ROBBIE CAVANAGH – To Leave / To Be Left (At The Helm ATH 99021)

LeaveOriginally from Portland, Maine and now based in Manchester, Cavanagh’s second album, To Leave / To Be Left, explores, as the title succinctly puts it, the end of relationships and what’s taken away and what remains behind. As such, it opens with ‘Get Out Alive’, a full-bloodied slice of guitar-driven Anglicana that sparkles with hooks, tumbling melody lines and punchy chords as he sings “We took our time and then we screwed it up, but it we screwed it together. There’s no use pretending it was good, but there’ll come a point where we both regret it.”

However, save for the shuffle along feel of ‘Reverence’, this is atypical of what follows and he quickly rings the changes, taking the tempo and the volume down for the fragile, falsetto-voiced mid-tempo ballad ‘Godsend’, his voice taking on a softer, more vulnerable note for its euphoric awakening of salvation found in love. It’s a mood that continues through the more soulful, organ-backed ‘Love Comes Quickly’ where he slightly recalls the Eagles circa their first two albums mingled with hints of Dobie Gray and Van Morrison.

Indeed, the lyrics often more impressionist than narrative, the rest of the album continues to mine this quieter, more reflective side. ‘Still Talkin’’ is again an organ-backed soulful number with a steady slow repetitive drum beat that briefly swells midway before falling back into aching melancholy while ‘Let You Down’ offers a simple acoustic guitar backdrop to its lyrics of regret and pessimistic view of love’s eventual collapse with ‘Fool’ another bluesily soulful slow sway that gradually builds on almost gospel waves towards the end.

Interestingly, ‘Roles Reversed’ offers a tangent to the dominant theme of fractured romance in a poignant vignette about a son and his ageing father and the onset of dementia as he sings “We have all the time that the lord can give, but the lord’s time is running out. Your hands are strong and your eyes are sure, but I can see in your smile that the memories are blurred.”

Although I think breaking up the pervasive languid musical mood slightly in the latter half of the album might not have been a bad idea, that in no way reflects on the material, closing with an emotionally wrenching picture of the disintegration of a dysfunctional relationship in the pedal steel-streaked finality of ‘He’s Alone’. It may not be the most optimistic and affirmative album you’ll hear this year, but it will surely strike a chord in anyone who’s known that there is best part of breaking up.

Mike Davies

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 ROBBIE CAVANAGH – To Leave / To Be Left (At The Helm 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.robbiecavanagh.co.uk

‘Scars’ – official video:

CARA DILLON – Wanderer (Charcoal CHARCD009)

WandererFollowing last year’s release of her first Christmas album, Upon A Winter’s Night, Dillon returns to secular form with a predominantly traditional collection, again produced by and featuring husband Sam Lakeman.

Pivoting around an underlying theme of transition and departure, whether that be through emigration or the search for love, it keeps the instrumentation spare and intimate, predominantly built around Lakeman’s piano and/or acoustic guitar, but also with occasional contributions from Ben Nicholls on double bass, Niall Murphy on fiddle and both John Smith and Justin Adams on acoustic and electric guitar, respectively.

There are two original numbers, the first up being the piano-accompanied ‘The Leaving Song’, inspired by “living wakes” held for those about to emigrate in pre-war Co.Derry with its lyric about a mother bidding farewell to a son seeking his fortunes in some other land, with a reminder that he can always find his way home. The other, the penultimate track, the simply styled metaphorical ‘Lakeside Swans’ touches a similar note, here concerning migrants and refugees and the decision to leave their homes.

There’s also a cover, the album’s final track being their dreamily lovely piano-led arrangement of ‘Dubhdara’, the slow-swaying sailing out Celtic anthem written by Shaun Davey for his 1985 album Granuaile.

The remaining seven numbers are all traditional, some familiar, others less so, case in point being the opening Ulster thoughts of home folk song ‘The Tern And The Swallow’ with its references to Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in Northern Ireland, and Slieve Gallion, the mountain in Co. Londonderry. Also with their roots in Derry and nostalgia for home, ‘The Banks Of The Foyle’ concerns a girl forced to leave her true love by cruel misfortune but then learning he’s remained constant in her absence, while, featuring just Dillon and Lakeman’s guitar, ‘The Faughan Side’ conjures memories of an emigrant to America of happy days spent by the bridge of Drumahoe over the titular river.

A fine, yearningly crestfallen reading of the much recorded ‘Blackwater Side’ leads the charge for the better known songs, with its tale of a young lad lying his way into a maiden’s bed with false promises. This is complemented by ‘Both Sides Of The Tweed’, a traditional number given a makeover by Dick Gaughan, here presented in simple style with Dillon’s pure vocals and Lakeman’s piano. She’s joined by Kris Drever who duets and plays guitar for ‘Sailor Boy’, the album’s obligatory death song (you know the plot, maiden dies from grief when her sailor lover drowns) with Murphy on wheezing fiddle. Which just leaves a haunted interpretation of ‘The Banks Of The Bann’, which, combining emigration and thwarted love and arranged for piano and fiddle, is fittingly set to the tune of ‘Lord Of All Hopefulness’.

Her most reflective and most musically introspective album to date, the spare arrangements putting the spotlight on her warm, crystal clear vocals, it is arguably also the best of her career.

Mike Davies

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 CARA DILLON – Wanderer 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.caradillon.co.uk

Promo video:

CIARA SIDINE – Unbroken Line (own label)

Unbroken LineIt’s been six years since the Irish singer-songwriter and book editor released her debut, but she’s finally got round to a second, one drawing an Americana and country blues, filtered through her Gaelic heritage and featuring the stunning guitar work of Conor Brady. Thematically, it balances with the pointedly and powerfully political and the poignantly personal, opening with ‘Finest Flower’, an Appalachian-tinged number written in honour and memory of the many women who fell victim to the Magdalene Laundries and the Mother and Baby Homes, inspired by the testimony of the survivors.

The twin themes of feminism and the church embodied there are also visited individually. Featuring Justin Carroll on Hammond, ‘Let The Rain Fall’ is Memphis soul influenced song about the church’s failure to take responsibility for its child abuse while ‘Trouble Come Find Me’ is a sparse brooding traditional sounding blues about the struggle for women’s bodily autonomy. On a similar traditional note, she also offers a gender recasting with a bluesily raw ‘Woman of Constant Sorrow’ that directs its gaze at the struggles of women in Irish society then and now. However, as the love and equality themed blues ‘Lemme Drive Your Train’ shows, she can be playful too while, at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, there’s the slow sway soul of ‘River Road’ with its regrets of bridges burned .

Musically, the album also follows a winding path, from the sloping blues of ‘2 Hard 2 Get To Heaven’ and the late night jazzy vibe of ‘Watching The Dark’ where she reminds me of Bonnie Koloc to the country gospel driving train rhythm of ‘Wooden Bridge’ and the Van Morrison feel of ‘Take Me With You’, while, harmonising with Michelle Considine and Marty Mullally, the set closes in simple acoustic style with the lilting, lovely American folksiness of ‘Little Bird Song’.

Again boosted by the solid backing vocals, Carroll again on organ, the Dylan-inspired reflective dustbowl country title track, a song about re-establishing sustaining connections with its images of fading small towns, is a particular standout, conjuring a soulful Emmylou Harris as she sings how “One side tells you a dime’s a dollar, the other sells somebody’s dollar for a dime.” The album inspired Joseph O’Connor, Sinead’s brother, to write a poem entitled Sidine Street, capturing the world she inhabits and the ghosts of those who share it. One line goes, “I don’t want to be alone, I want to hear her music.” You need to as well.

Mike Davies

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 CIARA SIDINE – Unbroken Line 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: www.ciarasidine.com

‘Unbroken Line’ – live:

EDGELARKS – Edgelarks (Dragonfly DRCD004)

EdgelarksHaving previously traded under their own names, Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin have decided to save space on the album sleeves (well, after this one anyway) by reinventing themselves as Edgelarks. Fans will be pleased to know, however, that, musically, the duo haven’t rung too many changes.

Featuring contributions from Lukas Drinkwater on bass, John Elliott on drums and keyboards and table player Niall Robinson, inspired by last year’s tour of Australia, the album deals with themes of margins and marginalisation, of boundaries, transition and hope, opening in ‘Landlocked’, a moody, banjo-pinioned song about Nancy Perriam, a woman from Exmouth, who, in the early part of the 19th century, went to sea and travelled the world with the navy.

The slouching rhythm of ‘No Victory’ introduces a new instrument to their musical repertoire with Martin playing a pedal powered shruti box while the track also features Henry’s beatbox harmonica technique. Indeed, the instrumentation throughout is as eclectic as it is extensive, featuring Dobro, fiddle, banjo, a variety of guitars and the return of the Chaturangui, an Indian classical slide guitar played by Henry. On ‘Undelivered’, a song inspired by the discovery of a trunkload of undelivered 17th century letters, specifically one from a woman to the father of her unborn child, he even plays his lap slide Weissenborn with a paintbrush to create a buzzing drone.

Of a more recent origin, three intersecting true stories make up the sparse, drone-backed ‘Caravans’, pivoting around the 2010 sub-prime mortgages crash documented in the film The Big Short and exploring themes of ensuing loss and lives lived outside the financial vortex where dreams can kill.

Elsewhere, the Celtic-tinged ‘Signposts’, the most traditional folk sounding number, and the minimalist and appropriately glacial arrangement of ‘Iceberg’ offer fairly straightforward metaphors about making connections and people having hidden depths, respectively.

A suitably discordant affair, ‘Yarl’s Wood’ strikes a political note, being titled after and written about the Bedfordshire immigrant removal centre and the allegations of the abusive treatment of the women detainees, the theme of refugees resurfacing on ‘Borders’, which, set to drone and clacking percussion, is based around the true story of Afghan refugees who, seeking to ensure her future, send their five-year-old daughter on a journey, on foot, with two cousins to northern Europe in search of asylum.

Thematically connected, the tabla-dappled ‘Song Of The Jay’, ostensibly about how the Californian Bush Jay apparently sings a special song for the ‘funerals’ of other birds, of different species, serves as a metaphor for universal kinship. The drone is also created from a sample of a Jay singing.

Although also going by the title ‘The Emigrants Song’, sung in Cornish by Martin, the rhythmically pulsing traditional ‘Estren’ takes a different tack in the tale of an American traveller in Cornwall, leaving it open to question whether he intends to be true to the woman he meets and declares he’ll take back home or that she’s the latest in the list of those to whom he’s pledged s his loves.

There’s another traditional number to be found with the mortality-themed ‘What’s The Life of Man?’ given a suitably simple and reflective tone before the instrumentation swells in the final stretch. As well as them both featuring the Chaturangui, it also serves to set the scene for the upbeat final track, the self-penned, acoustic accompanied ‘The Good Earth’ which treats on nature’s life cycle of death and renewal and, by extension, the connections we share with one another, both those around us and those who have gone before as she sings how “we grow on old wood, we are links in the chain.”

The couple say they chose their new name as it captures the concept of liminality or transition explored in their songs and the idea of their music being on the periphery. Given the quality here, that may be a status that will also prove to be in a state of transition.

Mike Davies

Phil Henry and Hannah Martin 24/9/17a

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 Edgelarks 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.edgelarks.co.uk

‘Song Of The Jay’:

SAM KELLY & THE LOST BOYS – Pretty Peggy (Navigator NAVIGATOR 102)

Pretty PeggyBased in Bristol, but born in Norfolk, Kelly stakes a claim for a Best Album nomination in next year’s Radio 2 Folk Awards to add to this year’s Horizon win. Backed by his six-piece live band, comprising Jamie Francis on banjo, fiddler/guitarist Ciaran Algar, percussionist Evan Carson, Graham Coe on cello with Toby Shaer and Archie Churchill-Moss providing woodwind and melodeon, respectively, Pretty Peggy their first album together, also features contributions from folk stalwarts Cara Dillon, Damien O’Kane, Mike McGoldrick and Geoff Lakeman.

Save for three numbers, all the material is traditional, refashioned and refurbished, opening with a rousing haul away tempo take of the whaling shanty ‘Greenland Whale’ that can’t help but bring Seth Lakeman to mind. Dillon and McGoldrick’s Uillean pipes complement ‘Bonnie Lass Of Fyvie’, the pretty Peggy-o of the title, a jaunty Celtic-hued version that successfully avoids sounding like any of the many previous recordings.

A tale of lost childhood love regret, the equally lively, thigh-slapping, fiddle-driven ‘Angeline The Baker’ has Appalachian roots and then comes the first of the original numbers, ‘When The Rievers Call’, a Jamie Francis song about the raids on the Scottish borders during the middle ages featuring, unsurprisingly, some fiery banjo work and again recalling that Seth Lakeman sound.

Returning to the traditional repertoire and featuring O’Kane on electric tenor guitar with a melodeon solo, ‘If I Were A Blackbird’ is a lovely, lilting and gently ripping take on the Irish love song, reversing the lyric’s genders and set to a tune based around Chris Wood’s ‘Ville De Quebec’. This is followed by the darkly menacing ‘The Shining Ship’, a suitably spooked and nervy six minute tale, sung in low, at times whispery tones with swirling sonics, of a woman lured aboard a ghost ship by her long lost lover and based on the 17th century Scottish ballad ‘Demon Lover’.

Featuring himself on piano and Shaer on fiddle, the only Kelly original is ‘Chasing Shadows’, another lively tune about understanding that “the deepest dark comes just before the dawn”, and one of the more contemporary sounding tracks. Then comes the comic relief, ‘The Close Shave’ being New Zealand singer Bob Bickerton’s variation of the traditional romp, ‘Barrack Street’, about a gold miner relieved of his treasure by a man posing as a woman.

The obligatory instrumental track comes with ‘Shy Guy’s Serve’, a jaunty fiddle medley of Shaer’s ‘Josh’s Slip’ and Algar’s ‘Rookery Lane’, before they dig into the more obscure pages of the Dylan songbook and turn up the volume for ‘Crash On The Levee’, a punchy and driving version of ‘Down In The Flood’ off The Basement Tapes. The penultimate number is another traditional English folk song, drums, fiddles and flutes pumping along sexually euphemistic ‘The Keeper’ with its call and response derry derry down chorus, the album ending with the intitially subdued but gradually gatheringly strident strains of The Rose, Kelly’s translation of the French song ‘Le Beau Rosier’, originally by Belgian outfit Naragonia with whom he played mandolin last year.

Having practised his art as a youngster singing to the family’s cows, in 2012 Kelly was a finalist for Britain’s Got Talent (the one won by Pudsey), at which time he said “I don’t want to make a mediocre album of covers just to sell as many as possible on the back of BGT…musical integrity is really important to me.” He’s clearly lived up to his words.

Mike Davies

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 SAM KELLY & THE LOST BOYS – Pretty Peggy 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.samkelly.org

‘Angeline The Baker’:

JEREMY PINNELL – Ties of Blood and Affection (Sofaburn SBR2-032)

Ties Of Blood And AffectionOpening your album with the line “laid up in the house full of hookers and wine” is a pretty good way to get the listener’s attention, but you still have to keep it. And, on this, his second release, the Kentucky country singer-songwriter does that effortlessly, both on that opening track, the swampy chug of ‘Ballad Of 1892’ with its “bad times ahead and good times behind”, and throughout the whole album.

Drawing on the Bakersfield sound and often likened to Waylon Jennings, he continues with ‘Take The Wheel’, less throaty in its delivery with lap steel guitar and a rollalong bluesy rhythm as he sings “I forgot how much I loved music, cos for so long I thought I might lose it”, an upbeat testament to the power of a good tune to get you out of a funk. The acoustic backed ‘Feel This Right’ is more straight down the line jaunty honky tonk country with its pedal steel and keening vocal, the line “some call it pay day, I call it paying bills, sometimes they look like mountains but I’m told they’re hills” reinforcing the running themes of dealing with everyday working life, family, faith and relationships; it even talks of a having a satisfied mind. It’s echoed in the romantic ‘Different Kind Of Love’, a from the heart love letter to his woman and a reminder of why he goes out the door every morning to do what he does.

He’s back to roadhouse rocking for ‘I Don’t Believe’, set to a line dancing rhythm that’ll be familiar to Mavericks fans (not to mention Dave Edmunds), as he sings about religion and faith accompanied by a bouncing steel and guitar break while the chugging ‘I’m Alright With This’ has a touch of Cash about it with its lyrics about reforming your ways (“I got tired of going to jail every time I drink a beer’) and leaving the darkness behind and finding the light through the love of a good woman. Indeed, she’s his saviour in the classic old school cowboy hymnal feel of ‘Best I Could Do’, a song about meeting your maker knowing you’ve tried your best with the cards you’ve hard.

He heads to the end with the honky tonk rollicking ‘Ain’t Nothing Wrong’ about having to resist the temptations that come his way and “keeping that devil down” and not slowing down until “I see that old bright light”, living on his own terms and not losing sleep over what other people say. Which, brings him naturally to the equally musically upbeat closing ‘The Way We See Heaven’ as, reflecting on how “in nineteen hundred and seventy seven my mama thought I came from heaven…later in life she knew I came from hell”, he finds himself at the pearly gates and, finding that he’s being consigned to the fire below, unapologetically telling St. Peter, “hey man that’s alright, y’see. Least I’ll be with the ones that really love me.” Pinnell doesn’t see the glass as half full or half empty, he sees it as to be drunk. Cheers to him.

Mike Davies

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 JEREMY PINNELL – Ties of Blood and Affection 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.jeremypinnell.com

‘Feel This Right’ – live: