VARIOUS ARTISTS – Destination (Fellside Recordings FECD282)

Fellside RecordingsThe Fellside Recording label has been a major force in independent folk music recording for 42 years and has over 600 albums to its credit, many by some very big names in the genre. Now, Paul and Linda Adams have decided to slow down, and though the label remains in business, it will have a lower profile and won’t be taking on new artists. The end of an era, but by no means the end of the story. Destination is a mighty collection of tracks – three CDs worth – specially recorded by some of the many fine artists who’ve been associated with the label, plus some archive material.

The material here covers the spectrum from dance tunes to modern songs by treasured artists like Peter Bellamy (two of his Kipling settings are provided here, one sung by Terry Docherty) and Alex Glasgow, to a wide selection of traditional songs (even the occasional Child ballad). Well over half the tracks here have not been released previously. Given the calibre of the musicians here, that alone has to make it worth buying. There are also a handful of unusual jazz performances from Fellside’s sibling label Lake.

Because of the sheer number of tracks provided here (64!), my usual practice of including a full track listing didn’t seem altogether appropriate. Here are just a few more of the performers and writers who are represented in this collection, which may be enough to persuade you to take a closer look: Jez Lowe, Bram Taylor, Steve Turner, Pete Morton, Bobby Eaglesham, Sara Grey, Alistair Anderson, Paul Metsers, Brian Dewhurst, Bob Davenport…

Here are few tracks that stand out for me personally, but there’s such a wide range of artists here that your personal highlights might be quite different

  • Maddy Prior’s unaccompanied ‘Sheepcrook And Black Dog’, proving that Steeleye Span maybe always needed her more than she needed them. (Not that I didn’t like the Steeleye version.)
  • Swan Arcade’s stunning version of Sting’s ‘We Work The Black Seam’.
  • The much-missed Vin Garbutt singing ‘Boulavogue’.
  • Hedy West singing ‘Little Sadie’ – as Pete Seeger said when she sang it on his Rainbow Quest series in the ’60s, “That’s the real thing…
  • Peggy Seeger’s exquisite ‘Single Girl’ – if my ears don’t fail me, from a 1958 recording with Guy Carawan.
  • Diz Disley and friends in full Django/Hot Club mode on ‘Shine’.
  • Marilyn Middleton-Pollock’s version of ‘Melancholy Blues’, recorded long ago by Louis Armstrong and Johnny Dodds.
  • Bob Fox’s version of Alex Glasgow’s ‘Standing At The Door’. A fine performance from someone who’s no mean songwriter himself.
  • Tom Kitching & Gren Bartley with a blistering performance of ‘Whisky Head’.

But there are too many classy tracks here to list all the ones I can imagine myself listening to for a long time yet.

Buy it. You’ll certainly find enough tracks to make it worth your while.

David Harley

Label website: www.fellside.com/

‘Single Girl’ – Peggy Seeger and Guy Carawan

DÓNAL CLANCY – On The Lonesome Plain (Proper/Copperplate DCLPCD16)

Lonesome PlainDónal Clancy is the son of Liam Clancy, and comes highly recommended by the likes of Archie Fisher and Martin Simpson. His forthcoming album On The Lonesome Plain has already garnered praise from such publications as fROOTS both for his singing and for his Celtic-styled guitar. Deservedly so. His singing is unassuming but engaging, and entirely suited to his material, which to some extent reflects his focus on preserving the family repertoire but with an emphasis on the guitar that I don’t remember from the work of the Clancy Brothers or Clancy & Makem. That said, his guitar work shows abundant technique but technique never overshadows the integrity of the tune, or the vocal, or the lyrics. Nor does the familiarity of some of the songs compromise the effectiveness of the set: songs like these don’t date, at any rate when they’re this well performed.

Aside from track four, the performances here feature Dónal on a variety of acoustic guitars, discreetly augmented in places by a second guitar part using a Bourgeois OM through a Baggs M1 pickup. (Which sounds great: I think I may have to augment my own collection of pickups and transducers with an M1!). On tracks 4 and 12 he also adds a Kala Fretless U-Bass.

  1. ‘The Lowlands of Holland’ uses a fairly well-known tune, but the words are quite specifically Irish in some of the lines and closer to the full story than some better-known versions.
  2. The second track consists of an instrumental version of the Irish emigration ballad ‘The Green Fields of Canada’ followed by Dónal’s own tune ‘Máirseáil na Conrach’ (which according to Google Translate means March of the Coral, but I’ve had to use GT too often to trust it completely!). Beautiful guitar work.
  3. ‘Drill, Ye Tarriers’ was much heard in folk clubs in the ’60s and ’70s, perhaps as a result of exposure to versions by the Weavers, Chad Mitchell Trio and such. This is rather an effective version of a song from the late 19th century that his father Liam also performed with Tommy Makem, and a salutary reminder that even a song so well-known is capable of revealing new depths (and even a last verse I don’t remember hearing before).
  4. I remember Archie Fisher’s ‘Open the Door Softly’ (a traditional song with some added words) from his 1968 album, and it’s a hard act to follow. But this version is very effective, and I love the additional flute and whistle from Ciarán Somers and David Power respectively. I don’t hate their vocal harmonies, either.
  5. ‘The Honorable Thomas Burke’ is Dónal’s classic arrangement of a piece by the harpist Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738).
  6. Next comes a sprightly version of ‘The Waterford Waltz’: a fine version of a fine tune, benefiting from some unobtrusive overdubbed guitar.
  7. ‘Reynardine’ is a song that has haunted me for decades. Who is Reynardine? An outlaw, a Bluebeard, a werefox? While the song is sometimes heard put to a fairly bouncy major tune, Dónal uses the haunting, more modal melody as recorded by so many of the big hitters in the folk community, and the words as (more or less) published by A.L. Lloyd. This version is straightforward, letting the understated mystery of the lyric speak for itself, but by no means simplistic: there’ve been many fine versions over the years, but this one more than holds its own.
  8. The generically titled ‘Fling’ seems familiar to me, but I can’t recall a specific name for it. Anyway, more fine guitar work.
  9. ‘Blackwater Side’ is a song that has attracted some classic performances in the past, but this is well worth hearing in its own right.
  10. ‘Whiskey, You’re the Divil’ is another song you may have heard in folk clubs and sessions, but probably not played as well.
  11. ‘Miss McDermott’ is a well-known piece also credited to O’Carolan, benefiting from a second guitar part that may remind you of some of John Renbourn’s recordings around the end of the ’70s. Well, it does me.
  12. Dónal’s own song ‘Strike for Victory’ commemorates the 1916 Easter Rising “and is based on the 1916 Proclamation of Independence.” A rousing tune, beautifully played.
  13. ‘Idir Áird Mhór is Eochaill’ (Between Ardmore and Youghal) is an air from County Waterford (I think) which Dónal plays here as an instrumental.

There’s something timeless about this set. Dónal tells us that at the time he put it together, he’d been listening to some classic records by the like of “Anne Briggs, Martin Carthy, Shirley Collins and Davey Graham“, and it fits well with the work of that generation of musicians, but also with a long line of Irish musicians, especially players of fretted instruments. I expect to continue to listen to it long after this review is completed, and if he ever records a set of O’Carolan pieces, I’ll be at the front of the queue.

David Harley

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.donalclancy.com/

‘Drill Ye Tarriers’ – live:

Ó CONAILL FAMILY AND FRIENDS – Let’s Have Another Gan Ainm (Digital release)

Let's Have Another Gan Ainm

I’m not sure I should be writing this review: while I’ve played guitar in many ceilidh bands over the years, I don’t claim any in-depth knowledge of the tradition from which Let’s Have Another Gan Ainm – due for digital-only release on July 1st 2018 – springs. Yet it’s such a delightful album, I can’t resist telling you the little I know about it.

First, that title. Gan Ainm simply means “no name”, and if you’ve skipped ahead to the track list below you’ll have noticed that every track includes at least one tune called Gan Ainm. This reflects the fact that Dónal Ó Conaill of Roscommon, who passed away in 2003, was a notable collector of local tunes without names, and passed them on to his family. Since his passing, the family has grown and spread to other parts of Ireland and the UK.

However, in the summer of 2017 three generations of the Ó Conaill family returned to the family home in Roscommon, along with some family friends to pay tribute to his life and legacy by recording “the best of these tunes, along with some of Dónal’s personal favourites.” And a fine collection of beautifully-played tunes it is. While it includes some well-known titles such as ‘Lord Mayo’, ‘The Blackbird’ and ‘Toss The Feathers (II)’ (the last so called to distinguish it from another reel similarly named), the unnamed jigs, reels and airs here thoroughly deserve their inclusion.

Here’s that track listing:

1 – ‘Gan Ainm’, ‘Gan Ainm’, ‘Gan Ainm’

2 – ‘The Drunken Landlady’, ‘Gan Ainm’, ‘Gan Ainm’

3 – ‘Gan Ainm’, ‘Gan Ainm’, ‘Gan Ainm’

4 – ‘Battle Of Aughrim’, ‘Gan Ainm’, ‘Lord Mayo’

5 – ‘Gan Ainm’, ‘Gan Ainm’, ‘Tom Billy’s’

6 – ‘Girls Of Banbridge’, ‘Gallowglass’, ‘Gan Ainm’

7 – ‘The Blackbird’, ‘Gan Ainm’, ‘Mrs Galvin’s’

8 – ‘Gan Ainm’

9 – ‘Gan Ainm’, ‘Bunch of Green Rushes’, ‘Gan Ainm’

10 – ‘Gan Ainm’, ‘Gan Ainm’, ‘Anthony Frowley’s’

11 – ‘Gan Ainm’, ‘Toss the Feathers II’, ‘Gan Ainm’

Caitlín and Ùna Ó Conaill and her families and friends have done lovers of Irish traditional music an immense favour by allowing us this snapshot of a family reuniting to make delightful music, and I feel privileged to have been able to experience it. It’s good to know that while such a gathering at the family home may be a rare event, Dónal Ó Conaill’s legacy will continue to be enjoyed in the world beyond Roscommon.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.folkandhoney.co.uk/

GARETH OWEN – Rolling By (own label)

Rollng ByWhen I first moved to South Shropshire a few years ago, I found myself living just a couple of doors away from writer and broadcaster Gareth Owen. And then I realized that I was also living by country legend-in-his-own-mind Virg Clenthills, Gareth’s country-singing alter ego. I even played guitar for Virg occasionally, and even acting as body double – well, picking-hand double –on a Virg video. So when Gareth’s CD Rolling By rolled by my mailbox, I was expecting at the very least a collection of excellent songs, and I wasn’t disappointed.

All the songs and lead vocals here are Gareth’s, ably backed by producer Ed Begley on keyboards and backing vocals, Ruby Turner on backing vocals, James Kitchman on guitars, Matt Park on pedal steel, Ruth Goller on basses and backing vocals, and Tony Bianco on drums and percussion.

  1. ‘Lady Whiskey’ is a desperate story of a man in the process of losing everything to alcoholism.
  2. ‘Ashes And Diamonds’ is a quintessential country and western ballad. Nicely done.
  3. Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently reviewed Forever Words that ‘Nowhere’ reminds me a little of Johnny Cash, both the song and the delivery. But it’s an excellent song and performance in its own right.
  4. ‘Walk Out The Door’ has some of the feel of early country/rock and roll crossover songs like Hank Williams’s ‘Move It On Over’. I particularly like the pedal steel here.
  5. ‘Jesse James And The Barber’ is very much in the Virg Clenthills mould, quirky and facetious, much of it spoken rather than sung. Thematically it might remind you of ‘I’ve Danced With A Man Who’s Danced With A Girl, Who’s Danced With The Prince Of Wales’, yet it has a serious undertone that Farjeon’s 1927 song never aspired to.
  6. ‘Nothing Better To Do’ is one of those femme fatale/Jezebel/devil-woman songs, performed effectively enough.
  7. ‘Dream River’ is another heart-tugging country ballad.
  8. ‘Telling Lies Like This’ is a little rockier, a little reminiscent of Dylan on recent albums like Together Through Life.
  9. ‘Before I Get To Heaven’ is, for me, the best song on the CD, telling the story of the last hours of Hank Williams set against sparse keyboards and acoustic bass.
  10. ‘Rolling By’ is a song of reminiscence with a catchy chorus. A good end to the album.

It’s no surprise that one of Gareth’s influences was Tom T. Hall, a country singer noted for his storytelling in song. That said, some of his lighter material – such as ‘Jesse James And The Barber’ here – is also somewhat reminiscent of Shel Silverstein, though Gareth’s vocals are nearer to a lighter-toned Johnny Cash than Silverstein’s off-the-wall vocalizing.

While the CD is issued under Gareth’s real name, there’s a lot of Virg here, in both the repertoire and the vocal delivery. Without Virg’s patter, the darkness behind some of these stories has more of the impact they deserve. Perhaps the slightly OTT vocal delivery here and there hints at the parodic drama that makes Gareth’s alter ego’s stagecraft so entertaining, though. Which makes me wonder whether Virg should get a CD of his own, rather than selfie-bombing Gareth’s. Nevertheless, this would be a worthy souvenir of a Virg/Gareth gig. And a wider range of country lovers might be enthralled to hear what sometimes comes out of the hills of South Shropshire.

David Harley

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.garethowen.com

It’s hard to find videos of Gareth so here’s Virg Clenthills with ‘A Song For Hank Williams’:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Johnny Cash Forever Words (Legacy Recordings)

Forever WordsJohnny Cash: Forever Words (or, according to the physical CD, Johnny Cash The Music Forever Words) is a collaborative album consisting of 16 songs based on Johnny Cash’s unpublished poetry, lyrics, and letters.

Some of them are drawn directly from Forever Words: The Unknown Poems, described as “a volume of Cash’s unpublished writing edited by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon“. Indeed, it has been described as a “musical companion” to the book. The promo copy I received didn’t come with a lyric sheet or information apart from a track listing naming the artist(s) for each song. And a spectacular array of artists it is, too. But it would have been nice to have known more about the supporting personnel, for example.

Here are the tracks and artists.

1          ‘Forever / I Still Miss Someone’ is a poem read by Kris Kristofferson over Willie Nelson’s guitar, where Nelson picks out the tune to the classic ‘I Still Miss Someone’, a song written by Johnny Cash and Roy Cash Jr and recorded way back in 1958. Despite Cash’s awareness here of his own mortality, there’s no doubt that his songs will indeed “still be sung“.

2          ‘To June This Morning’, by Ruston Kelly and Kacey Musgraves features Everly-ish harmonies over restrained banjo and guitar. Simple, short, effective.

3          ‘Gold All Over the Ground’ by Brad Paisley is a more mainstream country song/performance, but an excellent example of the genre.

4          ‘You Never Knew My Mind’ is sung by Chris Cornell, once described by Alice Cooper as “the best voice in rock and roll“, who died in May 2017. It has some of the feel of Cash’s last recordings.

5          ‘The Captain’s Daughter’ is performed by the Alison Krauss and Union Station. I’d crawl over glass to hear Krauss in any context, but, typically of her work with Union Station, there’s also some very nice instrumental work that doesn’t hurt my ears either. And it’s a fascinating story/song.

6          ‘Jellico Coal Man’, as performed by T Bone Burnett, captures nicely the feel of a typical Cash song (if there is such a thing) though the vocals are much lighter.

7          Rosanne Cash’s ‘The Walking Wounded’ is a slow ballad that reminded me a little of Mary Chapin Carpenter. Lovely.

8          While John Mellencamp has a voice all his own, I can certainly imagine ‘Them Double Blues’ in a Johnny-and-June concert performance, perhaps with a little more Luther Perkins “boom-chicka-boom” on the guitar. Sadly, that will have to remain a fantasy, unless some tribute act takes the hint.

9          Jewel’s ‘Body On Body’ starts off with folky acoustic guitar and builds into a ballad that shows off her vocal range to good effect.

10        On the whole, I like Elvis Costello’s songs more than his voice, but ‘I’ll Still Love You’ works well. If the lyric is less complex than you might expect, it melds very nicely with a typical Costello melody and layered orchestration.

11        Carlene Carter’s ‘June’s Sundown’ has a minor melody and instrumentation that recalls Eastern Europe rather than Memphis, but it’s perfect for the lyric.

12        ‘He Bore It All’ by Dailey & Vincent comes over as very mainstream bluegrass with a gospel theme and classy harmonies, banjo, mandolin and fiddle. As you’d expect.

13        ‘Chinky Pin Hill’ by I’m With Her, combines what sounds like a fretless banjo with cool twists of harmony and country fiddle. Fascinating: a trio I’d rather like to hear more of.

14        ‘Goin’, Goin’, Gone’ by Robert Glasper and featuring Ro James and Anu Sun, is in complete contrast, with more than a hint of Stevie Wonder in the arrangement and vocal delivery, but morphing into a spoken description of amphetamine addiction.

15        ‘What Would I Dreamer Do?’ is a nice country-rock performance by The Jayhawks.

16        Jamey Johnson is a new name to me, but ‘Spirit Rider’ is a fitting end to the album, though the tune is rather close to ‘Fields Of Gold’ at times.

This is a recording many people will want: fans of Johnny Cash, fans of one or more of the artists who participated, and anyone open to a rather different take on country music. Me, I’m off to find out more about some of the names here that are less familiar to me. And perhaps order the book…

David Harley

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.JohnnyCashForeverWords.com

‘The Walking Wounded’ – Rosanne Cash:

KEITH JAMES – Captured: The Best Of Keith James (Hurdy Gurdy HGA2927)

CapturedIt’s hard to encapsulate a long, varied and distinguished career in two CDs. After all, Keith James is not only an excellent musician and producer, poet and songwriter in his own right. He also has a remarkable ability to set the verse of other poets – represented here by settings of Lorca, Dylan Thomas, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Neruda and Blake – while his sensitive interpretations of songs by Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen and others attract enthusiastic concert audiences. The 33 songs here include most of the tracks from his recent Tenderness Claws CD and several from the previous album Always. Other tracks make up a good introduction to his earlier CDs, however.

‘White Room’ is a reinterpretation of the Cream song, with Pete Brown’s lyric benefiting from more space and varied pace than the Wheels Of Fire version.

‘Anthem’ is the Leonard Cohen song. While Keith’s voice doesn’t have the gravitas of the growl-y bass-baritone voicings of Cohen’s later performances – in fact, he generally sounds more confident in his higher register – the performance is true to the song.

‘Daydreams For Ginsberg’ is an accomplished setting of Jack Kerouac’s poem.

‘The Unfaithful Wife’ is a setting of Federico Garcia Lorca’s ‘La Casada Infiel’: it’s a great example of Keith’s skill at adapting and setting verse.

‘Semana Santa’ (Holy Week) is one of Keith’s own songs. A lovely combination of lyric and melody.

‘Always’ is a setting of Pablo Neruda’s ‘Siempre’, with Spanish-accented guitar supporting a lyric about love that transcends jealousy.

‘Rich Man, Poor Man’ is another of Keith’s own songs with an arrangement with echoes of Jobim.

‘Decorated Cardboard Human Shapes’ sets one of Keith’s own poems. Driving percussion underline a complex soundscape. Highly though I rate his settings, I’m also impressed at how well his own lyrics stand in the company of those other poets.

The blues-jazzy ‘Scatterland’ and the poppier ‘Brand New Jeans’ are Keith’s own songs, while the flamenco-ish ‘Andalucia’ is based on a poem by Lorca. In ‘Floating Bridges’ Keith weaves another Lorca verse into a setting that makes the poem sound as if it was made to be sung.

‘New Face’, ‘Pantomime Horses’ and ‘The Water And The Rain’ are all songs by Keith, taken from his Always CD, which largely features songs derived from his own poetry. The last track on the first CD, ‘A Few Small Grains’, is another song of Keith’s, one of several songs here from his CD of the same name.

The first track on the second CD, ‘Fruit Tree’, is a song by the (still) much-missed Nick Drake. Keith’s vocals are particularly effective on this track. I really must try to get to one of Keith’s interpretive concerts.

‘The Mask’ and ‘Tyger Tyger’ are both featured on Tenderness Claws. ‘Tyger Tyger’ is an effective and appropriate setting of William Blake’s poem, but ‘The Mask’, based on Lorca’s Danza De La Muerte (Dance of Death), is just stunning.

‘Diamond’ is a setting of Lorca’s El Diamante: like many of the settings here, it comes from Keith’s album with Rick Foot Lorca.

‘Blue Angel’ is an atmospheric setting of a poem by Allen Ginsberg.

‘Glory Box’ is a very different, more straightforward version of the Portishead song, while ‘Take This Waltz’ revisits Leonard Cohen’s take on Lorca’s ‘Little Viennese Waltz’. (One way or another, there’s a lot of Lorca on this album, but there are a lot of people out here who will be more than happy about that.)

‘There Must Be A God’ is another song of Keith’s with a relatively pop-y arrangement. Like Nick Drake’s ‘Three Hours’ (which proves again how effective an interpreter of Nick’s songs Keith is) it was previously released on the Outsides album.

‘A Process In The Weather Of The Heart’ is an effective setting of the Dylan Thomas poem. ‘The Queen And The Soldier’ revisits a story song from Suzanne Vega’s debut album.

Two more of Keith’s songs, the ‘Lizard On The Wall’ and ‘Every Bond’, are followed by a chilling setting of Lorca’s surreal, disturbing ‘Sleepless City’.

Two more of Keith’s songs – ‘Run Before You Walk’ and ‘Only Occasionally’ – and finally back to a Lorca setting for ‘Nocturne’.

If you’re among the ever-growing circle of Keith’s admirers – especially if you’re acquainted with his most recent CDs – you’ll know what to expect: fine musicianship and lyrical intensity, leavened here with the occasionally more mainstream sounds of his earlier songs and versions of classic songs by other writers. If you’re not familiar with his work, this is a first class introduction to it. I look forward to hearing more about his current projects.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.keith-james.com/

‘Anthem’ – official video:

What we’ve said about Keith James:

KEITH JAMES – Always (Hurdy Gurdy Music HG2925)

KEITH JAMES – Tenderness Claws (Hurdy Gurdy HGA2926)