AMY DUNCAN – Antidote (Filly Records FILLY002)

AntidoteThis CD, Antidote by Amy Duncan, is not generally my type of music but I really like this recording.

Regretfully, the cover is somewhat minimal and does not explain the songs or their reasoning. It does tell us that Amy Duncan wrote all of the songs but I have to go the promotional blurb for further explanation.

Amy tells us “I was searching for a cure, a way of being, that could move beyond the depressive cycle. The songs are linked together by the theme of overcoming adversity in health and life”, suggesting to me that Amy has had a hard time somewhere, sometime recently and had overcome it by writing and recording these eleven songs.

I’m not big on listening to songs written by people who need to get something off their chest but I did not pick up on anything depressive in any of the songs. Although, track three ‘The Severed Head’ caused me some concern that the author may have committed an unknown, pretty serious crime sometime in her life.

‘The Lost Balloon’ is my favourite track. It is simply melodic, well written and goof to listen too. There are no words on the cover but a direction to a web page for this. I made a point of going back to some of Amy Duncan’s previous recordings and she is an excellent artiste. She recorded this CD at home but put it out to a close friend to mix and master. The quality is good and the arrangements and harmonies a credit to Amy Duncan’s ability.

Antidote is outwith my traditional preferences but will remain in my collection simply because I like it.

Fraser Bruce

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Amy Duncan – Antidote link 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.amyduncan.co.uk

‘The Severed Head’:

LORELEY – The Frozen North (own label LRL001)

The Frozen NorthI specifically asked to review The Frozen North because I was interested in the concept put to me as “a collection of traditional songs by Sheffield based duo Loreley. As a project with the aim of exploring archives of mostly forgotten folk songs in order to breathe new life into then with a variety of new tunes and arrangements completely composed by Loreley themselves” – Interesting!

I quote Loughton Folk Club In Essex, “The most dramatic performance I’ve ever seen at a folk club”. I have to assume that ‘Loreley Live’ is more exciting then ‘Loreley recorded’ Maybe I am missing something but I can only describe this CD, The Frozen North, as interesting.

Tracks one and two are sung at such a speed that I could barely make out the lyrics, despite several listens. I was especially disappointed to be told that track three, ‘Storm In The Holy Ground’, referred to Cobh in County Cork. It has always been my belief that the ‘Holy Ground’ as sung originally by The Clancy Brothers was an Australian song about a brothel, possibly in Cobh.

Track four is an instrumental, ‘The Blinky Set’. I am afraid the musicianship does not match up to the standard necessary to compete in the current instrumental scene. I have to say that I am confused by this entire album because I would not consider Maddy Glenn as a great vocalist either so, all in all this is a very specialist CD that may appeal to a particular type of fan. Maybe they are a better  ‘live’ act.

Unless I am honest in my reviews then they would have no value. I did not enjoy this CD. It is slightly ‘bonkers’. Loreley claim that they would use “mostly forgotten”  material but ‘The Oak And The Ash’, ‘The Snows They Meet The Soonest’, ‘Ilkley Moor Baht’at’ and ‘High Barbaree’ are still heard regularly around folk venues.

Their rendition of ‘Ilkley Moor Baht’at’ is the low of the CD but the track, ‘High Barbaree’, The high point. All of this is, of course, only my opinion and I am sure Loreley fans will enjoy the CD and Loreley themselves would not have released the CD The Frozen North unless It achieved what they were aiming for. I do like the cover, simple but lovely.

Fraser Bruce

Artists’ website: https://loreley.bandcamp.com/

‘Blow Northerne Wynd’ – the single:

OLD BLIND DOGS – Room With A View (own label OBD013)

Room With A ViewIt has always been my opinion that an album/CD should have a minimum of twelve tracks to offer the purchaser value for money. I equally believe that if you do not have twelve tracks ready to record then you are not yet ready to release an album/CD. Room With A View has only nine tracks and sort of backs up my belief. There is no doubt that Old Blind Dogs is a group of great reputation and comprises of four fabulous musicians, although one of them has appeared on three of the last six albums which I have reviewed.

Their line up has changed over the 25 years that they have existed. They still have a large following who will no doubt love this latest release, Room With A View. As seems to be the fashion these days, several of the tracks are fairly long with ‘Newe’ running over six minutes. Throughout these long tracks the musicianship is wonderful and arrangements very clever and I know I would love them in a ‘live’ performance. ‘Bunkerhill’, track one, has many aspects to it and mixes cultures. I am sure I can hear ‘Old Joe Clark’ running through the melody.

Two of the songs cover “one of my favourites” to “a song I’m not sure about”. ‘The Earl O March’s Daughter’ is a fabulous song which you will hear sung at festivals throughout Scotland by Scots song enthusiasts. A great song to harmonise with. ‘Sawney Bean’ covers one of the most interesting subjects in Scotland about a cannibal family from the South West of Scotland. Both songs are written by Lionel McLelland.

This is a good CD. The overall package is minimal and tells you very little about the content of the CD. There are editing faults which I would have addressed, especially related to breathing. However, it will be enjoyed by many as will the ‘live’ performances of Old Blind Dogs.

Fraser Bruce

Artists’ website: http://www.oldblinddogs.co.uk/

GARY INNES – Era (own label GH101)

EraOh boy, do I like this CD? Yes, I do! Era is only the second ‘solo’ album released by Gary Innes who is part of the award-winning group, Mànran and it has such a variety of material that it grasps you from start to finish.

All of the tunes and songs are written by Gary, highlighting a superb talent. Strangely enough, I was not taken so much by the first track, ‘Yarra Wine Valley’. I liked it but it is my least favourite of the ten tracks on the CD. If you feel the same way then do not let it put you off listening to the rest if the tracks.

Track two, ‘The Road To Lochaber’ is beautiful. Great melody, great tempo and has a power build up throughout the track.

‘The Caman Man’ is a fabulous song written cleverly, affectionally but also humorously as a tribute to shinty the sport that Gary loves and represented Scotland in as captain, several times. I am not a Robert Robertson fan although the clarity of his vocal is a bonus, but possibly the humour is missed a bit. The players described as “wood swinging brothers” is brilliant! A great track and song that will surely be picked up by many singers.

Track four highlights Gary’s fabulous instrumental skills but track five is as good as it gets. ‘May Life Always Be Peachy’, a tune that Gary composed for his brother and his new wife to dance to as their wedding dance. “Peachy”, apparently is his brother’s name for his wife based on a specific part of her anatomy. I can imagine this tune being played as an anthem by massed pipe bands. It is beautiful.

The rest of the CD continues with such a variety of material that I could go on and write pages, but shan’t. However, track seven, ‘Zara’, is for his little niece and is sung by Siobhan Miller. It is a masterpiece of beauty and feeling, a credit to any songwriter.

The list of backing musicians is impressive and what I especially like about this CD is that Gary has not fallen into the trap that many musicians do when entering a recording studio with a group of musicians. No loud, heavy drumming, no offensive bagpiping, no bumping up the tempo. Gary has controlled the entire product and produced a CD of beautiful melodic music that will appeal beyond the limited audience of ‘Folk’!

I also like the fact that the songs are in English, written by somebody heavily involved in Gaeldom , so we can all understand what is being said.

The CD Era represents the passing of an era for Gary as he realises his life will now be dedicated to music. He no longer plays shinty or is part of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. Let’s hope this CD is part of a very successful era.

Fraser Bruce

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the GARY INNES – Era link 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s Website: www.garyinnes.com

‘The Caman Man’ (Warning: features Shinty):

SIOBHAN MILLER – Strata (Songprint Records SPR003CD)

StrataScotland is currently blessed with a crop of superb young female singers and Siobhan Miller is right up there in the top section of that list. Although still a young lady, she has been prominent on the folk scene for many years, appearing at clubs, concerts, festivals and regularly on television. She deserves it! Her father before her was a product of the Rutherglen Academy Ballads Club run by folklorist and author of the Scottish Folk Singer and 101 Scottish Songs! Norman Buchan. Her dad, Brian Miller, was only a year behind me in that school and the grounding we got there set us and our families up for a career in folk music. It is now in our blood!

Strangely enough, I can identify her father’s influence in Siobhan’s choice of material for this CD…although more than capable of it, as heard in the final track – Andy M Stewart’s ‘The Ramblin’ Rover’, Siobhan does not try and ram Scottishness down your throat. Some of her tracks have almost an English sound to them. Possibly only people with fifty plus years involved in folk music will understand what I mean by that.

Strata is a fabulous CD that I will listen to over and over again, and that is due, simply, to Siobhan’s beautiful singing. There is no overstretching, no screeching and no overdoing the grace notes – she just sings, beautifully! She has been clever in choosing a section of songs for the CD that we all know, and then making them her own. One of the first songs I ever learned was ‘The Unquiet Grace’ and I thought I maybe didn’t need to ever hear it again. However, Siobhan’s version is superb and emphasises just what a great song it is.

I cannot give the production full marks. It is generally well produced but the over-prominent bass could have ruined it all for me, especially in the first couple of tracks. It is interesting to note that the producer of the album is also the bass player on the album!

Possibly, Siobhan could have been a bit more adventurous in her song selection because she has such a wide repertoire of songs that I have heard her sing. Whatever, she has chosen eleven great songs and you will love them all. She does emphasise that the song selection process “is the culmination and an illustration of her musical journey to date”. She has long been keen to record these songs as a tribute to her many influences including Sheila Stewart, Dick Gaughan, Gordeanna McCulloch, Rod Paterson and her father. She includes tracks from Bob Dylan and Ed Pickford.

My favourite Siobhan is when she is getting suck into a song with great gusto. With the exception of the final track, Siobhan’s voice on the CD is generally more soft and throaty. It reminds me of Kate Rusby and that does disappoint me a bit. A star should never remind me of another singer, it should be the other way around. Still, her singing is still great. Just imagine how great I think she is on her up-beat, get stuck in there girl, stuff.

She is supported by a fabulous group of musicians including Aaron Jones, Phil Cunningham, Kris Drever, Aiden O’Rourke and many more. My final assessment – really great album. Would I want Strata in my collection? Of course, I would go out and buy it.

Fraser Bruce

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the Siobhan Miller link 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: www.siobhanmiller.com

‘Bonny Light Horseman’ – live with her band:

 

MÀNRAN – An Dà Là – The Two Days (Mànran Records MAN04)

An Dà LàIt is now so easy to create your own CD that most artistes of any calibre have at least one to boast of. Regretfully, this does not always produce a product of a suitable quality worthy of review. As such, I was delighted to receive An Dà Là the latest recording by Mànran. From the very first note of the guitar picking on track one, ‘Fiasco’, it was obvious that I was listening to a quality product. The depth and tone of the guitar created an immediate buzz, although a rather squeaky introduction of the pipes concerned me. It could have been edited. It didn’t really matter because the lengthy track was enthralling and enjoyable throughout.

Mànran are currently flying high, not only in Scotland, but at concerts and festivals throughout the world. Only a couple of days ago, I watched a TV documentary dedicated to the boys. It highlighted that this is a group of dedicated friends willing to each work hard and each accept their own responsibility in the organisation of their tours, promotion and musical arrangements.

If you have read any previous reviews which I have offered on new releases, then you will know that I do not analyse a CD track by track. A CD assessment, for me, is based on the overall product that I am listening to. There could well be a favourite track and then one that you don’t enjoy quite so much. I have never read a book that enthralled me page by page! This package is great. After the powerful impact of track one, I was concerned that following tracks might not be quite up to the same standard. No problem! There are twelve fabulous tracks = 1 fabulous album.

The arrangement and musical ability of the musicians cannot be questioned. Each track has within, a variability, which ensures the music being produced retains your attention. It is easy to imagine Mànran on stage whipping up an audience to fever pitch at a concert or festival.

I do have a concern and it is a concern that I have with many ‘young’ current folk bands. If you have a group of musicians working at a high level of ability, then it is essential that all members are at a similar level. This should also apply to the vocals. In the early days of folk a group would be formed around the singer, who was invariably the most prominent member in that group. Nowadays, the singer is often the “goalkeeper” in the group. Remember at school when picking your team, the last picked usually ended up playing in goals.

Mànran could do with beefing up their vocals. They are nicely and well sung but with such power on the instrumentation, they need to match it in the vocals. Whatever, a super album. Would I want it in my collection? Yes, I certainly would and so will every Mànran fan out there. It is excellent. My final assessment – Great album, go out and buy it.

Fraser Bruce

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the MÀNRAN link 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artists’ website: http://manran.co.uk/

‘An Dà Là’ – official video: