JOHN SMITH – Hummingbird (Commoner COMM01CD)

HummingbirdJohn Smith is a name I’ve been circling around for some time without actually hearing him so I was delighted when his new album, Hummingbird, his sixth, fell into my lap. I now have some serious catching up to do. If you haven’t encountered him yet you should know that John is a fine fingerpicking guitarist and songwriter with a very individual take on traditional songs.

John names his influences as John Renbourn and Richard Thompson. The former is obvious from his guitar style and the latter becomes so with the opening song in this set. ‘Hummingbird’ is a beautiful song of love yearned for, gained and lost and also a middle class homage to ‘Beeswing’. If you’re not immediately grabbed by it you should be listening to some other music. The second original song here is the fiery ‘Boudica’, the story of Iceni queen bolstered by strings and the third is the long modern murder ballad, ‘Axe Mountain (Revisited)’, which comes straight after the traditional ‘Willy Moore’. Whether this is actually a murder ballad is hard to say, although the set-up of the first three verses suggests it, but it feels more like a story of thwarted love and suicide.

It’s John’s approach to traditional songs that really engaged me, though. He approaches them as though they were modern with a changed note here and there and a contemporary inflection in his voice. ‘Hares On The Mountain’ has more recorded versions than you can shake a stick at but he makes you listen to it afresh as he does with ‘Lord Franklin’, a favourite of mine, I must admit.

The odd man out is Anne Briggs’ ‘The Time Has Come’ performed in the style of a sixties guitar player which is entirely appropriate given that John learned it via Renbourn. His band is used sparingly; there is lovely bass from Ben Nicholls and fiddle and whistle from John McCusker with Cara Dillon adding vocals to the closing ‘Unquiet Grave’. Sam Lakeman’s production is perfectly restrained and perfectly judged even when a song like ‘Axe Mountain’ is a temptation to pile on the drama.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.johnsmithjohnsmith.com

‘Hummingbird’:

Larkin Poe announce new album and European tour dates

Larkin Poe

Larkin Poe have announced details of their new album Venom & Faith, to be released November 9. The Nashville-based sister duo have also announced a headline European tour in support of the new album, starting in London at Islington Assembly Hall on November 21 and taking in dates in Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain. The European dates will follow Larkin Poe’s featured guest performer spot on Keith Urban’s Graffiti U Tour across North America this autumn.

The follow-up to their critically acclaimed second album Peach, which was nominated for a Blues Music Award for Best Emerging Artist Album, Venom & Faith was produced by the band and their long-time engineer Roger Alan Nichols.

In a genre as storied as American roots and soul, Larkin Poe – aka Atlanta, Georgia-born sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell – make a mark all their own with Venom & Faith. Rather than concede to the history of the canon they hold dear or rest on their laurels, Larkin Poe persist and emerge rattling, stomping, and sliding into a modern-day depiction of what roots rock should sound like… another chapter in an everlasting story.

“It’s a celebration of American roots music as translated by two sisters who are playing the blues in a modern age,” says Rebecca about their new album.

Descendants of celebrated US writer Edgar Allen Poe, since forming Larkin Poe in 2010, Rebecca and Megan have proven a formidable duo both in and out of the studio. In 2014, producer T-Bone Burnett enlisted them for Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes, a project that also saw contributions from Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons) Elvis Costello, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), and Rhiannon Giddens. The sisters have performed at Glastonbury Festival twice, and were named ‘Best Discovery Of Glastonbury’ in 2014 by The Observer.

They have opened for and been in the backing band of Elvis Costello and Conor Oberst; and supported the likes of Gary Clark Jr. Rebecca and Megan were also members of the all-star backing band for the 2017 MusiCares Person Of The Year tribute honouring Tom Petty (also organized by Burnett) alongside Jakob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Elle King, Lucinda Williams, Gary Clark Jr., Don Henley, and Randy Newman.

Recorded in Nashville earlier this year in between headline shows, festival dates such as Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, Larkin Poe approached Venom & Faith with fierce independence. From Rebecca’s powerful vocals on “Ain’t Gonna Cry” to Megan’s sultry lap steel on ‘Good And Gone’, the sisters weave their talents into the fabric of their experience and a picture of the American South. ‘Blue Ridge Mountains’ harkens to the sisters’ hometown, “drinking sweet tea every day” with stomping percussion and churning riffs.

Still, the sisters maintain an outlaw mindset in a traditional genre. Unbound by tawdry embellishments, Larkin Poe infuse pop sensibilities into their sound, blending old-school elements of rock and soul with drum samples, hip-hop production values, and resonant lyrics like “California king-sized dreams in a twin bed.” Venom & Faith redefines what it means to make emotionally resonant music while also maintaining boundary-pushing musicality.

Save for two covers (‘Sometimes’ by blues legend Bessie Jones and Skip James’ ‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues’), the rest of the record’s tracks are Larkin Poe originals. Paired with unique production touches like organic percussion sounds — the thumping of dresser drawers, the slamming of back doors, and stomping on hardwood floors — Venom & Faith bleeds Lovell. The sisters once again perform all instruments on the album except on ‘Mississippi’ which enlists the slide stylings of friend and seasoned guitar legend Tyler Bryant.

The album’s title, Venom & Faith, is taken from a lyric on ‘Honey Honey’ and, according to the sisters, is intended to conjure a southern gothic image.

“The title of our last album, Peach, was an homage to our Georgia roots. With this album, we wanted a title that would allude to the duality of our art: gritty guitars offset by gentle vocals; musical moments of both tragedy and joy; the sacred and the profane.”

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: www.larkinpoe.com

‘Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues’ – official audio:

European Tour Dates

Wed 21 November           London, Islington Assembly Hall tickets
Fri 23 November              Berlin, Musik & Frieden tickets
Sun 25 November            Cologne, Luxor tickets
Mon 26 November           Munich, Strom tickets
Tue 27 November            Vienna, Flex tickets
Wed 28 November           Bergamo, Druso tickets
Sat 01 December              Madrid, Cool Stage tickets
Sun 02 December            Barcelona, Razzmatazz 2 tickets

JENNIFER BELL AND WILSON WALKER – …And So To Bedlam (own label JBWW01)

And So To BedlamIt isn’t often that a lutenist will send us a CD but Jennifer Bell did just that. Jennifer is a singer-songwriter and, in addition to lute, she plays 12-string guitar. In partnership with fiddler Wilson Walker and assisted by percussionist Neil Rabjohn she has released her debut album. …And So To Bedlam is a title that amused me when I first saw it.

At first I thought this album might be a bit too romantic for my taste. The first two tracks, ‘Winter’s My Lover’ and ‘Colours Of Harmony’, are quite stately as is quite a lot of the material. Jennifer avoids the feyness of Amazing Blondel and the bawdiness of the mediaeval festhall but brings her expertise in early music to her own songs without compromising either. The third track changes the emphasis. ‘The New Mistletoe Bough’ is a reworking of the old traditional song which is usually held to be an apocryphal story although everyone knows where it happened. Jennifer gives the tale not one but two macabre twists and that’s clever.

‘High Degree’ sets Jennifer’s word to a melody by Thomas Tallis. She solos on lute here and I can’t help but think that even one instrumental piece would have added a nice contrast. ‘The Lincoln Imp’ purports to describe the origin of the gargoyle in Lincoln cathedral and is a really jolly piece while the title track points the finger at the Victorian habit of visiting the local asylum for entertainment. Jennifer describes ‘Ashes In The Rain’ as a miserable song but it is rather lovely in its misery and then we come to my favourite song in the set. I was briefly disappointed to discover that ‘Oh Boy’ isn’t a cover of the Buddy Holly song but is a well-written and witty dialogue loosely based on Jennifer’s childhood. Finally, ‘The Pilgrim’s Song’ is about pilgrim fathers’ hopes and fears on leaving their home in Boston – see what she did there?

…And So To Bedlam is an album that rapidly grew on me. Jennifer Bell is a talented songwriter and although I prefer her narrative songs to the emotional ones – that’s true of me and most songwriters, actually – this is a very satisfying record.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.jenniferbellsongwriter.com

‘And So To Bedlam’:

GREGORY PAGE – A Wild Rose (own label)

A Wild RoseHis mother lead vocalist London’s first all-girl pop band The Beat-Chics and his uncle Tom Jones’s dummer on ‘What’s New Pussycat’, born in North London of Irish-Armenian heritage (but now based in Southern California), Page describes the music on A Wild Rose, his twenty-seventh album in as many years, as Americeltic, a tag underscored by the presence of Uilleann pipes, an influence assimilated from his grandfather, Dave Page, a traditional piper who once recorded for Parlophone.

Co-produced with Robbie Robertson, the album seeks to establish a musical and spiritual connection with a country which, despite his Irish blood, he’s never actually visited, the pipes being juxtaposed with the more American sounds of fiddle, banjo and, featuring Doug Pettibone, pedal steel.

Opening with the suitably lively banjo-led sounds of ‘I’m Alive’ and with numbers rarely exceeding three minutes, it’s a generally mid-tempo or upbeat musical collection, the only slow number coming at the close with the piano-accompanied instrumental ‘Goodnight Jack’.

Placed second in the running order, the title track opening introduces the album’s Irish colours, with Eric Rigler on the pipes, a song that celebrates the meeting and union of two hearts that can readily been also seen as a metaphor for the music itself. That Irish ambience returns for the intro to ‘Dreams To The Rescue’ before giving way to a banjo and fiddle jog.

Country colours provide the musical palette for the easy rolling rhythm of ‘Waiting For The Sun Again’ and, Pettibone to the fore, the playful retro-like break-up waltzer ‘Say Adios’ and the cascading chords of the swing balladry styled ‘The Trouble With Me Is You’, while the swayalong ‘Born With The Shakes Inside’ sounds a more folksy note.

Page’s lived-in voice has a touch of a less raspy, smoother Randy Newman about it that, like the songs, tends to pleasantly wash over you rather than demanding your attention, but this is undeniable well worth a bramble through.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.gregorypage.com

‘Waiting For The Sun Again’ – official:

Seth Lakeman announces new album and tour

Seth Lakeman

Fresh from his whirlwind world tour with rock legend Robert Plant, charismatic singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Seth Lakeman releases his stunning, ninth solo album The Well-Worn Path on October 26th via Cooking Vinyl. The first single will be stand-out, upbeat track ‘Divided We Will Fall’.

The Well-Worn Path was recorded in Seth’s garden studio on Dartmoor in January 2018 on a short break from touring with Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters. It is a return to a no-nonsense, organic, classic folk-rock approach with hints of Fairport Convention, Neil Young, Nick Cave and Billy Bragg. Plus Lakeman’s trademark foot-stomping, fiddle bow-shredding and soaring vocals.

Seth brought in top producer Ben Hillier (Elbow, Blur, Depeche Mode, Doves) and his brilliant, new four-piece band consists of long-time collaborator Ben Nicholls (upright and electric bass), new boys Kit Hawes (electric and acoustic guitar) and Evan Jenkins (drums) and one of the finest female folk voices, Kathryn Roberts (Seth’s sister-in-law).
Constantly exploring and moving forward musically,

Seth says “This ninth CD is quite different from my previous album, with more of a prog-rock approach. My last record was a deliberately understated Americana set, but this one is more rocking.”

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.

Artist’s website: https://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/

‘Divided We Will Fall’:

Tour Dates

Wednesday 14 November       GLOUCESTER Guildhall 
Thursday 15 November         WOLVERHAMPTON Slade Rooms
Friday 16 November           LEEDS Brudenell Social Rooms
Saturday 17 November          HOLMFIRTH Picturedrome
Sunday 18 November         CARDIFF Tramshed
Monday 19 November       LONDON Islington Assembly Hall
Tuesday 20 November         PORTSMOUTH Wedgewood Rooms
Wednesday 21 November       CAMBRIDGE Junction
Thursday 22 November         FROME Cheese & Grain
Friday 23 November           LEAMINGTON SPA Assembly
Saturday 24 November          FALMOUTH Princess Pavilion

YVES LAMBERT TRIO – Tentation (La Prûche Libre PRU2 4818)

TentationYves Lambert’s is a well-known and well-respected name in Québécois traditional circles, as a founding member of La Bottine Souriante, as founder of the Bébert Orchestra, and, since 2010, the driving force behind the Yves Lambert Trio. The trio consists of Yves on accordions (I suspect that the word accordion is used in a more generic sense rather than referring strictly to piano accordion), Jews Harp, harmonica and lead vocals; Tommy Gauthier on violin, foot percussion and vocals; and Olivier Rondeau on guitars, bass and vocals. Their latest CD, Tentation, also features Mark Busic’s harmonium on one track.

The CD’s title is derived from Yves’ fascination with the story of the Temptation of Saint and Anthony, and the sleeve illustrations by Geneviève and Mélissa Chabot are based on an engraving by Martin Schongauer, though I get the impression that Yves is enjoying being tempted by demons far more than Saint Anthony was. Sadly, my 1960s vintage A-level French was of little help to me in understanding the lyrics, so the notes on individual tracks that follows are largely based on Yves’ own notes. However, not being able to follow much of the lyrics didn’t in the least mar my enjoyment of the CD.

  1. ‘La Poule à Jean-Paul’ is a reworking of the earlier hit ‘La Poule à Colin” (Colin’s Chicken)’ inspired by Jean-Paul Guimond.
  2. ‘Ignominie’ is a nineteenth century song that tells the story of a poor family burdened by a drunkard, though the melody is much older.
  3. ‘Suite du Cap Breton & La Deboulade’ features two reels from Cape Breton fiddler Andrea Beaton and a third composed by Tommy Gauthier in a similar style.
  4. ‘Les Diables’ – apparently this medieval song is based on the “Mistrine”, “a celebration where the common folk have fun setting traps for Beezelbub” and is here given a very modern treatment. The devil has the best arrangements as well as the best tunes.
  5. ‘Cousinage & Penchant Pour Ti-Jean’ is described as “A joyful call-and-response song about lawyers in true Québécois style”. Clearly I need to become better acquainted with that style, if not with the lawyers. This song is from the repertoire of the French-Canadian actor and singer Ovila Légaré.
  6. ‘La coquette à Poupa & Sa Suite’ features more Québécois reels. They didn’t quite get me “out of my chair” (not much does unless it’s the offer of a nice red wine), but they certainly got my feet tapping.
  7. ‘Le Lac Rond’ features the harmonium of Mark Busic, who also provided a cleverly understated arrangement building from a simple drone to something more complex.
  8. ‘Adultère & Le Reel du Cocu’ is, I guess from the title, somewhat saucy: in any case, it’s certainly toe-tapper.
  9. ‘Vent d’Irlande’ begins with some attractive, lilting ‘Celtic’ guitar, building into a more band-oriented instrumental. Lovely.
  10. ‘VIP Pour L’enfer’ Yves says: “The Devil comes to earth on the prowl for dishonest folks, in the style of a protest song.” If only the 60s “protest” boom had featured more lively music like this and less lugubrious songs about plastic people and everything being all wrong, man…

Yves notes that “For me, this theme is a nature study. A view of humanity through its strengths and weaknesses. From sacrifice and sin to pleasure and regret, with sacrifice integral to pleasure – plenty of paths to take.

It is in this spirit that I have developed the “happy” concept that will imbue this new album, featuring temptation in all its forms – carnal pleasure, drinking, abuse of power, etc.

Perhaps it’s not going to be a big hit in the Vatican, then. But this combination of muscular vocals, adventurous material, and fine musicianship is certainly going to keep my ears and toes happy for a while. Sadly, by the time you read this, the dates I have for a July 2018 UK tour will mostly or all have passed. So watch out for the next one: I’ll stick my neck out on the strength of this recording to say that their live concerts must be spectacular.

David Harley

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.

Artist’s website: yveslambert.com/en

‘La Poule À Jean-Paul’: