MARTIN SIMPSON – Trails & Tribulations (Topic TSCD593)

Trails & TribulationsMartin Simpson never disappoints, whether live or on record, but rarely does he surprise. Rather he evolves over time and emerges with something new and different as he has here. Trails & Tribulations is his 20th solo album in a career going back to the early seventies. You sort of know what to expect – Martin is equally drawn to the English and American traditions; he will have borrowed a song or two and written a couple more; there will be a variety of guitars plus banjo and ukulele and it will probably all come together with a fine group of musicians supporting him. And, of course, you’ll be absolutely right.

What’s new is a richness to the music which I suspect comes from working with The Full English and Simpson Cutting Kerr. Both Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr feature here as does percussionist Toby Kearney, guitarist John Smith, Ben Nicholls on bass and Martin’s daughter Molly on vocals. Toby is generally restrained but the percussion is more noticeable than I remember. Take the first track, Jackson C Frank’s ‘Blues Run The Game’. It’s a short song but Martin takes his time over it, warming up his fingers as he does on stage as the introduction emerges. Bass and percussion provide an unobtrusive foundation and Martin tops everything off with Weissenborn decoration. Next is Emily Portman’s ‘Bones And Feathers’, which he has been singing for a year or so now, and which features banjo – not one of Emily’s chosen instruments. Martin owns it now.

From the Americas we have ‘Thomas Drew’, which would appear to be a distant cousin of ‘John Hardy’, ‘East Kentucky’ and ‘St. James Hospital’ but the first two are written by Martin and perfectly match the period feel – he had me fooled. From the English tradition come ‘Rufford Park Poachers’ and ‘Reynardine’. That leaves four others. Charles Causley’s ‘A Ballad For Katherine Of Aragon’ – music by Alex Atterson – has also been in Martin’s live repertoire for a while and it sounds like a song he would have written if someone hadn’t already done so. ‘Maps’, ‘Jasper’s/Dancing Shoes’ and Ridgeway are three more of Martin’s songs, continuing the semi-autobiographical style that began with ‘Never Any Good’.

Trails & Tribulations will be available in multiple formats including a deluxe double CD with six extra tracks including my all-time Simpson favourite, ‘Joshua Gone Barbados’. I’m holding out for that!

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the MARTIN SIMPSON link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://www.martinsimpson.com/

‘Blues Run The Game’ – live:

;

BOB LESLIE – Land and Sea (Big Red Records. Big Red 3)

Land And SeaFollowing 2010’s In a Different World and 2011’s Fat Cat, Land and Sea is the third release in the discography of Bob Leslie, and it offers a dozen tales, some from history and others from the heart, but all of which are well informed, well composed and personally felt in their delivery. The record opens with one of its standout tracks, ‘The World Came To Springburn’, a lament to the area’s industrial past, which fuses the echoes of rose-tinted history with modern day reality, in a style which, at times, is on a par with some of the folk canon’s past masters. The record continues with the broadly sung ‘The Seanachai’, the beautifully played ‘Sir Alexander Leslie’ and ‘Bess Millie’, with a strong vocal take which draws in the listener immediately.

The upbeat, ‘Ah Wid Dance Wi Ye Darlin’ is another of Land and Sea’s standouts. Lyrically well written, the piece still allows the accompanying instrumentation (as provided by Avril Cleland, Bernadette Collier, Kate Kramer and Wendy Weatherby) enough room to breathe and really add to the song. It is worth noting however, following this track into the last third of the album, there appears to be less emphasis on the broad Scots pronunciation as used by Leslie in the album’s first two thirds. More of an observation than a criticism, it just feels as though perhaps the order of the track list could have been juggled slightly, in order to avoid such a noticeable shift.

Nonetheless, the album continues and concludes strongly with the (fairly eclectic) last portion of the record, featuring two of Leslie’s more light-hearted compositions, as well as Spanish Civil War ballad, ‘The Church Of San Pedro, El Viejo’ and ‘Me And Kenny’; a simultaneous ode to friendship on the road and an endearingly honest tale of homesickness. Good stuff.

Christopher James Sheridan

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the BOB LESLIE – Land and Sea link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://www.bobleslie.scot/

‘The World Came To Springburn’ – live:

TOM RUSSELL – Folk Hotel (Proper PRPCD143P)

Folk HotelTom Russell releases a new studio album Folk Hotel on September 8th. Russell has been described as “The greatest living folk-country songwriter” by John Swenson in Rolling Stone. Folk Hotel is a mix of Americana, Tex-Mex, Cowboy, Folk, Blues, Poetry and Elizabethiana (I may have invented the word but have a listen to ‘The Dram House Down In Gutter Lane’). In the video below Tom Russell introduces the album: the songs, his artwork and the guest musicians. This is, of course, what a review would normally do – but in addition Russell plays snippets from this first-rate album of American songs so you can hear them instead of trying to imagine them from the written word.

So a different kind of review. Folk Hotel hits you with a cornucopia of characters. We see pictures of America: a café where the mountain lion walked in one day thirsty for water, taken down by the cops; drunken Maggie; a rancher refusing to leave his old horses; JFK as ‘Handsome Johnny’; the smell of saffron and chorizo coming through cracks in the floor; Motel rooms on the interstate; broken guitar strings and a pocket full of guitar picks because “that’s my trade sir”; Indians on the edge of this society; a ‘princess’ on the road to Santa Fe; piss-smelling beer parlours.

……and then there’s ‘Harlan Clancy’, a man who throws his TV in the river because of the commercials and bad news shows; a man who we then see sympathetically – a common man with Irish heritage, “a penchant for a drink, it don’t get in my way”, five kids, “three of whom still talk to me”; a wife; a man (“I ain’t no racist”) with a workmate with a Spanish/Mexican name “I didn’t ask to see his papers”- with whom he goes for a beer after work in a bar where they drink with a black man named Jimmy Lee More. The song also has a tremendous description of ringing the breakdown service and getting a voice in the Philippines. Russell gives us detail enough to imagine the characters’ lives behind the lyrics. Just as Dickens gave us everyday protagonists in 19th century London, treated as persons not caricatures, Russell’s songs do this for America; not the New-Adam-Frontier-America with John Ford characters who created the nation state but the modern America of the common man.

We also see Europe. The album takes us to Wales, Ireland, the A1, Copenhagen and the Faroe Isles. We meet Dylan Thomas twice. In ‘The Sparrow of Swansea’ he is found in “Brown’s Hotel/ or The Mermaid, The Three Lamps/The Boar’s Head, The Cross House/Back on around to The Worm’s Head Hotel”. The writing is vivid in its detail. Thomas is “raging with whisky /he lived out his poetry/ He did not go gentle into that good night”. We also meet Thomas as one of the residents in ‘Up in the Old Hotel’ after a record 18 shots of whisky and Caitlin’s imagined voice screaming across the ocean from Wales asking, “Is that bastard of a man dead yet?”. In ‘All On A Belfast Morning’ the characters come similarly alive: Spanish Frankie; the young mother advising her children to beware the badgers in the boggy ditch; the buskers being secretly listened to by the superior shop girls; the old men going to the corner bar; the wives at home wondering where the romance went. Later, we meet ‘Jimmy’ Joyce and ‘Billy’ Yeats as part of the Anglo-Irish literary canon in ‘The Day They Dredged The Liffey’.

Dotted amongst the stories are gems of lines, such as the image of reality and anticipation “Let us not confuse the pint with the pouring’” or this, “The road goes on and on and on/Driven by a dream wrapped in a song”.

On the physical CD there are two bonus tracks – a version of ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’, which Russell makes his own, and ‘Scars On His Ankles’ an extended blues about Lightnin’ Hopkins, whose scars were caused by chains from the chain gang.

Russell is a remarkable chronicler of modern America. Just as in a Dickens novel or a poem by Charles Bukowski (with whom Russell corresponded), you catch the minor characters in glimpses – black and white maybe but never a cartoon – while major characters like Harlan Clancy are fully formed, treated compassionately, with respect, seen as they would wish to see themselves – and then some.

Mike Wistow

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the TOM RUSSELL – Folk Hotel link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://www.tomrussell.com/index.php

Tom Russell talks about Folk Hotel:

PONS AELIUS – Captain Glen’s Comfort (own label PACGC01)

ComfortGreat band name, Pons Aelius. To save you the trouble, the original was a small Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall so the name reflects their musical heritage: mostly Newcastle with more than a dash of Scots. Captain Glen’s Comfort, named for a tune by piper and whistle-blower Jordan Aikin and flautist Sam Partridge, is their debut album after two years on the road and that experience shows.

Alongside Aikin we have Partridge’s wooden flutes which provide softer shades to contrast with the brightness of strings. Tom Kimber plays mandolin and tenor banjo giving the band four different lead instruments. Actually, that should be five since Alasdair Paul’s bouzouki is as much a lead instrument as a rhythm one. Alasdair also plays guitar alongside Bevan Morris’ double bass and Callum Younger’s bodhran and mixed percussion.

The band’s repertoire mixes original compositions, mostly by Aikin, a couple of traditional titles and some shrewd borrowings, notably Mats Edén’s ‘Yrsnö’ which serves to remind us that they are looking outwards not inwards. It’s the variety of music and versatility of playing that singles Pons Aelius out. The title track starts out a soft pastoral flute piece that gradually picks up the pace and it’s followed by the jazz influenced ‘£75 Fine’ and ‘Oh My Doughnuts’, the first part of which is written by Morris and built around a bass figure.

In another band, Aikin’s pipe part on ‘£75 Fine’ might be played on electric guitar and ‘Oh My Doughnuts’ might use boogie-woogie piano. All through the album the emphasis of the melody shifts from instrument to instrument but they are never gimmicky. Listen to ‘Lament For John Morrison Of Assynt House’ in which the pipes are underscored by Morris’s bowed bass and topped off with Partridge’s flutes. My only criticism of the record is that the piece should have been left to stand alone rather than being paired with another tune even though the pipes return to the original theme at the end.

And as that really is my only criticism I think it’s fair to say that Captain Glen’s Comfort is a very fine debut.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the PONS AELIUS – Captain Glen’s Comfort link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artists’ website: http://ponsaeliusmusic.com

Captain Glen’s Comfort will be released on 8th September.

‘The Way Is Clear’ – live in the studio:

PAUL BRADY – Unfinished Business (Proper PRPCD144P)

Unfinished BusinessOn September 8th, Paul Brady releases Unfinished Business. It features nine new compositions and two traditional folk songs. The album is Brady’s fifteenth solo album and covers a range of styles – as well as the traditional folk songs there are elements of jazz, country, Brady’s own unique folk style and, I suspect, a potentially massive hit song if he wants it to be. It sounds as though the album shouldn’t work because of the range of styles, but it does; Brady has the pedigree (a career spanning five decades and the plaudits of international folk and rock stars) and the sheer class that you can play this album many times over and hear something new each time.

The video below is of the title track, a beautifully smooth late-night-piano song which opens the album and then moves easily into the up-tempo ‘I Love You But You Love Him’, two songs which reflect on the discordance of love, the first reflective, the second wryly humorous, both of them songs of experience: “the time I said goodbye to the one who really was the one…it’s some old unfinished business from a long forgotten time” from the first and “I love Chicago blues, you love your hip-hop” one of many images of difference from the second.

‘Something to Change’ and ‘Say You Don’t Mean’ continue with the Brady and his band in up-tempo mood before slowing down a little for ‘Oceans of Time’. I’ve played the album a dozen times and this still strikes me as a potential major hit. ‘Harvest Time’ is quieter, but gives me another song in my collection with harvest in the title which I suspect will have similar longevity to the Neil Young tracks.

Brady recorded the definitive versions of ‘Arthur McBride’ and ‘The Lakes of Pontchartrain’ in the late 70’s. The two traditional songs on Unfinished Business are ‘The Cocks Are Crowing’ and the final track, ‘Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender’, both of them having that under-stated perfection that comes from Brady’s mixture of technical competence and ability to inhabit the song.

Between these two songs are three more where Brady and the band continue the up-tempo style on ‘I Like How You Think’, ‘Maybe Tomorrow’ and ‘Once in a Life Time’. On an album where I could pick any of the eleven tracks as a favourite, ‘Once in a Life Time’ is the track I’ve played most – a lyric to cheer the darkest of days “Sometimes once in a life time makes up for all mistakes….real love waits its moment, real love won’t play games…..you wonder why the bells aren’t ringing/don’t you know real love’s got a whole lot of blues’’ and a chorus you can’t help but join in with.

This is Brady’s first new album for seven years and well worth the wait. It’s the album of a mature artist and songwriter – and his band – who can cover multiple genres but keep the album as a coherent whole. “Being classy isn’t a choice, it’s a lifestyle” – Anon (or so Google tells me).

Mike Wistow

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the PAUL BRADY – Unfinished Business link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://www.paulbrady.com

‘Unfinished Business’ live (not the album version):

RYAN YOUNG – Ryan Young (Ryan Young Music RYM01CD)

Ryan YoungRyan Young has already begun garnering what are doubtless only the first of many awards and accolades for his superb fiddle-playing. His self-titled debut album simply brims over with originality and talent: a little sonic jewel. That his fans went out and secured the talents of Grammy-winning Jesse Lewis to produce the album is another huge clue that there is something very special about Young.

Seeking to showcase some of his native Scotland’s less well-known tunes, Young has compiled an album of traditional tune sets in a way that honours them whilst also giving them a complete reworking. There is no slavish homage to tradition here, rather a fearless reshaping of the melody into new stories, where the tunes merely serve as jumping-off points. In this sense, it’s an almost jazz-like approach, circling the melody whilst riffing off exploring new possibilities and opening the sound out in unexpected directions.

Some interesting combinations of tunes are melded seamlessly together by boldness and careful artistry. There’s a key lowered here, a rhythm slowed there, there’s a sidelong glide up to the melody before dancing away again in a birl of slurred notes There’s also a distinct fondness for minor keys – and moody majors – meaning that more than a touch of melancholy sweeps over the album.

On rather better-known tunes such as ‘The Highland Laddie’ it becomes clear quite how distinct Young’s vision is. His interpretation alters the listener’s emotional response to the tune. Somehow it feels intuitive and natural whilst, at the same time, he skilfully manipulates the melodic variations, pushing at boundaries.

While Young’s playing may owe much to the Irish County Clare tradition – the fluid bowing, smudgy grace notes and the lyrical, often slower-paced renditions – it’s also proudly Scottish with its snaps and even an occasionally almost syncopated rhythm (especially as underscored by Leo Forde’s brightly swishing guitar in the second part of the first track). Both Forde and James Ross, on piano, provide restrained, sympathetic and elegant accompaniments throughout, perfectly enhancing the tunesets.

Two of the tracks featured here are Young’s own compositions. They showcase yet another side to his talent, one which will hopefully be featured more in future as his body of work grows. Despite his extensive study and achievement in his field already, a sense of modest self-deprecation comes across in the highly informative set of additional notes that he’s written for the album, and which are available on his website. However, there’s no doubt that he is the real deal and someone very interesting to watch as his career matures.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the RYAN YOUNG – Ryan Young link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist website: http://www.ryanyoung.scot/

Ryan with Jenn Butterworth at Celtic Connections 2017: