CHRIS TAVENER – Is He Joking? (own label)

Is He Joking?Recorded live over two sold-out nights in Manchester’s Three Minute Theatre, Is He Joking?, the debut album by satirical singer-songwriter, Chris Tavener is available now on CD and DVD. Cleverly, the show begins with an internal monologue (which the live audience are privy to) as Tavener tries to get himself prepared to go on stage. This is an ongoing gag which runs throughout the evening, with this “inner voice”, consistently second guessing, distracting and sometimes “talking for” the “real” Mr Tavener. That said, this is also something that works better as a DVD joke, as it is Tavener’s visual engagement with his psyche which makes this this technique work.

“Are we ready to rock, Manchester!?” asks Tavener to an enthusiastic audience, before confessing “This is a soft song” and performing, ‘Praise Him’; his ode to former One Direction heartthrob, Harry Styles.

While his on-stage banter and seemingly off the cuff one-liners are decent, Tavener has an undeniable talent for observational “it’s funny because it’s true” humour, and this really plays into his songwriting.

‘Let’s All Go To A Festival’, for example, is a scarily accurate summary of attending a weekend-long music festival, the charmingly vulgar ‘Modern Romance’ has some pretty relatable images but perhaps no lyrical observations are as accurate as ‘Postcard Home’; a song about travelling during a gap year, which is crammed full of hilarious imagery that feels completely true to life…even if one’s own experience of gap year activity has been vicariously lived through the persistent posts of an annoying friend on social media.

Another clever write, is ‘Phoney Supremacy’, written from the point of view of Tavener’s hammed-up mistrust of iPhone users, which starts life sounding as if it could be a close-to-the-bone right wing, Daily Mail rant:

“…When you see that they’re coming over here, there’s a million more in a single year/ They speak a different language and they’re not compatible with the rest of us, they look out for their own/The government won’t make it stop/I saw one in my corner shop near home/I just don’t like the people that use iPhones.”

It’s much funnier when he does it. Believe me.

Billed as a satirical singer-songwriter, it is part of Tavener’s remit that his lyrics are the standout part of his performance, yet I feel would be doing him an injustice to overlook his musical talents; the ragtimey ‘Apocalypse Prediction’ is wonderfully fingerpicked for example and ‘Cliché Blues’ uses a very convincing, drivey blues pattern, appropriately loaded with all sorts of clichés from the blues genre; from waking up this morning, to meeting the devil at the crossroads.

In short, Mr Tavener is very good at what he does, and his excellent observations, wonderful turn of phrase and musical ability make for a very funny, very engaging and very enjoyable debut album. While there isn’t that much in the way of bonus material with either the DVD or CD (extra track on DVD and lyric book with CD), the show itself is a strong enough selling point to take a punt on this. Good stuff.

Christopher James Sheridan

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: http://www.christavener.co.uk/

‘Modern Romance (She’s So Drunk) – official video from 2016:

JOE SOLO – Not On Our Watch (own label)

Not On Our WatchHaving issued the equivalent of nearly one recording per year since 2004, Not on Our Watch is the most recent release by the prolific folk-punk troubadour, Joe Solo. It’s a bigger sound than one of Joe’s live shows with the usual guitar, harmonica and percussion set-up being accompanied by fiddle, (courtesy of Rebekah Findlay), baritone ukulele, cigar box guitar and most interestingly, a “wheelie bin”.

Kicking off with the title track, criticising mass media manipulation, and among other things, their demonization of refugees, from the word ‘go’, this is an album that pulls no punches. Following this, comes Solo’s (almost reggae infused) ‘You Take on One of Us’. Musically mellower, perhaps, but lyrically this is every bit as hard hitting as its predecessor, proclaiming “You take on one of us, you take on all of us / You pick on him, you pick on me”.

This chorus seems so applicable to so many contexts and causes, it is strange to think the idea for this anthem of solidarity and comradeship, came out of an experience during a Sunday League football match.

While this one is among the album’s standouts, there are a good number of them; the virtually rapped ‘…World Won’t Change Itself’, ‘Adelante (The Ballad of Clem Beckett)’, ‘Now’s the Time to Rise’ and ‘They Could Not Break This Town’. With a choral accompaniment from ‘The Hatfield Brigade’, this song tells of the struggles for the Hatfield mining community during the mid-1980s, adopting a sea shanty structure to create dialogue between Solo and the chorus:

JS: “They say they’ve got us beat and down!
HB: No way, never!
JS: They say they’ve got us beat and down!
HB: No way! No!
JS: They say they’ve got us beat and down, but they don’t know a mining town
They say they’ve got us beat and down,
HB: No way! No!”

Although this song is set against the backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain, Solo very much writes for the present, and songs like ‘Black Snowflakes’ (lamenting the Grenfell fire of June 2017) and ‘Charlottesville’, a moving ballad written in memory of anti-racist activist, Heather Heyer, killed by a white supremacist in August 2017, are notable, if poignant, examples of this.

What Solo consistently does, is create well-crafted music with a social conscience, and this album is no exception. While Woody Guthrie’s guitar warned ‘this machine kills fascists’, Solo’s axe carries a more ‘dangerous’ message; “THIS MACHINE BUILDS COMMUNITIES”.

In a musical sense, the songs on this record do just that. There are songs of hope, remembrance, solidarity, compassion…equally, in a literal sense, Solo’s work only continues this ‘building’; the requested entry fee to the album’s launch party, for instance, was a food, cash or clothing donation.

On every level, Not on Our Watch is a most worthy listen and it is not just a bunch of songs by a singer wanting to be seen to do his bit, but rather, a small collection of anthems by a songwriting activist, doing far more than his fair share.

Christopher James Sheridan

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: https://joesolomusic.com/

‘They Could Not Break This Town’ – official video:

BROWNBEAR – What is Home? (Assai Recordings)

What Is Home?Almost since the very start, the musical collective led by Matt Hickman, known as ‘brownbear’, have caused something of a stir, not just on the Scottish music scene, but further afield. April 20th 2018 will surely see them only add to this popularity, with the release of What is Home? , their long-awaited and highly anticipated debut long player.

Full disclosure for fellow folkies; it is acoustic, but not overly folkie, while at the same time, it is mostly band-backed without being ‘rocky’. Perhaps rather than trying to pigeonhole it as something or other, one might as well simply embrace for what it is…and that is a very enjoyable debut album by a very gifted singer-songwriter.

The album opens with the catchy as hell ‘Covers’, which despite its up-beat melody, boasts a sense of heart-breaking melancholy in the lyric: “I pull back the covers, to find you have another lover…at that moment I realise, I’m the one whose living lies, because you’ve already moved on”.

From here, the momentum only builds, as singles ‘Wandering Eyes’ and ‘Truth Without Consequences’ are placed back-to-back, followed by the comparatively bare ‘Olive Tree’, where Hickman’s convincing mix of catchy melody and poignant lyric can once again be found, particularly in the song’s hook “ …it’s with the heaviest of hearts I say I’ll see you in heaven”.

It is described as an album which deals with the subjects of “love, loss and growing” yet amid the recording’s more reflective lyrics, the musically up-beat numbers prove equally inescapable; ‘The Wrong Team’, ‘Only For You’ and an album version of the 2016 single ‘Stop the World’. Fittingly, the record bows out on the title track, as we once again see the more laid back approach to brownbear’s versatile songwriting, making for a strong finish to a strong album.

With the diary filling up with forthcoming festival slots and album tour dates, the release of What is Home? (as noted) wi

ll surely only be the next step for a musician (and group of musicians) overdue big things, but it’s a damn exciting step at that. Regardless of what this comes to retrospectively represent or what it may pave the way for, as an album, on its own terms, it is a really and truly great piece of work.

Christopher James Sheridan

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 website: https://en-gb.facebook.com/brownbearofficial/

‘Truth Without Consequence’ – official video:

BEN HARPER AND CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE – No Mercy In This Land (Anti 7561-2)

No Mercy In This LandAn overdue follow-up to 2013’s Grammy Award-winning Get Up! sees Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite reunite, this time resulting in No Mercy In This Land. With nearly 50 albums between them, the collective credentials of this duo are really quite considerable; Ben Harper’s talents as a prolific singer-songwriter and gifted instrumentalist, have seen him scoop numerous awards throughout the last decade, while his partner in crime, the legendary harmonica player, Charlie Musselwhite is not only recognised as one of the premier performers of the 1960s blues revival, but was also (allegedly) the inspiration for Dan Aykroyd’s character in ‘Blues Brothers’.

On this recording, Harper and Musselwhite really seem in sync with one another, as the laid back, funky approach of Harper blends with the swampy harmonica wails of Musselwhite, making for a record of real blues with balls.

The first half of the album is mostly electric; opening with the Harper co-penned (almost ‘In the Pines’-esque) ‘When I Go’, followed by ‘Bad Habits’ and the particularly strong ‘Love and Trust’. With this track, the record see-saws between happiness and heartache; followed as such, by ‘The Bottle Wins Again’ then the lyrically quirky ‘Found the One’:

I found hay in a stack of needles/Four-leaf clover in a mile of weeds/Understands my downs/Puts up with my needs/Of everybody under the sun/I found the one”.

Yet again, as side two begins, we see-saw back to the heartache, with the reflective ‘When Love is Not Enough’ , followed by the Delta blues-esque ‘Trust You To Dig My Grave’ and the title track, where Musselwhite adds his vocals for the only time on the record; his lack of vocal input elsewhere feeling like the album’s only noteworthy shortcoming. While the first half of the album starts with a ‘big’ sound, side-B has a much more mellow feel to it, save only for ‘Movin’ On’, where the electricity kicks in again, before concluding on a more stripped back note with the appropriately titled ‘Nothing at All’.

It is not a particularly long album and the fact it is an enjoyable listen makes it feels even shorter again; and while it is a worthy sequel to the duo’s previous record, more importantly, it is a worthy record in its own right.

Christopher James Sheridan

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.

Artists’ websites: http://www.benharper.com/  / https://www.charliemusselwhite.com/

‘No Mercy In This Land’ – live:

IVAN MOULT – Longest Shadow (Bubblewrap Collective – BWR040CD)

Longest ShadowLongest Shadow is the heartbreakingly beautiful new offering of original tunes from Cardiff-based songsmith, Ivan Moult. In the ilk of Damien Rice for example, it is laden with gorgeous string and choral ensembles, while in the vein of Nick Drake, it is filled with much sparser and simpler guitar parts…which in truth, only make the album a whole lot more complex.

Within seconds of listening it is easy to become entranced with the album’s gems; firstly in the form of the brutally honest ‘Keep Cautious’. It is beautifully played, convincingly sung, impeccably written and topped off with an incredible false ending. The album’s strong opening only continues, being carried on immediately with the title track, and Moult’s latest single, ‘Lay Me Down’; dealing with Moult’s own feelings of both giving into and wrestling with depression.

Even after album milestones, the highlights continue to flow; ‘Carried Over Water’, ‘Like Millions Before Me’ and (the ever so slightly idealistic) ‘The One Who’. Defining each half of the album is the minute-and-a -half ‘Intermission’, where Moult’s noodlings and fingerpicked tinkerings bring us into the album’s other side; complete with shades of the late John Martyn (see ‘Any Other Name’), hints of jazz music (‘In The Library’ and ‘Speaking In Tongues’) before bowing out with ‘Fool On The Floor’.

Longest Shadow truly is a stunning piece of work and if the likes of Damien Rice, Nick Drake, Willy Mason are your thing, it’s a safe bet that you will thoroughly enjoy this recording from the already critically acclaimed Ivan Moult.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artist’s website: http://ivanmoult.com/

‘Longest Shadow’ – live:

DAVY LEES – One Of Those Days (Tapflerr Music TF001)

One Of Those DaysScottish folkie Davy Lees has returned with a new album titled One of Those Days. This recording encompasses a wide range of selections, placing contemporary (and at times lesser known) works alongside the folk canon’s universally sung standards…with a few Lees originals along the way.

Indeed it is an original which kicks off proceedings, in the form of the light hearted, but clever, ragtime(y) title track. It is an enjoyable and relatable starter, followed by ‘Black Is The Colour’; a song of Scottish origin, but popularised in the Appalachian Mountains and with roots, branches and ultimately, other versions, in other traditions. Lees, of course, draws from the Scottish version, perhaps adopted from the songbook of fellow Lanarkshire folkie, Hamish Imlach.

The lovely self-penned, ‘Weekend Waltz And Eva’s Waltz’ follows; initially providing vignettes of the lives of the song’s protagonists; ‘”Jennifer” who sits in her usual chair, the “man all alone” who drinks bourbon and wishes he “had a lady to phone” and “Mary and Jim”, still in love after all these years. It is enjoyable and sweet and it’s easy to get swept up in the lyric when the chorus comes in:

One, two, three, back two, three, all round the floor,
You smile to your partner and you go round once more,
They don’t have much money, but they’ve got romance,
The Weekend Waltz is their dance.”

While Lees’ original work is noteworthy in its own right, it is in the choice of covers where this album is particularly strong, featuring Woody Guthrie’s ‘I Ain’t Got No Home’, sung with tremendous conviction, ‘Was It You’, by the late Ewan Carruthers and Allan Taylor’s ‘Los Compañeros’.

However, there are also choices of covers which do feel misplaced on the recording, namely ‘Dead Puppies’. Don’t get me wrong, (I know no puppies were harmed in the recording of the track) and I imagine it getting a good laugh for its shock value in a live environment, but in the studio it just doesn’t work and feels like a very long three and a half minutes, to hear the same sort of dead dog jokes cracked (r)over and over and over again.

Thankfully, the rest of the album is salvaged, as Lees hooks us back in with ‘The Ballad Of St Anne’s Reel’, the aforementioned Taylor number and the brilliant ‘Close It Down’ by Ivan Drever; a ballad of deindustrialisation and worker obsoletion, which namedrops the 1992 closure of the Ravenscraig Steel Works in Lees’ hometown of Motherwell, before concluding the record with the traditional ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

Christopher James Sheridan

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: http://www.davylees.scot/

We resisted temptation on grounds of taste so here’s ‘Weekend Waltz’ live: