4SQUARE – Chronicles (Square Roots Music SQR 1002)

4 SQUARE ChroniclesBlimey, I thought I’d stumbled upon a long lost recording by Jim Moray or Seth Lakeman when I heard the first track by 4 Square. The traditional song “Trooper Lad” which opens the CD is sung with a delivery that could best be described as ‘lazily-cocky’, not that it’s unpleasant in anyway, it’s just that it’s a case of you either like this approach or you don’t. Personally I do and when it’s backed up by an arrangement not dissimilar to that of the much missed Easy Club this is a cross-over that works well if you’re willing to step outside the ‘folk music’ box.

The members of the band; Nicola Lyons (fiddle & clogs!), Jim Malyneux (keyboards, accordion & guitar), James Meadows (banjo, mandola & tenor guitar), and Dan Day (percussion, piano & guitar) deliver the goods driving things along at a cracking pace when they need to throwing you around musically with gay abandon (and I didn’t think I’d ever use that line as a journalist!). OK, so some might see this as a brash, if not abrasive attempt at trying something different…although if you’ve read this review properly you’ll discover it’s all been done before. Having said that I’m really enjoying the youthful spirit that has been injected into to the ‘scene’ recently. Proving no slouches when it comes to penning a good tune I’m hoping the band’s mix of traditional and contemporary will endear them to an audience ready to embrace a bit of creativity.

Finally, a slight niggle is that I’m not sure about the Mr. Coconut Head sleeve (bringing to mind the photo of a row of boots by Rock Salt & Nails) and stark white background creating a very stylised marketing exercise presumably aimed at a younger audience although a little off-putting for those of us of a certain age. Perhaps it’s trendy but a little misplaced if you want to try and widen your demographic. PETE FYFE

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STOCKTON’S WING – COLLECTION & LIAM O’FLYNN – THE PIPER’S CALL

STOCKTON’S WING – COLLECTION (Tara Records TARA CD 4)
LIAM O’FLYNN – THE PIPER’S CALL (Tara Records TARA CD 3037)

Nothing in life is certain particularly when it comes to your record and CD collection. As I’ve found to my cost many of the albums I used to cherish have now gone to that great vinyl and glass heaven in the sky. Therefore in a case of ‘grab them while they’re there’ I’d suggest obtaining Stockton’s Wing who released their debut album in 1978. For me personally it was their third album “Light In The Western Sky” that ranks as one of my favourite albums of all time and I’m pleased to see that a majority of it is rediscovered here on “The Stockton’s Wing Collection”. The second album kindly sent by John Cook (founder of Tara Records) is a recording that I missed first time round. Liam O’Flynn’s “The Piper’s Call” proves a master class in the art of Uilleann pipe playing with an accompanying guest list of Celtic musicians to die for. With the likes of Matt Molloy (flute), Arty McGlynn and Mark Knopfler on guitars the recording is superbly understated but of course, beautifully executed. I can only applaud the fact that many of the Tara label back catalogue still remains in circulation and, although I still hanker for Jolyon Jackson & Paddy Glackin’s brilliant “Hidden Ground” I would suggest that if, like me you are looking to re-capture some of your ill spent youth or, indeed are just starting out on a Celtic voyage of discovery then you could do worse than check the Tara Records catalogue…you’ll be pleased you did! www.taramusic.com PETE FYFE

JOHN McSHERRY – SOMA (Compass Records 7 4538 2)

The sheer beauty of the Uilleann pipes and low whistle is bought vividly to life in the hands of John McSherry. No need for flashy statements that leave you thinking I could never play that in a million years. It’s not that I’m sure he couldn’t it’s just that McSherry relies on a good tune to carry the story. Ably supported by his talented ‘band’ Donal O’Connor (keyboards & fiddle), Ruben Bada (bouzouki & guitar), Israel Sanchez (drums), Joanne McSherry (fiddle), Francis McIlduff (bodhran) Paul McSherry & Tony Byrne (guitars) this is a tightly controlled vision that includes many elements of well established artists such as The Bothy Band and more recently Lunasa. From the plaintive “An Bhean Chaointe” and “Aisling Gheal” to the driving “Wave-Sweeper” the energy doesn’t let up for a minute. Whether utilising a good old fashioned standard like “The Rambles Of Kitty” or dipping into his own well constructed self-penned melodies John provides a more than pleasurable breath of bellows driven air. www.johnmcsherry.com PETE FYFE

KARAN CASEY & JOHN DOYLE – Exiles Return (Compass Records 7 4529 2)

The beaming smile of a reviewer as he casts his eye over certain members of ‘folk’ royalty appearing in his ‘in’ tray is always reason enough to celebrate a new CD release. Therefore, one can assume this is the case with Karan Casey & John Doyle. As the duo, both ex-members of the American/Celtic super-group Solas, I suppose it isn’t surprising that expectations should be high. From the opening strains of Doyle’s palm dampened funky rhythm guitar chops to the towering vocals of Casey joined by Michael McGoldrick’s trademark flute you can feel the creative juices positively flowing from every pore. Unlike many singers who just read the written word, Karan takes the experience of what appears on paper and is able to convey the message contained in the song with a genuine passion. In return, as if joined by the hip Doyle instinctively knows what Casey is thinking and this is proved time and again in arrangements that seamlessly unleash their treasures for the delight of a discerning public. It is also obvious that both artists have a profound respect for their choice of material including “The False Lady”, “The Little Drummer Girl” and “Out Of The Window” (a variant of “She Moved Through The Fair”) adding a more contemporary groove that will appeal to more modern tastes. In providing sparse but well placed production values, Dirk Powell establishes an authoritative, well refined album that will not only find favour with the ‘folk’ scene but also to anyone who enjoys their music as an ‘art’ form. Finally my one reservation (and it is a minor one) please can graphic designers note that a little thought should be taken with the booklet which for us fifty something’s when it comes to reading a miniscule font size should be in bold black text on a white background. Anything is preferable than having to squint at indecipherable wording. Apart from that this recording gets a resounding 10 out of 10. www.compassrecords.com PETE FYFE

Catherine Howe & Vo Fletcher – English Tale

Catherine Howe & Vo Fletcher started working together in 2007, just after the reissue of Catherine’s legendary album ‘What A Beautiful Place’ produced by the late Bobby Scott. Catherine knew Vo as a musician and songwriter and admired his work, and from the very outset there was a musical rapport and understanding between them.

It naturally followed that they should perform some local concerts together and start recording. Catherine says, “We decided to record as ‘live’ an album as possible so the basic performances of guitar and voice were recorded together and without separation. We chose to record this way, “knee-to-knee” as it were, because we wanted to retain all spontaneity for these songs. The recordings have been enhanced wonderfully by Ric Sander’s fiddle playing, and we later laid down some harmonies too. Continue reading Catherine Howe & Vo Fletcher – English Tale

Album Review: PERFECTLY DAMAGED – RORY ELLIS

Australian Roots/Acoustic/Blue/Country and Western singer/songwriter Rory Ellis has a new album out – his fifth – and it is a real stunner folks!

This new album is a move away from Rory’s usual style and dare I say it – is rather up-tempo! Unusual for the singer/songwriters of today, who normally give us death, incest, murder, depression and all.

Rory assured me that when he returned to the UK from Oz this Spring, that I would like his new album, it has to be said I like his other albums and wasn’t sure of him changing tack. Well, I was bowled over. Continue reading Album Review: PERFECTLY DAMAGED – RORY ELLIS