STEVE LOGAN – Backstreets Of Eden (Moondragon Records SLOG 025)

Backstreets Of EdenSteve Logan is a welsh songwriter and musician now living in and working from Cambridge, UK, who is, as his website puts it, “working across the borderline between acoustic folk and hard-edged, high-octane rock. A song-poet, he focuses on the point where music and poetry meet”. His new album, Backstreets Of Eden, is to be released on March 24th.

The album does something quite special. You know that moment when you’re playing music with others and almost from nowhere ‘it works’. You can be strumming so your ten year old can play percussion and they suddenly get the rhythm or you can be in front of the band and it all clicks? Suddenly you feel this is what music is all about. Unusually for a recording, this album has much of that quality. Like a gig when it all comes together, Backstreets Of Eden rocks.

Logan’s band consists of Phil Bryant (drums), Andy Cross (bass guitar) and Rhys Wilson (electric and acoustic guitars) and they play a mixture of songs influenced by rock (‘Spotlight’, ‘Lucky Dollar’, ‘Skylark’), electric blues (‘Lead In My Pencil’) and the more acoustic (‘Backstreets of Eden’, ‘Paperboy’, ‘Pontymister’, ‘Faker’ and ‘Hyacinth Girl’).

Although there are a greater number of acoustic songs on the album, the electric music drives the feel of Backstreets Of Eden in a way I’ve not found in the back catalogue of Logan’s own music (he also plays in a Free/Bad Company tribute band). The historians amongst you will know there was a point where Crosby Stills & Nash added Neil Young; by bringing the electric guitar and the band more to the fore Backstreets Of Eden similarly adds depth and edge to Logan’s songs.

The lyrics are lengthy but not wordy, describing the modern world in bright colour and with a moral/spiritual slant, for example, “The cop show sprinkles stardust in the city/Modern cowboys cruise the backstreets like they never/Knew the hours between each wrong decision” or “Had a beautiful dream/Of a house on a slope/You were there in the garden/A vision of hope/But the house came to nothing/Like snow on a stream/the bricks are all dust/But I can still feel the dream” – interesting as these lyrics are on the page, like the word-pictures of, say, mid-70’s Al Stewart or Greetings From Asbury Park the words are much better in song.

At the heart of the album are two tracks ‘Yesterday’s Hero Part 1’ and ‘Yesterday’s Hero Part 2’ which together last over 15 minutes. The imagery and the story are rich and it would take a chapter to describe it fully. There are references to the modern rolex-materialistic world at Christmas, contrasts with John and Yoko with their flowers, Father Mackenzie being told religion’s a virus, young men trying to be cool, cars swirling round Hyde Park corner. Part 1 concludes that some of us feel something’s wrong. Part 1 is acoustic; the fuzzy Neil Young guitar in Part 2 is darker and the lyrics take us even deeper into the modern world. There is love, philosophy, family and religion before finishing where Part 1 started – watching the man with the Rolex, this time reflecting on the temporary nature of material success and concluding “And whatever survives us/Like the wings of the dove/Needs the breath to sustain it/Of the spirit of love”.

Definitely: song-poet on the edges between rock and acoustic folk.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: https://www.stevelogan.co.uk

‘While Eagles Fly’:

KYLE CAREY – The Art Of Forgetting (Riverboat Records TUG 1109)

The Art Of ForgettingThe Art Of Forgetting is Kyle Carey’s third album. Carey describes her style as ‘Gaelic Americana’. ‘Gaelic Americana’ is a fusion of Celtic and Appalachian musical traditions – and if that sounds odd, it’s worth understanding the depth of Carey’s musical knowledge: a Fulbright Fellowship to begin her study of Gaelic language and its music; a two-year stay on Skye and tutoring from one of Scotland’s most revered traditional singers; a knowledge of bluegrass, gospel, jazz and Appalachian ballads and fiddle tunes. It works. It more than works, the result is a luxurious sound, luxurious in the sense that you put the CD on, sit back and luxuriate in the music washing over you.

The video below is the title track of the album. Musically you can hear the distinctive mix of influences that have led to the name Gaelic Americana – a swirling fiddle, a gentle acoustic guitar, and a voice with phrasing as delicate as traditional Gaelic singers. Lyrically it’s a song of love lost – the autumn imagery contrasting with memory of summer “Summer sang in me once/it’s quiet this fall”. It moves from colour to black and white both metaphorically and descriptively “Colours all round me these days/Magpies painting the ground/I stopped seeing the reds and the golds/When you stopped coming around” – the imagery of Romantic Poetry turned into lyrics.

The album glides on, through a jazzy take on the traditional ‘Siubhail A Ruin’ and a Cajun waltz, ‘Come Back To Me’. The fourth track, ‘Opal Grey’, is just delightful – the most luxurious track on the album, so much so that I’ve had to force myself to listen to the lyrics rather than just be absorbed in the feel of the song. It’s another tale of love lost, but it’s also a tale of how the whole person has become lost “Every time I think the rain has stopped/the skies return to Opal Grey/And I am lost again in my own storm/without a star to guide the way”. We’ve probably all known those times.

‘Tell Me Love’ is a positive tale of love, with banjo and mandolin driving a gentle song full of nature imagery. In the middle of the album are a couple of songs of passion – ‘Sweet Damnation’, a cheery tune for a tale of passion “that would make a rosebud blush” and ‘Tillie Sage’ a re-telling of the Miss Havisham story of passion thwarted but not decayed. This is probably my favourite song on the album with old-style American finger picking, a fiddle haunting the vocals, and a gentle (really) banjo. A beautiful song.

I couldn’t place the tune I recognised behind ‘Sios Dahn An Abhainn’ until the sleeve notes pointed out that it’s “a Louisiana flavoured, soulful interpretation of the classic American psalm ‘Down to the River’ translated into Scottish Gaelic and flavoured with the Bayou” – another gently lovely song, and those notes reinforce how this album combines the American and Gaelic traditions into something distinctive. It then moves seamlessly to the gospel-inspired ‘For Your Journey’, duetting with Rhiannon Giddens. By now you have a sense of ‘Gaelic Americana’ and the album finishes with three more songs that unite the two traditions, including a fine version of Nancy Griffiths’ ‘Trouble In The Fields’ slightly held back and decorated with fiddle, percussion, piano and backing vocals of the full band.

As a whole, the album is gem of luxurious sounds, songs of love in many of its forms, natural imagery (reflected in the greenness of the cover above) and it stands on a highly trained knowledge of both Celtic and American traditions that allows Carey to create something unforced (The Art Of Forgetting is for listening to, not an academic exercise) and rather lovely.

Kyle Carey is on tour in the UK in late May/early June, predominantly in Scotland, with one gig in Wales and one in England.

Mike Wistow

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website.

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Artist’s website: http://www.kyleannecarey.com

‘The Art Of Forgetting’ – official video:

CORRIE SHELLEY – The Leaf And The Cane (Own Label CSSSMCD002)

The Leaf And The CaneYou know how it is, you spend 30 years busy doing other life stuff away from music, then seemingly effortlessly drop two self-composed albums within the space of a year. Corrie Shelley certainly knows how that goes, since her second album The Leaf And The Cane hit the shops late last year.

Much like her debut, Painted Memories, this latest work skips nimbly among the folk/rock borderlands. Although only the final two tracks – both collaborative compositions and performances – definitively stray into rockier territory. Both ‘Storm Coming’ and ‘Pale Maiden II’ break with the more intimate mood of the preceding songs whilst showing Shelley perfectly at home in a larger band setting. ‘Pale Maiden II’, for instance, commemorates those who fought in the Falklands War, as seen from the viewpoint of the islands’ national flower.

These tracks aside, the instrumentation generally tends towards subtly enhancing her vocal delivery. There’s some lovely harmonica over the shuffling ‘Sweet Revenge’, particularly the final shimmer. ‘Wild Wind’ which works surprisingly well delivered way down in Corrie’s vocal range, is suffused with a militaristic percussion and Jon Brindley’s melancholy fiddle.

If revisiting a teenage exam piece (‘Love Is Blind’) could seem like a risky move, Corrie’s reworking means that it does manage to deliver, whilst also suggesting that it must have been a fairly mature song originally.

Her voice is warm, rounded and touched with her Lancashire accent. There’s a strong focus on narrative and storytelling, as well as a delightful way with melody. Her a capella song, ‘Jonny’ about the devastation to one family of a mining disaster, is particularly good. To this displaced Lancastrian, there’s something rather comforting and homely about her sound, a Proustian connection with folk music from childhood days.

A nice touch was the little envelope of teabag and sugar sachet – representing the titular ‘leaf’ and ‘cane’, symbols both of global exploration and imperial domination and simple daily comforts – that came with the review copy. The drink that fuelled the writing of these songs (as well as this review) also forms the common thread between them. It’s easy to picture Corrie, warm mug in hand as her inspiration roves from tales of 17th century piracy on ‘Whydah’ via historical fiction (‘Sir William And The Father’) to more modern themes and viewpoints.

So, go on, join in. Put the kettle on, make a brew and settle in for a jolly good listen to this very accessible album.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click below 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.

Artist website: http://www.corrieshelley.com

‘Whydah’ – live:

DAN HARTLAND – Great Novels (own label DH004)

Great NovelsIn many ways Great Novels is a companion piece to the Amit Dattani solo debut, both of them hailing from Birmingham and sharing a love of folk, blues and country, indeed opening number ‘Leaving Sodom’, a song about learning to let go (“If you hang on to what you have or used to be, then the only thing you get is further into debt with history”) echoes the fingerpicked country blues of Dattani’s album, although the instrumentation is more expansive (drums, harmonica) with a slightly jazzier tinge. In their alter egos, they also co-present the fortnightly roots-based 50 Miles of Elbow Room on BrumRadio.

Shading the Americana with homegrown hues, he has a warm, relaxed and slightly reedy warble vocal style, ‘Canton’ with its simple repeated guitar pattern and a lyric about how “we’ve both learned to show only our best sides – people prefer you to glow”, suggesting a melding of Paul Simon and Gerry Colvin, his songs equally literate and thoughtful.

Produced by fellow local musician Chris Tye, the spacious, airy arrangements gently massaged with understated synths, it’s a generally reflective and laid back affair, though, having said that, ‘In The Ranks’ has a more driving, bluesy groove, pushed along by Dan Todd’s cello, Gary Doidge’s viola and handclaps percussion as he sings about a relationship pecking order and how “I’ve got nowhere to be except cooling my feet until you next find you’re free.”

The songs linked by themes of community and communion, it hits a country stride on the brushed drums waltz of doomed relationship number ‘The Usual Mistake’ (“She spent all her time knowing that she wasn’t growing any way but out”) while Todd’s cello again bolsters the strummed and fingerpicked notes and rumbling drums for ‘Loved & Lonely’ , another broken relationship song, which, I’d venture to suggest, has a bit of a Lou Reed influence about it.

The title track, the shortest at just over two minutes, takes on fingerpicked talking country blues as he sings how “Great novels have been written in this way poring over every hour in a single day”, a playfully musing apology to a lover for why he’s never written a love song, concluding that “what fills my every minute doesn’t fill my ever line… so I’ll sing about the absence of one.”

With its nimble fingerpicking and a more falsetto touch to the vocals, ‘Flowers Of Youth’, a reflection on a relationship that meant less in hindsight than it did at the time, grazes in the same musical fields before drummer Becky Davis lights the blue touch paper and it bursts into an urgent flurry of skiffle-like fireworks that just lacks the washboard to add the final touch.

Sandwiched in-between, Marko Miletic providing the upright bass backbone, ‘British Columbia Calls’, a bitter-coated leaving and recriminations song (“You keep on wreaking the same old revenge”) with its reference to Cassandra who, gifted with prophecy, was cursed that no one would believe her, brings the tempo back down to a bluesy slouch, ‘Stray’ (“If asked your destination you say anywhere that ain’t homebound”) sustaining the regret-grained balladeering.

With synthesised brass, the penultimate number, ‘Passing St Mary’s’, a reflection on rose-tinted memories of our past and a blindness to the present, its title a reference to a local hospice, is a lovely rippling guitar melody with Celtic tones which, gathering to head on the back of Joel Stevens drums and swirling guitars, is dedicated to the late Paul Murphy, the Irish-born, Birmingham-based poet, singer and actor who founded the city’s influential Songwriter’s Café and was a founder member of and vocalist with the Destroyers.

It all ends with the slow bluesy sprawl of ‘5/7’, a song about the factory working week and the community of those who work the production line there “with nothing to show but their family and friends. A quality product to profit the men at the top” and how, at the end of it all, while all that’s left is a stone column “inscribed of the ones who didn’t survive”, there’s pride taken in a job well done. Something Hartland is also well justified in feeling.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.danhartland.com

‘Loved&Lonely’ – official video:

LUCIA COMNES – Held In The Arms (Delfina DR386-LC09)

Held In The ArmsHer fifth album and only the second to feature all original material, Held In The Arms, Comnes’ follow-up to 2015’s Love, Hope & Tyranny, again produced in collaboration with multi-instrumentalist and sometime co-writer Gawain Mathews, is another Americana package of folk, blues and country, this time with songs centred around the theme of ‘things that nurture’ – friends, family, nature and women – as emblemised by the embracing arms design of the cover.

‘Winter in the Mountains’ kicks things off in suitably sprightly style, Comnes on fiddle and Rob Hooper providing the brushed drums, evoking Dolly Parton on a song about going home for Christmas, the shuffling rhythm taking a midsection break for a slower semi-spoken passage before the fiddle sparks it off again. Mathews on mandolin and the other number to be propelled by Hooper’s kit, ‘On The Farm’, the lyrics of which provide the album title, is another bouncy bluegrass tinted track, written for a friend who founded the Big Mesa organic vegetable farm in Bolinas, California.

The tempo slows for ‘Grace’, co-writer Robert Mitchell on guitar, a Nashville country celebration of gathering round the kitchen table, building bridges, swapping conversations and linking arms to give blessings. There’s a touch of Grappelli fiddle to go with the Spanish guitar and saloon piano on the portrait sketch of the fantasising enigmatic ‘Lady Tamarind’ and if there’s a hint of ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’ to the melody, Cohen colours are more noticeable (‘Suzanne’ to be specific) on the slow waltzing ‘Matilde’, another character sketch, here of childhood and the passing years.

From children to four legged friends, ‘Good Hands’ in a jaunty, fiddle-driven Appalachian country number about caring for and connections with various horses, taking things down again for another slow waltz in the poignant ‘Side By Side’, a song about sisterhood bonds and the walls that can sometimes come between. One of three written with Mathews, the female friendship-themed ‘Mirabelle’ is more of a rock track, driven by punchy drums and electric guitars with Comnes giving it a descending la la la la refrain.

Although perhaps not entirely politically correct, unless you’re Donald Trump’s sons, with Mathews on Dobro and accordion it’s back to family for the backwoods folksy feel of ‘The Hunter’, the story of an uncle growing from a child hunting rabbits with his father and wild deer to a grown man hunting the plains of Namibia.

Another reaching-out, friendship-themed number, ‘I’m With You’ has an itchy, almost sultry samba flavour, albeit with a couple of folksy fiddle interjections, while the Appalachian rooted ‘Song For Mama’ is a self-explanatory daughter-mother love letter and ‘Morning Star’, which features fiddle, dobro and Kyle Caprista on drums, comes in blended shades of Southern country soul and mountain folk.

It ends with the slow march swaying ‘The Sleeping Lady’s Daughter’, another mother-daughter love song, except here the mother’s bosom is the land of her childhood and the song a celebration of the simple joys of watching the sun rise and fall over the redwood hills and blankets of mist, riding the swell of the tide to the call of the quail. In her bio it says her songs seek to reconnect people with nature and their own roots; let them give you a big hug.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.luciacomnes.com

‘Grace’ – live:

MIRIAM COOKE – Freefalling (First Night)

FreefallingA former fashion model turned archaeologist, actress, broadcaster, folk singer and, er baboon stylist, raised in an Irish farming community, Cooke trades in a very British acoustic folk pop with a voice that’s earned her comparisons to the young Joni Mitchell, Norah Jones, Kate Bush and Sandy Denny, her songs exploring both the darkness and the light of contemporary life, variously shaded by harp, flute and cello with co-producer Nick Pynn variously on 5 string violin, mountain dulcimer and mandocello.

It opens with the title track which offers a musing on the state of the nation as, to a diametrically opposed gentle acoustic finger-picking melody, coloured by banjo, she sings “Food banks and bedroom tax, what century are we in?” although she’s already answered the rhetorical question in the opening lines about how “Mother’s in the bedroom, she’s praying to the wall, father’s on the Xbox, son learns women from his porn.” It’s the best song not written by Tom Petty to feature a chorus with the words free falling.

With a slightly jazzy, almost Brubeck guitar pattern etched out with a cello and violin that occasionally jitteringly swoop in from the background and then recede, ‘Picking the Roses’ has a more positive tone in its line about whirling about in glee to dance the blackness free, even if the flowers picked in the morn are withered by nightfall. A similar sentiment informs the crystal clean mood and dreamy melody of ‘Pack Your Bags’ about moving on as life’s seasons change, keeping the wind at your back and not looking around.

Things take a musical diversion on the breezy acoustic pop of ‘Raise Your Hands’ with its handclaps-like percussive undercurrent, the upbeat nature of music and the lyrics chiming as she sings about basically giving a finger to the adversities and “When life gets busy, blurred, disjointed, shackle led, breathe in, breathe out take stock of what will make you laugh instead.” Or, put another way, “Climb a local peak, sod the height.”

Breathily sung, accompanied by Evie Whittingham’s darkly stained cello as her voice soars, another defiant number about living life even in the midst of sorrow, ‘An Apple A Day’ is also unabashedly romantic in the confession that “I live, I breathe, I’m wedded to you. So that when I awake for a moment I shake with the bliss and the memory of you.”

Riding a gently dappled melody with Cooke on tinkling piano and Phil Ward (who also co-produced) on double bass, ‘Hello My Friend’ is, to quote Edith Piaf, about having no regrets when stars don’t align or shine, and not dwelling on “a love that failed to bloom, a song that had no tune.” That said, however, the tender and lovely, ‘Bring Me With You’ (the melody puts me in mind of the Ray Charles classic ‘You Don’t Know Me’) is an emotional contradiction to such advice, a song about begging a lover not to go (“My skin crawls with shame, but you, oh, you remain unswayed”) with its violin-coated chorus refrain “Bring me with you when you leave.”

Holly McCready on flute and Helen Ashworth behind the shimmering harp, it ends with the album’s only narrative, ‘The Sea’, Rachel Ede’s mournful violin complementing the bittersweet story of a woman who leaves her husband and children behind to find a new life, a new home, a new man, a new self and of the wounds left in her wake, of “unopened letters hidden in a box, birthday presents stacked up in blocks” and, it is hinted, their need to find her again.

These may not be the sort of stadium anthems that, as she puts it, make you want to “Raise your hands in the air and sing out”, but they will touch you in the quieter spaces of your heart.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click below 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.

Artist’s website: www.miriamcookeofficial.com

‘Bring Me With You’ – official video: