DAMIEN O’KANE & RON BLOCK – Banjophony (Pure Records PRCD48)

BanjophonyIf you’re not a fan of the five-string egg-slicer you might be thinking of moving on but hold hard there, stranger. This is no ‘Duelling Banjos’, last one to the end gets the beers in mayhem-fest. The object of the exercise was to pair the 5-string banjo of the American tradition with the Irish style of tenor banjo playing but Banjophony does more than that. Most of the music here is contemporary, mostly written by O’Kane and Block with two each by Michael Mooney and David  Kosky and a traditional tune that crept in when no-one was watching.

Have a look at the cast list and you’ll realise that this is something rather special. There’s Stephen Byrnes on guitar, Duncan Lyall and Barry Bales on double bass, Michael McGoldrick on whistle and Stuart Duncan on fiddle just for starters. Indeed, we’re half a minute into the first set, ‘Miller’s Gin/Potato Anxiety’ before we actually hear a banjo courtesy of a lovely guitar intro from Byrnes.

Some tunes sound traditional – Block’s ‘Battersea Skillet Liquor’ is classic southern banjo picking topped of with fiddle – but more sound like new music written with the banjo in mind. O’Kane’s ‘Ode To Aunty Frances’ is a beautiful piece that could be arranged for any instrument(s) you fancy and still sound good. ‘Crafty Colette’ is another tune that approaches the banjo lead slowly and that lead, when it arrives, can best be described as “thoughtful”.

The band are very tight and Byrnes has contributed to the arrangements as has Kosky and all the music was recorded live apart from two double bass parts which came from Tennessee. You can almost feel the rapport between the musicians particularly when a tune doesn’t quite behave as expected. The title track is like that and is well-named.

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).

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Artists’ websites: www.damianokane.co.uk / www.ronblock.com

This short teaser video is all we can find:

CHRIS RONALD – Fragments (Borealis Records BCD 248)

FragmentsWith a solid body of work since 2004’s Pacific Time, the English-born/Canadian-based singer-songwriter, Chris Ronald has just issued album number four, titled Fragments. On this album there are traces of 1960s styled folk revivalists, 1970s singer-songwriters, contemporary writers, country and bluegrass music, bound together with Ronald’s contemporary songwriting and John Ellis’ modern production.

The wonderfully descriptive, ‘Everything Goes Green’ kicks off the album, which despite its autumnal and wintery imagery, carries an uplifting message, that everything comes to pass and that “…everything goes green…again…before too long”.

Many of the songs in this record have the sound one may typically associate with a recording from the singer songwriter ‘bag’; the nostalgic ‘Sons of Summer’, the lyrically moving ‘Grandpa’s Wedding Ring’ or the bleak and beautiful ‘Continents’, for example, in which Mike Sanyshyn’s violin sets the tone and steals the show. The mournful ‘Rain City Blues’, continues this approach, with Roland being joined by no less than four other vocalists to tell the song’s ‘story’ as it were.

But Ronald doesn’t just stick with this tried and tested formula, and even early on, numbers like ‘Get Back In The Game’ introduce a ‘bigger’ sound to the album. While this track provides mere hints of alt. country, this approach remains prominent throughout; particularly on the likes of ‘Freedom Train’ and ‘Retirement Plan’.

Fragments is an enjoyable collection of songs by a critically acclaimed folk singer. With the exception of ‘Okanagan Sunset’, all of the songs are directly from Roland’s own pen and the once nominated Songwriter of the Year proves his worth on this record. Whether this recording is your introduction to Ronald’s music or merely just an addition to the collection, it’s a good shout and likely one you will tend to revisit.

Christopher James Sheridan

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.chrisronald.com/

Album teaser:

COWBOY JUNKIES – All That Reckoning (Proper PRPCD149)

All That ReckoningIt has been six years since the Cowboy Junkies last released an album. The Nomad Series may have been something of a diversion for the band although it included some of their best work, particularly on Renmin Park, but with All That Reckoning they are back in their mainstream. I will admit to having all their albums and having had the pleasure of meeting Margo and Michael Timmins but I always hesitate before reviewing one of their albums for fear of over-analysing. All That Reckoning is no different.

The title track is in two parts. Part one, which opens the album, begins with Alan Anton’s subterranean bass. In an odd way it reminds me of Dylan’s ‘Tears Of Rage’ in that there seems to be a sub-text that I can’t quite figure out. Part two, is much heavier, and makes me think of Leonard Cohen – if Cohen had ever fronted a big rock band. You’ll probably hear something else entirely which is what I mean about over-analysing. ‘When We Arrive’ includes the killer line “welcome to the world of self-delusion” – a song about immigrants in the 21st century? ‘The Things We Do To Each Other’ is another killer song that is overtly political in a way that we don’t expect to hear from Cowboy Junkies. “You can control hate” sings Margo and if the song isn’t about Trump I’m the nylon-haired scion of European immigrants. The song ends on an optimistic note – it can’t last forever.

The record’s sound is typical Junkies with Anton’s bass and Michael Timmins’ guitar providing the foundation of the songs with Peter Timmins’ drums mostly restrained. Jeff Bird is undoubtedly doing clever things over the top but I have no information about what he or other musicians are doing but there are synths and reversed tapes involved. Actually, the restraint lasts until ‘Sing Me A Song’ when the bass and drums pound, the lead guitar screams and Margo’s voice is distorted. You won’t be allowed to drift away on a swathe of gentle music for a while. ‘Missing Children’ is something of a puzzle – I think it’s about the end of youthful dreams but here again the band is at full blast and Margo iis sometimes lost in the mix. Is ‘Shining Teeth’ about domestic abuse? It feels like it is but I’m just piecing clues together from the lyrics.

The final track, ‘The Possessed’, introduced by a solo ukulele trashes all the mythology of Satanic contracts. There is no deal at the midnight crossroads, no ‘Devil And The Feathery Wife’. In this song the devil appears as something desirable and he has you. There really is a moral there. Michael Timmins describes Al That Reckoning as being deeper and more complete than anything Cowboy Junkies have done before. I can’t help but agree with him.

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: http://www.cowboyjunkies.com/about/

‘All That Reckoning’ – official video:

BOB & GILL BERRY – Echoes Of Alfred (WildGoose WGS427CD)

Echoes Of AlfredThis takes me back. I knew Bob Berry’s parents back in the day when albums were still issued on cassettes. Len was a genial gentleman of the old school and when Fairport Convention covered Barbara’s setting of ‘I Wandered By A Brookside’ her fame was assured. Which brings us very neatly to Echoes Of Alfred because ‘Brookside’ came from Alfred Williams’ Folk Songs Of The Upper Thames and I’m sure you’ve made the connection.

Williams famously collected only words on the grounds that future generations would not be interested in singing these songs. I think that subsequent events have proved him wrong but his decision gives singers and composers plenty of scope. Most of the songs here are from the Williams collection and from Wiltshire. They are largely rural, not to say rustic in places, and Bob and Gill perform them with refreshing directness – you could happily transfer this set to a folk club and have a damn good night out.

Gill opens the proceedings with ‘No Followers’ taking the role of a nursemaid whose trust in a “young man from the country” is betrayed resulting in the entire domestic staff losing their positions. Bob follows that with ‘My Jolly Waggoner Drive On’ which bears no relation to any other song about jolly waggoners – in fact it should probably be sung by the horse. One or two are variants of well-known titles. ‘Chickens!’ found its way into Eliza Carthy’s repertoire while ‘Through The Groves’ is a version of ‘The Holmfirth Anthem’ collected in Amesbury. ‘Sprig Of Thyme’ and ‘Salisbury Plain’ are easily identified.

More interesting are the rarer items. ‘Deny No Man His Rights’ is possibly a Chartist song; ‘Sarah Gale’ recounts the story of a gruesome murder complete with dismembered body parts found along the Thames and ‘My Old Wife’s A Good Old Cratur’ is definitely rustic. Len Berry used to sing it with great affection. There are a couple of modern songs, to round out the set. Gill sings ‘Days Of Summer’ written by Miggy Campbell of GU4 and Bob sings the post war humorous oddity, ‘I Was Much Better Off In The Army’.

Echoes Of Alfred is an easy listening album but it is important in that it also commits several more songs from the Williams collection to the immortality of the recording process.

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.bobandgillberry.co.uk

It’s not on this album but we couldn’t resist. ‘I Wandered By A Brookside’ – live:

MICHAEL McDERMOTT – Out From Under (Pauper Sky Records 2018)

Out From UnderI’ve been bewitched by the music of Michael McDermott for a few years now, I’m late to the party I know, as the Chicago based singer-songwriter has been a shining musical light over us for over 25 years now and is in fact celebrating his Eleventh Solo album with the release of Out From Under.

“I’ve always been drawn to people. Maybe not so much the people per se as the actions of people. People under fire, people that are at the end of their rope. People in the dark night of the soul. People that have gambled everything for a moment of glory. Those are the people and stories I’ve always been drawn to. Its not for the faint of heart, but I can only hope it strikes a chord in you, a chord that connects us all as citizens of this world, brothers and sisters in humanity. For we all are one, a simple but often forgotten fact”. Michael McDermott

If you have not come across McDermott before, you may know him as the male part of the husband and wide duo, the Westies with Heather Horton.

Comparisons have been drawn over the years to Springsteen and there is a touch of Jon Bon Jovi in the vocals but its the depth of the story songs that will get you. Author Stephen King, who is known to quote a rock lyric or two in his novels, wrote,

“Michael’s music, like Springsteen’s and Van Morrison’s helped me to find a part of myself that wasn’t lost, as I had feared, but only misplaced. That’s why we love the ones who are really good at it, I think: because they give us back ourselves, all dusted and shined up, and they do it with a smile…”.

The latest album, Out From Under is a fine example of all of the above. The creepy opening track, ‘Cal-Sag Road’ plays out like a modern day storyboard sequel to the killer in Riders on the Storm. ‘Gotta Go To Work’ delivers an old-timey laid back approach to life, where you left wondering if the character depicted in the song actually managed to get out of bed on that day, or a least make it together with his straw hat to the porch. Just have a read of this wordplay in the next track ‘Knocked Down’ and then imagine funky bass, fuzzy guitar/dobro lick and a track that really rocks!

I got this old guitar
An Irish hat
Spent 20 years baby
With a monkey on my back
That was hard time
Even harder still
If the left one don’t get you
Then the right one will
I’ve been hustled and muscled
Left for dead
Had my face to the wall
And a gun to my head
I’ve been cheated, defeated
Played for a fool
Everything I ever needed
Always came from you
I think its time we order, another round
I know a thing or two about being knocked down”.

We then get the upbeat, ‘Sad Songs’, which chugs along at a right old pace. What a great idea to write a song about being tired of singing all those sad songs.

This is then followed by a sad song called ‘This World Will Break Your Heart’. Its Chapin-esque in places and its sentiment reminded me a little of ‘Streets Of London’.

I’m conscious that this homage to a truly great album will become too unwieldy if I provide further track analysis, plus… I would also like to leave some surprises if you decide to buy/ download it.

I’ll finish off by saying that it is a remarkable collection and its the kind of album, that you will come back to time and time again and find something new in it. Case in point is the 10th track on the album ‘Sideways’ and the line; “I came across a beggar who asked me for social change”.

Darren Beech

Artist website: https://www.michael-mcdermott.com/

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

Now you can see if your imagination has lived up to the expectation as we feature the ‘Knocked Down’ video below!

BEN SURES – Poema Poematis (BS11CD)

Poema PoematisBen Sures is a Canadian singer songwriter whose latest album, Poema Poematis, was released worldwide on June 17th. His website tells you, “We are holding off on the Jupiter and Mars releases til we see how the album does on this planet”.

That kinda tells you the first thing you need to know about the album – you shake your head at some points, part in amusement, part in ‘how-do-you write-lines-like-that puzzlement and admiration’ (‘Used to Have a Raygun’ for example about a girl who had a raygun which she could point at a guy to make him like her – or use it to rewind time so she could do better in a conversation with him.)

The second thing to know is that the album is a version of a more than sell-out live concert of Sures’ music, recorded with arrangements for horn and strings and sponsored by the Canadian Council for Arts. As a result, there’s often a jazzy feel to the songs – an ideal match to Sures’ humour and perspective. ‘Winnipeg’ is my favourite track, a lovely arrangement to a song which took me back to my own hometown teenage years as Sures captures snapshots of his youth: “the first girl I ever dumped”; the diner they all spent time in, complained about – yet he knows that “that place was half our life”; and the lovely paradox of “Every sidewalk whispers back at me and calls me names…I don’t think about Winnipeg but it haunts me every day”.

‘Holes’ has a classic sax-driven jazz sound to a playful lyric; ‘In Burma’ – a song about avoiding being killed in various ways, from shooting to cyclones – has an arrangement that wouldn’t be out of place in Rick’s Café and Bar. There is a jauntiness to ‘Where Are They Now’ and ‘Maybe’. ‘In A Perfect World’ – where “you wouldn’t have to floss/In a Perfect World you could shoot your boss” – races through the song.

It’s a live concert and Sures is an assured (sorry) entertainer, working with the band to add life to songs that were written without expecting this interpretation (“It’s nice to have a band because in House Concerts I play both roles”). The arrangements were by Edmonton trombonist Audrey Ochoa and there is a spark to this album – skillful, quirky and humorous both in the songwriting and in the arrangements.

Mike Wistow

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.bensures.com

‘Yardbird Suite’: