MIKE REINSTEIN – Acts Of Love (Irregular Records IRR110)

Acts Of LoveMike Reinstein is a singer-songwriter-guitarist from Sussex and his songs are usually literate, thoughtful and, indeed, thought-provoking. I’m pleased to say that Acts Of Love is no exception. The album title itself is cleverly open to interpretation but the opening track leaves us in no doubt as to Mike’s message.

‘24/7 Care’ is a big production number featuring Robert Heasman’s trumpet and Tim Wade’s trombone over producer Ali Gavan’s bass and Lee Humber’s drums. Its subject is the family members who take over the caring duties that the government should provide and it reminds me a bit of the early Kinks. The style changes to acoustic guitar for ‘It’s Come To This’ which, I’ve decided, switches the viewpoint to a carer isolated by his duty to his wife. It’s desperately poignant and makes a perfect contrast with the optimism of ‘24/7 Care’.

Fortunately for our emotional balance, things become less fraught with ‘A Lot Like You’ and the jazzy, smoochy ‘Act Of Love’ featuring Reina James-Reinstein’s piano and electric guitar from Mick O’Connor. Now, of course, I’m looking for the twist in the tail and ‘Everything’s Going My Way’ sounds like a silly, inconsequential song until you reach the end and…no, I’m not going to spoil it for you.

Other songs range from an imagined meeting between Billie Holliday and Peggy Lee to life in modern Aleppo and a memory of Samuel Beckett and Mike returns to the main theme with ‘It’s A Given’ decorated by Ray Knight’s harmonica followed by the nostalgic ‘Seaford Song’. ‘Show Me My Mark And Tell Me What To Say’ is a romantic piece with a country edge and the whole band back together again.

Acts Of Love is another fine album from Mike – a heady mix of subjects and styles and all done with love.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.mikereinstein.co.uk

‘The Gardener Of Aleppo’:

ÚNA MONAGHAN – For (own label)

ForBelfast’s Úna Monaghan is a harper, a composer and an exponent of electronic soundscapes – her description – and she combines those talents on her debut solo album, For. The title incidentally comes from the fact that most of the tracks are written for someone. Needless to say this is not a conventional solo harp album.

The opening track, ‘Tubaiste Agus Taisceadán’, is a set of jigs and for the most part is conventional enough, although I thought I heard the odd “wrong” note, before dissolving into ‘Réalta’. This is a harp improvisation played over Úna’s first electro-acoustic composition, itself made up of manipulated harp sounds. ‘Mammy’s’ is a pretty tune – maybe we are being led gently along – and so are ‘Nanny Nora’s And The Clean Player’. Except that the second half is played over a jumbled soundscape that seems to me to represent the rough and tumble of a hurling match – the clean player of the title was Úna’s grandfather and a county hurler.

‘The Choice’ is where Úna really starts to go to town. The piece is about addiction and it rapidly descends into chaos with all thoughts of music obliterated until the harp suddenly bursts through like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. It’s a brilliant depiction. ‘An Dearcadh’ is another major piece; three tunes played over a melange of field recordings, everything from kids in the Belfast streets to ships’ horns sounding on Belfast loch. This is sandwiched between two laments, I suppose we must call them, ‘For Her’ and ‘For Mary’, both written in response to deaths. ‘Ómós Do Sheamus’ is melody that emerges from discordant notes over the sound of the sea, as though the player is searching for a tune.

After the lovely ‘Half Moon Lake’ comes the longest track. ‘Naomhóg’ is a suite comprising a jig, an air and a reel, a virtuoso performance – recorded live, remember – and finally we come to the real hard-core soundscape that is ‘The Bodélé Project’ which Úna describes as an installation piece which should involve radios, weather systems and morse code transmissions.

I almost resent having to analyse this album, although by doing so I’ve almost certainly played closer attention than I might otherwise have done. I’d much prefer to play it and let my thoughts follow the music wherever it leads.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.unamonaghan.com

Taster video:

KEITH KENDRICK & SYLVIA NEEDHAM – Shine On (WildGoose WGS 423 CD)

Shine OnIf you like your folk music robust and uncluttered, you probably have, in your collection, at least one album by Keith Kendrick and his partner Sylvia Needham. Shine On is very much a reflection of their live act; a mixture of traditional and written songs by friends old and new, with three instrumental sets thrown in, reflecting Keith’s ceilidh band heritage.

The title track is written by John Richards, originally for the late Johnny Collins to sing, and deals with the struggle against alcoholism, not the most cheerful subject to begin with but it certainly makes you sit up and take notice. Keith and Sylvia follow this with ‘Jack-In-The-Box/March Bluebeard’ which Keith originally recorded with Ram’s Bottom (and that was a long time ago) and ‘The Christmas Hare’ by old friend Roger Watson. Songs like this allow the duo to give their Derbyshire accents free rein – usually it’s just the occasional flattened vowel that gives them away.

There are two songs by Sydney Carter; ‘Silver In The Stubble’, which is reflection on the aging process and the wonderful and cutting ‘Standing In The Rain’. I should have said that a certain Christmassy motif runs through the record – perfect for next winter’s mix-tape. A new friend is Linda Woodruff who writes songs tinged with humour like ‘Finest Captain On The Sea’ and ‘Father Christmas’ which explains how St. Nicholas spends spring and summer dancing Morris in Derbyshire. Of course he does.

There are more serious songs, of course: ‘Bedlam’ and ‘Van Dieman’s Land’, for example, and also ‘Bonny Kate’ and ‘Giles Scroggins’ from the tradition and the biting political ‘Always Money For A War’ by Ian Robb. Supporting the duo’s concertinas (and Sylvia’s banjo) are members of ceilidh band BandAnglo – Pete Bullock, Tom Miller, Keith Holloway and Pierce Butler – to give ‘Tip-Top Polka’ a bit of extra welly but Keith and Sylvia don’t really need much help.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website.

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Artists’ website: http://www.wildgoose.co.uk

‘Silver In The Stubble’ – live:

MATTHEWS SOUTHERN COMFORT – Like A Radio (MIG MIG02023)

Like A RadioMatthews Southern Comfort – that’s a name we haven’t heard for a while and, to be honest, I’m not sure why we’re hearing it now. If you remember the MSC that had their greatest hit with ‘Woodstock’ featuring Gordon Huntley’s pedal steel – this isn’t them. If you remember Iain’s first solo album featuring Britain’s folk-rock illuminati – no not them, either. Like A Radio is a damn good Iain Matthews solo album with three old tracks revisited – Second Spring’s sublime ‘Darcy Farrow’ (on piano this time) and ‘Something In The Way She Moves’ (a superb reinterpretation)  and Carole King’s ‘To Love’ which originally opened Later That Same Year. Plus a good band.

Iain certainly isn’t looking back here. He’s supported by three Dutch musicians: multi-instrumentalist Bart Jan Baartmans, who also co-produced, Bart de Win on keys and acoustic guitarist Eric De Vries. There is a resonator guitar but not a pedal steel in sight. These are new Matthews song, often written with recent collaborators, Clive Gregson, Egbert Derix, and his three bandmates.

There are knowing touches like the quote from ‘Good Vibrations’ in ‘Chasing Rainbows’, an anthem to California co-written with de Win but for the most part these songs concern modern issues and are written in modern terms. The line “working the room like a bitch in heat” in ‘A Heartless Night’ certainly attracted my attention. The opener, ‘The Thought Police’, built on a simple acoustic guitar with a plethora of strange things, is a defiant individual’s stance in the post-truth surveillance society and Iain returns to the vicissitudes of modern life in ‘The Age Of Isolation’.

There seems to be a number of toxic relationships beginning with the title track but Iain has lost none of his melodic and lyrical skill. ‘Bits And Pieces’ matches a confoundedly catchy melody to clever words and ‘Been Down So Long’ begins with the effect of Cortez’ arrival on the indigenous people: “we’ve been down so long it looks like up to me”.

As I said, Like A Radio is a good damn Iain Matthews album and Baartmans’ electric guitar does echo the band of the 70s while de Win’s keyboards bring a new sound. While Iain looks a touch haggard in his cover photo his voice has lost none of its power, just matured like a fine wine and those harmonies are as sweet as ever.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click below 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.

Artists’ website: http://iainmatthews.nl/

‘Bits And Pieces’ – official video:

RICHARD KNOTT – Long Story Short (Solid Thumb Music STCD1801)

Long Story ShortThere are times when a record like Long Story Short is just what you need to drive the blues away, which is odd because there a few blues tracks included. Richard Knott is a songwriter, a singer and a bloody good guitarist. In fact, the only thing that might improve the album is an instrumental track but you can’t have everything.

Richard’s music in rooted in the interwar period – string bands, jug bands, swing and ragtime – and he jumps right in with ‘Let’s Go To Town’ which reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon. Richard has a witty turn with a lyric and the delight with this song is anticipating the punch-line. He’s knowing in ‘Start Over Again’ when he rhymes “rhyming” with “Paul Simon” and I’m prepared to bet that ‘Shrink’ is the only song ever to include the word “serotonin”. There are lots of grin-inducing moments like these.

Of course, Richard can be serious and ‘Drink A Little Whisky’ is a sort of tribute to Guy Clark as well as rumination on growing older. There’s a cynical love song (best sort), a delightful Latin American piece featuring Hilary Morel on lead vocal and the clever but sentimental ‘Like A Book’. Richard doesn’t employ many supporting musicians – co-producer Ian Cleverdon appears on a couple of tracks and there’s an electric guitar here and a piano there (Phil Caffrey on ‘Dancing Your Troubles Away) but mostly he’s alone, adding bass, percussion and harmonica to a range of guitars including a National Resophonic El Trovador, which I mention because I could take a little more of that, too. He plays a lovely echoey electric lead on ‘No Problem’ but acoustics are his real forte; the title track is a hymn to his first guitar.

Long Story Short is packed full of entertainment and some days that’s all you really need.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.richardknottsongs.com

‘Drink A Little Whisky’ – live:

LORI WATSON – Yarrow Acoustic Sessions (Isle Music Scotland ISLE05CD)

Yarrow Acoustic SessionsIf the word you usually associate with the Scots is “dour” ‘I’m afraid this album may reinforce your prejudices. As I understand it Yarrow Acoustic Sessions is the prequel to a full album – working drawings if you will. Lori is supported by Duncan Lyall, who also produced the record, Steven Byrnes and Fiona Black and the accompaniments are, to say the least, spare, with Lori employing a lot of plucked violin.

For those with limited knowledge of Scottish geography, Yarrow in a region of the borders north-west of Keilder and not far from Flodden, hence the inclusion of ‘Flooers O The Forest’ in this set. Lori opens with ‘Yarrow (A Charm)’ based on a poem by Walter Elliot and built on a droning, almost discordant, harmonium by Lyall. Next comes ‘The Flytin O Life And Daith’ – words by Hamish Henderson and music by Alison McMorland – which is not exactly cheering. Then there’s ‘Fause, Fause’, a song I don’t particularly care for in English. Evan as an aficionado of traditional Scottish song, I’m finding this album hard going.

Taking it in isolation I would probably heap praise on ‘Dowie Dens O Yarrow’ although I’d be happier if Duncan Lyall were playing a real piano. Lowi sings mostly in Scots which, as Dick Gaughan would patiently explain, isn’t English with some unfamiliar words but a foreign language from which you can pick out a few words. Thus, ‘Flooers O The Forest’, a long version which I think uses the original 18th century words, is at times incomprehensible, particularly when Lyall is giving the keyboard a real work-out.

I like ‘What A Voice (Blackbird)’ which sounds more like a completed version as does the closing ‘October Song’ with some clever variations of both melody and rhythm and Lori harmonising with herself. If the final project sounds anything like these two tracks, I’ll be very happy.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click below 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.

Artist’s website: www.loriwatson.net

‘October Song’ – official video: