O’HOOLEY & TIDOW – Winterfolk Vol 1 (No Masters NMCD51)

WinterFolkMy first Christmas review of the year, it seems to have become de rigueur now that at some point the great and good of the contemporary British folk scene should release an album of festive material. Kate Rusby’s third is due shortly, last year it was Cara Dillon’s turn and now Belinda and Heidi get in on the act. However, being who they are, this isn’t your usual tidings of comfort and joy as they turn a musical eye on the darker corners of the yuletide season. Case in point being a rework of ‘One More Xmas’ from their 2010 album Silent June which offsets a poignant reminiscence of childhood and memories of mum with scenes of domestic abuse, the new version featuring string arrangement for cello and violin with Chumbawamba’s Jude Abbott on swelling flugelhorn solo.

On a similarly poignant, sung unaccompanied, the self-penned ‘Winter Folk Carol’ serves reminder of the need to connect with others, especially at Christmas, and to remember those displaced by war, homelessness, family issues, debt and bereavement as the sing “may there always be a hand to hold”.

A mix of originals, traditional and covers, there’s a couple of other revisits to past work. ‘The Last Polar Bear’ originally appeared on 2012’s The Fragile, restyled here with a more stately, contemplative arrangement anchored by Jo Silverston’s cello and reworked lyrics focusing on loss and loneliness, Likewise, ‘Calling Me’ is another from that same album and also concerns being alone with its hints of death in “Mother Nature’s fingers reaching for my own.”

The starkly sung, cello drone ‘Whitehorn’ goes further back to when O’Hooley was part of Rachel Unthank & The Winterset, the song written for the 2007 album The Bairns and being based on the true story of her Irish great grandmother, the title referring to the tree under which her stillborn babies, being denied a Catholic burial, were laid to rest.

Originally performed by Belinda on her 2013 Lullabies tour with Jackie Oates, the unaccompanied ‘Wexford Lullaby’, written by John Renbourn, is based on the 12th century ‘Wexford Carol’. There’s also two actual traditional carols, first up being a magnificent classical instrumental reading of the 16th Century ‘The Coventry Carol’, recorded in one take with O’Hooley playing the Steinway grand piano at the Museum of Art in Machynlleth. The other, drawing on the duo’s German and Irish heritage and sung in both German and English, is a haunting take on the evergreen ‘Stille Nacht’, dedicated to those babies under the whitehorn. It also rounds off the album with a brief reprise, recorded as they warmed up, Heidi distantly humming the refrain and Belinda tracing out a minimal piano accompaniment.

As mentioned, there’s also covers, the album opening with Steve Ashley’s suitably invitation to break out the ‘Fire & Wine’ with the heralding of winter, while, a staple of the duo’s WinterFolk shows, opening a cappella, Richard Thompson’s ‘We Sing Hallelujah’ strikes a jubilant and joyous complete with tumbling brass from Abbott.

The final number is their arrangement of the song voted Britain’s all time Christmas favourite, ‘Fairytale Of New York’. Previously covered by the likes of Christy Moore, Ronan Keating and Maire Brennan, Razorlight, Amy Macdonald, Damien Dempsey and Sinead O’Connor, The Wurzels and, god help us, Tony Hadley, none sound remotely like this, slow seven-minute version with its strings accompanied waltz on which they do, as the press release puts it, wraps fairy lights around the words.

They’re out on this year’s WinterFolk tour from the start of December and I’d imagine pretty much everything here will feature prominently in the set. If you can’t make a gig, treat yourself to an early present and grab mince pie, a glass of mulled wine and settle back with a copy of the CD.

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 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.

Artists’ website: www.ohooleyandtidow.com

‘Fairytale Of New York’ – live:

LEE ANN WOMACK – The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone (ATO)

LonelyOver the years, I’ve reviewed several albums on which Womack’s appeared, but somehow never managed to actually review one of her own. And she’s now made nine. So, let’s put that to rights with the East Texan’s new label debut, The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone, that, produced by Frank Liddell, finds her powerful bluesy vocals in fine fettle for a set of self-penned material and covers.

It’s an original that steams up the windows for the moody, gospel influenced opening track, ‘All The Trouble’, Womack initially in virtually a capella mode, giving way, in turn, to the spare pedal steel country balladry of the title number, a meditation on bygone times, things and feelings lost. The first of the covers brings a smoky, swampy groove to Patsy Cline hit ‘He Called Me Baby’, another being a simple bare bone acoustic strum through ‘Long Black Veil’, the murder, wrong man and adultery tale first recorded back in 1959 by Lefty Frizzell. From the same year, comes album closer, ‘Take The Devil Out Of Me’, a rollicking testifying stomp written and recorded by George Jones channeled here through the spark plugs of Janis Joplin’s ‘Mercedez Benz’, while the final cover is a gently wearied take on Andrew Combs’ ‘Rainy Day Song’.

The rest is all her own, either written solo or in collaboration, as with the Southern bluesy slow burn twist in the tale storysong ‘Wicked’, co-penned with Alan Jackson’s nephew, Adam Wright, and joining forces with guitarist Waylon Payne for ‘Sunday’, another Southern-gospel coloured blues.

‘Hollywood’ shifts from the album’s general blues tone for a dreamy, softly sung number that calls to mind Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb’s work together as, while ‘End of the End of the World’ is a familiar honky tonk mid-tempo swayer and ‘Bottom of the Barrel’ a lope along from the old school.

Being honest, I prefer her in the softer moments, such as the delicate, piano-backed sad balladary of ‘Mama Lost Her Smile’ with its vague hints of Dolly or, another stripped back acoustic number, here with upright bass, the Cline-like ‘Someone Else’s Heartache’, but, it’s all the sort of melancholy you want to share cosied up with a bottle of bourbon.

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 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.leeannwomack.com

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 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.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’: