IMAGINED VILLAGE – Empire & Love (ECC Records ECC002)

To the opening strains of Sheema Mukerjhee’s sitar joined by Mr Carthy’s trademark guitar the Imagined Village cross fertilisation of different cultures continues apace with a clever re-interpretation of the ballad “My Son John” utilising a more chilling, modern ‘take’ on the song’s powerful anti-war stance. Building to a suitably dramatic finale of pounding rhythms and electronica the band in full flow prove a powerful force to be reckoned with. And this is only the first track of what turns out to be an innovative and exciting album. In addition to Simon Emmerson’s cittern and production credits the personnel now includes Andy Gangadeen (drums), Johnny Kalsi (percussion), Ali Friend (bass), Barney Morse Brown (cello) and Simon Richmond’s inventive use of keyboards. Now a more cohesive unit having as it were, organically grown shaken free of the confines from which they were originally formed the ten artists including amongst them the aforementioned Martin Carthy, Chris Wood and Eliza Carthy there is a certain energy that wasn’t perhaps as obvious before. Of course the texture of instrumentation helps as your senses are thrown here, there and everywhere but in a pleasing way and after a while feels more natural than you would have imagined. I’m not sure what Ewan MacColl would have made of the band’s interpretation of his song “Space Girl” but I hope that he would be looking down from on high with a wry grin as indeed I am finding the arrangements both challenging yet stimulating. For those of us of a certain age be prepared to cast off any preconceptions of what you thought this album might sound like and embrace a new age of originality. By the way, have I mentioned “Cum On Feel The Noize”? More information from PETE FYFE

ALAN HULL – Live At Clifton Poly 1975 (Market Square Music MSMCD152)

In the days when I was a ‘yoof’ I was forever popping out to support artists such as Lindisfarne and their lead protagonist Alan Hull. So, it’s nice to see a recording of those bygone days appearing in the form of this release from those marvellous chaps at Market Square records. Featuring Mr Hull at his best with solo acoustic versions of his most popular ballads including “January Song”, “We Can Swing Together”, “Fog On The Tyne” and “Lady Eleanor” this is Alan at his best. In fine fettle with his wry observations on life and gentle bantering with his audience (not the angry young man as so often could be the case) there are plenty of gems unearthed such as “Dan The Plan”, “Squire” and “Money Game”. As well as being a fair ol’ chanter, Hull proves to be a first rate guitarist with plenty of soul and not a little ingenuity and this recording goes some way in proving that a good song (and tune) can stand on its own merits without a full blown arrangement. The legend that is Alan Hull will live with us forever thanks to releases like this and (personally speaking) I wish someone like Market Square could revive the glory days of other ‘classic’ folk artists such as The JSD Band, Five Hand Reel and Hedgehog Pie. I live in hope! PETE FYFE

LISSA SCHNECKENBURGER – Song (Footprint Records FR2008)

I just knew I was going to love this album from the strains of the opening track “The Fair Maid By The Sea Shore” set to a fast waltz which builds from the driving (although not intrusive) rhythm guitar of Keith Murphy and Lissa’s commanding vocal. Gradually joined by other musicians including Stefan Amidon (percussion) Jeremiah McLane (accordion) Corey DiMario (double bass) and special guest Sharon Shannon also on accordion this ballad of a sea captain beguiled by the charms of a fair damsel is a great start to the recording. In a well-balanced programme that features Schneckenburger’s warm vocals throughout, the beauty of the melodies/lyrics shines through without being forced as is so often the case in other band’s interpretations of traditional ballads. Reading the sleeve notes Lissa has taken a lot of time and effort in piecing together songs from her native Maine, New England territory and, if they’re all as good as those represented here she will undoubtedly acquire an extensive repertoire to see her well into the future. On the second track set to a tune not dissimilar to The Lakes Of Pontchartrain, “Jam On Gerry’s Rock/Willie’s” establishes more links with the dangers encountered by the sometime treacherous coastline even if the buoyant tune belies the serious events of the story. On an album littered with gems it is a testament to the protagonist (and her fellow musicians) that to this journalist at least I can safely say that there isn’t a duff track and that we in the ‘folk’ world should embrace and endorse talent that makes a real statement. Further information from PETE FYFE

CHERISH THE LADIES – A Star In The East (Big Mammy Records 0004)

Is it really that time of year? Well, it must be as Cherish The Ladies release another seasonal album. And what better way than a bright and breezy opening set of tunes “A Dash For The Presents/Joy To The World/Parnell’s March”. You can just picture the girls sitting round an open fire and a Christmas tree much like a scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life” enjoying a good old fashioned session. Now joined by relative newcomer Michelle Burke who’s blessed with a gently lilting Irish brogue for a beautiful rendition of Robbie O’Connell’s “All On A Christmas Morning” and a sublime “First Noel” they certainly know how to weave a web of interlinking melodies led by the sparking whistle playing of Joannie Madden. Also bringing their instrumental talents to the banquet are Mary Coogan (guitar, mandolin & banjo), Roisin Dillon (fiddle), Mirella Murray (Accordion) and Kathleen Boyle on piano plus some special guests. The ladies revitalise many standards including “Greensleeves”, “Deck The Halls” and that perennial favourite “Jingle Bells” and there’s even a couple of Country hoe-down tracks “Home On Time For Christmas” and “Rise Up Shepherd And Follow” (featuring Joannie on lead vocals) that surprisingly don’t sound out of place. So, an album that is full of bonhomie and one that I’m sure will prove popular with the whole family and not just those of a ‘folk music’ persuasion. Further information from PETE FYFE

HUT PEOPLE – Home Is Where The Hut Is (Fellside Recordings FECD228)

Ah, that’s more like it something a little different from the ‘folk’ world. Paul Adams should be well chuffed with this recording on his tremendous Fellside label. For it is he who once again takes a leap of faith much as he did with Boden & Spears. This new pairing of Sam Pirt (squeezeboxes) and Gary Hammond (all things percussive) is a real breath of bellows driven air starting with the jaunty melody “Basque” which sets the pace of the album nicely. Following with the gorgeous sound of frame drum/thunder drum buoying the elegantly flowing tune “Morfars” this sound could become seriously addictive in a hypnotic kind of way. In my mind’s eye you could see the arrangement being used as the pivotal role in leading a colourful procession for celebrations such as May Day etc. By the fourth track the “Happy One-Step” we’ve moved into Cajun country and a triangle led rhythm bringing back fond memories of Bill Caddick. This proves the adage that a good tune will always stand on its own merits whoever performs it. There is some seriously rocking stuff on this little silver disk and some great tunes that will undoubtedly find their way into other bands repertoires. If you do hear them performed by others (and there’s no finer accolade) you can say you heard it here first. For copies of the CD which won’t be available until 25th January 2010 contact or for further information on the duo check out PETE FYFE

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KATE RUSBY – Sweet Bells (Pure Records PRCD33)

The distinctive, almost waif-like vocals of Kate Rusby opens this seasonal recording (now re-packaged using a suitably Christmas themed painting by Marie Mills) with a bright and breezy “Here We Come A-Wassailing” featuring the rhythmic/lead interplay between Anna Massie’s cittern and Ian Carr’s guitar, joined by squeezebox maestro Andy Cutting and the gently pulsating bass of Andy Seward. It’s gorgeous stuff particularly the precision of the cleanly picked high notes Carr infuses leaving the listener with an almost visual image of gently falling snow. Clever and imaginative re-workings of predominantly traditional songs incorporating that oh, so Yorkshire sound of brass bands (I’m thinking Peter Skellern here for those old enough to remember) provides the recording with some real ‘meat’ although not too heavy as to distract or offend delicate ears. If you hadn’t guessed it already, I’m totally smitten with this wonderful addition to my favourite time of year and I just wish I could transport this sound along with a church choir to regale a residential home or two. The inclusion of standards such as “Hark The Herald” and “The Holly And The Ivy” nestle snugly amongst new songs (to me anyway) and have re-awakened my interest in carols. On a production shared between Kate and brother Joe the crisp sound and energy is to be applauded, as is the digital dexterity of all the musicians involved. This is a recording that should be savoured much like the dinner I’ll be playing it at on Christmas Day. As Scrooge might have said “God bless us everyone!” PETE FYFE