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SAOIRSE MHÓR – Ghosts Of Tomorrow (own label)

Ghosts Of TomorrowSaoirse Mhór is an Irish singer-songwriter living and working in Germany. British and Irish folk is big there but Saoirse is barely known in England except as the frontman of Fleadh. Ghosts Of Tomorrow is his third solo studio album and he is supported by, among others, Andy Horn and Andrew Cadie of Germany’s top British folk-rock band Broom Bezzums and their regular guest vocalist Katie Doherty.

There is a vein of melancholy running through Saoirse’s songs together with a feeling for lyrics that it typically Celtic. The opener, ‘Tree Of Oak’ is a simple song laden with the despair of a man fully aware of his own failure but it’s offset in part by ‘Fanore’, a village in County Clare where our man finds refuge from his life but leaves a part of himself there. ‘The Thief’ and ‘White Birds’ make for an interesting pairing. In the first, the writer is escaping from a damaged relationship but in the second he waits for the end of winter to be reunited with his love – two very fine songs.

The author of ‘Sleeping And Working’ is at rock bottom and the song ends bitterly with “Remember…if you work harder then love and good fortune will soon come your way”. Yeah, right. The bankers figure in that song and also in ‘Hill Of Plenty’ which begins optimistically until reality intrudes on what seems to be an ideal life.

Ghosts Of Tomorrow is big on sweeping strings and backing vocals with the fiddles of Andy Horn and Marcus Eichenlaub often taking the lead in melodic decoration with Tommy Gorny’s guitar sitting alongside Saoirse’s. He may live in Germany but Saoirse hasn’t really left Ireland far behind and there is a thread of a simple rural life running through the songs. ‘The Cleggan Bay Disaster’ takes us right back there and the final track, ‘Good Friday’, is an account of that day – a reflection of Saoirse’s Catholicism, perhaps.

His albums are available as downloads from the usual sources but for a physical copy you’ll need to visit his website. It’s worth going to the trouble.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://www.saoirsemhor.com/

Promo video:

MELROSE QUARTET – Dominion (own label MQCD03)

DominionDominion is the long-awaited second album from Melrose Quartet: Nancy Kerr and James Fagan, Jess and Richard Arrowsmith. If you haven’t heard them you should remedy that oversight as soon as possible: four voices and four instrumentalists, equally gifted with unaccompanied harmony and instrumental dexterity. And that’s before we begin to discuss songwriting.

The album is a delightfully eclectic mix of material, you know, the way people used to make albums back in the 70s. It begins, unexpectedly, with a southern Appalachian song, ‘Mariah’s Gone’ originally from Jean Ritchie. Unaccompanied, it makes an arresting statement from the outset – you are going to listen to this record. It is followed by the title track, ‘Dominion Of The Sword’, further adapted from Martin Carthy’s version with a new verse by James. You must expect some politics from the quartet by this is as heavy handed as it gets and the tunes that follow, ‘A Generous Man/Carthy’s March’ are as bright and joyful as you could wish for.

The ebb and flow continues throughout the record. Nancy Kerr’s ‘Hand Me Down’ is about the unifying effect of music and ‘’Ware Out Mother’ is a huge joke. It started out in the tradition but was probably written in its present form by Charley Yarwood and Tom Brown. Jess Arrowsmith’s ‘Anthem Of A Working Mum’ is a song that should be adopted by the tradition. Like the best writing it says a lot in a few words and leaves you to colour in the picture while Nancy’s ‘Rise No More’ is a lament for the lost steel industry told in complex metaphor. Around these we have ‘The Seeds Of Love’, Paul Davenport’s ‘Davy Cross’ and Paul Metser’s lovely ‘Good Intentions’.

Melrose Quartet could play Dominion from start to finish in a folk club and you’d go home knowing that you’d had a good night out. I don’t think that you could ask for much more than that.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.melrosequartet.co.uk

Melrose Quartet live at Chester Folk Festival:

Ross Ainslie announces a remarkable third album

Ross Ainslie

Ross Ainslie is one of Scotland’s finest traditional musicians and composers, playing pipes, whistles and cittern. He is renowned for his highly acclaimed solo material, and as a skilled performer and prolific collaborator who performs regularly with bands Treacherous Orchestra (of which he is a founding member), Salsa Celtica, Dougie Maclean, Ali Hutton, Charlie Mckerron, Jarlath Henderson and India Alba.

This third album from Ross brings together a lot of his influences over the years playing in such bands as Salsa Celtica and India Alba. Ross has always been a fan of Mike Oldfield’s album Tubular Bells and this album is based on the same idea and designed to be listened to like a journey. The album plays continuously from start to finish and as a bonus extra for pre-release copies you will receive the album in one track (digital format) the way it should be.

Sanctuary is a term Ross likes to use when describing what music is for him, coming up to five years sober!! Ross has been through some big changes and found ways of coping with certain situations without alcohol.

“I’ve found that I’m spending a lot of time on my own these days, being a travelling musician a lot of the social time is centred around drinking so I found it hard to be around so I would retreat to my room a lot, at first it took some time to get used to my own company but as the years have gone on I’ve found it to be a very productive and creative space, if I’m having a particularly bad day music is always the thing that will pick me up so that’s why this album is called Sanctuary”.

‘Inner Sanctuary’ is a track heavily influenced by his travels to India, it features a debut performance on Bansuri from Ross. The musicians on this album were selected very carefully and are all very comfortable in many genres, this track shows Greg Lawson playing with an Indian style.

‘Home In Another Dimension’ features one of Ross’s favourite musicians in the world, the one and only Zakir Hussain on tabla and also British/Indian Sarod maestro Soumik Datta. This track demonstrates a different style in writing for Ross with a definite Eastern flavour. ‘Let The Wild Ones Roam’ is a straight ahead rocking set of reels with the guys in their natural habitat. Damien O’Kane adds some amazing banjo to this track.

All the music on the album is composed by Ross apart from ‘Surroundings’ which was composed by Ross and Jamie Maclean.

Artist’s website: http://rossainslie.com/holding/

Here’s the album sampler:

SAID THE MAIDEN – Here’s A Health (own label)

HealthFollowing on from last years EP, ‘Of Maids And Mariners’, Hertfordshire folk trio Jess Distill, Hannah Elizabeth and Kathy Pilkinton return with their much anticipated second album, Here’s A Health, another fine collection of traditional, self-penned and cover material that again spotlights their immaculate harmonies.

Variously playing violin, piano accordion, mandolin, flute, clarinet, whistles, electric bass and Appalachian mountain dulcimer, they’re also joined on a couple of tracks by Lukas Drinkwater and Chris Cleverley.

Following the brief a capella ‘Preamble’, an invitation to “come lift up your voices”, things get under way proper with the traditional ‘The Bird’s Courting Song’, a three-part seventeenth-century children’s nursery rhyme from the Appalachians that features Jess on flute and comes with a “towdy, owdy, di-do dum” chorus. Hannah provides the violin-driven tune for the waltzing ‘The Maid Of The Mill’, a traditional eighteenth-century ballad, supposedly about Mary Leonard, a Hertfordshire lass who spurned any number of admirers before finally marrying, the words penned by the local curate, one of the unsuccessful suitors, with Drinkwater on double bass.

The traditional seam continues to be mined with their arrangement of ‘Sweet William’s Ghost’, Jess providing the tune for this cut up lyric tale of a woman being visited by her lover’s ghost and being invited to share his grave, the vocals given a simple dulcimer backing.

Another nod to the trio’s playful nature, next up is an unaccompanied cover of Tom Paxton’s quirky children’s song, ‘Jennifer’s Rabbit’, then, again featuring Drinkwater, it’s back to the traditional meadow with another three-part harmony showcase in ‘The Bonnie Earl O’Moray’, a traditional Scottish ballad about the murder of James Stewart, the titular earl, by his arch rival, the Earl of Huntly, in 1592, supposedly because the former was accused of plotting against King James VI. Interestingly, the line about him being laid upon the green gave rise to the term Mondegreen, meaning a misheard song lyric that changes the meaning, on account of the American writer Sylvia Wright hearing it as ‘Lady Mondgreen’ and assuming it to be his lover.

The first of the original material comes with ‘Polly Can You Swim?’, co penned by Distill and Pilkington and featuring Andrew Simmons Elliott as the sailors chorus, a sprightly sea shanty rather at odds with its words about accounts of women being thrown overboard for fear of them placing curses on ships. Of course, testing by sink or swim was also applied to witches and, sure enough, it’s followed by Distill’s particularly grisly ‘Black Annis’ based on the Leicestershire legend of a child-eating witch told by parents to keep their kids in after dark, Jess taking lead against the harmonies and accompanied by a vocal drone.

Keeping things dark, piano accordion introduces the traditional American murder ballad, its drone complemented by dulcimer in an otherwise a capella reading of ‘In The Pines’ inspired by recordings by both Lead Belly and Nirvana before Hannah’s spare mandolin makes its appearance in the final stretch.

Spirits are suitably raised with a return to native soil and an unaccompanied version of the erotic euphemistic Norfolk reel ‘The Bird In The Bush’, otherwise known as ‘Three Maids A-Milking’, ahem, from whence comes the album title. Pilkington’s contribution to proceedings is ‘Take The Night’, a sprightly strummed acoustic and violin-coloured tale based on the legend of a Hertfordshire highwaywoman, Cleverley joining them on banjo, the album then closing with a fine unaccompanied take on Richard Farina’s ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’, learned at the request of the late Dave Swarbrick when they supported him in 2015.

Maybe it’s just the time of the year, but there’s a crispness and ambience to the album that conjures bracing winter mornings and nights around the fire, but really, this is an album for all seasons.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.saidthemaiden.co.uk

‘Jennifer’s Rabbit’ – live and just for fun:

THE WINTERLINGS – American Son (own label)

American SonAmerican Son is the fourth album release from Washington -based duo, The Winterlings, alias Wolff Bowden and Amanda Birdsall. A meeting of minds at a Buddhist fire ritual (where else?) led to the formation of this tightly self-contained musical unit. Videos show that they occasionally perform with an additional vocalist/guitarist, but this album has the duo performing, recording and producing the entire thing themselves.

Bowden has said he wasn’t involved in music until he met Birdsall, so he clearly has a natural talent, keeping a loping bass drum beat behind his vocals and guitar. Birdsall, perhaps the more accomplished musician, also sings and plays guitar, banjitar, piano and violin. Both play the harmonica, too, although since neither are specifically credited on individual tracks, it’s impossible to tell the players apart – and perhaps that’s the point.

Lyrically, the songs create strong visual impressions, often rooted in natural imagery and a connectedness with environment with “places as wild as your inside” on ‘That Was Alaska’, or the Joni Mitchell-ish ‘Sunspeech’. This latter also lets Birdsall’s vocal range fly, one of only two songs to feature her lead vocal, the other being ‘Gold’. With its laid-back porch-song vibe set to a lazy drum beat, ‘Gold’ views time as “like an earthquake, always shaking something loose”.

‘The Ghost Of Leonard’, an homage to Leonard Cohen, features a deeply rumbling “oh, ah, amen” chorus that might be influenced by Native American chanting, or The Crash Test Dummies “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” song. In trying to honour Cohen’s style there’s a tendency to veer towards the portentous, with lines like “the bible burning in the hobo’s stove” but it’s a song that packs a powerful punch, nonetheless.

If the title song itself appears to function as a kind of “State Of The Nation” address, it’s not an entirely positive picture. This is continued in the anti-greed message of ‘World To Change’, reminiscent of Ghandi’s “be the change you want to see in the world” mantra, it contains a gently menacing call to action: “we won’t wait for the world to change”.

Bowden and Birdsall can occasionally tend to over-rely on some rather mannered vibrato singing, that threatens to overwhelm the songs. It’s an unfortunate distraction from what is at its core a fine selection of songs, well-arranged, played and performed.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: www.winterlings.com

‘All Of The Good Things’ – official video:

Police Dog Hogan announce spring tour

Police Dog Hogan live

Police Dog Hogan get back on the road with a short tour during February and March 2018. With 300 plus gigs already under their belts and a highly successful fourth album, Wild By The Side Of The Road, released in 2017 this band carries on delivering their own brand of Country, Americana tinged rock to enthusiastic audiences, seamlessly incorporating raucous cacophonies to melancholic tributes and everything in between.

Police Dog Hogan, first formed in 2009, has evolved over the years into a tight-knit seven-piece band combining guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, accordion, trumpet, keyboards, bass and drums.

In 2014 Police Dog Hogan were one of only three UK bands invited to Nashville to perform at the prestigious Americana Music Association Awards, where DJ Bob Harris – in town for the awards – snapped them up for a recording that has become one of the most-watched YouTube videos on his Under The Apple Tree Sessions channel. In 2015 they made a showcase appearance on Harris’s Radio 2 show. The single from the album Devon Brigade has been nominated for UK Song of the Year in theAmericana Music Association awards 2018.

The band has repeatedly been offered headline and other spots on the main stages of numerous key festivals – among many others, they have been asked back an unprecedented three times to Larmer Tree, twice to Kendal Calling and Port Eliot, and three times to Cornbury. In 2016 they appeared at Glastonbury for the first time, on the Avalon stage.

The band regularly plays to sell-out audiences up and down the country. They’ve become a serious and ambitious musical venture that marries a devotion to touring and the presentation of consummate live performances with James Studholme’s dedication to song writing and recording.

Artists’ website:  www.policedoghogan.com

‘West Country Boy’ – official video:

Tour Dates

31 January 18    The Brook        Southampton    0203 8055 5366
01 February 18    MAC             Birmingham    0121 446 3232
02 February 18    The Junction         Cambridge    01223 511511
08 February 18    Scala            London    0844 844 9990
23 February 18    Marlowe Theatre    Canterbury    01227 787787
24 February 18    Norwich Arts Centre    Norwich    01603 58050
14 March 18    The Platform         Morecambe    01524 582000
15 March 18    The Met        Bury        0161 761 2216
16 March 18    Sage             Gateshead    0191 443 4661
17 March 18    Crescent Arts        York        01904 622510
22 March 18    Komedia         Brighton    01273 647100
23 March 18    St Georges         Bristol        0117 929 4929
24 March 18    Exeter Phoenix        Exeter        01392 667080