REG MEUROSS – Faraway People (Hatsongs HAT011)

Faraway PeopleI enjoyed Reg’s previous album, December, and Faraway People is more of the same and even better than its predecessor. Once again Reg has stripped himself back to the basics of voice and guitar – plus a bit of banjo and harmonica – with only engineer Roy Dodds in the studio for company. And for all its soft reflectiveness it hits as hard as anything you’ll hear this year.

The opening title track attacks government cruelty through the stories of its victims, driven to despair and suicide and ‘Angel In A Blue Dress’ takes a specific case of a nurse in the resource-starved NHS. ‘The Lonesome Death Of Michael Brown’ contains several nods to Bob Dylan in both its title and lyrics and ‘Cicero’ is oddly reminiscent of ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’. The former tells the story of the Afro-American boy shot by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri which gave rise to a wave of protests but I’m uncertain about the link to the Roman senator in the latter, unless it is his life-long struggle against corruption. The song has a modern setting with some righteous finger-pointing at the rich, and particularly bankers and lawyers, but more empathy for the ordinary people.

There is tenderness here, too. ‘New Brighton Girl’ and ‘In Your Arms’ are both love songs and ‘Refugee’ sees the western world through the story of one such, trying to settle into a new life. Its anger is buried in regret and a sense of helplessness but it’s there. Reg is not without humour, either. ‘Leavin’ Alabama’ tells of an imagined meeting between Hank Williams and Dylan Thomas – in a bar, of course – and ‘Phil Ochs & Elvis Eating Lunch In Morrison’s Café’ is pure Michael Marra. Note the apostrophe, this café is in the south-eastern USA although Reg also places it, somewhat confusingly, just off the M18 and it imagines two of his heroes together with him trying to eavesdrop.

Faraway People is destined to be one of the albums of the year. It will be released on July 28th but you really should be queuing up already.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.regmeuross.com

‘Faraway People’ – in the studio:

DEMPSEY BROUGHTON – Off By Heart (own label SAECD14)

Off By HeartKevin Dempsey and Joe Broughton have been in the business for so many years and in so many line-ups that it seems impossible to count. You can mention The Albion Band, the Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, the Urban Folk Quartet, Dando Shaft, Whippersnapper and Lazarus before you have to stop and think. Kevin and Joe have worked together for almost two decades and Off By Heart is their fourth album as a duo.

The record opens in a rather unexpected way. You might have thought that two such celebrated instrumentalists would kick off with something to get the feet moving but instead they begin with Kevin singing ‘Resurrection Jack’, an anti-racist poem by Evangeline Paterson which Kevin has set to a simple and deliberately un-sensational tune. The story itself is a moving one but also told in very unemotional terms. That is followed by ‘Wheels Of The World’, a traditional Irish song explaining why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Who says folk music isn’t relevant?

Of course there are instrumental fireworks and they begin with ‘The Post Truth Reel’ a tune that Joe describes as having “some slightly bits, some positive bits and a bit of reflection”. Next are two linked tunes. ‘Just Before The News’ and ‘De Pascale’ were written around the death of their friend, renaissance man Ernesto De Pascale’ and into them is poured all the emotion they can find. Fittingly, they sit at the heart of the album.

The album closes with two more instrumentals and two traditional songs. ‘Wicked Polly’ comes from the Ozarks and Paloma Trigás adds massed violins and ‘Two Constant Lovers’ is from Sussex with all sorts of things going on behind Kevin’s voice. ‘La Moreau’ is a two-part tune, or rather one tune played in two very different ways, and the final tune is ‘The Recovery Shuffle’ – a bluesy guitar riff over which Joe has written a jig. There is a great deal to enjoy here.

Dai Jeffries

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 DEMPSEY BROUGHTON – Off By Heart 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: https://www.joebroughton.com/dempsey-broughton

‘Wicked Polly’ live – an old video but none the worse for that:

 

COAST – Windmills In The Sky (Ruabhal Records SAM04)

WindmillsCoast is a folk-rock band, with the emphasis on the rock, formed by Paul Eastham and Chris Barnes back in 2009. Windmills In The Sky is their third album and I hope it will be the one that propels them to greatness. They spent their childhoods on Benbecula in the western islands and their music reflects that edge-of-the-world wildness. If I tell you that they employ twin drums/percussion with mighty electric guitar from Finlay Wells you’ll immediately know where they are coming from. These are big, anthemic songs centred around the keyboards and orchestral programming of Eastham.

The album opens with ‘Is Sinn Na Tuinn Air Bhàrr A’ Chuain’, a delicate acoustic piece – for about forty seconds until the band kicks in to give us a sort of overture to what is awaiting. Three songs are firmly rooted in Western Scotland. The first, ‘River’, is a song of pure nostalgia for a Hebridean childhood while ‘Thundersnow’ and the title track give contrasting views of west coast life. The former is essentially the opinion of a fisherman wishing that he was somewhere warmer and drier while ‘Windmills In The Sky’ tells of the welcoming sights of home after a long voyage. The windmills are, of course, the turbines that I suppose are the first things that fishermen can see as they return to harbour.

Coast are no one-trick ponies, however, and other songs take a wider view. ‘No More Heroes’ looks back on 2016 and reflects the line from David Bowie’s song – he is one of the heroes who are no more – but it’s also about regaining control when those leaders are gone. ‘1884’ is the true story of murder and cannibalism that set a precedent in common law and ‘That Old Atlantic Sky’ is the extraordinary – but also true – of a German fighter pilot and the crew of an American bomber in 1943. ‘Let It Rain’ and ‘This Whole World’ are philosophical songs reflecting on the modern world.

The band makes a really big sound but also finds room for traditional instruments: Charlie McKerron’s fiddle, Lorne MacDougall’s pipes and whistles and the accordion of Sileas Sinclair. These are not over-used but serve to anchor Coast’s roots firmly in the Western Isles.

Dai Jeffries

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 COAST – Windmills In The 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]

Artists’ website: www.coast.band

‘River’ – official video:

JOE BROUGHTON’S CONSERVATOIRE FOLK ENSEMBLE – Painted (own label SAE16CD)

PaintedI’ve seen Joe Broughton’s Conservatoire Folk Ensemble on stage just once and it was an exciting experience. It was a small theatre and I reckon there were more people on stage than there were in the audience – what a sound – and Joe says that they might have turned it up a bit on Painted, their first studio venture, recorded to celebrate their twentieth anniversary. The CFE is an international band and its composition is dependent on which students study the module that leads to its formation for the annual summer tour. There are fifty-six musicians on this album drawn from all over Europe and the far east; that’s a full orchestra of strings, woodwinds and brass plus the guitars, basses and percussion drawn from the modern folk scene.

So, what’s good? Pretty much everything, really. The set begins with two traditional Irish tunes, ‘Banish Misfortune/Poll Ha’Penny’ followed by Sal Broughton’s ‘The Graduate’, a piece that embodies the ethos of the Ensemble – there are no auditions, just a commitment to hard work. ‘Cant De Batre’ and ‘Pimentons Torrats Amb Oli I Sal’ are both Spanish, the latter written by and both arranged by Daniel Blanco Albert. Then it’s back to the Irish and ‘Fairy Dance’ and all I can say is that these are bloody powerful fairies.

Rosie Tunley sings ‘Rain And Snow’, the song from the USA that has so many titles and compasses so many floating verses and now the record is reaching its peak. ‘The Butterfly/Kodo’, the latter written by Yoshida Kenichi, is magnificent and I love the way that ‘Tek Bir Güneşin Altinada Yürüyoruz’ is handed over to the brass section to do with as they will. Julie Claire takes lead vocal on Kevin Dempsey’s version of ‘William Taylor’ before the set closes with the jazzy ‘Две ръченици/Lattinmore’.

In a live show the CFE would just be warming up for the second set but they know to leave us wanting more. They will be on tour through until August and I urge you to seek them out.

Dai Jeffries

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 JOE BROUGHTON’S CONSERVATOIRE FOLK ENSEMBLE – Painted 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: https://www.joebroughton.com/the-folk-ensemble

There are no videos of this year’s ensemble yet but here are last year’s team playing ‘Fairy Dance’ at their final performance:

THE DRYSTONES – We Happy Few (own label)

We Happy FewThe Drystones are two young chaps from Somerset: Alex Garden and Ford Collier; singers and multi-instrumentalists who made their debut album at age 16. Remarkably, this is already their third outing. On the surface, We Happy Few seems typical of albums of our age. Three songs and eight instrumental sets and, seemingly, I have dozens like it.

What singles The Drystones out is the imagination that has gone into the selection and arrangement of their material, aided by producer and percussionist Will Lang. They open with a pair of original tunes, ‘Green Room Strathspey’ and ‘Arc Reel’, together entitled ‘Treekend’. The second tune, written by Alex, has some rather odd progressions that immediately grab the attention. They then switch to a set of three Irish tunes featuring Ford’s whistles and that isn’t entirely expected. Admit it, you’re interested now.

The first song is ‘My Son John’. This is Martin Carthy’s version as rewritten for The Imagined Village and gives the duo the opportunity for some multi-tracking and Ford the chance to strap on his electric guitar and unpack every percussion instrument he owns. After this comes ‘The Cheshire Set’, rather more stately, and another original tune before ‘Man Of Words (And Not Of Deeds) a nursery rhyme from the 17th century. The words may have originated earlier or may be a satire on Charles II but we may speculate all we want. Again, this isn’t quite what we might expect.

‘Katy Cruel’ was originally heard from Fay Hield and The Drystones have tried to make an essentially American song sound English. Later we get as English as you like with ‘Hole In The Wall’, a hornpipe that may have been written by Henry Purcell, before a set of Irish and Irish-influenced tunes called ‘More Nyah’ and I’m going to wince at that.

This is a good album from two young performers but I could wish for more songs.

Dai Jeffries

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 THE DRYSTONES – We Happy Few 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://www.thedrystones.co.uk/

‘My Son John’ – live in the shed:

SHEILA K CAMERON – Kiss Deep And The Missing Beat (Glalell SKC1706CD)

Kiss DeepKiss Deep is sixth and final volume in the first series of Sheila K Cameron reissues. There are nineteen tracks here encompassing all the styles she has essayed over the years beginning and ending with the old blues sound of ‘Universal Energy’. From there she moves to the rich pop of ‘On The Road To Haida Gwaii’ (her home off the coast of western Canada) and the slightly quirky ‘Another Dream’, a clever, almost spoken lyric over a rolling piano backing. It’s a frustration dream, the like of which we’ve all had, of being unable to get to where we want to be.

‘Did I Do Something Wrong Again’ is piano driven country, a style continued in ‘So You Said’, a song that reminds me of Eleanor McEvoy at her most acerbic. The thing about Sheila is that you never know what to expect so after these band numbers we have the solo acoustic ‘You Tell Me Nothing’ with its undertones of Weimar cabaret. ‘Let’s Put Love In The Back Seat – For A While’ is a spoken word piece incanted over a percussion accompaniment; yet another Cameron style.

Kiss Deep is probably the most complete of the reissues. It has a sense of continuity that some of the others lack and the benefit of being completed songs with the likes of Brian McNeill and Fraser Spiers mentioned in the credits. If you’re unfamiliar with SKC’s work – and I was before these reissues appeared – this is probably the place to start. Follow it with Alone On The Road before venturing any deeper – it’s not an easy journey but you’ll find it very rewarding.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.sheilakcameron.com