WE BANJO 3 – Haven (own label WB3CD005)

HavenI know I’ve said this before but there are four members of We Banjo 3: two sets of brothers David and Martin Howley and Fergal and Enda Scahill, and only two play banjo but let’s not get bogged down in details. Haven is their fourth studio album and this time they have written all the material, eschewing the traditional music they incorporated into String Theory. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the musical blend is as before – Irish, bluegrass and old-timey – and although We Banjo 3 are Irish they sound more American now, this album being recorded in Maryland, and that’s where they are biggest. In fact, they are in the US right now on a tour spanning five months.

The band opens with the title track beginning with a hesitant sounding mandolin. A banjo takes over for the second verse and trumpet, saxophone and trombone kick in for verse three and just when you think it might get completely out of control it’s over. The playing can sound a bit wild sometimes but it’s actually pretty tight with twin banjos spread nicely across the stereo mix and everyone getting a share of solo time. The first instrumental set is ‘Sugar House’ and it’s pared back at first but by half way everyone is juggling for position and racing for the line.

‘War Of Love’ begins with a wedding and is told from the point of view of the loser and ‘Marry Me Monday’ is a country waltz with Fergal’s fiddle up front while ‘Sunflower’ is a plea for positivism, at least on a personal level – a simple but quite clever metaphor. I do like the simplicity of ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ even with its big band treatment and the drive of the instrumentals ‘Annabelle’s Cannon’ and ‘Dawn Breaks’.

I like We Banjo 3 best when their playing is wild and on the verge of losing it or stripped back as far as they can be.  On Haven they encompass neither extreme – it’s tight and well played but perhaps a little too controlled.

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://webanjo3.com/

‘Don’t Let Me Down’ – live:

JACKIE OATES – Lush Studio Soho

Jackie Oates
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

I have reported on CD launch events from a number of venues; the BBC Club, The Convent, even Wigan but none as lush as …well, Lush. On the hottest day of the year in London the air-conditioned Lush Studio Soho was an oasis. It’s a rabbit warren of a building and definitely bigger on the inside than the outside. I don’t know what part of the firm’s business is conducted there but the place was full of shiny happy people who obviously love their jobs. Jackie Oates has a commercial connection with Lush so where better to stage this event.

The performance space is called The Nest and was decorated with roses and flooded with red light. This was after terribly sticky cupcakes featuring roses and apple and hand made cocktails featuring the same ingredients – although a bigger shot of gin wouldn’t have gone amiss – and the roses and apple scent of one of their fragrances.

The album being previewed is called The Joy Of Living. Its title track is the Ewan MacColl song and the number that Jackie closed with. The younger and less embittered members of the audience admitted to tearing up a little at the end. It’s an appropriate title for an album that spans four generations from Jackie’s grandfather who fought with the 51st Highland Division to her daughter, Rosie and her sibling on the way, and encompasses life and death.

Jackie opted to open with ‘Caroline And Her Young Sailor Bold’ which isn’t on the album but its theme of love conquering all is totally relevant. ‘The Last Trip Home’, which came next, was one of Jackie’s father’s favourites and is redolent of the sadness surrounding his death. Then Jackie looked forward with three children’s songs: ‘My Shoes Are Made Of Spanish’, ‘Spring Is Coming Soon’ and ‘Rosy Apple’ – hence the decorative theme. Before we got too misty-eyed she switched to John Lennon’s extraordinary ‘Mother’, perhaps making the point that parenthood isn’t always a bed of roses. Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye’ for Jackie’s grandfather and ‘Virginny’ learned from her father brought us almost home before ‘The Joy Of Living’.

Jackie stuck to her five-string viola and was accompanied by Jack Rutter on guitar, Indian harmonium (great for drones) and a remarkable looking but wonderful sounding fan fret cittern – hand built, of course. It was a delightful evening which promised a lovely album to come.

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.jackieoates.co.uk

‘The Joy Of Living’ – live at Cecil Sharp House:

STEPH GEREMIA – Up She Flew (Black Box Music BBM009)

Up She FlewI was beginning to muse about why it is that Irish, and indeed Scottish, musicians have such a deep desire to rework and circulate the music from their native lands and then I read that Steph Geremia is actually from New York. Up She Flew is Steph’s second album, almost ten years on from her debut and she is now ensconced in the north-west of Ireland from which much of her repertoire is drawn. North Connaught is her home and the source of her inspiration. Steph principally plays flute – more delicate and fluid than whistle or pipes – which makes this a very pretty record. She also plays soprano sax on two tracks and sings on one but doesn’t dwell on it.

Most of the material is traditional but among the credits you’ll find the names of Charlie Lennon, Martin Wynne and, venturing away from Ireland, Chris Stout. Steph is punctilious about noting the sources of her tunes so we learn that ‘The Housemaid’ is a version of ‘The Humours Of Glendart’ via Chris Sheridan and I suppose that we’ll one day read that a particular tune comes from the playing of Steph Geremia. I suppose, too, that that’s been going on for a few hundred years.

Steph has a fine supporting band, notably percussionist Jim Higgins and Aaron Jones on bouzouki and guitar but she remains on top of everyone and I suspect that co-producer Donal O’Connor has a lot to do with that. Even when Ben Gunnery’s fiddle or Michael Rooney’s harp is an integral part of a track it’s very restrained. If you’re a session player you’ll probably find several tunes that you’ll want to learn and if not, well, it’s a very pleasant album for a summer’s day.

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: http://stephgeremia.com/

‘Come Up To The Room I Want Ye/Ebb Tide’ – live:

GEORGE DUFF – The Collier Laddie (BEAGCD BEAG CD005)

Collier LaddieAlthough he’s been singing for many years and is well-known and respected in Scotland George Duff hadn’t until now made a solo album. He is The Collier Laddie of the title – a National Coal Board engineer, to be precise – and a fair part of his repertoire is made up miners’ songs. He hasn’t gone for a thematic record, however, and here you’ll hear romantic songs, two of Robert Burns’ lyrics and Hamish Henderson’s most famous song. George has a terrifically strong and clear voice and is steeped in Scottish tradition but his album encompasses modern production values, thanks in part to co-producer Kevin Macleod. The assembled musicians include Mike Katz, John Martin and Mark Dunlop – quality assured.

The album opens with the title track and ‘The Blackleg Miner’, performed in his typically robust style before switching to gentler thoughts with ‘The Banks Of The Bann’. I have to say that The Collier Laddie includes quite a few of my favourite songs of which this is one. There are some contemporary songs among the traditional. Brian McNeill’s ‘The Prince Of Darkness’ is as grim as any mining song I’ve ever heard; Geordie McIntyre’s ‘Remember Connolly’, with bodhran accompaniment from Dunlop, takes us into the political arena to be followed by Alistair Hulett’s heart-breaking ‘He Fades Away’ – an example of perfect sequencing in my humble opinion. I don’t suppose ‘The D-Day Dodgers’ can be considered contemporary any more but ‘When These Shoes Were New’ can. Michael Marra’s song is better known as ‘Take Me Out Drinking Tonight’ but this is his preferred title and it makes a fitting, if slightly stereotypical, ending to an album of Scottish songs.

I’ve really enjoyed this album and if you were beginning to think that people don’t make records like this any more, here’s one to prove that they do.

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: https://www.facebook.com/thecollierladdie/

‘Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie’ with Kevin Macleod:

STEVE TILSTON – Distant Days (Riverboat Records TUGCD1117)

Distant DaysSteve Tilston has enjoyed a long career as a singer, composer and guitarist both solo and in partnerships. It seems to me that his popularity and the esteem in which he is held increases year on year which is great for a man who has worked continually at his craft for nigh on half a century. Distant Days is an acoustic celebration of that career, nineteen songs and instrumentals dating back to his first album, An Acoustic Confusion, released in 1971, all re-recorded entirely solo.

With the exception of the closing ‘The Slip Jigs And Reels’, Steve has avoided the more obvious pieces and has gone for listening pleasure over chronological accuracy. The first two songs, ‘The Road When I Was Young’ and ‘Rare Thing’ made we want to return to their source albums and hear them in context while ‘Time Has Shown Me Your Face’ made me realise that I don’t own anything like enough of Steve’s records. It’s interesting which albums he’s ignored; there’s nothing from The Reckoning, which I reckon is his best work nor from his diversion into traditional song, Of Many Hands. Apart from his first two albums, Steve concentrates on his work from the 80s and 90s convincing me that each track is there for a reason.

Of the songs that I haven’t heard before, ‘Is This The Same Boy?’ hits hard as does ‘Life Is Not Kind To The Drinking Man; which Steve says is not intended to be preachy but tells it how it is. ‘Let Your Banjo Ring’ seems rather an incongruous choice in the context of the album but I’ll not let it bother me. Three instrumentals, ‘Shinjuku’, ‘Southernhay Avenue’ and ‘Slow Air In Dropped D’, have not been released before and perhaps Steve has seized the opportunity for a little self-indulgence.

Distant Days succeeds in so many ways: it allows Steve to revisit his back catalogue in a new way; it points us to songs that perhaps we’ve forgotten or not heard before and provides excellent listening in doing so.

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: http://www.stevetilston.com/

‘The Road When I Was Young’ – live on TV:

DAMIEN O’KANE & RON BLOCK – Banjophony (Pure Records PRCD48)

BanjophonyIf you’re not a fan of the five-string egg-slicer you might be thinking of moving on but hold hard there, stranger. This is no ‘Duelling Banjos’, last one to the end gets the beers in mayhem-fest. The object of the exercise was to pair the 5-string banjo of the American tradition with the Irish style of tenor banjo playing but Banjophony does more than that. Most of the music here is contemporary, mostly written by O’Kane and Block with two each by Michael Mooney and David  Kosky and a traditional tune that crept in when no-one was watching.

Have a look at the cast list and you’ll realise that this is something rather special. There’s Stephen Byrnes on guitar, Duncan Lyall and Barry Bales on double bass, Michael McGoldrick on whistle and Stuart Duncan on fiddle just for starters. Indeed, we’re half a minute into the first set, ‘Miller’s Gin/Potato Anxiety’ before we actually hear a banjo courtesy of a lovely guitar intro from Byrnes.

Some tunes sound traditional – Block’s ‘Battersea Skillet Liquor’ is classic southern banjo picking topped of with fiddle – but more sound like new music written with the banjo in mind. O’Kane’s ‘Ode To Aunty Frances’ is a beautiful piece that could be arranged for any instrument(s) you fancy and still sound good. ‘Crafty Colette’ is another tune that approaches the banjo lead slowly and that lead, when it arrives, can best be described as “thoughtful”.

The band are very tight and Byrnes has contributed to the arrangements as has Kosky and all the music was recorded live apart from two double bass parts which came from Tennessee. You can almost feel the rapport between the musicians particularly when a tune doesn’t quite behave as expected. The title track is like that and is well-named.

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’ websites: www.damianokane.co.uk / www.ronblock.com

This short teaser video is all we can find: