HARROW FAIR – Call To Arms (Roaring Girl RGO14)

Call To ArmsComprising Miranda Mulholland, violinist with Great Lake Swimmers, and Andrew Penner, Harrow Fair are a Canadian duo who first began working together as part of a Toronto theatre company and who take their name from an Ontario county fair. They both sing, while she plays violin and percussion and he does everything else, everything on Call To Arms including drums, guitar, banjo and assorted keyboards. They describe their music as an amalgam of early country, rock n roll and garage rock, opening number ‘Hangnail’ amply demonstrating their penchant for an urgent, echoey gothic stomp with pounding percussion and scraping fiddle. By contrast, ‘Told A Lie To My Heart’ is all a spare, percussive brooding mountain music adaptation of the old Hank Williams number while ‘I Will Be Your Man’ is a scurrying call and response thumping rusty blues with shaker, bass drum and rimshot percussion, the title refrain somehow sounding more like a threat than a declaration of love.

The melodically simple ‘Held Tight’ is a little different in that, Penner singing lead, it adopts a Celtic folk hue, gradually swelling towards the close, but then it’s back to grungey business with Penner growling and Mulholland getting sassy for the kick drum propelled title track boogie with pulsing fiddle and throbbing bass. At which point they decide to throw in a field recording titled ‘Harrow Fair Pig Auction’ which is exactly that, 82 seconds of two auctioneers selling some porkies while the pair provide distorted backing. It may have seemed like a good idea after a few drinks, but it’s unlikely anyone’s ever going to play it twice, at least not on purpose.

Getting back on track, ‘How Cold’ creeps up quietly and slowly, eventually announcing itself as a traditional sounding folk number with Mulholland on near acapella hymnal lead before the atmospheric, resonant backing builds behind her. It’s a transfixing number, headily reminiscent in sound and tone of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song To A Siren’.

They keep things mournful for the brooding bass and violin led dark folk ‘Emmaline’ (originally featured on her 2014 solo album), a brief fiddle and synth hissing instrumental, ‘The Hunt’, bridging the path to the prog-rock blues riffery of ‘Bite The Way’ with Penner’s distorted mixed back vocals, a number you could imagine being on Jack White’s mix tape. After this, it ends on a more tranquil note with ‘Been There Ways’, the pair sharing vocals while Mulholland provides a Celtic fiddle vibe to an overall lysergic folk ambience that may well have a touch of the Velvets to its DNA.

The actual Harrow Fair is a big thing in Essex County, the titular duo are likely to attract visitors from a far wider radius.

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 HARROW FAIR – Call To Arms 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.harrowfair.ca

‘Told A Lie To My Heart’ – live:

CHIP TAYLOR – A Song I Can Live With (Trainwreck TW057)

A Song I Can Live WithHis fifth album in as many years, and his twenty-first studio recording in total, A Song I Can Live With falls firmly into what Taylor calls his stream-of-consciousness based songwriting, more spoken rather than sung and with rarely more than an acoustic guitar and Goran Grini’s keyboards for backing. I’ve seen him live a couple of times, and the album pretty much reflects what he does on stage, a mix of musings and anecdotes about things he’s done and people he’s known, some slipping into a guitar led melody. This is one of his more personal outings and, as you’d expect from someone’s who’s 77, veined with reflection on times and people past.

He talks about the lyrically sparse opening number, ‘Crazy Girl’, piano joining the guitar, as inspired by the many women he’s sung with over the years, its warmth further mellowed with a horn layering. The temptation of the character in the moody ‘Senorita Falling Down’ may be one of them, but of the many women who’ve been part of his life, his wife (that’s her with him on the cover, from a 1975 photo) is clearly among the most important and she gets her own tribute here with ‘Joan Joan Joan’, a note to tell her to stop worrying about things so much and let him smooth out the problems. You’ll be surprised how a song that talks about eating fish soup and Spanish mackerel can sound so romantic.

She’s there too in the inspiration behind the album closer, ‘Whisper Amen’, a gentle piano-backed benediction for those in need of blessing born from how, with time on her hands after her jewelry store went busy, Joan and some of her friends help youngsters with, among the things, reading problems. That theme of giving back can also be found on ‘Little Angel Wings’, a spoken account about the coach at a local rec center working with seven and eight year-olds as he teaches them as much about life a she does basketball, the track featuring three of Taylor’s grandchildren on flute and backing vocals and his long time guitarist John Plantania on Dobro.

The same New York rec centre, where he works out, is the anchor to ‘Until It Hurts’, a conversational song that references the passing of Bowie, who, he recalls, once lived a few blocks from Taylor’s local bar, and Lou Reed, the latter in reference to how fellow songwriter Eric Andersen told him how Reed had complimented Taylor on ‘Your Name Is On My Lips Again’, a song he’d written for Carrie Rodriguez. Listening to it feels like you’re in that bar sitting opposite Taylor as he tells you the story over a beer or two.

One of the more ‘sung’ tracks, ‘Hey Lou’ may also refer to Reed, but could also be just one of the many different folk Taylor’s met along the way whom he namechecks here, Joan, granddaughter Sammy, American football player John Maguire among them, for the generosity of spirit they have shown and the strength to carry the weight.

Accompanied by delicate piano, the Big Apple’s also the backdrop to ‘New York In Between’, a reflection on those with whom he’d have liked to spent more time, but how he, like many, has a hard time in staying in one place for long. The sentiment carries over into ‘Young Brooks Flow Forever’, except here the focus is on one person, a photograph of a young girl from many years (or ‘tears’ as Taylor puts it) gone by prompting memories of youth and thoughts of mortality.

Another very specific figure inspires the near six-minute ‘Los Alamitos Story’, John Cooper being a horse trainer at the titular southern California racetrack and, with a spoken intro as he recalls watching a horse racing channel, a song about life’s victories and how we deal with them.

Another example of the way life inspires his songs, the almost jaunty ‘Save Your Blues’ and ‘Your Money’ was inspired his daughter’s account of a holiday in Antigua and the upbeat nature of the natives despite their poor economic conditions, their celebration of life served as a contrast to the financial-obsessed attitudes in America.

And so to the title track, one of the last numbers written and, evocative perhaps of Kristofferson, a plaintive songwriter’s hymn as, backed by Grini on pump organ and Greg Leuiz on pedal steel, he throatily sings “Lord I’m asking you a favor.. before I go to bed as I pick up this old guitar.. and let feelings dance in my head let me write a song I can live with… forever amen.” The Lord has been answering Taylor’s prayers for decades.

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 CHIP TAYLOR – A Song I Can Live With 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.trainwreckrecords.com

‘Senorita Falling Down’ – official video:

TRACK DOGS – Serenity Sessions (Monde Green)

Serenity SessionsFor those who don’t know, Track Dogs are an Anglo-Irish-American acoustic quartet based in Madrid comprising Sheffield’s Howard Brown, Ohio’s Robbie K Jones and, respectively from Co. Wicklow and Dun Laoghaire, Dave Mooney and lead vocalist Garrett Wall, their instrumentation taking in cajon, banjo, ukulele, mandolin and trumpet alongside guitar and piano. Making their debut under their current name (after the New York subway maintenance teams) in 2011, they’ve already got four albums under their belt, Serenity Sessions being titled for the Spanish studio where most of them were recorded.

Given their roots and adopted home, it won’t be too much of a surprise to learn the music draws on American, British, Irish and Latin influences, getting things underway in laid back, jazzy manner with ‘To The End’, Brown’s trumpet taking the spotlight. They then pick up the tempo for the perky, trumpet, double bass and cajon driven ‘So Much Dust’ (a touch of Van Morrison in places), a similar jaunty groove to be found in the sunny ‘Don’t Waste Time’, Wall on ukulele and trumpet augmented by a couple of trombones.

Although they venture into softer territory for the close harmonies of the gentle waltzing cello-caressed ‘Broken Strings’, the overall sound is sunnily upbeat and melodic. ‘Whatever Happens’ touches on calypso colours, they give it some of that ‘Iko Iko’ groove on the handclap/leg slap percussive stomp of ‘The Lights Went Out In Cotos’ and introduce whistle into the banjo led ‘Only Human’ with its stylistic memories of ‘When I’m Dead and Gone’. They also briefly go electric as the wittily named Madrid guitarist El Twanguero joins them for the bluesy rolling vibe of ‘Love Me Like You Used To’.

Their live sets are apparently often strongly bluegrass inclined, and the genre’s served with a couple of numbers here, the train song ‘Orion Sees’ (which oddly reminds me of Toto’s ‘Africa’) and ‘Bon Scott, He Rocked’, a playful affection tribute to the late AC/DC singer. My personal favourite though is the album’s sole cover, closing things up with a lovely stripped back and slowed down, smoothly weary version of the Faces’ rowdy classic ‘Oooh La La’, Brown’s trumpet adding to its mellow ambience. Very much the sound of sunny summer festivals, pitch up a gazebo in the garden, chill the beers and enjoy.

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 TRACK DOGS – Serenity Sessions 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artists’ website: www.trackdogsmusic.com

‘To The End’ – official video:

JUPITER OWLS – The Fallow Cry Of The Jupiter Owls (Cupboard Under The Stairs)

Jupiter OwlsBased in Frome, The Jupiter Owls began life as a duo comprising singer-songwriter/ guitarist John Libert and guitarist Ryan Steele but have subsequently added the rhythm section of Kev Jefferies and Kevin Reed to add extra live dimension to their Americana-tinged chilled folk-pop. Drawing their influences from the late 60s/early 70s West Coast as well as the English folk scene of the period, as such James Taylor rubs shoulders with Nick Drake, CS&N and Simon & Garfunkel, the latter notably so on ‘Fractal Line’, the song from whence the title comes and which cleverly uses geometric terminology to etch its romantic image.

Recorded over a couple of years in, as per their label name, a cupboard under Libert’s stairs with the pair playing all the instruments, it has a moody bucolic quality that harks more to the dankness of wet leaves than dew kissed fields, Libert’s hushed, breathy vocals at times giving the oft melancholic songs a spidery feel. Case in point, the slide guitar coloured album opener ‘Drowning Man’ which uses suicide imagery to speak of a fathomless love.

By way of contrast, ‘Howlin’ Wolf’ is a train rhythm shuffle that, in addition its titular bluesman also namechecks Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins, not so much as in terms of the musicians per se but to indicate his state of mind as he recalls the flotsam of a past romance.

Maybe it’s to do with the West Country, but water and the weather loom large in the imagery, rain and thunder hanging over ‘Cape Cornwall’, even though it’s actually an upbeat rolling rhythm number about driving over the moors to the ocean with his girl to “cleanse my soul… poised like divers on the edge of the earth.” Or then there’s the undulating ‘Lightning Strikes The Sea’ with some lovely slide guitar conjuring a the rolling waves in a manner similar to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’.

Libert (who studied Landscape Architecture) draws on the landscape for his images too, ridges and valleys, hills, and crows in the sky providing the visual backdrop to the watery fingerpicked sway of the mandolin tinted ‘Long Way Home’ as well as the metaphorical forests of uncertainty and meadows of deceit. And yet the feel is mellow and uplifting.

Elsewhere the lazy jazzy warmth of ‘The Sweet Blindness of Summer’ is set alongside the frost beauty of the circle of life themed Winter, an image also encapsulated in the restorative meaning of letting things lie ‘fallow’, the idea of new starts also underpinning the particularly poetic lyrics of the chiming acoustic filigrees of ‘Different Dawn’.

If all these are sketches, by contrast, owls howling again, ‘Freight Cars’ offers a story-song about hearing about Elvis’s death on Radio Luxembourg and dreaming of becoming a guitarman to escape a dead end life in a ghost of town and “the stale smell of ennui” through music, but never quite getting to ride the rails away. In mythology the cry of the owl was often regarded as a good omen. Things certainly bode well for this.

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 JUPITER OWLS – The Fallow Cry Of The Jupiter Owls 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artists’ website: www.jupiterowls.com

‘Kingheart Cowboy’ live in session:

The Folking Awards – the 2017 Winners

Folking Award winners

So here they are: the Folking Award winners of 2017.

First of all, a big thank you to everyone who voted – more than 20,000 votes were cast. Congratulations to the winners and commiserations to the runners-up, although all our nominees are winners to the writers who enjoyed their music, either live or on record, over the last year and placed them on the short list. Here are the public vote winners and now, may I have the first envelope please… no, not that one!

Soloist of the Year – Ralph McTell

Folking Award winners

Listen to the Darren Beech/ Paul Johnson interview with Ralph at Cropredy 2016 here

Best Duo – Show Of Hands

Read all about Show Of Hands’ Big Gig at the Royal Albert Hall here

Best Band – Harp And A Monkey

This was a very close vote but we’re delighted that Harp And A Monkey triumphed in the Best Band category even though they narrowly beat another of our favourites.

Harp And A Monkey bio

Best Live Act – Mad Dog Mcrea

In contrast, this was a runaway victory for the band from Plymouth.

Read Su O’Brien’s review of Mad Dog Mcrea live at Cambridge City Festival here

Best Album – Ballads Of The Broken Few by Seth Lakeman with Wildwood Kin

Read Mike Davies’ review of Ballads Of The Broken Few here

Best Musician – Phil Beer

Phil Beer bio

Folking’s Rising Star Act – Said The Maiden

Said The Maiden bio

Best International Act – Applewood Road

Applewood Road bio

As before, there are no actual trophies to present (but if anyone would like to tender for making some in the future please let us know). However, everyone on the long lists and on the short lists as well as the winners can rejoice that they made an impression on a lot of people during 2016.

Have another great musical year!

The Folking team


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.

BEAU –When Butterflies Scream (Cherry Red BEAUWBS1)

When Butterflies ScreamWhat with the likes of Steve Pledger and Will Varley the last couple of years have seen quite a resurgence in the protest song album on the UK’s contemporary folk/Americana circuit, but some have been doing this for years. I’ve written about Trevor Midgley aka Beau on these pages before and it’s good to report that his latest album, When Butterflies Scream, ably keeps up the standard. Sounding more than ever like Jake Thackray in his vocal delivery, it is, as ever, a no frills musical affair, predominantly just him and acoustic guitar, that allows the comments and commentary to take front of stage.

It opens with ‘Who Pays The Ferryman?’ not, you’ll be relieved to hear, a Chris De Burgh cover but, set to a slow mazurka rhythm etched out on accordion (one of the most elaborate instrumentations on the album) and drawing on Greek mythology and the figure of Charon who ferried the dead across the River Styx if they had the coin to pay, his take on the refugee crisis and the traffickers who exploit it. It’s a theme to which he returns on the closing seven-minute lyrically harrowing ‘The Immigrant’ with its recounting of mass executions, genocide rapes and those consigned to risk their lives in taking flight to see, those who survive being herded into camps while the politicians debate their fate (“We’re not in the business of profit and loss!” “Sort out the doctors and leave out the dross!”).

If that’s about effect, then ‘Kill The Idea’ looks at cause and how military attempts to eradicate an idea in the name of freedom more often causes it to drift “into different shapes that were harder to shift.”

The album’s title comes from a disturbing image in ‘Gerrymander Street Blockade’, a story of murky political goings on and cover ups, followed by the waltzing ‘The Song of the Pox Doctor’s Clerk’, a surely cynical suggestion that some of the Honours List gongs are handed out to, a she puts it, those who know where the bodies are buried (“It would be remiss for me here to disclose all names and addresses, but yes, there were those with reasons to quaver and even to quail; My peerage, it seemed, had been lost in the mail!”).

Government politics resurface with ‘The Mandarin’, an observation on those who ensure ministers are all singing from the same hymn sheet in the service of doctrinal mandates (“Alas we can’t claim to be wholly immune from bribery, sleaze and the inopportune. So, best we desist from our scheduled schemes, toppling dictators from dishonest regimes”).

One of the most pointedly barbed numbers is ‘The Promise’, a timely reminder of how badly the country and the MoD in particular, often treats those injured in the service of their country once they return home as it tells of how a hero survivor of his unit suffers from PSTD and ends up a down and out committing suicide by walking into the sea because “somehow, the Military Covenant’s promise had simply gone out through the door; And all that remained was a shirt on his back and the ribbons he steadfastly wore.

Elsewhere he turns his eye on the use of armed military drones with ‘The Fire’, calling on Newton’s law that for every action there’s an equal opposite action and, basically, if something can go wrong it will (“Missiles pack a punch, and this one didn’t mess around – The fireball arriving above the speed of sound. In the end, they called it an “unfortunate event”; chances of it happening? Around fifteen percent”).

Taking an aspiring Stravinsky as an example, ‘Ben & Jerry’s Coca-Cola Tarantella’ is about selling out your soul (or ideals) to the devil, or in this case the commercial imperative while both ‘The Nightmare’ and ‘It’s Only Just Begun’ both sound an apocalyptic note, the former a talking blues response to the election of Donald Trump and the latter, with references to Nero, Genghis Khan, the bombing of Dresden, the Falklands conflict, Bhopal and the morning after 10/11, a tale of the Devil fuelling man’s proclivity for death and mass destruction.

The remaining number, ‘Smilin’ Billy Lye’, is less obvious, ostensibly the story of a dirt track rider who, envious of Motorcycle Show stunt champion Crash Donovan (the name a nod to the 1936 Highway Patrol movie) takes up his Tunnel of Fire challenge with enigmatic results, but there’s a cautionary string in its tale.

It’s sadly unlikely that this is going to attract the sort of attention and acclaim accorded the current crop of folk’s socio-political commentators or find an audience much beyond Midgley’s fanbase, but those who do seek it out will be well rewarded.

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 BEAU –When Butterflies Scream 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artist’s website:   http://beausrecordings.blogspot.co.uk/

There are no videos from the album available yet but here’s the opening track, ‘Who Pays The Ferryman’ in glorious living sound.