EMILY MAE WINTERS – Siren Serenade (own label EMW 02)

Siren SerenadeCo-produced by Josienne Clarke’s musical other half, Ben Walker, and Laura Marling knob-twiddler Lauren Deakin-Davies, following on from her Foreign Waters EP (which Walker also produced and which earned her a Folking Awards Rising Star nomination), Siren Serenade is the debut album from Cambridge-based singer-songwriter, poetry enthusiast and sometime theatre critic Emily Mae Winters.

Featuring musical contributions from, among others, Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage as well as both producers, the twelve tracks highlight both her slightly vibrato vocals and the influences in her music, Gillian Welch, Kate Rusby, The Unthanks, Alison Krauss and Sarah Jarosz among them.

There’s a couple of folk chestnuts here, Jenny Lee Ridley’s flute introing a crowd swayalong version of John Connolly’s fisherman’s farewell shanty ‘Fiddler’s Green’ featuring Jack Pout on bodhran, a strummed guitar and fiddle providing the instrumental playout. The second nods to her love of poetry with a haunting drone setting of WB Yeats’ ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’.

The album opens with the ripplingly lovely self-penned reflective ballad ‘Blackberry Lane’ featuring Savage on dobro and nodding to the rootsy Americana in her musical DNA. Maya McCourt who played cello on the EP reprises duties on the gently circling acoustic guitar melody of Anchor, while Winters takes to the piano for ‘As If You Read My Mind’, a soaring vocal pop tinged ballad that, coloured by strings, draws on the classic 60s sound of Carole King but also suggests hints of Joan Baez.

If all these have been relatively sedate, ‘Hook, Line And Sinker’ ups the tempo for, with Savage again on dobro, a catchy slice of strummed rootsy pop, an equally live paced being set on the scurrying Irish-tinted, whistle backed story-song ‘The Ghost Of The Pirate Queen’ showing a more muscular side to her voice.

Mostly though, the mood is quietly bucolic, beautifully rendered on the lullaby-like ‘Miles To Go’ (which, like ‘Anchor’, appeared on the EP) and moody piano and cello ballad ‘The Star’, the former a nod to the poet Robert Frost, the latter to John Keats.

Although her vocals are mesmerising throughout, the remaining two numbers really see them come into the glory. ‘Reprise’, the album closer, is a piano accompanied almost chorale-like stentorian duet with Sanders. And, accompanied only by clicking fingers and hummed vocals, she sings a capella, the title track itself, for me the album stand out, which echoes the Appalachian revivalist feel of ‘Down To The River To Pray’ and ‘Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby’ from Oh Brother Where Art Thou. In Greek mythology, sirens lured sailors on to the rocks with their singing; Winters can wreck me any time.

Mike Davies

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 EMILY MAE WINTERS – Siren Serenade 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.

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Artist’s website: www.emilymaewinters.com

‘Blackberry Lane’ – the Oak Sessions video:

STEVE PLEDGER – Somewhere Between (Noisy Dog NDCD01)

somewhere betweenFollowing his breakthrough with 2015’s release of second album, Striking Matches In The Wind, the soft-voiced Somerset-based singer-songwriter returns with a full-on political collection of songs about “transience and change; doubt and assurance” that again features Lukas Drinkwater on double and electric bass while bolstering the sound with the addition of drums, keyboards and fiddle.

He kicks off by pondering the role of the singer-songwriter as social commentator on the shuffling drum beat and tumbling chords of ‘Change The World’, playfully questioning the gulf between the surface political affectations (“I’ve got a Che Guevara hat.. you can’t get more socialist than that”) and deeper beliefs and commitments.

‘Live & Learn’, the opening line of which provides the album title, has distinct musical hints of Cat Stevens to its theme about how the convictions which shape us can change over time and, more importantly, having the strength to accept that doubt is not “a dirty word” and the courage to admit if we were wrong. The same theme is explored in a more Martyn Joseph-like uptempo mode on the self-explanatorily titled ‘The Right To Be Wrong’ which talks of the need to admit our mistakes and to see the perspectives of others.

The sparsely strummed ‘Where’d You Get That Heart From?’ is a biting questioning of the cold implacability and cruelty, souls “as black as coal”, of those in power towards the defenceless, a topic that finds more direct expression in the sardonic lyrics of ‘Doing Well’ which is, essentially, a distillation in song of the main thrust of Ken Loach’s new film, I, Daniel Blake, the way bureaucrats with no healthcare training asses the fitness to work or otherwise of those on or applying for benefits. It too will, likely be likened to Joseph, but I’m put more in mind of the early Transatlantic albums of Richard Digance.

‘I Spat Fire’ apparently had its genesis in the paradoxical nature of a poetry tent event in which he sang his angry songs while assorted ladies read sweet poems about gardens, an experience translated into a gentle acoustic contemplation on how, using imagery of rebirth, light and dark can go together, the one illuminating the other.

Quietly sad, ‘Other’ turns the spotlight on something more specific and (echoing the album title) is written from a transgender perspective to emerge as a reflection on identity, self-expression and the need to be true to yourself and “to be on the outside what I am within”, along with the acknowledgement that it’s never easy, either for the person in question or those they love.

Very much resonant of Joseph in terms of delivery and sound and probably my personal favourite, the rousing, ringing strummed guitar Wait Your Turn, with its rousing refrain of how “you don’t get much change out of the bottom of a ballot box”, chimes neatly with the ongoing arguments over Brexit in its observations on how democracy goes beyond the polling station and how change comes about through the stands people take and the commitment to progress.

The gaze becomes more intimate with the cry for help of ‘Me and The Silence’, a powerful song about suicidal depression and a call for empathy, while, another song about the individual lost in an uncaring and often cruel world, ‘The Louisa Miner’ draws on the story of a friend’s grandfather, a worker in the Co. Durham pits in the early part of the last century, who lost his life at 48 due to the conditions in the mine, something to which, of course, colliery and coroner refused to apportion blame, and extends to lament not just his death, but that of the industry to which he and many others gave “service and sacrifice”.

Somewhere Between closes on two positive notes. A lilting fingerpicked waltz, ‘Creation Is Laughing’ is about how corrupt empires eventually crumble but, Allen’s fiddle dancing in the background, more about standing in the sun or under the starts in the assurance of hope and faith restored. And, finally, ‘At The Last’, is a simple, fingerpicked, almost hymnal reverie that, drawing on searfaring imagery, is about our strength to weather the storm and the tides that batter us as we grow older and, when run aground, “to stand once more upon that shore and know at last that all I ever sought was how to be at peace where I am.”

A protest album burning with anger and compassion, on the opening track he sings how it’s people not songs that change the world, but how, sometimes, songs can change a heart. These are such songs and they demand to get stuck in the middle with you.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.stevepledger.co.uk

‘Other’ – 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 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 ANGE HARDY & LUKAS DRINKWATER – Findings 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: www.angehardy.com

KARA – Some Other Shore (Self-Released)

Some Other ShoreFronted by the Russian-born (but quintessentially English-sounding) Daria Kulesh who also plays guitar and bodhran, alongside Kate Rouse on hammered dulcimer, guitarist Ben Honey and latest recruit Phil Underwood on melodeon, the Hertfordshire quartet’s latest fusion of traditional English and Russian folk also features one-off contributions from fiddle player James Delarre and Lukas Drinkwater on double bass with producer Jason Emberton providing any undefined extra bibs and bobs.

For those unfamiliar with the band, such as myself, the first thing that strikes is the crystalline purity of Kulesh’s often soaring vocals, clearly a voice born to sing traditional folk, to be followed by the heady marriage of diverse cultural stylings, characterised by the musical interplay between Rouse and Underwood. This time round, the majority of the songs and tunes are self-penned, opening with the five minute, fiddle-featured ‘Tamara’s Wedding’, Kulesh’s lyric about a woman seduced to hell by a duplicitously consoling demon after the death of the bridegroom inspired by ‘The Demon’, a poem by Mikhail Lermontov, itself drawing upon Georgian folk legend. Next up is the first of Honey’s five contributions, the far more English folk influences of ‘Seaview’ which, in talking about how certain places hold collective memories, may well be about the Edwardian resort on the Isle of Wight.

A similar wistful and whimsical quality informs his second song, ‘Adrienne’, which the notes describe as being about a song fairy, but is essentially about those magical singers who sometimes pop up at folk clubs, dazzle everyone, and are then gone. On a somewhat darker note, the melodeon-led, Drinkwater-featuring ‘Carousel Waltz’ addresses the cycle of addiction with slang references to cocaine and heroin before giving way to the frisky urgency of ‘Stormteller’ with its “pitter-patter” chorus which is all about those dark rain clouds that sometimes seem to hover over only you, although here Honey seems to suggest that such folk warrant having the soul sodden. His final number, ‘Devilry Dance’, is a clarinet-coloured jazzy folk swirl tale of Faustian pacts and metaphorical femme fatales that lead you on, promising to lift you on high only to see you fall.

Underwood makes his mark with two tracks, ‘Leigh Fishermen’, a traditional-flavoured tribute to those who risk their lives trawling the seas on which he harmonises behind Kulesh on the chorus, and the two sprightly- and, as you would expect, melodeon-led – English folk tunes ‘Hollingbourne/Broadhurst Gardens’, the titles referencing the village in Kent and his London suburb home.

Not to be left out, Rouse (who also appears on Ange Hardy’s Esteesee album) is featured, provides harmonies and arranged the six-and-a-half minute ‘Lovers’ Tasks/Black Tea Waltz’ which pairs a gently waltzing Appalachian version of ‘Scarborough Fair’ with her self-penned coda.

Of the three remaining tracks, Kulesh is wholly responsible for the haunting ‘Goodbye and Forgive Me’, its spooked musical box intro introducing a dark murder ballad, inspired by “Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District”, about a woman trapped in an imprisoning marriage who conspires with her lover to have the husband killed, only for the crime to be exposed and her lover to take up with another woman, the end echoing the novel’s finale where both women drown.

Things are no cheerier on the dulcimer-based ‘Misery and Vodka’, her translation of a lugubrious Russian drinking song, sung in both English and the original, set to a Russian Gypsy tune (known as ‘Two Guitars’) by Ivan Vasiliev, though not the ballet dancer of the same name. The final track is also a traditional Russian tune and lyric, again translated by Kulesh, the title, ‘Ataman’, being the name given to Cossack military leaders, Rouse’s dulcimer solo precluding a mournful Russian and English sung story of a group of soldiers contemplating their fate (“rain will fall upon my bones…crows will feast upon my eyes”) in the coming battle. Not, perhaps, something to send you off into the evening full of the joys of life, but a terrific conclusion to a fine album but a band that deserve much wider recognition.

Mike Davies

If you would like to download a copy of the album or just listen to snippets of selected tracks 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.

Artists’ website: www.karafolkband.com

The Kara showreel video (with Gary Holbrook on accordion):

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 download a copy of the track or just listen to snippet of it 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.

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: