SONGDOG – Joy Street (Junkyard Songs JSLPCD17)

Joy StreetI became a convert to Welsh poet-novelist-playwright Lyndon Morgans’ often talk-sing vocal style and deeply poetic narrative lyrics with the band’s second album and have not been disappointed since. Joy Street, his seventh release, doesn’t break the spell. Produced by Nigel Stonier and featuring backing trio of Karl Woodward on piano, mandolin and banjo, drummer and accordionist Dave Paterson and Jasper Salmon on violin, Morgans is in an atypically upbeat mood, not just lyrically but musically too, with ‘It’s Not A Love Thing’ a joyful, bouncy fiddle-led pop-folk number sung without any mannerisms and one of several to feature Thea Gilmore on backing vocals. The same verve spills over into ‘Raise Your Glass In Praise’, a six and a half minute celebration of an eclectic list of things that ring his bell, ranging from jelly beans, mist over meadows, Blonde On Blonde and hot Soho nights to grassed over graves, empty fairgrounds and “all the lips I kissed on my way to you”. It even has a catchy refrain.

Not, of course, that he’s forsaken his familiar melancholy. Despite the title, the simply fingerpicked, sparsely accompanied ‘Joy Street’ itself is weighed with reflective regret (“they fight and laugh and bluff, mourn the old neighbourhood gone and stuff, look back on the lives they’re gonna lose soon enough”) as is the accordion and fiddle carousel-waltzing ‘A Ukulele Whizz Looks Back’ with its barroom conversations between old friends about memories of times, songs and women past (“in the headlights swimming on my bedroom wall I see us playing in the lane till it got too dark to see the ball, didn’t think we’d ever grow old”)… and ,of course, some ukulele.

Memories, the passing years and romances lost to time also inform the ‘The Old Superhero’ with its swayalong cabaret-tinged chorus (and subtle nods to Cohen and Bowie) featuring vocals from James Trott, Anna Zweck, , Biff Roxby, James Kelly and Alyss McBirney, the musical box flavours of the valedictory memories of youthful romance in ‘Amen, Baby, Amen’ featuring Margit van der Zwan on cello,. Likewise, ‘The Dry Wind of Oblivion’, a theatrical styled number that nods to his Jacques Brel influences as he sings “you bit down to my heart and left it beating in a bowl, my blood still dribbling down your chin as you started on my soul.”

Heading into the final stretch, you’ll probably get a good idea of the mood in ‘Razor-Wire and Tinsel’ from the title, reminding me slightly of those talked type songs Steve Harley once did, Woodward on harmonica and Jimmy Forres providing the contemplative electric guitar solo for a slow march rhythm in service of yet another look back into the heart’s bruised past as he muses on how “sometimes you can be so unhappy having the time of your life”.

Despite telling a tale of doomed holiday romance, ‘Helldorado’ is a more musically upbeat track with, as you might surmise, a Texicana flavour to its acoustic guitars, squeezebox and Liz Armour’s horns, while, every bit as downcast as it suggests, ‘Love Dies Petal By Petal’, is a forlorn gradually swelling acoustic ballad anchored by a lonely drum beat about a love withered by whiskey and blow, its air of resigned acceptance summed up in the line about how “now it’s just the corners of your mouth that smile hello” as he pleads “I’m not a bad man anymore.”

It ends on a final note of desperately trying to regain a love lost or thrown away with ‘All Those Afternoons’, a wistful la la la punctuating Cohenesque lines like “be my nemesis, my gaoler, my catastrophe, my bane, I’d love you to forget me and then remember me again” and how “we’re all traitors to someone or to something in the end.”

He calls Joy Street a place “where life happens, any human highway or byway”. You should take a stroll, it’s superbly well paved.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the SONGDOG – Joy Street 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]

Artists’ website: www.songdog.co.uk

‘Smoke-Rings & Shaving Cuts’ – live:

NIGEL STONIER – Love And Work (Shameless SHAME017)

Love And WorkNigel Stonier is probably best known as a producer and a man who writes songs with and for other people so it came as a surprise to discover that Love And Work is his sixth solo album but not that it’s a work of great class.

I suppose that you would describe Nigel’s music as sophisticated pop-rock but don’t be put off if you think that sounds a bit MOR. It isn’t. Nigel is a multi-instrumentalist and a witty songwriter and his wit extends to his arrangements. Take the single ‘You Need Love’. Nigel says that he didn’t want it to sound too sweet so asked James Hallawell to impersonate Al Kooper’s Hammond style – and then topped it off with as fine a Dylan harmonica impersonation as you could wish to hear. It only lasts a few seconds but it’s just perfect.

It is inevitable that Nigel is a bit of a musical magpie given that he’s worked alongside Thea Gilmore, Robert Plant, Gretchen Peters and Fairport Convention among others – things are bound to rub off. He’s no mere copyist, though, and everything undergoes a transformative process. You might say that the opener, ‘Ready To Begin’, is Byrds-like but it’s not really; it just embodies the spirit of Roger McGuinn’s guitar. ‘You Breathe New Life Into Me’ features a pulsing mellotron which Nigel describes as “Strawberry Fields” and it is but it gives the feeling of bellows on a pump organ, breathing life into the song.

Other top tracks are ‘Turnaround Town’ – lots of clever words that I haven’t figured out yet – and ‘Work In Progress’ and I really like the last track. ‘The Extra Song’ is just that and Nigel ropes in his children, Asher and Egan on percussion, fiddle and vocals. The cover doesn’t tell you that they are aged five and ten and you wouldn’t know it to listen There’s a lot of talent in that family. The icing on the cake of that particular song is Nigel’s wife Thea Gilmore playing whistle on the coda. Love And Work is a brilliant, clever album.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the NIGEL STONIER – Love And Work 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.nigelstonier.com/

Videos of Nigel are about as rare as rocking horse droppings but we couldn’t resist this one:

KELLY OLIVER – Bedlam (Folkstock FSR25)

BedlamReleasing her debut album, This Land, at the tail end of 2014, barely a year after making her first appearance on the folk circuit, the distinctively pure, trebly-voiced North Hertfordshire based singer-songwriter clearly doesn’t believe in letting the grass grow under her feet. She returns now with an even more striking, even more ambitious sophomore release that sees her working with three different producers, some of whom have been involved on co-writes.

Stu Hanna from Megson is behind the desk for four numbers, first up being the co-penned title track opener on which he also contributes fiddle, percussion and guitar. It’s a dynamic start to proceedings, a jaunty, tumbling drums folk tune on which Oliver multitracks her own harmonies as she sings “They strap you down and gag your mouth until you cannot shout  at all” in the voice of a young woman who, having a child out of wedlock, is judged to be mentally incompetent and bundled off to the notorious Bethlem Royal Hospital, a lunatic asylum dubbed Bedlam, where, from the late 16th century to 1770, visitors, mostly the wealthy, went to be entertained by and mock the inmates.

The second of the Hanna productions (this time playing fiddle, mandolin and piano) follows with ‘Lay Our Heavy Heads’, an equally bouncy, scratchy guitar number with syncopated percussion wherein the protagonist, a young chap, professes his undying love. Also sprightly of gait, ‘Miles To Tralee’ recalls her Irish heritage as banjo and fiddle (and a dash of shruti box) guide the young colleen as she professes how she’d walk all the way from London back to Ireland to return to the home where she was born. The last of the four Hanna numbers comes with ‘Same World’ (with an extended intro not feature on the radio play single) on which both he and wife Debbie provide backing vocals, a softer ballad that, backed by mandola, addresses gender differences and concludes that “we’re just little boys and girls telling stories of the same world.”

The second producer is Nigel Stonier, making the first of his two more commercially inclined appearances and co-writes with ‘Jericho’, accordion, harmonica, fiddle and dulcimer colouring an arms-linked swayalong in which the singer declares she’ll fight any girl in town and bring down the city walks to bring home her prize. Their second collaboration is the album’s final track, ‘Rio’, a fiddle-flourished, beat and bouncy folk-pop number in celebration of the Brazilian capital that sounds not unlike something Thea Gilmore (with whom Oliver toured last year) might have recorded. No surprise then to learn she also sings harmonies on it.

The remaining four numbers are co-produced by Lauren Deakin Davies who, not yet out of her teens, has enlisted double bassist Luke Drinkwater and brought the same rootsy feel she did to the debut. The first of her tracks is ‘In The City’, a song of urban alienation with fingerpicked acoustic guitar and muted harmonica, followed by the vocally cascading, pared back ‘The Other Woman’ which, as the title might suggest, is about getting involved with someone who’s already spoken for. Double bass counterpointing the fingerpicked guitar and harmonica, ‘Ghosts At Night’ is a gently sad song that may address the plight of refugees, but certainly concerns those who, caught up in things they can’t control, have lost their sense of being rooted as she sings “You’ve lost the feeling in your wings, you’ve lost the sight of land below.” The sense of confusion and displacement filters thematically into the remaining number (and arguably the most striking after the title track), the impassioned, gradually building swayalong ‘Die This Way’, a song about today’s world with its extremism, a “wretched frontier” with “planes falling through the sky, shot down by the enemy side” sung from a frightened child’s perspective, strummed in Dylanesque protest fashion and featuring a similarly influenced harmonica break. It’s a hugely impressive and confident step forward that underscores Oliver as one of the new torchbearers of contemporary British folk and one which, I suspect, will give her the craft and experience to produce album number three herself.

Mike Davies

If you would like to download a copy of the track or just listen to snippet of it then click on the banner link below 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. 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.

‘Miles To Tralee’ – official video:

Folking at Cambridge Folk Festival 2013 – Day 3

wb3_300Those following this blog will know that it would not be complete without an early morning campsite folking shower report – although those on-site would have had a deluge of their own later in the day when KT “rain goddess” Tunstall took to the stage and opened the heavens – but more on that later. My first shower was at 5.00am, an hour earlier than the day before! Perhaps it was the excitement of the previous 2 days, or perhaps it was just the the showers but Cambridge was not awarding me much sleep.

Breabach danceAs I was finishing the day 2 blog We Banjo 3 took to the main stage, a quintet from Galway playing Irish, bluegrass and American old time music. From what I saw on the #CFF13 @CamFolkFest twitter feed they were definitely making many instant fans and got Saturday stage 1 off to a rousing start. Next up were the mighty Breabach, a tour de force in the Scottish music scene. They had a great array of weaponry on hand including: highland bagpipes, fiddle, guitar, double bass, mandolin, bazouki and even included a set dance by fiddle payer, Megan Henderson.

Saturday Cambs FF CrowdBoth SOC (Son of Clicker – the folking photographer) and I knew that getting to see everything today was going to be tough with all 3 stages in full swing. In fact panic set in and we ran around like headless chickens for a bit until coming to our senses and catching the end of the Festival Session, hosted by Battlefield Band and Feast of Fiddles academic legend Brian McNeil. This was a one off line-up featuring: The Chair, Frigg, The Rambling Boys of Pleasure, Radio 2 young folk award winners Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar, Martin Simpson, Le Vent du Nord and We Banjo 3 again.

Hop and a skip back to the Stage 1 to see Martin Simpson performing a guitar master class wrapped up in his usual exemplary solo set kind of way which included favourites like the you were never any good with money gem Prodigal Son and Jackie and Murphy, a story song of an epic true tale of bravery, donkeys and Gallipoli.

Thea Gilmore CFFManaged to then catch the end of the talented and velvet voiced Heidi Talbot on stage 2 as she left us all going up and down her music tree, Korrontzi from Northern Spain were next up and made you feel part of a Basque hill town knees up for a short while (it was great to see Thea Gilmore dancing along to them back stage). It wasn’t long until Thea took center stage with her full band line up which included producer, husband and multi-instrumentalist Nigel Stonier. Thea definitely showed off her folk credentials by giving us a faultless performance of Pity the Poor Immigrant. Thea then belted out the Radio 2 A listed song Start As We Mean To Go On, before ending with what for me was the highlight of the day, a perfect rendition to the stunning London with her little lad taking center stage on the fiddle. Sandy Denny who wrote the lyrics to this song is my folk heroine and Thea is equally addictive.

There was only one way to come down and that was to head over to the club tent and catch State Of The Union, aka Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams. In the grand tradition of ‘The Special Relationship’, State Of The Union combines the talents of America and England, producing an end result that delighted the club tent crowd with hook-laden songs, fiery and emotional guitar playing and soulful vocals. By this time I had a few jars of Ringwood’s finest Boon Doggle ale and was amusing myself by keeping the girls at the bar on their toes and coming up with different names for it. The firm favourite was Moon Poodle!

Fully Protected & The Moon PoodleThe Moon Poodle was listening as the heavens opened and the poodle piddled down on us as KT Tunstall hit the stage. A great set followed, my favourite being Other Side of the World or dark side of the poodle moon by the Black horse and a cherry tree, no that one actually came later… but don’t blame it on the Sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, blame it on the Boggle. I was past caring as I was now focused on keeping the umbrella in the right place for KT’s Mexican “brella” wave!

I caught a bit of the Mavericks but it was definitely time to head back to Coldham’s before I did myself mischief…

The folkmaster

Introducing… Tracey Browne

Everyone is Ordinary, an album invoking comparison to a host of singer-songwriters including…A British Joan Osborne perhaps, a 21st century Kirsty MacColl, a folkier Sarah McLachlan, a poppier Sheryl Crow…we invite you to judge for yourself… Continue reading Introducing… Tracey Browne

THEA GILMORE – Don’t Stop Singing – ISLAND/MIGHTY VILLAGE

I’m always a little wary about the posthumous raking over of an artist’s work. Sandy Denny has been well served by compilations and archive tapes over the years but even here there were some tracks that I do feel would have been better left unheard – mostly because of recording quality rather than any deficiencies on Sandy’s part, I hasten to say. Continue reading THEA GILMORE – Don’t Stop Singing – ISLAND/MIGHTY VILLAGE