LOWRI EVANS & LEE MASON – A Little Bit Of Everything (Shimi Records ShimiCD0011)

Lowri EvansI have to confess that when Lowri Evans released her debut English language album I really wasn’t a fan and I wasn’t allowed anywhere near her records again. Things have changed in the decade since. Lowri’s voice has warmed somewhat and her songwriting has certainly matured. Lee Mason was her producer, guitarist and sometime songwriting collaborator then and now, on her sixth album, A Little Bit Of Everything, he gets equal billing.

This album is live in the sense of being “off the floor” with no supporting musicians and all the songs, with the exception of two covers, have been heard before. The oldest, in terms of recording history, is the final track, ‘Merch Y Myny, which Lowri has returned to more than once. From that first English album comes ‘Maria’s’ (originally ‘Not At Maria’s) and all I can say is that if Lowri had performed it then as she does now our musical relationship would have been very different. She displays a power in her voice that I couldn’t detect back then.

My two favourite songs are ‘Deep Inside, a sort of character study and ‘Seventeen’, which seems to hold a mirror up to Janis Ian’s seminal work. Even when writing in the first person, as here, Lowri is able to step outside herself and bring some balance to the situation.  The covers are the standard ‘Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out’ which allows Lowri to extend her voice again, and ‘Cân Walter’ by unheralded Welsh songwriter Meic Stevens.

I like this stripped down recording with just two guitars and two voices. I’d felt that there was a tendency to wrap Lowri up in a cocoon of orchestration leading to a soft jazz/pop sound and A Little Bit Of Everything proves that she doesn’t need that.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.lowriandlee.co.uk

‘Seventeen’ – official video:

PETE COE – The Man In The Red Van (Backshift BASH CD 63)

Red VanPete Coe is one of the old guard, one of the last. He’s been in this business for more than forty-five years and still has all the moves. I expected The Man In The Red Van to be something of a political work, akin to It’s A Mean Old Scene. It would be appropriate but even Pete couldn’t have known what is lying in wait for us in June. This album is a collection of songs, most of which will be familiar in some form. And that’s the key – halfway through the second track I was hooked.

That track is ‘The Spanish Lady’. Pete learned it from Al Donnell, was given extra verses by Mary O’Connor and added the chorus from Frank Harte, so this is a combination of at least three versions, but it is Pete’s treatment of the song that lands the killer punch. Forget the rollicking folk club chorus version; Pete slows it down, plays it on acoustic guitar and includes more verses than I’ve seen in a single text before. There’s an odd, noirish feel about the finished product and I’d be prepared to say that this is what Pete does best.

The opener is ‘King Henry’, a variant of the ‘Lord Randall’ story with poisonous toads instead of eels, and I’ve heard versions of the song many times but not this one. The same is true of ‘World Of Misery (Shenandoah)’, a song I wouldn’t mind not hearing again. Except that Pete’s version comes from Saint Vincent and includes lines I’ve never heard before. It’s nice to be surprised.

Pete includes two of his older songs. The first is ‘Joseph Baker’, which he has been performing live recently, and the second is the song that flagged him as a songwriter, ‘Farewell To The Brine’, about his home town of Northwich, and two covers; Terry Conway’s ‘The Walls Of Troy’ and Vic Gammon’s  ‘Ash And Alder’ which come the closest to making political points.

Musically, the album is deceptively simple. Pete plays most of the music with sparing support from Andy Peacock and producer David Crickmore plus a chorus of colleagues and friends. He doesn’t need any more than that.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.backshift.demon.co.uk

‘Joseph Baker’ live:

TRADARRR – Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! (Hedge Of Sound HOS25)

Further TalesBetween their first and second albums Mark Jolley left has Tradarrr to be replaced by Tim Harries (more serious folk-rock credentials) and Phil Bond has moved on with his place taken by singer, fiddler and pianist Gemma Shirley. Thus Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! sees a seven-piece band plundering the English folk tradition even further.

