EMILY MAE WINTERS – Siren Serenade (own label EMW 02)

Siren SerenadeCo-produced by Josienne Clarke’s musical other half, Ben Walker, and Laura Marling knob-twiddler Lauren Deakin-Davies, following on from her Foreign Waters EP (which Walker also produced and which earned her a Folking Awards Rising Star nomination), Siren Serenade is the debut album from Cambridge-based singer-songwriter, poetry enthusiast and sometime theatre critic Emily Mae Winters.

Featuring musical contributions from, among others, Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage as well as both producers, the twelve tracks highlight both her slightly vibrato vocals and the influences in her music, Gillian Welch, Kate Rusby, The Unthanks, Alison Krauss and Sarah Jarosz among them.

There’s a couple of folk chestnuts here, Jenny Lee Ridley’s flute introing a crowd swayalong version of John Connolly’s fisherman’s farewell shanty ‘Fiddler’s Green’ featuring Jack Pout on bodhran, a strummed guitar and fiddle providing the instrumental playout. The second nods to her love of poetry with a haunting drone setting of WB Yeats’ ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’.

The album opens with the ripplingly lovely self-penned reflective ballad ‘Blackberry Lane’ featuring Savage on dobro and nodding to the rootsy Americana in her musical DNA. Maya McCourt who played cello on the EP reprises duties on the gently circling acoustic guitar melody of Anchor, while Winters takes to the piano for ‘As If You Read My Mind’, a soaring vocal pop tinged ballad that, coloured by strings, draws on the classic 60s sound of Carole King but also suggests hints of Joan Baez.

If all these have been relatively sedate, ‘Hook, Line And Sinker’ ups the tempo for, with Savage again on dobro, a catchy slice of strummed rootsy pop, an equally live paced being set on the scurrying Irish-tinted, whistle backed story-song ‘The Ghost Of The Pirate Queen’ showing a more muscular side to her voice.

Mostly though, the mood is quietly bucolic, beautifully rendered on the lullaby-like ‘Miles To Go’ (which, like ‘Anchor’, appeared on the EP) and moody piano and cello ballad ‘The Star’, the former a nod to the poet Robert Frost, the latter to John Keats.

Although her vocals are mesmerising throughout, the remaining two numbers really see them come into the glory. ‘Reprise’, the album closer, is a piano accompanied almost chorale-like stentorian duet with Sanders. And, accompanied only by clicking fingers and hummed vocals, she sings a capella, the title track itself, for me the album stand out, which echoes the Appalachian revivalist feel of ‘Down To The River To Pray’ and ‘Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby’ from Oh Brother Where Art Thou. In Greek mythology, sirens lured sailors on to the rocks with their singing; Winters can wreck me any time.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.emilymaewinters.com

‘Blackberry Lane’ – the Oak Sessions video:

HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE – Before The Sun (Sungrazing Records SGR002)

Before The SunHannah Sanders first solo album, Charms Against Sorrow, was produced by Willows guitarist Ben Savage who also played on the record and shared in the arrangements. With Before The Sun their partnership has been formalised but little else has changed except that the duo went to Toronto to record with David Travers-Smith.

To the mix of traditional songs and covers is now added some originals and the first ‘The Fall (Hang)’ opens the set. I’m still puzzling over this track – it could be a reinterpretation of a murder ballad or a macabre accident like Bob Pegg’s ‘The Hanged Man’. I think I lean towards the former. Next is the first traditional song, ‘Come All Ye Fair & Tender Maids’, a mid-Atlantic version finished with a playground round. ‘What’s It Tonight My Love?’, another original, sees Ben take the first lead vocal. Its description of night in the city puts me in mind of ‘Chimes Of Freedom’ even though there is no resemblance between the two songs, other than the feeling that it leaves you with.

Next come three traditional songs. The first is ‘Lady Margaret’, an English song with variants in the United States. ‘Clayton Boone’ is definitely American and gives Ben another lead vocal and the chance to play Dobro. It is, of course, a variant of ‘Gypsy Davy’. Finally in this section we have the haunting ‘Deep Blue Sea’, a version that doesn’t quite match any set of lyrics that I can find. Hannah and Ben’s version is rather more gentle than the standard text and rather lovely.

Hannah and Ben play guitars, dulcimer and autoharp and are joined by Kevin Breit and Katriona Gilmore on melody instruments with Evan Carson and Jon Thorne on percussion and double bass. For the most part they are used sparingly but they do get to have a blow on Richie Stearns’ ‘Ribbons And Bows’. Joining them on vocals are Jim Causley, Robin Gillan and Jade Rhiannon.

The final track is ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’ sung as a duet as it is written. They slow it down a bit and the singing is sad and wistful where Dylan managed a blend of bitterness and resignation. He knew the back-story, of course, and it all happened fifty years ago but I’d advise anyone tackling the song to read the relevant section of a biography. It’s beautifully performed, as is the whole of the album, but to an old curmudgeon like me it misses something.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: http://www.hannahbenmusic.com/

‘Come All Ye Fair And Tender Maids’ – official video:

HANNAH SANDERS – Charms Against Sorrow (Sungrazing Records SGR001)

CharmsAgainstSorrowHailing from Norwich, Sanders came to folk early, singing with her a capella family group, The Dunns, as a teenager before briefly putting music to one side to travel to America and develop a career as a cultural anthropologist, the album title bearing witness to her study of contemporary witchcraft. Returning to the UK in 2013, she’s resumed her relationship with folk music, releasing an EP last year and now following on with this full-length debut. Accompanied by musicians that include Ben Savage, Evan Carson and Jade Rhiannon from The Willows, bassist Jon Thorne and Anna Scott on cello, not surprisingly, it reflects both British and American influences in what is a predominantly traditional and simply arranged affair recorded in ‘grass roots’ settings that range from an old mill to a Lake District kitchen in order, capturing the intimate atmosphere, not to mention the sounds of fires crackling and birds singing

Sanders has a clear, pure vocal, a slight breathy husk alternating with soaring high notes and, listening to ‘Joshuay’, a sprightly variation on the song variously known as ‘The Prickly Bush’ and ‘Gallows Pole’, it’s hard not to sometimes find yourself thinking of the early Joni Mitchell. She certainly favours Mitchell jazz-folk stylings, both on that and on the ensuing versions of Michael Hurley’s psych-folk number ‘The Werewolf ‘(where her voice also suggests Janis Ian) and Annie Briggs’ ‘Go Your Way’. Elsewhere, the clear air of the Appalachians can be felt on ‘I Gave My Love A Cherry’ and in the Dobro colours of the otherwise softly sung English pastoral ‘I’ll Weave My Love A Garland’ while, in arrangements and vocal, both ‘Bonnie Bunch Of Roses’ (which segues into intricate guitar instrumental ‘Mayflower Stranger’) and ‘Lord Franklin’ are haunted by the ghost of Sandy Denny.

Harking back to her family heritage, there’s an unaccompanied reading of ‘A Sailor’s Life’ (aka ‘Sweet William’) and, her native accent heard in the pronunciations, a wearied, melancholic, cello-hued take on ‘Geordie’. Joined by sister Ruth on backing vocals, she’s slightly sprightlier on folk evergreen ‘Pleasant And Delightful’ (also known as ‘Dawning Of The Day’), though more restrained and tender than the rousing approach usually to be found in folk clubs while the album’s remaining track draws on the inspiration of Nic Jones (and, again, Scott’s cello) for a jazzy blues inflected interpretation of broadside ballad ‘Miles Weatherhill And Sarah Bell’.

It’s early days yet, but, with an extensive tour coming up to promote the album, Sanders could soon find herself numbered among the ranks of today’s contemporary masters of traditional folk.

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: hhttp://www.hannahsandersfolk.com

Hannah sings ‘Lord Franklin’:

Hannah Sanders – debut album

CharmsAgainstSorrow

Charms Against Sorrow is the brand new début album from singer Hannah Sanders. A charismatic and distinctive vocalist, Hannah has already begun attracting critical attention. Reviewing her 2014 EP Fate, FATEA magazine stated “There are shades of Sandy Denny in Hannah’s expert vocal delivery at times… I hear as much akin to early Joni Mitchell, in terms of melodic manipulation and vocal compass (diagnostic features like confident leaps in register), moulding of phrasing and basic style of guitar accompaniment”. Ben Savage (of The Willows) produced the album and it is he who also plays the acutely sympathetic dobro and guitar in support.

What is evident throughout these recordings is Hannah’s deep respect for tradition, something ”that is really important to me”. ”I work from primarily traditional sources”, she says, ”and traditional song was what I first sung with my family, The Dunns, when I was still a teenager”. Subsequently, as an adult, she left music for a time to pursue a career as a cultural anthropologist, becoming a leading expert on contemporary witchcraft and popular culture, and living in Boston, Massachusetts, until returning to the UK in 2013. “When I lived in America”, she continues, ”these songs were invaluable as they kept me anchored to my own history and landscape.”

The instrumentation deployed on the album reflects both the American and British influences on her musical style. These instruments were ”selected because they work in sympathy with the songs, but speak more of the range of my (and Ben’s) influences (both folk and otherwise).” The musicians involved include family (Hannah’s sister Ruth) and friends — Jon Thorne (Lamb, John Smith, Martha Tilston), and three members of The Willows (Ben, Evan and Jade).

From the beautiful ballads of Britain to sweet songs of the American mountains, Hannah brings lightness and depth to her renditions of songs traditional or contemporary. ”My intention” she explains ”is that my delivery and the material itself should convey depth and substance and not just through control or tone (which are esteemed in traditional singing). Instead, for me delivery is about risk – taking risks in arrangement, in vocal elasticity, and in tonal blending. The songs are big enough, and old enough to have anything thrown at them!

”My job is to deliver a real range of mood and feeling, to bring the listener into a place where they can feel more. I sense this about all the songs, but for me it is most notable in ’Go Your Way’, ’I Gave My Love A Cherry’ and Lord Franklin’”.

The recording was made “grass roots”. ”We recorded it, variously, in an old mill in Suffolk (in a massive empty octagonal room with a fire), in my friend (and folk singer/harpist) Nick Hennessey’s little rural Lake District cottage in the heart of winter, and in our (mine and Ben’s) kitchens and living rooms. You can hear various ambient noises: the fire crackling in the background, you can hear birds and the wind – the funny noise before ’A Sailors Life’ is me trudging up the stairs in the mill. We wanted a sense of liveness, of intimacy, to the album.”

The result is a work that bears the intimacy of all these recording spaces yet is the culmination of a musical journey across two continents. ”For me singing is a moment of connection” Hannah says ”to history, to the inner emotion of a song, and, ultimately (if I’m lucky), to the listener”.

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: hannahsandersfolk.com

A live take of ‘Geordie’:

 

The Willows’ new album, Amidst Fiery Skies, released October 6, 2014

AFS CoverRising Cambridge five piece’s striking second album sets alight Anglo-American melting pot

Outstanding young Cambridge band The Willows will release a striking follow up to their debut album this autumn, further enhancing their growing reputation as inspired musicians and innovative songwriters.

Amidst Fiery Skies, due out on October 6, rekindles the flame sparked by their acclaimed first album Beneath this Humble Soil and reveals a mellifluous melding of influences -11 tracks infused with Americana, bluegrass, country and English folk, from foot stompers to ballads.

The Willows are adept at juxtaposing fiery and fragile, tough and tender, lush and light, in an emotive rollercoaster mix, perhaps no more so than on this new release. With shades of Alison Krauss and Union Station, The Waifs, Gillian Welch and Be Good Tanyas, theirs is life affirming, affecting, energised and evocative music.

There is alchemy at work in this smart, sassy line-up with familial links. The band is fronted by Jade Rhiannon with her distinctively husky but tender vocal, aided and abetted by talented multi-instrumental husband Cliff Ward on banjo, guitar, violin and vocals and sister-in-law Prue Ward, a superb, sensitive fiddler. Ben Savage, apparently “found” in the Gumtree free ads, is a dynamic dobro and guitar player while “new kid on the block” is versatile Evan Carson on bodhran, drums and percussion.

Skilfully produced by Sean Lakeman who has masterminded albums for brother Seth Lakeman, The Levellers, Carus Thompson and Rev Hammer as well as his own duo with Kathryn Roberts, this release brings together poetic songs of land and sea from both sides of the Atlantic, mixing original, traditional and covers songs in one beguiling and enigmatic collection.

Feted for their “absolutely gorgeous sound” by Bob Harris and championed by the likes of Mike Harding, The Willows formed four years ago, making waves with their 2013 debut album produced by Stu Hanna, which was nominated for Best Debut Album in the Spiral Awards, run by popular music website Spiral Earth. They clinched the Pride of Cambridge prize in the New Music Generator Awards hosted by radio station Cambridge 105 and along the way have supported the likes of Lau, Seth Lakeman, Peatbog Faeries and Rory McLeod.

“Engaging and sensitive newgrass musicianship – The Willows come across like an English take on Union Station” – fRoots Magazine

“A unit that ply their brio and accomplishment – The Willows know what they are about”Songlines Magazine

The vibrant new album, which also features guest double bassist Ben Nicholls (Seth Lakeman Band/The Full English) delivers vivid narrative songs. The compelling banjo-driven ‘Johnny Robson’ tells of a man who throws himself into the fire after seeing an apparition of his dead wife while ‘The Visitor’ is a fine original inspired by the band’s trip to Robin Hood’s Bay, telling the true epic story of one of the most significant lifeboat rescues in British history.

“Absolutely gorgeous sound” – Bob Harris, BBC Radio 2

“They straddle the worlds between Americana and English roots music in a very deft way; for such a young band they don’t take any prisoners. Fabulous music”- Mike Harding

The CD opens with the winsome ‘Red Sands’ interweaving several story threads – from tales of Welsh great grandparents to those forced to move from the land they love and cherished memories of childhood holidays in Norfolk. There’s an infectiously catchy reading of Bill Staines’ sublime ‘Roseville Fair’ – a song Ben was drawn to after hearing Chris Wood and Andy Cutting’s interpretation while Jade brings her warm honeyed vocal to the poignant Irish ballad ‘Maid of Culmore’ and America’s early Irish immigrants working on the Central Pacific Railroad are the focus of ‘Shores’ on which Cliff takes lead vocal.

The self-penned ‘Our Road’ is mellow and mournful with the fluid fiddle of Prue to the fore while ‘Daughter’ is punchy, pacy and free flowing as it looks through the eyes of a young girl and her evolving relationship with her family as she grows from a cautious child into a wise mother.

Utah Phillips’ ‘Goodnight Loving Trail’, learned from the singing of Sara Grey, tells of an old cowboy who became the cook of the 2000 mile cattle trail from Texas to Wyoming while the achingly tender ‘Outward Bound’ is the result of delving into the treasure trove that is The Full English Digital Archive and alighting upon a manuscript collected by Francis Collinson in Kent. Based on ‘The Faithful Sailor Boy’ it tells of a ship’s safe return to land minus the maiden’s lover and is set to a fresh new melody by the band.

The lush full sound of album closer Wave washes over this classy collection, again featuring soaring violin and reversing a common song theme of yearning to return home to civilisation with a desire to stay away and linger a little longer in isolation.

Amidst Fiery Skies is released on the Elk Records label and distributed by Proper Music.

Artist’s website: www.thewillowsband.co.uk