DAVY GRAHAM – Large As Life And Twice As Natural (Bread And Wine BRINECD-2)

NaturalIf you want to know why Davy Graham was such a unique and influential artist just listen to the first track on Large As Life And Twice As Natural, his third studio album. Actually, listen to the whole record but the first track will tell you all you need to know.

That track is ‘Both Sides Now’, yes, the Joni Mitchell song, although initially you wouldn’t recognise it.  In 1968 it was known from the Judy Collins cover; Joni wouldn’t release it for another year. For Davy it must have seemed like a blank canvas. He begins with a bass drone, then introducing a guitar instrumental with wordless vocals which is reminiscent of ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ or possibly ‘Blackwaterside’. Only after two minutes or so does he burst into a high energy version of the song with his band in full cry.

I should tell you that the “band” consists of four of the go-to sides-men of the time: Danny Thompson, Jon Hiseman, Harold McNair and Dick Heckstall-Smith, all capable of playing anything that was asked of them be it folk, blues, jazz or whatever and, on this record, Graham asks a lot. He follows it up with the traditional ‘Bad Boy Blues’, a musical form that he was irresistibly drawn to. Here you’ll find four blues songs and a couple more that come close but Graham is musically restless so the third track is ‘Tristano’, a solo guitar composition.

There are two of Graham’s famous ragas, both different in character and using his original tunings. The first is the appropriately named ‘Sunshine Raga’, which starts slowly as though coming up with the dawn waking up the bass and drums as it rises while a very western melody emerges. The second, which closes the album, is ‘Blue Raga’ with its beautiful echoey opening phrase and Hiseman’s percussion running alongside the guitar.

As if these delights are not enough, there is the Moroccan-inspired ‘Jenra’ and a solemn version of the traditional ‘Bruton Town’. You come away with the impression that these musicians could do just about anything and you can see why Large As Life And Twice As Natural is held to be one of Graham’s finest works.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the DAVY GRAHAM – Large As Life And Twice As Natural 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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You can hear more of Davy Graham at https://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/84b35dee-b1d6-4bf6-8748-8bb9918bebaf

and there is a nice feature at http://www.folkblues.co.uk/artistsgraham.html

No film as such but listen to ‘Blue Raga’ anyway:

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ADRIAN NATION – Anarchy And Love (Laburnum Ridge LABAN040)

AnarchyAdrian’s fourth solo album (one of them is live), Anarchy And Love, began with the death of his father some four years ago. In a brief sleeve note he says that his father left many things behind and on the record are “some of the songs he left in me”. Happily for all of us this is not an album filled with grief but one that radiates optimism. Sure, the road isn’t always an easy one. The title track comes from Adrian’s time in Athens during the protests in 2012. Amongst the chaos he saw a small, but encouraging, seed of hope. You can call it a protest song, but its targets are not necessarily the obvious ones and the protest continues with ‘Dying Of Democracy’.

If Adrian wanted an uplifting start for the album he couldn’t have chosen better than ‘Rocket To The Moon’ in which the Scottish exodus to the New World “made this nation great”. It’s impossible to imagine the feelings of despair felt by the people setting out into the unknown but they did OK. Of course, the Macdonald brothers hadn’t heard of Donald Trump back then. The final song is another cover, Robert Burns’ ‘A Man’s A Man’, which encapsulates the same idea on a personal level – “The honest man though oh so poor is king of men for all that”.

Adrian is lauded as an acoustic guitar master and there are three solo instrumentals here but he’s now expanded his repertoire to include electric guitar. In the modern fashion, Anarchy And Love was recorded with musicians in several locations, notably Sardinia, Scotland and Canada where he’s developed quite a following in recent years and something has rubbed off on him. It took four or five tracks for me to work out what I was hearing in the back of my mind. It shouldn’t have taken so long since Adrian has cited Bruce Cockburn as one of his inspirations but sometimes he really channels the man.

Adrian is, to quote Burns, a “man of independent mind” and, while there is a bit of Bruce in ‘The Benderloch Stone’ for example, the ideas and the words are definitely Adrian’s. This is another excellent album from a writer and performer who really should be much better known.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the ADRIAN NATION – Anarchy And Love 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: www.adriannation.com

‘The Benderloch Stone’ – live:

MARK T. – From Blues To Rembetika (Circle Of Sound COS330CD)

From Blues To RembetikaFrom Blues To Rembetika neatly encapsulates the two strands of Mark T’s music and his love for both the resonator guitar and the bouzouki although there is rather more of the former than the latter here. Rembetika is an urban music from Greece and Turkey which spawned the bouzouki music of the early 20th century. Mark finds a parallel between the two musics; both coming as they do from the poor communities with their own language and conventions.

The album is topped and tailed by ‘An Old Road’, a short solo instrumental, and immediately dives into the old blues with ‘Worried Life’, co-written by Mississippi Fred McDowell and Mike Cooper, who Mark credits as a big influence on his music. That’s followed by a Mark T original, ‘Going Down The Road’ again in the blues form.

Finally Mark turns to rembetika with two original compositions, ‘Taxim/Shirts Of The Earth’, recorded live at The Troubadour last year. The two tunes employ the opposite ends of the bouzouki’s range to good effect. A taxim is a solo instrumental improvisation, a musical form that Mark has used several times on previous albums.

Four more tracks were recorded live at the Troubadour: Son House’s ‘Death Letter’, Woody Guthrie’s ‘Dust Pneumonia Blues’, ‘Ain’t Going Down The Well No More’ – another original – and Robert Johnson’s ‘Ramblin’’. After the latter Mark returns to rembetika with a long set of original tunes, ‘Erinaki’, featuring Charles Spicer on cor anglaise which really adds a richness to the music. It’s probably my favourite track on the album and just flashes by.

Although the album is generally quite sparse, there are three percussionists helping to drive it along: Iqbal Pathan on tables, Mysterious Bob playing bongos and congas and Fran Wood who also provides backing vocals. Mark’s approach to the blues is pretty authentic – that’s an all-wooden National Triolian on the cover – but I’m not expert enough to judge his rembetika. I just know I enjoy it.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the MARK T. – From Blues To Rembetika 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: www.circleofsound.co.uk

‘Going Down The Road’ – live:

ONE BLOKE ONE MANDOLIN – Fair Travels & Fine Times (Mind If I Play Records MI-IPR-2148)

Fair TravelsOne Bloke One Mandolin is better known to his friends as Stevie Simpson. He’s a much-travelled veteran who exists under the radar as far as too many people are concerned and he’s still paying his dues. That can’t be right. Fair Travels & Fine Times is something like his sixth album and it’s a fine piece of work. Live, he lives up to his pseudonym although it’s actually a mandola, the better to make an impact on a bar full of noisy drinkers.

Many of Stevie’s songs come from his life and travels. Take ‘The Lure Of The Road’ – Stevie is a biker and lives in a trailer and the song is a surprisingly tender acknowledgement of the freedom that he enjoys and echoed in the title track. I’m not sure how autobiographical ‘I Don’t Drink These Days Like I Used To’ really is – he was on diet Coke the last time I saw him – but it’s a great song. His style is Americana which makes him welcome just about everywhere with the exception of one town in Germany as chronicled in ‘I’ll Just Call You Clint’, which is very nearly a misprint. ‘(Still) Too Poor For Trailer Trash’ is a revisiting of one of his early songs so I guess Stevie is staying true to his roots.

The other strand of Stevie’s songwriting is history and he is obviously very well-read. The first track, ‘Sweet Dark Wave’ tells the story of the Boston Molasses Disaster and no, I hadn’t heard of it until today either. Back in 1919, a storage tank exploded and two million gallons of molasses flooded downtown Boston killing eleven people. Locals claim that, on a hot summer day, you can still smell molasses but I have to ask how you even find out about something like that. He’s less specific about the origin of ‘One Night In Old Detroit’ but it feels like it’s based on truth and ‘The Arctic Convoy’ certainly is.

Stevie is the sort of guy who knows everyone. On Fair Travels & Fine Times you’ll find Jim Bennion and Jono Watts from Leatherat, Tracey Browne and guitarist Steph Hoy and if you think that ‘A Temporary Boatman’ is evocative of another song, you’re right. He always adds a hidden track on the end of his albums and here it’s the Levellers’ ‘Red Sun Burns’. Sadly, he’s not allowed to record his version of ‘Ernie’!

Chances are you’ve never heard Stevie and I urge you to rectify that. This album is the perfect place to start.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.oneblokeonemandolin.com

‘The Bosun’ live:

BIERE DE LUXE – Into The Thicket (own label)

Into The ThicketBiere de Luxe are five guys from Falmouth who don’t say much about who they are except to describe themselves as rural gypsy-punks. They do live up to the punk ethos in some ways. Into The Thicket is very much a collaborative effort in a sleeve that carries minimal information – designer Eloise Pilbeam is the only other person to receive a credit. The band recorded it themselves but don’t say where; on their home page they give themselves nom de plumes and on CD their names are in an almost indecipherable script – I would never have identified bouzouki player Tadgh Shiels, without finding his name in print.

Where they differ from punk is that these guys can play. And they rock. On the one hand there are drums, bass and guitar topped off with harmonica and on the other we have bouzouki,  accordion and keyboards and it’s they way they combine these elements that gives Biere De Luxe their unique sound. The opening track, ‘Up To My Neck In Trees’, begins with raucous bouzouki and harmonica before abruptly switching to fast country-rock. I went looking for the banjo but there isn’t one.

Guitarist Oliver Philp is the lead vocalist although bassist Andy Annear also sings so they may share lead duties. ‘Lost In A Dream’ has a strange echo on the vocals and ‘Rusty Old Blade’ is straight out of Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones period complete with oom-pah band sound. ‘Biere De Luxe Theme’ is a relatively conventional instrumental opening with a nice guitar figure before Lawrence Engledow’s accordion takes over and the same combination continues through ‘Gypsy Christmas’.

‘Barley Wine’ takes us back to punk, lyrically at least, but with a jolly tune and even jollier accompaniment – it’s great fun – while ‘Hambres E Incedios’ takes us somewhere between eastern Europe and Mexico. Biere De Luxe mix it up very well and the excellent sequencing of the album pulls you along very nicely.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://www.facebook.com/bieredeluxe/

‘Rusty Old Blade’ – official video:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Hobgoblin Music – 40 Years (Hobgoblin HOBCD040)

Hobgoblin MusicIt’s forty years since the founders of Hobgoblin Music set out to make, and I quote “what was then almost impossible – finding good quality folk instruments – possible”. As the sleeve notes acknowledge, that seems almost ordinary now and you can buy just about anything from a Hobgoblin shop and if you can’t they will probably know someone who can make it for you. The twenty-one tracks that make up this compilation are all performed by current or former Hobgoblin staff and that must make it unique. With shops all over the country the performers come from very different backgrounds which makes for a very varied set. Some of the players are professional musicians now, others come from ad hoc groupings; so much so that one track is credited to the Leeds Shop Staff – a richly arranged version of ‘Green Grows The Laurel’.

The opening track is a sparkling instrumental from one of the company’s first employees, Mark White. There is no indication when ‘Tea Time’ was written but it has a 70s feel.  That’s followed by ‘An Ordinary Life’, a folk-punk track by The Teds who feature Mark McCabe and the first of two tracks by flautist Jacquelyn Hynes, ‘The Cuckoo’, this being the Appalachian setting. Her other contribution is a set of two tunes, ‘Micho Russell’s/Father Kelly’s’. Rather modestly, the company’s founder Pete McClelland, holds himself back to the fourth track, ‘Walk This Road’, from his debut album, Carolina Sky. Actually, he’s not so modest, his Blackthorn Band get two tracks. ‘Spailpin Fanach’ and ‘The Banks Of The Sweet Primroses’.

I hope you’re getting the picture by now. Here you will find traditional songs and tunes and the writing of fine singer/songwriters like Nicola Rain & Sarah Mooney, Dogan Mehmet, Neil Campbell, Ollie King and John Rain. And I’m prepared to guarantee that you’ll discover someone you want to hear more of.

Dai Jeffries

Label website: http://www.hobgoblinrecords.com/

Dogan Mehmet & friends: ‘The Raging Seas’ – live: