JOHN FORRESTER – Restless (Irregular Records IRR109)

RestlessJohn Forrester is a singer, a songwriter, an ace double bass player and the sort of chap that everybody in the business knows. Restless is his fourth solo album but his first working with a producer, Roy Dodds. With a small group of supporting musicians, Dodds has constructed a rich, varied soundscape without rounding off the corners. John’s voice can be smooth and delicate but is more often big and forceful reflecting the back-story of tragedy that interrupted recording.

Restless talks not of happy wanderlust but of dissatisfaction with wherever one happens to be. You know what he means: there is always something better around the corner even if it’s the place you just left behind. It’s the inability to settle coupled with the inability to move for whatever reason. In ‘Butterfly Catcher’, John sings “Stare out a new window, try to wish myself there” followed by “When I try to leave you’re blocking the stairs” encapsulating the dichotomy that the record explores.

John opens with the wistful ‘Richmond Hill’, initially a cappella with Kath Williams cello and Saskia Tomkins’ violin joining in. It’s a lovely song, looking back with fondness and forward with hope. ‘New Season’ is lifted by Andy Webb’s slide guitar and John definitely wants to leave wherever he is but in ‘Somewhere I Can Be’ he doesn’t know where to go. Jenny Carr’s piano and George Whitfield’s accordion help to provide the drive under John’s urgent acoustic guitar.

Restless is an album full of exquisite pain. Only in ‘Escaping A Storm’ does the central character find the place where she wants to be. In some ways the narrative reminded me of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ but so much bleaker. I’m very much enjoying the record but, as anyone will tell you, I’m a miserable old sod.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.forrester.uk.com

‘Escaping A Storm’ – live session:

SALT HOUSE – Undersong (Make Believe MBR7CD)

UndersongThere have been changes in the Salt House with Jenny Sturgeon joining Ewan MacPherson and Lauren MacColl and having a big impact as songwriter and lead vocalist alongside Ewan. What hasn’t changed is their use of literature as well as traditional sources to inspire their music. Undersong is only their second album, five years on from their debut, but it has been worth the wait.

There are no guest musicians on Undersong and there really is no need for them with everyone playing at least instruments and my criticism of Lay Your Dark Low that some of the vocals weren’t strong enough has been dealt with. There is a lightness and openness in the music which makes this album very good listening. The opener, Jenny’s ‘Old Shoes’, is a perfect example. Starting with just voice and dancing guitar – I’m not sure if that’s Ewan or Jenny – it slowly builds up with Lauren’s strings and the addition of the other voices. ‘Turn Ye To Me’ comes from a 19th century collection with words by John Wilson but Jenny’s music makes it sound very modern and they repeat the technique with ‘The Sisters’ Revenge’ a gorgeous song which I was convinced was an original written in the traditional idiom. Half right: the words are traditional but the tune is Ewan’s.

‘Lay Your Dark Low’ wasn’t on the album with that title and I can’t say when Ewan wrote it but it is another stunning song. Jenny’s ‘Charmer’ presages Lauren’s setting of Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ and we’re back to the tradition with ‘I Sowed Some Seeds’ albeit somewhat adapted by Ewan. The title track which closes the album was written by all three band members and lives up to its name having a double meaning.

Undersong is a very fine album and comes highly recommended.

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: https://www.salthousemusic.com/

‘Old Shoes’ – official video:

MIKE TURNBULL – Circlet Of Gold (own label)

Circlet Of GoldI started to listen to Circlet Of Gold and got so wrapped up in the opening track that I had do some research and by the time I’d done that I had to start listening again. No bad thing, actually. Mike Turnbull is a singer-songwriter from the Lake District whose main instruments are tenor guitar, octave mandola and tenor ukulele. Their sound coupled with the sources of his songs suggests Seth Lakeman and, in truth, that isn’t a bad comparison. He certainly has the same drive and energy.

That opening track is ‘The King Of Dunmail Raise’ and if you’re local you’ll know that Dunmail was the last king of Cumberland, killed by the English and buried under a cairn above Grasmere. There is also a shopping mall named after him in Workington but we’ll let that pass. Mike weaves into his song the legend of the warrior spirits who offer Dunmail the crown every year only to be rebuffed.

There is nothing parochial about Mike’s songwriting although you could find a link to ‘Fields Of Heavy Dew’ in any community. The song is set at the end of the Great War with soldiers looking forward to returning home. ‘Heart Of The Sea’ is about the whaling trade while ‘The Mountaineers’ recounts the tale of Mallory and Irving, lost on Everest in 1924 and ‘Ghost Of The Brown Lady’ is a ghost story from Norfolk.

‘Drowning Valley’ comes closer to home with story of the drowning of Mardale Green to clear the valley for Haweswater reservoir but the most fascinating song is ‘Will I Save The King’ in which Mike explains the origin of his surname which dates back to the 14th century. I think that every songwriter should be required to carry out the same exercise.

I believe that Circlet Of Gold is Mike’s debut album and if that’s so I hope it does really well for him.

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.miketurnbull.com

‘The King Of Dunmail Raise’:

DOUGIE MacLEAN – New Tomorrow (Dunkeld Records DUNCD039)

New TomorrowThere they are: the familiar ringing guitar, the unmistakeable melodic cadences. The last Dougie MacLean album I got was his 40th anniversary concert set, Till Tomorrow, and I wonder if that day has arrived in the form of his latest CD. Perhaps not: the songs are a mixture of great optimism and almost apocalyptic pessimism. Recorded at the Butterstone studio, New Tomorrow features guest appearances by Davie Duncan and Matheu Watson but the bulk of the backing is provided by producer and multi-instrumentalist Jamie MacLean who also co-wrote several tracks and happens to be Dougie’s son.

The opening title track paints the happiest picture. It’s dedicated to Dougie’s grandsons and basically says: “Hello. I hope I’ll get to watch you grow and teach you a few things” but that depends on times to come. The second track, ‘Garden Wall’ takes an opposite view; looking back with regret at the dashed hopes of youth and seeking that utopia over the wall. I particularly like ‘Shadow Of The Mountain’. It has a certain “sod it” motif – the world may have gone to pot but I’m still here and I can afford to get drunk.

In the middle of the set are three songs: ‘Demetrius’, ‘Thunderbolt’ (a country-tinged rocker) and ‘Wild And Windy Night’ which are rather more elusive but then we’re back to the gloom with ‘Never Enough’ which, along with ‘Wisp Of A Whisper’, is full of disappointments. The recurring images of storms, of mountains, of being lost but also of hope for a better future, run through the record.

If I’ve made New Tomorrow sound terribly dour that wasn’t my intention. It’s the curse of the reviewer to always pick at the meanings of songs. The album is a very good listen from start to finish and the arrangements are excellent and varied, while always keeping Dougie’s voice and guitar front and centre.

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: https://www.dougiemaclean.com/

‘Wild And Windy Night’ –  live:

NAOMI BEDFORD & PAUL SIMMONDS – Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me (Dusty Willow DWR004)

Songs My Ruiner Gave To MeConcerning Love, Madness & Obsession” is what is says.  I’m never sure what to expect from Naomi Bedford but I’m not sure that this was it. Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me sort of picks up on Tales From The Weeping Willow except that it’s more Americana, verging on C&W. I confess that I listened to it three times through before I even felt able to venture an opinion.

The first track, ‘We’ve Hardly Started Yet’ is pure country. I’m guessing that it’s about two people in the prime of middle life rejoicing that they still have lots to look forward to. Probably autobiographical, then. ‘Misty, Golden Road’ picks up on the same theme, this time reflecting on the places they’ve been and the things they’ve done and featuring Ben Walker’s banjo. Then comes ‘The Cruel Mother’, located in New York to accommodate the arrangement. It seems oddly placed given that it’s followed by ‘The Still Want You Blues’ with Andy Summers’ slide guitar. Things get even stranger, now. Percy Bysshe Shelley could never have imagined ‘Young Parson Richards’ sounding like this. It’s not the most pleasant poem but it takes Gerry Diver – who else – to really bring out the oddness in it. This track also supplies the album’s title.

Paul Simmonds wrote six of the songs here but mostly takes a back seat to Naomi when it comes to lead vocals. An exception is ‘Ballad Of A Self Made Man’, which Paul might have considered for The Men They Couldn’t Hang but it isn’t really them although it does have the political edge of their best work. ‘Ramshackle House’ revisits and updates ‘Misty, Golden Road’ then it’s Naomi’s turn with ‘I Hate You’, reminiscent of ‘Positively 4th Street’ but with rather more empathy.

Finally, Paul’s ‘Better Than The Best’ is a sort of song of praise to his partner, Naomi. I’ve omitted mention of a couple of titles, mainly because I’m still figuring them out but Songs My Ruiner Gave To Me is an album that I’ve really enjoyed getting to grips with.

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: http://www.naomibedford.com/

‘The Still Want You Blues’ – live:

ZOE MULFORD – Small Brown Birds (Azalea City ACCD 1701)

Small Brown BirdsOriginally from Philadelphia, singer, songwriter, guitarist and much-praised clawhammer banjo-player Zoe Mulford now lives (sometimes) in Manchester. She is currently on tour with Tom Kitching whose fiddle plays a major role in the sound of this record. Small Brown Birds is Zoe’s fifth album, mostly original songs with two covers.

The opening track, ‘Answer The Knock At The Door’, is deceptively light but hidden within is a rebuke to those governments who turn their backs on refugees. ‘Back Door Key’ paints a picture of domestic contentment concealing a message to a former lover along the lines of “you’re a bastard but I miss you”. Bob Beach’s harmonica emphases the hidden melancholy. The banjo first appears on ‘February Thunder’, a look forward to the expected spring that may be personified in Jenny, a lonely woman who everyone knows but nobody knows. I like the interplay between Ken Pendergast’s bass and Sam McEvoy’s cajon here as the song morphs into the traditional ‘Frosty Morning’..

You really can’t afford to let your attention wander. ‘One Damn Thing’ hints at a series of personal disasters without ever being explicit. The first cover is The Red Clay Ramblers’ fantasy shanty ‘The Queen Of Skye’, which could perhaps use a bit more welly although Tom’s fiddle drives it along nicely enough. That track marks a change of mood. ‘Snow On The Junkyard’ is bleak, ‘Speak True’ regretful and ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ is a meditation on the Charleston church shooting built on Zoe’s piano chords. Joan Baez has recorded it for her new album.

It’s back to the banjo for ‘Blackbird’ which seems to sit well at this point and leads into the traditional sounding instrumental title track featuring fiddle, banjo and Mark Allen’s whistle. ‘Zillionaire’ is a wry but jolly attack on corporate greed and the record comes full circle with the welcoming ‘Won’t You Come On In?’ to put things back in perspective.

I have to confess that Small Brown Birds is my first contact with Zoe Mulford and now, by happy coincidence, I can look forward to hearing her live in a week or so. It could be destiny.

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: http://zoemulford.com/

‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ – live: