CHRIS WOOD – So Much To Defend (RUF RUFCD014)

So Much To DefendChris Wood’s fifth solo album comes across as a model of restraint on first hearing but first hearings can be deceptive. So Much To Defend is an album made up in part of little lives – people who are not even just about managing. There are bigger stories, too, but even these are told in small, personal ways.

The opening title track is a series of vignettes, snapshots of urban life. Some of the characters – Sharon, Maureen and Victoria, for example – are doing all right in their own terms while Bella, Terry and Thomas are struggling with zero-hours contracts, redundancy and unemployment. But Abigail likes her tuna steak “ever so slightly charred” and Svetlana works the night. Everyone has so much to defend even when they have almost nothing. Yes, it is actually a big story.

‘This Love Won’t Let You Fail’ is song for everyone leaving home and the love in question is  that of the mothers who stand and watch them go, worrying all the time. Chris describes ‘Only A Friendly’ as a love song but it’s an oddly tawdry one as Ebbsfleet United lose again. Both are universal stories told in small personal ways.

‘The Flail’ and a setting of Housman’s ‘1887’ are concerned with history. The flail represents the politicians, the police and the media who feed us their version of history; think Hillsborough. Here Chris reminds us to remember what really happened. The latter is a rather acid meditation on monarchy – 1887 was Victoria’s golden jubilee and Housman remembers the men who died to save the queen. I’m still making up my mind about ‘Strange Cadence’ and ‘The Shallow End’. They both seem to be warning us of the siren voices that tell us to be good little consumers and toe the official line but all four of these songs encourage us to question everything we’re told. With ‘More Fool Me’, Chris looks at his own career at the time when there is less money in the music business than when he started and the final ‘You May Stand Mute’ is another of his quasi-hymn tunes with a message that I’m still deciphering.

So Much To Defend is sometimes stark; just voice and one or two instruments, mostly guitars with occasional banjo so Martin Butler’s piano is the only instrument on ‘1887’ although in contrast, Justin Mitchell adds a haunting flugelhorn to ‘Strange Cadence’ and Gary Walsh’s Hammond organ provides another texture to ‘This Love Won’t Let You Fail’. The songs can stand on their own merits and when it comes to live performances Chris and his guitar are all they will need.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://chriswoodmusic.co.uk/

Chris has just sent us this video for ‘This Love Won’t Let You Fail’:

And here’s an old favourite live at the BBC Folk Awards:

THE SHEE – Continuum (Shee Records SHEE4)

ContinuumThe concept behind Continuum, supported by Celtic Connections, was to celebrate their tenth anniversary by having each of them commission a musician of their choice to write a piece of music for the album. That’s only half the story, of course, for the band had then to arrange the music for six players and write some pieces to bind the whole thing together.

The opening song is ‘From The Shadows’ by Laura-Beth Salter. It’s a powerful call to arms to … ah, well. It could be a feminist piece, the logical first thought, but it could be a warning to the rich and powerful that the poor and oppressed aren’t going to take it any more. Next come two atmospheric pieces by Kathryn Tickell; one evoking the borders and the other with a Scandinavian feel. The playing, needless to say, is exquisite.

Rachel Newton commissioned Karine Polwart and the result is ‘Song For Mary’. The Mary in question is Mary Brooksbank, composer of ‘The Jute Mill Song’ and an archive recording of one verse forms the introduction. We’re not told that it’s Mary herself but I’d like to think it is. Amy Thatcher naturally turned to a box-player and who better than Andy Cutting? Olivia Ross’ choice was Chris Wood who shares the credit for ‘Cradle Song’ with lyricist Hugh Lupton. The Shee turns what could be a pretty little song into something quite strange so you’re not sure whether this a mother singing to her baby from the safety of a warm fireside or struggling home from the storm outside.

Laura-Beth, Amy and Shona Mooney provide the next two tune sets with Shona responsible for the wonderfully titled ‘The Vampire Rabbit Of Newcastle’. Olivia wrote ‘Precious Tears’, a song for children – possibly the band members’ own – and Brian Finnegan wrote a trio of tunes with Lillias- Kinsman-Blake’s flute and a journey through India in mind. Finally, we have Martin Simpson’s song for his mother. ‘Dance With Me’ might be seen as the companion-piece to ‘Never Any Good’. Laura-Beth sings it and plays mandolin where Martin would use guitar and the band play what is almost an orchestral accompaniment.

Continuum is a monument to musical collaboration and the exchange of ideas but more than that, it is a tribute to six exceptionally talented musicians.

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 THE SHEE – Continuum 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.

Artists’ website: https://theshee.com/

‘Ower Late For The Lasses/Sheepolska’ and more with Kathryn Tickell live at Celtic Connections 2016:

Top composers join The Shee to celebrate ten years

Top composers join The Shee to celebrate ten years
Photograph by David Boni

Multi instrumentalists and festival favourites, The Shee, have reached the ten-year milestone in their action-packed career, and intend to celebrate by creating a brand new body of original work.

Following three albums and a hectic touring schedule, the six members of the band have each approached a composer hero to write an original piece of music ahead of a prestigious premiere at Celtic Connections 2016.

The composers will then join The Shee on stage to introduce their piece and perform with the band as each is performed for the first time.

The composers are, in alphabetical order:

Andy Cutting
Brian Finnegan
Karine Polwart
Martin Simpson
Kathryn Tickell
Chris Wood   

The Shee’s accordionist, Amy Thatcher, said: ‘We can’t quite believe our luck: we’re getting some of the most influential musicians and composers on the current British folk scene to write original music for us. It’s going to be an incredible experience, and the perfect way to celebrate ten years of making music as The Shee.’

Following the premiere at Celtic Connections on 15 January 2016, the band will head back to the studio to work on a new album for release later that year.

Artists’ website: theshee.com  

DAVID GIBB & ELLY LUCAS – Old Chairs To Mend (Hairpin Records 002)

David Gibb and Elly Lucas are an exciting young duo who play a mixture of original and re‐worked traditional folk material. They hail from Derbyshire in the Midlands and have previously toured the UK extensively as part of David Gibb & The Pony Club.

David plays the guitars, melodeon and sings; Elly plays fiddle, viola and also sings. From these minimal resources, the twosome produce distinctive vocal leads, haunting harmonies and a quite dense instrumental sound. Their singing is simple and unadorned ‐ check out Elly’s wistful vocal on ‘Blacksmith’ from their début album ‘Old Chairs To Mend’ below: Continue reading DAVID GIBB & ELLY LUCAS – Old Chairs To Mend (Hairpin Records 002)

Karen Tweed – Essentially Invisible to the Eye

ESSENTIALLY INVISIBLE TO THE EYE is Karen Tweed’s latest recording and, in being entirely solo, is a departure from her extensive collaborative work which has dominated her career since the early 1990s.

Born in London in 1963 to an Irish mother and English father, Karen took up the accordion at the age of eleven. Since turning professional in the late 1980s, she has appeared on over thirty albums from her early days with The Kathryn Tickell Band to being a founding member of the pioneering all female Poozies, through the Anglo-Swedish ensemble SWAP, American collaboration Undertoe with Stuart Kenney, Marko Packard and Rodney Miller, to The Two Duos Quartet with Andy Cutting, Chris Wood and Ian Carr. Karen’s duo work with Ian Carr, Andy Cutting and also Roger Wilson and John Dipper has left many an audience mesmerised at her breathtaking musicianship, while her trios with Hannah James and Becky Price in Hell Said The Duchess and with Carolyn Robson and Kevin Dempsey are more examples of her diversity and creativity. Continue reading Karen Tweed – Essentially Invisible to the Eye

Mary Black – Stories From the Steeples (3ú Records / Blix Street Records)

This is the first studio recording from Mary Black in six years, and it’s a collection that demonstrates an artist in full command of her bewitching vocal prowess. Throughout an impressive career, Mary has consistently demonstrated impeccable taste in her choice of material, and the evidence presented here suggests that her ear for seeking out songs of utmost grace and beauty is as keen as ever. With a voice that has only gained in depth and resonance over the years, Mary brings her trademark warmth and sincerity, casting light and shade amongst the lyrics to create her own personal space amongst the words of carefully chosen songwriters. Never one to rest on her laurels, we’re gifted songs from familiar friends such as Shane Howard, Eric Bogle and Julie Matthews, alongside burgeoning writing talents, including Danny O’Reilly and Ricky Lynch.

Sharing the stage with a number of guests, Stories From The Steeples contains three duets: the beguiling “Lighthouse Light” features Janis Ian in a perfectly balanced performance that whets the appetite for further exploration of this winsome partnership; the robust, soulful voice of Imelda May joins Mary on an affirmative song of place and belonging, “Mountains To The Sea”; and the playful “Walking With My Love” finds Mary exchanging lines with the legendary Finbar Furey. All three performances are notable for their palpable sense of modesty and mutual admiration.

Two stand-out tracks come from particularly close to home, being written by Mary’s son, Danny O’Reilly. “Faith In Fate” paints a stark contrast between the sheer despair of a broken relationship with a determined hopefulness to move on and patch things up. Managing to be simultaneously bleak and uplifting with its heady infusion of hurt and devoted affection, it’s a song that plays to all the strengths of Mary’s typically emotion-wrought interpretation. Offering a similar cocktail of emotions, “Wizard of Oz” is a mournful reflection on the search for strength and happiness, underpinned by a dreamy string arrangement over which Mary lays her heartwarming vocals.

Fulfilling the role of storyteller, Mary excels in bringing lifelike colour to the characters of “Marguerite And The Gambler,” a Ricky Lynch song that recounts the familiar tale of many a traditional folk ballad, with its gamblers, true love, misguided familial intervention, heartbreak and devastation. Those purchasing the extended version of the album are handsomely rewarded with an exquisite reading of Chris Woods’ “One In A Million,” a story of true love that takes the mundanities of life and turns it in to utter magic, and proving beyond any doubt that Mary remains a song’s best friend.

Paul Kelly’s “They Thought I Was Asleep” benefits from a tender reading, cloaked in Mary’s trademark warmth, depicting the torment of a child inadvertently witnessing from the back seat of a car, the emotional breakdown of his parents’ relationship. Equally devastating, though of more epic proportions, Eric Bogle’s “All the Fine Young Men” is made all the more disarming, thanks to the sheer reverence with which Mary furnishes this stark, anti-war anthem.

With a little less polish than some of her earlier releases, Stories From The Steeples steps forward as an intimate, unpretentious collection, bathed in a soft but radiant glow of effortlessness and wholehearted integrity. Time will tell, but Stories From The Steeples may well prove to be Mary’s best yet. Mike Wilson

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 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.

Artist Web Link: www.mary-black.net