SKERRYVORE – Evo (Tyree09CD)

EvoSkerryvore release Evo, their sixth studio album, on June 11th. You get an album to review and it’s a bit like sitting in the marquee at a festival – you’re sitting around or stretching your legs and waiting for the next band to come on stage, wondering what will turn up, even when you expect to know the music. The gentle muttering of conversation dies as the lights go down, the musician/band starts and you get slowly into the set. Sometimes, though, the stage lights blaze in white lights and the music hits you like the first punch in a fight. Evo is a bit like that. It opens with ‘The Exorcists’, which spends a minute slowly introducing the musical themes and then explodes into life, rousing you out of whatever you’d been thinking about before you played the CD. Nor does it let up, the themes repeated on different instruments at an increasing tempo. If this were a festival, people would be dancing at the front before this opening instrumental had finished.

The second track, ‘At The End of the Line’, is one of several written by Alec Dalglish that will simply have you singing – the long vowels of a lyric that could be both a great one for an audience to join in and also for a 2:00 a.m. drunken chorus on the walk home. By the end of the third track ‘Live Forever’, with its mix of pop-rock and a great hook, anyone in earshot will feel like dancing.

The CD moves on next to the fiddle of Craig Espie’s ‘Mile High’ and this lively album continues with pipes and fiddle bounding you along. ‘Hold On’ gives you chance to rest but is another cracking chorus song to join in with – the kind of song that you sing along with when you hear it for the first time and don’t know the lyrics. The cover of Gordon Duncan’s ‘Trip to Modera’ keeps the album close to Skerryvore’s roots, intricate pipe playing on a tune that keeps the tempo going. The video link below is to ‘Take My Hand’, another of Dalglish’s songs to join in with. Have a listen for yourself. ‘Borderline’ is a cover, more rock than Scottish traditional, blending perfectly both with the track before and the country-tinged ‘Waiting For The Sun’ which follows.

‘Soraidh Slan’ is the only slow track on the album, written by the band’s Martin Gillespie, “in memory of loved ones lost in 2017”. The album closes with another Gillespie track, ‘The Rise’, traditional Scottish playing fused with a modern rock sensibility.

And there you have the album – a fusion of Scottish traditional music with rock/pop sounds; an album that in places draws on the heritage of, say, The Killers as much it does The Isle of Tiree and the Highlands which are the home of Skerryvore’s musicians.

The eight piece band have twice won ‘Live Act of the Year’ in Scotland’s Traditional Music Awards. While Evo still feels like a studio album, you can hear why Skerryvore got the awards. On an entirely personal note, I’m having to drive round the ring road in Coventry for work for a few weeks – Evo has sufficient energy that it’s kept me cheerful (I dislike city driving) and had me playing steering wheel percussion in full accompaniment……my apologies to the drivers who saw me in their rear view mirror.

I saw Skerryvore at a festival a few years ago; if you’ve also seen and enjoyed any of their gigs, this album won’t disappoint.

Mike Wistow

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‘Take My Hand’ – official video:

WINTER WILSON – Far Off On The Horizon (The Launch Event)

Winter Wilson
Photograph by John S Wright

If you go to a Winter Wilson gig you can expect great songs well-played, but also humour in their introductions. I saw them play at a small festival last summer and they stopped their set for five minutes so we could watch the Spitfire fly past. This is a duo good enough to break the rules. They launched their new album, Far Off On The Horizon at Sleaford Playhouse Theatre on May 11th.

The evening opened with the two walking on stage, relaxed, joking and self-deprecating before moving into the title song of the new album. If you’ve never heard them, then their style is, at heart, a combination of Dave Wilson’s clean picking and the two voices – strong separately but gloriously harmonized for both gentle or up tempo songs to give greater impact to the lyrics and the tune. This opening song is about being awake in the middle of the night, alone after a break up. The scene begins as one of everyday experience but then, as Dave Wilson’s songs do so often, there are lines to stun you into admiration at both the insight and the ability to weave the words seamlessly into song lyric, “Treachery comes with a smile/ And deceit the warmest handshake.”

How do you move from this to a song, ‘Merciful Father’, about killing in the name of your faith? For most people this would be the cue to start a considered discussion; for Winter Wilson, it’s an opportunity for Kip Winter to pick up the guitar while Wilson swaps to the banjo. The song is introduced with banjo jokes that have the audience in laughter – but as soon as they start playing, the mood changes to thoughtful listening, and for the acapella finish you could hear a pin drop.

And so the concert moves on – high class singing and playing are interspersed with insight and self-deprecating humour between the songs. ‘Ashes And Dust’, the title song of the previous album, came next followed by a couple more new songs – first a shift of style into blues with ‘Tried And Tested’ and then ‘When First I Met Amanda’ , a girl Wilson met a primary school and how the years have treated her (which is unkindly). There is something simultaneously specific and general about Wilson’s best songs and this is one of them. The lyrics move beyond a simple tale of the fall of someone you once knew into a reflection on humanity “Some never get to say I love you;/Some whisper ’neath their breath./Some spend their lives saying they’re sorry,/While others can’t forgive.”  And then it moves back into individual humanity with Wilson reversing the first verse of primary school love and praying that “she felt a little better/when she looked into my eyes” .

The duo have been playing as Winter Wilson since the 90’s, mostly in the folk tradition. As well as the serous aspects you can see above, their songs are also just good fun to sing. They moved next to 2007’s ‘Metagama’ and encouraged the audience to sing. Another blues-based song ‘The Freo Doctor’, about the cooling Western Australian afternoon breeze is airily introduced, with a schoolboy smirk, as ‘a song about wind’. The first half ended with three songs of great humanity: a solo from Kip Winter of a Burl Ives song her father used to sing; ‘Ghost’ – a classic Wilson song about a Big Issue seller and the impact of changes in the benefits system, a catchy chorus and the stunning image in final line of the chorus, “Well the government said it was self inflicted, / So I don’t show up on their statistics./With the click of a mouse I disappeared;/ From a girl to a ghost at eighteen years”; and a song with lyrics found after the death of a young local musician “I can’t take any credit for it, I just knocked a few edges off”.

By half time we’ve had a classic Winter Wilson concert: humour, self-deprecation, humanity – and some great songs. You have to be good to be able to take an audience from the laughing humour of the introduction to silent thoughtfulness in the first four bars of the following song and in recent years Winter Wilson have honed their talent and travelled a long way: they spent this winter opening around the country for Fairport Convention, and in the recent past they have toured Australia and New Zealand, Germany and Holland, Scotland, Wales and Ireland as well as all corners of England; they’ve played to small folk clubs and large festivals; they’ve written, sung and played some of the best songs currently on the folk and acoustic scene. John Tams, who knows a thing or two, has said, “It’s a rare gift you have – cherish it mightily.” Sleaford is Winter Wilson’s home town and the gig was a sell out. While there were local Sleafordians in the audience, there were also many who traveled for the concert.

The second half was made of the same stuff. It opened with a joke about a Welshman on a desert island and then moved into ‘Someone else’s Bed’ an early song about an enduring human pain, gripping to listen to, “knowing that you’re lying in someone else’s arms and someone else’s bed” – Dave Wilson’s driving strum on the bass strings forcing us to listen to the tale. The story grows, the higher strings chipping in, occasionally at first and then bursting in to the chorus, Kip Winter’s voice adding volume and fullness to a great tune in this song about something in life that hurts both male and female equally.

Then they took us from humour to empathy again – the humour in the bizarreness of knowing the German word, Schwangerschaftstest, for pregnancy testing kit – the empathy in this tale of ‘Doreen and Joe’ in their tenement, yearning for a baby. It has a happy ending, but it takes you through the agony of failed tests before the joy of the ending.

‘The Ship It Rocked’ is another new song with a lyric to stop you in your tracks, “They say you can’t trade human flesh,/No man can own another./But when the devil calls you’ll sell your soul,/You’ll turn upon your brother.” ‘Grateful For The Rain’ is a song of emigration to Canada with an introduction about the social history of lone female emigrants.

Having played most of the new album they treated us to a request for ‘This Day Is Mine’, another song that got the audience singing, and then to other favourites. It’s generally impossible to know the impact of songs that you write and sing, but for the song that followed, ‘Is It True That His Eyes Are Like Mine’, the duo have had two people come up to them (one after crying through the whole song) and let them know that they too have had babies taken away at an early age, the adults turning up years later to find their mothers – one ‘child’ aged 30, one aged 55.

The blues ‘Find Myself A Lover’, from 2001, came next – still powerful and a great showcase for Kip Winter’s vocal talent – and then ‘We Still Get Along’ from 2013. They finished with ‘Still Life In The Old Dog Yet’, the song they played jointly with Fairport on the recent tour. They couldn’t not do an encore after the ovation they received and finished with ‘Common Form’, based on the story of Rudyard Kipling bending rules so that his son could fight in World War One – then and losing him at the Battle of Loos only weeks after his arrival in France. It includes another magnificent line, “Testosterone and bullshit it’s a heady potent brew” but is much too nuanced to be described as an anti-war song (though it is). As ever with Wilson’s songs, it’s about humanity at a personal level (a father and his son) first, but also allowing you to draw out a wider understanding of humanity as a whole.

And there we had it – a typical Winter Wilson concert, but even more of one because it was both a homecoming and a launch of the new album. Twenty-five years since I first saw them perform they have eight albums to their name and international success. Have a listen to ‘Ghost’ in the video link below and you’ll get a feel for the songs, the clarity of the playing and the strength of their voices both separately and together. And if you like musicians who can move you from humour to compassion in about ten seconds, go and see them live.

Mike Wistow

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‘Ghost’ – live:

JILL JACKSON – Are We There Yet (own label JJR001CD)

Are We There YetAre We There Yet was released a few days ago on May 18th. The album was produced by Boo Hewerdine and has that classy feel you’d expect from “the wonderful man of magic” as Jill Jackson calls him on the sleeve notes. At the age of 22, Jackson had a pop career signed to a major label, and has paid her youthful dues on tour with the boyband Blue in arenas – whilst hankering for Nashville. So she went there, played at the Bluebird Café and began the musical journey she wanted to have. Are We There Yet is her fifth album.

The opening song ‘1954’ tells the story of Jackson’s grandparents, clearly an inspiration to her throughout her life, a smoochy vocal on the verse turning into a country chorus. The title track is a tale of the family holidays packed into the car, fighting with her sister on the back seat, singing ‘That’ll Be The Day’ and ‘Rave On’ and chanting every child’s summer holiday question “Daddy, are we there yet, there yet, there yet” to a pleasant earworm of a tune matching the child’s question.

There are a couple of tracks, ‘My Baby’ and ‘Needle and Thread’ that capture the feel of thirties music – Jackson describes it as her obsession with Lindy Hop. Musically they’re fun and unsurprisingly they enjoy playing with words. On ‘Needle and Thread’ you have jocularity and sincerity combined, as with pre-war song: “We go together like needle and thread/Like butter and bread, like belt and braces/ We go together like rhythm and blues/ Like socks and shoes, like cars and races” – you need a good vocal to make lines like this work and Jackson has a delightful voice capable of delivering the complex jauntiness of these jazz/swing lyrics just as well as she does the country songs.

‘Worries’, ‘Sweet Lullaby’ and ‘Dynamite’ are musically joyful while lyrically dealing with tough times in Jackson’s life – generally a country feel, but with an up tempo pop-ish edge in the back of the arrangement. It’s an album that’s grown on me.

As for Jackson herself, not only does she have a voice with a great range in her intonation and her mix of styles, she has written all the songs. There’s a consistent quality in the writing, but I’d pick out two, both very personal, which show her depth. ‘Hope And Gasoline’ is a tale of teenage escape, a slow verse building to a rising chorus to capture a seventeen year old’s sense of adult freedom from having a car and “All I need is hope and gasoline….All I see is being 17/ and I wanna know you love me/ and I’m a little more than nothing”. The album closes with ‘Goodbye’, a haunting elegy to Jackson’s gran, gently powerful “How will I spend my time without you by my side/I’m not ready for that goodbye.” Both musically and lyrically, this is a grown up album.

Jill Jackson is on tour from 25th May to June 14th playing a dozen concerts from Scotland to London.

Mike Wistow

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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Video preview:

HATFUL OF RAIN – Songs Of The Lost and Found (Long Way Home Music 004)

Songs Of The Lost And FoundHatful Of Rain were formed in 2011, have been played by Mike Harding and have performed live on the Bob Harris show. Their music crosses the borders of folk and country and Songs Of The Lost And Found is their fourth release, following two albums and an EP.

I found the album to be a little mixed. At its best are songs where you have either a great blending between the vocals of Chloe Overton and the musicianship of the band or just a great instrumental, such ‘Gathering Wood’, where the fiddle leads a lively tune, or the more Appalachian sounding ‘Won’t Be Druv’.

‘Where There’s Life’ is a country-influenced song about believing in someone despite everything “Where there’s life there’s hope/And I’m clinging to that now/Find a means to cope/I could be the making of you now/If only they’ll allow”. It’s nicely written – you’re neatly balanced between, on the one hand, believing or, on the other, thinking this is all false hope. Similarly, ‘Devil’s Dyke’ is a serious story based around the Battle of Boar’s Head, near Richebourg L’Avoue in 1916. The battle is known as The Day That Sussex died because 70% of the casualties were men from the Royal Sussex Regiment. It’s given poignancy by a slightly militaristic beat in the background and the tale is brought to life by being sung from the view of the partner of one of the men who was killed.

But there are also songs where, to my ear, the lightness of the tunes doesn’t carry the seriousness of the lyrics – ‘Down in the Town’ is a cracking melody, but doesn’t work for me as the backing to a tale of flooding, which killed thirty-four people and destroyed buildings; ‘I Thought You Would Live’ (self-explanatory title) also has a tune which feels too light for the lyric.

My two favourite tracks are the opener, ‘Start Again’ – fine playing on a tune that borders folk/country and has a story line of resilience (starting again) in the face of abuse; and ‘Sinking Like A Stone’, more country-flavoured, about an 18-year old leaving home for the city’s promise “Just a jumped up kid with a headful of dreams” who discovers the grass isn’t greener “I’m just too proud to tell you/That I’m sinking like a stone/The truth is I’m longing to come home”.

The band are on tour in June and July, details on the website. There are no videos yet available from the new album, so the link below takes you to an earlier song which gives you a good feel of the band’s style – and also gives you the opportunity to contribute to a domestic abuse charity in Sussex if you download the track.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website:

‘Scarlet Ribbon’ – official video:

RAY COOPER – Between The Golden Age & The Promised Land (Westpark 87368)

Between The Golden Age And The Promised LandThey say you only get one chance – this time I’m very grateful that I’ve had two. A couple of months ago a friend put Ray Cooper on about ten miles away from me and I couldn’t get to the gig because of a family event. Last week I got the chance to review the new album. Sometimes life just works. Between The Golden Age & The Promised Land is released on May 25th (though available already as a download) and is a delight.

The album is acoustic UK folk music, some cracking traditional and self-composed songs superbly played. But it’s a bit more as well. There is a big sound, more than you’d expect from an acoustic album. Before listening to the CD I looked dubiously at the line in the press release that made comparisons with Rick Rubin’s Johnny Cash production; having listened I understand the comments, this album is simultaneously stripped back and grand. The title comes from Cooper’s reflection that, “The golden age and the promised land are the two great dreams. Both are exaggerations, probably, but nevertheless compelling. The dream of how great things used to be and the dream of how great they are going to be.”

The songs take us through these themes. ‘Drunk on Summer’ opens the album with a tale of youth, drunk on love and gin, drunk on summer in England. ‘The Unknown Soldier Has A Name’ is a self-explanatory title and Cooper comments of this mandolin-driven track that, “Like most soldiers in World War I [Private Fred Broadrick]’s golden age and promised land were probably the same”. The video link below takes you to the song.

‘Little Flame’ is written for Cooper’s daughter “Have your summer days and when you’re ready blaze……I really want to see you blaze/Little Flame”. ‘The Promised Land’ is a reminder to us that there is nothing new about boat people looking for a new and better life, even though they may not make it. East Europeans did this after the German and Russian occupations in the 1940’s just as those from Mediterranean countries take to boats nowadays “The human heart is beating free/On an open boat out there on the sea/From the fires of war and the desert sand/A distant shore is the promised land”.

‘Valentine’s Day’ is jaunty with a great chorus. It’s a song “for those who forgot the roses, again,” says Cooper (don’t you just love the word ‘again’?). It has mature lyrics about a tenth anniversary, lyrics which, like a couple who know each other well, manage to be both profound but not too self-absorbed, “It’s better the devil you’re knowing/Than the angel you’ve only just met”. There are two traditional songs – ‘Adieu Sweet Spanish Ladies’ and ‘Wayfaring Stranger’, the latter being a particularly powerful version of the song.

As a whole, the tracks composed by Cooper extend beyond traditional folk music to encompass other styles – there are elements akin to modern French chanson supported at times by almost classical music piano playing. There are no videos at the moment, but look out two songs in particular: ‘Love and Vengeance’ is a great story song, of “a wayward princess from old Beirut…..Singing songs of longing, songs of leaving home/Songs of Love and Vengeance at the midnight show”; for me, though, ‘The Golden Age’ is perhaps the best example of a track that includes these wider elements. It builds its lyric through contemplations of Venice, love and life – a broad, visual, lyric with simple piano and a tenderly sung tune.

Cooper is on tour in Europe currently with three shows in the UK in early June.

Mike Wistow

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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‘The Unknown Soldier Has A Name’:

THE CINELLI BROTHERS – Babe Please Set Your Alarm (own label)

Babe Please Set Your AlarmMarco Cinelli (guitarist, singer, composer) and his brother Alessandro Cinelli (drummer, singer) were born in Italy and have played in several European countries but are now based in London. Babe Please Set Your Alarm is their debut album, released in the UK on May 18th.

The brothers have a passion for the blues, mainly the electric Chicago and Texas blues from the 60’s and 70’s – and that’s exactly what the album is, good old fashioned blues with a band (bass, piano/organ/Wurlitzer, harmonica) that has a passion for playing authentically and soulfully.

The video below takes you to an extended live version of the album’s title track and I imagine (I’ve not seen them live) this is where their real strength is – teasing the soul out of a song in a live gig with the vocals, harmonica and guitar individually tugging at your emotions above a solid rhythm. The album was recorded in three days and captures some of this live energy as it flies across a mixture of classic blues and self-penned compositions.

They cover some well-known songs: Willie Dixon’s ‘Back Door Man’, closer to the original than the probably better known Howlin’ Wolf or Doors versions; a version of ‘Chain Of Fools’, written by Don Covay, which is less smooth than the one by Aretha Franklin which made the song famous – and probably better for it; and an unusual version of ‘Kiss’, much more raw than the Prince or Tom Jones electronica versions – and again, probably better for it, even with (or because of?) the shuffle rhythm the band have given it.

They recorded seventeen songs in three days and chose twelve of them for the album. If you like electric blues with a bite, give the album a listen. There’s a deliberate rawness and an unbridled enthusiasm which you can hear in the live performance in the video. As the press release says, “While the Cinelli Brothers are happy treading in the footsteps of their blues and soul heroes, they are very much doing it in their own way”.

Mike Wistow

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 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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‘Babe Please Set Your Alarm’ – live: