BENJAMIN WILLIAM PIKE – A Burdensome Year (Gin House Records)

A Burdensome YearWhen I first heard of Benjamin William Pike’s latest CD A Burdensome Year (released on January 27th 2017), my interest was piqued by a suggested comparison to Michael Chapman. (That’s the folky/bluesy/jazzy singer and guitarist, not the Chinnichap chap who wrote and produced hits for the likes of Sweet, Suzi Quatro and Blondie in the 70s.) And there is a resemblance to Chapman sometimes in song structure, but mostly in Benjamin’s “gin-soaked” vocals, though the overall effect is perhaps smoother. However, Benjamin’s fluent guitar lines reminded me less of Chapman than of Jack Jackson (to whom there is also an occasional vocal resemblance) and at some points Martin Simpson. The instrumental work here is as more about providing a strong melodic basis for the songs than it is about displaying technique, though his mastery of the acoustic guitar in particular is evident.

I was also interested, after recently reviewing The Treatment Tapes EP by Rab Noakes, to find that the songs on this CD were also based on his experience of illness, hospitalization and surgery. Not that I have the least objection to people using their personal experiences directly in their music-making, and for the benefit of those who are uneasy with sad songs, let me reassure you that the general tone of this album is generally upbeat, despite the poignancy of some of the lyrics.

Personnel:

  • Benjamin William Pike: vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, pedal steel, piano, Fender Rhodes
  • Mattie Foulds: drums, percussion, backing vocals
  • Adam Richards: double bass
  • Patsy Reid: violin, viola
  1. ‘Beasts Of Burden’ is not, of course, the Rolling Stones track of almost the same name, though there’s something slightly exotic about the way he sings the modal melody and underlying guitar figure that might remind you a little of early Stones music and Brian Jones’s experimentation with Indian and North African influences. (Benjamin is, in fact, well-acquainted with Indian classical music: I’d like to hear some of his work in that area.)
  2. ‘Hand You’ve Been Dealt’ includes some somewhat Simpson-esque acoustic guitar work, and has a fatalistic lyric, and some passages that are almost orchestral. Very nice interplay between the bass and the guitar, and a catchy chorus.
  3. Benjamin describes ‘Ones To Forget’ as a country song, and the restrained steel guitar in the background does give it a country feel.
  4. The guitar in ‘Ties That Bind’ makes it sound a little folkier. Though the lyric describes “things slowly falling apart“, the up-tempo arrangement keeps it the right side of lugubrious.
  5. ‘Keep Me In Your Mind’ is one of those songs like Phil Ochs’s ‘When I’m Gone…’ and Warren Zevon’s ‘Keep Me In Your Heart For A While’ that face up to the thought of a world without the composer in it, and it’s a very attractive example of that idiom. Fortunately, it was premature.
  6. The intro to ‘Bless The Bad Days’ is similar enough to the previous song that for a minute I thought I’d fallen for a false ending, despite the spoken “1,2,3,4…” that leads into it. Once it gets going, though, it’s a song that more than deserves a place on the CD in its own right.
  7. Benjamin describes ‘Time To Lend’ as having been “swirling around my heard in the first days after my operation…This is about being short on time.” His always excellent acoustic guitar work is supported by some unostentatious but totally appropriate electric guitar.
  8. ‘Dead Man Walking’ isn’t as gloomy as the title might suggest, being about “the death and re-birth of the body and mind“.
  9. ‘Down This Road’: I love the line “If you don’t know what the hell you are doing, you’re probably doing things right” and the general message about learning from your mistakes rather than abandoning them.
  10. ‘City Living’ has an attractive tune with a between-verses acoustic guitar part somewhat reminiscent of ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’ as Martin Simpson might have played it. The song itself is more country than folk, but with its theme of a musician wanting to get back to country living, perhaps that resemblance is deliberate. In any case, it rounds off the CD nicely.

There’s a lot to enjoy here. Those vocals may or may not be gin-soaked, but they’re certainly not unmusical. They carry some very interesting songs very well. While this probably isn’t intended to be a CD focused on guitar wizardry, Benjamin’s fluent technique shines throughout, with some solid instrumental support. I would, perhaps, have ordered the tracks a little differently (especially track 6), and some of the choruses repeat lines a little more than I like personally. Nonetheless, I look forward to hearing much more from him.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.benjaminwilliampike.co.uk/

‘Beasts Of Burden’ – promo video:

ROBYN STAPLETON – Songs Of Robert Burns (Laverock Records LAVE002CD)

songs of robert burnsI was delighted to receive a copy to review of Songs Of Robert Burns, the latest album by Robyn Stapleton. Quite simply, this is a fabulous recording by the young Scottish female singer. She has carefully selected a top-notch group of musicians to support her. Most of the songs she has chosen will be familiar to the followers of Robert Burns.

For anybody who is not aware of the songs of Robert Burns or who has previously stated that they were not keen on Burns then I suggest you go out and buy this CD now! I would find it hard to find fault in any track. The arrangements are superb and extremely complementary to Robyn’s voice. The clarity of her voice and her excellent diction is a bonus which not all current artistes offer.

‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose ‘, ‘Ae Fond Kiss’,’ John Anderson My Jo’ and ‘Ca’ the Ewes’ are only some of the beautiful songs she sings and Robyn’s version of ‘Parcel O’ Rogues’ is exceptional. Her musicians include Patsy Reid, Aaron Jones, Innes White , Alistair Paterson and several more who are becoming well known in their own rights on the scene.

The album cover and quality of the actual recordings can put me off of purchasing a CD. No problem with that on this disc. The cover is excellent and there is a separate booklet with all the words, just in case you missed any when listening. For non-Scots this is most beneficial. The studio work is also very good with a high quality production by Robyn at Castlesound Studios.

Altogether a very, very good album which should find itself into many people’s collections. For those who prefer the older classical singing of Burns songs in preference to the more ‘folkie’ style , this CD crosses those barriers . This is for all lovers of Robert Burns.

Fraser Bruce

Artist’s website: www.robynstapleton.com

Teaser video:

SWEET LIBERTIES – Sweet Liberties (Quercus QRCD002)

Sweet LibertiesSweet Liberties, originally a commission by the EFDSS and Folk at the Oak, in partnership with the House of Commons, to mark the 2015: Anniversaries: Parliament in the Making, this has now expanded to become a 14-track album featuring a varied line up of folk musicians in celebration of 800 years in the pursuit of democracy.

Some of the names will be familiar, others less so, but all contribute thoughtful and relevant songs touching on various aspects of the overall topic. I am assuming that everyone listed in the credits (which includes Nancy Kerr and Patsy Reid on violin, Nick Cooke on melodeon) played on all (or most) of the songs, the writers themselves handling the vocals, perhaps the best known being Martyn Joseph who contributes three of his own numbers, the first, featuring fingerpicked guitar and violin, a revisiting of ‘Dic Penderyn’ from his Evolved album, the story of the 1831 Merthyr Riots and the man hung for a crime he could not have committed. The second, a duet with Sam Carter, is also one from the back catalogue, ‘Twelve Years Old’, from Songs For The Coming Home, inspired by the 1833 Factory Act and framed as a conversation between two children a hundred years apart. His third, ‘Nye’, is a new song written for the project, a fingerpicked, violin-accompanied tribute to those who work in the NHS and to its founder, fellow Welshman, Aneurin Bevan.

The album opens with ‘Kingdom’, the first of four songs by 2015’s BBC Folk Singer of the Year, Nancy Kerr, a traditional styled solo acoustic number that takes Magna Carta as a springboard to address the ownership and management of land for profit and the subsequent loss of habitat. Coloured by violin, ‘Seven Notes’ is another traditional framed track, one which uses the image of the migrating cuckoo as a poetic metaphor for colonialist history, setting it in an experiment in musical patterns to represent multicultural Britain.

Rather more jaunty, the waltzing, melodeon-led Music Hall-like ‘Lila’ (the only song not to also feature on her new Instar album) connects the suffragette movement with the abolition of slavery through its twin subjects, Adelaide-born Muriel Lila Matters, who took to a hot air balloon to scatter Votes for Women leaflets over Parliament, and Mary Prince, an eighteenth century Bermudian whose autobiography offered a narrative of slavery. Her fourth contribution, the spare, melodeon, violin and guitar accompanied ‘Written On My Skin’, again draws on metaphor and nature imagery (here a hunted fox) on a song in memory of women forced to resort to the Human Rights Act to have their sexual assault cases justly tried.

A relatively new voice on the British contemporary folk scene, Maz O’Connor also has four credits, all new recordings, kicking off with the violin-backed ‘Rich Man’s Hill’ which, inspired by the 1601 Poor Law and concerning the widening gap between the haves and have nots,, tells of a homeless man in London who believes that, if he works hard enough, he too can get himself a mansion. The one track to address democracy directly, ‘This Old House’ (a nod the Palace of Westminster) is a playful take on democracy and compromise framed in the context of a couple redecorating and patching up their shared house, pizzicato violin driving along the chorus.

Featuring nimble fingerpicked guitar and violin, ‘Broad Waters’, as the title suggests, concerns the 1985 killing of PC Keith Blakelock on the Broadwater Farm estate and the subsequent police fitting up of three innocent men for his murder, and is set as a dialogue between a police officer pressuring a young boy into testifying against Winston Silcott. Her last track, backed by just acoustic guitar, the plaintive ‘Broken Things’, also concerns social justice, here, borrowing the opening of Wilfred Owen’s Anthem For Doomed Youth, a lament for the decline of the trade union movement, focusing on the Miners’ Strikes of 1984 and, in particular, the death of David Jones during violence on a picket line.

Which leaves Sam Carter who, like Joseph, provides three numbers. Echoing Kerr, ‘Am I Not A Man?’ also addresses slavery a waltzing number inspired by freed slaves organisation Sons of Africa whose campaigning contributed to the Abolition of Slavery Act, drawing for its details on the slave autobiography Interesting Narrative Of The Life Of Olaudah Equiano.

His two other songs come at the back end of the album, the first being the lurching cabaret-styled ‘Dark Days’, a straightforward state of the nation comment with gyspy violin accompaniment, proceedings closing with the folksy salvationist hymn ‘One More River’, a return to the theme of slavery that sounds a personal note in that his great great aunt married the son of a fugitive Virginian slave, sun in his voice as he contemplates fleeing to England, ending in an unaccompanied chorus by Carter and, presumably, his three female associates.

Featuring none of the bombast or flagwaving that would likely characterise an American equivalent, this is both a damn fine album and a salient reminder of the liberties we so often fail to hold dear.

Mike Davies

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 SWEET LIBERTIES – Nancy Kerr 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]

‘John Ball’ live at the launch event:

ANGE HARDY – Esteesee (Story Records STREC1659)

ANGE HARDY – Esteesee (Story Records STREC1659)“Why Esteesee” asks Ange Hardy in her notes and it was a question I had asked myself in anticipation. The explanation is actually very simple. Esteesee or S.T.C. is Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the subject of Ange’s fourth album.

That Coleridge was what we might now call “a character” quickly becomes apparent as Ange picks out incidents from his life. ‘William Frend’ tells of Coleridge applauding during the trial of one of his college tutors who published a pamphlet condemning the Church liturgy. STC got away with it by blaming a one-armed man standing near him! His friendship with William and Dorothy Wordsworth is recounted in ‘Friends Of Three’; his relationship with his brother is explored in ‘George’ and a failed attempt to found a better life in America is examined in ‘Pantisocracy’.

Of course, Coleridge’s own writing plays a large part. The opening song, ‘The Foster-Mother’s Tale’, comes from a play and then we’re into The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner with two songs. The first, ‘My Captain’, is based on one of the few happy bits of the poem and will be claimed as traditional before long. It’s a song full of optimism and enthusiasm – complete with spoons by Jo May – and is in stark contrast to ‘The Curse Of A Dead Man’s Eye’. This is clever programming; the poem would be the elephant in room otherwise as would ‘Kubla Khan’ which is read by Tamsin Rosewell with accompaniment by Ange on guitar and whistle and Kate Rouse’s hammered dulcimer.

Other musical support comes from Steve Knightley, who takes lead vocals on ‘Mother You Will Rue Me’, Patsy Reid, Archie Churchill-Moss (of Moore Moss Rutter), Lukas Drinkwater (of Three Daft Monkeys), Jonny Dyer, Andrew Pearce and Steve Pledger. In her music Ange cleverly employs the rhythms and cadences of English traditional music, particularly apparent in ‘Along The Coleridge Way’ and the final ‘Elegy For Coleridge’. The packaging is equally good with excerpts from STC’s writing alongside Ange’s words. I’m not sure that every copy goes out with a greetings card, bookmark and “quill” pen but there have to be some perks in this job.

This is an excellent album. It’s rare that I’ll play a CD twice through without a break even for the purposes of a review. Esteesee is an exception.

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 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.

Artist’s website: www.angehardy.com

Dan Walsh: new album – Incidents & Accidents

Released March 16th on Rooksmere Records

Photograph by Sean Elliot
Photograph by Sean Elliot

 

Incidents & Accidents is the highly anticipated follow up to Dan Walsh’s critically acclaimed Same But Different album release. On the new album we get to hear Dan in a more stripped back format with just a few guest appearances from Patsy Reid (fiddle), Nic Zuppardi (mandolin), Mark Hutchinson (percussion/vocals) and Canadian singer Meaghan Blanchard. The album was also produced by Mark Hutchinson at his Rooksmere Studios, known for producing albums by Blair Dunlop, Fabian Holland and of course Walsh & Pound. There are seven songs and four instrumentals. The song lyrics are a major focus on this album but there is still plenty of Dan’s signature fast and furious banjo playing to keep the fans happy. Of the livelier songs ‘Time To Stay’ tells of Dan’s mixed emotions of moving back to his home town of Stafford after six years living in Newcastle upon Tyne along with the bluegrass inspired ‘Lost Rambler’, showing his love of the mountain music minor tunings. Of the slower songs, the contemplative ‘Dancing In The Wind’ and ‘The Song Always Stays’ are perfect examples, the former telling of a moving moment on a family holiday in Ireland and the latter relates to Dan and Nic Zuppardi’s experience of playing a gig to Scottish singer Glen Mason in a Surrey care home and rekindling his love of singing and performing in his twilight years. Dan originally started playing banjo due to his love of Scottish and Irish jigs and reels and the aptly named ‘The Tune Set’ contains four tunes from a slow air building right up to a fast and furious reel with names inspired from touring from the Isle of Barra to New Zealand. To complete the musical world tour, ‘Whiplash Reel’ displays Dan’s new found passion for Indian classical music.

Touted as one of the finest banjo players in the UK as well as being a superb singer, songwriter and guitarist, Dan Walsh is described as ‘The real deal’ in UNCUT magazine. To date he has released two critically acclaimed solo albums and has toured the world including visits to Canada, Norway, Germany, India and New Zealand and of course has played solo at venues and festivals across the UK. Having made his name with the duo Walsh and Pound and now a member of the award winning Urban Folk Quartet, as well as guest appearances on stage and on record with the Levellers and Seth Lakeman, this unique and eclectic musician continues to stun audiences across the world.

His eclectic and innovative approach has led to many exciting collaborations alongside his solo work and the UFQ, including tours with Northeast concertina legend Alistair Anderson and with sensational Indian sarangi player Suhail Yusuf Khan as well as Canadian country singer Meaghan Blanchard.

‘The real deal, a demon picker’UNCUT
‘Incredibly gifted, you must see him’ BBC RADIO 2
‘Eclectically inspired and consistently brilliant’fRoots

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

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 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.

‘Time To Stay’ from Incidents & Accidents:

PATSY REID: New album – The Brightest Path

Brightest Path

Label – Classy Trad Records

Release Date – 24th February 2014

 A new album from Patsy Reid is a rare and fine thing.

 

Her first solo recording since 2008, The Brightest Path combines newly unearthed traditional Scottish melodies with soaring self-penned tunes and sublime contemporary songs, displaying the full breadth of Patsy’s talents.

It was recorded in the remote Crear in Argyll (with a view overlooking Jura) with a core band of Ben Nicholls (double bass), Ewan MacPherson (guitars, mandolin and banjo), Signy Jakobsdóttir (percussion), Mhairi Hall (piano) and Mattie Foulds (drums). Playing live in such relaxed and beautiful surroundings gives The Brightest Path an organic and natural sound, despite the virtuosity present throughout its 10 tracks.

The album also features a dreamlike performance from Fraser Fifield – who Patsy describes as “the saxophone version of me”.  For her part Patsy is a one-woman string quartet; playing violin, viola and cello as well as co-producing the record with Mattie. Continue reading PATSY REID: New album – The Brightest Path