VARIOUS – From Here: English Folk Field Recordings (From Here Sitw005)

From HereThey may be newcomers to the scene, but Stick In The Wheel are certainly making their mark, not just with their own recordings and associated artifacts, but in their involvement with the folk world in general, and the traditional in particular.

Band members Ian Carter and Nicola Kearey serve as curators, collaborators and producers for this collection of new live recordings by both the great and good and some of the lesser known luminaries in the genre. The remit for those involved was to record songs that explored either place or their musical identity, culminating in a gathering of field recordings captured in locations as diverse as a stone cottage in Edale, a bank vault and a garden at Robin Hood’s Bay using just two stereo microphones and with no subsequent overdubs.

As you would imagine, the tracks are stark and raw, first up being ‘Bedfordshire May Carol’, chosen by performer Jack Sharp, leader of psych-folk outfit Wolf People, as it supposedly originated just a few miles from where he grew up. Next up, Eliza Carthy leads a flurry of more familiar names with a self-penned number, ‘The Sea’, a new setting of the broadside ballad found in Manchester’s Chetham Library and featuring on her current album, the initial pizzicato fiddle giving way to more robust playing. She’s followed by one of the veterans of English folk, John Kirkpatrick, applying his accordion to a song from his lengthy repertoire and a folk club staple ‘Here’s Adieu To Old England’, while his sometimes musical partner, Martin Carthy, also chose a number he’s recently reintroduced back into his sets, ‘The Bedmaking’, a familiar tale of the abused and cast aside servant girl. fingerpicked here to a halting rhythm.

Sandwiched in-between is one of the rising stars of the few folk firmament, the Peak District’s Bella Hardy, who went to 19th century collection The Ballads and Songs of Derbyshire for ‘The Ballad of Hugh Stenson’, setting it to a more upbeat tune than the hymnal adapted by Jon Tams, while, another member of folk royalty, Jon Boden puts his squeezebox to work on a contemplative take on 19th century drinking song ‘Fathom The Bowl’.

There’s a couple of spokes from the Wheel, both unaccompanied, Kearey delivering glottal version of the much covered ‘Georgie’ and Fran Foote ‘The Irish Girl’. They’re not the only numbers to be sung naked as it were. BritFolk alumnus Lisa Knapp has a lovely treatment of the tumblingly melodious ‘Lavender Song’, while, also from the female side, Fay Hield tips the hat to Annie Briggs with her choice of ‘Bonny Boy’.

On the other side of a capella gender fence, Geordie folkie Stew Simpson mines his Newcastle roots for ‘Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew’ (which the accompanying booklet helpfully translates as “Oh Yes, I Could Pick At The Coals”), Sam Lee turns the evergreen ‘Wild Rover’ on its head to transform it into a slow, sad lament rather than more familiar rollicking rouser of Dubliners and Pogues note, and, from Wales, a deep-voiced Men Diamler closes the album with ‘1848 (Sunset Beauregard)’, a self-penned political protest ballad about Tory policies. The remaining unaccompanied track is actually a duet, Peta Webb and Ken Hall joining voices for an Irish in London in the 50s marriage of Ewan MacColl’s ‘Just A Note’, about the building of the M1, and Bob Davenport’s account of the dangers of ‘Wild Wild Whiskey’.

The three remaining tracks are all instrumentals. Bristol’s acoustic instrumental quartet Spiro are the only band on the collection and provide their self-penned ‘Lost In Fishponds’, apparently about getting lost en route to a gig, joined here by North Wales violinist Madame Česki, while Sam Sweeney brings his fiddle to bear on two tunes. ‘Bagpipers’, one of the first things he played with his band Leveret, and ‘Mount Hills’, an English dance tune from the 17th century. Which leaves Cumbrian concertina maestro Rob Harbron to provide the third with a pairing of ‘Young Collins’, a Costwolds’ tune learned from Alistair Anderson, and, another from the Morris tradition, ‘Getting Up The Stairs’, which, by way of a pleasing synchronicity, he actually learned by way of John Kirkpatrick on the influential Morris On album.

It more than does the job it set out to achieve, and, likely to loom large in end of year awards, fully warrants a place in any traditional folk fan’s collection.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.stickinthewheel.com

Stew Simpson – ‘Eh Aww Ah Cud Hew’:

QUILES & CLOUD – Shake Me Now (Compass)

Shake Me NowAlthough conveniently filed under NewGrass, there’s more to San Francisco based duo Maria Quiles and Rory Cloud that bluegrass, Shake Me Now, their third album, produced by label founder Alison Brown, evidencing traces of jazz, classical, blues and folk. With Oscar Westesson on upright bass essentially making them a trio, it’s moodily overcast folk that dominates the opening track, ‘Black Sky Lightning’ with its fingerpicked tracery and pulsing bass, getting slightly airier with the strummed love song ‘On My Way Tonight’ before the title track brings it back to calmer, more reflective ground.

The traditional roots are evidenced with covers of both ‘Deep Ellum Blues’, the first on which Cloud’s vocals have equal prominence, and ‘Worried Man Blues’, a folk chestnut popularised by Woody Guthrie. Along with these there’s also a cover of relatively more recent origin, Cloud taking wearied lead on a slow paced interpretation of Dylan’s ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’.

Everything else is original material, ranging in style from the fiddle-backed American roots folksiness of ‘By The Rio Grande’ and the stripped and slow waltzing ‘Hero’s Crown’ to the crooning harmonies of ‘Mississippi River’ and the itchier, swampier blues that drive ‘Feelin’ Good’.

Quiles has a gentle, soothingly engaging voice, and it’s heard to good effect on the a capella harmonising opening to the five minute ‘Faded Flower’ before a lonesome acoustic campfire guitar picks up the spare melody. Closing with a one mic bonus recap of ‘Black Sky Lightning’ that ups the tempo, this is one for the hours as evening draws in and you sit there staring at the vastness of the skies. Front porch optional.

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 Quiles & Cloud 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.quilesandcloud.com

‘By The Rio Grande’ – live session:

CHILLI WILLI AND THE RED HOT PEPPERS – Real Sharp (Last LMCD204)

Real SharpWay back in 1972, Martin Stone and Philip Lithman, reunited as a duo following the former’s stint with blues acts Savoy Brown and Mighty Baby and the latter’s time with The Residents in San Francisco, signed to Revelation Records and recorded Kings Of The Robot Rhythm under their new name. For the sessions they enlisted singer Jo Ann Kelly and Nick Lowe, Billy Rankin and Bob Andrews from Brinsley Schwarz. Looking to go out on the road, they then added Paul Bailey, Paul Riley and Pete Thomas, the latter three creating the line up that, alongside Stone and Lithman, would go on to record Bongos Over Balham in 1974, Kelly being joined on backing vocals by both Jacqui McShee and Carol Grimes. The following year, unable to make a go of things, despite playing some 400 gigs, the band broke up.

However, they left behind a legacy as being not just one of the pioneers of the British pub rock scene but, alongside Brinsley Schwarz, one of the first British acts to draw on what we today call Americana. Over the years they have, however, rather faded from memory, so this double CD anthology is a welcome reminder of what was and should have been.

It contains the band’s two albums in their entirety along with a generous selection of bonus recordings, some demos, some unreleased and some from the 1996 I’ll Be Home compilation. The debut album announced their country blues intentions with ‘Living Out Of My Suitcase’ and the self-referencing ‘The Ballad of Chilli Willi’, throwing in some jugband with ‘Astrella From The Astral Plane’, ragtime country on ‘Nashville Rag’ and Lithman’s one-minute frenzied bluegrass instrumental ‘Fiddle Dee’. Save for a couple of traditional blues arrangements, ‘Window Pane’ and ‘Get Your Gauge Up Let Your Love Come Down’, the material was all written by the duo, either together or Lithman alone, although the accompanying Chalk Farm demos (imploding sessions overseen by and featuring Mike Nesmith, who remains uncredited) extended selections to covers of both Jesse Winchester (‘Midnight Bus’) and the Barry/Greenwich number ‘I Wanna Love Her So Bad’.

Also among them is a version of Louis Jordan classic ‘Choo Choo Ch’Boogie’, a slicker version of which provided the opening track for Bongos, an early production credit for engineer Ron Nevison who would go on to produce Survivor, Heart and Kiss. It also featured polished, more fleshed out versions of several of the other demos, including the scampering ‘Truck Driving Girl’, ‘Jungle Song’, ‘Desert Island Woman’ and the Winchester number, Among the new material, ‘Fiddle Diddle’ afforded another showcase for Lithman’s fiddle skills while PC Bailey provided sax on both Stone’s rollicking arrangement of the traditional blues ‘Just Like The Devil’ and Lithman’s rousing rock n rolling nod to Chuck Berry homage closer ‘9-5 Songwriting Man’.

The second disc’s bonus tracks include country romping studio outtake ‘I’ll Be Home’ featuring pedal steel legend Red Rhodes, a live radio broadcast of Robert Johnson’s ‘Walkin’ Blues’, five live recordings from either the Roundhouse or Kilburn State among them Doug Kershaw’s ‘Papa and Mama Had Love’, Carl Perkins’ ‘Boppin’ The Blues’, Carl Montgomery’s seminal trucker song ‘Six Days On The Road’ and, another fiddle showcase, ‘Fire On The Mountain’, the remaining two cuts, both covers, being demos recorded at Dave Robinson’s studio above the Hope and Anchor, Johnny Guitar Watson’s parping sax blues dance floor strutter ‘Posin’ Yeah’ and Chuck Bowers’ 1955 78rpm Western Swing B-side, ‘Pinball Boogie’.

Accompanied by a booklet that reproduces the original albums and features rare photos, artwork by Barney Bubbles and sleeve notes by Paul Riley, it’s a fine salute to a band which laid the foundations for the British country boom we’re now experiencing.

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 CHILLI WILLI AND THE RED HOT PEPPERS – Real Sharp 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]

Live videos weren’t the thing back in the early 70s but here’s a promo film:

NORRIE McCULLOCH – Bare Along The Branches (Black Dust BDR1603)

Bare Along The BranchesBased in Glasgow, Ayrshire singer-songwriter Norrie McCulloch clearly doesn’t like to let the grass grow under his feet. Bare Along The Branches is his third album in as many years, following on from last year’s These Mountain Blues. I was much impressed by that, describing him on these pages as sounding like a Glaswegian Martyn Joseph.

I’m even more enamoured this time round, although, while the Joseph comparison still pertains here and there, his vocals here remind me far more of Cat Stevens, which is never a bad thing. Again working with regular collaborators Stuart Kidd, Marco Rea, Teenage Fanclub’s Dave McGowan, Iain Thompson on mandolin and Iain Sloan from The Wynntown Marshals, is a more diverse set, embracing a wider range of genres and styles.

It opens with the plangent Caledonian folk-soul of ‘Shutter’, an end of relationship number led by McGowan’s piano and keys with a catchy ra da dada da refrain, taking the pace and mood down with the reflective strum of an equally soulful ‘Litte Boat’, a number that could easily have come from an early Van Morrison album. Electric keyboards provide the bedrock for the midtempo ‘Lonely Boy’ with its na na na na na harmonised backing vocals and a feel reminiscent of 70s soul, although, apparently Bread and the music of David Gates was also big in the young McCulloch’s family household.

Things take a significant musical shift with ‘Frozen River’, cascading mandolin lines and banjo taking things into scampering mountain folk territory, with hints of both Glen Campbell and John Denver evident. He stays in America for the sway of the tenderly poignant ‘Safe Keeping’, a particular highlight, where those Joseph echoes mingle with Son Volt influences, the acoustic strum complemented by McGowan’s electric filigree. Sloan making his appearance on pedal steel, the melodically catchy ‘Never Leave You Behind’, basically an upbeat number about following your other half after they’ve passed, is a sprightly country rock choogle with a touch of Texicana.

It’s back to Caledonia soul for keyboard let your feelings show love song ballad ‘This Time’ before the arrival of the album’s simplest and most moving track, ‘Turn To Dust’, a live solo acoustic number, written for and recorded just after the death of his mother, capturing that heavy sense of loss as he sings “maybe if you just showed me a sign, it could ease my troubled mind, just don’t know who turn to anymore.”

It’s followed by a suitably lonesome harmonica introducing ‘Around The Bend’, a slow banjo dappled march beat dusty road ballad about picking yourself up from loss, dejection, failure and facing what lies ahead with positivity and acceptance. Picking up on its underlying growing up theme, the album ends with its longest and most ambitious song, ‘Beggars Woods’, from whence the album title comes. Beginning with spare acoustic and electric guitar backing, it’s a seven minute allegorical recalling of a childhood story about a man, lost and broken, living wild in the woods, a spur to a meditation on exclusion and isolation that, as the instrumentation fills out, takes McCulloch back to the scene as an adult, where “life stretches bare along the branches”, giving way to McGowan’s closing two minute electric guitar solo. It’s a stunning conclusion to an outstanding album that should afford McCulloch the fulsome acclaim he deserves.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.norriemcculloch.com

KATE DIMBLEBY – Songbirds (Folkstock FSR44)

SongbirdsFor the past 25 years Kate Dimbleby, the daughter of legendary broadcaster David and opera loving cookery writer Josceline, has been plying her musical trade in live performance, most notably in her one woman shows and albums based around Peggy Lee and Dory Previn. However, Songbirds, her sixth studio album and accompanying show, is the first on which she’s written all the material and the first she’s performed (almost entirely) a capella, layering her voice using techniques learned studying under Bobby McFerrin.

An experiment in polyphonics, she describes it as charting her own journey to find her true voice and it ranges stylistically across jazz, blues, folk and even reggae while the songs themselves span many years. Indeed, the opening track, the bluesy spiritual styled, scat-accompanied, fingerclicking ‘Limbo’, was the first song she ever wrote (and originally featured in its late night jazz arrangement on 2006’s Things As They Are), the outcome of her first real heartbreak while the lyrically upbeat 20s jazz and doo wop shades of ‘Whatever’ emerged from the first song she wrote after the family’s move to Bristol five years ago.

The dreamy 50sish ‘Love Can Be Easy’, born of and reflecting a peaceful day camping by the sea is of more recent origin, as is ‘Happy’, a follow on from her work with McFerrin that involves vocal looping, scat vocal backing and some playful warbling was the spontaneous result of task set by online group the Society for Spontaneous Singing. Another group exercise was also responsible for the brief ‘Harder Than You Think’, a sort of vocally multilayered work song about the difficulty in writing a song about walking. Equally brief is the 66 second ‘At Our Best’, a minstrel-like song you could imagine having been penned by Stephen Foster.

The newest though is ‘Life Is’, completed just before going into the studio, a straightforward soaring pop song for her husband and father about telling people you appreciate them while they’re still around to listen.

There’s a hint of the McGarrigles and some discrete beatboxing – to be heard on ‘Musical Boxes’, an idea that formed the basis for her live show in that, as she puts it, “we’re all musical boxes with our own themes and resonances but we just don’t listen enough to really appreciate each other. I liken it to the dawn chorus… every bird is offering up something totally unique.”

The remaining three songs have their roots in specific locations. The bass hummed, gospel infused ‘These Things, They Will Come’, a how long/be patient number, stems from time spent on Vancouver Island back in 2003 where at the time suffering from severe back pain, she retreated to a more simple life and found healing, both physically and mentally, in nature.

A hill in Sussex spawned the wordless vocal line in album closer, ‘Song For A Hill’, the only non a capella number, employing percussion, bells, electronic sounds and field recordings made in London, and the penultimate track, my personal favourite, the simple and quite lovely and poignant ‘Walk Away’. An uncluttered, simply sung number, her lone voice and self-harmonising again reminiscent of the McGarrigles, it’s about finding intimacy and beauty, both in the world around and within yourself. She says the album is about the voices we keep locked up inside and about the need for connection. Do yourself a favour, open the cage and build a bridge.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.katedimbleby.com

‘These Things They Will Come’ live:

SALLY BARKER – Ghost Girl (Old Dog Records 017)

Ghost GirlThe title track is a new recording of the song she wrote for 2015 Poozies album, Into The Well, featuring real rather than electric piano, given a softer feel and with Tom Bull on double bass, Sally Barker’s follow-up to Maid In England, the 2014 album on the back of her appearances on The Voice, is woven around a theme of abandonment and putting your heart back together.

One of the first reactions to being dumped is want retribution, and smoke-wisped jazzy blues opening track ‘Emperor Of Cool’ taps into the narrator’s embittered feelings towards the ex who cruelly tells her, “the harmony to all of your songs” he only dated her for a bet, sharing his less attractive attributes with whoever she meets.

Realisation of being broken arrives with the early Dylan influences of ‘I’m Not Whole’, the acoustic guitar riff behind the piano written and played by her son, its lyrics built around imagery of the sea and being washed up on the shore. Delivered against a steady acoustic guitar pulse and streaked by pedal steel, ‘Like Sugar’ offers a different spin, a woman lonely while her soldier husband is away at war being courted by a local chancer bringing food and stockings and offering to help with a little DIY.

Picking up the ‘Ghost Girl’ imagery and running with it, ‘Vampire of Love’, featuring Sally on piano and guitar, is a slow dance romancer with a 30s styled waltzing chorus that, set in Victorian England, draws on the dangerous sexuality embodied in the Dracula-inspired seducer.

The mood shifts again for the 60s R&B sultry groove of ‘Hand of Fate’, apparently written for Tom Jones and inspired by the offer of major label deal following The Voice, one which, perhaps wisely, she declined. Bolstering the instrumentation with keys, slide and electric guitar (Knopfleresque solo provided by PJ Wright), the country tinged ‘Mr Bang’ apparently has its inspiration in a difficult and troubled chap who also happened to be very loud drummer.

If it’s been about loss, betrayal and loneliness so far, the even more country slow waltz ‘Two Hearts’, again featuring pedal steel and with Ian Crabtree on Spanish guitar, addresses the possibility of finding new love, hope tinted with hesitancy.

Underpinned by double bass, the earlier jazz vibe resurfaces for the smoky, finger clicking ‘Queen of Reckless Feelings’, a lyrical throwback to Barker’s earlier and less complicated singleton days. She reminds me here slightly of Janis Ian, as indeed she does on the spare acoustic ‘Tell It Like It Is’, a brittle break up of an affair number, even if the publicity blurb evokes Dory Previn, another 70s singer-songwriter doyenne of songs about spurned and discarded lovers.

The album ends with Glenn Hughes on piano for the brief instrumental ‘Theme to ‘Ghost Girl’’. But, before that pedal steel, Spanish guitar and the theme of new but difficult starts are reprised with the folk and country tones of ‘Canada’, a strummed first person narrative of hardships suffered by settlers encouraged by the British Government to emigrate there in the early 1800s on the back of the fur trade boom and build new lives for their families. Some went under, but many more survived and emerged stronger for the experience, which, in a nutshell, is the message at the core of this fine album.

Mike Davies

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

‘Ghost Girl’ live: