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GRETCHEN PETERS – Dancing With The Beast (Scarlet Letter/Proper PRPCD148P)

Dancing With The BeastHaving enjoyed her biggest success to date with the Ben Glover co-penned southern gothic ‘Blackbirds’, it is, perhaps, not too surprising to find echoes in Dancing With The Beast. In terms of narrative, the slightly swampy ‘Wichita’, which Glover also co-wrote and which features Jerry Douglas on Dobro, is another murder ballad, this time round a mentally handicapped 12-year-old girl taking a gun to protect herself, her dysfunctional divorced mother and little sister from an abusive man as she sings “I hope I was the last thing that you saw that night in Wichita”.

More specifically, the politically pointed ‘Lowlands’ traces a similar melody to the Grammy winner’s refrain on a song written in response to the 2016 election with lyrics reflecting the sense of disquiet about a man who “lies just for the sake of lying.. sell you kerosene and call it hope.” This one’s not written with Ben Glover, but he does have three co-write credits, the first up being the album’s opening number, a three-way split with Matraca Berg, a melancholically, world weary reflective song about growing old and times changing as she sings “I get lost in my hometown, since they tore the Drive-In down”, perhaps carrying with it hints of incipient Alzheimer’s.

Throughout the album, she’s backed by Doug Lancio on guitar and synths, guitarist Will Kimbrough, keyboard player Barry Walsh, bassist and John Gardner on drums, the songs populated with a variety of female characters and driven by a feminist perspective. The moods vary. On the dreamy, piano-backed ‘The Boy From Rye’, steeped in the insecurities of female adolescence, it’s one of wistful reflection on a summer romance with a boy from out of town who, “His smile knowing and ironic” divided friendships as “One by one he broke our virgin hearts/And set us one against the other”. In contrast, the more musically muscular but equally poignant ‘Life Is A Disappearing Act’ turns its gaze on a middle-aged woman who, widowed after fifty years of marriage, having lost two babies at birth and a son to the Iraq war, mentally and emotionally rather than physically, now finds herself alone, lonely and isolated, trapped in a “dark cocoon” and “crying at the kitchen sink” , “if Jesus is comin’ soon And if he is, he better make it quick”.

She turns the mirror on herself, and any touring musician, for the whisperingly sung ‘The Show’, which, accompanied by a simple acoustic guitar and piano, reflects on life on the road, “somewhere between Bend and Birmingham”, drinking hotel coffee that “tastes like kerosene”, saving up the energy for “Nineteen songs and one more night to go”.

Clearly, it can take its toll (“I clutch this guitar to my chest and wonder just what I’ll have left/When all of this hard traveling’s finally done”), especially on sustaining a relationship, and she reprises the theme on ‘Lay Low’, where, “a good three hours to Aberdeen”, she sings how “Tonight I’ll call to say hello, but your phone’s just gonna ring I know” and of the need to take some time out to recharge.

The other two Glover co-writes play back to back. Like ‘Blackbirds’, they’ve both recorded their own versions, the title track here to be found on his current Shorebound album, both swelling towards the end and featuring a nervy acoustic guitar line, but her’s without the prominent strings and the drums held back until towards the end and Kim Richey on background vocals. A song about that voice that whispers in your ear that you’re no good or you can’t do it, be it depression, a sense of insecurity or whatever, and how the best way to deal with it is to “circle round the room together /Seal this devil’s bargain with a kiss.” However, lyrics like “It isn’t that he doesn’t care about me/If anything it’s that he cares too much /It’s only that he wants the best for me /It’s only that I don’t try hard enough” also lend themselves to an interpretation of an abusive relationship that chimes with the #MeToo movement, especially given the confessional and emotionally bruised way Peters’ delivers the lines.

The second, underpinned by Walsh’s piano and again echoing Blackbirds’ melody line, is ‘Truckstop Angel’, a variation on ‘Honky Tonk Angels’ that addresses prostitution and self-respect as the character sings of being unsure if she’s predator or prey, but that “One day I’m gonna leave here /Gonna hit my lucky streak, Gonna spread my gorgeous wings and fly/Above all this concrete”.

At the end of the day, this is an album about rising above the weight and the burdens, imposed by both others and yourself, a simple humanity and moving epiphany found in the gorgeous ‘Say Grace’, Douglas on dobro and Richey on backing, taking refuge in faith or friends as the lost, the despairing, the bruised and the broken are welcomed to share in prayer at shelter by the bus station depot, the lesson of the day being “Forgive yourself for all of your mistakes You can start all over if that’s what it takes… You are not a loser, you are not a hopeless case” .

It ends with just her and a fingerpicked acoustic guitar for ‘Love That Makes A Cup Of Tea’, a song that, born of a dream about her late mother in which “she held my hand and she said, ‘You know, honey, there is love that makes a cup of tea’.” In many ways an echo of the blessing in ‘Kindness’ on Glover’s album, it’s a celebration of how, for all the big dramatic moments, of “love that moves a mountain” or “love that fights for justice knowing justice won’t be done”, sometimes the smallest, simplest human moment can be the most profound. There is sadness, there is weariness, there is trepidation, but, as the conclusion to Lowlands notes, at the end of the day there is also hope, because “We get a lot of clouds here in the lowlands /But now and then a little light gets through.” This is a beacon.

Mike Davies

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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Artist’s: website: www.gretchenpeters.com

‘Disappearing Act’ – official video:

SINGLES BAR 29 – a round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 29VIRGINIA KETTLE is one of Merry Hell’s front line as songwriter and singer and formerly a successful soloist around the clubs. This eponymous EP with The Dreamcatchers (who are not named but who look suspiciously familiar) is, we’re told, the precursor to a solo album. Her songs tend to be human stories, often with a twist, some of which scale up for the band but these would not.

‘The Butter Song’, which opens the set, begins with the brilliant lines “Ever considered someone like me to spread the butter on your bread” and is sung over hand percussion. ‘More Than This’ sees The Dreamcatchers joining in, initially gently pastoral then building up and finally slipping away. As I’ve come to expect the songs are clever; sometimes quirky like ‘Little Warm’ or deceptively deep like ‘Freedom (The Sweetest Taste)’. We’re looking forward to the album already.
www.vkandthedreamkeepers.com

A collaboration between Brighton songwriters, Rebecca Brandler and Scott Booth, PAPER HAWK make their debut with The Tide, a four track download EP via local label Folklore Sessions recorded in the living room of their flat. The opening track, ‘Trails’, a number about the death throes of a volatile relationship, is what you’d probably call psych-folk with whispery-sung ethereal, echoey vocals, shimmering keyboard swirls, understated drum beat and skitterings of guitars. It’s a mood sustained with the watery finger picked acoustic guitar work accompanying Booth’s vocals on the breathily-sung and rather positive and idealistic ‘The Fourteenth Floor’, clattering percussion and a thumping drum beat gathering for the instrumental play out.

Underscored by spare bass guitar notes and plucked acoustic guitar, ‘Northern Sky’ is another airy piece from Brandler and, largely down to producer Josh Trinnaman, again builds the soundscape towards the close. That bass drum thump also underpins the final number, ‘Written In The Lines’, an electronic ambience enfolding Booth’s hushed vocals on a song that bookends the EP by both returning to the theme of a relationship past its use by date and with the outro mirroring the opening wordless ululation on ‘Trails’. An impressive debut that leaves you wanting to hear what else they can do.
https://www.facebook.com/paperhawkmusic/

Forget About You is a new EP by FINE LINES, a duo founded by singer-songwriter David Boardman and vocalist Zoe Blyth with a cast of supporting musicians – Mark Radclffe has been known to turn out on drums with them. The lead track and ‘Feet Don’t Touch The Ground’ both come from last year’s album, Hour Of Need while ‘Who Do You Love?’ and ‘Begging You’ are new songs. Their sound is acoustic rock with a slight country edge that sometimes forgets that it is supposed to be acoustic but it’s classy stuff.
www.wearefinelines.com

Book SongsANNE-MARIE SANDERSON is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist – guitar, cello and clarinet are among her accomplishments. Book Songs Volume 1 is her third EP and it will presumably be followed by a second volume in time. The five songs here are all inspired by novels, authors including such literary giants as Ian McEwan and Doris Lessing. As befits such inspirations, the songs are musically and lyrically complex. ‘Haweswater’ covers the same ground as Mike Turnbull’s ‘Drowning Valley’ and is a particularly fine song. ‘Mara’s Song’ is even better and like ‘Poisonwood’ is set in Africa – two very different Africas actually – one in the distant future and the other in the mid twentieth century. Anne-Marie plays every note on this EP and has fine voice with a hint of wildness in it that many critics have worked hard to describe.
https://www.annemariesanderson.com/

ShardsEVAN CARSON is the folk scene’s go-to percussion at the moment but now we learn that he is also a composer of no mean talent. ‘Shards’ is the first part of what is intended to be a musical story of his grandfather, George Ocipinski, who escaped from a labour camp and travelled west to join the French Resistance in time for the Normandy landings.

Lead vocals are by Georgia Lewis and the music is built up by the piano of Gleb Kolyadin, Karl James Pestka’s strings and Toby Shaer’s flutes. The nine-and-a-half minutes composition begins with the sound of the wind underneath glockenspiel or chimes – or possibly both – played by Evan himself. Then it rocks a bit with percussion that, to judge from the later lyrics, might be intended to imitate a train as George makes his escape. ‘Shards’ is a dramatic piece of work and there is an EP in the offing. We can’t wait.
www.evancarsondrums.com

Evan Carson releases the first installment of a long story

Evan Carson

‘Shards’ is part of an ongoing story inspired by George Ocipinski and members of the various Polish Resistance Units across Europe during 1939 – 1945 now being reconstructed in music by Evan Carson.

A collaboration between musicians from the UK, Iceland and Russia blending, folk, progressive and classical elements. This particular track highlights only one small part of Evan’s grandfather’s journey through the Second World War from escaping a labour camp in Eastern Europe, to joining the French Resistance during the Allied Landings in Normandy and beyond. The purpose of this project is to fill in the gaps and bring the whole story of both his grandfather and other Poles to life. Musically, this song focuses on piano, strings and bodhran influenced by eastern European time signatures.

Evan explained a little more. “The initial idea was just for me to put out a series of tracks that used a lot of ideas that I couldn’t get away with in the other bands I work for. This particular release is all about my family and others in Poland during the second world war. It’s an ongoing story that we are still tracking down all the parts to.”

Looking to the future Evan hopes to continue telling stories and combining styles and musicians from very different scenes and genres.

“I’ve had a very close working relationship with the pianist Gleb Kolyadin and the others so I’m looking forward to finishing the rest of the story with them all. Hopefully I’ll put together a live set as soon as I can get them all in one country.”

Written by Evan Carson

Lyrics by Evan Carson and Georgia Lewis
Vocals – Georgia Lewis
Piano – Gleb Kolyadin
Strings – Karl James Pestka
Flutes – Toby Shaer
Percussion, Vocals – Evan Carson
Additional Sound Design, Production and Engineering – Joshua Franklin
Artwork – Todd Robinson
Mastered – Josh Clarke/Get Real Audio
Written and Recorded in the UK and Russia

Evan currently tours with folk acts Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys (BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Best Group Nominees), The Willows, Georgia Lewis (BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards Horizon Nominee) and has also performed with Seth Lakeman.

In 2016, Evan recorded percussion for Russian duo Iamthemorning’s Lighthouse (PROG AWARDS Album of the Year 2016) and has gone on to tour with them throughout Europe and Russia.

In 2018, Evan also guested on piano virtuoso Gleb Kolyadin’s (Iamthemorning) solo album opposite drummer Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater).

Artist’s website: www.evancarsondrums.com

There will be an EP soon but here’s a short preview:

Richard Thompson announces autumn/winter tour

Richard Thompson
Photograph by David Kaptein

World renowned guitarist and singer-songwriter Richard Thompson has announced an extensive UK tour for October and November 2018.

During a busy 2017, Thompson released two volumes of acoustic recordings:  Acoustic Classics Vol. II featuring acoustic renderings of classic songs from the Richard Thompson catalogue and Acoustic Rarities featuring new recordings of some of the more obscure songs in his repertoire. He also celebrated the 50th anniversary of Fairport Convention, the ground-breaking band he co-founded as a teenager in the ‘60s, with a performance at its annual Cropredy Festival last August.

Named by Rolling Stone as one of the Top 20 Guitarists of All Time, Richard Thompson is one of the world’s most critically acclaimed and prolific songwriters. He has received multiple awards, including Lifetime Achievement Awards at the BBC Folk Awards and the US and UK Americana Music Association Awards, as well as Mojo’s Les Paul Award and an Ivor Novello Award for song writing. Thompson was appointed OBE in the 2011 New Year Honours List. Robert Plant, REM, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt and many others have recorded his songs.

A brand new studio album will be released later this year on Proper Records.

Artist’s website: http://www.richardthompson-music.com/

‘I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’ – live:

Tour Dates

OCTOBER

Thursday 11                  Liverpool Philharmonic
Saturday 13                   Perth Concert Hall
Monday 15                Canterbury Marlowe
Tuesday 16                  London Barbican
Wednesday 17                Bath Forum
Thursday 18                  Nottingham Royal Concert Hall
Saturday 20                   Stoke on Trent Victoria Hall
Sunday 21                  Manchester Opera House
Monday 22                York Grand Opera House
Tuesday 23                  Hull City Hall
Wednesday 24                Gateshead Sage
Friday 26                    Birmingham Town Hall
Saturday 27                   Southend Cliffs Pavilion
Sunday 28                  Oxford New Theatre
Tuesday 30                  Cambridge Corn Exchange
Wednesday 31                Salisbury City Hall

NOVEMBER

Thursday 1                     Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion
Friday 2                       High Wycombe Swan
Saturday 3                      Woking The New Victoria

Support on the shows will be Joan Shelley.

Tickets are available from: https://serious.org.uk/events/series/thompson

CATH & PHIL TYLER – The Ox And The Ax (Ferric Mordant Records Fe10)

The Ox And The AxCath and Phil are based in the north-east – Phil is from Newcastle upon Tyne – but you wouldn’t know it from their music. Their greatest influence comes via Cath who was a member of Cordelia’s Dad back in the 1990s and has absorbed their take on traditional music from America. It also explains the spelling of ax. The Ox And The Ax is their third album but their first in almost a decade.

The majority of their songs come from across the Atlantic although several are known in the UK, often under different titles. The first, ‘The Two Sisters’ is sufficiently well-known not to need description but this version comes from New England via the noted collector Helen Hartness Flanders and owes its roots to several more familiar versions. ‘Finest Flower’ is a variant of ‘The Unquiet Grave’ using a tune from the southern harmony tradition and from there on we are breaking new ground. ‘Rainbow’ is a variant of ‘Locks And Bolts’ very different from the British versions but ‘Rained A Mist’, a song new to me, comes from Arkansas and is a variant of ‘The Jew’s Garden’ which is usually called ‘Little Sir Hugh’ for obvious reasons. I’ll leave you figure out the others.

I’m not sure about the thinking behind supplying a new tune to Ernest Jones’ ‘Song Of The Lower Classes’ given that the familiar one has served so well for so long. It is rather downbeat – understandably – and Cath and Phil’s new setting gives it rather more backbone, more anger.

Cath and Phil build their sound around Phil’s guitar with a heavy emphasis on the bass line, Cath’s fiddle and banjo. There’s a little percussion and trumpet on ‘King Henry’ from Glenn Bruinewoud. I have to confess that I find it a little ponderous at times although the music matches the frequent mood of death and despair in the songs. This isn’t a record to set your feet tapping but if you enjoy the cross-cultural fusion of traditional music between England and its former colony you’ll really enjoy it.

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: https://www.facebook.com/cathandphiltyler/

‘The Two Sisters’ – official video:

THE JELLYMAN’S DAUGHTER – Dead Reckoning (own label)

Dead ReckoningA gentle beginning with cello, voice and mandolin and then the strings flow into the musicscape. ‘Quiet Movie’ is a fine opener to the new album Dead Reckoning by that marvellous duo The Jellyman’s Daughter.

This new outing is chock-full of bitter sweet ballads, laments, lullabies and dancing tunes such as the second track ‘I Hope’, a foot-tapper with a deceptively quiet start and catchy chorus.

The chugging cello riffs that punctuated their previous album are less frequent here, but still make a welcome appearance now and then. The banjo is used judiciously and joyfully on a number of the songs and, indeed, takes centre stage on the instrumental ‘The Shoogly Peg’, giving it a southern swamp-music flavour.

Emily Kelly has a super voice and Graham Coe’s vocal ably compliments hers giving cohesion to the whole.

There is more of a flow to this collection than the previous album which probably stems from the familiarity of two artists at one with each other. This album is a real pleasure to listen to and seems to offer more to the listener with each subsequent visit. I recommend you avail yourself of a copy and settle down to some fine music by an accomplished duo.

Ron D Bowes

Artists’ website: https://www.thejellymansdaughter.com/

‘Dead Reckoning’ – live: