WILL POUND – Through The Seasons (Lulubug LULUBUG004)

Through The SeasonsThe cover tells you most of what you need to know about this album. Will Pound, here devoting more of his energies to melodeon than harmonica, was brought up in the Morris tradition and is a long-time member of Chinewrde Morris. Through The Seasons is a project he has long cherished and has brought together some fine musicians to realise it. Although there are a convenient twelve tracks, this is not a calendar – the Plough Monday tune comes in at number nine – nor is it a user manual. It is, as Will himself says, a celebration.

If you have even a passing interest in Morris many of these tunes will be familiar to you but possibly only the hardiest will have heard ‘The College Hornpipe’ or ‘Papa Stour Sword Dance’ in situ. You will certainly have met ‘Getting Upstairs’, ‘Trunkles’, ‘The Nutting Girl’, ‘Brighton Camp’, ‘Salmon Tails’ and ‘Ampleforth’ not to mention ‘The Liberty Bell’. The selection of tunes covers Cotswold, North-West, Border, Rapper, Molly and Longsword.

At the core of band are fiddler Ross Grant and Benji Kirkpatrick playing bouzouki, banjo and guitar but Will has called in a few favours, notably John Kirkpatrick who leads the melody on the Border tune, ‘Not For Joe’ and Eliza Carthy who lends her fiddle and voice to ‘The Nutting Girl’ – the latter proving that she is a Waterson through and through. Fiddlers Ross Couper and Patsy Reid are drafted in to add authenticity to the Shetland tune that closes the set.

Purists, if any are left, may take exception to one or two liberties taken with the arrangements – Will certainly does odd things to ‘Brighton Camp’ – but the casual listener will enjoy Through The Seasons immensely and I’m sure it will be in every car on the way to a folk festival this summer.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.willpound.com

Through The Seasons:

ROSS & ALI – Symbiosis II (Symbiosis Records, SYMCD001)

Symbiosis IIIt was only in December that Ross Ainslie’s fantastic solo album, Sanctuary, was released, and he is back again already, this time with Ali Hutton in a very welcome second celebration of their long-standing partnership. Symbiosis II (despite sounding like the title of a particularly difficult contemporary art piece) is a logical successor to their previous album, Symbiosis, and – appropriately – clear lines of connection join the two.

Symbiosis II is dedicated to Hutton’s grandad, who is also the subject of the first tune of the set entitled ‘Grandad’s’. This reflective piece makes a worthy companion, a mirror, to the delicate music box he previously created for his grandma, on the first album’s ‘Grans’.

As with the first album, titles are thematic one-word embodiments of the tunes that lie within (and an apostrophe pedant’s heaven!). The only non-original work on the album is ‘Goretree’, a tender Tommy Peoples cover. A number of the tunes have been specifically commissioned, and are credited accordingly. Whether composed by Ainslie or Hutton, the blending of the individual tunes into a set is never less than sublimely skilful, there’s no sudden lurch, no visible join, it all flows immaculately.

Despite these echoes of the first album, Symbiosis II pushes off into new territory, playing with notional boundaries of traditional music. It’s also definitely more of a “studio” album, given the addition of sound effects and synthesisers. Storm effects on ‘Mick’s’ give way to fast, fierce piping over a dark synth undercurrent, for instance, whilst ‘Birds’ features a clever interplay of whistles and pipes to reinvent the birdsong audio of the intro.

There is some striking, often quite moody, percussion, such as on the terrific ‘Kings’ where it lends an immediacy and a specific modernity to the tune ‘Dine Like Kings’. In the second part, ‘King Of The Mountain’, Patsy Reid’s strings add a dream-like drone, quite unlike the more tense, pulsating backdrop they provide on ‘Mink’. Andrea Gobbi’s thoughtful mixing ensures that nothing becomes overwhelming and a coherent balance is maintained throughout.

The duo’s core sound (Highland pipes, cittern, whistles, guitars and banjo) becomes more richly fleshed out as a result, and they wring a staggering variety of moods from whistles and pipes: lyrical and breathy, writhing and sinuous, beefy and muscular – and every shade in between.

Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton must surely be two of the most prolific young men around in Scottish music at the moment. Working in a dizzying variety of (often award-winning) projects their output never seems to falter. Symbiosis II is another superb addition to the catalogue.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: http://rossandali.co.uk/

Buy from: rossandali.bandcamp.com

Hogmanay in Edinburgh:

MAEVE MACKINNON – Strì (Own Label, MM003)

Launched this weekend as part of Celtic Connections 2018, comes Maeve Mackinnon’s third studio album, Strì (meaning “strive”). After a couple of years of touring with Stepcrew and others, Mackinnon returns to home turf with an album of songs with a distinctly female perspective.

Inspired by Mackinnon’s love of waulking songs, this collection bears all the hallmark strong rhythms of work songs, like opener ‘Iomaraibh Eutrom’ (“Row Lightly”) with its hypnotic rowing pace. There’s also an evident relish in playing with assonance and alliteration in the language.

The lyrics (in translation) form a brutal poetry. Often these little hunks of plain-spoken, stark phrases hang together with a dark twist involving betrayal, or a loss of love or life. But it’s as repeated, sung phrases that they come alive with their own musicality.

Knowing Gaelic may help comprehension, but it’s certainly not essential to appreciating the vocal skill and dexterity in pieces like ‘Puirt-a-Beul’ (“Mouth Music”) – a “hidden” track that runs on from ‘Moch An-Diugh A Rinn Mi Eirigh’ (“Early Today I Rose”). Then there’s the not-quite-rapping, tongue-twisting ‘Bodachan a’Ghàrraidh’ (“Little Old Man In The Garden”) with its loose, funky guitar undercarriage. (And this song even fades out, like some contemporary radio playlister).

What the Scots generally do seem to have is a sound grasp of how to respect and refresh their traditions with judicious use of the studio toolbox, and Strì is no exception. So, occasional processed vocals, industrial metallic sounds, scratchy electronics and even an almost club-like rhythmic regularity on can be found here, all of which help to keep these songs feeling right up to date.

Producer/arranger Duncan Lyall successfully marshalls an array of top musicians including Jarlath Henderson, Ali Hutton, Martin O’Neill, Patsy Reid and Kathleen MacInnes, amongst others, whilst keeping a firm hold on the balance of instrumentation and sympathetically fleshing out Mackinnon’s warm tones.

Most of the songs here may be from the Gaelic tradition, but Mackinnon does include one of her own compositions. Following a crackly announcement in Spanish, it’s quite startling to hear English lyrics again. ‘We’re Not Staying’ is a complex tale of flight and persecution, nicely told with an emphasis on the disruption of migration and the wistful sense of temporariness.

In short, Maeve Mackinnon has made, in Strì, an album that is a real pleasure to listen to, relishing in all its rhythmic twists and turns. She has taken traditional forms and given them a contemporary edge, and the women’s stories that she sings are just as relevant as they ever have been.

Su O’Brien

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: www.maevemackinnon.com

‘Iomaraibh Eutrom’:

Maeve Mackinnon – new album

Maeve Mackinnon

Contemporary Gaelic Singer Maeve Mackinnon releases her third studio album in February, 2018. Strì is a collection of songs in Gaelic and English, based on the themes of work, exile and struggle, from a woman’s perspective.

Strì means to strive or struggle in Gaelic. My original idea was to revisit the songs I love, particularly Gaelic Waulking songs. Waulking songs are work songs traditionally sung by women in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. They were hardy, tough women and they sang of battles, tragedies, breakups and romance. I realised midway through recording that nearly all the songs are from a female perspective, and the messages within them are so current today on many levels”.

The album is produced by multiple award-winning producer and bassist Duncan Lyall (producer of Scots Trad Music Awards’ Album of the Year 2015 for Treacherous Orchestra’s Grind along with many others!).

Strì features guest contributions from musical luminaries such as Kathleen MacInnes, Martin O’Neill, Patsy Reid, Ali Hutton, Duncan Lyall, and Jarlath Henderson alongside longtime collaborators Ross Martin and Brian McAlpine.

“The stories, melodies and rhythms convey so much. Whether you speak Gaelic or not, I think people can hear the power of feeling in these songs”.

Strì is launched on Sunday 4 February at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of  Celtic Connections 2018.

Artist’s website: https://www.maevemackinnon.com/

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: