FINTAN McHUGH – Wait Till The Clouds Roll By (own label)

Wait Till The Clouds Roll ByWait Till The Clouds Roll By is the debut album from young Irish singer Fintan McHugh. It has been available for a while but has only recently come into our possession and we feel compelled to bring it to your attention. Fintan plays guitar and cittern and for his instrumental breaks he chooses harmonica. Bringing a modern style of moothie to a traditional ballad gives the song a new slant.

Fintan opens the set with the title track, a nineteenth century parlour until it was appropriated for the folk scene, probably by Uncle Dave Macon. It’s an excellent start with a good chorus to settle the listener in but, for me, the key track comes next. ‘Lord Saltoun & Annachie Gordon’ is one of my favourite ballads and Fintan’s long version wrings every ounce of pathos out of the text. The use of the harmonica somehow transforms the song, giving it a modern resonance in a way that I can’t quite explain.

‘The Rocks Of Bawn’ is a song I’ve never quite understood but it would seem that after Cromwell “subdued” Ireland the best land was given to the Protestant incomers while the Irish were moved to the inhospitable west coast. Some versions refer to a recruiting sergeant because a life in the army was considered a better bet than scratching a living out the rocky coast. Fintan’s version goes straight to the top and wishes for the Queen herself to ride along and recruit him. He uses the cittern almost as a percussion instrument on the song, maintaining a steady beat on the bass strings.

Fintan was much influenced by Andy Irvine as a youth, borrowing ‘You Rambling Boys Of Pleasure’ from him and basing his arrangement of ‘The Blacksmith’ on Planxty’s. There is a dynamism about his guitar playing that reflects their style. He sings ‘A Stór Mo Chroí’ unaccompanied, almost as a warning to the addressee who has made the decision to leave Ireland to escape the potato famine rather than as a song of sentiment and longing.

There are two of Fintan’s own songs in the set and it’s interesting to note that sometimes his phrasing echoes the uneven line lengths of traditional ballads. To be honest, these songs are rather insubstantial compared with the mighty texts they sit among, but this is still an impressive debut album.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.fintanmchugh.com

‘A Stór Mo Chroí ‘ – official video:

MONSTER CEILIDH BAND – Mutation (Haystack Records HAYCD011)

MutationThere was a time when I would stand in front of a ceilidh band and when things were going well and you had a hall full of people who were into it it was the most fun you could have with your clothes on. When it comes to recording an album a ceilidh band has two choices: play the music four-square for dancing and teaching or spice it up a bit. The first option must be deadly for the band so, with Mutation, Monster Ceilidh Band have opted for the latter, recording this set live off the floor at Castle Sound under the watchful eye of Stuart Hamilton.

The band can boast four writers who are responsible for 80% of the record. There’s Amy Thatcher, purveyor of accordion to The Shee and Kathryn Tickell, fiddlers Shona Mooney (The Shee) and Grace Smith (The Rachel Hamer Band) and multi-instrumentalist Kieran Szifris, who restricts himself to octave mandolin on this album. Add a couple of traditional tunes and a borrow from Adam Sutherland and there you have it. Monster Ceilidh Band don’t go in for monster medleys only pairing tunes.

The opening set, ‘Venus’, is one such pairing, mating ‘Proximo B’ by Shona with ‘Venus’ by Amy. The others are ‘Mutated Beeswing’ pairing the essentially fiddle solo of ‘The Beeswing Hornpipe’ with Shona’s title track. It’s not clear who the soloist given but as Amy joins in after a couple of minutes I’m guessing it’s Shona. ‘Mutation’ is mutated by Joseph Truswell’s electronics which are a feature of the album. Here, there is something that could be accordion but could equally be distorted wordless vocals.

The band move seamless from that to the relatively conventional ‘All The Swingle Ladies’ by Keiran, half of which you could dance to if you could keep up the pace. Great titles include ‘Trouser Worrier’, ‘Octopus’ and ‘Disgrace’, the latter coming from the quill of Grace Smith as if you had to ask. Even past the record’s half-way mark we hear something new as ‘Never Will’ is introduced by snarling, distorted…what? Bass, I suppose as David de la Haye takes a brief solo.

No, you’re not going to dance (in any formal sense) to ‘Mutation’, although Joseph’s drums are rock solid throughout, but you will enjoy some musical invention.

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 MONSTER CEILIDH BAND – Mutation 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://monsterceilidhband.co.uk/

‘Disgrace’:

LORELEY – The Frozen North (own label LRL001)

The Frozen NorthI specifically asked to review The Frozen North because I was interested in the concept put to me as “a collection of traditional songs by Sheffield based duo Loreley. As a project with the aim of exploring archives of mostly forgotten folk songs in order to breathe new life into then with a variety of new tunes and arrangements completely composed by Loreley themselves” – Interesting!

I quote Loughton Folk Club In Essex, “The most dramatic performance I’ve ever seen at a folk club”. I have to assume that ‘Loreley Live’ is more exciting then ‘Loreley recorded’ Maybe I am missing something but I can only describe this CD, The Frozen North, as interesting.

Tracks one and two are sung at such a speed that I could barely make out the lyrics, despite several listens. I was especially disappointed to be told that track three, ‘Storm In The Holy Ground’, referred to Cobh in County Cork. It has always been my belief that the ‘Holy Ground’ as sung originally by The Clancy Brothers was an Australian song about a brothel, possibly in Cobh.

Track four is an instrumental, ‘The Blinky Set’. I am afraid the musicianship does not match up to the standard necessary to compete in the current instrumental scene. I have to say that I am confused by this entire album because I would not consider Maddy Glenn as a great vocalist either so, all in all this is a very specialist CD that may appeal to a particular type of fan. Maybe they are a better  ‘live’ act.

Unless I am honest in my reviews then they would have no value. I did not enjoy this CD. It is slightly ‘bonkers’. Loreley claim that they would use “mostly forgotten”  material but ‘The Oak And The Ash’, ‘The Snows They Meet The Soonest’, ‘Ilkley Moor Baht’at’ and ‘High Barbaree’ are still heard regularly around folk venues.

Their rendition of ‘Ilkley Moor Baht’at’ is the low of the CD but the track, ‘High Barbaree’, The high point. All of this is, of course, only my opinion and I am sure Loreley fans will enjoy the CD and Loreley themselves would not have released the CD The Frozen North unless It achieved what they were aiming for. I do like the cover, simple but lovely.

Fraser Bruce

Artists’ website: https://loreley.bandcamp.com/

‘Blow Northerne Wynd’ – the single:

KING’S GAMBIT – From One To Another (own label)

From One To AnotherIf you take away the rock excesses of folk-rock you’re left with Northampton’s King’s Gambit – a band that rocks acoustically while still capable of musical delicacy. I don’t like to make comparisons but they have something of the style and drive of CC Smugglers. From One To Another is their third album, all original material written by Chris Startup – give or take what he’s done to ‘St. James Infirmary’.

Chris, who is also lead vocalist, plays guitar and harmonica; Katie Paton plays bass; Helen Turton plays cello and Andrew Higgins provides the top notes on mandola, mandolin and banjo. All four sing making for solid harmonies and raucous backing vocals. Chris’s songwriting subjects are varied. ‘People Versus’ is about a pub fight and is reminiscent of something Robb Johnson might come up with in a lighter moment. ‘Mary Jane’ is a drug-fuelled dream but also about the loss of precious environment, a subject he’d already addressed in ‘The Only One’ in a very different context.

He describes ‘Into The Rolling Sea’ as a good ‘ol drinking song but it’s more about the aftermath of too many good ‘ol drinks. The opener, ‘A Maiden Fair’ has the feel of a traditional song, albeit one introduced on harmonica, while being firmly set in the present day and, like all Chris’ lyrics it leaves you with something to chew over later.

There are three instrumental tracks. The first, ‘Charles Baker’, features Andrew with support from Chris Hewett’s guest accordion but the thing that struck me all the way through the album is the role of the cello. Helen happily plays a lead part sometimes but her key job is holding the middle of the musical register with fills and counter-melodies. Katie keeps the beat solid in the absence of drums and even gets a bass solo on the closing title track.

This is an album that I liked from the off and then grew on me.

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 KING’S GAMBIT – From One To Another 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://www.kingsgambit.co.uk/

‘Into The Rolling Sea’:

RODNEY CROWELL – Close Ties (New West Records 6354)

Close TiesWhile I’ve long been aware of Rodney Crowell’s talents as a songwriter, going back at least as far as Emmylou Harris’s 1975 recording of ‘Bluebird Wine’, his songs have always reached me as interpreted by other A-listers. So I jumped at the chance to take a closer look at his album Close Ties, due for release on the 7th April. And I wasn’t disappointed.

While the number of musicians participating in one or more of these ten tracks is too large for a complete listing here, it’s worth mentioning one or two names, their presence giving some idea of the regard in which Crowell is held by his fellow musicians. Besides vocal contributions from John Paul White, Rosanne Cash and Sheryl Crow, there are instrumental contributions from Tommy Emmanuel, Steuart Smith, and Jordan Lehning (who co-produced with Kim Buie) and others.

But there are also ghostly Nashville legends walking these lyrics, such as Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Dennis Sanchez – could ‘Newberry’ in ‘Nashville 1972’ be Mickey Newbury? – but also survivors like Willie Nelson and Buck White. Crowell has been quoted as saying “It’s a loose concept album … and the concept is related to how you tell stories about yourself.” That may sound self-indulgent, but this is not just a personal memoir but an insider view of a somewhat alternative Nashville that has given modern music some wonderful moments. If this suggests an easy listening experience, it isn’t meant to: Crowell’s often sardonic and sometimes bitter wordplay makes few concessions to “the petty politics of bliss“. It demands (and amply repays) close attention.

Here’s the customary track-by-track listing (all tracks were written by Rodney Crowell except where noted below):

  1. Crowell has expressed a hope that “my study of the blues is starting to show up in my music.” ‘East Houston Blues’ is by no means a 12-bar, but the lyric has a hard-times lyric sung feel over a blues-y shuffle beat, benefiting from Tommy Emmanuel’s classy acoustic lead guitar.
  2. ‘Reckless’ is a slow, introspective song, with clever but understated strings behind the acoustic guitars, harmonium and minimal percussion.
  3. In contrast, ‘Life Without Susanna’ has much more of a rock feel, with a hard-edged lyric about “A self-sure bastard and a stubborn bitch/Locked in a deadly game of chess“.
  4. ‘It Ain’t Over Yet’ is closer to country rock, with excellent additional vocals from John Paul White and Roseanne Cash. The uncredited harmonica play-out is sparse yet haunting.
  5. ‘I Don’t Care Anymore’ chronicles disillusion over a riff that reminds me a little of early-ish Stones, with a touch of Chuck Berry’s ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ towards the end of a harsh lyric.
  6. ‘I’m Tied To Ya’ was written by Rodney Crowell and Michael McGlynn, a ballad that also features attractive vocals from Sheryl Crow.
  7. ‘Forgive Me Annabelle’ is another ballad with piano and strings predominant in the accompaniment.
  8. ‘Forty Miles From Nowhere’ is another slow song that hints at a tragic backstory – “If there’s anything that we can do rings hollow down a telephone line“.
  9. ‘Storm Warning’ was written by Rodney Crowell and Mary Karr: it’s a rockier number, but maintains a mood of foreboding and very bad weather. “Ninety-five miles of twisted aftermath…
  10. The CD finishes with ‘Nashville 1972’, a look back at his arrival in “Old School Nashville“: a simple, almost folky song, though I could almost imagine Kenny Rogers singing it.

When I hear or read of a songwriter talking about poets and ‘poetic sensibility’, my first impulse is usually to turn the page or put on a different CD. But in this case, it’s not inappropriate. This isn’t the finely-tuned poetry of great literature – though Crowell can turn a phrase as neatly as any lyric writer I know – but it does have the rough-hewn passion and clear-sighted observation of the best Americana.

David Harley

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 RODNEY CROWELL – Close Ties 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: www.rodneycrowell.com

‘It Ain’t Over Yet’ – official video:

OLD BLIND DOGS – Room With A View (own label OBD013)

Room With A ViewIt has always been my opinion that an album/CD should have a minimum of twelve tracks to offer the purchaser value for money. I equally believe that if you do not have twelve tracks ready to record then you are not yet ready to release an album/CD. Room With A View has only nine tracks and sort of backs up my belief. There is no doubt that Old Blind Dogs is a group of great reputation and comprises of four fabulous musicians, although one of them has appeared on three of the last six albums which I have reviewed.

Their line up has changed over the 25 years that they have existed. They still have a large following who will no doubt love this latest release, Room With A View. As seems to be the fashion these days, several of the tracks are fairly long with ‘Newe’ running over six minutes. Throughout these long tracks the musicianship is wonderful and arrangements very clever and I know I would love them in a ‘live’ performance. ‘Bunkerhill’, track one, has many aspects to it and mixes cultures. I am sure I can hear ‘Old Joe Clark’ running through the melody.

Two of the songs cover “one of my favourites” to “a song I’m not sure about”. ‘The Earl O March’s Daughter’ is a fabulous song which you will hear sung at festivals throughout Scotland by Scots song enthusiasts. A great song to harmonise with. ‘Sawney Bean’ covers one of the most interesting subjects in Scotland about a cannibal family from the South West of Scotland. Both songs are written by Lionel McLelland.

This is a good CD. The overall package is minimal and tells you very little about the content of the CD. There are editing faults which I would have addressed, especially related to breathing. However, it will be enjoyed by many as will the ‘live’ performances of Old Blind Dogs.

Fraser Bruce

Artists’ website: http://www.oldblinddogs.co.uk/