It almost goes without saying that Martin Hayes (fiddle) and Dennis Cahill (guitar) have shaped Irish traditional music for the last quarter century and are recognised the world over for their sublime lyrical and melodic interpretation of almost everything they touch. What has kept them fresh and relevant across the years is their willingness to collaborate with musicians as diverse as Paul Simon and Yo Yo Ma while always returning to those within their own fold. They still perform as a duo but have periodic outings with the bigger sound that comes from the 5-piece The Gloaming, formed in 2011. Live At The NCH refers to Dublin’s National Concert Hall which now has become an annual pilgrimage for a seven night bonanza. Would that I could be there!
Cleverly, the band’s producer Thomas Bartlett started with six tracks from the band’s two studio albums and, for the live performance, allowed them to expand into six lengthy arrangements that encompassed other songs and tunes. Iarla O Lionaird’s plaintive Irish language vocals dominate three tracks, though my promotional copy gives no clue as to what the songs are about. Instrumentally, the sparse piano of Thomas Bartlett is striking but what really intrigued me was the Hardanger d’Amour (5+5) Norwegian fiddle of Caoimhin O Raghallaigh. The top five bowed gut strings plus the five sympathetic strings below give the fiddle a wonderful resonant sound. It’s both sonically and visually pleasing. Indeed, the whole album transports the listener to another calmer, holistic place.
As it happens, I’d heard quite a lot of Will Keating’s CD Cornwall My Home (Kernow Ow Thre) before a copy came my way, having heard Will on the West Cornwall radio station Coast FM, where Ian Semple has played the seriously catchy title song ‘Cornwall My Home’ several times. All the material here is written by Harry Glasson, apart from a Cornish translation of one of Harry’s songs. Harry Glasson was a popular performer in Cornwall and far beyond for over 30 years, until cancer surgery in 2009 made singing almost impossible. Will describes the album as a celebration of his “friend, and Mentor, and true Cornish Legend, Harry (Safari) Glasson.” Which seems a fair summation.
Will’s very pleasant vocals are augmented here by some notable local names: Anna Dowling (fiddle and nicely understated backing vocals), John Dowling (banjo), Owain Hanford (drums and percussion) and long-time jazzer Claudia Colmer (double bass) among them.
‘Prelude’ is actually eight seconds of a very small person (Will’s youngest daughter, aged three at the time) singing the last line of ‘Cornwall My Home’. If that sounds too cute for comfort, bear with me: there’s a lot to like about this CD.
‘Bury Me’ isn’t as sombre as its title suggests, being an expression of the writer’s desire to enjoy interment within sight of the picturesque Cornish landscape. And why not?
I have heard a recording by Harry of ‘Home For Flora’ augmented by a kazoo (I guess) playing the ‘Helston Flora Dance’ as a counterpoint to the chorus. Will’s version doesn’t go that far, and the fiddle, banjo, bass and percussion here are sympathetic to the underlying sadness of the lyric, and then shade into a sprightly version of the ‘Flora Dance’ played by the Helston Town Band. I can’t imagine that anyone who’s ever enjoyed the spectacle on May 8th wouldn’t like to have this recording as a lasting memento.
‘Kernow Ow Thre’ is a version of ‘Cornwall My Home’ translated into Cornish by Matthi ab Dewi: this is a sparse arrangement with just Will’s vocals (double-tracked in places) and guitar and Claudia Colmer’s double bass. Even so, a notable earworm.
‘Saint Just Feast’ was recorded live during Will’s Cornish Folk concert at St Senara’s Church in Zennor. (I’d guess that the Zennor church’s connection with the legend of the mermaid of Zennor has a lot to do with the mermaids that adorn the sleeve, the booklet, and the CD itself. Will tells me that they were drawn by Anna Dowling and modelled on his four daughters.) It’s an engaging contemplation on the Cornish traditions of choral singing and parish feasts, though it’s simply and effectively arranged here with just Will’s voice and guitar.
‘Song For Cornwall’ (sometimes known as ‘Harry’s Song For Cornwall’) picks up the pace and features Matthew Woolley’s chin cello (a violin or viola strung with low-range strings to emulate the range of a “real” cello), Izaak Spencer’s mandolin, and William Barnes on bass, as well as John Dowling’s banjo.
‘Cornwall My Home’ is probably Harry’s best-known song, not least through the singing of the Oggymen, the Cape Cornwall Singers, Bone Idol and many others. This arrangement includes a wider range of instruments (including Louise Amanda Payne on cello and viola) and the Truro High School for Girls Prep Choir. While the overall effect is more ‘Grandad’ than ‘Another Brick In The Wall Part 2’, it’s absurdly catchy and I even found my cynical old eyes trying (and failing, fortunately) to water a little. And I’m not even Cornish, though I live in the area…
‘Newlyn’ is a darker song, the only one here in a minor key: fittingly, since it addresses the decline of the Cornish fishing industry with understated effectiveness. As elsewhere, Anna Dowling’s fiddle deserves a mention, as do John Dowling’s banjo and Claudia Colmer’s atmospheric bowed double bass.
‘Men Of Cornwall’ is another of Harry’s song that is often sung by others: John Dowling’s banjo here gives it a pleasant Americana-ish feel.
‘South Crofty’ was also recorded at the St Senara’s concert and benefits from Will’s spoken introduction to the story of how it came to be written. The South Crofty tin and copper mine in Pool was closed in 1998, but the song encapsulates Harry’s reaction to the news that it was hoped to reopen it under new management. That hasn’t happened yet (as far as I know), but it’s nice to think that it still might.
‘Beautiful Islands Of Scilly’ features harmonies from The Oggymen and Rob Norman’s piano and organ. And if that doesn’t get you onto the Scillonian for a trip to St Mary’s, I don’t know what will.
‘Saint Just Ladies’ is a kind of old-timey Cornish equivalent to ‘California Girls’, with a tune that reminds me slightly of an old ballad about Jesse James. I’m not sure it’s altogether politically correct, but I bet it gets everyone singing along in folk clubs.
‘Dicky Pips Dunkey’ is a dialect poem performed by Andy Rowe: if you find the various ‘Arkansas Traveller’ vaudeville sketches amusing, or fond memories of Bill Caddick slipping ‘P-tarmigan and Groaty Dick’ onto his Sunny Memories album you’ll like this too. Well, I did, but I have a strange sense of humour and a love for quirky fragments of regional folklore.
I’m sure there’s a ready audience for this well-packaged CD among Cornwall’s many summer visitors, but there’s more to this collection than tourist board fodder. While I don’t quite hear a stunner like Steve Knightley’s ‘Cousin Jack’ or Jim Causley’s setting of ‘My Young Man’s A Cornishman’, these are good, solid songs whose choruses are often heard in various West Country venues, and there’s more than a hint here and there of the magic and mystery that lingers in the Cornish landscape.
So I’m off to see what other songs of Harry Glasson’s I can find on SoundCloud…
The trio of musicians who make up Assynt may still only be in their 20s but between them have already amassed a barrowload of nominations and awards. Having worked with many of Scotland’s finest musicians, this year they finally came together as Assynt (named after an area of North-West Scotland). So, as the first album from this newly-minted group, there’s plenty of anticipation surrounding Road To The North.
That it’s an album of largely original material is the first of many pleasant surprises. Pipes and whistles man David Shedden contributes by far the largest share, although Graham Mackenzie (fiddle) and Innes White (guitar / mandolin) demonstrate equally strong composition skills. Only the final track, ‘Harris Dance’ presents a set of traditional tunes, drawing the line of continuity between old and new.
White’s understated playing is the keystone to the band, holding the centre rhythmically and with great sensitivity. Sometimes loose and jazzy (‘Fiend And The Hound’), at other times hinting at Spanish style (‘Aidan Jack’), or playfully riding the beat on ‘No Way Out’, he’s got flair to spare. On the lovely ‘Ava May’, his spare accompaniment underscores a lyrical lament very much in the Highland tradition.
Sheddon’s vigorous and nimble piping is at the fore on ‘The One Upper’ and title track, ‘Road To The North’. Mackenzie, whose clean style tends to minimal vibrato afterburn, readily matches or complements him, as the tunes demand. Frequently, fiddle and pipes/whistles are tightly and intricately entwined, moving effortlessly from mirroring the melody to chasing around and playing tag with it, as on ‘Forward Thinking’. On the smartly drilled ‘Garthland Drive’ they wreathe and twine sinuously around each other, whilst ‘Conal McDonagh’s’ initially moody fiddle gets bowled over by some frenzied pipes as they spin off in a rapidly turning pattern.
The interplay between these three musicians is deft and subtle, the tuneset bridging transitions smooth. There can be no doubting the quality of their composition, arranging and playing together. If they’re this good when they’re just starting out together, imagine what Assynt could become.
Released in the 20th anniversary of her older brother’s death, which saw her take her stage name in his honour, Don’t Call Me Angel is Washington- born multi-instrumentalist Scott’s 12th studio album , one that veers more to soul and blues than her previous country sound. Indeed, as part of the crowd-funding process fans were invited to suggest covers to rearrange, the result being a slow blues version of Prince’s ‘Kiss’ that oozes sensuality and seduction as opposed to the ten pints want some of this bluster of Tom Jones.
Backed by drummer husband AJ Gennaro, bassist Josh Schilling, Grammy-winning guitarist Johnny Lee Schell and Mike Finnigan on Hammond organ, slow burn soulful moods are also struck on the organ-backed gospel tinged ‘Make It Right’, tender baby grand piano ballad ‘Moon and Back’, ‘Not Used To Being Used To’ and slow waltzer ‘Heartless’ while album closer ‘Here I Am’ returns to the gospel end of the spectrum.
Which isn’t to say that her country roots don’t show through. ‘You Will Be Mine’ has a roadhouse bar band heart and, riding Gennaro’s steady drum beat, ‘In Time’ has a familiar chiming jog rhythm, albeit without the over-orchestration Nashville likes to load on such. numbers. By way of something different, ‘Unlove Story’ breaks out a baritone Cordoba ukulele to join the bubbling Hammond and clopping percussion bring a lighter musical note to the song’s melancholic pessimistic outlook on finding romance.
However, it’s the opening title track, a sort of emotional opposite to ‘Angel of the Morning’, that sets the seal on the album’s quality, a slow, brushed honky tonk snare brushed waltz with Scott playing two different six string guitars doubled and overlaid to create the 12-string jangle while Lee Schell adds mandolin as she sings “I could never be your savior… just a thief doing time/When you think about me, think of me at my worst/The heroes, the martyrs, the saints, they all ended up cursed” as the number builds to a climax and a quiet farewell.
Quite simply, it’s one of the best old school Americana heartbreakers I’ve heard this year. The rest of the album’s pretty damn fine too.
A well-established veteran of the Scottish folk scene, Duncan McCrone returns with Land Of Gold, his fourth solo album, and his first on the esteemed Greentrax label. It is a record of new and revisited songs; some recent originals inspired by old stories, a few recordings of older writings and a fine selection of covered material; which fit seamlessly with Mr McCrone’s own songwriting style and (at times) the album’s subject matter. While this is no concept album, there are certainly recurring themes; nautical themes, geographical themes, themes of wishing, travelling and searching to find…but sometimes never finding.
The title track opens the record with its beautiful melody, lyrics and imagery, telling the story of the “Hebridean Klondike Kate”, who left behind her home in Scotland to seek her fortune in the Yukon Valley, at the time of the gold rush. While this track deals with the song’s protagonist leaving Scotland, McCrone later deals with songs in which the lead protagonist is arriving in Scotland; namely ‘The Pioneers’, which tells the story of Bashir Ahmad, Scotland’s first Asian MSP who emigrated from Pakistan to Scotland as a 21 year old, in 1961.
Throughout the album, McCrone takes the opportunity to showcase his ability to retell engaging stories through music. This can be seen, particularly, in numbers like ‘Song of the Skylark’ (an ode to a small sailing vessel which saved over 600 lives during the Second World War), ‘Honeymoon Bridge’ (about a husband and wife, reunited after four years, tragically killed en route to their belated honeymoon), ‘Harbour Wall’ (where the souls of deceased mariners wait for their true love) and ‘Resurrection Road ( A Clydeside Carol)’ featuring Rab Noakes, which juxtaposes nostalgic images of Christmas time in Glasgow, with the harsh, grittier images of the realities of homelessness in the city.
Between these numbers, it is the well placed selections of cover material which fill in the gaps.
Love songs and industrial ballads by Ewan MacColl’s ‘The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)’ and ‘My Old Man’ respectively) are done tremendous justice by Mr McCrone, as is Eric Bogle’s ‘If Wishes Were Fishes’ and Matt McGinn’s poignant masterpiece, ‘Magic Shadow Show’. However, it is Graeme Mills anthem for dreamers, searchers and ‘nearly men’ titled ‘My Eldorado’ which is perhaps the most bittersweet song on the entire record.
This is an album that is rich in great talent, with finely crafted songs, punctuated by the incredible musicianship of some of the most respected names on the Scottish folk scene. What is even more impressive, is that it is a recording by an artist whose already noteworthy musical resume must date back some 40 years, and Land Of Gold might just be Mr McCrone’s best work yet.
Christopher James Sheridan
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I don’t think I’ve heard Jethro Tull for decades, but one of the highlights of the band’s music was, for me and many others, Martin Barre’s guitar work, so I jumped at the opportunity to check out his solo album Roads Less Travelled, for release on 31st August 2018. The CD features ten excellent songs plus an instrumental, all composed by Martin. As well as Martin’s guitars, banjo, mandolin and mandola, these tracks also feature regular members of the Martin Barre Band Dan Crisp (lead vocals on most tracks), Alan Thomson (bass/fretless bass) and Darby Todd (drums), augmented by Alex Hart and Becca Langsford (lead and backing vocals), Josiah J (percussion and Hammond organ), Aaron Graham (drums) and Buster Cottam (double bass).
If some of the tracks here make me think of 60s/70s West Coast and/or fusion music, that’s by no means a criticism, and it shouldn’t be taken as implying a dated approach. Partly, I think, it’s because Dan Crisp’s versatile vocals sometimes remind me of specific individuals from that era; partly because of the effective use of harmonizing lead guitars; partly because of the super-accurate way the guitars, bass and organ track each other’s lines.
Here’s the track listing.
‘Lone Wolf’, with the addition of Martin’s mandolin, mandola and banjo, borders on country-rock. And a splendid example it is. Slightly reminiscent of the Eagles or even Buffalo Springfield.
‘Out Of Time’ alternates some nifty electric riffing and athletic drumming with some gentler acoustic work.
‘I’m On My Way’ also benefits from Martin’s mandolin and mandola, as well as some tasty electric guitar.
‘Roads Less Travelled’ features some very nice lead guitar harmonies, and lots more.
Becca Langsford takes over the vocals on ‘Badcore Blues’, a moody song supported by acoustic guitars, drums and bass guitar. A long way from country blues, but captures some of that desperation despite its sophistication.
The nostalgic ‘Seattle’ balances acoustic and electric guitars with spot-on vocal and instrumental harmonies.
‘For No Man’ features breath-taking interplay between the guitars, fretless bass and organ over sophisticated changes.
‘(This Is) My Driving Song’ leans towards riff-driven 70s rock. Works for me…
The jazzy ballad ‘You Are An Angel’ features Alex Hart on vocals, backed by Martin’s acoustic guitars and Buster Cottam’s double bass. Very classy.
‘Trinity’ is the CD’s only instrumental, with Martin playing all instruments. A tour de force, drawing on a wide range of musical influences.
‘And The Band Played Only For Me’ features Becca Langsford on lead vocals, ably augmented with Alex Hart’s backing vocals. Somewhere on the borderline between jazz and city blues, with lovely guitar and organ. If ‘Trinity’ is my favourite track, this is my favourite vocal track, though ‘You Are An Angel’ isn’t far behind it.
Excellent songs sympathetically sung, a master of the guitar (and no slouch on several other instruments), accompanied by a set of accomplished musicians and singers, and flawlessly produced: this is an album that’s going to stay on my iPod…