DAVID IAN ROBERTS – Travelling Bright (Cambrian Records CAM014)

Travelling BrightI enjoyed David Roberts’ debut album, St Clears, principally for his arrangements although I found his lyrics rather too stream-of-consciousness. Hearing the first few tracks from Travelling Bright I was immediately hooked by his music all over again. He plays four different guitars, bass and eight other instruments calling only on Kirsten Miller on cello, Aidan Thorne on double-bass and Daan Temmick for most of the piano.

The opener, ‘A Million Winds’ is almost an instrumental with just three lines of lyrics and there are two fully instrumental tracks, ‘Garillon’ and ‘Winter Sun’. I tried harder to concentrate on the lyrics, hopefully to figure out how he puts a song together although anyone who uses the word “octarine” is already ahead of the game as far as I’m concerned. Let’s take ‘The Holloway’ as an example. Although David is from Herefordshire, it’s reasonable to suppose he’s writing about Holloway Road in Islington. He takes a series of images and spins them into a sort of narrative mixing his own feelings about the place into it. On one level it’s a vision of a snowy day in town and on another it’s a sort of pilgrimage of discovery. Or maybe I‘m just getting too pretentious for my own good but you can take whatever you want from the songs.

‘Grail’ and ‘Glass Bead Game’ are both stories without a back-story. The listener is dropped into the scenarios without explanation and left to figure them out. Both have a mediaeval, fantasy universe vibe in a late-sixties way – the sort of thing that Marc Bolan wrote and which David actually does better. In contrast is ‘Amber’ which is probably my favourite track. For all its poetry it feels direct and personal. On second thoughts my favourite track could be ‘The Old King Of Sunsets’; direct again and very simple.

Travelling Bright is an album you should really check out and take some time over. It deserves that.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.davidianroberts.com/

‘Grail’ – live in the studio:

BARNSTORMER 1649 – Restoration Tragedy (Roundhead Records CD9)

Restoration TragedyI must begin by apologising profusely to Attila The Stockbroker – this is his project – for not getting to this album rather soon than I have. However, as a new year treat it rates highly. Restoration Tragedy is a look at the latter part of the English revolution from a unique perspective. The sound is equally unique blending the recorders of Tim O’Tay and the variety of reeds played by Attila with the hard rock of Dave Cook on bass, drummer M M McGhee and guitarist Jason Pegg.

The album begins with ‘The Levellers’ Trilogy’ a medley of one of Attila’s tunes with Gerrard Winstanley’s ‘The Diggers’ Song’ and ‘The World Turned Upside Down’, thus setting the scene. ‘Wellingborough & Wigan’ are singled out as hosts of present day Diggers’ Festivals and then the story moves on to the aftermath of the Battle of Worcester and the escape of Charles II via Shoreham near Attila’s home town – the tragedy of the album’s title. He has no love for Cromwell either – “just a king in disguise” – but celebrates some of the larger than life characters of the period: Abiezer Coppe, Thomas Harrison, John Lilliburn and Winstanley, who crops up several times.

The story doesn’t stay in the past all the time. ‘The Man With The Beard’ is a warning against a modern-day cult of personality and that is followed by ‘Pride’s Purge’ drawing a comparison with the Rump Parliament and present day politics while ‘Robina’ makes a link between Attila’s wife and Cromwell’s sister who share a name. He refers to both himself and the Lord Protector as “driven, hot-headed and stubborn” with what feels like a wry smile.

The music ranges from the delicacy of ‘Cromwell’s Funeral’, a piano piece composed and played by Robina Baine, to the cacophony that ends ‘The Battle Of Worcester’ but it’s all nicely judged and balanced to keep the album flowing. You’ll get caught up and there is a danger that it will be over far too quickly.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.attilathestockbroker.com

‘The Levellers’ Trilogy’:

CLAIRE HASTINGS – Those Who Roam (Luckenbooth Records LUCKEN002CD)

Those Who RoamFollowing a somewhat unexpected and adventurous debut album, Claire Hastings became a Top Floor Taiver – still adventurous – and now reappears with her second solo album. Those Who Roam leans more heavily on the tradition which made her reputation as a Young Traditional Musician Of The Year but is by no means a retrograde step. In fact, it’s my second contender for album of the year from the three I’ve heard so far. Claire has slimmed down her band to four players and has engaged go-to producer Inge Thomson who is, no doubt, responsible for the sometimes ethereal feel of the album. Abandoning the ukulele was probably a good move, too.

As you probably guessed, not least from Claire’s sprauncy attire, the theme of the album is travellers; those who journey willingly and those forced to travel; those who journey heroically and those for whom it is just a way of life. The opening track, ‘The Lothian Hairst’, concerns the latter, gangs who worked the harvests in the 19th century, beginning in the Lothians and moving northwards as they followed the ripening grain. Told from the point of view of a female worker it sounds like a great life and benefits from a modern arrangement featuring Jenn Butterworth’s guitar and Tom Gibbs’ piano plus the sound of scythes: another of Thomson’s touches.

‘Jack The Sailor’, a variation on the female midshipman theme, is completely different, racing along on Laura Wilkie’s fiddle and driven by Andrew Waite’s accordion while ‘Seven Gypsies’ and  ‘Sailin’s A Weary Life’, with its doom-laden arrangement,  both concern loss but for very different reasons. Next comes ‘Fair Weather Beggar’, the first of Claire’s own songs, about an Edinburgh busker who doesn’t like the rain, followed by a rather pretty written song from the 18th century. ‘Logie O’ Buchan’ is the age-old story of the lecherous landlord and the poor couple forcibly separated.

Claire’s second original song, ‘Noble Helen Of Cluden’, is based on a possibly true story borrowed by Sir Walter Scott for The Heart Of Midlothian and is a sort of twist on ‘Geordie’. ‘Jamie Raeburn’ is a fairly familiar transportation ballad and in complete contrast it’s followed by Dave Alvin’s ‘King Of California’ which tells another age-old story set this time in gold-rush America. Finally we have ‘Ten Thousand Miles which closes with the same sound that begins ‘The Lothian Hairst’; soft strings that are probably Wilkie’s fiddle treated by Thomson.

Those Who Roam really is an excellent album and, much as I enjoyed Between River And Railway, it’s a big step forward.

Dai Jeffries

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: www.clairehastings.com

‘King Of California’ – live at Costa del Folk:

NANCY K DILLON – A Game Of Swans (Rose Rock Records RRR333)

A Game Of SwansPeople may talk about “pure” Americana but this is the real thing. A Game Of Swans is Nancy K Dillon’s third studio album, recorded, by the wonders of electronic communications, on both sides of the Atlantic with a group of musicians reflecting her British roots as well as her Seattle home. The final song, ‘Poor Man’s Lullaby’, for example, is co-written by Gavin Sutherland (with a brief nod to Woody Guthrie) and part recorded in Aberdeen. It features the pseudonymous J J “Breeze” Bridges and Levon “Hawk” Marvell – ho, ho, ho.

The first three songs are set explicitly in the 19th century. The first, ‘Dutchman’s Gold’, is the tale of a secret gold mine in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. You just have to love a song like that. ‘St. Jude’, written by Drew Nelson and Janni Littlepage, tells of a woman leaving the old country for the new in search of her man who went on ahead and presumably found himself fighting in the Civil War. Jude is the patron saint of hope but he’s referred to here as the patron saint of fools so I think that the writers may have another explanation for his silence. ‘Annabelle’ is the story of a woman living alone in the frontier west; a clear case of cabin fever but with the suggestion of a sinister back story.

Having set the scene she wants you to hold in your mind, Nancy expands her horizons with the title track co-written with Ian Lang which links both sides of the ocean thanks to acoustic guitars paired with Michael Connolly’s uilleann pipes and whistle. Pat Long’s song ‘Fire In The Hole’ is about a mining disaster which occurred in 1981 but with the combination of Connolly’s fiddle and Stacy Phillips’ resonator guitar it sounds as though it happened a century earlier.

From here Nancy explores a number of themes: simplicity and the power of old songs, failed relationships and the demise of letter writing. There’s a homage to old-timey gospel songs with ‘White Dove’ until we reach the story of a hobo that is ‘Poor Man’s Lullaby’. A Game Of Swans is a rather lovely album and I have to single out Chris Parks’ various electric guitars which do so much to establish the atmosphere from the first track and carry it forward. If you like pure Americana you’ll love this.

Dai Jeffries

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: www.nancykdillon.net

‘Annabelle’ – official video for the single:

RICK DANKO RICHARD MANUEL & GARTH HUDSON – Live At The Lonestar, NYC, 1985 (Floating World FLOATM6380)

Live At The LonestarLive At The Lonestar, NYC, 1985 is the third and final of a set of new bootleg releases of Band alumni for this year. The sound is good and the trio, with collected years of experience behind them, are tight. Danko handles the majority of the lead vocals: ‘Mystery Train’, ‘Crazy Mama’, ‘Java Blues’ and ‘It Makes No Difference’ were staples of his solo live performances.

They kick off with two of those looseners: ‘Mystery Train’ and ‘Crazy Mama’, before tackling some of The Band’s biggest hits. The fourth track is listed as ‘The Rumor’ but it isn’t and the person who wrote the sleeve notes either didn’t listen to the recording or didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about – probably both. They actually play a long soulful version of ‘Every Night And Every Day’ by Chicago bluesman Magic Sam. It took me about two minutes to track it down – gissa job!

The first actual Band original is ‘Shape I’m In’ followed by another impassioned reading of ‘It Makes No Difference’. ‘Across The Great Divide’ and ‘Stage Fright’ follow and finally Richard Manuel gets up front to sing a soulful piano-led ‘She Knows’ – apparently it was his birthday. Danko returns with ‘Unfaithful Servant’ before Hudson has his moment in the spotlight with the pairing of ‘The Genetic Method’ and ‘Chest Fever’. A really loose ‘Java Blues’ with a belting break from Hudson and ‘I Shall be Released’ wrap up the recording although not the party.

The songs have a new freedom without Levon Helm’s drums and you can feel Manuel and Hudson responding to Danko’s singing. Little things like Richard’s piano on ‘Unfaithful Servant’ with its new variations on the original recording make this set a particular delight

Dai Jeffries

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.

Label website: https://floatingworldrecords.co.uk/

‘She Knows’ featuring Richard Manuel:

DUCK POND SAILORS – Sea Songs And Shanties (own label)

Sea Songs And ShantiesDuck Pond Sailors are an unaccompanied quintet from the south coast – Littlehampton or thereabouts, as far as I can judge. They don’t tell us much about themselves except that Sea Songs And Shanties is their debut recording, mostly traditional with a one original song and possibly two adaptations.

The opener, ‘I Am A Duck Pond Sailor’ by Jonathan Mott, is a nicely self-deprecating song – we all know shanty singers who would get seasick in a rowing boat – and it sets the scene well but it does leave them open to accusations of fakery but I don’t suppose they’ll worry too much about that. ‘Littlehampton Collier Lads’ is mostly traditional and has moved along the coast from Sam Larner’s ‘Dogger Bank’ although I did find mention of the title as long ago as 1935. ‘Hard Times Of Old England’ is another modernisation of the Copper Family song, resolutely even-handed in its condemnation of both political sides.

The harmonies are generally tight, perhaps too much so, but whether that is the band or the recording, I can’t say. I feel that they need a bigger bass voice or maybe just more natural reverb in the recording. The track that seems to suit them best is their melancholy reading of ‘Leave Her Johnny’. The recording isn’t perfect, there is an unwelcome noise at the end of some tracks, presumably as the tape switches off, which should have been edited out and in a couple of places you get the feeling that the chaps are getting tired and would have been better advised to take a break.

Duck Pond Sailors are really about singing in front of a roaring pub fire and this record will be a good souvenir of a live show of which there will doubtless be many in the future.

Dai Jeffries

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’ website: http://www.duckpondsailors.com/

A medley of songs at The Dolphin, Littlehampton: