PAUL McCLURE – Smiling From The Floor Up (Clubhouse CRUK0019CD)

PAUL McCLURE Smiling From The Floor UpAt first hearing Paul McClure hails from somewhere between New York and Texas. Then you hear certain inflections that are decidedly English in the midst of a style that suggests pre-electric Dylan, maybe around Another Side Of. There’s little to be gained from guesswork, however, we need the facts.

Paul is from Rutland and Smiling From The Floor Up is his third solo album. It was recorded with minimal support, just two backing singers (Hannah and Alex Elton-Wall) and a lap steel (Joe Bennett) on the title track. It’s not quite as live – Paul overdubs piano, accordion, drums and ukulele on his acoustic guitar – but the feel is right, as are the songs.

I take it that the opener, ‘Long Gone Out Of Here’, is about a deceased musician but Paul isn’t explicit. The mention of New York conjures images of night-shrouded alleys and iron fire escapes but the song is a simple hymn of praise to the un-named singer. The final track, ‘Moments Lost’, is initially on the “lonely in a crowd” theme but then Paul is singing about his baby daughter and you realise that the moments are ones that he has lost. Other top tracks are ‘Pollyanna’ – truck-stops, pickups and a girl who is no better than she ought to be – and ‘Any Number You Like (As Long As It’s 4)’ which is about …well actually I’m not quite sure but there is a touch of “everybody must get stoned” about it.

There you have it. A smashing album from a guy I’ve only just heard of. There is more music out there than I’ll ever get to listen to but I’m glad this came my way.

Dai Jeffries

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Song 6 from the album Smiling From The Floor Up:

PETER LACEY – Last Leaf (Pink Hedgehog SMILE49)

Last LeafPeter Lacey is a former session musician who embarked on a solo career relatively late. Last Leaf is his fifth album and prompts the inevitable questions: Why haven’t I heard of him before? What is wrong with the music business when genuine talent can stay under the radar for so long?

He doesn’t describe his music as folk but his grounding in church music gives him a feel for the rhythms of acoustic playing. As a multi-instrumentalist he needs very little help: organ, clarinet and violin on one track each. He doesn’t list his instruments but it’s a lot: guitars, drums, flute, keyboards, accordion, bass and what I take to be bass pedals for drones. There are church bells, too, but I don’t think he plays those.

There is a danger of using words like “bucolic” and “pastoral” to describe this album and titles like ‘Harvest Moon’ and ‘Fisherman’ seem to reinforce that idea. The set opens with a vignette called ‘Country Mile’ which sets the rural scene but it’s followed by ‘The Woodwind’ which is more about clarinets than oaks just to confuse you. The centrepiece is an instrumental, ‘Seven Hills To Hangleton’, which features Alex Dalton’s fiddle in full folk-rock mode and a real ear-worm of a flute theme.

I don’t really get ‘Boy In The Rings Of A Tree’ yet but a bit of weirdness – and a quotation from Bede –  is just what’s needed to complete the record. I came upon Last Leaf quite by chance but I’m very glad I did.

Dai Jeffries

Website: www.pinkhedgehog.com

Peter in Brian Wilson mode with ‘Drinkin’ In The Sunshine’:

Summat’s Brewin’: O’Hooley & Tidow’s new video

Summat’s Brewin’ (Oh Good Ale) Official Video…

O’Hooley and Tidow have produced this video to accompany a track from their brilliant new album, The Hum, which is released today. Belinda and Heidi are both members of CAMRA and enthusiastic supporters of the many craft breweries in their native Yorkshire. I’m looking forward to an opportunity to have a serious drink together.

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.

TWIN FORKS – Twin Forks (Dine Alone Records)

Twin ForksBright, brash and breezy – Twin Forks’ eponymous debut album takes alt-country-folk-pop-rock and gives it a swift kick in the derrière and if that isn’t a recognised genre, tough, I just invented it.

Twin Forks comprise singer/guitarist Chris Carrabba, drummer Ben Homola, Suzie Zeldin on mandolin and bassman Jonathan Clark. All have had long careers back home: Carrabba with Dashboard Confessional, Homola with Bad Books and Zeldin with The Narrative. I’d never heard of any of them until this album came into my hands purely by chance but that’s the way it is with so many US bands – here in the UK you have to get lucky. Twin Forks are from Florida and it’s tempting, if rather corny, to say that they carry a little of the sunshine with them.

The closing track, ‘Who’s Looking Out’, is atypically downbeat – you’d see it as the going home song in a live set – but like much of the album it is a love song in the old-fashioned style: often painful, frequently unrequited but always glorious. ‘Can’t Be Broken’ has it all: “That’s a love that can’t be broken/That’s the sting of a heart cut open”.  The whole record is full of incisive lyrics and great melodies. The country influences stay well on the right side of hokey and the poppier bits are reminiscent of REM’s Green (their finest album despite what the experts say) while the drums and bass provide a solid foundation. Twin Forks has to be part of your summer soundtrack.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://twinforksmusic.com/

ALISTER ATKIN AND THE GHOST LINE CARNIVAL – To Evangeline (own label)

To EvangelineYou may know Alister Atkin as a maker of fine guitars and you may have heard his debut album, In Time, recorded with Brendan Power and Tim Edey. If not, don’t feel bad. Neither had I until recently and I’m supposed to know about these things.

Alister and his band are based in Canterbury but in his heart he’s Canadian. His wife comes originally from Nova Scotia, a place where the music of the old world meets that of the new and To Evangeline is just that fusion. I love the music of The Band and, clearly, so does Alister. In fact there are one or two borrowings from Robbie Robertson and the removal of one such would improve ‘Shipping News’ immensely. Sorry to be harsh, Alister, but it has to be said. Once over that, this is an extremely good album – witty, literate songs matched with good tunes and a band which includes Geoffrey Richardson and Annie Whitehead, two former members of The Penguin Café Orchestra – this is close to nirvana: The Band and PCO.

The song that should/might be a single is ‘San Diego’, the story of a musician who is offered the big time and turns his back on it – the line about driving over his guitar makes me wince, though. There are two different cuts of the song on the album – a blatant clue. In the meantime the opener, ‘Jess’s Song’, is available as a single. It’s a song redolent of the fog of the Bay Of Fundy and will enhance your iPod even if you don’t buy the whole album – but that would be a mistake.

Dai Jeffries

HARP AND A MONKEY – All Life Is Here (MoonrakerUK)

All Life Is HereI wasn’t sure what to expect from my first hearing of Harp And A Monkey. Their publicity material is entirely accurate but the bare facts fail to paint a true picture of the band. All Life Is Here is their second album.

Coming from Manchester they have the down-to-earth quality that I’ve missed since I came down south. Martin Purdy’s voice immediately transported me back forty-odd years and two hundred miles north and their heavily rewritten traditional songs welcomed me back. But it’s not just nostalgia. ‘Molecatcher’, for example, isn’t the exercise in single entendre that it became in the folk clubs. Glockenspiel gives the song a new lightness and the band’s new chorus and bridge, coupled with the omission of the defiant penultimate verse, make this a story of regret.

Harp And A Monkey always intend their songs to be stories and the opener, ‘Walking In The Footsteps Of Giants’, links the Kinder Trespass with memories of Spanish Civil War volunteers from Lancashire – I think you have to be from Manchester to find that connection – and ‘The Gallipoli Oak’ is a true story of a pilgrimage to plant an English oak tree in a Dardanelles cemetery. In contrast to these grand ideas are the songs of daily life like ‘Doolally Day Out’ and ‘Tupperware And Tinfoil’ – no, I can’t really explain any further.

The band’s minimalist arrangements decorated with odd combinations of instruments are the final ingredient. Harp (of course), melodica, viola and banjo combine with the glockenspiel and programming of the strange noises to give them an immediately recognisable sound. I can enthusiastically recommend this album.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: http://www.harpandamonkey.com