Dave Burland may have recorded one of the definitive folk albums of the seventies but he’s always been a rocker at heart as anyone who has been in the same room as Shagpile will testify. Alongside him in The Awkward Squad are two members of that band, Dave Fisher and Bryan Ledgard and their first album, Okkard, is a perfect example of having fun with the music they love.
The big noise here is Fisher on keyboards and steel guitars and I’m guessing that he takes the lead on ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ which is built on piano with three voices on the chorus. The Awkward Squad take it a little faster than is usual with odd little twists in the phrasing that makes it much brighter than the dirge it can become. It’s electric piano that introduces the opening track, ‘Reynardine’ with solid guitar and drums from Ledgard. Burland’s distinctive laid-back delivery adds to the gentle rolling feel of the arrangement. He switches to mandolin for Terry Allen’s ‘New Delhi Freight Train’ over Fisher working the left hand end of the keyboard.
What they do to ‘Country Life’ is quite amazing. A not-quite honky-tonk piano is matched with a sort-of syncopated vocal line and Willie Nelson’s ‘Crazy’ is given a full-blown nightclub feeling with backing vocals courtesy of Chris While and Julie Matthews. It’s not all fun, though. ‘Kitchener’s Finger’, written by Burland, is paired with ‘The Bloody Fields Of Flanders’ and ‘Lamkin’ is as dark a version as you could wish to hear, fleshing out the “mason” storyline.
‘Long Distance Love’ and Steve Goodman’s wonderful ‘City Of New Orleans’ are more familiar territory – this is possibly the best version of the latter that I’ve heard – and I was convinced that the final track, ‘Spencer The Rover’, appeared on Dave’s first album, but of course it doesn’t. As far as I can tell this is the first time he’s recorded it. No matter; it’s a perfect Dave Burland song to bring Okkard to a close.
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It’s been 14-plus years since Fairport Convention’s chief songwriter, co-lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie, songwriter-musician and all-around renaissance man David Hughes, and Chris While and Julie Matthews (the renowned folk duo While and Matthews) joined together for a holiday side project called St. Agnes Fountain, fondly dubbed the Aggies by loyalists.
The quartet and its fans will tell you their musical magic is only fully unleashed during their as-soon-as-they-are-announced sell out concerts across England. That is further reason to celebrate the artistry of their albums. Christmas Is Not Far Away, the Aggies’ just released ninth album, is now available online and at upcoming shows.
The album features the Aggies at their best – both individually and as a group. Chris Leslie’s bewitching musicianship (don’t miss ‘Old Time Christmas on the Front Porch’), Ms. While’s and Ms. Matthews’ enchanting harmonies (‘Shadows of the Past’) and Mr. Hughes’ amusingly irreverent word play (‘Immortal Irreverent’) combine to make this a stand out offering.
At first, I was disappointed by a few songs on this album including ‘The Heart of Christmas Day’ by Ms. Matthews.
Perhaps that’s because a disproportionate number of artists who released holiday albums this season have included several songs aimed toward the despondent. Over the Rhine’s Blood Oranges in the Snow, comes immediately to mind. But Over the Rhine acknowledges their holiday music is for those who struggle with the season.
When I originally heard the song penned by Ms. Matthews, I thought it was a bit of an outlier in an otherwise joyful album. I was wrong. The more I listened, the more I found that and other atypical Aggies’ songs intriguing, especially as they are sequenced.
Christmas is Not Far Away is a charming respite from the too jolly and too sorrowful holiday music that is readily available. Like the Aggies’ tour, expect this album to become a part of your holiday tradition.
Everyone remembers the charity version of ‘Perfect Day’ with its myriad of voices from the pop and rock world.
Let’s hope everyone will also remember the upcoming answer from the Folk World – ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ – with a plethora of voices from across the acoustic folk and roots spectrum representing the great and the good, young and the old, seasoned and emerging, all on the same single. The group is called The Armistice Pals and is releasing a fitting tribute to Pete Seeger, who sadly passed away this year as well as marking the 100 years anniversary of the breakout of the First World War. All profits will be distributed between four peacekeeping charities.
Chris While and Julie Matthews have been making music together for twenty years now, first with The Albion Band and currently with St Agnes Fountain as well as solo and as a duo. They make classy records and this, their eighth studio album together, is no exception.
The album opens with the up-tempo, vibrant ‘This Beautiful Life’, a song which could open or close a live set with equal impact. Here it sets the tone of a record which is full of optimism even when the subject might suggest otherwise. Better perhaps to say defiance in the face of catastrophe: Christchurch after the earthquake and 9/11; or stoicism when times are less than perfect. The new Radio Ballads song, ‘Nie Wieder’, about German Jewish athlete Gretel Bergmann, is the epitome of Julie’s song-writing. There is no triumphalism in her belated honours in her homeland but the statement that ‘nothing cleans the memory’ leaves a deep sense of sadness. Continue reading CHRIS WHILE AND JULIE MATTHEWS – Infinite Sky Fat Cat FATCD027
I’ll just admit it; I’m jealous of those that can celebrate the holiday season with St. Agnes Fountain’s live and newly recorded music “The Twelve Years of Christmas.” In a season filled with holiday albums and tours from artists ranging from Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta to Cee Lo Green, the just-released St. Agnes Fountain album is truly a holiday jewel of re-imagined traditional and more contemporary music. Like most jewels, this one is rare. It’s available Continue reading St. Agnes Fountain The Twelve Years of Christmas Reviewed!
“The Birmingham-based, Young Folk Awards-nominated duo’s free-spirited music sounds centuries old. It’s not, and their fresh guitar and violin set-up adds a rare sparkle to traditional hues.” Q Magazine
Jack and Charlie’s well-known idiosyncratic approach to folk music and song writing has earned them an enviable reputation as two of the most exciting, heartfelt and challenging musicians around. Writing songs that seem to grow out of the ground and tunes that tell stories in their own right, Jack and Charlie’s original music strings together the past, present and what might yet be of folk music. Continue reading Jack McNeill & Charlie Heys TWO FINE DAYS