PATRICK SWEANY – Ancient Noise (Nine Mile Records NMR0091)

Ancient NoisePatrick Sweany has seven critically acclaimed albums to his credit. His latest album Ancient Noise will be released in the UK on July 6th. Sweany began as an acoustic musician, having absorbed his father’s collection of 60’s folk, vintage country, soul and blues – but then moved on from an intricate finger-picking/slide guitar style to form a band. You can hear the range of influences in this sparkling album.

Ancient Noise opens with a couple of raw tracks, heavy on the bass drum, staccato guitar and hollering vocal. These two are tracks to get the crowd’s attention at the start of a gig and take their mind off the previous band; they do the same for the album. You can hear the second track, ‘Up And Down’, in the video link below.

Our attention thus grabbed, the third track ‘Country Loving’ is just that – a smoochy, country, piano song with a feel of gospel vocals and soul in the mix. The interplay of styles here isn’t just because of Sweany’s formative influences; the album was recorded (by Grammy Award-winning producer Matt Ross-Spang) at Sam Phillips Recording studio in Memphis – a place to record (the place…?) from the time of the early rock and roll legends.

‘No Way No How’ and ‘Outcast Blues’ move us through lively funk and blues to ‘Steady’, another change of place – slow and yearning and really a rather lovely love song “I know it’s a matter of action/To keep the dawn from turning black/ I spend my life not losing you…Even if hard times do come back/Your loving man is here to stay”. Sweany says he took himself out of his comfort zone with this album, the slower songs in particular taking him to new places of vulnerability. They work, though.

‘Get Along’ is again funky and leads to ‘Baby Every Night’ and ‘Play Around’ reminiscent of the best of 50’s/60’s soul music as developed later by Southside Johnny et al. These are two great tracks, Sweany’s vocal phrasing sitting beautifully above the band (lovely snatches of organ, bass, lead guitar – even drumsticks – decorating the songs in turn) and female harmonies. I defy you not to sing along to these, either in your head or out loud

The penultimate song ‘Cry Of Amede’ is about Amede Ardoin, a pioneering creole musician beaten in 1934 for accepting a handkerchief from a white woman. The album closes with ‘Victory Lap’, another gem, starting slow and building to another chorus. Again, I defy you not to sing along with this track. The song ends with a pause and then a crescendo of a finish, a great song to finish an album.

As the press notes say, “Ancient Noise …. finds Sweany in top form, willing to push himself stylistically to great effect”. He is currently on tour in America.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: http://www.patricksweany.com/news.html

 

‘Up And Down’ – live:

3HATTRIO – Lord Of The Desert (own label)

Lord Of The DesertClose the windows, turn off background sound, put headphones on if you want, and just lose yourself in this album. Lord Of The Desert by 3hattrio was released in the UK on March 1st.

Good music changes what you feel or do and hearing this album has had me researching the desert country of the Zion National Park in Utah where the band are from. The music on the album is pulled from the traditions of those who went to the desert in the past few hundred years (rather than those of the native nomadic Americans). It’s music of a kind you’ve probably never heard before, linked back via cowboys to Europe, Africa, the biblical middle east (try the title track) – and of a hard haunting world which is none of these and entirely unique in itself, the deserts of Utah and the neighbouring Nevada and Arizona. Click on the video link below to see how it came about and to get a sense of the sound.

How to describe it, then? Prosaically, it’s a largely acoustic album predominantly based around violin, banjo and bass. But that’s a bit like saying Elton John albums are based on the piano; the last way you’d describe Lord Of The Desert is a prosaic album. Sit and listen closely and you’ll be repaid with something that captures a spirit, a feel – the sense of the uncompromising desert life and how men live with it as they deal with the awe it creates, the internal fears we have and from which we are sheltered by modern comforts. If you’ve ever walked, climbed, dived, sailed way beyond your comfort zone, you’ll know how you need to understand the places deep inside you to keep going. This is what Lord Of The Desert captures in its sound, not just the desert but its impact on man.

There is an insistent picked string sound behind many of the tracks, which is percussive as much as harmonic. On ‘Night Sky’, you hear a scary violin which must have been taught by a wild spirit, while percussion teeters on the edges of your conscious hearing as a rattlesnake sound. ‘Pilgrim’ echoes with lyrics of wide water, of a pilgrim by the riverside, angry men meeting angry men and streaking the river red, a crossing which doesn’t refer to any Greek legend but is haunted by a sense of the Styx and of man being part this world, part near death. ‘War’ has an echoing sound, already haunting but which then adds a repetitive cry in the background like the squeal of buzzards when they are looking for prey. Justifiably, 3hattrio refer to their sound as American Desert Music.

There are both instrumentals and songs on the album, but on the songs the vocals often make the lyrics deliberately indistinct; there’s a vocal intonation of old men in touch with an old world, rarely pushed far forward in the mix, giving priority not to the voice but to the overall feel of a track. Lord Of The Desert, then, is a soundscape which catches something elemental: the titles include ’Dust Devil’, ‘Faith’, ‘Pilgrim’, ‘War’, ‘Wastelands of Yesterday’ and so on. Tracks capture that feel of being out in the dark when you half hear sounds and they’re simultaneously very clear as they come through the night air to you – and very unclear as you’re not sure what the sound is and how safe you are.

To take a final couple of tracks: ‘I Am’ mixes instruments and vocal with perfect control, each holding the beat then taking the lead; similarly, ‘Skeleton Tree’ has banjo, violin and bass trading sounds with each holding the tune then taking it in turns to move into a different place before an echo-ey close. The trio consist of Eli Wrankle (new folk, classical and digital music), Hal Cannon (folklorist, songwriter and radio producer) and Greg Istock (experimental jazz and Caribbean music) and the sound they create is fused from their very different musical backgrounds and their sense of place.

How to describe it? Lord Of The Desert is an album created using modern technology but fully inhabited by the sense of the Utah desert that 3hattrio come from. It captures that half world where you can’t ignore the desert, you are part of the desert and part outside it. Filmmakers would use the music for scenes of great depth as its insistent rhythms match your heart beats as you go to the place where you fight against and then control your elemental fears.

These paragraphs are an attempt to give you a sense of a startlingly different album. By contrast, 3hattrio describe themselves on their website as “The subject matter of the songs is often desert oriented, sometimes not. Mostly, they express the desert experientially from a daily-ness of watching light off distant mesas and hearing the way sound plays off sheer sandstone cliffs. Then they play music. They don’t over-think it.” So, don’t over think it, give it a listen.

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.3hattrio.com

‘Dust Devil’ – official video:

 

PATRICIA VONNE – Top Of The Mountain (MIG 20182 CD)

Top Of The MountainPatricia Vonne releases Top Of The Mountain, her seventh album on March 23rd. It’s got a variety of styles, which is both its strength and weakness. At times, it’s a little way from the kind of music that is at the core of folking.com but I’ve enjoyed playing the album, which has an energy to it that I imagine makes Vonne and her band a great live act.

Vonne comes from San Antonio and describes herself as ninth generation Tejana. Top Of The Mountain reflects the mix of influences that she has grown with: rock, folk, flamenco, bilingual tex-mex, Latin, and predominantly has a rock band sound behind the songs. The opening track ‘Citadel’ has an air of late 80’s/early 90’s rock; the second track ‘City is Alive’ has a dirty grunge lead guitar to reflect the lyrics; ‘Illuminaria’ is sung in Spanish to another lively rock beat with lead played not just on the high notes, but also with occasional bass lead a la Duane Eddy; the title track is so catchy I’ve struggled to get it out of my head; ‘Lil Lobo’ will probably have audiences dancing in the clubs to its heavy beat. See what I mean about the album? – it’s great fun but it’s not traditional folk or folk-rock.

There are elements of Americana, though – particularly since the next track reminded me to keep to a wider understanding of the Americana genre. Madre de Perla is a flamenco-esque tribute to Vonne’s mother (the title translates as mother of pearl) and nudged me to remember that the Spanish heritage is as much a part of Americana as other traditions.

The video link below takes you to ‘Tidal Wave’; it’s less than a minute but have a flick through the other videos on the page and you’ll get a feel for Vonne’s energy and the strong melodies of her songs. The wildly rocking ‘Graceland Trip’ (also on the video page) and ‘Lekker Ding’ (hottie/sexything according to the urban dictionary – though you don’t need to know this, just listen to the delivery) draw more on a rock’n’roll tradition.

‘Western Blood’ is an instrumental somewhere between the music for a Clint Eastwood western and The Shadows ‘Apache’ and it works really well. ‘Concion de la Boda’ (Wedding Song) draws more on European traditional music roots for its arrangement. The album closes with the quieter ‘God’s Hands’ and ‘Stop The Madness’, where Vonne’s vocal is thoughtful but still a delight.

It’s been great to listen to Top Of The Mountain. The album’s strength is in the vitality of Vonne and her band – and, hence, I’d like to see them live – as well as the range of musical traditions it draws on. While I’ve enjoyed the range of influences, the diversity also makes it feel a bit more like a collection of singles. Maybe in the days of playlists and shuffled music that doesn’t matter, not least because there’d be some instantly engaging singles amongst them.

Vonne is on tour, if not the UK, from April 5th:

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://patriciavonne.com

‘Red Hot Heart’ live:

RAGING TWILIGHT – Raging Twilight (aRTee Records)

Raging TwilightRaging Twilight release their first album, Raging Twilight, on April 16th. It only takes you about 30 seconds of listening to the first track with an electric lead grabbing the attention and the steady drive of the whole band on the song ‘Don’t Want A Lover’ to realize this is not a ‘very first album’ and a bit of research shows why. The band was originally formed two years ago by Jack Law and Dougie Harrison. Law released a solo album in 2012 and had been a member of seventies folk/rock band Greenmantle which played alongside the likes of Billy Connolly and Wishbone Ash and has written the songs for Raging Twilight.

The music has a strong blues-folk flavour to it. The second track ‘Old Glass Jar’ stomps its way through with JC Danti’s harmonica driving it along. ‘Hope Sails The River’ is a cheerful singalong track, ‘Iron Way’ is, unusually, a slow railroad song with murder, harmonica and Western-saloon-bar keyboards adding to its edge as it tells the story of Black Jack Ketchum and the murder of Albert Jennings Fountain. American imagery continues on the piano led ‘Dead Horse Point’ and the blues ‘Dust Bowl Rust Belt Blues’.

I think my favourite track is ‘The Slip’, musically just an acoustic guitar behind a lyric about not wanting to be “the slip between cup and lip”. Law has returned to music after a career in public health, notably as Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, and you feel the lost lives described in this song are based on things real. The song ends “I know where this all is going and it’s not my kind of trip/I can see where this is going/Don’t wanna be the slip between cup and lip”.

The style changes a little for ‘Hard Times Bad Times’ with keyboard and backing vocals giving it a tinge of gospel. Appropriately enough it leads into ‘You Can’t Get To Heaven’, a full band song with a chorus to keep the audience singing at the end of a set.

The website doesn’t show any gigs booked yet to tie in with the forthcoming release of the album and I’ve not picked up signs of Raging Twilight playing much outside Scotland, but if your local folk club likes a five-piece band with a blues-folk feel to it, check them out on the video below which links to a demo version of ‘Don’t Want A Lover’.

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: http://www.jacklawsongs.com

‘Don’t Want A Lover’ – the demo:

ED ROMANOFF – The Orphan King (Pinerock Records)

Orphan KingEd Romanoff released his second album The Orphan King on February 23rd. The style is Americana; the musicians on the album (having worked with Springsteen, Sinatra and Paul Simon to name just the S’s) have CVs that mean the playing is a delight; and the producer is Simone Felice of Felice Brothers, Lumineers and Bat for Lashes fame. So you’re expecting something good from this album – and it doesn’t disappoint, hooking you in to strong melodies and great arrangements.

Two things hit me about the songs on the album on first hearing: Romanoff has an imposing voice which carries the songs artlessly; and there are captivating stories with some great one-liners in them. His voice has been likened to Kristofferson and that was what struck me on the initial play. But as you keep listening to the album, the voice might be in that country baritone territory but it has a much warmer feel to it. Even on love songs Kristofferson’s voice sounds like a gnarled barfly who might fight you at any time; Romanoff’s voice is smoother, it’s a voice that makes you pay attention, makes you listen with sympathy and interest to the tales he’s singing about.

The album opens with ‘Miss Worby’s Ghost’, the singer attracted to the ghost, fatefully kissed by her and himself left to wander eternally as a result. ‘A Golden Crown’ is a song contrasting the life of the prize fighter knocking down all-comers with “Annie at my side for every fight” only to be ‘knocked out’ himself by Annie leaving him. There is hope at the end though as a new love comes into his life.

The next track, ‘The Orphan King’ lists experiences that also would knock a man down, but always comes back to the refrain “I still believe in love” – and you have this sense throughout the album of optimism. Whatever hits you get in life, there’s a way of moving on to the future. So, similarly, the single ‘Without You’ tells of break up but the tune is jaunty and the chorus is about getting a new way of living.

‘Leavin With Someone Else’ is perhaps the best track – lively tune, a vocal that is understated but slips into Orbison-falsetto at times, and a very clever lyric about an ex-girlfriend leading to the conclusion “I saw you leavin’/Oh excuse me I thought you were someone else”. It’s a close run thing, though, because ‘The Ballad of Willie Sutton’ is also a cracker. It is both tense and yearning, the hero released from prison after robbing banks (in his mind, for love) but building to a damning conclusion that more men have been robbed by a pen than a gun and “the crime that’s worse than robbin’ a bank/Is runnin’ one”.

‘Less Broken Now’ is classic Americana with slide guitar, rising backing vocals, fiddle and brass and with a classic Americana couplet “I guess it had to get bad as it did/To feel as good as this does”. ‘I’ll Remember You’, ‘The Night Is A Woman’ and “Blue Boulevard (Na Na Na)’ are quieter, more from the slow country tradition, but Romanoff’s voice makes them into something strong.

‘Lost and Gone’ is a beautifully elusive song, which I still can’t get to the heart of – is it personal? Is it a reflection on the American Dream in Trump’s America? You think you know the song’s stance, but it’s elusiveness means it has questions not statements “Will we rise or fall/If for every problem we build a wall/Or don’t the words of war alarm you”. There is similar equivocation in ‘Coronation Blues’, more obviously Trump’s America but similarly clever songwriting, because it understands the subject with depth as well as subtlety.

So, Ed Romanoff The Orphan King: I suspect I’ll be still be playing the album for years to come – a voice that makes you pay attention to the songs; lyrics that have great one liners, that play subtlety with their imagery and that get inside the heads of their subjects; great musicians and great production. I’ve played this album a dozen times and I’m still finding new things in it. The video link below takes you through the whole album. Have a listen.

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://www.edromanoff.com

‘The Orphan King’:

CARA DILLON – Live at Kings Place, Kings Cross, 22 February 2018

Cara Dillon
Photograph by Mike Wistow

The venue was stunning. Clean wooden floors, a delicate bar, someone selling programmes (for Barry Cryer in Hall One), what I can only call an ‘older audience’. There’s a civilised aspect to folk in a place like this that I’m simply not used to. This was a Christmas present. A trip to London with tickets for Cara Dillon in concert. A fascinating experience in that I normally watch folk music in small halls/arts centres or in fields at festivals. But it felt good.

And the music, ah the voice. Three of the band walked on stage, Cara Dillon in the centre, a couple of empty microphones either side, then piano to the left and violin to the right. And a voice like an angel, prickling the back of the neck, even when it became the voice of a lonely angel. About four songs in there was a wee technical hitch, which left Dillon to sing an impromptu unaccompanied solo while they fixed it. If anyone in the sold out hall had dropped a pin you’d have heard it, so rapt were the audience by the song.

By now the stage was full – a bass and second guitar giving a deeper sound to the music. ‘The Leaving Song’ written by Dillon was a delight, the story of a living wake (a ‘wake’ for those alive but being seen for the last time before they left for America or elsewhere) with gems of detail such as hobnail boots sparking on the stone floor as they danced and then the quiet as the family realised Dillon’s great great uncle, who was leaving, had slipped quietly out the back to avoid final farewells.

The second half had no technical hitches and took off into the skies. Dillon returned from break with ‘Both Sides The Tweed’ and the live version knocked the socks off the recording on the new CD. ‘Lake Side Swans’ was written after seeing the posture of the refugee boy a couple of years ago face down on the beach. Dillon said, “The image stayed with me and I wrote this”. This is what we need our folk singers for – to capture those moments where we share our humanity else we’d otherwise forget it in a world of instant electronic images supplanted one after another.

The set moved on with ‘Blackwater Side’, ‘If I Prove False’ – a stunning duet with John Smith and a refrain you couldn’t help but join in gently with “Who’s gonna kiss your pretty little lips……if I prove false to thee”. Then 2009’s ‘Hill of Thieves’ and the powerful ‘Black is the Colour of My True Love’s Hair’ from 2002.

If the first half lost a little of its flow because of the technical problems and clicks on the guitars, the second half showed us why Cara Dillon, with band, is one of the classic folk singers of the modern age. She finished with two more songs from the new album, Wanderer, before concluding appropriately enough with ‘Parting Glass’.

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.caradillon.co.uk/

‘The Parting Glass’: