SALT HOUSE – Undersong (Make Believe MBR7CD)

UndersongThere have been changes in the Salt House with Jenny Sturgeon joining Ewan MacPherson and Lauren MacColl and having a big impact as songwriter and lead vocalist alongside Ewan. What hasn’t changed is their use of literature as well as traditional sources to inspire their music. Undersong is only their second album, five years on from their debut, but it has been worth the wait.

There are no guest musicians on Undersong and there really is no need for them with everyone playing at least instruments and my criticism of Lay Your Dark Low that some of the vocals weren’t strong enough has been dealt with. There is a lightness and openness in the music which makes this album very good listening. The opener, Jenny’s ‘Old Shoes’, is a perfect example. Starting with just voice and dancing guitar – I’m not sure if that’s Ewan or Jenny – it slowly builds up with Lauren’s strings and the addition of the other voices. ‘Turn Ye To Me’ comes from a 19th century collection with words by John Wilson but Jenny’s music makes it sound very modern and they repeat the technique with ‘The Sisters’ Revenge’ a gorgeous song which I was convinced was an original written in the traditional idiom. Half right: the words are traditional but the tune is Ewan’s.

‘Lay Your Dark Low’ wasn’t on the album with that title and I can’t say when Ewan wrote it but it is another stunning song. Jenny’s ‘Charmer’ presages Lauren’s setting of Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ and we’re back to the tradition with ‘I Sowed Some Seeds’ albeit somewhat adapted by Ewan. The title track which closes the album was written by all three band members and lives up to its name having a double meaning.

Undersong is a very fine album and comes highly recommended.

Dai Jeffries

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

Artists’ website: https://www.salthousemusic.com/

‘Old Shoes’ – official video:

Salt House announce their new album

Salt House

Five years on from their debut, which announced a major new force on the scene, Scottish band Salt House release their new album Undersong. Produced by folk heavyweight Andy Bell (Martin Simpson, Songs of Separation, Jon Boden, Furrow Collective), the album instills a special sense of place, recorded in a restored Telford Church on the island of Berneray, Outer Hebrides.

Whether it’s setting old words to new melodies, re-working ancient ballads or writing their own – Salt House marry all their musical strands with a deep understanding for the British song tradition and an empathy for a story. Recent recruit, singer-songwriter Jenny Sturgeon joins multi-instrumentalist and songsmith Ewan MacPherson and violist and fiddler Lauren MacColl to weave stories of landscape, place and time.

The Telford church used to record the music was featured in Channel 4’s Restoration Man and is a special, hugely creative space, in a location which marries perfectly with the band’s love of the islands, the outdoors and of nature. Salt House are based in the Highlands and Northern Isles and the music for Undersong was created over the past year between the Cairngorms and rural Aberdeenshire.

The ten songs on the album include new settings of poetry, a reworking of a Scandinavian ballad, and six new songs from Jenny and Ewan’s own writing. The band deliver and arrange their material with an honesty and respect to the story, the words, and their lineage, whilst continuing to forge their own sound.

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

Artists’ website: www.salthousemusic.com

‘Old Shoes’ from the album Undersong:

RANT – Reverie (Make Believe Records MBR6CD)

ReverieIf you’re going to make music with a band that consists of just fiddles and violas you have to pretty sure of your ground otherwise it’s going to get rather dull.

Sure, Bethany Reid, Jenna Reid, Sarah-Jane Summers and Lauren McColl stretch the point by importing vocalists for two tracks but they import the best – Julie Fowlis and Ewan McLennan. The opening track, ‘JT’s’, written by Bethany makes a bold statement with almost staccato fiddle phrases leading into a sweeter restatement and then a rocking melody. The mood changes immediately with a set of two traditional tunes, ‘Miss Drummond Of Perth’s Favourite Scotch Measure’ – another great old title – which is given an almost eerie opening and ‘Strathbogie’s Toast’ from Niel Gow’s collection. ‘Dad’s 60th’ is another tune by Bethany, a bright march with echoes of older pieces hidden within it.

The first of the songs is ‘Mary’s Dream’. The words are by the 18th century Galloway poet, John Lowe’ and the tune is traditional – a variant of ‘The Parting Glass’. McLennan’s warm voice is complemented by almost tender fiddle parts. Julie Fowlis sings the other song, ‘Thug Thu Chonnlach As An T-Sabhal’, a strathspey tune with a very different feel. Her vocal dexterity with the Gaelic language is always a delight.

There are two pieces from James Scott Skinner who is always good value, two by Lauren and a couple of covers and the final track is an Icelandic hymn, ‘Fyrir Mig, Jesú, þoldir þú’, brought to the band by Jenna and rearranged by Bethany with an ethereal feel that’s almost chilling, bringing the album to a lovely close.

Dai Jeffries

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

Artists’ website: www.rantfiddles.com

The promotional video:

RACHEL NEWTON – Here’s My Heart Come Take It (Shadowside SHADOW02)

Here's My Heart Come Take ItRachel Newton’s third solo album, Here’s My Heart Come Take It, is a gorgeous, sophisticated work for which great credit must go to co-producer and engineer Mattie Foulds who also added percussion to the vocals, harps and keyboards of the initial recording sessions.

The set opens with the title track; traditional words with Rachel’s own tune. It’s a warning about the fickleness of young women, or perhaps a warning to fickle young women as she is the loser in this case. ‘Gura Mise Tha Fo Mhulad’ then provides the opposite viewpoint – that it doesn’t do to be too trusting for fear of ending up spurned with a babe in arms. ‘The Bloody Gardener’ is a classic murder tale and a warning to young men not to be late on a date while ‘Proud Maisrie’ proves that the women usually get the upper hand.

Rachel’s electroharp rings bell-like on the title track and I presume that’s some sort of oscillator tone in the background. Then the piano (also Rachel) and drums come in and Lauren MacColl’s strings swell over the top and her solo violin soars plaintively over the second track. Doomy piano features heavily but ‘Proud Maisrie’ is as close to folk-rock as you can get. I don’t believe Pentangle recorded it but this arrangement would have suited them perfectly. Foulds does enjoy panning across the soundscape and lets himself go a bit on this track which is really the record’s big production number.

As you may know, Rachel has a love of country and western but doesn’t indulge it on record. But here’s ‘Don’t Go Out Tonight My Darling’ from the Max Hunter collection which is C&W in everything except execution decorated as it is by Michael Owers lonely flugelhorn. Later comes another Max Hunter song. ‘Poor Lost Babe, first recorded in Arkansas and it would be a short step from an Ozark ballad to a country standard.

As I said, this a beautiful album and with everything else that’s going on Rachel is still front and centre where she should be.

Dai Jeffries

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

Artist’s website: www.rachelnewtonmusic.com

There are no videos from the album yet but here is the title track:

CALUM STEWART and LAUREN MacCOLL NEW ALBUM Wooden Flute and Fiddle

Calum Stewart (wooden flute) and Lauren MacColl (fiddle & viola) are two young musicians, at the top of their game. Calum, formerly of Manran, is at the forefront of Scottish flute playing, displaying exemplary technique and emotion in his playing.

Lauren, is regarded as one of the finest fiddlers of her geneation and has won “Instumentalist of the Year” at the Scottish Traditional Music Awards and BBC Young Folk Awards. She has also been leading her band The MacCollective since 2004.

On this, their first “duo album”, Lauren uses various tunings to create different resonances with Calum’s flute playing and the material is sourced from old manuscripts and their own writing.

If you would like to hear more you are listen to samples from the amazon album link below.

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