KATE RUSBY – Angels & Men (Pure PRCD44)

Angels & MenBringing the 25th anniversary of her music career to date to a sparkling finale, Kate Rusby sees the year out with Angels & Men, her fourth Christmas album, again featuring a collection of predominantly South Yorkshire carols, but, this time, produced by husband Damien O’Kane with what she calls “an iridescent twinkle”.

Twinkle it most certainly does on the opening gambit of ‘Hark Hark’, the crispness burnished by the mulled wine warmth of cornet, French horn, Flugel horn and tuba, complemented by euphonium, diatonic accordion and, special guest from the Alison Krauss Band, Ron Block on banjo.

The album marks another first in featuring a Christmas standard in the jaunty form of Sammy Chan and Jule Styne’s festive chestnut, ‘Let It Snow’, given her own Barnsley sheen and, again featuring the brass section, a folksy instrumental interpolation.

Changing the ambience for a more brooding, portentous tone, featuring O’Kane on guitar, Duncan Lyle on moog with Josh Clark on percussion, ‘Paradise’ returns to the South Yorkshire canon for what is, in fact, a variation on ‘Down In Yon Forest’, a Renaissance carol about the nativity based on the Middle English hymn, the ‘Corpus Christi Carol’. And, on the subject of variations, things take a playful turn for ‘The Ivy And The Holly’, a cover of Kipper Family member Chris Sugden’s witty riposte to the evergreen carol as having “no good points between ‘em!” from their 1989 album Arrest These Merry Gentlemen.

Rusby, of course, recorded the original carol on Sweet Bells, her 2008 Christmas album, and the lively ‘Sweet Chiming Bells’ is, in fact a revisiting of the title track in a fuller brass arrangement, basically ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ with an added Yorkshire village chorus and renamed after the tune.

The words written in 1858 by Edward Caswell and set to the tune of ‘Humility’ in 1871 by John Goss, ‘See Amid The Winter Snow’ is also known as ‘Hymn For Christmas Day’, the simple cascading brass arrangement here perfectly capturing the theme of purity.

Featuring a circling guitar pattern from O’Kane with Nick Cooke on accordion although credited as traditional, the first two verses and chorus of ‘Rolling Downward’ are actually taken from the lyrics by 19th century Pennsylvanian hymnalist Robert Lowry with Rusby providing an amendment to the third.

Another familiar festive number arrives ‘Deck The Halls’, Clark laying down the rhythmic bedrock with the brass section and Aaron Jones on bouzouki adding extra joie de vivre to its fa la la la la. Then, things take another contemporary turn with a sleigh bells feel to Richard Thompson’s ‘We’ll Sing Hallelujah’, reclaiming its somewhat depressive and downbeat lyrics about mortality and investing it with a jubilant feel.

Introduced by a sample her young daughter Daisy saying banjo over and over, the light-hearted ‘Santa Never Brings Me A Banjo’ is another cover, this time from Canadian singer-songwriter David Myles, taken at a more measured tempo and featuring Block again on banjo, this time joined by Sierra Hull on mandolin.

The album ends with two Rusby originals. Clocking at just under six minutes, the slow waltzing ‘Let The Bells Ring’ is a bittersweet mingling of sadness at the passing of the year and the hope of the one beginning, Anton Davis on piano as it gathers to a swelling orchestral brass crescendo. The final track reprises Barnsley’s very own Yorkshire tea-drinking super-hero first featured on last year’s Life In A Paper Boat, returning for ‘Big Brave Bill Saves Christmas’ as he variously melts Sid the bad snowman with a pot of tea, saves Daisy and sister Phoebe from the thin ice over the lake and digs Santa out of a Lapland snowdrift, bringing it all to a climax with military drums and a flourish of brass. And, in good super-hero movie tradition, stay on for that extra little bonus after the final note. To borrow the name of well-known dessert, as the sleeve photo suggests, this is an Angel Delight.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click below 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.

Artist’s website: www.katerusby.com

‘Sweet Bells’ – live:

Old Blind Dogs announce new album

 

Old Blind Dogs

Old Blind Dogs are back  with a new record and a new line up.

Original member, Jonny Hardie (Fiddle / Vocals) is joined by long term partners Aaron Jones (Bouzouki / Vocals), Ali Hutton (Pipes / Whistles) and new percussion powerhouse Donald Hay.

In their twenty five year history this is The Dogs’ thirteenth release and their first in six years. Back to their best with a recording capturing the infectious energy of their live show, Room With A View has excitement, beauty and their trademark powerful vocals.

A Scottish band that takes their historical ties seriously, Old Blind Dogs’ new recording captures parts of a tradition that goes back a long way. Great story telling and timeless tunes made for the ups and downs of life … and dancing!

The Dogs have spent a lot of time touring in America and opening track ‘Bunker Hill’ is a perfect example of tunes travelling from one country to another, adapting to their surroundings as they go.

Music by brilliant current tune writers sits seamlessly with tunes from days gone by, from ‘Ali’s Cairo Day’ and Alasdair White’s brand new ‘An Iuchair’ to Breton gavottes and old Scottish pipe reels. Aaron was interested in singing songs from where he lives so there are two from Lionel McLelland, a great poet from Moffat in Dumfries and Galloway, the enchanting ‘Earl O March’s Daughter’ and the dark tale of ‘Sawney Bean’.

Jonny was fascinated with the Orcadian history of The Maid of Norway, so ‘A Ring On Her Hand’ by Saltfishforty’s Brian Cromarty has been given the Old Blind Dogs pounding groove treatment.

Recorded and mixed at Carrier Waves Studio in Glasgow by Andrea Gobbi. This was a genuinely collaborative and enjoyable process for everyone involved. We’re looking forward to the next chapter in this influential band’s long history.

Old Blind Dogs will be touring the UK in April / May 2017, the USA in September / October 2017 and Germany in November 2017.

Artists’ website: www.oldblinddogs.co.uk

Old Blind Dogs live at this year’s Celtic Connections:

SIOBHAN MILLER – Strata (Songprint Records SPR003CD)

StrataScotland is currently blessed with a crop of superb young female singers and Siobhan Miller is right up there in the top section of that list. Although still a young lady, she has been prominent on the folk scene for many years, appearing at clubs, concerts, festivals and regularly on television. She deserves it! Her father before her was a product of the Rutherglen Academy Ballads Club run by folklorist and author of the Scottish Folk Singer and 101 Scottish Songs! Norman Buchan. Her dad, Brian Miller, was only a year behind me in that school and the grounding we got there set us and our families up for a career in folk music. It is now in our blood!

Strangely enough, I can identify her father’s influence in Siobhan’s choice of material for this CD…although more than capable of it, as heard in the final track – Andy M Stewart’s ‘The Ramblin’ Rover’, Siobhan does not try and ram Scottishness down your throat. Some of her tracks have almost an English sound to them. Possibly only people with fifty plus years involved in folk music will understand what I mean by that.

Strata is a fabulous CD that I will listen to over and over again, and that is due, simply, to Siobhan’s beautiful singing. There is no overstretching, no screeching and no overdoing the grace notes – she just sings, beautifully! She has been clever in choosing a section of songs for the CD that we all know, and then making them her own. One of the first songs I ever learned was ‘The Unquiet Grace’ and I thought I maybe didn’t need to ever hear it again. However, Siobhan’s version is superb and emphasises just what a great song it is.

I cannot give the production full marks. It is generally well produced but the over-prominent bass could have ruined it all for me, especially in the first couple of tracks. It is interesting to note that the producer of the album is also the bass player on the album!

Possibly, Siobhan could have been a bit more adventurous in her song selection because she has such a wide repertoire of songs that I have heard her sing. Whatever, she has chosen eleven great songs and you will love them all. She does emphasise that the song selection process “is the culmination and an illustration of her musical journey to date”. She has long been keen to record these songs as a tribute to her many influences including Sheila Stewart, Dick Gaughan, Gordeanna McCulloch, Rod Paterson and her father. She includes tracks from Bob Dylan and Ed Pickford.

My favourite Siobhan is when she is getting suck into a song with great gusto. With the exception of the final track, Siobhan’s voice on the CD is generally more soft and throaty. It reminds me of Kate Rusby and that does disappoint me a bit. A star should never remind me of another singer, it should be the other way around. Still, her singing is still great. Just imagine how great I think she is on her up-beat, get stuck in there girl, stuff.

She is supported by a fabulous group of musicians including Aaron Jones, Phil Cunningham, Kris Drever, Aiden O’Rourke and many more. My final assessment – really great album. Would I want Strata in my collection? Of course, I would go out and buy it.

Fraser Bruce

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Siobhan Miller 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.siobhanmiller.com

‘Bonny Light Horseman’ – live with her band:

 

Siobhan Miller – single, album and tour dates

Siobhan Miller

As a taster for the forthcoming album Strata, Siobhan Miller’s lovely, new single ‘One Too Many Mornings’ is released today.

As well as Siobhan’s wonderful vocals, the single features Aaron Jones and Kris Drever (guitar), Tom Gibbs (piano), Euan Burton (bass) and Jack Smedley (viola) This interpretation of Bob Dylan’s classic song also features vocals and drums, from Admiral Fallow frontman Louis Abbott.

A two-time winner of Scots Singer of the Year, Siobhan Miller is widely regarded as one of the foremost vocalists in Scotland. Daughter of folk musician Brian Miller and from a musical household her new album Strata sees her looking back to the songs she grew up around and that influenced her musical life. Refreshing these songs and recording them for the first time, she is joined by some of Scotland’s finest musicians including Kris Drever and Aidan O’Rourke, from Lau, and Phil Cunningham.

In support of the forthcoming album, (Due out in February, 2017) Siobhan will be touring the UK during February and March, preceded by a launch date at Celtic Connections.

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

Listen to the song:

MAÍRÍ MACINNES – Gràs (Puffin Recordings PUFFIN01CD)

MAÍRÍ MACINNESI’m fortunate in that I get to hear albums of Gaelic song that I wouldn’t otherwise know about – it’s not a major topic of conversation here in Hampshire – but rarely one as splendidly varied as Gràs, or Grace to render its title into Béarla.

This is an album that has everything from puirt à beul with silly titles like ‘Big Wellies On My Little Feet’ through love songs, a waulking song and a very old Runrig cover (‘Tillidh Mi’) to the beautiful setting of an old Gaelic prayer that is the title track. Maírí is joined on vocals by Karen Matheson and Paul McCallum and the trio of Hamish Napier, Aaron Jones and James Mackintosh. The traditional is mostly unaccompanied and the band does enough to update it without overwhelming the essential spirit. A very special track is ‘Meórachadh’ which begins with an archive recording of Maírí’s great uncle, Angus John MacMillan, before Maírí and the band join in to swell and enhance the sound. I find it hard to think of 1972 as “archive” but it is over forty years old!

Gràs is a beautiful, spiritual album leavened with fun songs like ‘Fealla Dhà’ to ensure you don’t drift off completely into a contented reverie. It really is splendid.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to download a copy of the track or just listen to snippet of it then click on the banner link below 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.

A taster of the album launch at Celtic Connections 2015: