HEAD FOR THE HILLS – Potions And Poisons (Head For The Hills)

Potions And PoisonsDespite a slightly altered line up (with original mandolinist, Mike Chappell departing to pursue other endeavours) the Colorado-based quartet, Head For The Hills, are back with another album, in the form of the self-produced and self-released, Potions And Poisons, which will be available from November 1st.

While its predecessor, Blue Ruin, was an exploration of numerous genres, this recording is far more grounded in the sounds of straight up Americana. That said, we do get a hint of ‘…Hills’ wonderfully eclectic tastes halfway through the opening track, ‘Afraid Of The Dark’, through an unusual and almost Eastern European sounding break down. This is followed by the quirky fiddle-led ‘Suit And Tie’, which continues the more apparent Americana approach, as it flows into ‘Give Me A Reason’; a song with a melody reminiscent of traditional ballad ‘Diamond Joe’, but with lyrics which feel a bit rushed and lack the same conviction of the previous tracks.

‘Floodgates’ is one of two entirely instrumental numbers, and its intricate bluegrass mandolin runs really demonstrate the musical talent of Sam Parks, the band’s newest recruit. Title track, ‘Potions And Poisons’ is possibly the best song on the album and is an ode to life’s vices, including “Candy, coffee, cocaine and coitus”. While the alliteration in the song’s lyrics, prove rather effective, one must not overlook the quality of its free-flowing fiddle, played on this track by Joe Lessard. Perhaps the biggest departure from the album’s Americana vibe comes in the form of the five minute ‘Tell Me Lies’; with its revisited dashes of Eastern Europe, nuances of gypsy jazz and hints of skiffle; with washboard percussion provided by Bonnie Pain, of fellow Colorado group, Elephant Revival. The album bows out strongly, with the beautifully written ‘Kings And Cowards’ and ‘Bucker’, another toe-tapping instrumental delight.

With the boast of having won the locally reputable Northwest String Summit (in 2007), appearances on noted radio programmes and at well-known festivals (including SXSW) over the last decade, November’s Potions and Poisons will surely be yet another worthy addition to the band’s already impressive résumé.

Christopher James Sheridan

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 HEAD FOR THE HILLS – Potions And Poisons 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.headforthehillsmusic.com

‘Bitter Black Coffee’ – official video:

RICHARD THOMPSON – Acoustic Rarities (Beeswing Records BSW016P)

Acoustic RaritiesOctober 6th will see the third instalment of Richard Thompson’s Acoustic series, and having seen two instalments of Classics, our attention is now turned to some of the more obscure works in Thompson’s catalogue, with Acoustic Rarities due for release on the singer’s Beeswing label. Like Classics, Rarities is made up of brand new recordings, but mainly those which have previously been unavailable or only available as cover versions.

Among the previously covered works, there is the beautiful ‘Rainbow Over the Hill’ recorded by The Albion Band for their late ‘70s Long-Player, Rise Up Like The Sun (but included only on the 1992 CD reissue) and the unsettling narrative, ‘Seven Brothers’, covered by Derbyshire-born singer songwriter, Blair Dunlop on his Blight And Blossom debut. It is likely no coincidence that the song crossed Dunlop’s path; he’s the son of Fairport Convention’s Ashley Hutchings, active in the early days of the group alongside Thompson. Indeed, Thompson-authored selections of the Fairport discography also make the cut; ‘Sloth’ and ‘Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman’, both recorded for the 1970 album, Full House. ‘Sloth’ is half the length of the Fairport version and although missing the brilliance of the late Dave Swarbrick’s violin virtuosity, it is a fantastic take which is most welcome on the collection; as is ‘Poor Will…’ – a song deleted from Full House at the request of Thompson.

Works composed during his bittersweet marriage to Linda are represented on the collection too, with new (solo) recordings of ‘Never Again’ and ‘The End Of The Rainbow’, as well as a re-working of ‘Poor Ditching Boy’ taken from Thompson’s 1972 solo debut. Although the track is not a million miles away from the Henry The Human Fly version, the vocal take is superior and sits very nicely in the mix, successfully carrying the song’s narrative. While re-workings are interesting to say the least, for some, the album’s appeal may lie in the previously unreleased content. Highlights here include the record’s bookends, ‘What If’ and ‘She Played Right Into My Hands’, not to overlook a newly-penned personal favourite, ‘They Tore The Hippodrome Down’.

As British folk royalty, one has come to associate brilliance with most of Thompson’s work and it is absolutely no surprise to say that this new recording of hard to find, unreleased and revisited rarities lives up to the benchmark.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artist’s website: www.richardthompson-music.com

‘The Poor Ditching Boy’ – the way it used to be:

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 Richard Thompson – Acoustic Rarities 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.

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PETE McCLELLAND – Carolina Sky (Hobgoblin Records HOBCD1016)

Carolina SkyAlthough a co-founder of Hobgoblin Music and a member of several different folk bands, Pete McClelland has only just released an album in his own right. Inspired by nearly forty years of Stateside road trips soundtracked by country music, McClelland describes Carolina Sky as a “real and imagined journey across the USA”. Indeed, there are more than a few inescapable splashes of Americana throughout the album; from the cover image of the Blue Ridge Mountains (immortalised in the country genre for decades) to the American geography found throughout the songs – especially in key numbers, like the title track, and album opener ‘The Appalachian Way’.

Written in 2015, the song paints a picture of true friendship in the setting of the American South:“We’re driving down from Redway to Ashville, Leave the frozen Mississippi far behind /I’m gonna sit and smoke, have a couple of beers, I hope, And see my buddy Jerry bye and bye

Recorded in Sussex, England and Nashville, Tennessee, the sounds of country music absolutely drench the album and along with the aforementioned opener, there are a few other numbers which also stand out. ‘Walk This Road’ is particularly deserving of a mention, not only for McClelland’s lyrical celebration of his own family, but for the fact that this was the piece which got the ball rolling for McClelland as a songwriter. Perhaps the strongest number is the mandolin-laced ‘Carolina Sky’ and its picturesque lyrical content which makes one yearn to go back to Carolina…even if one has never been to Carolina in the first place. The honky-tonking, bluesy follow up, ‘Marie’ and ‘A Kind of Kindness’ (another one of McClelland’s earliest efforts) are worth a shout too. A new flavour is introduced in the album’s final track, ‘Marion’, through the Cajun accordion of Jason Pegg, and it’s a fitting to end the record; dedicated to McClelland’s wife, Mannie, his travelling companion for the coast to coast journeys which inspired Carolina Sky.

In the album’s notes, McClelland writes “I went to Nashville to see if anyone might cover my songs, never really planned to put this out there myself…” but with so much of the album written about friends, family or McClelland’s love of travelling, it feels only right that we should hear his stories and his songs in his own voice.

Christopher James Sheridan

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 PETE McCLELLAND – Carolina Sky 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.petemcclelland.com

THE REMEDY CLUB – Lovers, Legends & Lost Causes (High Flying Disc Records)

Lost CausesThe Remedy Club are the husband-and-wife duo of KJ McEvoy and Aileen Mythen, and Lovers, Legends & Lost Causes is their debut album, set for release on October 8th. With the pair sharing the singing responsibilities, the co-written album does pretty much what it says on the tin, being comprised of songs about love (or, lost love), musical legends and songs the pair label “lost causes”. In this category, there are titles like ‘Get Away with It’ and ‘Bottom of the Hill’, where McEvoy masterfully manages to convey frustration and disappointment alongside lyrical images that boast a dark quirk:

I got a belly full of liquor and a handful of pills, aint nobody gonna cure my ills/I fell off the wagon and rolled to the bottom of the hill”.

Among the category marked “love songs”, there are a few lovely duets, including opener ‘I Miss You’, with its elements of classic and contemporary country, and ‘Last Song’; a tale of a drifting relationship, led by the snare drum brush beats of percussionist, Lorcan Byrne.

Aileen Mythen noted that as well as wanting to create a record of original material, the purpose of this album was also about paying homage to the couple’s musical heroes, namely, Tom Waits, Django Reinhardt and Hank Williams. It is perhaps within this “legends” portion that some of the album’s strongest material can be found.

‘When Tom Waits Up’ – pun definitely intended – builds up slowly with a deliberate vibe of a typical Waits song. There are numerous tinkerings on piano and brass, a curious credit for “weights and jangling keys” and of course, a host of cryptic lyrics:

Rooftops are glistening in the pale moonlight, throwing caution to the gentle breeze below,
There’s a glimmer of hope in the old clown’s eyes, as he paints his face before the show,
There’s a swinging hotspot just down the road, a stones-throw away from long ago,
Where ladies dance and men take a chance, before the barkeep says they gotta go.”

Like the Waits tribute, the homages to Django Reinhardt and Hank Williams, (‘Django’ and ‘Listening to Hank Williams’), borrow from the artists that inspired the works; encompassing Djangoesque guitar licks and Williams-style yodelling into the respective tracks.

The conscious idea of Lovers, Legends & Lost Causes make it a concept album of sorts, but without the ‘concept’ being rammed down the listener’s throat and while it boasts the familiar blueprints of a country record it’s not predictable or cliché, but rather, a good example of The Remedy Club’s talent for writing and performing good, solid Americana.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artists’ website: www.theremedyclub.ie

‘Come On’ – live:

THE COGNAC TWINS –The Cognac Twins (Loopmaniac Records LOOP 1)

The Cognac TwinsAfter writing, singing, jamming and performing together for over two decades, Craig Anderson and Paul Connelly, The Cognac Twins, are here with their self-titled debut album. The ridiculously catchy ‘Pretending’ opens the disc, as its combination of mandolin and ukulele runs, handclaps, solid lead vocals and spot-on harmonies set the tone for the rest of the record, creating some distinctly Scottish Americana.

Along with the opener, there are two further gems on side 1; the dark and anthemic ‘Bricks and Mortar’ and ‘Don’t Forget Your Sons’. The latter of these is particularly good and perfectly combines soul, swagger and some wonderfully effective slide guitar. Musically and lyrically there are parts of this song that feel as if they could be a contemporary take on something written in the American south 100 years ago, that is until you hear lyrics like “Climb into the seat of my Escort MK 3…”

Side 2 is every bit as strong, appearing to follow a formula of slow, stripped-back numbers which give way to hand clap-led, up-tempo tracks. The strongest song of the entire collection, the simply titled ‘January’, fits the former category, with its universally relatable reminder that when “January comes…you’re one year older” so “be thankful, be honest, be truthful”…and “be kind…”

While it is a definite lament, it’s not bleak – in fact, it’s actually wonderfully hopeful and incredibly optimistic and every word comes across as very sincere…which, for some reason, inevitably makes the song feel that little bit sadder.

If ‘January’ caused you to shed a wee tear or two, however, the upbeat follow up, ‘Rita’, will square you up in no time. Coming in at under two minutes, it is the shortest song on the album, and that’s my only real gripe with the Cognac Twins’ debut; at well under half an hour, it is just too short. However, two arguments spring to mind: “Quality over quantity” and “Leave ‘em wanting more”…and that’s exactly how I’m feeling. Touché.

Although this wasn’t a duo I was previously aware of prior to hearing this record, the more I listen to this album, the more I like it, and the more I like it, the more excited I get for the Twins’ next release…but, eh… don’t keep us waiting another two decades for it lads!

Christopher James Sheridan

Artists’ website: www.facebook.com/Thecognactwins

‘Lucky Lad’ – official:

KEVIN CRAWFORD – Carrying the Tune (Brooklyn Boy Records BBR 001)

Carrying The TuneCarrying The Tune is the third solo album in the extensive discography of the critically acclaimed flautist Kevin Crawford, and accompanied by bouzouki (Mick Conneely and John Doyle), guitar (Doyle) and bodhrán (Brian Morrissey), it is immersed, as ever, in the sounds of Celtic tradition, displaying Crawford’s virtuosity at every opportunity. Indeed, such prowess makes it a rather difficult task to pinpoint the album’s standouts, without overlooking what else the record has to offer, therefore (particularly for those who are unfamiliar with the work) it may be more useful to provide a brief rundown of the album as a whole.

‘The Clare Connection’ opens the record, (a set of reels fusing ‘McHugh’s/Michael Murphy’s and Humours Of Tullycrine’ together and featuring Crawford on Eb flute) followed by slip jigs (collectively titled ‘2 Days’), before another set of reels are introduced in the form of ‘Autumn Apples/Cormac O’Lunny’s and Paddy Sean Nancy’s’. Phil Cunningham’s beautiful ‘Flatwater Fran’ next kicks off a set of waltzes, which (like track two’s slip jigs) showcase Crawford on flute as well as whistle. The second waltz of the set, ‘Mrs Jean Campbell BSC’, was written by Rory Campbell, giving Crawford’s piece its title, ‘Phil And Rory’s’

From here, boisterous jigs and beautiful reels lead the way to the haunting air, ‘The Dear Irish Boy’, which follows into the steady guitar of John Doyle and the double tracked flute of Crawford, in the selections which make up ‘The Slippery Slope’. An interesting change of pace is brought about through ‘Tanglony’, with Crawford, this time, opting for the D whistle, and Doyle accompanying him on bouzouki. The next pocket of selections are bookended with reels; ‘The Ivy Leaf’ and ‘The Mountain Lark’, with a collection of jigs, titled ‘Chapter 3’, sandwiched in between. Next up, it is an original, titled ‘The Hula Hoop’, that twists, turns and leads us to slow air ‘Travelling Through Blarney’ and ‘Come West Along The Road’ (collectively titled ‘Travelling West’) to bring the album to an atmospheric conclusion.

For fans of the Irish traditional/ Celtic music scene, you will, no doubt, be familiar with Mr Crawford’s output, either through his solo work, or through his recordings with Lúnasa, Cillian Vallely or Moving Cloud, but you may not be so familiar with this album; self-released originally in 2012 on BallyO Records, it has been out of print the last few years, but thanks to Brooklyn Boy Records and Copperplate Distribution, it is released, once again, in all of its glory.

Christopher James Sheridan

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 KEVIN CRAWFORD – Carrying the Tune 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: http://www.lunasa.ie

Kevin with Martin Hayes and John Doyle (The Teetotallers) play a set including ‘The Dear Irish Boy’: