JOAN OSBORNE – Songs Of Bob Dylan (Womanly Hips Records WHCD001)

Songs Of Bob DylanI should say from the outset that I’m a sucker for covers of Bob Dylan songs. Artists can and do so much with them and occasionally transcend the originals even though that may sound like heresy. So when Joan Osborne’s Songs Of Bob Dylan appeared on my horizon I practically demanded a copy at gunpoint.

Joan avoids the trap of going straight to the obvious acoustic titles – ‘Masters Of War’ is the oldest song here – and some of her choices are quite surprising. She opens with ‘Tangled Up In Blue’, a country-rock treatment with that crack in her voice giving the song an edge of fatalism. Surprise number one comes with ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35’, stripped of that insane marching band and driven by Jack Petruzzelli’s electric guitar. ‘Buckets Of Rain’, very much a guitar piece in its original incarnation, is taken over by Keith Cotton’s piano before acoustic guitar picks it up at the end.

Surprise number two is in the shape of ‘Highway 61 Revisited’. Joan slows it down a fraction and turns it into a blues-rock shouter with an accompaniment that maintains sufficient elements of the original arrangement to make you smile knowingly. ‘Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)’ begins with a late-sixties organ swirling through it, which is nice touch, before taking on a gospel vibe and ‘Tryin’ To Get To Heaven’ comes close to transcending the original, partly because of the clarity of Joan’s vocals, but because she succeeds, for me at least, in painting a different mental picture.

If I must be critical I have to say that Joan misses the opportunity to take at least one song back to its bare bones until we get to ‘Masters Of War’ with its throbbing acoustic and piano and I find ‘Dark Eyes’, for example, to be rather too busy. That said, ‘High Water (For Charley Patton)’ has the kitchen sink thrown at it and works really well and ‘Ring Them Bells’ is a glorious finisher with Cotton’s piano ringing out and Joan’s voice clear and…well…bell-like.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.joanosborne.com

‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ – live:

THE YOUNG ‘UNS – Strangers (Hereteu Records YNGS17)

StrangersThe Young’Uns have come a long way in a few short years. Strangers is their fourth studio album, coming a mere three years after they turned professional. The trio are strong singers, they enjoy the sort of on-stage banter that only good friends can get away with and they have a fine songwriter in Sean Cooney. The theme of the album is, I think, that there are no strangers, or if there are it doesn’t really make a difference. Cooney’s songs in this set are full of “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things on behalf of people they don’t necessarily know.

The album opens with ‘A Place Called England’ which suggests that we are now strangers in the country we thought we knew. They take it a bit fast for my taste but I’ve heard Maggie Holland’s original so many times that it feels “right” now. Next is ‘Ghafoor’s Bus’, the story of a grandfather from Teesside who converted a bus into a mobile kitchen and drove to Europe to feed refugees. To him, they weren’t strangers. Switching from accompanied harmony we have ‘Be The Man’ with David Eagle on piano and Michael Hughes on guitar with support from Rachael McShane on cello and a topping of flugelhorn from Jude Abbott.

‘Carriage 12’ tells the story of the terrorist attack on a French train two years ago. We’re back to unaccompanied harmony with a tune inspired by the familiar cadences of country music that suits the song perfectly. The four heroes of the attack could have run and saved themselves but they stood and fought. ‘Cable Street’ is a story familiar to all of us and ‘Dark Water’, the story of two refugees fleeing by swimming five miles of open sea, returns to the accompanied style and features Mary Ann Kennedy on harp.

Sean borrows the idea of pairing a jolly, singalong tune with a lyric that carries a serious message but he doesn’t overuse it. ‘Bob Cooney’s Miracle’ tells how fifty-seven men in the Spanish Civil War were fed from a loaf of bread and a tin of corned beef. OK, it’s not exactly Biblical but the humour makes it. Arguably, the best song is ‘These Hands’, the story of Sybil Phoenix, the first black woman to be awarded the MBE for fostering children in London but who faced racism throughout her life. The song is uplifting and ultimately ends happily. Finally we have ‘The Hartlepool Pedlar’, about a Jewish refugee named Marks who opened a shop in Leeds and took on a partner – and we all know what happened to them.

So The Young’Uns go from strength to strength with an album of great, thought-provoking stories and they probably have another forty years left in them yet.

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 YOUNG ‘UNS – Strangers 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]

Artists’ website: www.theyounguns.co.uk

‘A Place Called England’ – live:

MARTIN SIMPSON – Trails & Tribulations (Topic TSCD593)

Trails & TribulationsMartin Simpson never disappoints, whether live or on record, but rarely does he surprise. Rather he evolves over time and emerges with something new and different as he has here. Trails & Tribulations is his 20th solo album in a career going back to the early seventies. You sort of know what to expect – Martin is equally drawn to the English and American traditions; he will have borrowed a song or two and written a couple more; there will be a variety of guitars plus banjo and ukulele and it will probably all come together with a fine group of musicians supporting him. And, of course, you’ll be absolutely right.

What’s new is a richness to the music which I suspect comes from working with The Full English and Simpson Cutting Kerr. Both Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr feature here as does percussionist Toby Kearney, guitarist John Smith, Ben Nicholls on bass and Martin’s daughter Molly on vocals. Toby is generally restrained but the percussion is more noticeable than I remember. Take the first track, Jackson C Frank’s ‘Blues Run The Game’. It’s a short song but Martin takes his time over it, warming up his fingers as he does on stage as the introduction emerges. Bass and percussion provide an unobtrusive foundation and Martin tops everything off with Weissenborn decoration. Next is Emily Portman’s ‘Bones And Feathers’, which he has been singing for a year or so now, and which features banjo – not one of Emily’s chosen instruments. Martin owns it now.

From the Americas we have ‘Thomas Drew’, which would appear to be a distant cousin of ‘John Hardy’, ‘East Kentucky’ and ‘St. James Hospital’ but the first two are written by Martin and perfectly match the period feel – he had me fooled. From the English tradition come ‘Rufford Park Poachers’ and ‘Reynardine’. That leaves four others. Charles Causley’s ‘A Ballad For Katherine Of Aragon’ – music by Alex Atterson – has also been in Martin’s live repertoire for a while and it sounds like a song he would have written if someone hadn’t already done so. ‘Maps’, ‘Jasper’s/Dancing Shoes’ and Ridgeway are three more of Martin’s songs, continuing the semi-autobiographical style that began with ‘Never Any Good’.

Trails & Tribulations will be available in multiple formats including a deluxe double CD with six extra tracks including my all-time Simpson favourite, ‘Joshua Gone Barbados’. I’m holding out for 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 MARTIN SIMPSON 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.martinsimpson.com/

‘Blues Run The Game’ – live:

;

PONS AELIUS – Captain Glen’s Comfort (own label PACGC01)

ComfortGreat band name, Pons Aelius. To save you the trouble, the original was a small Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall so the name reflects their musical heritage: mostly Newcastle with more than a dash of Scots. Captain Glen’s Comfort, named for a tune by piper and whistle-blower Jordan Aikin and flautist Sam Partridge, is their debut album after two years on the road and that experience shows.

Alongside Aikin we have Partridge’s wooden flutes which provide softer shades to contrast with the brightness of strings. Tom Kimber plays mandolin and tenor banjo giving the band four different lead instruments. Actually, that should be five since Alasdair Paul’s bouzouki is as much a lead instrument as a rhythm one. Alasdair also plays guitar alongside Bevan Morris’ double bass and Callum Younger’s bodhran and mixed percussion.

The band’s repertoire mixes original compositions, mostly by Aikin, a couple of traditional titles and some shrewd borrowings, notably Mats Edén’s ‘Yrsnö’ which serves to remind us that they are looking outwards not inwards. It’s the variety of music and versatility of playing that singles Pons Aelius out. The title track starts out a soft pastoral flute piece that gradually picks up the pace and it’s followed by the jazz influenced ‘£75 Fine’ and ‘Oh My Doughnuts’, the first part of which is written by Morris and built around a bass figure.

In another band, Aikin’s pipe part on ‘£75 Fine’ might be played on electric guitar and ‘Oh My Doughnuts’ might use boogie-woogie piano. All through the album the emphasis of the melody shifts from instrument to instrument but they are never gimmicky. Listen to ‘Lament For John Morrison Of Assynt House’ in which the pipes are underscored by Morris’s bowed bass and topped off with Partridge’s flutes. My only criticism of the record is that the piece should have been left to stand alone rather than being paired with another tune even though the pipes return to the original theme at the end.

And as that really is my only criticism I think it’s fair to say that Captain Glen’s Comfort is a very fine debut.

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 PONS AELIUS – Captain Glen’s Comfort 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://ponsaeliusmusic.com

Captain Glen’s Comfort will be released on 8th September.

‘The Way Is Clear’ – live in the studio:

PAUL ANDERSON – The High Summit (Fingal Records FINCD506)

High SummitI sometimes while away an idle moment trying to discern trends in Scottish music and I always fail. There are young musicians playing the oldest tunes they can find, others pushing the boundaries of composition in their reinterpretation of old forms and some playing rock’n’roll on bagpipes and big drums. Paul Anderson falls into yet another category, a composer of new music that sounds as old as the Aberdeenshire hills that he’s celebrating. The High Summit is his third album of his own music.

Paul’s fiddle is the dominant sound, of course, but he has a fine bunch of supporting musicians all whom would grace any album. Top of the list, I suppose, is keyboard player and co-producer Ali Napier who also gets a tune named after him. Then there are guitarists Tony Mcmanus and Malcolm Jones bringing two very different styles to the party, Swedish cittern player Ale Carr and James Gorgon who plays extraordinary percussion on ‘Corporal Hare Of The Royal Marines/The Diamond Special’.

There are eighteen tracks on the album, many quite short, and all save one are instrumentals. Paul names his tunes after places and people in the old-fashioned manner so ‘Anne Cromar Of Morpeth’ and ‘Alastair MacDougall Of Hopewell’ get name-checks. The odd track out is ‘The Bonnie Banks O’ Dee’, co-written and sung by Shona Donaldson, who also has the closing track named for her. Shona has one album to her credit and it’s very tempting to track a copy down but I digress. The song captures perfectly the cadences and feel of the Scots tradition and if a duo album of their original songs doesn’t emerge out of this I’ll be very disappointed.

The High Summit is a lovely album, full of bouncy dance rhythms and beautiful airs. It’s a record that you can easily lose yourself in.

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 PAUL ANDERSON – The High Summit 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.paulandersonscottishfiddler.com/

Going the extra mile, Paul films himself playing ‘Balmoral’ on Lochnagar:

SAM DRAISEY – As I Live And Breathe (own label)

As I Live And BreatheI’m the last of the protest song heroes” sings Sam Draisey in ‘Five Years Later’. That in itself is unusual because many writers of protest songs deny that’s what they are. Furthermore, ‘Five Years Later’ is a very good protest song and it comes on the back of ‘The Worst Lie Of All’, which you might consider to be even better. Sam is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Wolverhampton and As I Live And Breathe is something like his fifth album. Like others before him he’s turned his back on the first two and re-issued some of the songs on Anthology. This album has been a long time in the making and the polish that Sam acquired in recent years is self-evident.

As I Live And Breathe is, in many ways, autobiographical but often in an oblique way. ‘Used To Be My Hero’ is an attack on an un-named musician and my mind immediately turned to Bob Dylan but Sam is too young to have that sort of attachment to Bob. He says that “punk’s not dead” so that alters the time frame and opens up the field a bit. To confuse things further he follows that with ‘Let’s Not Grow Old’ heavily inspired by Johnny Cash.

Sam is a whole band all by himself but he has back-up from Dickie Davis on drums and Daniel Hart on second electric guitar plus his wife Kayla, who co-wrote some of the songs, providing vocals on ‘Turning You Down’. Sam has a distinctive voice that sounds younger than his years and he’s mixed himself well up front even when the band is rocking – oh yes, he did all the recording, mixing and mastering himself, too. And now I’ll tell you that Sam has only one arm and I discovered that fact only when I’d got to the end of the record which is when you learn it. Sam is someone who has proved what can be overcome.

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 SAM DRAISEY – As I Live And Breathe 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: http://www.samdraisey.com/

‘Don’t Forget’ – live: