SKINNY LISTER – Down On Deptford Broadway (XtraMile)

Skinny ListerThough based in Greenwich, London, the band have roots all over England and further afield, melodeon and mandolin player Max Thomas and singer sister Lorna hail from Leicestershire, frontman Dan Heptinstall from Bridlington, concertina player Sam Brace (now back in the fold after being briefly replaced by Andy Black on guitar and mandolin) is from Hastings and double bassist Michael Camino from, well, Hawaii, actually.

The album was recorded way back in December 2013 and quite why it’s taken over a year to appear is a matter of speculation, but you’ll be pleased to know that it’s even more of a beer-swilling offering than their debut, Forge & Flagon; and that was even named after a pub. Clanging opener ‘Raise A Wreck’, a song which pretty much revolves around the title’s chorus refrain, serves reminder of their reputation for rousing shanty-punk, crashing straight into ‘Trouble In Oxford Street’, a bounce along tale of a punch up, while, Laura sharing lead and evocative of the booze-sodden flurry that was the first Pogues album, ‘George’s Glass’ is an ode to pub lock ins, ‘Six Whiskies’ is a drunken sway home after throwing out time and ‘Bold As Brass’ clatters along with the narrator singing about seeing his ex swagger into the pub with her new bloke.

They do have a couple of quieter, slower moments, both showcasing Laura and both with a traditional feel, the simple, airy shanty ‘Bonny Away’ and fiddle accompanied album love song closer ‘The Dreich’, but it’s the breakneck stompers that are their forte, whether jubilant as on ‘Cathy’, defiant as with the concertina driven battle cry ‘This Is War ‘or, sounding a lot like a cross between The Men They Couldn’t Hang and Tenpole Tudor, ‘Ten Thousand Voices’.

While probably best experienced live, turned up loud and with some accompanying suitable lubrication, the album is a rollicking affair and, for a band named after the pioneer of antiseptics they’re certainly far from sterile.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: http://skinnylister.com/

‘Trouble On Oxford Street’ – the official video:

APRIL VERCH – The Newpart (Slab Town Records STR15-01)

verchLet’s get my reservation out of the way first. Verch is an acclaimed stepdancer and, as such, her nimble footwork forms part of several of the numbers here. However, one track, ‘The Gilchrist’ features only that. For two and a half minutes. Now, while watching her perform it may be a thrilling experience entirely, you wouldn’t expect a CD of ‘Riverdance’, for example, to feature a track of just the unaccompanied sound of Irish dancing. Of course, it’s perfectly fair to argue that, since Verch’s dancing is being used as an instrument in itself, the track is no different from a drum solo. But then I’m no fan of drum solos either.

That aside, there’s much to recommend Verch’s tenth album, one stripped back to the basics of upright bass, guitar, clawhammer banjo, mandolin, and fiddle and frequently drawing on American popular music, vaudeville, for example, from the early 20th century. The sprightly instrumental opening track, ‘Belle Election’, for instance, is taken from the repertoire of legendary Appalachian fiddlers Emmett Lundy and John Patterson. Similarly with the other traditional instrumentals, the more stately ‘Cruel Willie’ is taken from Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith, Verch and the band mixing up the different parts as per the source, ‘Polska From Kumla’ is a traditional polonaise learned from the work of Swedish fiddler Olof Larsson and ‘Midnight Wheeler’ brings together a version of ‘Midnight Serenade’, an old time American tune by J.W. ‘Babe’ Spangler, and ‘Stern Wheeler ‘by legendary Metis fiddler Andy Dejarlis.

Dust-To-Digital, a record company that specialises in documenting historical recordings of American popular music, was also the source for some of the vocal material, including ‘Montana Call’, a song about the call of home learned from a 1931 recording by jazz pianist and vocalist Seger Ellis, the traditional bluegrass spiritual ‘Dry Bones’. Elsewhere, waltz-time love song ‘If You Hadn’t Gone Away’ by Lew Brown, Ray Henderson and Billy Rose was learned from a 1925 recording by Nick Lucas, the ragtime feel ‘It Don’t Do Nothing But Rain’ comes from a 1936 recording by Lew Childre and the guitar picked old school country ‘I Heard The Bluebirds Sing’, a duet with banjo player Cody Walters, was a 1956 hit for The Browns written by Alberta hillbilly singer Hod Pharis.

The album’s other ‘cover’ is slightly more recent, in as much as ‘Bring Your Clothes Back Home’ is a sprightly, lyrically playful fiddle-led blues 1989 number by John Hartford (another stepdancer) that impressively features Verch singing, fiddling and dancing at the same time with Walters accompanying on bass.

The three remaining numbers are all originals, Verch and Walters collaborating on high lonesome fiddle and guitar slow waltzer ‘It Makes No Difference to Me’ while she takes solo credit for album closer, ‘This Melody’, a mix of fiddle and unaccompanied vocal that pays tribute to the power of music as a form of expression, and the instrumental title track, a lively fiddle, banjo and stepdancing tune named after an extension to the family home built the year she was born and which became her music room. In many ways, then, the album is a love letter to the music that shaped her and to a rich American heritage that remains alive through people like Dust-To-Digital and Verch herself.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: http://aprilverch.com/

‘Belle Election’, the first single from The Newpart:

THE KENNEDYS – West (Self-Released TK1211)

The-Kennedys-WestIn recent weeks, I’ve heard several artists who have reminded me of the late great John Stewart, making me think that definite reissue series or box set is well overdue. The thought comes to mind again listening to this latest offering from New Yorkers Pete and Maura Kennedy, a UK and Ireland only release to celebrate their 20th anniversary. Not because they sound remotely like Stewart, but because they have included a cover of one of his classic songs, ‘The Queen of Hollywood High’, albeit Maura giving it a rather sweeter, poppier treatment than the rockier, rougher-voiced original.

But then sweet and poppy pretty much epitomises the duo’s approach to their roots country music, thought the fact they’re not raw or raunchy doesn’t mean they’re middle of the road (in the worst Nashville sense), rather than their melodies are go down easy, leading to much tapping of feet. As per the title, the album is, as the press release states, “an evocative picture of the duo’s two decades of travel down the highways and byways of America”, conjured here in the old time gospel stomp of ‘Bodhisattva Blues’, ‘Locket’ with its Buddy Holly cascades, the rock ‘n’ roll choogling ‘Travel Day Blues’ (which references Dot Love, the Mississippi Blind Boys and Nat King Cole), the bluegrass and banjo shades of ‘Elegy’ (a tribute to the late “post-modern mythic American folk music’ singer Dave Carter) and the early Johnny Cash meets the Kingston Trio feel of ‘Southern Jumbo’ and its ode to cooking and singing.

There’s no brooding clouds over their landscape, indeed on the sleeve notes to the gently jogging ‘Jubilee Time’ they state that they decided the songs would be ‘uplifting, encouraging and hopefully empowering, acknowledging the dark but holding out a spark.’ The call and response ‘Sisters of the Road’, which features Tracy Grammar (Dave Carter’s former singing partner) among the back up harmonies, and Pete’s love song to his wife, ‘Good, Better, Best’, in the style of the Everlys, are further testament.

There’s strong folk influences here too in two traditional-coloured, numbers, the nature-themed ‘Signs’ and ‘Black Snake, White Snake’, an adaptation of a short story by the poet B.D.Love about two sister snakes who shift to female form and one you could hear Steeleye Span covering. At which point, I should note that Maura will further exploring the lyrics of Love on her own upcoming solo album, ‘Villanelle’ (Pete has his own solo album, ‘Heart of Gotham’, due too). Of course, you can’t get away without some Byrdsian 12 string jangles, here perfectly embodied in ‘Perfect Love’, a new number penned for them by John Wicks, former frontman of the criminally undervalued British 80s power-pop outfit The Records. It’s not an album to shake the foundations or push borders, but if you enjoy good melodies, fine singing and thoughtful songs, that’s how the West was won.

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: http://www.kennedysmusic.com/

MORTON VALENCE – Another Country (Bastard Recordings BR11)

Another CountryNodding to the desert moods of Giant Sand and Mark Lanegan and the urban claustrophobia of The Cowboy Junkies, the London based five piece, part named from a town in Gloucestershire, are fronted by the dual vocals of Robert Jessett and Anne Gilpin, once described as Belle & Sebastian on acid.

They set out the stall for this, their fourth album, with ‘Chinatown’, an appropriately film noirish number that comes with a mood-setting reverb guitar instrumental prologue, proceeding to unfurl tales of the city and its inhabitants, the 11 vignettes interspersed with five instrumental segues that veer from the spooked minimalist ambience of ‘Old Town’ and the empty desert wind chime atmosphere of ‘Kawasaki Blues’ to the electric guitar and feedback storms of ‘The Man Most Likely’ and, despite its seagulls intro, ‘Flying’.

The songs themselves often adopt a narrative form, ‘First Night’ a particularly brooding reflection on the aftermath of the 2011 London riots from the perspective of someone caught up in the madness, although, by contrast, the Lalo Schifrin-inspired ‘The Hawkline Discotheque’ with its itchy funky guitar riff and greasy brass is much more of a mood snapshot of night in the city.

Matters of the heart aren’t forgotten. Sharing verses, the slow swaying brass embellished ‘The Whole Of This Town’ etches a resigned heartbreak while two other duets, ‘Old Love Letters’ and the waltzing ‘Table For One’, pretty much describe themselves. And if the former sees Gilpin’s hushed, smoky delivery evoking Margo Timmins, her spotlight turn on steel-streaked heartbreak waltz ‘A Tear For Every Year’ calls Kirsty MacColl to mind.

Elsewhere, Jessett on lead, the dreamy ‘Kawasaki Drifter’ reprises their shoegaze influences with a tinkling keyboard line that recalls ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’ while the sparse ‘Everything Will Be OK’, Gilpin in the spotlight, builds to a widescreen cinematic close. Echoing its title and sardonic optimism, the stoned, swayalong ‘Everything’s Going Our Way’, with its echoey pedal steel, sees things out on another duet as the characters set out on the open road to the valley of pleasure with a quarter tank of diesel, and a final laugh. Grab a passport and join them.

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: http://www.mortonvalence.com/

STEVE PLEDGER – Striking Matches In The Wind (Story Records STREC1657)

SMITWBorn in Cambridge, raised in St Neots and now based in Somerset, Pledger’s been quietly building a following over the past 20 years, relying on just his voice, guitar and some damn fine songwriting. This is his second album and he describes the song as being concerned with “the power of the apparently powerless to achieve what often feels like an impossible task.” So, contemporary social protest songs basically, occasionally leavened with matters of the heart, Pledger’s fingerpicked and strummed guitar augmented here and there by Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Tanya Allen on fiddle, and harmonica and accordion from Giles Newman Turner and Andrew Rock, respectively. The luminously talented Ange Hardy also joins him to add harmonies to the chokingly sung, heart-piercing end of a relationship a cappella number ‘There We Are’.

Listening to ‘People Who Care’ and the barbed ‘This Land Is Pound Land’ it’s impossible not to think of Martyn Joseph, one of Pledger’s acknowledged influences, and I’d suspect Martyn himself would be flattered by the comparison, though elsewhere you’ll also hear Don Maclean (the lyrically anthemic ‘take a stand’ ‘Matches In The Wind’), Woody Guthrie (‘The Parable of Intent’, a call to accept the reponsibility we have to the earth and those less fortunate than ourselves) and, on the bluesy mid-tempo harmonica blowing ‘Quit Blubbin’ In The Cheap Seats’ (a song about the real mindset of the austerity brigade), maybe also Billy Bragg, while the bluesy folk guitar playing on ‘Beneath The Sun’ suggests Davey Graham’s in the mix too.

Pledger’s songs have the ability to cut to the emotional quick, as potently evidenced by the strummed, fiddle-accompanied, slow waltz ‘A Heart Filled With Nothing To Do’, inspired by an old lady who, her care service withdrawn, died alone with nobody aware of her situation, and the simple vocal and guitar ‘Friends & Fathers’, a song that relates the impact that the post-traumatic fallout from war can have on a family as the narrator recalls his mother telling him how, before his father left, he used kneel at his bedside, crying and saying how much he loved him. It’s impossible to listen without welling up.

There are brighter moments too, ‘Loving Condescension’ with its account of seeing two lovers taking a selfie while he was driving along the North Devon coast’ and ‘Days Like These’, a fingerpicked love song written for his wife’s birthday, the album balancing the light with the dark, the hope with the anger to kindle a spark and keep the fire burning.

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’s website: http://www.stevepledger.co.uk/

‘Friends & Fathers’ from Steve Pledger’s new album:

BLUEFLINT- Stories From Home (Johnny Rock JOROCK021)

Stories From HomeThis, the third album by Edinburgh banjo-playing singers Deborah Arnott and Clare-Louise Neilson, again draws on influences from both traditional American and English folk, here backed by a core band that predominantly features Danny Hart on fiddle, James Lindsay on double bass, drummer Ali Murray and Davey MacAuley on keyboards, the latter also sharing keyboard duties with producer Paul Savage.

As before, the songs are pretty much about tales of relationships waxing and waning (though, sadly, this time there’s no alcohol brand product placement references), but they have expanded musical horizons, bringing shades of both jazz and Latin to the gently lapping regret-veined ‘I Could Have Done More For You’ while ‘King of My Apple Tree’ shades to the sort of slightly spooked folk parlayed by King Creosote, one of Savage’s other CV credits, and the war dance rhythms of the bluegrassy ‘Hawk and Eagle’ also incorporate treated drum effects.

Generally speaking, however, it’s their Appalachian affections that colour things like the shuffle ‘n’ stomp ‘Seasons Are Changing’, Neilson’s fiddle-backed ode to new motherhood, ‘Little Stranger’, and the simple, banjo-accompanied please don’t go sentiments of ‘Don’t Make A Fool Out Of Me’. It’s also there on waltzing urban love story ‘This Is A Story’, although the thing that strikes most is how both that and the rollicking ‘What If I Don’t Want To’ cast the pair as a female answer to The Proclaimers, the inlay does, after all feature a photo of Leith’s “landscape of grey hardened gold“, as Arnott’s optimistic ‘Patch Of Green’ has it. It’s a comparison they carry well.

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.

Artists’ website: http://blueflint.org.uk/

Nothing from the new album on video yet so here’s their first single, ‘Take Your Shoes Off’: