Kaia Kater announces new album Plus Tour Dates

Kaia Kater 2
Photograph by Polina Mourzina

The new album from young African-Canadian roots phenom Kaia Kater couldn’t come at a better time. As a new generation takes the reins, American roots music is needed more than ever to remind us of the troubled pathways of our own history. Born of Afro-Caribbean descent in Québec, Kaia Kater grew up between two worlds: one her family’s deep ties to Canadian folk music in her Toronto home; the other the years she spent learning and studying Appalachian music in West Virginia. Her acclaimed debut album touched on this divide, but her new album, Nine Pin (set for release on September 2nd on Proper Records) delves even further, and casts an unflinching eye at the realities faced by people of colour in North America every day.

Her songs on the new album are fuelled by her rich low tenor vocals, jazz-influenced instrumentation, and beautifully understated banjo, and they’ve got as much in common with Kendrick Lamar right now as they do with Pete Seeger. True to her roots in Appalachia, the title of the album comes from a traditional square dance formation in which a woman stands alone in the middle of a circle of people turning around her. As a double meaning, it’s also one of the pins in bowling that keeps getting knocked down. Surrounded yet alone, constantly in the line of fire, this album speaks beautifully to the seasons of a young woman’s life.

As a new generation of artists like Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, and Dom Flemons are reclaiming the black roots of North American music, Kaia Kater steps into this dialogue with Nine Pin, bringing a powerful new voice to the conversation.

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 Kaia Kater 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.

KAIA KATER REMAINING MAY UK TOUR DATES:
Saturday 20th May – The Met, Bury
Sunday 21st May – The Greystones, Sheffield
Tuesday 23rd May – Green Note, London

Artist’s website: http://www.kaiakater.com/

‘Saint Elizabeth’ live:

AMY McALLISTER – String On String (own label)

StringI’ll state now that anyone who sings ‘Matt Hyland’ is all right with me, especially when that anyone sings it as gorgeously as Amy McAllister does, even though she does omit the bribery verse. Amy is a singer, songwriter, harpist and fiddle player from Antrim and, after many years of touring, String On String is her debut album.

Amy has written three of the songs here, two tunes are borrowed and the rest are traditional, arranged by Amy and producer/instrumentalist Camille Champarnaud who plays just about everything except harp. Other guests are guitarist Eoghan Scott and Jos Kelly who plays piano on ‘Bonny Blue Eyed Nancy’. Everything is taken at a lively pace with the opener, ‘Over The Mountain’ being followed by a sprightly set of jigs

The first of her original songs, ‘Holy Holy’, is an intriguing blend of traditional sounds and modern lyrics – a line like “Plankton light up the Cartagena sea” doesn’t appear often in Irish songs. ‘It’s Been A Year’ is something of a sequel as the man who left her hasn’t yet come back to her and, in fact, is off with someone else while ‘Mi Amor’ describes or imagines his return.

The borrowed tunes are Catriona McKay’s ‘The Swan LK 243’ and ‘O’Carolan’s Concerto’ which every harpist worth his or her salt must play at some time. It’s a superb tune – the sort you would happily have on a loop – and Amy does it full justice

There is a dreamy feel to String On String which I find pleasantly relaxing. Usually my taste runs to something with more of an edge but I’m really taken with Amy and her debut album.

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 AMY McALLISTER – String On String 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]

Artist’s website: http://www.amymcallister.co.uk/

‘Mi Amor’ – official video:

CHIP TAYLOR – A Song I Can Live With (Trainwreck TW057)

A Song I Can Live WithHis fifth album in as many years, and his twenty-first studio recording in total, A Song I Can Live With falls firmly into what Taylor calls his stream-of-consciousness based songwriting, more spoken rather than sung and with rarely more than an acoustic guitar and Goran Grini’s keyboards for backing. I’ve seen him live a couple of times, and the album pretty much reflects what he does on stage, a mix of musings and anecdotes about things he’s done and people he’s known, some slipping into a guitar led melody. This is one of his more personal outings and, as you’d expect from someone’s who’s 77, veined with reflection on times and people past.

He talks about the lyrically sparse opening number, ‘Crazy Girl’, piano joining the guitar, as inspired by the many women he’s sung with over the years, its warmth further mellowed with a horn layering. The temptation of the character in the moody ‘Senorita Falling Down’ may be one of them, but of the many women who’ve been part of his life, his wife (that’s her with him on the cover, from a 1975 photo) is clearly among the most important and she gets her own tribute here with ‘Joan Joan Joan’, a note to tell her to stop worrying about things so much and let him smooth out the problems. You’ll be surprised how a song that talks about eating fish soup and Spanish mackerel can sound so romantic.

She’s there too in the inspiration behind the album closer, ‘Whisper Amen’, a gentle piano-backed benediction for those in need of blessing born from how, with time on her hands after her jewelry store went busy, Joan and some of her friends help youngsters with, among the things, reading problems. That theme of giving back can also be found on ‘Little Angel Wings’, a spoken account about the coach at a local rec center working with seven and eight year-olds as he teaches them as much about life a she does basketball, the track featuring three of Taylor’s grandchildren on flute and backing vocals and his long time guitarist John Plantania on Dobro.

The same New York rec centre, where he works out, is the anchor to ‘Until It Hurts’, a conversational song that references the passing of Bowie, who, he recalls, once lived a few blocks from Taylor’s local bar, and Lou Reed, the latter in reference to how fellow songwriter Eric Andersen told him how Reed had complimented Taylor on ‘Your Name Is On My Lips Again’, a song he’d written for Carrie Rodriguez. Listening to it feels like you’re in that bar sitting opposite Taylor as he tells you the story over a beer or two.

One of the more ‘sung’ tracks, ‘Hey Lou’ may also refer to Reed, but could also be just one of the many different folk Taylor’s met along the way whom he namechecks here, Joan, granddaughter Sammy, American football player John Maguire among them, for the generosity of spirit they have shown and the strength to carry the weight.

Accompanied by delicate piano, the Big Apple’s also the backdrop to ‘New York In Between’, a reflection on those with whom he’d have liked to spent more time, but how he, like many, has a hard time in staying in one place for long. The sentiment carries over into ‘Young Brooks Flow Forever’, except here the focus is on one person, a photograph of a young girl from many years (or ‘tears’ as Taylor puts it) gone by prompting memories of youth and thoughts of mortality.

Another very specific figure inspires the near six-minute ‘Los Alamitos Story’, John Cooper being a horse trainer at the titular southern California racetrack and, with a spoken intro as he recalls watching a horse racing channel, a song about life’s victories and how we deal with them.

Another example of the way life inspires his songs, the almost jaunty ‘Save Your Blues’ and ‘Your Money’ was inspired his daughter’s account of a holiday in Antigua and the upbeat nature of the natives despite their poor economic conditions, their celebration of life served as a contrast to the financial-obsessed attitudes in America.

And so to the title track, one of the last numbers written and, evocative perhaps of Kristofferson, a plaintive songwriter’s hymn as, backed by Grini on pump organ and Greg Leuiz on pedal steel, he throatily sings “Lord I’m asking you a favor.. before I go to bed as I pick up this old guitar.. and let feelings dance in my head let me write a song I can live with… forever amen.” The Lord has been answering Taylor’s prayers for decades.

Mike Davies

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 CHIP TAYLOR – A Song I Can Live With 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.trainwreckrecords.com

‘Senorita Falling Down’ – official video:

TRACK DOGS – Serenity Sessions (Monde Green)

Serenity SessionsFor those who don’t know, Track Dogs are an Anglo-Irish-American acoustic quartet based in Madrid comprising Sheffield’s Howard Brown, Ohio’s Robbie K Jones and, respectively from Co. Wicklow and Dun Laoghaire, Dave Mooney and lead vocalist Garrett Wall, their instrumentation taking in cajon, banjo, ukulele, mandolin and trumpet alongside guitar and piano. Making their debut under their current name (after the New York subway maintenance teams) in 2011, they’ve already got four albums under their belt, Serenity Sessions being titled for the Spanish studio where most of them were recorded.

Given their roots and adopted home, it won’t be too much of a surprise to learn the music draws on American, British, Irish and Latin influences, getting things underway in laid back, jazzy manner with ‘To The End’, Brown’s trumpet taking the spotlight. They then pick up the tempo for the perky, trumpet, double bass and cajon driven ‘So Much Dust’ (a touch of Van Morrison in places), a similar jaunty groove to be found in the sunny ‘Don’t Waste Time’, Wall on ukulele and trumpet augmented by a couple of trombones.

Although they venture into softer territory for the close harmonies of the gentle waltzing cello-caressed ‘Broken Strings’, the overall sound is sunnily upbeat and melodic. ‘Whatever Happens’ touches on calypso colours, they give it some of that ‘Iko Iko’ groove on the handclap/leg slap percussive stomp of ‘The Lights Went Out In Cotos’ and introduce whistle into the banjo led ‘Only Human’ with its stylistic memories of ‘When I’m Dead and Gone’. They also briefly go electric as the wittily named Madrid guitarist El Twanguero joins them for the bluesy rolling vibe of ‘Love Me Like You Used To’.

Their live sets are apparently often strongly bluegrass inclined, and the genre’s served with a couple of numbers here, the train song ‘Orion Sees’ (which oddly reminds me of Toto’s ‘Africa’) and ‘Bon Scott, He Rocked’, a playful affection tribute to the late AC/DC singer. My personal favourite though is the album’s sole cover, closing things up with a lovely stripped back and slowed down, smoothly weary version of the Faces’ rowdy classic ‘Oooh La La’, Brown’s trumpet adding to its mellow ambience. Very much the sound of sunny summer festivals, pitch up a gazebo in the garden, chill the beers and enjoy.

Mike Davies

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 TRACK DOGS – Serenity Sessions 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: www.trackdogsmusic.com

‘To The End’ – official video:

Calum Alex Macmillan releases second solo album

Calum Alex Macmillan

The latest in a venerable family line of Gaelic singers and bards, Calum Alex Macmillan ranks squarely at the forefront of his culture’s contemporary renaissance. With his second solo album Till (a long-awaited successor to 2005’s highly-praised Taladh Nan Cuantan), the Isle of Lewis native and ex-Dàimh vocalist resoundingly reaffirms that status, in material retracing his deepest traditional roots, while simultaneously embracing the present.

Till means ‘return’ in Gaelic, denoting the frequent visits back to his family home in Point, a tradition-rich peninsula off Lewis’s east coast, during which Macmillan – currently based in Inverness – gradually gathered songs and tunes for the album. His primary source was numerous kitchen-table sessions with his father, Harris Tweed weaver John “Seonaidh Beag” Macmillan, himself a celebrated singer, and co-founder of pioneering Gaelic group The Lochies.

“Besides sharing his own songs,” Calum Alex explains, “Dad played me loads of his reel-to-reel tapes from years ago, of other folk singing, old BBC programmes and suchlike. I also discovered that my great-auntie, in the next village, had tapes that her late auntie had made, of singers she knew in the area. I have a lot of singers going back on both sides of my family, and there were a good many others, really quite widely-known singers, living nearby when I was growing up, who sang songs by local bards – some of them written by my ancestors. The ones on the album have so many interconnections for me: with my childhood, my family’s history, with that particular place and that community.”

The album title also resonates aptly in English, with its dual sense of cultivation – tilling the land – and of looking forward (until), reflecting both Macmillan’s heartfelt fealty to centuries-old tradition, and his skill at bringing it to timeless yet modern-day life. Produced by Donald Shaw – of Capercaillie/Celtic Connections fame – Till’s sensitively spacious, freshly imaginative arrangements feature such fellow contemporary folk luminaries as Julie Fowlis, Greg Lawson (GRIT), Ross Martin (Dàimh), James Mackintosh (Shooglenifty), James D. Mackenzie (Breabach) and Manus Lunny (Capercaillie).

As alluded to above, Macmillan has been singing nigh-on since he could talk, developing his talents and repertoire at both local ceilidhs and the annual Mòd network of competitive Gaelic festivals. Winner of the coveted National Mòd Gold Medal at only 18 – he triumphed again in the Traditional contest two years later. His parallel prowess on the bagpipes (as featured in Till’s two instrumental sets), resonates clearly through his vocal phrasing and ornamentation, while a potent expressive blend of gravitas and passion, buoyancy and weight, also reveals the uniquely elemental influence of Gaelic psalm-singing, a tradition still widespread during his childhood. Following Taladh Nan Cuantan’s release, Macmillan’s six years with award-winning Highland band Dàimh further honed this exquisitely distinctive artistry, not least in his masterly handling of accompaniment – artistry that now, on Till, attains marvellously mature, transcendently eloquent fruition.

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 Calum Alex Macmillan – Till 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.calumalexmacmillan.co.uk   

FRONT COUNTRY – Other Love Songs (Organic Records OR16882)

Other Love SongsWhat I really like about Front Country is the way they take the styles of country music, its bones if you like, and take them off somewhere new. Other Love Songs is only their second album and already they sound like they’ve been doing this for years. Take ‘Storms Are On The Ocean’, for example. It’s a traditional song first recorded by the Carter Family and is equally well known as ’10,000 Miles’ or ‘Who’s Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot’. You can imagine it as a country waltz but Front Country add some rock’n’roll. Guitarist/vocalist Jacob Groopman says that the band hopes it both delights and offends. I think they have succeeded – there can be no middle ground.

Unlike their debut album, Sake Of The Sound, which was largely covers, the majority of the songs here are written by lead vocalist/guitarist Melody Walker with two instrumentals by Adam Roszkiewicz and one other cover. The opener, ‘If Something Breaks’, is one of Melody’s best songs – a description of a relationship masquerading as a road movie. “If something breaks, we can fix it on the road” is the key line and if that isn’t a description of a sound relationship, I don’t know what is.

‘Lonesome Town’ is a look back to their country roots with soaring fiddle from Leif Karlstrom but with a hard, urban edge and ‘I Don’t Wanna Die Angry’ and ‘Good Side’ are painful love songs. The former is about a “hard headed girl” who is probably the author of her own romantic misfortunes while the latter comes from someone who is very insecure, pleading with her lover to see her best side. The other cover is David Olney’s ‘Millionaire’, a song of appalling cynicism that is a perfect match for today’s political climate.

Other Love Songs is a remarkably good album packed with fine songs. Enjoy it on your next road trip or curled up in your favourite chair – it will be equally satisfying.

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 FRONT COUNTRY – Other Love Songs 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]

Artists’ website: www.frontcountryband.com

‘If Something Breaks’ live: