MEGAN HENWOOD – River (Dharma Records DHARMACD30)

RiverThe third album by singer-songwriter Megan Henwood, River, is due for release on 27th October 2017. And it demonstrates the evolving talent and maturity of a singer who had already made considerable impression in 2009, when she and her brother Joe won Radio 2’s Young Folk Award, and a writer whose storytelling is supported by fine melodies and solid musicianship. This doesn’t strike me as a particularly folky album (which isn’t a criticism), however.

The songs are all written by Megan, who also plays acoustic and electric guitars here, while cellist Matthew Forbes and bassist Pete Thomas, long associated with her work, are once more strongly featured on this album. The early promotional copy I have doesn’t include details of these or other personnel, though the press release tells me that the CD was produced by Tom Excell, and the unexpected but very effective trumpet on ‘Fresh Water’ is by Jonny Enser. There’s no lyric sheet at this point, either, which always strikes me as being a shame when the words are as good as this. It also means that when I cite lyrics in this review, I may be inaccurate, so I apologise in advance for any accidental mondegreens, but her wordsmithing is too good not to try to quote.

Here’s a track-by-track listing:

  1. ‘Join The Dots’ uses a classic ballad structure, moving between a gentle verse to a dramatic chorus that reminded me a little too much melodically of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ (sorry!).
  2. ‘Fresh Water’ lies a little closer to a fuzzy line between alt-folk and modern country with its acoustic fingerpicking. A very pretty love story –”I’ve got a thirsty heart and your love is like fresh water … to me” – with some perfectly judged double-tracking on the chorus.
  3. Megan’s song about Oxford, ‘The Dolly’, has the barest touch of Joni Mitchell-ish head register in the first verse, but also makes good use of her distinctive lower register. Great lyric, and the chorus has a nice bass line running in parallel to the vocal.
  4. The lyrics to ‘Seventh’ are a little more diffuse: the story is more difficult to follow, but the impact of the song is undeniable. Some nice touches of organ, too. As in one or two other places, the percussion seems a little too far forward here and there, though the suggestion of a ticking clock – I guess that’s a wood block – does suit the theme of the song. And perhaps it’s just an artefact of my elderly stereo.
  5. The wordless middle section to ‘Apples’ is a little overextended for my taste, but I like the combination of lyric and melody very much.
  6. ‘House On The Hill’ is a song about the scariness of romantic involvement – “I’m not afraid of the dark/but I’m afraid of you leaving“. The combination of the underlying electric guitar and strings is particularly atmospheric.
  7. The multi-tracking on parts of ‘Rainbows’ is a little denser, almost reminiscent in places of the Carpenters.
  8. ‘Peace Be The Alien’ includes some of my favourite lines: “From my follicles/down to my fingertips” and “Turn it down/headful of decibels“. Yes, “life’s too loud” but this song is definitely worth turning up the volume a bit.
  9. ‘Oh Brother’ explores the complexities of a sibling relationship. Autobiographical, perhaps, if it matters. A fine song, anyway.
  10. ‘Used To Be So Kind’ seems to pick up the theme of unkindness and being the firstborn child from the previous song. Some nice, slightly jazzy chord changes later in the song.
  11. ‘The Craftsman’ is probably my favourite Henwood song at the moment, and perhaps the folkiest. Just voice and acoustic guitar. Lovely.
  12. ‘L’Appel Du Vide’ is a French expression meaning “the call of the void”, similar to what Poe called ‘The Imp of the Perverse’: the sudden urge to do something harmful to oneself or to others. The song begins with an acapella section building into close harmonies, then develops the theme with some slightly eerie instrumental backing to match the disquieting lyric – “L’Appel du Vide I believe you’ve been haunting me/gather up all of my sins/siren won’t leave, she just sits here and sings to me/when will the finish begin?” Its understated drama makes for an unforgettable end to the album.

I tend to feel uneasy when I invoke the names of other artists in a review: all I’ll say on this occasion is that while Megan Henwood doesn’t sound too much like Mary Chapin Carpenter or Janis Ian – for a start, there’s something very English (in a very non-chauvinist way) about her use of language – but if you like the work of either of those artists (or maybe of Stevie Nicks), I’m pretty sure you’ll like Megan’s. It’s lyrically rich storytelling, melodically varied, imaginatively scored and sung with an unassuming, unforced range and fluidity. It’s certainly an album I’ll be listening to again, and I’ll be taking a look at her earlier recordings. Does that make me officially a fan?

David Harley

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 MEGAN HENWOOD – River 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.meganhenwood.com

‘The Dolly’ live:

SINGLES BAR 9

A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Twinnie - SIngles Bar 9TWINNIE follows her two singles, ‘Home’ and ‘Cool’, with an eponymous debut EP which opens and closes with those two songs. Twinnie’s style is described as country-pop but the opening bars of ‘Home’ sound as though it’s looking to be a soul classic. The second track, ‘Lie To Me’ changes tack with solo piano and acoustic guitar but the backing vocals inexorably build to a climax before Twinnie pulls it back again. The third track, ‘Looking Out For You’ goes for vintage appeal with a touch of vinyl crackle before rocking acoustic guitar leads the song off into the distance. Finally, ‘Cool’ is really country-pop and possibly the best song in the set with its tumble of words and a backing that has everything.
http://www.abadgeoffriendship.com/artists/twinnie

Oates_HenwoodWell known and respected in their own right JACKIE OATES and MEGAN HENWOOD have joined forces for Wings, a five track EP of originals, traditional and covers. Although Oates provided harmonies on Henwood’s last album, here the two voices mostly blend beautifully together, as is the case with the opening track, the first of three covers, a melancholic acoustic reading of New Order’s Love Vigilantes. A cover also closes the album, Oates bringing her viola to bear on a faithful take on Lau’s ‘Ghosts’, the pair trading verses and coming together for the chorus. Henwood contributes the only self-penned number, ‘Bettystown’ a song about endings (“clearing out your daddy’s house”) and beginnings (a new relationship, a new home) on which she takes initial lead, the gentle fingerpicking gradually swelling to embrace their combined voices, viola and Pete Thomas’s double bass. The third cover is Brian Bedford’s wistful protest number ‘What’s The Use of Wings?’, the pair again trading verses, which just leaves Oates to take to the piano for her waltzing arrangement of the traditional west country ballad ‘Setting Of The Sun’, a typically upbeat tale (also covered by Seth Lakeman) in which the singer accidentally shoots and kills their true love having mistaken her for a swan. As you do. Given the pair are (along with Thomas) playing live dates, hopefully this promises to have an extended life beyond this release; a full album would be most welcome.
http://www.dharmarecords.co.uk/

Warrior DaughterDevon trio WILDWOOD KIN release a single, ‘Warrior Daughter’, in advance of two autumn tours supporting The Oh Hellos and Seth Lakeman. Seth has already recruited them for his new album on the strength of their exquisite harmonies and those harmonies are very much in evidence but this is a powerful song built on big percussion, strings and guitars. The song is about female empowerment, sung as from a mother to a daughter: “You are warrior, strength and courage lies within your heart” and here Beth, Emillie and Meghann are surely looking ahead to being able to reassure their daughters that the fight may not be so hard. ‘Warrior Daughter’ is scheduled for the trio’s next EP but surely a full-length album can’t be far away.
http://www.wildwoodkin.com/

TeaseroPABLO VASQUEZ is a New Zealand guitar duo comprising Jolyon Mulholland and Elroy Finn and the story of how the album from which this single, ‘Teasero’, is taken came to be recorded would take up most of a review. Even more surprisingly the track will be available as a free download from Welsh label, Cae Gwyn Records at the end of the month. The guys’ thing is nylon strung guitars and they are described as classically-styled but they also say that their music is best enjoyed over dinner. No flying fingers or flamenco footsteps here, just two guitars interweaving a melody.
http://recordiaucaegwyn.com/

Welcome To The Folkies

With Oscar fever rising to a climax it’s time to say “Welcome To The Folkies” – the 2016 Folking Awards. We’ve sifted through the albums and performances of 2015 – always a long and difficult task punctuated by bouts of thumb-wrestling to settle disputes. Adopting the pattern followed by everyone else, here, in no order of precedence, are our nominations. With the exception of one category we have restricted our choices to British acts.

All nominations are 2016 Folking Awards winners.

Welcome To The Folkies

Soloist Of The Year

Steve Tilston
Sam Carter
Kathryn Roberts
Steve Knightley
Ange Hardy

Best Duo

Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin
India Electric Co.
Show Of Hands
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman
Clype

Best Band

Blackbeard’s Tea Party
Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band
Tradarrr
False Lights
Merry Hell

Best Live Act

The Demon Barbers XL
Blackbeard’s Tea Party
Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band
Tradarr
CC Smugglers

Best Album

Layers Of Ages – Peter Knight’s Gigspanner
Head Heart Hand – Megan Henwood
The Girl I Left Behind Me – India Electric Co.
It’s Not Your Gold Shall Me Entice – Elle Osborne
Disco At The Tavern – The Demon Barbers

Best Musician

Dan Walsh
Peter Knight
P.J. Wright
Chris Leslie
Kris Drever

Folking’s Rising Star

Will Varley
Sam Kelly
Wes Finch
India Electric Co.
Chris Cleverley

Best International Artist

Gretchen Peters
Tom Russell
Gandalf Murphy And The Slambovian Circus Of Dreams
Justin Townes Earle
Los Lobos

To give the awards a further edge, we opened the vote to our visitors and run a public poll in all of the 8 categories (as listed above).

The Public Vote closed Sunday 28 February at 20.00 hours and “The Folking Winners” have now been announced here at: http://folking.com/the-folking-winners/


If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl) of any of the artists featured here, download an album or track or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then type what you are looking for in the search bar above to be taken to that relevant page via 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.

MEGAN HENWOOD – Head, Heart, Hand (Dharma Records DHARMACD021)

MEGAN HENWOOD HeadHandHeartMegan Henwood’s debut album, Making Waves, had a deceptively Pre-Raphaelite cover that concealed some muscular songs and it was well received. That was in 2011 and when her profile remained relatively low it seemed that she was yet another talent that burned too fast and too bright. Not so.

It’s taken her a while to complete her second album but, my, it’s good. Megan has co-produced Head, Heart, Hand with Tom Excell, whose background in electronic music adds a few surprising touches to what is essentially an acoustic album. Here and there is what might be considered too much echo or the manipulated sound of an instrument to unsettle the listener just a little.

And then we turn to the songs and they, too, can be unsettling. ‘Our Little Secret’ should send a shudder down the spine of any man who looks at a girl who is too young for him. We suppose that he’s a teacher and, although I can honestly say that I never went there, I can understand how it might happen. ‘No Good No Fun’ is a bitter story of rejection and ‘Lead Balloon’ could be its mirror image. Many songs seem to speak of alienation and death hovers around; explicitly in ‘Grateful Ghost’, more subliminally throughout the record.

Megan and Tom have assembled a small band: bass, drums, keyboards and strings with Jackie Oates as special guest on viola and vocals. There is one unaccompanied traditional song, ‘Rose Red’, featuring Megan, Jackie and Tom, which sounds as though it was recorded in the open air – there are distant voices suggesting a park – for a little more mystery. It’s followed by ‘Garden’, one of the albums biggest numbers, which concerns a character called Daisy who could be anything from a tortoise to an Earth-mother spirit depending which part of the lyric you choose to rely on.

That’s the beauty of Head, Heart, Hand – musically and lyrically varied and imaginative and full of mysteries.

Dai Jeffries

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.

Artist’s website: www.meganhenwood.com

‘Chemicals’ – the official video: