RICHARD WOOD – A Change Of Reasons (GCP 098)

With over two decades behind him as a professional musician fiddle exponent Richard Wood is very much a ‘traditional’ performer. Although he’s Canadian his Scots roots are proudly on display in that clipped strathspey way so beloved of others like J Scott Skinner (a great showman himself) and Alasdair Fraser. As a showcase for his talents this double CD is a fine calling card featuring flashy fingered dexterity such as on his own composition “Use Your Imagination”. The title is dedicated to the 100th Anniversary of the publication of ‘Anne Of Green Gables’ and captures the feeling of exuberance experienced by the youngster perfectly. So, here we have a ‘thinking man’ who treats his art with respect and not a little bravado when he needs to. To help him fulfil his goals, he is ably assisted by a group of musicians including J P Cormier and current partner in crime, guitarist Gordon Belsher. Featuring plenty of up-tempo sets with a pause for breath on the slower paced “Dean Brig O’ Edinburgh” before launching rocket like into the triplet provoked version of that old favourite “Trumpet Hornpipe” there is plenty to put a smile on the face of the sternest critic. PETE FYFE

STEVE KNIGHTLEY – Live In Somerset (Hands On Music HMCD33)

It’s certainly to an artist’s credit when he opens a live performance by singing a traditional unaccompanied ballad “All Things Are Quite Silent” with such confidence that the audience couldn’t be anything other than impressed. But then what else would we expect from an artist the calibre of Steve Knightley? Without his usual tag-partner Phil Beer, Knightley is comfortable in the knowledge that predominantly his own song-writing, instrumental and vocal skills are all that’s required to give the listener what they want. On occasions such as “The Oakham Poachers” (hands up who remembers Steeleye’s ‘Bold Poachers?) where he is joined on some subtle dobro by Phillip Martin it is the little additions that make the arrangement more poignant. Of course, no Knightley experience would be complete without a couple of Show Of Hands standards and in this he does not disappoint by including “The Galway Farmer” and “Cousin Jack”. No mean showman, Steve finishes with a flourish on the anthemic “Now You Know” with the audience chanting as if they were at a rock concert and a fitting rapturous round of applause left ringing in his ears. Great stuff! PETE FYFE.

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Doghouse Roses, This Broken Key (Yellowroom Music, 2010)

This Broken Key is the second full album release from the distinctive Glasgow-based duo, Doghouse Roses. Most marked about this follow-up to their 2008 debut, is an increased confidence, evident not just in the performances themselves but by the manner in which the duo boldly traverse genres and styles, whilst simultaneously leaving their own indelible impression. Musically speaking, This Broken Key finds the duo cementing their place on the musical spectrum amongst the most deserving descendants of the folk-blues boom of the ‘sixties and ‘seventies, and more importantly it finds the flame lit by their ancestors burning brightly. Whilst accompanied here by several able musicians to give a real ‘band’ sound at times, the essence of Doghouse Roses remains firmly rooted around the effortless cool of Paul Tasker’s guitar, and the sublime modesty of Iona Macdonald’s voice. It’s a combination of their high regard for the musical inheritance they have claimed as their own, and a canny ability to reinterpret this amongst more contemporary influences that bestows This Broken Key with a strong sense of pedigree. Opening the album with the sparse, gospel-tinged “Atonement,” gives both musicians a chance to demonstrate their wares to best effect: Iona delivering a soulful, sassy vocal, whilst Paul’s guitar alternates between jaunty rhythm and precision-picking. Lifting the pace with it’s rolling melody and bass-driven groove, “Woodstock” unfolds as a story whose characters carefully negotiate the boundaries of carefree and careless abandon, with a nonchalant vocal performance soaked in charisma. Jazzy intonations herald the opening of “The Rain” with a lazy bass-line proving the ultimate foil for Paul’s crisp guitar and Iona’s warm, leisurely vocal. There is a particular flirtatiousness about “Devil In Me,” with a seductive vocal delivered over a chic, placid guitar and a rhythm section that trips along nicely. Finishing with “The Highwayman,” the duo present what may be their best writing effort yet, offering a haunting melancholy, with lyrics that appear to seek reconciliation, but ultimately only seem to find stark loneliness. It’s a beautifully crafted web of sentiments, expressed in a gentle, poetic language embodying the ubiquitous language of a journey; it could be one of those journeys that bridges the gaps between life’s chapters, or indeed the journey of one’s entire lifetime. The ghosts of heroes who have gone before loom large throughout This Broken Key, but the soul of the music is reinvigorated by the talent and dedication of this formidable duo. They share their enthusiasm generously with an intimacy that will win many a heart. Artist Links: Mike Wilson

RUA MACMILLAN – Tyro (Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX346)

Now, don’t get me wrong but the opening track of fiddle player Rua MacMillan’s debut solo album featuring his own composition “The Ewie Wi’ The Crooked Horn” could either be seen as a folly or a masterstroke. From a personal point of view I’d say it was in the affirmative. The skew-wiff melody which will throw the listener every which way is a clever bit of writing and sounds as if it can’t make up its mind if it wants to be in a major or minor key. Followed by a Riverdance style arrangement on another of his self-penned tunes “The Chancer” and some neatly placed rhythm interjections on the final “Traditionally Incorrect” there is a display of technical excellence from his ‘backing band’ Tia Files (guitar) and Adam Brown (bodhran) augmented by Alasdair MacLeod on drums. In the more than capable hands of producer Brian McNeill this recording sparkles with energy where it’s required or, just as easily will lull the listener in the subtler moments. A musician’s musician, Rua will I’m sure inspire many young performers and possibly raise the hackles on some of the ‘old guard’ but let’s face it courting a bit of controversy never hurt anyone…except perhaps Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand? Artist links: PETE FYFE

JAMES FINDLAY – Sport And Play (Fellside Recordings FECD238)

Fast becoming the ‘British’ version of America’s Green Linnet record company the astute Paul Adams catches yet another rising ‘folk-star’ for his ever burgeoning roster of excellence. In 2009 James Findlay won the prestigious BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award and rightly so on the strength of this recording. Let’s not beat about the bush here, Findlay’s vocal approach may not be to everyone’s taste but striking it is, particularly if you happen to like your folk music a little bit…shall we say ‘idiosyncratic’. By definition, the mere mention of the words ‘folk singer’ conjures for many a picture of a wizened old geezer propping up the bar in a local hostelry brandishing a pewter tankard and with his finger firmly stuck in his ear whilst bellowing out the ‘hits’ of yesterday. I’m pleased to say that in this case we can forgo that scenario and be thankful that the youth of today are quite happy to delve into the back catalogue of the dusty Child ballads as did the likes of Fairport and Steeleye Span before them. In a display of opulence with artistic merits in both instrumental and vocal performance that would, I’m sure be met with approval by his own heroes Nic Jones and the sadly departed Tony Rose young Findlay measures up well with engaging renditions of classics including “Tam Lin”, “Sorry The Day I Was Married” and “Foggy Dew”. Personally speaking I’m glad that on the shoulders of one so young a maturity and respect in giving credit where credit’s due by acknowledging the original sources (not something I believe has been taken on board by other young whippersnappers) will gain him a legion of ‘folk’ fans…and hopefully beyond. Watch this space! PETE FYFE

PETER TWITCHETT – Many Thousand Miles Behind Us (Own Label)

My association with Peter Twitchett goes back some thirty odd years…some of them very odd…and my personal folk music education owes a lot to this sensitive balladeer whom I’m pleased to say that in all this time nothing has changed in his performance or presentation. Very much a positive thing in my opinion. Some things are best left untouched by the ravages of modern times and Peter is one of them. He is a softly spoken but gentle advocate of this music we have all grown to love and his choice of songs, as ever, hit the spot just right backing himself on his trusty old Gibson gut-strung guitar. To me it was always the mark of someone special who could transport the listener from the frantic urban sounds of Croydon (where I originally met him) to the rural setting of say Norfolk where he is now based. In this respect Peter does not disappoint and through a selection of self-penned songs including “Swifts And Swallows” and “Grandfather Was A Fiddler” through to traditional ballads he conveys a timeless quality that unfortunately is rarely heard these days. I’m told there is no room for sentimentality in these austere times we now live in but if you get a chance give this album a spin it’s the nearest I’ve come to settling comfortably with my slippers on in front of the telly watching “Lark Rise To Candleford”. Copies of the CD can be purchased direct from Peter at PETE FYFE