THEA GILMORE – The Counterweight (Cooking Vinyl COOKCD668)

CounterweightThea Gilmore described herself like this “Some people write me off as some waily folky woman……Other people think I’m rock. In terms of an image, if you want to be cold and corporate about it, it’s hard to decide who my target market is. There isn’t one. There is no box that I can be put in” She has been described by Uncut magazine as “The best British singer-songwriter of the last ten years – and then some”. Her new album, The Counterweight is released on June 2nd.

Is it folk? Even with my fairly eclectic and inclusive categorization of folk, probably not. Is it Americana? There are shadows of Americana but Gilmore is very much a UK songwriter and they are no more than shadows. Does it matter? Not at all, this is just a damned good album from someone who can’t be put in a box.

The album has tracks which are more electric than some of Gilmore’s previous. The single ‘New’ premiered on Ken Bruce’s show and ‘Sounds Good to Me’ has been getting some airplay on Radio 2. The opening track ‘Fall Together’ has a great vocal set against a simple piano before the wider band joins in, initially gently and then strongly – the kind of territory inhabited by Annie Lennox at her best (Listen also to ‘Slow Fade to Black’ for an equally lovely vocal.) It’s a stunning opener to the album and you’d normally want to link to it after the review – but there’s an even better song.

The album was recorded during spring and summer 2016 and in between the opening and closing tracks are a number that are simultaneously timeless and linked to the specifics of last summer. ‘Reconcile’ – with a gem of a line about needing “a mortgage for your coffee”, references to instagram, and “a road ahead/there’s a watershed” – was developed as Britain voted to leave the EU; ‘Johnny Gets A Gun’ recorded on June 16th shortly after the hate crime of the Orlando nightclub shooting. The light-hearted and self-knowing optimism of ‘Another Damn Love Song’ “How did I get here/How did I find you/How did a skeptic go so wrong” with its up tempo chorus. ‘Here’s to You’ is the penultimate song, another element of redressing the balance from the blows of 2016 “Raise a glass to alchemy/another one to unity/….there’s always strength in numbers/but there’s divinity in two/here’s to lovers and here’s to you

‘The War’ provides the album with its title of The Counterweight. As Gilmore reflected on the events of the summer, they became the inspiration for this final track. Have a look at the video below on YouTube and you’ll see the references to Jo Cox MP, murdered on June 16th. But the war “isn’t out there” – the song is also about what’s inside us and what we can do ourselves.

Take a look at that box on your desk

Take a look at that heart in your chest
Take a look at those thoughts in your head
The war’s already here……….
It’s so easy to hide
Behind imagined Ironsides
Nostalgic and misty eyed
When the wolf’s at the door
In the time of hate
Throw down the counterweight
Tear up that flag and say
You’re worthy of more

Gilmore’s website notes: “The track is also possibly the mission statement of the album, a call-to-arms on the negativity and bleakness of the 2017 social terrain mesmerized by fake news and futility. The Counterweight tries to be exactly that. A redressing of the balance, a tool of pressure, an exertion of opposite force and as such, a flag of hope.”

The musical style may not be what we’ve traditionally seen as folk, but the themes are – and our times are changing.

Mike Wistow

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 THEA GILMORE – The Counterweight 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: https://theagilmore.net

‘Sounds Good To Me’ – official video:

SOUND OF THE SIRENS – For All Our Sins (DMF Records)

For All Our SinsSound of the Sirens consist of Exeter-based duo Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood. Their debut album For All Our Sins is released on May 5th and will then be toured around the country.

The duo have built up a loyal fanbase with a number of EPs and live performances in venues as varied as Exeter Cathedral, the Isle of Wight Festival – and live on the Chris Evans show. The two have sung together for more than ten years and it’s easy to understand why they are so popular – voices harmonising beautifully on predominantly up tempo music. There’s a nod to Simon and Garfunkel in the duo’s band name – and there’s more than a nod in the way that their two contrasting voices harmonise together.

The new single ‘Smokescreen’ is the first track on the album and should get radio play for its liveliness and the clean acoustic guitars playing behind the voices. ‘Together Alone’ and ‘Possibilities’ would also make good singles and you can see how strong a reaction they get from an audience in the video (below) of ‘Together Alone’ on TFI Friday.

Other songs are closer to the folk tradition. Have a listen to the guitar and the interplay of voices on ‘Mr Wilson’ a hauntingly beautiful song about “The chemistry of a new relationship, unsure of where it is going, but knowing that you want more from it” or ‘Cross Our Hearts’, both of them songs which fit easily into the folk tradition of the last fifty years.

But listen also to ‘In This Time’, ‘Grow’ or even ‘The Circus’. These are songs from a very modern folk tradition (if that’s not a contradictory phrase) of a generation that has grown up with the rhythms of rap as well as the rhythms of rock and folk. Coco and the Butterfields do this as a band, Grace Petrie as a solo artist and, from the evidence of this album, Sound of the Sirens as a tremendously tight duo. But also, however good the album is, I suspect it’s probably the smaller part of what they do – what I’d really like is to see them live, part of a crowd dancing along to the music.

To tie in with the release of For All Our Sins, Sound of the Sirens will be touring across the country in May and at Festivals in the summer. Dates are on the website.

Mike Wistow

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 Sound Of The Sirens – All Our Sins 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: http://www.soundofthesirens.net

‘Together Alone’ live on TGI Friday:

PORTER NICKERSON – Bonfire To Ash (Weasel Records WSL-1601)

Bonfire To AshPorter Nickerson are Willy Porter and Carmen Nickerson. Bonfire To Ash is their new album, released on May 5th. I haven’t stopped playing it since it came for review.

Occasionally in life you meet someone that you feel you’ve known forever; listening to Bonfire To Ash was like this – the songs are all newly written but it feels as though they’ve been part of my life for a long time, drawing on something deep inside me.

Pretty good, then: the best album cover I’ve seen this year (see above – the music has the same vivacity) and songs co-written by the duo which keep you playing the CD.

The video below is ‘Loving On Her Mind’ with its universal theme of a couple on the edge of break up but wanting to hold off from the finality of splitting. It begins quietly with the guitar playing gently against a vocal just holding back. As the story develops, the band come in, the two voices join together in the vocal and the growing musical energy matches the increasing tension of the lyric “flirtin’ on the dance floor/hope she doesn’t go too far”. Both characters are treated sympathetically and the lyric moves from descriptive to metaphor “we both know she’s not the cheatin kind/ you’d better show up cos it’s almost closing time/ she’s got lovin on her mind”. In listening, you move easily from being the friend who is narrator, the man to whom the friend is giving the hard love and advice, and the woman looking for the enjoyment she’s known before and wants to recapture…and you’re also listening to a cracking melody and arrangement.

The rest of the album is just as good and touches on the styles of folk, blues, Americana and more – more rocking for the opener ‘Old Red Barn’; the wistfulness of ‘I Need You’; the determination of ‘Living Proof’ which is as good a reflection on time and the family as John Prine’s ‘Hello In There’; ‘In Bloom’ takes you into a quirky Waitsian world “You walk into a room, there’s a buzz in my ear/Up high in a frequency only dogs can hear”; the mood is picked up again in ‘Earthquake’ “you don’t want my whole heart/don’t want the damaged part/you’re no mechanic/ain’t gonna make no repair”; ‘If You Stay’ tears at the heart as the Porter and Nickerson yearningly trade then share the vocals as the relationship in the song breaks and repairs – Steinman’s ‘Lost in the Dark’ matched to Brel’s/McKuen’s ‘If You Go Away’.

I think this is why these brand new songs – beautifully sung and played by Porter Nickerson and their band – feel as though I’ve known them for years. The album is fresh and distinctively theirs but touches on the edges of what I’ve known before.

I’m still playing it.

Mike Wistow

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 PORTER NICKERSON – Bonfire To Ash 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: willyporter.com carmennickerson.com

‘Loving On Her Mind’:

BOO HEWERDINE – Swimming in Mercury (REVEAL072CDX)

Swimming In MercuryBoo Hewerdine’s new album Swimming In Mercury will be released on April 28th and the single ‘Satellite Town’ on April 21st. He has a pedigree which stretches back more than thirty years and is acclaimed as one of the UK’s best songwriters: ‘Patience Of Angels’ was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award in 1995; his musical partnerships include Eddi Reader, Brooks Williams (in State of the Union), Chris Difford, Kris Drever; he is in demand as a producer; and he has written music for film and television.

Swimming in Mercury is an album of stories from his younger days, beautifully smooth in its production. On ‘The Year That I Was Born’, he takes us back to 1961 not just with a reminder of historical events (an American in space, building the Berlin Wall, the Beatles in the Cavern) but also with a language that you don’t hear nowadays “you had to count each penny” and ending with “another mouth to feed/…….that was me”.

‘A Letter to my Younger Self’ is classic Hewerdine – a lyric which captures the idea (impossible to achieve and something we’ve probably all wished for) of letting his younger self know what he’s learned as an older person. It has catchy rising lines in the verse and imagery like “On Battersea bridge with a mindful of rain” topped off in a chorus with brass and bop bop bop ba da ba driving the conclusion “After all I’ve been through and I’m still just the same”’ and the hard learned truth “Let somebody love you”.

The title track was written about David Bowie: “You were the ultra violet on our new colour TV” and “So many mothers and fathers said is it a he or a she” – if you saw the performance of ‘Starman’ on Top of the Pops in 1972 you’ll know how well this takes you back to that evening.

‘The Boy Who Never Cried Wolf’ is another gem. ‘The Voice Behind The Curtain’ is about those who “never got to shine” and could only have been written by a man whose greatest hits is self-effacingly called My Name In The Brackets. ‘American TV’ references California and has Beach Boy harmonies played delicately in the background. ‘My First Band’ sings of “broken strings and cheap guitars” and “on old cassettes I find/ from time to time/ my first band”. These are all songs that recreate that period in the sixties and seventies when, for those of us who weren’t Twiggy or John Lennon et al, our lives were much harder than the backdrop of glamour we saw on the TV.

Swimming In Mercury is an album that repays more, and closer, listening. To give two examples: ‘My First Band’ has a line about the old band meeting up and “we slip into the old routine” – to no more than three seconds of crashing drums and loud lead guitar; ‘Gemini’ didn’t strike me as a stand out track as I listened to the album as a whole but when I had new music on shuffle in the car it came on and blew away the tracks that had been playing previously. It is an album crafted by, as Ian Cripps says on Hewerdine’s website, “a unique talent”.

We may not be able, knowing what we know now, to write that letter to our younger self but this album recreates Hewerdine’s youth with all the skill of his older age. His own summary of Swimming In Mercury is “Time is precious and this is the music that I needed to make”.

Mike Wistow

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 BOO HEWERDINE – Swimming in Mercury 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: http://boohewerdine.net

‘The Year That I Was Born’:

THE HUT PEOPLE – Routes (Fellside FECD280)

RoutesThe Hut People are an English instrumental duo, Sam Pirt and Gary Hammond. Routes is their fourth studio album on the Fellside label. Both are experienced musicians with and the list of artists they have worked with would grace any music festival – it includes Kathryn Tickell, The Dubliners, Sharon Shannon, Jez Lowe, The Beautiful South and Nina Simone. Sam Pirt is an accordionist who brings melodies from across the globe and Gary Hammond a percussionist with an equally eclectic variety of instruments and rhythms. Together they form a duo which has been exciting audiences since their first album was released in January 2010. Swaledale Festival have described them as “The only band to have been asked back eight times consecutively – because they’re so good!”

The Hut People’s inspiration is a diverse as their music. Routes opens with ‘Humours of Tulla’, a reel they found in Belgium and is followed by ‘Gumboot’ with its inspiration from mine workers in Apartheid South Africa. ‘The Whitby Drip’ is inspired by the toilet cistern at Whitby Pavilion, the drip recorded so it could later be used as the rhythm to build a tune around. In print you might think that wouldn’t work but you only need to watch the video to see the skill that the duo bring to their music and how well the percussion and accordion complement each other – even in a shed

Several of the songs on Routes (‘Gumboot’, ‘The Cage’ and ‘Sweet Nightingale’) were inspired by a visit to the Pitmen’s Painters exhibition. ‘Polka Chinois’ and ‘Disfarces/Dis Found Harmonium’ are from campsite and fire lit sessions – and if you were on the campsite at a festival you’d want to go across and listen. ‘Fanta’ is another original composition, this one created in a cupboard in Portugal at the Costa Del Folk festival. The album closes with ‘Molnbyggen’, a slower traditional tune.

Routes is an album which lovers of traditional folk should enjoy for the audacity of some of the playing and arrangements. But while the album is grounded in British traditional folk music, it pulls in influences from around the world. With its inspiration from toilet cisterns to apartheid via European tunes and The Hut People’s unique blend of accordion and percussion, this should appeal to a wider audience. There are plenty of opportunities to get a sense of the duo’s stage presence, with twenty or so gigs between now and Easter.

Mike Wistow

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 The Hut People 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: https://www.thehutpeople.com

‘Tsuiluikka’ at Songs From The Shed:

MIKE GROGAN – Too Many Ghosts (Poacher Records PRCD105 & PRLP106)

Too Many GhostsMike Grogan’s musical background spans many genres – rock, punk and indie among them. He became a solo artist in 2011 and released his first album in 2012. Too Many Ghosts is released on 10th February 2017 and will be his third solo release. Mike has written all the songs on the album.

Right from the first track, ‘Show Them What Love Can Do’, the album emphasizes how positive life and humanity can be “we’ll be solid in our stand for freedom…we’ll stand side by side when people need us/we’ll be something you can shout about”. The song has a chorus you can easily picture an audience singing along with on a live performance. This sets the scene for the album and a number of the other tracks have equally strong choruses that should go down well live and lyrics that also reflects positively on the human spirit – notably ‘Let Me Feel the Rain’, ‘The Way’, ‘Big Ships’, ‘Heaven Is Here’.

The promotional video below is introduced by Mike Grogan personally, “ Too Many Ghosts was written as a reflection on the baggage we sometimes carry around with us and in reality that baggage can stop us appreciating what’s in front of us”. You can hear this in ‘Hallelujah’ with its message that the superficialities of life won’t help in the long run and that we should leave the world better than we found it. It is also to be heard in the lyrics from the title song “If I could make life better for you/tell me what, oh what, should I do” (‘Too Many Ghosts’)

My personal favourite, capturing the generosity of spirit in these songs, and all the more powerful for its simpler arrangement is ‘Wish You’ where the singer is looking to the future on behalf of another (an ex-lover? an old friend? It’s not clear, but it doesn’t matter – what counts is that he sings of what he wishes to happen for them) “Don’t be looking backwards…..I wish you the world/I wish you the stars/ I wish you the life that you deserve, I hope you go far”.

Mike Grogan will be touring solo across the country in 2017 – just voice and guitar – and in the summer will also be playing festivals with a full band.

Mike Wistow

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 MIKE GROGAN – Too Many Ghosts 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: http://www.mikegrogan.co.uk