ASSEMBLY LANE – Northbound (own label ALCD01)

NorthboundThe Newcastle-based band Assembly Lane are Tom Kimber (mandolin, harmony vocal), Niles Krieger (fiddle, harmony and lead vocals), Bevan Morris (double bass), and Matthew Ord (guitar, lead and harmony vocals). While their CD Northbound – due for release on November 10th 2017 – draws on both British and North American traditional material, the arrangements lean generally towards the North American: indeed, if it were not for the absence of a banjo player, this would be a classic bluegrass line-up, and their sound generally reflects that sensibility. The songs are all traditional, but there are three instrumental tracks credited to Tom Kimber and one to bluegrass mandolin player Bill Monroe.

  1. ‘The Hills Of Mexico’ is one of those slightly morose songs in which the singer regrets a poor choice of occupation: lyrically, it has some lines that resemble ‘The Buffalo Skinners’. Nicely arranged, though sometimes the backing distracts from the vocal. The tune used here resembles the one recorded by Roscoe Holcomb.
  2. ‘Ain’t No More Cane’ is the well-known-prison song: the arrangement of this version, however, is closer to old-timey than to the Texas prison farms. It appears to owe much to the Band’s arrangement, though a little more sprightly and with much the same verses but in a different order. Nice harmonies, too. However, it doesn’t really convey the brutality of the environment from which the song arose.
  3. ‘Mind The Gap’ is an attractive instrumental set with a bluegrass feel, but credited to mandolinist Tom Kimber. Mandolin, fiddle, bass and guitar are all featured prominently in the course of the track.
  4. ‘The Fair Flower Of Northumberland’ is a familiar version of the border ballad (Child 9), but rendered here with a bluegrass-y arrangement that gives it some freshness.
  5. Title track ‘Northbound’ is an attractive tune by Tom Kimber with some impressive unison work from fiddle and mandolin, as well as spotlighting skilful lead work from fiddle, mandolin, and guitar as well as the usual solid basslines from Bevan Morris.
  6. ‘Northbound’ segues almost seamlessly into Kimber’s ‘Fivefold’. While there are sections in ‘Fivefold’ that recall tunes that are staples of Celtic dance music, there’s a fascinating individuality and complexity to the interplay between the instruments over jazzy bass riffs.
  7. ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ uses the tune from Christie’s Traditional Ballad Airs used on Nic Jones’s 1970 recording and many subsequent recordings. It’s a fine tune, and this version does it justice, vocally and instrumentally.
  8. On ‘1845’, sometimes known as ‘The Morning of 1845’, fiddler Niles Krieger gets to take the vocal lead, and does so with credit.
  9. ‘Road To Columbus’ is the classic Bill Monroe tune, and the band does it justice.
  10. ‘Don’t You Hear Jerusalem Mourn?’ – more often heard as ‘Don’t You Hear Jerusalem Moan’ – is particularly notable for the rich acapella harmonies of the opening section, and the bowed bass and fiddle of the next section, but the athletic playing and changes of pace throughout ensure that the listener’s interest never flags. A delightfully upbeat end to the CD.

For me, the best part of this CD is the instrumental work. The press release suggests that the album was essentially recorded live as an ensemble, which perhaps explains its freshness, yet the arrangements are impressively complex: clearly these are excellent musicians who are very comfortable playing together. The vocals are very competent and appropriate to the arrangements, and while there are one or two songs that we have, perhaps, heard a little too much of over the years, all are well performed. This is an album that delivers good music and promises more. And I’d love to hear them live.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.assemblylane.com

‘Mind The Gap’:

PONS AELIUS – Captain Glen’s Comfort (own label PACGC01)

ComfortGreat band name, Pons Aelius. To save you the trouble, the original was a small Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall so the name reflects their musical heritage: mostly Newcastle with more than a dash of Scots. Captain Glen’s Comfort, named for a tune by piper and whistle-blower Jordan Aikin and flautist Sam Partridge, is their debut album after two years on the road and that experience shows.

Alongside Aikin we have Partridge’s wooden flutes which provide softer shades to contrast with the brightness of strings. Tom Kimber plays mandolin and tenor banjo giving the band four different lead instruments. Actually, that should be five since Alasdair Paul’s bouzouki is as much a lead instrument as a rhythm one. Alasdair also plays guitar alongside Bevan Morris’ double bass and Callum Younger’s bodhran and mixed percussion.

The band’s repertoire mixes original compositions, mostly by Aikin, a couple of traditional titles and some shrewd borrowings, notably Mats Edén’s ‘Yrsnö’ which serves to remind us that they are looking outwards not inwards. It’s the variety of music and versatility of playing that singles Pons Aelius out. The title track starts out a soft pastoral flute piece that gradually picks up the pace and it’s followed by the jazz influenced ‘£75 Fine’ and ‘Oh My Doughnuts’, the first part of which is written by Morris and built around a bass figure.

In another band, Aikin’s pipe part on ‘£75 Fine’ might be played on electric guitar and ‘Oh My Doughnuts’ might use boogie-woogie piano. All through the album the emphasis of the melody shifts from instrument to instrument but they are never gimmicky. Listen to ‘Lament For John Morrison Of Assynt House’ in which the pipes are underscored by Morris’s bowed bass and topped off with Partridge’s flutes. My only criticism of the record is that the piece should have been left to stand alone rather than being paired with another tune even though the pipes return to the original theme at the end.

And as that really is my only criticism I think it’s fair to say that Captain Glen’s Comfort is a very fine debut.

Dai Jeffries

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 PONS AELIUS – Captain Glen’s Comfort 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: http://ponsaeliusmusic.com

Captain Glen’s Comfort will be released on 8th September.

‘The Way Is Clear’ – live in the studio:

ELLIOTT MORRIS – Lost & Found (Dominoes Club DCRCD001)

Lost & FoundAn Anglo-Scot, based in Yorkshire, the soft-voiced Elliott Morris plies a mix of folk and blues that highlight his percussive guitar slapping technique on a collection of originals, collaborations and a couple of traditional reworks. He eases listeners into his debut album, Lost And Found, with the pastoral ambience of ‘Lost’, a brief instrumental etched on acoustic and electric guitars that flows seamlessly into the soothingly sung ‘The End Of The World Blues’, introducing a line-up of backing musicians that include core rhythm section of bassist Bevan Morris and drummer Jack Carrack alongside the latter’s father, Paul, on Hammond, Laura-Beth Salter on mandolin, and fiddle players Innes Watson and Mike Vass, as well as showcasing a bluesy electric guitar solo.

Loosely based on the traditional ‘The Bent Sae Brown’, ‘Sixteen Long Miles’ picks up a shuffling traintime rhythm before suddenly shifting to a slide driven blues boogie reading of the traditional ‘I’m A Stranger’, the lyrics taken from ‘The Strands Of Magilligan’ and ‘The American Stranger’.

‘One More Day’ takes the mood down again for acoustic mid-tempo folksy-pop, the laid back atmosphere continuing through the dreamy summery haze of ‘Sirens’ with its slow waltz shanty melody feel subtly underpinned by Carrack’s Hammond.

The second half of the album title, another instrumental, the spectral progressive folk ‘Found’, with Jim Molyneux on grand piano and Elliott’s John Martyn-like guitar opens the second half of proceedings, leading into the bluesy tinged ‘Looking For Something That Isn’t There’ with its nagging title refrain and chugging bass. Accompanied by twin fiddles. Let It Out is another gently rippling acoustic number, Salter harmonising and subtly complementing on mandolin on a song about taking opportunities when they arise.

The album closes with the first of two co-writes, ‘All Comes Back’ a relaxed, slightly jazz-tinged airy love song co-penned by and featuring Lisbee Stainton on harmonies, while bassist Morris shares credits on ‘Friday Night’, a fast-slow uptempo celebration of good company and fine whisky, guitar and fiddle driving things along as he sings how “a wasted night is not a wasted night with friends.”

This may not prove the important breakthrough album to a winder audience, but it will certainly consolidate his current following and serve as a strong stepping stone to the next move forwards.

Mike Davies

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

‘The End Of The World Blues’ – in the studio:

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 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 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: