustic Nude. From that first disc, ‘The Ghost Of You Walks’ now gets the bare bones treatment, allowing the lyrics greater prominence.

His last for Capitol, Mock Tudor was a thematic album divided into three sections, Metroland, Heroes In The Suburbs and Street Cries And Stage Whispers and it’s from the first of the three that comes the intricately picked troubadour styled ballad ‘Bathsheba Smiles’. For his tenth solo album, 2002’s self-financed The Old Kit Bag, Thompson signed to Cooking Vinyl and the resurrection in sales it brought is appropriately represented by ‘Gethsemane’. The final track to be reworked from a solo album comes with a powerfully delivered ‘Guns Are The Tongues’ from the conflict-themed Sweet Warrior.

A third volume, Acoustic Rarities, is planned for later in the year, presumably around the October tour, featuring some songs only existing as cover versions, in the meantime, this is another welcome opportunity to remind yourself of arguably the finest musician British folk rock has produced.

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 RICHARD THOMPSON – Acoustic Classics II 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.richardthompson-music.com

‘Meet On The Ledge’ – live and acoustic:

MEGAN HENWOOD – River (Dharma Records DHARMACD30)

RiverThe third album by singer-songwriter Megan Henwood, River, is due for release on 27th October 2017. And it demonstrates the evolving talent and maturity of a singer who had already made considerable impression in 2009, when she and her brother Joe won Radio 2’s Young Folk Award, and a writer whose storytelling is supported by fine melodies and solid musicianship. This doesn’t strike me as a particularly folky album (which isn’t a criticism), however.

The songs are all written by Megan, who also plays acoustic and electric guitars here, while cellist Matthew Forbes and bassist Pete Thomas, long associated with her work, are once more strongly featured on this album. The early promotional copy I have doesn’t include details of these or other personnel, though the press release tells me that the CD was produced by Tom Excell, and the unexpected but very effective trumpet on ‘Fresh Water’ is by Jonny Enser. There’s no lyric sheet at this point, either, which always strikes me as being a shame when the words are as good as this. It also means that when I cite lyrics in this review, I may be inaccurate, so I apologise in advance for any accidental mondegreens, but her wordsmithing is too good not to try to quote.

Here’s a track-by-track listing:

  1. ‘Join The Dots’ uses a classic ballad structure, moving between a gentle verse to a dramatic chorus that reminded me a little too much melodically of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ (sorry!).
  2. ‘Fresh Water’ lies a little closer to a fuzzy line between alt-folk and modern country with its acoustic fingerpicking. A very pretty love story –”I’ve got a thirsty heart and your love is like fresh water … to me” – with some perfectly judged double-tracking on the chorus.
  3. Megan’s song about Oxford, ‘The Dolly’, has the barest touch of Joni Mitchell-ish head register in the first verse, but also makes good use of her distinctive lower register. Great lyric, and the chorus has a nice bass line running in parallel to the vocal.
  4. The lyrics to ‘Seventh’ are a little more diffuse: the story is more difficult to follow, but the impact of the song is undeniable. Some nice touches of organ, too. As in one or two other places, the percussion seems a little too far forward here and there, though the suggestion of a ticking clock – I guess that’s a wood block – does suit the theme of the song. And perhaps it’s just an artefact of my elderly stereo.
  5. The wordless middle section to ‘Apples’ is a little overextended for my taste, but I like the combination of lyric and melody very much.
  6. ‘House On The Hill’ is a song about the scariness of romantic involvement – “I’m not afraid of the dark/but I’m afraid of you leaving“. The combination of the underlying electric guitar and strings is particularly atmospheric.
  7. The multi-tracking on parts of ‘Rainbows’ is a little denser, almost reminiscent in places of the Carpenters.
  8. ‘Peace Be The Alien’ includes some of my favourite lines: “From my follicles/down to my fingertips” and “Turn it down/headful of decibels“. Yes, “life’s too loud” but this song is definitely worth turning up the volume a bit.
  9. ‘Oh Brother’ explores the complexities of a sibling relationship. Autobiographical, perhaps, if it matters. A fine song, anyway.
  10. ‘Used To Be So Kind’ seems to pick up the theme of unkindness and being the firstborn child from the previous song. Some nice, slightly jazzy chord changes later in the song.
  11. ‘The Craftsman’ is probably my favourite Henwood song at the moment, and perhaps the folkiest. Just voice and acoustic guitar. Lovely.
  12. ‘L’Appel Du Vide’ is a French expression meaning “the call of the void”, similar to what Poe called ‘The Imp of the Perverse’: the sudden urge to do something harmful to oneself or to others. The song begins with an acapella section building into close harmonies, then develops the theme with some slightly eerie instrumental backing to match the disquieting lyric – “L’Appel du Vide I believe you’ve been haunting me/gather up all of my sins/siren won’t leave, she just sits here and sings to me/when will the finish begin?” Its understated drama makes for an unforgettable end to the album.

I tend to feel uneasy when I invoke the names of other artists in a review: all I’ll say on this occasion is that while Megan Henwood doesn’t sound too much like Mary Chapin Carpenter or Janis Ian – for a start, there’s something very English (in a very non-chauvinist way) about her use of language – but if you like the work of either of those artists (or maybe of Stevie Nicks), I’m pretty sure you’ll like Megan’s. It’s lyrically rich storytelling, melodically varied, imaginatively scored and sung with an unassuming, unforced range and fluidity. It’s certainly an album I’ll be listening to again, and I’ll be taking a look at her earlier recordings. Does that make me officially a fan?

David Harley

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 MEGAN HENWOOD – River 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.meganhenwood.com

‘The Dolly’ live: