MIDSUMMER – The Stories You Tell (own label)

Midsummer - The Stories You TellA new Birmingham acoustic folk outfit, Lizzy Daniel-Sam and Chris Taylor (who also plays guitar and mandolin ) are the Midsummer vocal and writing core, the line-up augmented by Ben Kyte (bass), Jenny Chen (violin), J Clay (trumpet) and Andy Gordon (accordion, uke, guitars, percussion) They’ve only been going a couple of years, but their debut album brims with the confidence of seasoned performers as well as the freshness and enthusiasm of new blood.

They cite Fleetwood Mac, Frank Turner and Carole King among their influences, though it’s only the Mac, or more strictly Buckingham-Nicks, that are in evidence, perhaps a more pertinent comparison being early Mumfords, The Dreaming Spires and Goodnight Lenin. Having said that, album opener ‘I’ll Wait’ has Lizzy, backed by oohing harmonies, sounding not unlike Lucy Spraggan. It’s an inviting opener, but the real pleasure comes, for those who don’t know the band, with the arrival of trumpet midway. The instrument features throughout and, while the quality of the songs, the infectious melodies and the vocals are more than enough to distinguish them, this really sets them apart from the crowd,

With Chris on mandolin and chorus vocals, the breezy second track, ‘1000 Days’, which features fellow Birmingham folkie Joanna Karselis on fiddle, just makes you feel good to be alive and, in my book, is officially the song of the summer. Keeping the tempo brisk and the mandolin rippling, ‘Stoney Face’ jogs along with a folksy jaunt and a hint of Dolly Parton before they take the pace down for the dreamy sway of the traditional flavoured title track ballad (about seeing a clearly troubled singer-songwriter at a gig), Lizzy accompanied by just acoustic guitar and delicate strings.

Things remain in similar vein for the five minute ‘Don’t Be Anxious’, the tempo gathering towards the end and then comes the playful ‘I Was Made In Birmingham’, the pair duetting on a mandolin and trumpet led hoe down stomp in a bouncy, feelgood celebration of their hometown that also mentions Coventry and is probably the only song to feature the word actuary.

Accompanied by watery guitar and melancholic trumpet, ‘Wasted Time’ is a reflective pastoral ballad about recovering from a broken relationship, the album hitting the final stretch with the equally reflective and affirming ‘Come And Rest’, strummed guitar joined by trumpet as it builds towards the end. Again backed by strummed guitar, the penultimate number, ‘You Got It’ Then is a gorgeous love song (“I don’t always understand the joke, but I love how you tell it with confidence”) with a trace of Elton John’s ‘Candle In The Wind’ to the tumbling melody refrain, the album ending on the optimistic seven-minute ‘Summer’s Over’, the opening accordion drone giving way to guitar as Chris sings about how everything’s connected, the need for change, rebirth and the observation that “September has more sunny days than June”, trumpet joining again for the final bucolic flourish.

Unquestionably not just one of the year’s finest debut albums, but the heralding of a band I feel are going to become a very important part of the folk fabric. In the final lines, Taylor sings “What we’ve had and what we’ve lost remembered through the music we’ve played…though the miles and differences I’ll find a way so we can be with you.” Put a light in the window to guide them to your door.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.midsummerfolk.com

STEWART GARRY – Sojourner (Minor Artists)

sojournerIs it a film? Is it an album? Both, of course, and Sojourner is also a unique presentation of an artist and his music.

There are eight tracks, performed on a rather stylish Avalon Arc cutaway, linked by Stewart’s narration much of which was filmed at the Laphroaig distillery on Islay, and I can think of few better places. The set begins with ‘After The Rain’, recorded in a Cornish church. For me, there is a bit too much ring on the guitar but that is Stewart’s style. It’s very dynamic with lots of hammering-on and harmonics and very tricky fingering. I’m not sure if the natural acoustics of the church are at fault or whether it was a later attempt to recreate them but the rest of the album is rather more mellow.

Stewart, and his long-suffering (and cruelly uncredited) sound man, haul their gear to many inaccessible places including Chesterton Windmill in Warwickshire where the buffeting wind must have been a nightmare; a lighthouse in Whitley Bay and what appear to be tunnels underneath Edinburgh for the one vocal track, ‘Life Is Loud’ with Stewart’s poet brother, Doug. Then it’s on to the bond store at Laphroaig and a loch-side in Argyll for the final ‘Lessons Learned’.

Coventry, where Stewart now lives, is represented by The Tin and ‘Patience Is A Virtue’, a collaboration with violinist Joanna Karselis, and probably the warmest location of the whole project. There has to be bad joke about Stewart suffering for his art in there somewhere.

Having first watched the film, its images and Stewart’s introductions coloured listening to the album which is no bad thing. Sojourner is available in download formats from Minor Artists.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.stewartgarry.co.uk/

‘Patience Is A Virtue’ with Joanna Karselis: