EWAN McLENNAN – Rags & Robes (Fellside Recordings FECD235)

You sometimes know from the opening track if an album’s for you and this first release by Ewan McLennan is one such recording. In bringing together a selection of tried and tested standards including “Tramps & Hawkers”, “Jamie Foyers” and “Arthur McBride”, McLennan proves that old material can be refreshed and, given a new lick of paint, appear as fresh as the day it was written. In his press release his publicist cites Bobby Eaglesham, Ian Campbell and Archie Fisher as comparisons to Ewan’s vocal style. If I may be so presumptuous I’d also like to add to the mix the gentle brogue of the sadly departed Tony Cuffe. The inclusion of his own self-penned observations in the form of “Another Morning’s Beggar” and his eloquent anti-war composition “Yorkshire Regiment” also shows that we might have a contender for ‘folk’ songwriter of the year. Now, ‘nice’ isn’t a word I’d often use to describe an artist but if vocal presentation dignifies the character of the performer I’m quite sure I’ve read the signs correctly. There’s nothing rushed in the performance, just a subtle delivery that injects warmth and charm to the lyrics. Not surprisingly this carries over to the inclusion of a couple of ‘cool’ dance tunes “Jer The Rigger/Flower Of Scotland” (Martin Hayes would, I’m sure be impressed!) and a lovely setting of “Auld Lang Syne”. Aided by Peter Tickell’s fiddle and Jackie Oates viola this is an impressive debut by an artist I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more of and yet another feather in the cap to Paul Adam’s Fellside Recordings. PETE FYFE

BELLOWHEAD – Hedonism (Navigator Records Navigator042)

With a sleeve cover (superbly photographed by David Angel) that looks as if it had just leapt off the canvas of a Hogarth painting Bellowhead return with more of the band’s theatrically treated ‘folk’ excursions. Tried and tested favourites such as “New York Girls”, “Hand Weaver And The Factory Maid” and the energetic “A-Begging I Will Go” with its riff injected melody you could hardly say the band were hiding their light under a bushel. No, let’s get one thing straight. This is a group that, were they around some years earlier would have been labelled ‘wandering minstrels’. Continue reading BELLOWHEAD – Hedonism (Navigator Records Navigator042)

THE SHEE – Decadence (Shee Records 2)

Opening with a choral harmony that any church would be proud to have leading their congregation The Shee make their mark with the Gospel tinged “Trouble” before gearing up a notch with the pump and push of Amy Thatcher’s accordion and lead vocal provided by Laura-Beth Salter who also adds some tasty mandolin to proceedings a little later. Joined by the driving rhythms of Shona Mooney (fiddle), Olivia Ross (fiddle/viola) and Lillias Kinsman-Blake on flute it’s a great start to a refreshing album. Much like the Poozies of whom comparisons will likely be drawn this feisty sextuplet also includes the electro-harp of Rachel Newton added to the mix featured on the instrumental track “Shotgun”. Decadence may not be the kind of recording to give you an adrenalin rush but having said that if your looking for something that is classy with a bit of thought given to the arrangements you’ll find it a rewarding listen. Proving that they’re not just a bunch of pretty faces (although they are!) as depicted by Lauren Bishop’s illustration on the sleeve the girls would do justice to any M&S advert and at least they’re talented. www.theshee.com PETE FYFE

SECRET GARDEN – Inside I’m Singing (Universal Records 602517552746)

Secret Garden produce music that I suppose in any other circumstance could be termed on the fringes of ‘folk’. I first came across Fionnuala Sherry and Rolf Lovland when “Nocturne” became Norway’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1995. Enchanted by the fiddle played by Sherry and Lovland’s dramatic orchestral sounding score the track earned them first place for what was really an instrumental piece augmented by ethereal vocals. This particular track (in a different setting) opens the album and goes to show how certain music affects us all. As if to prove a point, we have vocal support from the likes of established artists including Elaine Page and even superstar Barbra Streisand! The main track for me though is the great rendition of “You Raise Me Up” featuring Ireland’s Brian Kennedy. Penned by Lovland and Brendan Graham this has of course become a favourite with many artists including Westlife and on this production is underscored by the Uillean pipes of Liam O’Flynn. All in all, this recording is one I’d quite happily play whilst eating a bar of Galaxy luxuriating in the bath…now, can somebody please pass me the soap. www.secretgarden.no PETE FYFE

VARIOUS ARTISTS – All Along The Wall (Fellside Recordings FECD236)

VARIOUS ARTISTS – All Along The Wall (Fellside Recordings FECD236)Hadrian’s Wall for many conjures images of the Romans in Britain and to celebrate this iconic image, the Brampton Live festival commissioned this recording utilising a selection of some of the UK’s leading ‘folk’ singer-songwriters, poets and performers.

A quick check of the artists reveals a who’s who and will bring, I’m certain, a smile to anyone who considers themselves a fan of current ‘UK folk’ culture. Therefore we have the collective talents of Jez Lowe, Boo Hewerdine, Kate Fox, Elvis McGonagall, Ruth Notman, Rory McLeod, Julie Matthews and Kate Bramley. With a cohesive mix of stories, ballads and social commentaries the recording moves along at a fair pace and the sense of enjoyment that comes from a ‘live’ performance is conveyed to the listener by the artists enthusiasm in bringing this project successfully together.

Out of so many good tracks to choose from I’d say worthy of your attention are the haunting Lowe penned “Haltwhistle Women”, Notman’s “Lizzie Batey” and Hewerdine’s “The Wrong Side Of The Wall”. The recording, crisply engineered by Paul Adams aided and abetted by his son Richard must have proved a logistical nightmare but ultimately a rewarding experience. With twenty-three tracks to choose from this recording is a must purchase album and will stand proudly in the ‘various artists’ collection of any self-respecting ‘folk’ enthusiast. PETE FYFE

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link 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 web link: www.fellside.com

MABON – Live At The Grand Pavilion (Easy On The Records EOTR01)

No messing here as Welsh band Mabon take the stage for an opening set of driving reels “Hello Poppet/The Hustler” led by Jamie Smith’s accordion. Taking up the reins where Capercaillie once held court, with lively ‘kick ass’ folk-rock arrangements (predominantly all penned by Smith) you can tell why this line-up goes down a storm at festivals. There’s a certain joy that brings a smile to the face when you hear material this well presented and the rest of the band; Ruth Angell (fiddle), Calum Stewart (flute/pipes), Derek Smith (guitar), Matt Downer (bass guitar/upright bass) and Iolo Whelan (drums/ percussion) look and sound as if they were having a blast. The tunes, full of syncopated rhythms and downright funky grooves propels the music at breakneck speed leaving very few reflective moments as is so often the case with a purely instrumental album and I’m sure they’ll be giving Shooglenifty a run for their money. As is getting to be an industry standard these days, there is also an excellently filmed DVD to accompany the CD so that you can see our heroes in action. If you’re looking for something to fill the gap before your next ‘festival fix’ this recording will do nicely. PETE FYFE

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the banner link 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 web link: www.mabon.org