DARDEN SMITH – Everything (Compass 746812)

EverythingAfter the release of 2013’s Love Calling, his fourteenth album in thirty years, the Austin-based singer-songwriter considered calling it a day, unsure he had anything left worth saying or that anyone was even listening. Instead, he turned to exploring creative avenues outside of the traditional music business, writing an as yet unpublished book on artists’ perspectives on work, doing songwriting workshops and helping put together a non-profit group called Song-Writing-With-Soldiers, a program to bring professional songwriters and veterans together to write songs about combat and returning home.

This, in tandem with growing older and getting sick of the cynicism of those in power and feeling the need for compassion for strangers, sent him back to reconsider material he’d written over the past five years, both by himself and in collaboration with the likes of Bruce Robison and Matreca Berg. Narrowing the total down to twelve, he recruited a bunch of his favourite musicians, among them bassist Roscoe Beck, guitarist Charlie Sexton and the legendary David Mansfield and, with Beth Nielsen Chapman among those providing harmonies, went back into the studio, persuaded that, yes, he did have something to say and that hopefully someone out there might need to hear it, even if it only changed one person’s day for the better.

Everything is the result, and the self-reflection that went into its genesis can he heard on the lazing lope of the Radney Foster co-penned ‘Soul Searching’ as he sings about “trying to find where I belong” and “what I want to leave behind me when I’m gone”, that contemplation of legacy also to be found on the Simon-esque title track about making the most of life and “when I’m gone here’s a song I hope the angels sing.”

It’s upbeat tone is reflected in many of the songs, notable cases in point would be the repeated piano riff opener. ‘Blessings’. (“just remember that you make a difference and the world is better off that you are here”) and the celebration of individuality in the acoustic rippling ‘Against The Grain’.

Co-written with Berg, ‘Firefly’ is a love song with a classic Jackson Browne flavour while thoughts of mortality inform ‘I Love You, Goodbye’, another song of the heart, this time informed by a friend’s passing, about remembering to take the time to let people know how you feel while you still can.

A timely song about the need for human kindness, ‘Love Will Win The War’ is, Mansfield on mandolin, a strummed folksy march beat with a crowd friendly chorus of ‘hate may win a battle, love will win the war.”

Elsewhere ‘Carousel’, a gently waltzing reflection on a past relationship co-written with Robison, features Kelly Willis on harmonies, album closer ‘Can You See The Moon’ has a late night blues vibe while, another Foster co-write, ‘Forever’ reps the album’s only glimpse of hopelessness and despair, telling of a woman walking out of an abusive marriage and, quite possibly, walking into the water to drown , though it’s equally possible to see it as a cleansing and rebirth before she starts a new life.

Smith says he set out to make an album that brings people together, an affirmation in the face of a world that seeks to them apart. Everything is a whole lotta love.

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 DARDEN SMITH – Everything 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.dardensmith.com

‘Everything’ live:

MIRANDA LEE RICHARDS – Existential Beast (Invisible Hands IHCD74)

Existential BeastA quick follow-up to last year’s Echoes Of The Dreamtime finds the San Franciscan native and erstwhile Brian Jonestown Massacre member in often dreamy cosmic country mood, opening Existential Beast with the pedal steel laced gentleness of ‘Ashes and Seeds’ before getting a little spikier on the urgently flurrying rhythms and driving drums of the echoey sung ‘The Wildwood’ where folk and western colours come together.

It’s one of only two up-tempo numbers, the tranquil mood restored with ‘Lucid I Would Dream’, albeit with darker shadows to its woodwind spooked feel while the gathering sways of ‘Golden Gate’ recall the floaty psychedelic swirls of Laurel Canyon’s more lysergic moments.

Predominantly a capella with layered vocal harmonies, sweetly sung with just a hint of cobwebs, ‘Back To The Source’ is another folk influenced number as is the acoustic fingerpicked ‘Autumn Sun’ which, embellished with strings, brings together the pastoral quality of Nick Drake and the open skies of early Judy Collins.

The title cut is a languid six-minute affair with tasty electric guitar noodling and jazzy-blues solo midway while, by way of distinct contrast, the plucked strings and troubadour guitar styled ‘Oh Raven’ has a strong medieval folk quality and, the second of the more urgent tracks, ‘On The Outside of Heaven’ is a driving 70s rock radio number with circling guitars. It ends in epic form with the near twelve-minute traditional folk ballad styled ‘Another World’, adorned with acoustic guitar and subtle strings, its lyrics fully encapsulating the album’s political concerns about a divided world as its gently flows to its string section play-out. Lovely stuff.

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 MIRANDA LEE RICHARDS – Existential Beast 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]

ORDER – [VINYL]

Artist’s website: www.mirandaleerichards.com

‘Colours So Fine’ – official video:

German-Celtic band Cara – first UK tour dates

Cara

Born fourteen years ago of Germany’s longstanding love affair with Celtic music, Cara’s line-up features four of that country’s finest traditional musicians, together with Scottish singer-songwriter and pianist Kim Edgar, delivering an innovative blend of old and new material with traditional and folk-pop stylings, fronted by twin lead vocals.

Now considered to be one of the most sought after bands within Germany and across mainland Europe, Cara are pleased to be heading to England to promote their fifth studio album, Yet We Sing, where they continue to perform predominantly self-written material, with an international line-up and reputation.

The German-Scottish quintet released Yet We Sing in 2016, with extensive touring in Germany, and a Scottish tour taking in Celtic Connections (Glasgow), Eden Court, Inverness, Dunfermline’s Carnegie Hall and Edinburgh’s Queens Hall.

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 Cara – Yet We Sing 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: https://www.cara-music.com/index.php/en/

Tour Dates

  • Wednesday 21st June 2017 (quintet) SOUTHAMPTON

Chapel Sessions, St. Edward‘s Church, Grange Road, Netley SO31 5FF
7.30 pm, Tickets £14.50, Box Ofce: 07702 980 677

  • Thursday 22nd June 2017 (quintet) BURY

The Met, Market Street, Bury, Greater Manchester BL9 0BW
8 pm, Tickets £15, Box Office: 0161 761 2216

  • Friday 23rd June 2017 (quintet) CANTERBURY

Gulbenkian, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NB
7.30 pm (with Emily Watts) Tickets £15 / Students £10, Box Office: 01227 769 075

  • Saturday 24th June 2017 (quartet) CAMBRIDGE

St. Andrew’s Church, Station Rd, Swavesey, Cambridge CB24 4QJ
7.30 pm, Tickets £12 adults / £6 children, Box Office: 01954 230 019

  • Sunday 25th June 2017 (quartet) MILTON KEYNES

The Stables, Stockwell Lane, Wavendon, Milton Keynes MK17 8LU
8 pm, Tickets £17.50, Box Office: 01908 280 800

  • Monday 26th June 2017 (quartet) OXFORDSHIRE

Nettlebed Village Club, High Street, Nettlebed, nr Henley on Thames RG9 5DD
8 pm, Tickets £14.00 advance / £15 door, Box Office: 01628 636 620 (10 am – 9 pm)

The Cara sound is shaped and defned by the two charismatic singers and songwriters, Gudrun Walther (Germany) and Kim Edgar (Scotland). Yet We Sing deals with the “hard stuff’ – love, death, religion, war and hope – drawing the listener near. The album also captures the live energy that has earned Cara their enthusiastic fanbase and their reputation within the folk scene. Energising, emotive and engaging, Cara aim to connect directly with the listener.

Winners of two Irish Music Awards, “Best New Irish Artist” 2010 and “Top Group” 2011, Cara have toured the United States seven times, playing the main stages at Milwaukee Irish Fest 2009, Kansas, City Irish Festival 2009 and 2010, and Dublin Irish Fest 2014.

The band also enjoy performing in Ireland: in October 2014 they were invited to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the famous Cork Folk Festival alongside such luminaries as Mozaik, Dick Gaughan, and We Banjo 3. They tour on a regular basis in Scotland, England, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Germany.

‘Yet We Sing’ – official video:

Elliott Morris announces debut album

Elliott Morris

Lost And Found is the debut album from singer/songwriter and guitarist Elliott Morris. Recorded at Caribou Studios, Scotland and produced by Mattie Foulds, the album is a melting pot of folk, rock, blues and country. Blending progressive, contemporary ingredients with still vibrant British folk and roots traditions, this is folk music for the 21st century.

The album showcases Elliott’s expert percussive acoustic guitar playing, swooping and soulful electric solos, heartfelt lyrics and strong, honest vocals.

And he’s put together an all-star ensemble. Playing alongside are Paul Carrack (Ace, Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics, Eric Clapton) on Hammond organ, Paul’s son Jack Carrack on drums, Innes Watson (Treacherous Orchestra) and Mike Vass (PRS Scots Trad Composer of the Year, SAY Award Nominee) on fiddles/strings, Laura-Beth Salter (The Shee) on mandolin and vocals, Lisbee Stainton (Seth Lakeman Band) on guitar and vocals, Jim Molyneux (4Square) on piano and Fender Rhodes, Alan Thomson (The John Martyn Band) on fretless bass and Elliott’s brother Bevan Morris (Dallahan, Pons Aelius) on double and electric bass.

Music blog WriteWyattUK proclaimed that Elliott Morris “redefines folk…with a little John Martyn influence delivered in Seth Lakeman style” and BBC 6Music’s Tom Robinson described him as “absurdly talented”.

Lost And Found is released both on CD and on iTunes worldwide on 16th June 2017. Elliott plays a special launch gig at Cecil Sharp House in London on 21st June, and at Café Portico in Lincoln on 30th June.

With hundreds of gigs behind him – and a coveted Danny Kyle Award from Celtic Connections 2013 – Elliott Morris has a formidable reputation as one of the hardest-working and most sought-after young artists on the acoustic scene.

The singer-songwriter, featured in Acoustic magazine as “The Next Big Thing”, taps the strings and beats the guitar’s body to create an intricate spectacle, together with an original and unique sound integral to his songs.

Half English, half Scottish and raised in Wales and Lincolnshire, Elliott is continuing this journey by means of his almost constant touring schedule. He plays across the British Isles, from Orkney to Plymouth, Boston to Llangrannog, Belfast to Clonakilty.

Elliott’s original compositions marry intricate guitar lines with heartfelt, honest vocals and clever wordplay, combining elements of folk, roots, jazz and country, all the time embracing the traditional and the contemporary.

Elliott has honed his craft on the road, regularly clocking up 120+ gigs a year. He has headlined in Germany, Holland, Ireland and Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, as well as performing at major festivals such as Cambridge Folk Festival, Hop Farm, Towersey Festival, The London Acoustic Guitar Show and the Ullapool Guitar Festival. He scooped a prestigious Danny Kyle Award at Celtic Connections in Glasgow, and last year BBC Alba broadcast a duo performance with Dougie Maclean at Perthshire Amber.

Elliott Morris twice toured the UK opening for Paul Carrack (Squeeze, Mike + The Mechanics, Ace, Eric Clapton), taking in over fifty major venues including a show at The London Palladium.

He has also supported a seemingly endless list of other respected acts, among them Frank Turner, Andy McKee, Seth Lakeman, Lau, Big Country, The Levellers, Ed Sheeran, Cara Dillon and Eddi Reader. But now Elliott moves centre stage, the spotlight focused on him.

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 Elliott Morris – Lost And Found 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: www.elliottmorris.co.uk

‘Sirens’ and Elliott’s tour video:

THE AUGUST LIST – Ramshackle Tabernacle (Ubiquity Project Records)

Ramshackle TabernacleSifting through a batch of CDs recently, one stood out from the rest as quite different and unexpected. It turned out to be Ramshackle Tabernacle by The August List.

Unfamiliar with The August List, I did my usual online trawl to find out more. Their first album, 2014’s O Hinterland, was well-received, even earning them a comparison to The White Stripes. The reason for that might be evident in their stripped-back, low-fi driving blues songs, like ‘Forty-Rod of Lightnin’’ on that album, but it would appear that they’ve now moved on a bit.

Ramshackle Tabernacle presents a much fuller sound that is more exploratory and makes use of the recording studio to diversify their sound. Less homespun rawness and more crafted, there’s a distinctly band-like feel to it.

Starting in with an exotic jumble of disorienting chants, Old Rip launches into a slow, menacing blues, led by Martin Child’s slightly processed vocals, which only add to a sense of dislocation. One of the album’s recurring themes is absence – whether through sleep like Rip Van Winkle, social withdrawal like James Lucas, or in the sad tale of disillusioned songwriter Connie Converse who simply upped and disappeared. So, it’s no wonder that the band has worked on creating sympathetic sonic atmospheres with scratchily tense violins, jangly guitars and, yes, stylophone solos.

It’s hard to believe that, apparently, initially Kerraleigh Child didn’t think she could sing. Yet her voice is mesmerising: by turns waifish or banshee – somewhere between Hope Sandoval’s dazed breathiness and PJ Harvey at her most primal. The dreamy ‘Where Has All The Fire Gone?’ even sounds a bit like Mazzy Star, with its softly fuzzy mixing and ethereal vocal. Contrast that with the feral wail over a wall of guitar at the end of ‘Wilderness’, a love song of an exceptional kind that can send shivers up the spine.

‘Palace In The Rock’ treads an indie-ish path, but there’s a more traditional alt.country sound in the tight harmonies and well-balanced voices of ‘I Am The Teeth’, a song with its strangely predatory lyric of ‘I am the teeth, and you are the feast’.

Closing with ‘The Ballad Of James Lucas And Betty Dupree’, with its rousing and even – hush, gentle listener – slightly sweary crowd-chorus, the fade-out laughter lets us know it’s all been good fun really. Hasn’t it?

Even at their most seductive melodically, there’s a sense of something dark about the lyrics and arrangements that leaves a vague, unsettling feeling that piques my interest. Americana is not always my thing, but this pair have created an original sound that’s just off-beat enough to reel me in and keep me hooked.

Su O’Brien

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 THE AUGUST LIST – Ramshackle Tabernacle 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 website: https://www.facebook.com/theaugustlistmusic/

‘Old Rip’ – official video:

THEA GILMORE – The Counterweight (Cooking Vinyl COOKCD668)

CounterweightThea Gilmore described herself like this “Some people write me off as some waily folky woman……Other people think I’m rock. In terms of an image, if you want to be cold and corporate about it, it’s hard to decide who my target market is. There isn’t one. There is no box that I can be put in” She has been described by Uncut magazine as “The best British singer-songwriter of the last ten years – and then some”. Her new album, The Counterweight is released on June 2nd.

Is it folk? Even with my fairly eclectic and inclusive categorization of folk, probably not. Is it Americana? There are shadows of Americana but Gilmore is very much a UK songwriter and they are no more than shadows. Does it matter? Not at all, this is just a damned good album from someone who can’t be put in a box.

The album has tracks which are more electric than some of Gilmore’s previous. The single ‘New’ premiered on Ken Bruce’s show and ‘Sounds Good to Me’ has been getting some airplay on Radio 2. The opening track ‘Fall Together’ has a great vocal set against a simple piano before the wider band joins in, initially gently and then strongly – the kind of territory inhabited by Annie Lennox at her best (Listen also to ‘Slow Fade to Black’ for an equally lovely vocal.) It’s a stunning opener to the album and you’d normally want to link to it after the review – but there’s an even better song.

The album was recorded during spring and summer 2016 and in between the opening and closing tracks are a number that are simultaneously timeless and linked to the specifics of last summer. ‘Reconcile’ – with a gem of a line about needing “a mortgage for your coffee”, references to instagram, and “a road ahead/there’s a watershed” – was developed as Britain voted to leave the EU; ‘Johnny Gets A Gun’ recorded on June 16th shortly after the hate crime of the Orlando nightclub shooting. The light-hearted and self-knowing optimism of ‘Another Damn Love Song’ “How did I get here/How did I find you/How did a skeptic go so wrong” with its up tempo chorus. ‘Here’s to You’ is the penultimate song, another element of redressing the balance from the blows of 2016 “Raise a glass to alchemy/another one to unity/….there’s always strength in numbers/but there’s divinity in two/here’s to lovers and here’s to you

‘The War’ provides the album with its title of The Counterweight. As Gilmore reflected on the events of the summer, they became the inspiration for this final track. Have a look at the video below on YouTube and you’ll see the references to Jo Cox MP, murdered on June 16th. But the war “isn’t out there” – the song is also about what’s inside us and what we can do ourselves.

Take a look at that box on your desk

Take a look at that heart in your chest
Take a look at those thoughts in your head
The war’s already here……….
It’s so easy to hide
Behind imagined Ironsides
Nostalgic and misty eyed
When the wolf’s at the door
In the time of hate
Throw down the counterweight
Tear up that flag and say
You’re worthy of more

Gilmore’s website notes: “The track is also possibly the mission statement of the album, a call-to-arms on the negativity and bleakness of the 2017 social terrain mesmerized by fake news and futility. The Counterweight tries to be exactly that. A redressing of the balance, a tool of pressure, an exertion of opposite force and as such, a flag of hope.”

The musical style may not be what we’ve traditionally seen as folk, but the themes are – and our times are changing.

Mike Wistow

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 THEA GILMORE – The Counterweight 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]

ORDER – [VINYL]

Artist’s website: https://theagilmore.net

‘Sounds Good To Me’ – official video: