GREN BARTLEY – Magnificent Creatures (Fellside FECD 2680)

GREN BARTLEY Magnificent CreaturesOriginally from Stratford-upon-Avon and now based in Dudley,  Bartley recorded his third album in Wolverhampton with the increasingly legendary producer Gavin Monaghan, his first to feature his new touring trio of cellist Sarah Smout, Julia Disney on violin and piano and percussionist Leslie Glanville (the former two also providing harmonies), with contributions from Jim Sutton on bass, Matt Marks on accordion and Laura Hares.

Though clearly influenced by Americana folk, there’s more of a Canadian mountains feel to the music in its airy melodies, the fingerpicked ‘Fair Share’ is reminiscent of the young Gordon Lightfoot, although, having said that, on the wide open sky sound of opening number ‘Tall Wooden Walls’ vocally reminds me of John Denver. The latter features some soaring backing vocals from Disney and Snout, but their voices really come into their own on the lovely simple acoustic ‘Angels Fade’ and the closing a capella ‘Silent Hotel’, another open air dusk setting, where the three voices interweave. On the preceding track, ‘This Changes Everything’ (another song featuring lovers lying on the grass and thoughts of what tomorrow brings), they also get to spotlight their dexterity on the strings, violin and cello providing warm accompaniment to Bartley’s simple acoustic guitar.

While the bulk of the album is quiet and reflective, the choppy war-themed ‘Home Soon’ features Monaghan blowing some bluesy mouth harp while two back-to-back cuts also take things up a notch. Opening with an acoustic strum and with lyrics inspired by the shipwrecks off Portland Bill in Devon, ‘Portland’ is a slow builder two-step swayer that climaxes with Bartley singing about swimming with the dead (the magnificent creatures if the album title) before string and guitar take it to muted close. Then comes ‘Nightingale’, the album’s seven minute tour de force with Bartley’s guitar dancing around Glanville’s propulsive drums, as the track sandwiches a traditional folk mid-section with fingerpicked guitar between rock sensibilities and poppy elements strongly redolent of the Thompson Twins’ ‘Hold Me Now’.

Both it and the following track, ‘Of The Girl’, are solid showcases of both Bartley’s musicianship and his arrangement skills, the latter seeing Disney’s wordless vocals circling round his slide guitar and Glanville’s skewed percussion. There’s slidework too on ‘Strange Times’, another bluesier number with lyrics about getting out before you’re broken down that link an old rusty truck sent for scrap with memories of the men who laid down the railway tracks but never got to ride the line. Clearly as gifted a writer as he is a musician, it’s time he was discovered and embraced by a much wider audience.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album, 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.

‘Tall Wooden Walls’ – official video:

SUNJAY – Sunjay (New Mountain Music)

SunjayBorn in Derby and now living in Stourbridge, Sunjay Brayne has apparently been playing guitar since he was four. Still only 20, this is his second studio album (there’s also a live one) and he’s a regular on the folk and acoustic circuit. Having caught one of his sets, I can testify to his accomplished playing and warm, singing style and can well understand the comparisons to a young Ralph McTell. Indeed, Brayne’s influences are very much rooted in the late 60s and early 70s folk scenes of the UK and America, something evident from the choice of covers that comprise the bulk of his album.

Here you’ll find faithful readings of James Taylor’s ‘Close Your Eyes’, Jim Croce’s uptempo blues swing ‘You Don’t Mess Around With Jim’, a fiddle, cello, banjo and mandolin arrangement ‘Going Down The Road’ by folk cult figure Mary McCaslin and Tom Rush classic ‘No Regrets’ (with some nicely understated fiddle from Katriona Gilmore) as well as the slightly more recent ‘Memphis In The Meantime’ by John Hiatt (though it could do with more grit) and Mark Knopfler’s ‘Sailing To Philadelphia’ with its cello contribution from Sarah Smout. He also offers his own arrangement of traditional blues rag ‘Drop Down Mama’, though, as with the a capella handclap and stomp reading of Buskin and Batteau’s ‘A Folk Singer Earns Every Dime’, his voice and delivery simply lack the experience and depth to give them real conviction.

The two remaining numbers are originals, the album opening with ‘London Road’, a song about homelessness written by producer, manager, label owner and erstwhile Bushbury Mountain Daredevils frontman, Eddy Morton, and featuring Dan Walsh on banjo while ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’ is a wistful self-penned acoustic end of relationship folk blues ballad. Accompanied by Gilmore, it’s a lovely number, beautifully delivered, that makes you wish there were more of his own songs rather than relying on familiar tunes that may earn gig rapport, but which don’t really work in his favour on disc in terms of reaching a wider market. Hopefully, next time round, there’ll be more of his own material and although he could perhaps do with a little more seasoning to his voice to add a little occasional edge, he’s an accomplished player with a relaxed engaging style and I look forward to seeing him develop.

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 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.sunjay.tv

Sunjay sings John Martyn:

Patsy Matheson: new album

For Little Piece of England 05 colour by Craig Oddy June 08‘Domino Girls’, the new album from Patsy Matheson, is her best and most ambitious work yet.

Featuring contributions from Belinda O’Hooley (O’Hooley & Tidow, Rachel Unthank & the Winterset, Nic Jones trio)  – vocals, piano, accordion, Heidi Tidow (O’Hooley & Tidow) – vocals, Anna Esslemont (Uiscedwr, Bad Anna) – violin, Sarah Smout (Rosie Doonan & the Snapdragons, Michael Chapman) – cello,  and her long time collaborator Jon Short (double bass), with Will Reddy (drums) and Richard Ferdinando (Crosscut Saw) drums,  there are nine brand new compositions as well as ‘Chasing Rainbows’ – a song given to her by acclaimed songwriter Boo Hewerdine. Continue reading Patsy Matheson: new album