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

THE GRAHAMS – The Grahams and Friends (Live in Studio) (Three Sirens Music Group)

Live In StudioAlyssa and Doug Graham have spent nearly their entire lives exploring music together. Friends since she was seven and he was nine, they became a couple in their teens, then husband and wife. Along the way, they also became The Grahams, a dynamic Americana duo. Their 2013 debut, Riverman’s Daughter, was followed-up by riding the rails. From this they got a studio album, a documentary and a live album – in venues from Sun Studio to the City of New Orleans train. The Grahams and Friends (Live in Studio) is a collection of these songs, none of which have been previously released in the UK or Ireland.

The album opens with the bundle of energy which is ‘Glory Bound’. The lyrics tell, in theory, of regret for the things we do when we are young but the tune is the joy of youth not the downbeats of regret; the chorus is uplifting “These engines whine when the pistons sound/This train is glory bound”. Watch the video and you’ll see the threads of the album: the feisty female voice, lively Americana music, humour as well as seriousness, “Wish I hadn’t written my rebellion on my lungs”, desert, trains.

The next two tracks continue the energy and feistiness of the opener. In ‘Griggstown’ Alyssa Graham sings of pistols, horses, the dark side of town, bottles in hand. On ‘Gambling Girl’, “I might have been your girl once/But you’re never gonna be my man” and “You can’t trust a gambling girl”.

Then the album moves to a different place. ‘Lay Me Down’, ‘Tender Annabelle’, ‘Broken Bottle’, and ‘The Lonely Ones’ are gentler but still from life’s harder places “I sometimes get burned from the heat of beauty” (‘Broken Bottle’) “Keep me safe from any danger except for this/Take me out along the brink, Where I don’t need to think/Shut my eyes tender angel with a kiss” (‘Lay Me Down’). ‘Blow Wind Blow’ in particular balances the acoustic guitars with the singer’s strong voice and balances verses about family members against a chorus inspired by the line from King Lear that gives the song its title.

‘Biscuits’ is an invitation to the local boys to give up fishing so the singer can show them ‘”how the biscuits rise”. This is not a song about cooking. It has a jaunty tune, a knowing vocal, double entendres, references to Maybelline, and “I got something special cooking”.

The dream is to play with as many great people as we can, and share the music as much as we can”, said Doug Graham. The friends working with the duo include John Fullbright, Alvin Youngblood Hart, members of the Watkins Family and the Milk Carton Kids and many more.

At the end is a version of ‘City of New Orleans’. Like the whole album, you get the sense that it was great fun to record and that the duo are finding a path to their own version of the American dream as they travel both musically and geographically. The album is released on January 27th. Enjoyable as the album is, this feels like music to see live and the release coincides with a 14-date tour to England, beginning in Sheffield on February 22nd and closing in London on March 9th.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: http://thegrahamsmusic.net/about.html

‘Glory Bound’ – official video:

SON OF THE VELVET RAT – Dorado (Fluff and Gravy FnG037/Mint 400)

DoradoDorado is released on February 17th, the sixth album of husband and wife duo Georg Altzeibler and his wife Heiki Binder who left Austria to make their home in Joshua Tree, California in 2013. They had an impressive career with five albums to their credit and the description “best Austrian singer-songwriter ever”. The new album combines this mixture of European tradition with a modern American feel and a singing voice that draws you in to listen to the songs. Imagine a late Dylan voice, maybe Tom Waits or Nick Cave mixed with the songscape of Brel and Brassens and it will put you in the right territory. There are ten tracks and they take you into this area, a slightly off-kilter and edgy world. The voice is deep and the arrangement is almost jazzy, bluesy, slow pauses after the beat and almost a shuffling feel with a touch of Americana.

As for the songs, ‘Surfer Joe’ is the most obviously commercial and should get radio play. ‘Sweet Angela’ is a great love song to a beautiful girl glimpsed at a demonstration “waving a banner like a headline of your resume” – with the twist that the singer doesn’t actually know her name and has called her Angela so he can write the song. In general, you can hear the imagery as simply descriptive but it’s also metaphorical. You can hear the imagery of the album as simply descriptive but it’s also metaphorical. Take the opening two lines of the first song, ‘Carry On’, “Summer’s gone without a reason….Tell myself Fall’s just a season and not some strange kind of letting go”. Some of it is simply startling “She’s a scar on your eyeball” from ‘Tiger Honey’ or the impact of the last three words in this, from ‘Shadow Song’, “Skin to skin, bone to bone, thigh to thigh/So entwined and so alone”.

My two favourites, though are ‘Love’s the Devil’s Foe’ – with a yearning voice set against a late night tune – and ‘Blood Red Shoes’, the two voices complementing each other beautifully, a chorus that’s impossible not to hum along with, some laid back lead guitar, some gentle brass and lyrics like “I see you follow me and I‘ll follow you anywhere/From the killing floor all the way to the County Fair/You got blood red shoes”.

Oh yes, and even if the music were no good you’d want to read producer Joe Henry’s sleeve notes, an example being: “For some of us, songs are the only cards to play; the only thing our hands will ever hold or our hearts possess suggesting the possibility of bankable redemption.” The album won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you can picture (and like the thought of) listening at 1:00a.m. in a darkened European cellar bar with no desire to go home, I imagine this to be the ideal setting. In the meantime, the stereo does a pretty good job.

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 SON OF THE VELVET RAT – Dorado 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://sonofthevelvetrat.com

‘Blood Red Shoes’ – official video: