DAVID RAWLINGS – Poor David’s Almanack (Acony)

AlmanackThe material is all new, but, in part because several are based on traditional stories and songs, the feel is ageless as David Rawlings evokes a sense of a vanished rural America in a similar gothic folk manner to his longtime musical partner, Gillian Welch who, as ever, joins him here.

She brings effective harmonies on the album’s leaving-themed train song opener, ‘Midnight Train’, Rawlings ably demonstrating his acclaimed acoustic fingerpicking. Next up, opening and underpinned with her handclap and foot percussion and featuring Willie Watson on banjo, ‘Money Is The Meat In The Coconut’ is one of several playful numbers, this derived from African roots but with a hoe-down feel, albeit the lyrics carrying an underlying anti-capitalist message about subsistence living.

Watson also lends his vocals to the brooding Appalachian drama of the Rawlings-Welch duet ‘Cumberland Gap’, the former’s restyling of a traditional number previously assayed by the likes of Guthrie, Seeger and Donegan, here filtered through the musical lens of CSN&Y’s ‘Ohio’ with its fierce electric guitars and ominous atmosphere.

‘Airplane’ shifts the mood to a yearning reflective ballad that, bolstered by Brittany has on dreamy fiddle, conjures passing thoughts of Guy Clarke as Rawlings passionately sings how “ life’s a bitch cause you don’t want me” and about having wings to escape from heartache. At five minutes the album’s longest track, ‘Lindsay Button’ is another minor key number. Featuring in his live sets last year, it’s a slow spiritual hymnal telling of the “pretty young girl” who “come’ down the mountain long time ago” and “carved two names in a white oak sapling” that essentially about the role of of folk music to preserve history.

Another steeped in old-time music, Kathy Secor on fiddle, ‘Come On Over My House’ is another upbeat good time track, the title pretty much speaking to the narrator’s intentions in inviting his honey to drop by. Things shift again for the electric guitar driven, nasally sung slow-paced southern country rock ‘Guitar Man’, not a Presley or Bread cover but with echoes of The Band clearly sounding as Welch provides the steady drum beat.

Two further playful numbers are set back to back, first up being the lurching rhythm ‘Yup’, Rawlings on scratch, Welch on bongos and Austin Hoke on saw on a tale about the devil visiting a farm to take away the scolding wife only to find she’s more than he bargained for, each line ending with Welch and Rawlings adding the titular interjection. The second also nods to biblical references with ‘Good God A Woman’, a jaunty jamboree spiritual romp about the “big man” needing to create woman from a rib bone to complete creation, saving the best until last.

Not a variation on Ry Cooder’s ‘Tamp ‘em Up Solid’, the album ends with ‘Put ‘em Up Solid’,  Rawlings on harmonium and Haas on fiddle for a simple acoustic folk hymnal about building a firm foundation, whether that’s for a building or a life. A fine companion piece to Nashville Obsolete, and, were it needed, a reminder that neither Rawlings nor Welch play second fiddle to the other.

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 DAVID RAWLINGS – Poor David’s Almanack 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.davidrawlingsmusic.com

‘Midnight Train’:

ELEANOR McEVOY – The Thomas Moore Project (Moscodisc MOSCD4015)

Thomas MooreWell, you certainly can’t accuse Eleanor McEvoy of being predictable when it comes to releasing albums. Over the past six years she’s done stripped down solo (Alone), bluesy (If You Leave), a collection of fan-requested rarities (Stuff) and studio recordings of songs played as in a live show (Naked). Now, for her 14th album she’s recorded a collection of her arrangements of songs and poems by the Dublin-born 18th/10th century poet, singer, entertainer and songwriter Thomas Moore who, along with John Murray, was responsible for burning Byron’s memoirs after his death.

Although regarded as Ireland’s answer to Robert Burns, and with poems having been set to music by the likes of Schubert and Britten as well as referenced by James Joyce, his work is probably less popularly well known to contemporary audiences not of Irish heritage, so the album serves as both homage and introduction.

One of his best known songs is ‘Oft In The Stilly Night’, a song about memory quoted by Joyce in Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man and recorded by, among many, Sarah Brightman and John McCormack, and it’s this that opens the album, giving it a tumbling, pop-folk melody etched out with piano, Hammond and electric guitar. Another much adapted and covered lyrics is ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, with recordings by Clannad, Charlotte Church, James Galway. Indeed Beethoven used it twice, although McEvoy’s arrangement is somewhat different, the jaunty glockenspiel, ukulele and trombone belying its meditation on mortality.

‘Come Send Round The Wine’ is a celebration of good company and good drink, and not allowing differing opinions get in the way of a good night, and, featuring piccolo trumpet, Hammond and even maracas and flamenco clapping, is suitably endorsed here. The theme of good company further extends to ‘Though Humble The Banquet’, Damon Butcher’s Hammond and Eamonn Nolan’s flugelhorn giving it a late night jazzy vibe.

Lyrically rather less upbeat, ‘At The Mid Hour of Night’ takes the form of a one sided conversation with a loved one who has recently passed, McEvoy’s musical box arrangement for piano and strings resonating with the fact all five of Moore’s children died in his lifetime. An Irish patriotic song, ‘The Minstrel Boy’ is another popular work concerning a warrior harpist, often played at the funerals of American police and fire department officers, McEvoy eschewing the usual military snare arrangement with the rousing finale interpolating the crowd vocals of “The Minstrel Rabble” (among then Ronan Kelly, author of The Bard of Erin) before a flugelhorn last post.

The Rabble return for Moore’s song of enduring true love, ‘Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms’ and, while you might not recognise the title, those familiar with Warner Brothers cartoons, usually starring Bugs Bunny, featuring a keyboard rigged to explode at a certain note will know the glockenspiel tinkled slow march melody. You’ll be pleased to learn McEvoy makes it through unscathed.

Arranged for moody Rhodes and spare jazzy piano and flugelhorn, ‘The Song of Fionnuala (Silent Oh Moyle)’ is based on the Irish legend of the Children of Lir, whose wicked stepmother turned them into swans, spending 900 years on the Sea of Moyle before returning home and having the spell broken by St. Patrick (only to die soon after, being 900 years old). Butcher’s minimal piano underpins Erin, ‘The Tear And The Smile In Thine Eyes’, is themed about the contradictory entwined aspects of the Irish persona as echoed in the mournful, reflective flugelhorn and McEvoy’s dreamy violin solo.

At just over a minute, ‘Oh! Breathe Not His Name’ is the album’s shortest track, its title inspired by the words of Irish revel Robert Emmet, a close friend of Moore’s regarding his epitaph, shortly before his execution, sung here with just an itchy percussive backing of matchbox, congas triangle and woodblock.

The Minstrel Rabble return (as drunken crowd) for the final number, a rousing romping reel on the back of ringing guitars, shuffling snare beat, tambourine, Hammond and bass through ‘The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls’, a deftly ambiguous lyrics about Irish nationalism (Tara being the hilltop castle home to the Irish high kings, here symbolising Irish rule and the harp its people’s culture and spirit) but also the fleeting nature of fame. Though, for Moore, with the likes of McEvoy’s fine album keeping the flame burning, not that fleeting after all.

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 ELEANOR McEVOY – The Thomas Moore Project 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.eleanormcevoy.com

The Thomas Moore Project launch event:

RICHARD THOMPSON – Acoustic Classics II (Beeswing BSW015P)

Acoustic Classics IIThe latest batch of new solo, stripped back acoustic recordings from the Thompson songbook brings together material previously only available in band format or not on his solo releases. Fairport devotees will be particularly enthused by a version of the song that launched it all, ‘Meet On The Ledge’, a number that has lost none of its power or mystique over the years. He also visits 1969’s Liege &  Lief for the traditional-styled ‘Crazy Man Michael’, while, originally played on dulcimer and released as the B-side of ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’ before resurfacing on Unhalfbricking, ‘Genesis Hall’ continues to feature regularly in his solo shows.

The Richard and Linda years are represented by an achingly plaintive ‘A Heart Needs A Home’ from Hokey Pokey and the catchy folk pop sensibilities of ‘Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair’ off Pour Down Like Silver. Moving on to his second solo album, 1983’s Hand of Kindness, there’s a particularly striking and to the musical point revisiting of ‘Devonside’. The follow-up, Across A Crowded Room provides this collection’s opening track, the barbed ‘She Twists The Knife Again’, here in a brittle bluesy arrangement sung with an almost venomous pent-up intensity.

Moving to 1988’s Amnesia, there’s a resonant, brooding reading of the socioeconomics-themed ‘Pharaoh’ while 1991’s Rumor And Sigh, has one from each side; the almost hymnal-like fingerpicked ‘Keep Your Distance’ (a song the Byrds would have done brilliantly) and, closing proceedings here, ‘Why Must I Plead?’ A double album came along in 1996 with You? Me? Us?, the material split between the electric Voltage Enhanced and the acoustic Nude. From that first disc, ‘The Ghost Of You Walks’ now gets the bare bones treatment, allowing the lyrics greater prominence.

His last for Capitol, Mock Tudor was a thematic album divided into three sections, Metroland, Heroes In The Suburbs and Street Cries And Stage Whispers and it’s from the first of the three that comes the intricately picked troubadour styled ballad ‘Bathsheba Smiles’. For his tenth solo album, 2002’s self-financed The Old Kit Bag, Thompson signed to Cooking Vinyl and the resurrection in sales it brought is appropriately represented by ‘Gethsemane’. The final track to be reworked from a solo album comes with a powerfully delivered ‘Guns Are The Tongues’ from the conflict-themed Sweet Warrior.

A third volume, Acoustic Rarities, is planned for later in the year, presumably around the October tour, featuring some songs only existing as cover versions, in the meantime, this is another welcome opportunity to remind yourself of arguably the finest musician British folk rock has produced.

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 RICHARD THOMPSON – Acoustic Classics II 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.richardthompson-music.com

‘Meet On The Ledge’ – live and acoustic:

BLIND RIVER SCARE – Pastures New (Creosote CR004CD)

Pastures NewBlind River Scare is the performing vehicle for South Wales based singer-songwriter, Tim Manning, here, on their fourth album, working as a trio with Steve Loosemeore on upright bass and Mike Hopkins providing harmonium, mandolin and Hammond augmenting his acoustic and resonator guitar. Musically, he’s rooted in Americana, alt-country and roots, the gently rolling resonator backed cowboyish ‘Restless Soul’ nodding to the genre’s retro influences.

It’s only a six track release, but Manning ensures each one counts, opening with the strummed title ballad about two lonely souls in a bar looking for, as it says, pastures new but experienced enough to realise they may not necessarily be green.

More fingerpicked, ‘Close To Home’ is another old school flavoured number, a song about a driver and a series of encounters with, variously a young girl, old lady and a drunk, all in need of help with no idea where they came from or how they got there, driving home on the road past the local cemetery; this being country, the presumption is they’re all ghosts.

Nodding to folksier influences and with mandolin frills, ‘But Still You Stay’ is another relationship themed song, this time about domestic abuse and the victim’s inability to leave, while, with more of a percussive guitar style with bluegrass notes, ‘No Jericho’ concerns dreams unfulfilled, falling apart not in some dramatic crash but slowly, stone by stone, over the years.

It ends, all too soon, but on an hopeful note that echoes how it began, with ‘Sideways Slide’, a honky-tonk waltzer about a chance encounter across a railway carriage between two people in need of someone to want them. They’re gigging throughout the late summer and autumn around the Midlands and the South, if they’re in your neck of the woods you should check them out and pick up a copy of this their other CDs while you’re at it.

Mike Davies

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

 

‘Close To Home’ – live:

ODDFELLOW’S CASINO – Oh, Sealand (At The Helm/Microcultures)

SealandTaking their name from Ambrose Oddfellow, a Victorian freakshow host whose moustache frontman David Bramwell apparently inherited from a great-aunt, the Brighton outfit have released seven albums over their 15-year career. The latest emerges from John Higgs’ commissioning Bramwell, himself an author of various books and presenter of assorted Radio 3 and 4 documentaries about the country’s eccentrics and oddities (indeed, ‘Danu’ is a spoken word track set to an electronic drone about the River Don written for one such programme), to write a song to accompany Watling Street, his book about the history of the famous Roman road.

That duly appears here as ‘The Ghosts Of Watling Street’, sounding curiously like Pet Shop Boys filtered folk and featuring a vocally treated spoken passage by Alan Moore, its line about how “We have wandered too far from some ancient totem – something central to us, that we must find our way back to” recalling Joni’s message in Woodstock about getting back to the garden.

Progressive psych-folk is probably the best tag if you want to label this, Bramwell exploring contemporary Britain on numbers such as the bass pulsing, cobwebby ‘Land of the Cuckoo’ about how public institutions have been infiltrated by profit-seeking organisations as he sings “there’s a fox in the schoolyard, they’re in the hospitals now.”

‘Sealand’ itself relates the true story of the creation of the independent principality of Sealand, founded by the 1967 seizure of the abandoned world war two Maunsell Sea Fort six miles off the Suffolk coast, serving as a parallel comment on its neighbouring nation. Paying tribute to Alan Clarke’s 1974 BBC film, ‘Penda’s Fen’ is another questioning of identity, drawing on 70s prog folk as, compounded by squalling guitar, it tells the story of the protagonist’s visions of angels and devils and his rejection of Middle England conservatism in the wake of his emerging homosexuality.

Repressed sexuality is also explored through images of drowned villages and people sleeping underwater in the seven minute ‘Down In The Water’ with its mix of Floydian atmospherics, surging bass pulsing rhythms and Rachel James’s pop shaded chorus echoingly distant vocals.

Elsewhere, ‘Sons And Daughters Of A Quiet Land’ offers a delicate moodily pastoral troubadour flavour with strings, synths and rumbling drums, its psychedelic shades seeping over into the watery ambience of ‘Swallow The Day’. ‘Mustard Fields’ provides another incursion into echoey psych-folk that suggests occasional Pentangle shapes via touches of Comus and ISB, whereas ‘Children Of The Rocks’ is swirl of fuzzed bass and airy floating vocals that sits next to the sparse piano backed and woodwind simplicity of romantic ballad ‘Josephine’ and its rural landscape imagery

The determined fuzz bass of ‘Children Of The Rocks’ contrasts with the unadorned piano and plaintive vocals of ‘Josephine’, a simple love song that uses imagery of the English landscape to convey its emotional message.

It ends with ‘Blood Moon’, another minimal piano arrangement with background electronic effects wheezing synths and bells, and a measured semi-spoken lyric about being guided home through the darkness by the moon and the sirens of the night in search of the lost old world as it gradually swells to a tumultuous close. Unsettling, spooked and beguiling in equal measure, this is quintessential 70s English progressive pastoral folk that invites you to share its time capsule and explore its love of and frustration with this sceptred isle.

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 ODDFELLOW’S CASINO – Oh, Sealand 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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Artists’ website: www.oddfellowscasino.com

‘We Will Be Here’ – single version, official video:

GREG RUSSELL – Inclined To Be Red (Fellside FECD281)

Inclined To Be RedMore commonly seen in partnership with Ciaran Algar, Greg Russell now also embarks on a solo career with an album the title of which refers more to his politics than the colour of his hair. That said, accompanied just by banjo, he does include a cover of the American traditional tune, ‘Joe Bowers’, the true story of a man whose fiancée married another while he was off gold prospecting, giving birth to a baby whose hair, in Russell’s variation of the last line, “was inclined to be red.”

There is, as you might surmise, a strong socio-politics element of in its collection of self-penned, traditional songs and covers, Russell coming across as a cocktail of Martyn Joseph, Don McLean and Billy Bragg, opening the album with ‘E.G.A’, a rousing accordion-accompanied number he wrote for the Shake the Chains project involving songs of community resistance and protest, his being a tribute to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson who, in 1865, became the first woman in the UK to qualify as a physician also going on, in 1908, to become the country’s first female mayor.

Taken at slower pace ‘Farewell’ is better known as the 19th century traditional ‘Faithful Sailor Boy’, a familiar tale of lovers parted by the call of duty, never to be reunited, although Russell gives it different spin by substituting “wars raging high” as opposed to the original’s storms. Although written by Graham Moore and Mick Ryan and featuring on the former’s 1995 album Tom Paine’s Bones, the strummed ‘The Road To Dorchester; sounds every bit a traditional ballad, recounting the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, six Dorset farmers transported to Australia for forming a union.

Workers rights are also at the heart of another powerfully sung number, ‘Crooked Jack’, a song based on the hardships endured by Irish and Scottish labourers working on the hydro electric plant at Inverary, Argyll, Scotland (the title a reference to spinal deformity caused by working underground),  Dominic Behan’s lyrics set to the tune of ‘Star of the County Down’ .Protest of an environmental nature is to be found on the self-penned ‘Race To Burn’, a fingerpicked number concerning the cost of progress to the earth and its wildlife.

It’s not all about protest, however. Set to a rolling and tumbling melody with a jigging accordion, ‘Travelling Onwards’ is an autobiographical reflection on letting go of fanciful teenage dreams and moving forward with more realistic ambition, and enjoying the roads down which they take you, here making music. Likewise, although written by Christine Lavin, the resonatingly strummed troubadour folk of ‘Tomorrow You’re Gone’ (shades of the young Harvey Andrews) with its lyric about the life of a gigging musician, could be equally from personal experience.

The many permutations of the Child ballad ‘Lady Isabel And The Elf Knight’, involving a maiden and a knight and a tale of seduction, are a staple of many a folk artists repertoire, and, featuring guitar and a buzzy accordion, Russell’s no different, ‘Bold Knight’ opting for version 4E, the one in which she drowns him and involves a prattling parrot.

A West Yorkshire song about class snobbery (dad rejects his daughter’s choice of man because he works in the ‘wrong’ end of the mill and comes from the slum part of Morley) written by the late Keith Marsden (from Morley), ‘Willy-Ole Lad’ follows the original in being sung unaccompanied with a depth that belies Russell’s 24 years.

Of the final two songs, one’s a cover, the other an original. The former, the 60s Greenwich Village protest era-echoing ‘What You Do With What You’ve Got’, was written in 1985 by American singer and activist Si Khan, its line “What’s the use of the finest voice if you’ve nothing good to say” something Russell clearly takes to heart. The album ends with the rustic hymnal-like ‘Storylines’, an affirmation of “the togetherness they’ll try to breach/A unity they cannot teach” written after hearing some club folk singer declare politics had no place in music and that he only sang English songs. “We all sing now”, declares Russell. Get a copy of this fine album and lend your voice.

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 GREG RUSSELL – Inclined To Be Red 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.gregrussellfolk.co.uk

‘Crooked Jack’ – live: