WOOKALILY – All The Waiting While (One-A-Chord OACRW001)

WookalilyI have no idea from whence the name comes, but the band are an all-female Belfast outfit at the vanguard of the bluegrass revival playing what they term chillbilly roots as they “turf out timeless songs from the bogs of Ireland to the bayous of Louisiana.”   Save for a cover of Tom Watson’s Fire Below, guitarist Adele Ingram provides all the material, Sharon Morgan plays electric guitar and 5-string banjo, Louise Potter looks after the drums and percussion with Lyndsay Crothers on vocals, but, being their debut album, they also roped in past members to play a variety of instruments and take lead.

Thus on the opening number, the fast-slow tempo-shifting ‘Hands Pass In Time’, double bass, dobro and fiddle augment the instrumentation while the gentle jazzy finger-clicking strum of ‘See Me For You’ has Nina Armstrong taking over microphone duties and the banjo urgent ‘Don’t Speak Of The Devil’ features the trebly mountain music tones of Elaine McConaghie.

Arguably, the album’s centre piece is the shuffling ‘Diamonds On Gold’, the soft-voiced Ingram taking lead on the song that won them an invitation to perform at the 2012 IBMA World of Bluegrass Festival in Nashville, but there’s plenty of numbers challenging for the spotlight, not least the Appalachian-fired ‘The Devil Is A Woman’, which features no less than six lead and backing vocals and the Dr.John-referencing ‘Memories of New Orleans’ with Crothers’ gutsy vocals and Morgan’s banjo making a convincing case for them as Ireland’s answer to The Be Good Tanyas.

Elsewhere, the bluesy rolling ‘Black Magic Doll’, with Ingram on resonator and Cat Rice wailing the harmonica, the honky tonk meets vaudeville shades of ‘Got Me On My Knee’, a good-timing jug band-like ‘Banjo Blues’, country waltzer ‘Broken In Two’ and a mazurka stomping ‘Johnny Kicked The Bucket’ all conspire to make them of the most exciting new arrivals on the bluegrass scene, on both sides of the Atlantic, in years.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.wookalily.com

THE ALBION CHRISTMAS BAND – One For The Road: Live in Concert (Rooksmere RRCD114)

14TheRoadAnd the Christmas collections keep coming, this one courtesy of Santa Ashley Hutchings and his festive troupe’s first live album, neatly coinciding with their annual jollity jaunt. Recorded last December at Kings Place in London as part of their 15th anniversary tour, it features a mix of songs, tunes and reading designed to recall the pleasures of more traditional English Christmases.

With Hutchings joined by Simon Nicol and Kellie While on guitar and vocals and Simon Care on melodeon, the mood’s set with the squeeze-box led ‘Sans Day Carol’, perhaps better known as ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, which, in turn, gives way to another traditional number with While taking lead vocals for ‘The King’ before Hutchings also weighs in midway. While also takes lead on the programme’s three relatively contemporary songs, first up being Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’ with the others being a melancholic reading of Alan Hull’s ‘Winter Song’ and, rather oddly, the Gary Jules arrangement of ‘Mad World’. Though given that it comes after the amusing reading about ‘How The Internet Started’ (about Abraham com and his wife, Dot), perhaps it’s quite appropriate.

Perhaps surprisingly, there’s only one whole instrumental in the whole show, Care’s arrangements of ‘Calling On’ and ‘Hogmanay’, brought together in a melodeon cocktail of the sedate and the thigh-slappingly raucous. There’s also only one band original, as following his explanation of Border Morris teams who tend to dance in the midwinter, comes ‘Mr Trill’s/Gloucester Hornpipe’, the first part penned by Hutchings and Bob Pegg with the words taken verbatim from Trill’s account of the Morris tradition to Cecil Sharp on his visit to Broomfield.

Otherwise, the tunes and songs are either Trad.arr or by those two well known practitioners of seasonal fayre, Sidney Carter and Christina Rosetti, the former represented by two obscure carols, the regional ‘Julian of Norwich’ (complete with historical background introduction) and, tambourine rattling, a robust, lusty ‘Come Love Carolling’, and the latter with a reading from her poem ‘Advent’ followed by a lovely version of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ which set her words to music by Gustav Holst.

George Woodward’s rousing ‘Past Three O’Clock’ takes things up to the interval (the recording’s so complete it has Hutchings announcing the break and that they have a shop the audience can visit) with the second half getting under way with a reading rather than rendition of ‘Herod The Cock’ leading, fittingly enough, into ‘Chanticleer’, a variation of ‘The Chanticleer’s Carol’ by William Austin from the C17th rather than more recent carols of the same name.

After ‘Mad World’, the show winds up with a batch of familiar carols, a ten minute medley of ‘Sweet Chiming Bells’ (named from the tune and chorus interpolated with ‘While Shepherds Watched’), ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ and ‘The First Nowell’, taking the farewell bow with a galumphing ‘Seven Joys Of Mary’ designed to send you carousing off into the winter’s evening in search of mince pies and mulled wine. If you can’t make one of the shows, this is pretty much the next best thing.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artists’ website: www.albionchristmas.co.uk

‘The Seven Joys Of Mary’:

THOMPSON – Family (Fantasy FAN36392)

ThompsonAfter last year’s Linda Thompson album saw a family gathering of sorts, in as much as her children, Teddy and Kami, son-in-law James, grandson Zak and ex-husband Richard, as well as his other son, Jack, variously featured on different tracks, this, as the title suggests, is much more of a united reunion. Conceived as a means of putting the family back together, Teddy contacted parents and siblings with the proposal that each should contribute two songs to the project, which he would orchestrate and produce. Everyone duly responded, writing and recordings their songs at their individual bases, which were then forwarded around the clan for overdubs, before coming together for four days in London and New York for the final recordings. They weren’t all in the room at the same time, something that might have well-tested Richard and Linda’s cautious rapprochement, but, if it wasn’t a full reunion in the flesh, it was certainly one in terms of emotion and spirit.

Embracing an overall Thompson-esque folk-rock sensibility, Teddy kicks the album off with the strumalong title track’s upfront dose of confessional therapy as, as well as referencing his own romantic implosion, he admits to the self-doubt that, can come from having parents, one of whom is “one of the greatest to ever step on a stage” and the other “has the most beautiful voice in the world”, and, as he says Sean Lennon will well know, never being quite able to be your own person, never quite able to deal with the pain. He shouldn’t beat himself up, like his own past albums and the material he wrote for mom, the song clearly shows the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, though it would be understandable if his older sister, Muna was not best pleased by the line about how Kami “is prettier still”.

Like his dad, rock‘n’roll is also in Teddy’s blood, hence his other song, ‘Right’, a country boogie kiss-off you could imagine Dave Edmunds doing where those Roy Orbison echoes sound out. Richard’s own numbers, on which, as per Teddy’s scheme of thing, he cedes electric guitar to either Jack or James, highlight his stylistic diversity, ‘One Life At A Time,’ a swipe at people sticking their nose into others’ business, sounds curiously like Creedence’s ‘Almost Saturday Night’, while ‘That’s Enough’, with its soaring family harmonies and a lyric about the “fairy dust” and “pie in the sky” politicians keep dishing out, is firmly in the tradition of those early R&L swayalong folk rock anthems.

Zack and Jack provide a track each, the former the fingerpicking 60s folk blues ‘Root So Bitter’ and the latter ‘At The Feet Of The Emperor’, a brooding five minute guitar and bass showcase, while Kami, though initially reluctant to enter what she felt could well prove the songwriting equivalent of a pissing contest,   has two credits, one solo and one with her husband. The second, which closes the album, is the rather lovely Gram and Emmylou-like yearning acoustic ballad ‘I Long For Lonely’ while the first, ‘Careful’, is a sprightly, poppy, ringing guitar (that’ll be dad) rocker of a Buckingham-Nicks persuasion. It also confirms her reservations about the competitive element in that it apparently prompted Linda to go back and rework one of her two songs in order not to be overshadowed.

Not that was ever much danger of that since, good as the second and third generation may be, it’s the parents, if only by dint of experience, shine brightest, her piano-accompanied, achingly vulnerable hymnal ‘Perhaps We Can Sleep’ and the acoustic guitar backed ‘Bonny Boys’, a mother’s heartfelt and hard won advice to her son about finding love, providing the album’s most potent emotional charge. Although the Thompsons may give the lie to the old adage (and Spirit album title) that the family that plays together stays together, the album is fulsome evidence that the bonds are far greater than the divides.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artists’ websites: www.teddythompson.com www.richardthompson-music.com www.lindathompsonmusic.com www.therailsofficial.com

FRASER ANDERSON – Little Glass Box (Membran 233896)

FRASER ANDERSON – Little Glass BoxRecorded in the Languedoc region of France and originally released four years ago, this has hitherto largely only been available at Anderson’s live shows; however, the German label has now stepped up to the plate to not only give it wider exposure but also persuade the Edinburgh singer-songwriter to sign his first ever record deal…after some 20 years in the business.

His third release (following the self-released 2003 debut and 2007 follow-up), it showcases his warm, husky voice and retro Celtic soul style, given solid support from musicians that include former Ronnie Scott Quartet trumpeter Dick Pearce, jazz-rock veteran keyboard player Max Middleton and double bass legend Danny Thompson, who chose to include the album’s opening track, ‘Rag & Bones’, which sounds melodically not unlike a slower version of Paul Brady’s ‘Crazy Dreams’, on Connected, an album charting his own lengthy career.

Elsewhere, ‘Never Know’, a fond reverie of his grandfather, and ‘Warhorse’, with its forlorn trumpet, brushed drums, laid back jazzy electric piano and the whispered French tones of Anne Francoise Lacroix, will undoubtedly prompt comparisons to early John Martyn while the shuffling jazzed ‘New York’ and ‘Only A Boy’ recall the dreamier side of Paul Simon.

Although there’s up-tempo jauntiness present in the banjo accompanied title track (another Simon influenced number) and ‘Your Love’, with its bluesy Randy Newmanesque acoustic piano intro giving way to banjo and slide guitar, the album’s dominant musical tone is slow and reflective, underscoring the wistful melancholy that informs lyrics to numbers such as ‘Run These Lines’ with its sad mandola solo fade, the suppressed hurt of ‘Open Sky’ (“I was told once if you can’t say something good, don’t say anything, so I won’t write this song about you”) and ‘Waterfall’ (“all you want to be is on fire, and all you think you’ve gone is wrong”) a number that sees wife Grace joining on harmonies. As well as providing the album artwork and photography, she’s also the subject of its dedication and the song named after her, his voice soaring to a sweet falsetto as he sings with confessional intimacy “you make it all so beautiful, so hold me close…..I would gladly give this all away to stay by you”. A largely unknown secret   for far too long, it’s time to throw open the box and discover the treasure within.

Mike Davies

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‘Rag & Bones’:

KATE RUSBY – Ghost (Pure PRCD38)

KRGhostAn album by unquestionably my favourite female voice in contemporary folk (it’s those homely, but somehow also sexy Barnsley vowels) and a version of ‘Martin Said’, the song that first introduced me to folk music – Christmas has definitely come early.

Working, as ever, with guitarist husband Damien O’Kane and variously joined by Michael McGoldrick on whistles and flute, double bassist Duncan Lyall, bouzouki player Steven Byrnes, accordionists Nick Cooke and Julian Sutton, electric guitarist Steven Iveson and Rex Preston on mandolin with Union Station’s Ron Block providing banjo, not to mention the occasional string quartet, Rusby’s 12th studio recording is also her first all new material in four years, Unlike Make The Light, however, there’s only three self-penned tracks here, the rest being arrangements of traditional numbers.

One such opens proceedings in the shape of her take on the familiar Child Ballad, ‘The Outlandish Knight’, the unease in the lyrics about a maiden getting the better of her murderous suitor underscored by guitar drone and haunting diatonic accordion. It’s traditional again for the second track, ‘The Youthful Boy’, another false heart tale as, her lover having gone off to sea, the abandoned woman declares she’ll not mourn his death, Block’s banjo dappling notes around Rusby’s airy tones.

Buoyed up by accordion, the first original is ‘We Will Sing’, a sprightly contribution to the canon of songs celebrating May and spring’s renewal while its two companions are the liltingly lovely, melody cascading ‘After This’ with its affirmation of the healing power of song and the rather darker title track album closer, a somewhat gothic tale of a departed lover’s brief haunting visits (reflected in the booklets artwork) played out with just voice and piano.

It’s a theme mirrored to implied or overt extent in two of the album’s traditional numbers, the gently wistful ‘Night Visit’, set to a tune by Tony Cuffe, where a man braves the ‘roaring tempest’ for a night of passion with his lover, and the suitably subdued air of ‘The Bonnie Bairns’, where a lady encounters two mysterious children who lead her deep into the woods to deliver new of her lover’s fate.

Heartbreak weighs heavy too on ‘I Am Sad’’s acoustic melancholic lament of blighted love, but you’ll be pleased to know that it’s not all doom and gloom, with the remaining traditional contributions including a spiritedly upbeat ‘Three Jolly Fishermen’, the electric guitar (courtesy of Doyle) and accordion refrain friendly swayalong ‘The Magic Penny’ and, with McGoldrick on whistles, ‘Silly Old Man’, another tale of coming good financially as the titular protagonist turns the tables on the thief who tries to rob him. As R. Dean Taylor once said, there’s a Ghost in my house. There really should be one in yours, too.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.katerusby.com

A behind-the-scenes look at Ghost:

RACHAEL DADD – We Resonate (Talitres TAL080)

We ResonateThere are some albums that have an instant impact, but which, on repeated play fail to sustain that initial response. Then there are those which are more challenging, less immediately accessible and demand you work at them, gradually revealing deeper layers and drawing you into their world. Dadd’s is one such.

Straddling folktronica and pop, it is perhaps no surprise that she’s earned the praise of Bella Union label boss Simon Raymonde who, in his days with the Cocteau Twins, was himself partial to some musical experimentations. Incorporating prepared-piano, clarinets, ukulele, steel drums, a DIY xylophone, typewriter, boxes of matches, handclaps, tap-dancing and samples that include her own baby’s heartbeat from within the wombs and singing in a precise, soft whispery tones, she draws on such influences as Steve Reich, African field recordings, Japanese underground improv music (her husband, who features on the album, along with Alessi Laurent-Marke and Laura Marling regular Marcus Hamblett, is Japanese multi-instrumental experimentalist ICHI) and, I’d suspect, Kate Bush and Sally Oldfield, as she immerses herself in polyrhythms, working in the pentatonic scale with heavy emphasis on percussive sounds. Plosives loom large in her singing, notably so on the jazz-folk inflected ‘Bounce The Ball’, the lyric of which consists entirely of the repeated title in layered vocals, and the watery ambience of ‘Strike Our Scythes’ with its ca ca ca coo chorus.

The tapping of a typewriter introduces the album on ‘Make A Sentence’ (another number with a repeated use of the k plosive), immediately setting the pulsing rhythmic notes that inform the material on a number that, with its line “I’m an alien, you’re an alien, we are aliens, so talk’, addresses the need for communication. Elsewhere, it’s evident in the scratchy shuffle of the townships-informed ‘Wake It’ and the tapping feet and nervy treated-piano notes of ‘I Am Your Home’, a glorious burst of euphoric joy with a definite air of Broadway about it, while, underscoring her butterfly nature, ‘Three’ has her performing vocal acrobatics over a circling pizzicato ukulele Emma Gatrill’s clarinet and the prepared-piano trill of the technology-questioning ‘Animal Mineral’ draws on Japanese textures.

Indeed, she says her writing for the album was greatly influenced by the fact she was living in Japan when the 2011 tsunami hit, an event that directly informs the strummed acoustic ‘Our Arms’ where radio static of unanswered walkie-talkies mingles with imagery of water rising and a family climbing on to their roof with a crying baby. That said, on ‘Tap The Sap’ she has clearly been as much influenced by kora as koto.

However, experimental and improvisational though she may be, she never loses sight of melody, here too balancing her contrast of light and shade to bring cohesion from contradiction before the album ends on the optimistic sentiments, circling notes and gradual gathering together of all manner of instruments of ‘Let It Rise’ she sings “we can rise above all of these buildings and when we fall back down, it can be the right place. She may not be everyone’s taste, but her singular voice and creative vision are the mark of a true original.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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 website: www.rachaeldadd.com