WILLOW SPRINGS – Urban Ghosts (S’quare Records SQR1)

Urban GhostsBased in Belfast, Willow Springs is essentially a vehicle for singer-songwriter Mark Crockard, Urban Ghosts supported by an assortment of fellow Irish musicians, being his debut album. An emerald-coloured Americana cocktail that shakes together Tex-Mex, Western swing and country, it’s an easy on the ear, fairly middle-of-the road affair, but that’s not intended as a criticism. Sometimes, it’s good to be able to just sit back and let an album flow over you without having to work at it. He wears his influences openly, the first number, the moody, twangsome guitar ‘I’m All Over You’, finding him sounding like Roy Orbison in his vocal tone and delivery, while on several occasions, he comes across like an Irish Willie Nelson, notably so on the waltzing piano ballad ‘It Still Hurts’, ‘Tender Lovin’ Feelin’’ and the jazzy roll of ‘Gone Southbound’ with Chris Haigh on fiddle.

Blending balladry with more uptempo numbers, with fine guitar work variously complemented with dobro, mandolin and melodic, Crockard touches on gospel notes the piano-led ‘You Saved A Drowning Man’, blows harmonica on the driving train rhythm shuffle of ‘The End Of The Pier Show’, croons Texicana pop with ‘Heart and Soul’, shades the cowboy ballad ‘Autumn Blues’ with Gaelic fiddle colours and channels Van Morrison for ‘Together We’ll Walk In Beauty’. It might not get him invited to play the trendy Americana joints, but it should ensure a warm welcome in the UK’s many Country Music clubs.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: https://www.facebook.com/willowspringsmusic/

Video trailer:

IVAN MOULT – Longest Shadow (Bubblewrap Collective – BWR040CD)

Longest ShadowLongest Shadow is the heartbreakingly beautiful new offering of original tunes from Cardiff-based songsmith, Ivan Moult. In the ilk of Damien Rice for example, it is laden with gorgeous string and choral ensembles, while in the vein of Nick Drake, it is filled with much sparser and simpler guitar parts…which in truth, only make the album a whole lot more complex.

Within seconds of listening it is easy to become entranced with the album’s gems; firstly in the form of the brutally honest ‘Keep Cautious’. It is beautifully played, convincingly sung, impeccably written and topped off with an incredible false ending. The album’s strong opening only continues, being carried on immediately with the title track, and Moult’s latest single, ‘Lay Me Down’; dealing with Moult’s own feelings of both giving into and wrestling with depression.

Even after album milestones, the highlights continue to flow; ‘Carried Over Water’, ‘Like Millions Before Me’ and (the ever so slightly idealistic) ‘The One Who’. Defining each half of the album is the minute-and-a -half ‘Intermission’, where Moult’s noodlings and fingerpicked tinkerings bring us into the album’s other side; complete with shades of the late John Martyn (see ‘Any Other Name’), hints of jazz music (‘In The Library’ and ‘Speaking In Tongues’) before bowing out with ‘Fool On The Floor’.

Longest Shadow truly is a stunning piece of work and if the likes of Damien Rice, Nick Drake, Willy Mason are your thing, it’s a safe bet that you will thoroughly enjoy this recording from the already critically acclaimed Ivan Moult.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artist’s website: http://ivanmoult.com/

‘Longest Shadow’ – live:

IAN SIEGAL – All the Rage (Nugene Records 1801)

All The RageIan Siegal releases All The Rage on March 16th, his eleventh album. Folking.com has already announced the new album so what follows is much more of a personal reflection.

It’s a long time ago, but if memory serves me right, I first saw Ian Siegal about twenty years back in the kind of venue that every town should have – decent beer, dark once you’re past the bar, black walls with a great graphic painted on, sticky underfoot and a great sound system (‘one of Kerrang’s Top Five Venues’ or words to that effect were emblazoned on the walls). Ian Siegal came on second and I remember thinking, “I thought the first guy was good, this is something extra”. Twenty years on, this new album proves that Ian Siegal is still something special.

If you don’t know Siegal’s work, this album is essentially electric blues with a band that adds depth to the sound and means you can turn the volume up full – whether it’s in your living room or in the car. Do it – In writing this paragraph, I’ve just blasted the house out on ‘The Sh*t Hit’ (the title is more coy than the singing); it’s got moody electric lead with a steady blues rhythm section. Good as it is quieter, it really should be played loud. Actually, just do this from the start of the album (I just have). The aggression of ‘Eagle Vulture’ which opens the album repays volume just as much – as do ‘One-Eyed King’, ’Sailor Town’ and the almost gospel soul/blues of ‘Sweet Souvenir’ where Siegal, “shipwrecked with no guiding star” and trying to cheer himself up, bends the ear of the barman and drinks till the bar shuts. A beautiful arrangement plus gospel-ised backing vocals lifts the song to magnificent heights in capturing that kind of night.

If you know Ian Siegal from the past twenty-five years, you’ll know why Classic Rock magazine has called him “a national treasure”. If not then this would be a great introductory album because the other tracks on All The Rage are more varied and I suspect will give it a breadth of audience wider than, say, the more purely blues-focused 2009 album, Broadside (which Mojo magazine picked as Blues Album of the Year).

The remaining tracks, then: ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ is “a porch-blues bone-rattler with a gang-chanted vocal” (I defy anyone to better that description from the publicity material); ‘Won’t Be Your Shotgun Rider’ is country-flavoured in the way that The Band or Counting Crows do non-sentimental country; ‘Ain’t You Great’ somehow manages to be somewhere between Latin-American/I’m Your Man era Cohen/and Blues – and it works; ‘My Flame’ is a revelation in its simplicity.

Ian Siegal has been inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame for his achievement in receiving the award for male vocals in 2011, 2012, and 2013. The video below takes you to the promo for the new album. It’s little over a minute long, so have a listen but then flick round YouTube for other Siegal videos to get a sense of just why his work is so admired (Mojo, for example, called him, “One of the most innovative, gifted and engaging blues performers on the planet today”).

Siegal is touring from March 24th. All The Rage is probably the best new album I’ve played this year; they should be great gigs – and loud I hope. If only that venue was still open.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: https://iansiegal.com

More album details:

Ian Siegal – new album and tour dates

KEITH JAMES – Captured: The Best Of Keith James (Hurdy Gurdy HGA2927)

CapturedIt’s hard to encapsulate a long, varied and distinguished career in two CDs. After all, Keith James is not only an excellent musician and producer, poet and songwriter in his own right. He also has a remarkable ability to set the verse of other poets – represented here by settings of Lorca, Dylan Thomas, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Neruda and Blake – while his sensitive interpretations of songs by Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen and others attract enthusiastic concert audiences. The 33 songs here include most of the tracks from his recent Tenderness Claws CD and several from the previous album Always. Other tracks make up a good introduction to his earlier CDs, however.

‘White Room’ is a reinterpretation of the Cream song, with Pete Brown’s lyric benefiting from more space and varied pace than the Wheels Of Fire version.

‘Anthem’ is the Leonard Cohen song. While Keith’s voice doesn’t have the gravitas of the growl-y bass-baritone voicings of Cohen’s later performances – in fact, he generally sounds more confident in his higher register – the performance is true to the song.

‘Daydreams For Ginsberg’ is an accomplished setting of Jack Kerouac’s poem.

‘The Unfaithful Wife’ is a setting of Federico Garcia Lorca’s ‘La Casada Infiel’: it’s a great example of Keith’s skill at adapting and setting verse.

‘Semana Santa’ (Holy Week) is one of Keith’s own songs. A lovely combination of lyric and melody.

‘Always’ is a setting of Pablo Neruda’s ‘Siempre’, with Spanish-accented guitar supporting a lyric about love that transcends jealousy.

‘Rich Man, Poor Man’ is another of Keith’s own songs with an arrangement with echoes of Jobim.

‘Decorated Cardboard Human Shapes’ sets one of Keith’s own poems. Driving percussion underline a complex soundscape. Highly though I rate his settings, I’m also impressed at how well his own lyrics stand in the company of those other poets.

The blues-jazzy ‘Scatterland’ and the poppier ‘Brand New Jeans’ are Keith’s own songs, while the flamenco-ish ‘Andalucia’ is based on a poem by Lorca. In ‘Floating Bridges’ Keith weaves another Lorca verse into a setting that makes the poem sound as if it was made to be sung.

‘New Face’, ‘Pantomime Horses’ and ‘The Water And The Rain’ are all songs by Keith, taken from his Always CD, which largely features songs derived from his own poetry. The last track on the first CD, ‘A Few Small Grains’, is another song of Keith’s, one of several songs here from his CD of the same name.

The first track on the second CD, ‘Fruit Tree’, is a song by the (still) much-missed Nick Drake. Keith’s vocals are particularly effective on this track. I really must try to get to one of Keith’s interpretive concerts.

‘The Mask’ and ‘Tyger Tyger’ are both featured on Tenderness Claws. ‘Tyger Tyger’ is an effective and appropriate setting of William Blake’s poem, but ‘The Mask’, based on Lorca’s Danza De La Muerte (Dance of Death), is just stunning.

‘Diamond’ is a setting of Lorca’s El Diamante: like many of the settings here, it comes from Keith’s album with Rick Foot Lorca.

‘Blue Angel’ is an atmospheric setting of a poem by Allen Ginsberg.

‘Glory Box’ is a very different, more straightforward version of the Portishead song, while ‘Take This Waltz’ revisits Leonard Cohen’s take on Lorca’s ‘Little Viennese Waltz’. (One way or another, there’s a lot of Lorca on this album, but there are a lot of people out here who will be more than happy about that.)

‘There Must Be A God’ is another song of Keith’s with a relatively pop-y arrangement. Like Nick Drake’s ‘Three Hours’ (which proves again how effective an interpreter of Nick’s songs Keith is) it was previously released on the Outsides album.

‘A Process In The Weather Of The Heart’ is an effective setting of the Dylan Thomas poem. ‘The Queen And The Soldier’ revisits a story song from Suzanne Vega’s debut album.

Two more of Keith’s songs, the ‘Lizard On The Wall’ and ‘Every Bond’, are followed by a chilling setting of Lorca’s surreal, disturbing ‘Sleepless City’.

Two more of Keith’s songs – ‘Run Before You Walk’ and ‘Only Occasionally’ – and finally back to a Lorca setting for ‘Nocturne’.

If you’re among the ever-growing circle of Keith’s admirers – especially if you’re acquainted with his most recent CDs – you’ll know what to expect: fine musicianship and lyrical intensity, leavened here with the occasionally more mainstream sounds of his earlier songs and versions of classic songs by other writers. If you’re not familiar with his work, this is a first class introduction to it. I look forward to hearing more about his current projects.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.keith-james.com/

‘Anthem’ – official video:

What we’ve said about Keith James:

KEITH JAMES – Always (Hurdy Gurdy Music HG2925)

KEITH JAMES – Tenderness Claws (Hurdy Gurdy HGA2926)

KATHRYN ROBERTS & SEAN LAKEMAN – Personae (Iscream Music ISCD16)

PersonaeI enjoyed Kathryn and Sean’s previous album mostly on an intellectual level. Whatever they have been doing since has had an energising effect – perhaps Kathryn’s experience with Fotheringay has something to do with it – but Personae absolutely bubbles with energy and a sense of fun in the choice of subjects to write about.

The set opens with ‘The Knight’s Ghost’, a ballad of tragic death and spectral visitation. This is glorious, pure folk-rock with a guest appearance by Sam Kelly and the album can never look back from this point. Now the gentle, thoughtful ‘Independence’, about the relationship between mothers and daughters, stands as a contrast to its boisterous predecessor. Comparison has been drawn with Kate Bush and there is something in that and with hindsight there is hint of Sandy Denny in the melody. ‘Tribute Of Hands’ is another original about the founding of the city of Antwerp. You may ask why until you hear it – what a great story. Sean’s guitar leads here as it does on the opener.

Next is the album’s only cover, Sandy Denny’s ‘Solo’. Kathryn starts almost in imitation of Sandy with just piano until Sean’s acoustic guitar joins in but as the song builds she makes it her own. ‘The Poison Club’ is a light-hearted ragtime tribute to various popular narcotics but the chorus carries a warning, “once you’re a member you’ll never have enough”. We are back in history for ‘The Street Of The Cats Who Dance’, another fairly gruesome tale.

The other traditional song is ‘Boney’s Defeat’ which, under a variety of titles, has recently regained popularity. It’s a favourite of mine and Kathryn’s multi-tracked unaccompanied vocal is a tiny tour de force. With a knowing smile, I’m sure, they follow it with ‘Old, Old, Old’, the story of St. Helena’s oldest inhabitant, a giant tortoise. History missed a trick here as Napoleon died a decade before Jonathan was hatched. Finally we have the very Denny-ish ‘Goddess Made Flesh’. It meditates on artistes who died young and, though you can draw parallels with Sandy’s fate, for my money Amy Winehouse is a more realistic inspiration.

In my humble opinion, as they say, Personae is Kathryn and Sean’s best work to date.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artists’ website: www.kathrynrobertsandseanlakeman.com

‘The Knight’s Ghost’ – official audio:


What News“This is proper folk music”, said my wife on first hearing What News. And it is: big songs full of blood, sex, betrayal and murder. I thought I understood Alasdair Roberts’ working pattern. There would be a traditional album, then a couple of sets of his original songs – very often embodying elements of the tradition – and one or two collaborations that don’t fit either category. What News is both traditional and a collaboration! Supporting Alasdair are David McGuiness, whose piano is the record’s principal instrument, and Amble Skuse who weaves evocative soundscapes around the songs.

First up is ‘The Dun Broon Bride’, a tale of a man marrying for money rather than love, with betrayal, two murders and probably a fair amount of blood. I blame his mother. The failed marital arrangements in ‘Young Johnstone’ are more complicated but the outcome is equally bloody. There is even more blood in ‘Johnny O’ The Brine’.

The style of the album comes from Alasdair’s desire to sing more and play less. He is a terrific unaccompanied singer – the songs seeming to inhabit his whole body – but, sadly, unaccompanied traditional singing isn’t as fashionable as it used to be. What News is a perfect compromise. Alasdair is singing at his very best as he gives each song every ounce of his concentration.

‘Rosie Anderson’ gives us betrayal and sex but also supplies an insight into the mores of the time, with the side having the most witnesses (at whatever cost) winning the divorce settlement. ‘The Fair Flower Of Northumberland’ is one of my favourite songs – mostly betrayal with added forgiveness – and Alasdair sings it almost as reportage; a nod to the album’s title. ‘Clerk Colven’ is essentially a simple song: our hero is told not to do something on pain of death, he does it and dies. Here it is the album’s big production number with Skuse pulling out all the stops – the sound of water combined with eerie droning notes and she doesn’t let up with ‘Babylon’, nothing to do the Home Service song and one I hadn’t heard before – always a bonus.

There are one or two songs I’m not familiar with, or rather variants that I hadn’t heard. I particularly relish a line in ‘Long A-Growing’ in which the bride complains that her groom is only twelve while she is almost fourteen. Game Of Thrones or what?

What News is a superb album – proper folk music!

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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’s website: http://www.alasdairroberts.com/news/

‘The Fair Flower Of Northumberland’ – an old recording with Will Oldham but all I could find: