LETITIA VANSANT – Gut It To The Studs (own label)

Gut It To The StudsLetitia VanSant is an American activist whose first album, Gut It To The Studs, has a UK release date of August 28th. Gut It To The Studs is Americana rather than folk, but the lyrics focus on modern-day spiritual and political concerns as much as the ‘folk revival’ did in the sixties. All but one of the songs on the album were written by VanSant.

The album opens with ‘Where I’m Bound’, a modern and personal take on the ‘New Adam’ view of American culture. The song tells of a dying mother’s advice to follow a path on which you can be guided by your heart, not by the fool’s gold of modern life; you should do this for yourself and so that “Slowly others will follow on the trail that you made/On their dark journeys they won’t be so afraid/For you travelled not by sight/But by your certain faith”. VanSant’s vocal plays well against the band, particularly the vocal clarity against the bass on this track.

The title track follows. Gutting it to the studs is a construction image about rebuilding yourself spiritually – something’s not right in life so “I’m knocking down the walls tonight/Gotta gut it to the studs”. The song works on two levels being a political song which references people risking all in fragile boats, but is also, I suspect, a personal song – VanSant has given up a secure career to become a professional musician. Both these songs are lyrically and musically strong and you can see why VanSant has won serious songwriting competitions. The beautifully sparse final track, ‘Sundown Town’ has a simple vocal and guitar arrangement that makes the bleak tale of a sundown town (where black people weren’t welcome after dark) all the stronger. While I’ve enjoyed listening to the rest of the album, VanSant’s other songs don’t have quite the same power as these three to meld the strength of the subject with the music. The cover track is Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’, of which VanSant says, “We owe so much to the people who fought for justice in decades past….I recorded this as a reminder to myself that the present moment is just as critically important to our nation’s history”.

What I like about this album is that it continues the ethical struggles in song of past generations and it has several tracks in which you can hear VanSant’s distinctive talent; what I’ve also found is that, much as I like both VanSant’s voice and the band/arrangements, as I’ve talked about Gut It To The Studs to other people I’ve largely focused on the album as social comment.

VanSant is only touring in the USA at the moment, so try the title song for yourself in the video link below.

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: https://www.letitiavansant.com

‘Gut It To The Studs’ – live:

PHILIP MARINO – Chasing Ghosts (own label)

Chasing GhostsPhilip Marino released his fourth CD, Chasing Ghosts, on July 27th. Marino is an American singer-songwriter who lives in Essex in the UK. In style, perhaps the most appropriate genre would be to describe Chasing Ghosts as Americana. It’s broader than that though and you can hear the influences that Marino listened to in his youth – John Mellencamp, Jim Croce, Cat Stevens, Neil Young, Bob Dylan – mingled together into some rather lovely songs.

‘The Way It Goes’ opens the album, a delightful bit of guitar work drawing you in and a lyric that keeps you grabbed. It begins “In my life I’ve lost my way…” and without self-pity captures the hopes, though not the reality, of winning in life – “That’s the way it goes”. ‘In My Blood’ is an identity song – what Marino owes to his parents and his former lover and how this shapes “every song I’ve sung”. The band has played on the first two tracks but not until ‘Try’ does the larger sound really hit you. The title track ‘Chasing Ghosts’ would make a good single; an up-beat melody that acknowledge Mellencamp’s influences and a chorus with variants of ”Yeah those ghosts in my head/I hear screams of demons I’ve fed/So we’ll be/Chasing those ghosts till they’re dead”.

‘This Time’ reverts to a gentler style, acoustic guitar to the fore. ‘In Your Hands’ is a neat reflection on time with a former love when she was with him and “had my life in your hands” and again when she left and “held my heart in your hands”.

The album finishes with a couple of strong tracks with the band. ‘The Road Goes Down’ is tense and has a great line – having introduced Johnny with a big dream in a small town Marino sings, “his soul died ounce by ounce”. The almost-final track (there’s also a hidden track, which is a fine song but it takes away from the album’s ending) is ‘No Turning Back’. Of several tracks on the album with great choruses, ‘No Turning Back’ is possibly the best – a great encore song to leave you joining in and singing after a concert/album has finished.

Marino’s previous album was produced by Simone Felice, which tells you how well he is regarded. Chasing Ghosts was co-produced by Marino himself and Adam Bowers at the Boathouse studios in Suffolk. The music industry is changing – being disrupted in modern parlance – and there is some really good stuff being released away from the historical routes of record companies if only it can get a hearing. Chasing Ghosts is one of the albums that’s worth giving a hearing

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.philipmarino.com/index/

‘This Time’ – live at the Boathouse Sessions:

ROO PANES – Quiet Man (CRC057CD)

Quiet ManRoo Panes released his third album Quiet Man on June 15th. Panes has a strong following – I gather his first two albums clocked up 160 million listens on Spotify and 13 million views on video channels. His music is thoughtful, quiet even, and to be heard at its best probably needs to be listened to in the quiet of night or at a gig where the audience is listening mellowly.

The opening track, for example, “A Message To Myself”, takes the best part of a minute of gentle introduction before Panes’ vocal kicks in – a warm voice, whispering its vocal in a mixture of baritone and high pitch. The remaining tracks follow a similarly twilight introduction – instruments pared down, vocal slow and thoughtful.

There is a lyric book with the CD (the lyrics can be hard to discern at times) from which you can read Panes’ wide range of imagery. Musically, at times, I’m reminded of the Fleet Foxes’ first album, at others of the choral nature of some church music. My favourite track is ‘Ophelia’ with echoes of Shakespeare’s imagery “The fallen leaves made an amber sea/Over which you floated like an autumn breeze” but a more positive conclusion “There’s a world that needs what you’ve got to give”.

Overall, the production is clear, the music is tight, the vocals are quietly strong. Maybe I’m the wrong generation, or maybe my life is currently too busy for such meditative music, but although I can understand why Panes has such a popular following, I can’t feel it.

The link below is to the official video ‘A Message To Myself’. Have a listen for yourself – but do it when you’ve got time. The album is titled ‘Quiet Man’ and, as WH Davies said many years ago, this is a poor life if “we have no time to stand and stare”.

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.roopanes.co.uk

‘A Message To Myself’ – official video:

BEN SURES – Poema Poematis (BS11CD)

Poema PoematisBen Sures is a Canadian singer songwriter whose latest album, Poema Poematis, was released worldwide on June 17th. His website tells you, “We are holding off on the Jupiter and Mars releases til we see how the album does on this planet”.

That kinda tells you the first thing you need to know about the album – you shake your head at some points, part in amusement, part in ‘how-do-you write-lines-like-that puzzlement and admiration’ (‘Used to Have a Raygun’ for example about a girl who had a raygun which she could point at a guy to make him like her – or use it to rewind time so she could do better in a conversation with him.)

The second thing to know is that the album is a version of a more than sell-out live concert of Sures’ music, recorded with arrangements for horn and strings and sponsored by the Canadian Council for Arts. As a result, there’s often a jazzy feel to the songs – an ideal match to Sures’ humour and perspective. ‘Winnipeg’ is my favourite track, a lovely arrangement to a song which took me back to my own hometown teenage years as Sures captures snapshots of his youth: “the first girl I ever dumped”; the diner they all spent time in, complained about – yet he knows that “that place was half our life”; and the lovely paradox of “Every sidewalk whispers back at me and calls me names…I don’t think about Winnipeg but it haunts me every day”.

‘Holes’ has a classic sax-driven jazz sound to a playful lyric; ‘In Burma’ – a song about avoiding being killed in various ways, from shooting to cyclones – has an arrangement that wouldn’t be out of place in Rick’s Café and Bar. There is a jauntiness to ‘Where Are They Now’ and ‘Maybe’. ‘In A Perfect World’ – where “you wouldn’t have to floss/In a Perfect World you could shoot your boss” – races through the song.

It’s a live concert and Sures is an assured (sorry) entertainer, working with the band to add life to songs that were written without expecting this interpretation (“It’s nice to have a band because in House Concerts I play both roles”). The arrangements were by Edmonton trombonist Audrey Ochoa and there is a spark to this album – skillful, quirky and humorous both in the songwriting and in the arrangements.

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.bensures.com

‘Yardbird Suite’:

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

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://skerryvore.com

‘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

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: https://winterwilson.com

‘Ghost’ – live: