THE CHANGING ROOM – Picking Up The Pieces (TCR Music TCRM75068)

picking up the piecesA fluid Cornish collective built around the constant foundation of Sam Kelly and Tanya Brittain who share vocals and play guitar/bass/piano and accordion, respectively, Picking Up The Pieces, their second album sees them joined by Jamie Francis on banjo, percussionist Evan Carson and Morrigan Palmer Brown on harp with various contributions from Kevin McGuire (upright bass), John McCusker (fiddle) and Belinda O’Hooley (piano).

As with their debut, it’s firmly rooted in Cornish soil, something underlined from the start with traditional-sounding album opener ‘Caradon Hill’, a portrait of life above and below ground for the miners and their families in what was once the UK’s biggest copper mine, it’s decline presaged in the lyrics as, McCusker’s fiddle providing the spine, it builds to the a cappela coda.

Moving to Polperro, the sprightly’ Zephaniah Job’, the pair alternating vocals, tells of the 18th century Cornish entrepreneur who, though always mindful of making a profit, served as benefactor to the local fishermen, smugglers and schoolchildren alike. Talking of smugglers, ‘The Grayhound’, sung by Kelly with McCusker on fiddle and whistle and Francis’s banjo bolstering the arrangement, is an account of the three-master privateer charged by the government with chasing down smugglers’ ships, though the chorus line about pillaging and raiding the south Cornish coast suggests its crew may well have exceeded their mandate.

Co-penned by Brittain and Boo Hewardine, just as Louise Jordan’s latest turns the spotlight on the role of women during WWI, ‘Bal Maiden’s Waltz’ details the generally overlooked contribution of women and girls to the Cornish mining industry, Kelly adding cittern to his guitar parts with Brittain taking lilting lead on a song about how the so-called ‘bal maidens’ would crush, grind and break down the ore sent up from the mine before going home to feed the families, go dancing and break hearts.

Penned by Brittain, but sung by Kelly, featuring harp, harmonium, fiddle and upright bass, ‘Gwrello Glaw (Let It Rain)’ is the first of two numbers in Cornish, a reflective song about living life to the full regardless of what storms come your way. This is followed by the more musically energetic ‘The Cinder Track’, a driving banjo and guitar led stomp forming a sort of tarmac shanty in tribute to the men who build the roads. One of two numbers not penned by band members, ‘Koh-I-Noor’ is, simply arranged for guitar, banjo and accordion, a waltzing Hewardine composition, a musing on mortality drawing comparison between the lengthy existence of the titular diamond and the brief lives of those who coveted and killed for it.

Kelly provides the music for the second of the Cornish numbers, a gently rippling and tumbling airy treatment of the traditional ‘Delyow Sevi’ (winner of Best Traditional Song in a Celtic Language at the 2015 International Pan Celtic Song Contest), the duo sharing vocal duties, Carson tapping out percussion while harp shimmers throughout.

The running order reversed on the sleeve and lyric sheet, ‘Tie ‘Em Up’ is Geoff Lakeman’s rhythmically itchy protest against successive governments’ imposition of EU-agreed fishing quotas and the cost to Cornish fishermen and their families, followed by the sombre and sober anti-war ‘We Will Remember Them’, a track which also appears on their forthcoming Armistice Day commemorative EP, The Names on the Wall, O’Hooley accompanying Kelly on piano.

The album ends with another duo composition, ‘It’s All Downhill From Here’, a lively banjo bouncing singalong romp (again referencing the copper mines of Caradon) celebrating the men who built the railroads, even if the title hints that this was the peak of the Industrial Revolution.

If Seth Lakeman was the vanguard of the revival of Cornwall as a bastion of the contemporary folk scene, The Changing Room are leading the pincer movement.

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Artists’ website: www.thechangingroommusic.com

HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE – Before The Sun (Sungrazing Records SGR002)

Before The SunHannah Sanders first solo album, Charms Against Sorrow, was produced by Willows guitarist Ben Savage who also played on the record and shared in the arrangements. With Before The Sun their partnership has been formalised but little else has changed except that the duo went to Toronto to record with David Travers-Smith.

To the mix of traditional songs and covers is now added some originals and the first ‘The Fall (Hang)’ opens the set. I’m still puzzling over this track – it could be a reinterpretation of a murder ballad or a macabre accident like Bob Pegg’s ‘The Hanged Man’. I think I lean towards the former. Next is the first traditional song, ‘Come All Ye Fair & Tender Maids’, a mid-Atlantic version finished with a playground round. ‘What’s It Tonight My Love?’, another original, sees Ben take the first lead vocal. Its description of night in the city puts me in mind of ‘Chimes Of Freedom’ even though there is no resemblance between the two songs, other than the feeling that it leaves you with.

Next come three traditional songs. The first is ‘Lady Margaret’, an English song with variants in the United States. ‘Clayton Boone’ is definitely American and gives Ben another lead vocal and the chance to play Dobro. It is, of course, a variant of ‘Gypsy Davy’. Finally in this section we have the haunting ‘Deep Blue Sea’, a version that doesn’t quite match any set of lyrics that I can find. Hannah and Ben’s version is rather more gentle than the standard text and rather lovely.

Hannah and Ben play guitars, dulcimer and autoharp and are joined by Kevin Breit and Katriona Gilmore on melody instruments with Evan Carson and Jon Thorne on percussion and double bass. For the most part they are used sparingly but they do get to have a blow on Richie Stearns’ ‘Ribbons And Bows’. Joining them on vocals are Jim Causley, Robin Gillan and Jade Rhiannon.

The final track is ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’ sung as a duet as it is written. They slow it down a bit and the singing is sad and wistful where Dylan managed a blend of bitterness and resignation. He knew the back-story, of course, and it all happened fifty years ago but I’d advise anyone tackling the song to read the relevant section of a biography. It’s beautifully performed, as is the whole of the album, but to an old curmudgeon like me it misses something.

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://www.hannahbenmusic.com/

‘Come All Ye Fair And Tender Maids’ – official video:

ANGE HARDY & LUKAS DRINKWATER – Findings (Story Records STREC1662)

FindingsI can’t decide if I’m more impressed by the quantity or the quality of Ange Hardy’s work. The ink is barely dry on Esteesee, her 2015 exploration of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and she’s back with her fourth album formalising her work in partnership with Lukas Drinkwater. Findings is a term for the linking pieces in jewellery that join the settings and stones together – Ange knows about this stuff – and provides the theme of this album. And I do find it refreshing to find a themed album that sticks to its central idea all the way through without forcing it down your throat. For that alone Findings is a wonderful record.

In the opening track, ‘The Call/Daughters Of Watchet/Caturn’s Night’, the link is the railway that linked Watchet to the mines of the Brendon Hills but it is also four love stories. The final track, ‘Fall Away’ returns to Watchet and the four daughters of the town now that the mines and the railway and the fishing are gone. Findings mixes original and traditional material, often in one song. So ‘The Pleading Sister’ builds a song around the single verse of ‘Little Boy Blue’ and ‘Bonny Lighter-Boy’ sets a new tune to a traditional set of words.

The (more or less) traditional pieces are ‘The Trees They Do Grow High’, ‘The Berkshire Tragedy’ and ‘The Parting Lullaby’ and I can tell that you’re working out the findings each of these songs. The original songs cover a multitude of relationships but I will single out ‘Invisible Child’ as a masterful example of Ange and Lukas’ songwriting – simple and direct but powerful and moving.

Sometimes Ange and Lukas perform alone but there is a small band of Archie Churchill-Moss, Ciaran Algar and Evan Carson with additional vocals from Nancy Kerr, Kathryn Roberts and Steve Pledger. Even so, the accompaniments are restrained and the songs are out front where they should be. Not to belittle its predecessors but Findings could be Ange’s best album.

Dai Jeffries

Some copies of Findings carry a sticker which can be matched with another to win a (possibly) fabulous prize. Mine reads PHMOI. If you have the matching half, please let me know and we can split the loot.

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: www.angehardy.com

SAM KELLY The Lost Boys

SAM KELLY The Lost BoysThis is the album that the folk world has been awaiting for months, given Sam Kelly’s unique musical history and his seemingly putting his solo career on hold to work with The Changing Room.

The Lost Boys are an expanded Sam Kelly Trio with Ciaran Algar and Graham Coe joining Jamie Francis and Evan Carson and further contributions from fellow Stark Josh Franklin, who also co-produced the album, plus Lukas Drinkwater and Kitty Macfarlane.

The album opens with ‘Jolly Waggoners’, one of the chorus songs we used to roar out in the sixties. Sam takes a more considered approach to it, tweaking the tune a little here and there and revealing that the words are still relevant – “the folks in power pay no heed to the likes of me and you”.

Jamie Francis’ alt-blues affiliations come to the fore in the arrangements of ‘Little Sadie’, ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ and ‘The King’s Shilling’, which is traditional but makes you think it isn’t. His banjo is the dominant instrument on several tracks and, with Carson’s drums going flat out the final track, ‘Dullahan’, is pure folk-rock. At the other end of the spectrum ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’ enjoys a quite conventional pastoral arrangement. Kelly and Francis share the writing and arranging, with Francis contributing ‘Six Miners’ (despite the cover credit I don’t believe he wrote ‘Banish Misfortune’) and Kelly writing ‘Spokes’ while they share the credit for ‘Eyes Of Men’ and ‘Dullahan’.

This is a really good album from start to finish, well programmed with its first peak at ‘Little Sadie’, a “false” climax at ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ and a big finish at the very end. The arrangements are inventive without detracting from the essence of the songs. Their setting of ‘The Golden Vanity’ seems much too jaunty at first but just like everything else here it works. The Lost Boys is going to be huge.

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.samkelly.org

Sam and Jamie perform ‘Eyes Of Men’ – Songs From The Shed:

Sam Kelly introduces The Lost Boys

Sam Kelly introduces The Lost Boys

The widely anticipated debut full-length album, The Lost Boys, from folk singer and multi-instrumentalist Sam Kelly is due for release on 19th November 2015. The album promises to take the listener to all corners of the British Isles, across the Atlantic, and back again on a musical journey led by Sam’s expert vocals, tasteful arrangements, and high-class instrumental performances. Tender, heart-breaking ballads rub shoulders with dynamic, riff-based folk rock in an exciting mix of traditional and original material.

Touring as The Sam Kelly Trio for the past three years Sam is omnipresent amongst the folk music scene. The trio includes Jamie Francis on banjo and Evan Carson on percussion. Two new band members, Ciaran Algar on fiddle and Graham Coe on cello join the fold to create a full, authentic roots vibe for the album.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with the amazing folk scene we have in this country for the past three years. Huge festival bands, young musicians like myself, and people singing floor spots in tiny folk clubs have all inspired me in equal measure, and this album is a musical montage of all my favourite memories and experiences so far,” explains Sam.

Sam has also honed his skills as a producer under the watchful eyes of Sam and Sean Lakeman, and this album is produced and recorded by himself, Joshua Franklin, and Jamie Francis. It also also features the mixing and mastering talents of Stu Hanna (Megson), and guest musicians Lukas Drinkwater and Kitty Macfarlane.

The Lost Boys has been widely anticipated by both his peers and a dedicated fan base and is the culmination of what has been an incredibly successful year for Sam. Nominated Best Singer 2015 Spiral Earth Awards, numerous plays on Radio 2 and 3 including a live session and interview on the Mark Radcliffe show, features in R2, fRoots, Living Tradition and Fatea magazines, and much more. It’s easy to see why he has already been tipped for greatness by the likes of Mike Harding and Cara Dillon.

Billed as Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, the five piece will be taking the album on tour in 2016 and cementing Sam’s place as one of the most exciting young prospects on the British folk scene.

Artist’s website: www.samkelly.org

‘Jolly Waggoners/Banish Misfortune’ – Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys:

HANNAH SANDERS – Charms Against Sorrow (Sungrazing Records SGR001)

CharmsAgainstSorrowHailing from Norwich, Sanders came to folk early, singing with her a capella family group, The Dunns, as a teenager before briefly putting music to one side to travel to America and develop a career as a cultural anthropologist, the album title bearing witness to her study of contemporary witchcraft. Returning to the UK in 2013, she’s resumed her relationship with folk music, releasing an EP last year and now following on with this full-length debut. Accompanied by musicians that include Ben Savage, Evan Carson and Jade Rhiannon from The Willows, bassist Jon Thorne and Anna Scott on cello, not surprisingly, it reflects both British and American influences in what is a predominantly traditional and simply arranged affair recorded in ‘grass roots’ settings that range from an old mill to a Lake District kitchen in order, capturing the intimate atmosphere, not to mention the sounds of fires crackling and birds singing

Sanders has a clear, pure vocal, a slight breathy husk alternating with soaring high notes and, listening to ‘Joshuay’, a sprightly variation on the song variously known as ‘The Prickly Bush’ and ‘Gallows Pole’, it’s hard not to sometimes find yourself thinking of the early Joni Mitchell. She certainly favours Mitchell jazz-folk stylings, both on that and on the ensuing versions of Michael Hurley’s psych-folk number ‘The Werewolf ‘(where her voice also suggests Janis Ian) and Annie Briggs’ ‘Go Your Way’. Elsewhere, the clear air of the Appalachians can be felt on ‘I Gave My Love A Cherry’ and in the Dobro colours of the otherwise softly sung English pastoral ‘I’ll Weave My Love A Garland’ while, in arrangements and vocal, both ‘Bonnie Bunch Of Roses’ (which segues into intricate guitar instrumental ‘Mayflower Stranger’) and ‘Lord Franklin’ are haunted by the ghost of Sandy Denny.

Harking back to her family heritage, there’s an unaccompanied reading of ‘A Sailor’s Life’ (aka ‘Sweet William’) and, her native accent heard in the pronunciations, a wearied, melancholic, cello-hued take on ‘Geordie’. Joined by sister Ruth on backing vocals, she’s slightly sprightlier on folk evergreen ‘Pleasant And Delightful’ (also known as ‘Dawning Of The Day’), though more restrained and tender than the rousing approach usually to be found in folk clubs while the album’s remaining track draws on the inspiration of Nic Jones (and, again, Scott’s cello) for a jazzy blues inflected interpretation of broadside ballad ‘Miles Weatherhill And Sarah Bell’.

It’s early days yet, but, with an extensive tour coming up to promote the album, Sanders could soon find herself numbered among the ranks of today’s contemporary masters of traditional folk.

Mike Davies

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: hhttp://www.hannahsandersfolk.com

Hannah sings ‘Lord Franklin’: