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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Artist’s website: http://www.jilljackson.co.uk

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: http://www.hatfulofrain.co.uk

‘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).

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.raycooper.org

‘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 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.cinellibrothers.com

‘Babe Please Set Your Alarm’ – live:

DARLINGSIDE – Extralife (More Doug Records MDR003)

ExtralifeSomeone who knows rather a lot about these things has been saying for two years that I should go and see Darlingside. I haven’t seen them, but I jumped at the chance to review the CD. I really should have listened to his advice earlier – Extralife is rather classy, if somewhere outside simple categorization.

Essentially, what they create is beautifully smooth vocals above a mix of instrumentation. Harris Paseltiner, one of the quartet that make up Darlingside, describes how they created their sound “Each song and set of lyrics are created by all of us together, a sort of ‘group stream-of consciousness’. So we moved away from a single lead vocalist and started gravitating towards singing in unison, passing the melody around, or harmonizing in four parts through an entire song.” For me the smoothest song ever released was the Taylor, Garfunkel, Simon version of Sam Cooke’s ‘What A Wonderful World’. Imagine a whole album that can keep that kind of fine harmony without ever sliding into chocolate box cutesiness – and you have an idea of where Darlingside are at and how well they do it.

Darlingside’s YouTube channel describes them as “Indie Folk from Cambridge, MA” which gives you some sense of their genre. But the best way to get a sense of this rather inimitable sound is simply to have a listen. The link at the foot of the article takes you to a YouTube video of the final track on the album ‘Best Of The Best Of Times’. Their home page describes “arch humor, cryptic wordplay, and playful banter that the four close friends share on and off stage—but the music Darlingside plays is serious, cinematic, and deeply moving”. The visuals on the video show you their humour; the music lets you hear their deeply affecting sound.

It’s not an album to go through individual tracks on – there are some things you can’t break down into pieces without losing the sense of the whole, of what it is. This album is one of those. I’ll simply add that everyone who’s passed the stereo or sat in the car recently has purred, “Oh that’s nice/that’s lovely” etc.

There’s a handful of chances to see them in the near future as they are on tour in Ireland and the UK between May 4th and May 13th.

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 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.darlingside.com/about/

‘Best Of The Best Of Times’ – official video:

DARLING WEST – While I Was Asleep (JANSEN 097CD)

While I Was AsleepDarling West released their third album, While I Was Asleep, in February. The band are from Norway and have been played on that country’s mainstream radio channels and at its biggest festivals. Their previous album won a ‘Norwegian Grammy’ (a Spellemann Award). While I Was Asleep (sung in English) sits fairly squarely at the crossroads between country music and delicate pop – splendid gentle melodies with a country-ish band arrangement.

The album opens with the title song, a reflection on death after life and what that sense of mortality means for us, lively drums and harmonica capturing the attention. It’s also the first chance to hear Mari Kreken’s voice, gentle enough to make you relax to its melody, strong enough to keep you listening. ‘Rolling On’ has some lovely picking to keep you captured and moves into the more Americana feel of ‘Loneliness’ and its neat refrain “If this is what heartbreak feel like/I’ve never been broken before”.

‘Better Than Gold’ continues the album’s Americana feel. ‘Always Around’ (“I am the woman who’s always around…..Unlike the good old times, tonight I’ll drink slow”) has a bewitching vocal as the singer reflects on how a relationship has developed, her thinking sparked by a song on the jukebox from the relationship’s early days. ‘Traveller’ is another lovely vocal and finger-picked song, Kreken’s vocal soaring against guitars and strings on a song she describes as “the story of a restless soul, who made some choices in the past and are still haunted by them. Most of us entertain that thought sometimes, ‘What would have happened if…?’ But for some it turns out to be a moment that they will always carry with them” – what if she’d accepted the second dance and not become a traveller? – “The road back to you/Is taking me a lifetime”. The link below takes you to a lovely acoustic version of the song. You only have to watch this song in the traditional echo chamber of a stairwell to imagine how good they’d be in a concert venue.

‘Traveller’ is followed by ‘Ballad Of An Outlaw’. The title alone tells you it’s another Americana flavoured song (though based on the tale of Norwegian outlaw) and again there is a theme of a life unsettled contrasted with what might have been “Will they all weep when they hear I am dead/Or will they salute a killer instead/I know I’ll rest when they lower me down”. The album closes with the driving ‘Don’t I Know You’ and the banjo-inflected ‘How I Wish’.

Darling West have spread their reach from their home country having recently played in Germany and at festivals such as South by South-West in Texas and Americanafest in Nashville. As the video shows, the songs are melodic and easy to listen to, gentle vocals set, predominantly, against finger-picked guitar and banjo. They are currently on tour in Germany and Norway.

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 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: https://darlingwest.no/english/

‘While I Was Asleep’ – official: