Will someone please explain why Otley’s finest folk-rock band are not huge stars. The Silences In Between is their third studio album – there’s also a rocking live set – and is as good as anything they’ve done.
There’s plenty to enjoy here. ‘I Don’t Know’ is about love as in “I don’t know much about love …but I’m gonna to find out” – there’s a Richard Thompson song that would follow it perfectly – and ‘Haul Away’ sounds like a rollicking old shanty. I love ‘Barleycorn Boy’ which is plainly not a folk song because “nobody dies and nobody drowns and no-one gets lost at the fair”, a typically witty Jon Palmer lyric adding a modern twist to an old idea. Two songs have appeared before on the live album: the title track and the traditional ‘Pay Me My Money Down’. The former is a love song with all the drive that the band can muster and could be a single if such things still mattered and the latter gets a more considered treatment than it does as a live show closer.
The line-up remains determinedly acoustic with guitars, double bass and Jon’s son Tom on cajon as the only percussion. Instrumental breaks come from Wendy Ross on fiddle and Matt Nelson’s mandolin, whistle and saxophone. My first impression was that there is more poetry than politics in The Silences In Between. The one obviously protest song is ‘There’s A Cold Wind Blowing (Over This Land)’ which sort of updates Billy Bragg’s ‘Between The Wars’ and that’s no bad thing since nothing much has changed since Bill wrote it.
There’s also a measure of unrequited love. ‘Hour Glass’, featuring the only guest appearance from singer Rachel Goodwin, is one such. Like several of Jon’s songs, it’s deceptively simple, but there is something oddly post-apocalyptic about it and the line “Burn the cathedrals” is the one that sticks in the mind. After one or two plays I think I understand why Jon didn’t include the lyrics with the record – the feel of a song is more important than detailed textual analysis – and there is little profit in trying to unpick his words.
The bottom line is that this is a superb album of 21st century folk-rock. Go out and buy it in thousands and make the Jon Palmer Acoustic Band rich and famous.
What with the likes of Steve Pledger and Will Varley the last couple of years have seen quite a resurgence in the protest song album on the UK’s contemporary folk/Americana circuit, but some have been doing this for years. I’ve written about Trevor Midgley aka Beau on these pages before and it’s good to report that his latest album, When Butterflies Scream, ably keeps up the standard. Sounding more than ever like Jake Thackray in his vocal delivery, it is, as ever, a no frills musical affair, predominantly just him and acoustic guitar, that allows the comments and commentary to take front of stage.
It opens with ‘Who Pays The Ferryman?’ not, you’ll be relieved to hear, a Chris De Burgh cover but, set to a slow mazurka rhythm etched out on accordion (one of the most elaborate instrumentations on the album) and drawing on Greek mythology and the figure of Charon who ferried the dead across the River Styx if they had the coin to pay, his take on the refugee crisis and the traffickers who exploit it. It’s a theme to which he returns on the closing seven-minute lyrically harrowing ‘The Immigrant’ with its recounting of mass executions, genocide rapes and those consigned to risk their lives in taking flight to see, those who survive being herded into camps while the politicians debate their fate (“We’re not in the business of profit and loss!” “Sort out the doctors and leave out the dross!”).
If that’s about effect, then ‘Kill The Idea’ looks at cause and how military attempts to eradicate an idea in the name of freedom more often causes it to drift “into different shapes that were harder to shift.”
The album’s title comes from a disturbing image in ‘Gerrymander Street Blockade’, a story of murky political goings on and cover ups, followed by the waltzing ‘The Song of the Pox Doctor’s Clerk’, a surely cynical suggestion that some of the Honours List gongs are handed out to, a she puts it, those who know where the bodies are buried (“It would be remiss for me here to disclose all names and addresses, but yes, there were those with reasons to quaver and even to quail; My peerage, it seemed, had been lost in the mail!”).
Government politics resurface with ‘The Mandarin’, an observation on those who ensure ministers are all singing from the same hymn sheet in the service of doctrinal mandates (“Alas we can’t claim to be wholly immune from bribery, sleaze and the inopportune. So, best we desist from our scheduled schemes, toppling dictators from dishonest regimes”).
One of the most pointedly barbed numbers is ‘The Promise’, a timely reminder of how badly the country and the MoD in particular, often treats those injured in the service of their country once they return home as it tells of how a hero survivor of his unit suffers from PSTD and ends up a down and out committing suicide by walking into the sea because “somehow, the Military Covenant’s promise had simply gone out through the door; And all that remained was a shirt on his back and the ribbons he steadfastly wore.”
Elsewhere he turns his eye on the use of armed military drones with ‘The Fire’, calling on Newton’s law that for every action there’s an equal opposite action and, basically, if something can go wrong it will (“Missiles pack a punch, and this one didn’t mess around – The fireball arriving above the speed of sound. In the end, they called it an “unfortunate event”; chances of it happening? Around fifteen percent”).
Taking an aspiring Stravinsky as an example, ‘Ben & Jerry’s Coca-Cola Tarantella’ is about selling out your soul (or ideals) to the devil, or in this case the commercial imperative while both ‘The Nightmare’ and ‘It’s Only Just Begun’ both sound an apocalyptic note, the former a talking blues response to the election of Donald Trump and the latter, with references to Nero, Genghis Khan, the bombing of Dresden, the Falklands conflict, Bhopal and the morning after 10/11, a tale of the Devil fuelling man’s proclivity for death and mass destruction.
The remaining number, ‘Smilin’ Billy Lye’, is less obvious, ostensibly the story of a dirt track rider who, envious of Motorcycle Show stunt champion Crash Donovan (the name a nod to the 1936 Highway Patrol movie) takes up his Tunnel of Fire challenge with enigmatic results, but there’s a cautionary string in its tale.
It’s sadly unlikely that this is going to attract the sort of attention and acclaim accorded the current crop of folk’s socio-political commentators or find an audience much beyond Midgley’s fanbase, but those who do seek it out will be well rewarded.
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 BEAU –When Butterflies Scream 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.
Co-produced by Josienne Clarke’s musical other half, Ben Walker, and Laura Marling knob-twiddler Lauren Deakin-Davies, following on from her Foreign Waters EP (which Walker also produced and which earned her a Folking Awards Rising Star nomination), Siren Serenade is the debut album from Cambridge-based singer-songwriter, poetry enthusiast and sometime theatre critic Emily Mae Winters.
Featuring musical contributions from, among others, Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage as well as both producers, the twelve tracks highlight both her slightly vibrato vocals and the influences in her music, Gillian Welch, Kate Rusby, The Unthanks, Alison Krauss and Sarah Jarosz among them.
There’s a couple of folk chestnuts here, Jenny Lee Ridley’s flute introing a crowd swayalong version of John Connolly’s fisherman’s farewell shanty ‘Fiddler’s Green’ featuring Jack Pout on bodhran, a strummed guitar and fiddle providing the instrumental playout. The second nods to her love of poetry with a haunting drone setting of WB Yeats’ ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’.
The album opens with the ripplingly lovely self-penned reflective ballad ‘Blackberry Lane’ featuring Savage on dobro and nodding to the rootsy Americana in her musical DNA. Maya McCourt who played cello on the EP reprises duties on the gently circling acoustic guitar melody of Anchor, while Winters takes to the piano for ‘As If You Read My Mind’, a soaring vocal pop tinged ballad that, coloured by strings, draws on the classic 60s sound of Carole King but also suggests hints of Joan Baez.
If all these have been relatively sedate, ‘Hook, Line And Sinker’ ups the tempo for, with Savage again on dobro, a catchy slice of strummed rootsy pop, an equally live paced being set on the scurrying Irish-tinted, whistle backed story-song ‘The Ghost Of The Pirate Queen’ showing a more muscular side to her voice.
Mostly though, the mood is quietly bucolic, beautifully rendered on the lullaby-like ‘Miles To Go’ (which, like ‘Anchor’, appeared on the EP) and moody piano and cello ballad ‘The Star’, the former a nod to the poet Robert Frost, the latter to John Keats.
Although her vocals are mesmerising throughout, the remaining two numbers really see them come into the glory. ‘Reprise’, the album closer, is a piano accompanied almost chorale-like stentorian duet with Sanders. And, accompanied only by clicking fingers and hummed vocals, she sings a capella, the title track itself, for me the album stand out, which echoes the Appalachian revivalist feel of ‘Down To The River To Pray’ and ‘Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby’ from Oh Brother Where Art Thou. In Greek mythology, sirens lured sailors on to the rocks with their singing; Winters can wreck me any time.
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 EMILY MAE WINTERS – Siren Serenade 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.
Based around Worcestershire and Gloucestershire they may be, but with fiddle player Caitlin Barrett and guitarist Paul O’Neil sharing vocals, Loz Shaw on bass, keys vocals guitars, clarinet and banjolina and Tim Downes-Hall on a variety of ethnic hand percussion, Roving Crows are very much of a Celtic folk rock persuasion, with a pinch of prog to go with it. Case in point is the title track, ‘Bury Me Naked’, a song inspired by the book Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, which opens akin to an orchestra tuning up, introduces a desert wind guitar and, over the course of the next five minutes scraped fiddle across a moody, atmospheric swirl conjuring Middle Eastern bazaar images. The colours are also evident in the background of the more acoustic ‘New York Love Song’, about a bittersweet relationship with the Big Apple, but, as it gathers pace, the Celtic winds blow more forcefully.
For a four piece they create rich and diverse musical textures, often very much percussive driven, with ‘Refugee’ introducing a lurching bass driven rhythm that has its roots as much in African townships as it does reggae before the folksier Barrett-penned, impermanence themed ‘Riverside’, the first on which she sings lead, lazes through a dappled melody line, the instrumentation again gradually building as the song progresses. She’s also responsible for two-thirds of the tunes that make up the frenzied instrumental ‘Fire Sky’, that and ‘Tiger’s Eye’ sandwiching ‘Farewell To Chernobyl’, an Irish reel learned from Sharon Shannon.
Set to an initial tick tocking rhythm, ‘If I Had To Choose’ brings O’Neil back to the mic for a musing on the meaning and values of love, the slight reggaed lurch here considerably more pronounced on the ensuing very Marleyesque true story ‘Passing On The Love’.
‘The Last Breath’ is different again, Barrett’s fiddle providing the accompaniment to O’Neill’s spoken word ecological lyrics about taking better care of the planet which, in turn, gives way to the heavy drumming salvos of the discordant fiddle and guitars of ‘Revolution Is Now’, a number that conjures thoughts of the 60s psychedelic jams of The Chamber Brothers had they had Celtic rather than African blood in their veins.
Then, heralded by cymbal shimmers and a circling guitar line before percussion and fiddle enter the weave, comes the ten minute brooding prog folk-rock epic that is ‘Glory Bound’, a gatheringly urgent number that sounds nothing like its description of being written in a lonely moment, in a quiet house in a sleepy valley, but more like in the eye of a storm.
They end with a cover, Barrett again taking lead on their rumbling widescreen arrangement of Jimmy MacCarthy’s much covered ‘Ride On’. It doesn’t displace Christy Moore’s as the seminal version, but it’s certainly up there with the best.
An adventurous and inspired heady cocktail of Celtic and world music with a social conscience and a beating heart, you’re well advised to cast a roving eye and ear in its direction.
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 ROVING CROWS – Bury Me Naked 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.
I was a little nervous about reviewing the CD Solomon by the Welsh band Calan, released on 14th April. After all, it’s been more decades than I care to think about since, as a student in North Wales, I picked up a few words of Cymraeg, and those few words are long gone. Fortunately, while most of the songs are sung in Welsh, the notes are in both Welsh and English, so I’m in with a chance of not getting my facts terribly wrong. Even more fortunately, there are some great sets of tunes as well as songs that feature lovely vocals and harmonies, so not understanding most of the lyrics didn’t impair my enjoyment at all.
Calan are Bethan Rhiannon (main vocals, accordion, step dancing, percussion), Patrick Rimes (fiddle, Welsh bagpipes, pibgorn, whistle, hulusi, vocals), Angharad Jenkins (fiddle, vocals), Sam Humphreys (guitar, percussion, effects, vocals), Alice French (harp, vocals). The band is augmented on this recording by Greg Sterland (saxophone), Josh Barber (trumpet), Lloyd Pierce (trombone) and Nigel Jenkins (reading an extract from his poem The Creation during the song ‘Kân’).
‘Kân’ is “a patriotic song about the future of the Welsh language and culture“. If I didn’t have the review copy, I’d probably buy the CD on the strength of this song alone. Nigel Jenkins has one of those resonant Welsh voices – think Richard Burton. The chorus is based on a style of psalm chanting that used to be popular in West Wales, but don’t expect a churchy feel: here, it gives the recording added punch.
The resemblance in the title ‘Ryan Jigs’ to the name of a certain Welsh football player is entirely intentional: this set of jigs is dedicated to the Welsh side, and comprises the traditional tunes ‘Crwr Da’, ‘Breuddwyd y Wrach’ (which you may know as ‘The Hag’s Dream’), ‘Y Facsen Felen’ and ‘Ffidl Ffadl’ (I love that name). And if that set doesn’t propel the team to further success, I don’t know what will.
‘#Deportationselfie’ is a set of tunes “inspired by Sam and Patrick’s adventures getting into the US” – a story of visa misadventure that attracted some attention on social media, as I recall. The individual tunes are the well-known ‘Black Joak’, plus ‘Chwi Fechgyn Glân Ffri’, ‘Ooh-Eeh, Nasty Devil’ (apparently by Patrick Rimes) and ‘Naid Dros Llannerch’.
‘Apparition’ is a Calan original in English, and while it’s “based on some entries in the diary of Edmund Jones speaking about the fairy realm in South Wales” there’s nothing twee or fey about it: it’s an excellent folk-rock-ish song.
‘Hayes and Quinn’s’ is also an original, described as “a wedding tune written for our dear American friends…” A very attractive tune and arrangement.
‘Madame Fromage’ is a set of tunes dedicated to Carrie Rimes, maker of the band’s own Calan Cheese. But there’s nothing cheesy about these tunes. ‘Madame Fromage’ is by Angharad Siân Jenkins, and Y Folantein is traditional.
‘Pe Cawn i Hon’ (If She Were Mine) is beautifully sung and accompanied by restrained and very effective electric guitar.
The writer of ‘Yr Eneth Ga’dd ei Gwrthod’ (The Rejected Maiden) is unknown, though it is based on a true event of the mid-19th century: the sadness of the theme is evident even across the language barrier.
‘Synnwyr Solomon’ (The Wisdom of Solomon), a song learned from the collector/performer Meredydd Evans (Merêd), is rather less mournful, telling of a man who finds that the women of Wales are a little too feisty for him to marry.
‘Dennis, Polca!’ consists of three tunes: ‘Welsh Morris’, ‘Anastacia Riddles’ and ‘Polca Cefn Coed’. Described by the band as “a banging set” and I won’t argue with that. I’ve always felt happier sitting in the band than being out on the dance floor, but my feet haven’t tapped so much in decades.
‘Yr Hwiangerddi’ (The Lullabies) brings the pace down with a delightful set of traditional lullabies: ‘Y Lili Ymysg y Drain’ (Also known as ‘The Colour Of The Lily Amongst The Thorns’.), ‘Si Hei Lwli’, and ‘Mil Harddach’.
‘Big D’ is a “slamming” set of tunes that starts off with a clog dance. Which is a better idea than it sounds. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to finish a super CD. ’27 Club’ is written by Bethan; ‘Y Fasged Wyau’ is traditional; ‘Composition 11’ is credited to P E Rimes (I guess that’s Patrick); ‘Roaring Hornpipe’ and ‘Pibddawns Morfydd’ are both traditional.
If this is Brythonic folk-rock, I wouldn’t mind hearing quite a lot more of it.
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 CALAN – Solomon 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.
Some of you might be asking ‘What’s Mark Nevin got to do with folk music? Folk music should be traditional or nothing’. Others might say ‘No. Folk music should be expressing new ideas and challenging the establishment view’. And that, in microcosm, is the point of the title track of Mark’s new album, My Unfashionable Opinion, although unfashionable is perhaps a euphemism as anyone who has expressed a contentious point of view on Facebook or Twitter knows.
Mark Nevin is a fine songwriter who is unlikely to hit the charts any time soon, nor will he appear in your local folk club. He inhabits that twilight zone between commercial success and cult adoration. He is accompanied by a core band of Simon Edwards, Richard Marcangelo, Roger Beaujolais and James Hallawell with guests including a brass section.
He returns to the absurdities of the internet with ‘Forgotify’ and I tried to imagine what I’d feel if I heard it on acoustic guitar by a club floor singer. I know I’d hate it and that’s why Mark has to be where he is. ‘Don’t Be My Echo’ is essentially acoustic with some decoration but ‘Curly Wurly Boy’ – about both careers advice in schools and the drudgery of factory work – could be but isn’t. His songs about relationships: ‘Uncertainty’, ‘Cold War’ and ‘I Can Hear You’, for example, need the rock backing to avoid mawkishness but it’s the autobiographical pieces such as ‘Punching Above My Weight’ that I enjoy most.
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 MARK NEVIN – My Unfashionable Opinion 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.