KATHRYN TICKELL – The Best Of Kathryn Tickell (Park Records PRKCD107)

I was first introduced to the wonderful sound of Northumbrian Smallpipes on hearing a recording by the High Level Ranters over thirty years ago. Colin Ross and particularly Alistair Anderson were both influential in helping broaden my audio tastes and that continues to this day with the prodigious talents of Kathryn Tickell. Most recently spotted as part of Sting’s entourage I’d forgotten how much I personally missed hearing the smallpipes as part of an ensemble and how easily they cut through the many layered sounds of a ‘band’. It’s the distinctively delicious Northern burr of the instrument much like the Geordie dialect that sets it apart and delivers to its audience a pleasurable, warm feeling. Opening with the melancholic setting of the self-penned tune “Our Kate” leading into the buoyant “Welcome Home” the pipes feature prominently throughout the recording and followed by the digitally demanding “Lads Of Alnwick/Sunderland Lasses/Peacocks March” Kathryn leaves you in no doubt that there is fighting spirit in the exquisite smaller relation to its more brutish cousin the Scottish Highland pipes. Having collected all of our heroine’s albums to date (of which there isn’t a duff one) I’d be hard pushed in choosing my favourites and, as Kathryn states in the sleeve-notes this isn’t really a “best of” but her personal choice of favourites (at present) from throughout her glittering twenty four years recording career. If you’re just starting out on a voyage of musical discovery or are already a fan of this beautiful instrument why not purchase a copy of this great 2-disk ‘calling card’…you won’t be disappointed! www.kathryntickell.com PETE FYFE

TIM HART AND FRIENDS – My Very Favourite Nursery Rhyme Record (Park Records PRKCD108)

Christmas Eve 2009 sadly saw the passing of Tim Hart who will probably best be remembered as a founding member of Steeleye Span or as part of his sublime duo with Maddy Prior. In fact it is the unusual pairing of Maddy’s vocals along with one of Hart’s “friends” B J Cole on pedal steel guitar on “Sing A Song Of Sixpence” that makes this a must buy for all completists of the folk-rock genre. Casting his net outside of the Steeleye framework (Maddy, Peter Knight, Bob Johnson and Rick Kemp) other musicians involved in the project include John Kirkpatrick, Davy Spillane (seriously!) and Melanie Harrold. As Tim mentions in his sleeve-notes these albums (originally released as two separate recordings) were basically an antidote to the numerous rubbish releases of a similar ilk foisted on a gullible public that didn’t know any better. Of course the seam of songs (featuring deceptively ‘catchy’ melodies) such as “Lavender’s Blue”, “Oranges And Lemons” and “London Bridge Is Falling Down” have a far darker significance if you care to dig a little into their history and unravelling these gems was always a feature of any Steeleye album at the time. John Dagnall and all at Park Records should be justifiably proud in re-releasing (on double disk) what was a labour of love for its protagonist and a fitting tribute to one of the enduring legends of the folk scene. www.parkrecords.com PETE FYFE

DUOTONE – Work Harder & One Day You’ll Find Her (Garrett Brown Music GBMCD 003)

This album reminds me of my youth when I was listening to the likes of Clifford T Ward and Al Stewart. As a journalist it’s a labour of love digging for information and piecing it together courtesy of the www and that’s what I had to do in the case of Barney Morse-Brown (cellist with The Imagined Village). For it is he and predominantly he alone (with the exception of B J Cole and James Garrett) who has created a very interesting and ultimately rewarding album. Take, for example, with a small battery of instruments and technology he utilises the gorgeous rounded tones of cello segueing into the nicely faded in guitar and double-tracked vocals on the opening song “House In Keremma”. Most of the album’s tracks prove Radio 2 friendly produced with a delicate yet assured hand by Robert Harbron and, if you’re like me will find this is the kind of album that you can stick your headphones on and listen to enraptured as the velvet like audio texture washes over you. From the striking, enigmatic pose on the sleeve…not dissimilar to a latter day Robert Louis Stevenson…Duotone has made an impressive debut and I for one hope that there is much more to follow. PETE FYFE

McCALMANS – The Greentrax Years (Greentrax Recordings CDTRAX350)

My first encounter with The Macs was around thirty years ago at the Cambridge Folk Festival. I remember being mightily impressed by their vocal wall of sound and still am to this day. These were strident vocals employing a passion overlooked by so many artists these days (even though I still have a bit of difficulty understanding some of the more heavy Scottish dialect) and were/are the band’s trademark to this day. Never sounding happier than when it came to presenting bawdy drinking songs such as Andy M Stewart’s wonderful “Ramblin’ Rover” they certainly know how to engage and most importantly entertain their audience. Whether it be roaring out shanties (”Highland Laddie/Roll The Woodpile Down/A hundred Years Ago”), dipping into established favourites including “Both Sides The Tweed” and “Yankee Boots” or on a more reflective note utilising the band’s own finely crafted songs such as Ian McCalman’s “From Greenland” and you have a well rounded package. As a snapshot (46 songs on a double disk) this is a veritable smorgasbord of the band’s involvement with Greentrax Recordings and I hope will be a collaboration that continues for while longer. Stop Press: I’ve just discovered that the band will finally retire at the end of 2010 so, all the more reason for purchasing a real slice of ‘folk’ history!

PETE FYFE

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HANNEKE CASSEL – For Reasons Unseen (Cassel Records HJC2009)

As one of the most exploited instruments in folk music, the fiddle is probably my favourite and when it is performed with such fluidity by the likes of Hanneke Cassel then I’m sure that you too will be enchanted by its hypnotic sound. Gently ushering the listener in with the sumptuous piano chords (also performed by the multi-talented Cassel) “The Ides Of March” opens the recording in fine style. Joined on second fiddle by Lissa Schneckenburger and the deep throaty sounds of Natalie Haas’s cello and you indeed have a marriage made in heaven. The melody is haunting and in some ways could (I personally think) have been expanded such is the beauty and simplicity of the piece. Still, we have a whole album to go and the quality is maintained throughout with inventive use of dynamics on the sweeping, swooping jig “Blackberry Festival Footrace/For Reals”. This is a real master-class in how bowing technique can play a major part in the make-up of a tune and proves a more than pleasing audio delight to the ears. With the exception of one track, substituting bass with the use of cellos throughout the production drives the material along at a cracking pace and it’s nice to note that apart from the sparing but superb guitar accompaniment, the music is defiantly ‘string’ propelled. For an album that is more or less totally instrumental it certainly gets the thumbs up from me and I can’t wait for the next one! www.hannekecassel.com PETE FYFE

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 www.theimaginedvillage.com PETE FYFE