This is straight down-the-line folk-rock – no Ralph Vaughn Williams or Oliver Goldsmith this time and individual members of the band have taken songs and done their own thing with them rather like Steeleye Span in their pomp. Some of the songs are perhaps not very well-known. Greg Cave reworks ‘The Bonny Lass Of Anglesey’ as Martin Carthy did forty years ago. ‘Dream Not Of Love’ was collected by John Clare and adapted by Cave and Guy Stevens as was ‘The Crafty Lover’. Similarly, Cave amalgamates several variants of ‘The Bailiff’s Daughter Of Islington’ and throws in a Stones’ riff for good measure.

The material that is more familiar can come as bit of a surprise. ‘Rap Her To Bank’ is now almost pretty – just don’t let the Wilson Family hear it – and if I didn’t know better I’d say that Pete Scrowther and PJ Wright didn’t really understand what the song was about but the final verse is a protest at the closure of the mines so I know that’s wrong. Instead of a song of anger at a tragedy it is here presented as something like a lament but with Mark Stevens’ cornet and Wright’s electric guitar giving it an edge. It took me a couple of plays to get into it but I think I understand what they’re doing now. Marion Fleetwood’s interpretation of ‘The Cuckoo’s Nest’ is quite sensuous – we all know that it’s about sex but it’s not always presented quite so blatantly.

‘Lowlands Of Holland’ and ‘Spencer The Rover’ are pretty faithful adaptations but the instrumental set ‘Madame Bonaparte/The Golden Eagle’ gives the rock part of the band free rein. PJ describes Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! as “still with the silly name but a serious bid, musically” – he knows that I really don’t like the band’s name – and I can’t argue with any of that.

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 TRADARRR – Further Tales Of Love! Death! And Treachery! 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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Artists’ website: www.tradarrr.com

‘The Bonny Lass Of Anglesey’ – live rehearsal:

NIGEL STONIER – Love And Work (Shameless SHAME017)

Love And WorkNigel Stonier is probably best known as a producer and a man who writes songs with and for other people so it came as a surprise to discover that Love And Work is his sixth solo album but not that it’s a work of great class.

I suppose that you would describe Nigel’s music as sophisticated pop-rock but don’t be put off if you think that sounds a bit MOR. It isn’t. Nigel is a multi-instrumentalist and a witty songwriter and his wit extends to his arrangements. Take the single ‘You Need Love’. Nigel says that he didn’t want it to sound too sweet so asked James Hallawell to impersonate Al Kooper’s Hammond style – and then topped it off with as fine a Dylan harmonica impersonation as you could wish to hear. It only lasts a few seconds but it’s just perfect.

It is inevitable that Nigel is a bit of a musical magpie given that he’s worked alongside Thea Gilmore, Robert Plant, Gretchen Peters and Fairport Convention among others – things are bound to rub off. He’s no mere copyist, though, and everything undergoes a transformative process. You might say that the opener, ‘Ready To Begin’, is Byrds-like but it’s not really; it just embodies the spirit of Roger McGuinn’s guitar. ‘You Breathe New Life Into Me’ features a pulsing mellotron which Nigel describes as “Strawberry Fields” and it is but it gives the feeling of bellows on a pump organ, breathing life into the song.

Other top tracks are ‘Turnaround Town’ – lots of clever words that I haven’t figured out yet – and ‘Work In Progress’ and I really like the last track. ‘The Extra Song’ is just that and Nigel ropes in his children, Asher and Egan on percussion, fiddle and vocals. The cover doesn’t tell you that they are aged five and ten and you wouldn’t know it to listen There’s a lot of talent in that family. The icing on the cake of that particular song is Nigel’s wife Thea Gilmore playing whistle on the coda. Love And Work is a brilliant, clever album.

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 NIGEL STONIER – Love And Work 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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Artist’s website: http://www.nigelstonier.com/

Videos of Nigel are about as rare as rocking horse droppings but we couldn’t resist this one:

JON PALMER ACOUSTIC BAND – The Silences In Between (own label)

SilencesWill someone please explain why Otley’s finest folk-rock band are not huge stars. The Silences In Between is their third studio album – there’s also a rocking live set – and is as good as anything they’ve done.

There’s plenty to enjoy here. ‘I Don’t Know’ is about love as in “I don’t know much about love …but I’m gonna to find out” – there’s a Richard Thompson song that would follow it perfectly – and ‘Haul Away’ sounds like a rollicking old shanty. I love ‘Barleycorn Boy’ which is plainly not a folk song because “nobody dies and nobody drowns and no-one gets lost at the fair”, a typically witty Jon Palmer lyric adding a modern twist to an old idea. Two songs have appeared before on the live album: the title track and the traditional ‘Pay Me My Money Down’. The former is a love song with all the drive that the band can muster and could be a single if such things still mattered and the latter gets a more considered treatment than it does as a live show closer.

The line-up remains determinedly acoustic with guitars, double bass and Jon’s son Tom on cajon as the only percussion. Instrumental breaks come from Wendy Ross on fiddle and Matt Nelson’s mandolin, whistle and saxophone. My first impression was that there is more poetry than politics in The Silences In Between. The one obviously protest song is ‘There’s A Cold Wind Blowing (Over This Land)’ which sort of updates Billy Bragg’s ‘Between The Wars’ and that’s no bad thing since nothing much has changed since Bill wrote it.

There’s also a measure of unrequited love. ‘Hour Glass’, featuring the only guest appearance from singer Rachel Goodwin, is one such. Like several of Jon’s songs, it’s deceptively simple, but there is something oddly post-apocalyptic about it and the line “Burn the cathedrals” is the one that sticks in the mind. After one or two plays I think I understand why Jon didn’t include the lyrics with the record – the feel of a song is more important than detailed textual analysis – and there is little profit in trying to unpick his words.

The bottom line is that this is a superb album of 21st century folk-rock. Go out and buy it in thousands and make the Jon Palmer Acoustic Band rich and famous.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://www.jonpalmeracousticband.com/

‘The Silences In Between’ live:

MARK NEVIN – My Unfashionable Opinion (Raresongs Recordings MARKNCD005)

My Unfashionable OpinionSome of you might be asking ‘What’s Mark Nevin got to do with folk music? Folk music should be traditional or nothing’. Others might say ‘No. Folk music should be expressing new ideas and challenging the establishment view’. And that, in microcosm, is the point of the title track of Mark’s new album, My Unfashionable Opinion, although unfashionable is perhaps a euphemism as anyone who has expressed a contentious point of view on Facebook or Twitter knows.

Mark Nevin is a fine songwriter who is unlikely to hit the charts any time soon, nor will he appear in your local folk club. He inhabits that twilight zone between commercial success and cult adoration. He is accompanied by a core band of Simon Edwards, Richard Marcangelo, Roger Beaujolais and James Hallawell with guests including a brass section.

He returns to the absurdities of the internet with ‘Forgotify’ and I tried to imagine what I’d feel if I heard it on acoustic guitar by a club floor singer. I know I’d hate it and that’s why Mark has to be where he is. ‘Don’t Be My Echo’ is essentially acoustic with some decoration but ‘Curly Wurly Boy’ – about both careers advice in schools and the drudgery of factory work – could be but isn’t. His songs about relationships: ‘Uncertainty’, ‘Cold War’ and ‘I Can Hear You’, for example, need the rock backing to avoid mawkishness but it’s the autobiographical pieces such as ‘Punching Above My Weight’ that I enjoy most.

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 MARK NEVIN – My Unfashionable Opinion 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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Artist’s website: www.marknevin.com

‘My Unfashionable Opinion’ live: