LORI WATSON – Yarrow Acoustic Sessions (Isle Music Scotland ISLE05CD)

Yarrow Acoustic SessionsIf the word you usually associate with the Scots is “dour” ‘I’m afraid this album may reinforce your prejudices. As I understand it Yarrow Acoustic Sessions is the prequel to a full album – working drawings if you will. Lori is supported by Duncan Lyall, who also produced the record, Steven Byrnes and Fiona Black and the accompaniments are, to say the least, spare, with Lori employing a lot of plucked violin.

For those with limited knowledge of Scottish geography, Yarrow in a region of the borders north-west of Keilder and not far from Flodden, hence the inclusion of ‘Flooers O The Forest’ in this set. Lori opens with ‘Yarrow (A Charm)’ based on a poem by Walter Elliot and built on a droning, almost discordant, harmonium by Lyall. Next comes ‘The Flytin O Life And Daith’ – words by Hamish Henderson and music by Alison McMorland – which is not exactly cheering. Then there’s ‘Fause, Fause’, a song I don’t particularly care for in English. Evan as an aficionado of traditional Scottish song, I’m finding this album hard going.

Taking it in isolation I would probably heap praise on ‘Dowie Dens O Yarrow’ although I’d be happier if Duncan Lyall were playing a real piano. Lowi sings mostly in Scots which, as Dick Gaughan would patiently explain, isn’t English with some unfamiliar words but a foreign language from which you can pick out a few words. Thus, ‘Flooers O The Forest’, a long version which I think uses the original 18th century words, is at times incomprehensible, particularly when Lyall is giving the keyboard a real work-out.

I like ‘What A Voice (Blackbird)’ which sounds more like a completed version as does the closing ‘October Song’ with some clever variations of both melody and rhythm and Lori harmonising with herself. If the final project sounds anything like these two tracks, I’ll be very happy.

Dai Jeffries

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).

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Artist’s website: www.loriwatson.net

‘October Song’ – official video:

Lori Watson announces two new albums

Lori Watson

Scots Singer of the Year 2016-17, Lori Watson is a fiddle player, singer and composer. She has drawn on the rich tradition of the Scottish Borders throughout her artistic life, including experimental works and a PhD thesis and creative folio exploring innovation and contemporary traditional music practice. A folk musician with considerable pedigree, Lori is currently touring and recording with Boreas, Iain Morrison and several solo and collaborative projects including guesting with Kate Rusby in 2018 and she has six albums in circulation including two critically acclaimed records featuring her trio Rule Of Three. But this is Lori’s first significant song work and she is lettingus in on the process as well as the finished product.

Lori is touring Yarrow Acoustic Sessions in 2018 with Duncan Lyall on keys, harmonium and bass (Kate Rusby, Treacherous Orchestra) and Chas Mackenzie on guitar (Halton Quartet, Scott Matthews). Follow-up album Yarrow is expected Autumn 2018.

Yarrow Acoustic Sessions is the culmination of an evolving digital album –Watson’s first major song work. Growing up in the Scottish Borders, the Yarrow valley beside Selkirk has been an inspiring place for Lori and acknowledging that this unique and atmospheric area has inspired countless artists over the centuries, she has continued her own exploration of the area through song, music, folklore, history and poetry. This album is a thoughtful selection of songs brought together to convey a sense of Yarrow as Lori knows it. The songs are full of strong natural imagery and tales of our own imperfection: living and dying, growing and decaying, loving, betraying, regretting, accepting, and a kind of madness we just can’t shake.

In addition to vocals and fiddle from Watson, the album features sensitive playing from Duncan Lyall (keys, harmonium and double bass), Steven Byrnes (guitar and bass drum) and Fiona Black (accordion) as well as contributions from poets, writers and composers Hamish Henderson, Walter Elliot, Alison Rutherford, Jean Elliot, Lewis Spence, Alexander Anderson, Alison McMorland, Ed Miller and Robin Williamson. Yarrow Acoustic Sessions reflects Watson’s creative process towards a second, forthcoming, album (Yarrow) that carries these themes beyond conventional folk sounds (hinted at in ‘What A Voice (Blackbird)’.

Dark and brooding, windswept, contoured, joyful, turbulent, sparse, reflective: Yarrow is an exploration of human connections to nature and one another, through time, inspired by the Yarrow valley in the Scottish Borders.

“I’m interested in unfinished works and fragments, whether traditional or original. They’ve always been inspiring starting points for me. I’m creating and interpreting fragments; crafting something that expresses the connections between us and our environment spanning hundreds of years: and then it’s filtered by what inspires and resonates with me right now.”

“I’m very curious about nature and about our psychology; and how we connect, and make sense of, our inner and outer lives. I think this comes through in the music.”

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.loriwatson.net

‘Flooers O The Forest’:

DAMIEN O’KANE – Avenging & Bright (Pure Records PRCD46)

Avenging & BrightDamien O’Kane isn’t actually auditioning for Game Of Thrones on the cover. The cos-play refers to the title track, ‘Avenging & Bright’, taken from a poem by Thomas Moore about a mediaeval Irish dust up. On the back of the booklet you’ll see his band: Steven Byrnes and Steven Iveson (guitars) and Anthony Davis (keyboards) all similarly attired.

We’re used to people doing strange thing to folk music whether it’s putting a rock band behind it or adding neo-classical strings but Damien O’Kane takes a different route, using the styles of late 20th/early 21st century pop. In fact the opener, ‘Boston City’ starts with a passage of ambient guitar and I really wasn’t sure about this record at first. It struck me that you could strip the songs away from the backings and substitute anything you wished.

I’ve rather warmed to Avenging & Bright since, partly because of the quality of the material and partly because of the playing, particularly on the more delicate tracks and particularly the guitar parts. The songs sound traditional but fewer than half of them are and in many cases Damien has provided new tunes. For the others, he’s borrowed from near and far: Kate Rusby, who also provides backing vocals on ‘Lately’, Sean McBride, Dave Goulder and Elizabeth Stirling, who he credits with the authorship of ‘All Among The Barley’ although many authorities credit Alfred Williams with its collection and Mike Yates with providing the tune.

The best tracks for me are ‘The Homes Of Donegal’ and the delightful instrumental ‘Dancing In Puddles’, one of two tracks to feature Ron Block on banjo but that’s just picking the icing off the top of the cake. Damien clearly has belief in the songs he sings and is prepared to push the envelope in presenting them to his listeners.

Dai Jeffries

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://damienokane.co.uk/

‘Poor Stranger’ – official video:

KATE RUSBY – Ghost (Pure PRCD38)

KRGhostAn album by unquestionably my favourite female voice in contemporary folk (it’s those homely, but somehow also sexy Barnsley vowels) and a version of ‘Martin Said’, the song that first introduced me to folk music – Christmas has definitely come early.

Working, as ever, with guitarist husband Damien O’Kane and variously joined by Michael McGoldrick on whistles and flute, double bassist Duncan Lyall, bouzouki player Steven Byrnes, accordionists Nick Cooke and Julian Sutton, electric guitarist Steven Iveson and Rex Preston on mandolin with Union Station’s Ron Block providing banjo, not to mention the occasional string quartet, Rusby’s 12th studio recording is also her first all new material in four years, Unlike Make The Light, however, there’s only three self-penned tracks here, the rest being arrangements of traditional numbers.

One such opens proceedings in the shape of her take on the familiar Child Ballad, ‘The Outlandish Knight’, the unease in the lyrics about a maiden getting the better of her murderous suitor underscored by guitar drone and haunting diatonic accordion. It’s traditional again for the second track, ‘The Youthful Boy’, another false heart tale as, her lover having gone off to sea, the abandoned woman declares she’ll not mourn his death, Block’s banjo dappling notes around Rusby’s airy tones.

Buoyed up by accordion, the first original is ‘We Will Sing’, a sprightly contribution to the canon of songs celebrating May and spring’s renewal while its two companions are the liltingly lovely, melody cascading ‘After This’ with its affirmation of the healing power of song and the rather darker title track album closer, a somewhat gothic tale of a departed lover’s brief haunting visits (reflected in the booklets artwork) played out with just voice and piano.

It’s a theme mirrored to implied or overt extent in two of the album’s traditional numbers, the gently wistful ‘Night Visit’, set to a tune by Tony Cuffe, where a man braves the ‘roaring tempest’ for a night of passion with his lover, and the suitably subdued air of ‘The Bonnie Bairns’, where a lady encounters two mysterious children who lead her deep into the woods to deliver new of her lover’s fate.

Heartbreak weighs heavy too on ‘I Am Sad’’s acoustic melancholic lament of blighted love, but you’ll be pleased to know that it’s not all doom and gloom, with the remaining traditional contributions including a spiritedly upbeat ‘Three Jolly Fishermen’, the electric guitar (courtesy of Doyle) and accordion refrain friendly swayalong ‘The Magic Penny’ and, with McGoldrick on whistles, ‘Silly Old Man’, another tale of coming good financially as the titular protagonist turns the tables on the thief who tries to rob him. As R. Dean Taylor once said, there’s a Ghost in my house. There really should be one in yours, too.

Mike Davies

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.katerusby.com

A behind-the-scenes look at Ghost: