CHRIS RICKETTS & MARK WILLSHIRE – Simple Folk (Hobgoblin HOBCD1012)

The combination of guitar, bass guitar and vocal should be recognisable to anyone old enough to remember the glory days of Bob Fox and Stu Luckley, a void now filled by Portsmouth based duo Chris Ricketts and Mark Willshire. Well, on paper it should work but unfortunately without the addition of extra instrumentation that was afforded Fox & Luckley and their trademark harmonies I must admit this CD left me wanting something more substantial. That’s not to say the vocal performance by Ricketts isn’t good, (particularly on the soulful Florence Reece anthem “Which Side Are You On” and Jack Forbes shanty style “Rolling Down The River”) it is, it’s just that everything tends to sound the same after a few tracks and, as is the fashion these days if you have a tendency to let your oral performance drift into territory employed by the likes of Jim Moray, personally I feel it’s been done before. Having said that, another thing I can’t fault is Chris’s guitar accompaniment that works extremely well on a sparkling rendition of the old chestnut “Haul Away Joe”. I’m sorry I couldn’t have been more positive about this review but perhaps with a little tweak here and there and with extra musicians added to the pot their next album (and I hope there is one) should prove a corker. PETE FYFE

Artist Web link: http://www.rickettsmusic.com/

JANET DOWD – 300 Miles (Blue Cow Records)

In much the same way that Mary Black and Maura O’Connell established themselves with their distinctive vocals the same could be said of Janet Dowd whom I first heard on Richard Digance’s Radio Devonfolk programme. Unlike Black and O’Connell however there are no American inflections, just the pure tone of Janet’s vocal that will enamour her to anyone who enjoys an unblemished but spirited performance. Starting with the gorgeous “Dingle Bay” accompanied by an arrangement that would I’m sure have been approved by The Furey’s in their “Sweet Sixteen” days she immediately establishes her credentials with an assured performance that will gain her a legion of octogenarian (for this read BBC Radio 2) fans. The track that originally made me take note of Dowd was the song “John Condon” who was thought to be the youngest soldier to die in the Great War of 1914-1918. Much like Eric Bogle’s epic “Green Fields Of France”, I’m sure this song will be accepted by the ‘folk’ music community in much the same way and it won’t be long before it is utilised by every major artist (maybe it already has) looking for another holy grail? This album showcases Dowd’s obvious talents leaning towards a good ballad including the Northumbrian “The Water Is Wide”, “Loving Hannah” (also covered on the debut album by the afore mentioned Mary Black) and the evocative “Both Sides The Tweed” penned by Dick Gaughan. Rounding things off with the Dixie-Land style brass arrangement on “Wayfaring Stranger” (which I haven’t heard since the heydays of The Seekers!) this lady should be required listening for those that enjoy a good songstress and a must have for festivals in 2011.

PETE FYFE

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A L LLOYD – An Evening with A L Lloyd (Fellside Recordings FECD220)

In the early Seventies I spent a day of my ill-spent youth in the company of A L Lloyd at a college in the Elephant & Castle, London. I distinctly remember this because I went especially to see ‘Bert’ having been steered in his direction via the music of Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention. Being (at that time) more adventurous and with an inquisitve mind I was intrigued to find the source behind much of the material utilised by bands of the folk-rock genre. He was a jovial racontuer whose often humorous takes on the roots of the British tradition have rarely been captured ‘live’ but on repeated listening to this recording from 1972 you can certainly see why Steeleye and Fairport were similarly inspired with ribald tales such as “The Widow Of Westmorland’s Daughter” or the wishful thinking of Henry Lawson’s “The Shearer’s Dream”. The enjoyment of being in Lloyd’s company is endorsed by an audience that lustily swells the chorus of the shanty “Doodle Let Me Go” but just as easily respects the big ballads including a five minute “Prince Heathen”. Bert was a colourful character that brought to life the songs he sang (often with a wry smile on his face) and much of this is evident on a recording that has been lovingly restored by producer Paul Adams. An inspiration to all of those that have come to enjoy our ‘folk tradition’ this album should be required listening. www.fellside.com PETE FYFE

DALLA – Cribbar (Dalla Records DACD05)

Sounding not dissimilar to a Klezmer party in full swing courtesy of Hilary Coleman’s clarinet the set of tunes “Fly Cellar/Unity/Heva Cornishe” in fact provide the setting for a Schottishe dance. Both of the two opening tunes are penned by master multi-instrumentalist Neil Davey who along with Bec Applebee (darabuka/crowdy crawn) and Steve Hunt (guitar) make up the rest of this resolutely Cornish band. The second track, “Ann Tremellan” a variant of the more established Barbara Allan is a sumptuous banquet of layered vocals courtesy of Coleman and Applebee interlaced with a gently rolling, hypnotic mandolin/bouzouki riff topped-off by guest Will Coleman’s gaita bagpipes. So, here we have the opening gambit for what proves a real box of delights in both musicality and technique and one that I hope any self-respecting ‘folk’ musician should aspire to. Meanwhile, in another moment of quite reflection the Padstow via America song “Maggie May” (not the rousing Liverpool chant) performed with the subtleness it deserves by Steve Hunt will I’m sure be soaked sponge-like into the folk tradition (much like Roger Bryant’s “Cornish Lads”) and work its way into many sessions throughout the UK. On the other hand if it’s dazzling displays of digital dexterity you’re looking for check out Davey’s tour de force on the triplet frenzied “Bishop’s Jig/No Song No Supper”…astonishing or what? There’s no need for a corny pastiche (sorry, I had to get that in somewhere!) when you can get the ‘real’ thing right here and I just hope that I’ve persuaded you, the great record buying public into dipping into your hard earned savings to purchase a more than worthy recording. www.dalla.co.uk PETE FYFE

LILLY DRUMEVA – Lovin’ You (Music Author Records MK 54604)

I’ve been something of a closet fan of Country/Bluegrass music for quite a few years but it’s only recently that I’ve made an effort to find out more about it. Lilly Drumeva is something of an anomaly in that she is Bulgarian and (for the first 9 tracks) she utilises the services of one of the Czech Republic’s finest bluegrass band’s Monogram. For the last six tracks she is joined by her own not inconsiderable bunch of talented musicians aptly titled Lilly Of The West. As a newcomer I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but on the strength of the fifteen tracks here I know that I would like to see a live performance. Drumeva’s vocals are satin smooth and ideally suited to the music she obviously has an empathy with and when joined in the duets by Monogram’s Jakub Racek the performance brings back memories of Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers without the American burr. Spirited arrangements featuring banjo, mandolin and guitar drive everything along at a cracking pace and the title track along with the beautifully seductive “Tennessee Waltz” are particularly well judged. The eclectic nature of the recording utilising country, bluegrass, swing and even a touch of Bulgarian folk song is like a breath of fresh air to these somewhat jaded ‘folk’ ears of mine and when it’s as superbly crafted as this it has certainly become one of my favourite albums this year. www.lillydrumeva.net PETE FYFE

THE OLD DANCE SCHOOL – Forecast (Transition Records TRANSCD04)

If you could sell the word ‘enigma’ as a product then this would be the band to display their wares accordingly. The Old Dance School don’t take any prisoners in their pursuit of enjoying themselves whilst liberating that music we tenuously label ‘folk’. As a journalist you get a gut feeling that this is one of those albums that will constantly be on whilst you’re slaving over a hot computer extolling the band’s virtues to anyone who’ll care to listen. Throwing the listener every which way in order to bring a comfortably settled audience out of its complacent slumber Helen Lancaster (violin), Samantha Norman (violin), Robin Beatty (guitar & vocals), Tom Chapman (cajon & vocals), Laura Carter (woodwind & vocals), Aaron Diaz (trumpet) and Adam Jarvis (double bass) succeed spectactularly in their endeavours. From the beautifully crafted opening instrumental track “The Enlli Light” the joy that emits from the speakers is enough to rejuvenate the soul of any tarnished ‘hack’ who’s become jaded with the tried and tested. It’s like the first time I heard a young Capercaillie, you know there’s something special and that, apart from anything else this is a band that deserves to break free from the confines of music pigeon-holing. The music is magic in their hands and the classy way in which the members combine their arrangements under the watchful eye of producer Calum Malcolm shows they have plenty left to offer. Beatty’s way with words and Norman/Lancaster’s nimble compositions are a mighty combination and coupled with the arty photography by John Beatty (Robin’s dad!) this album proves an irresistable package that any self-respecting ‘folk’ enthusiast should be proud to feature in their CD collection. www.theolddanceschool.com PETE FYFE