CHARLIE DORE – Cheapskate Lullabyes (Black Ink Music BICD6)

I suppose it must be at least 20 years since I saw a live performance (I believe it was The Hope & Anchor in Islington) by Charlie Dore. Things haven’t changed much in as much that I think she’s still one of this country’s finest singer/songwriters including previous hits “Pilot Of The Airwaves” and Jimmy Nail’s “Aint No Doubt”. Coming from a lady who is versed in the arts of both music and theatre her lyrics are wordy and enjoyable and, at the end of the day set out to ‘entertain’…if that’s not too dirty a word? If proof were needed then check out “A Man Walks Into A Bar” where the song makes you listen by bringing you in on the joke. This may not be a laugh out loud set-piece but by its very nature the title draws your attention to what lies beneath the headline.

A bit like a Derrin Brown inspired Saatchi & Saatchi subliminal advert these songs pack a powerful punch that will linger long after the last syllable has been uttered. It’s this engaging skill as a songwriter that will bring wry smiles and knowing nods to their subject matter including difficult step-children “Milk Teeth” and the infidelity inspired hot club jazz of “His Wife” that makes the listener feel like an investor in a magical ‘words factory’. A round of applause must also go to Dore’s sterling band of musicians including multi-instrumentalist Julian Littman (now also a member of Steeleye Span), Dudley Phillips (double bass) and strings maestro Jake Walker. This is the real deal for those that like their ‘folk’ roots with a little more edge.

PETE FYFE

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ALBION CHRISTMAS BAND – A Sound In The Frosty Air (Rooksmere Records RRCD104)

I’ve just had to slag off a certain ‘folk’(???) band for daring to ruin our traditional songs by taking liberties with the arrangements and smothering the vocals. What a delight then to put on this recording and immediately be seduced by the honeyed tones of Kellie While on an acapella rendition of “Christ Was Born In Bethlehem”. Of course, the addition of Simon Nicol (Guitars/Vocals), Ashley Hutchings (Bass Guitar/Vocals), Simon Care (Melodeon/Percussion) and special guest Will Pound on harmonica helps to drive the rest of the tracks without any need of indulgence with the possible exception of Roland Orzabal’s “Mad World”. This beautifully understated performance with While providing the vocals and Nicol’s subtle guitar picking should see it grace the top of the charts…if we had a real one to speak of…and in my humble opinion is every bit as good as Garry Jules take on the same song in 2003. An Albion Christmas wouldn’t be complete without some ‘readings’ and, coupled with the fact the band have included the jaunty “Obvious Jig” by the sadly missed Nigel Chippendale this is a recording that I will keep returning to long after Christmas is over. Now…somebody please pass me my brandy and mince pie(s).

PETE FYFE

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Christy Moore – Folk Tale (Sony Music Ireland)

It’s quite possible that there couldn’t be a more fitting title for this album, and not just because it’s the title of one of the songs contained therein. Christy can legitimately lay claim to being the epitome of the living, breathing folk ‘process’; indeed, one of the most rewarding aspects of following his career is the way in which his material morphs and reinvents to suit the occasion, be it the musicians he’s playing with, the audience to which he is playing on any given night, or the more substantial reordering that arises from the growing wisdom and perception that is amassed as the years pass by. It’s this very aspect that distinguishes Folk Tale as something that little bit more special: it’s a snapshot of where Christy is right now, the continued story of the songs he’s carried along with him, alongside the new chapters that reinvigorate and fortify his voyage.

Two particular highlights find Christy furnishing songs of tragedy with a genuine compassion, whilst avoiding any hint of mawkish sentimentality. Kevin Littlewood’s “On Morecambe Bay” thoughtfully observes the fate of illegal immigrant cockle pickers, lost to the deadly tides. The narrative is remarkably evocative for placing the workers firmly amongst the local community, with the writer seemingly expressing a sense of collective guilt for being aware of their plight, but failing to intervene and warn of the treacherous dangers out on the sands. “Haiti” takes a more global view, with it’s clarion call to a nation to rise up and “smile again” in the wake of the harrowing earthquake that decimated the country. The contemplative manner with which Christy approaches these songs probably gives voice and emotion to many who witnessed these events from afar.

Several pieces from Christy’s 1996 album, Graffiti Tongue, receive a more circumspect reworking, seemingly holding at bay some of the anger that permeated the original recordings in favour of more considered readings that are no less disarming. In particular “God Woman” basks in a genuine feeling of warmth, whilst the title track benefits from a more reserved, melodic approach that somehow makes the romance of the story much more compelling.

Folk Tale also reminds us of Christy’s keen sense of humour. “My Little Honda 50” is a light-hearted ditty, on the face of it a quirky tribute to a an even quirkier form of transport, yet dig beneath the skin and it’s a fond recollection of simple times and simpler pleasures. “Weekend In Amsterdam” is a more raucous affair, with some lyrics that I daren’t even repeat within these pages!

Harking back to his days with Planxty, “Farmer Michael Hayes” is recast in a more sparse arrangement, delivered at a slightly more measured pace, proving more reflective than the hearty rebelliousness of the original Planxty recording, largely owing to the greater depth and maturity that age has bestowed on Christy’s voice.

Drawing together the disparate threads of artistry that inspire and nourish his life, Folk Tale draws from a rich palette taking in poetry, politics, humour and tragedy. It’s a collection that is no doubt richer for the accomplished production skills and sympathetic musicianship of the doggedly talented Declan Sinnott, but it’s most certainly Christy’s heart that beats strong throughout. Mike Wilson

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Artist web link: http://www.christymoore.com/

MOONSHEE – Moonshee (Park Records PRKCD114)

I suppose the mark of any good CD is when you can play it to your mates (even those not remotely interested in ‘folk’) whilst grooving like an ‘acoustic’ version of Bill & Ted in the car and you can play it loud (if you’re so inclined) without offending passers-by. OK, so the mix of Indian and British folk cultures has been attempted before (most recently by Michael McGoldrick) but to get the balance right commercially is like walking a tight-rope. Bearing in mind that fellow Park Records artists Steeleye Span have already proved that through hard work and determination there is plenty of scope to reach the ultimate goal of a commercial recording that has its sights set on capturing the Radio Nation and with a helping hand from the right people… Mike Harding, Aled Jones and Jools Holland etc this group could well succeed.

Utilising the tried and tested “Fair And Tender Maidens”, “The Water Is Wide” and “Concertina Reel” (here titled Cortina Reel Mk II for some reason) the group are no slouches musically speaking and by adding tuneful decoration including Benji Kirkpatrick, John Spiers and Rosie Doonan ‘Moonshee’ will have done themselves no harm in the ‘folk’ communities eyes. One slight criticism is that although all the vocalists are credited, it doesn’t state who the lead singer is on each track. In conclusion, I for one am keeping my fingers crossed that the band does really well commercially and perhaps, with John Dagnell and everyone at Park on board Moonshee have more than a fighting chance. Great debut!

PETE FYFE

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Artist Web link: www.moonshee.com

TOM MORIARTY – Fire In The Doll’s House – DRIFTWOOD RECORDS DRIFTW00

I wonder how many artists get to record their debut album at Abbey Road these days. Not many, I suspect, which says a lot for Tom Moriarty and his producer Ian Grimble who made it happen. Tom is a musician who was forced to make a “straight” living before turning his back on business and getting down to what he loves and that experience has shaped his songs.

It was his time at the Music Institute of Los Angeles that shaped his voice – John Martyn with better diction – as he worked and played alongside Lemmy and Crosby, Stills And Nash. Tom’s band – Rick Hornby, Chris Borud and Evan Jenkins – is augmented with powerful backing singers and a small horn section enabling the anger of the title track to be followed by a gentle love song, ‘Dance With Me’, and the invitation to ‘Smile If You Wanna Get High’ and all are equally convincing. ‘Don’t Ask Why’ is a picture of a fracturing marriage and ‘Where Are You Now’ could be its sequel.

There’s protest and blues, boogie and soul in these songs as well as the experience of life. Tom Moriarty has made a superb debut.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist web link: www.tommoriarty.co.uk

MACMASTER/HAY – Love And Reason (MDM Records MDMC001)

We in the ‘folk’ world are blessed with inventive musicians and although, it must be said that the coupling of vocals, harp and drums (or more correctly percussion and programming) hadn’t occurred to me, it had to MacMaster and Donald Hay. And work very effectively it does too. The reason it works so well is simply that in the hands of two gifted musicians who push the envelope without excess they can create a sound-scape that allows the listener to immerse themselves in a string based aural spa.
For me, the starkness conveyed in Sandy Wright’s song “Mary Cullen” is one that projects an image of bleakness in much the same way the ‘Silkie of Sule Skerry’ always does whenever I hear it. On the following track the harp takes over the role originally played by its composer/piper Fred Morrison and in so doing will make the piece more palatable to the general public who are possibly a little sensitive to the (some might say) domineering skirl of the Highland bagpipes. The juxtaposition of harp and percussion throughout the album may make some ‘folk’ traditionalists baulk at the very thought of allowing something interesting ‘interfere’ with everything they hold dear but if, like me you are willing to let experimentation take its natural course I’m sure you’ll find the recording thoroughly rewarding.

PETE FYFE

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