JOSIE DUNCAN & PABLO LAFUENTE – The Morning Tempest (Own Label JDP2018CD)

The Morning TempestThe Morning Tempest, the debut album from Josie Duncan and Pablo Lafuente follows on from their 2016 EP, Half Of What You See. Arising, as is increasingly the case these days, from out of a successful crowdfunding campaign, it serves to illustrate the enormous amount of interest in this duo at the moment.

There’s a wonderful lightness of touch all over this album. Lafuente’s playing style carries traces of his native Spain in its delicacy, whilst Duncan has a voice of pure clarity, tipped with that softly rolling Lewis accent. The live-recorded ‘Uamh An Oìr’ (“Cave Of Gold”), illustrates just how well Lafuente’s sensitive, fluid guitar supports the gentle strength of Duncan’s vocal. There’s a subtle interplay of the other band members and guest artists across the remaining tracks as they deliver admirably well-judged and uncluttered support: all the parts kept crisply audible in the production.

Even the more well-known traditional songs, like opener ‘The Night Visiting Song’ (the source of the album’s title), Child ballad ‘King Orfeo’, and ‘He Called For A Candle’ are refreshed here by brisk and lively renditions. There’s strong emphasis on rhythm, peaking with the astonishing vocal control and rapid-fire agility of final song ‘Potato Puirt’. This mash-up of elegies to the humble spud also contains an “Easter egg” – a two-minute long lacuna that culminates in an uncredited gem just before the 6 ½ minute mark. It’s an atmospheric take on ‘The Fisherman’s Lassie’ and, with its overlay of laughter and synth-like percussion, it’s the most “produced” sounding song here, contrasting markedly with what’s gone before.

‘He Fades Away’, Alistair Hulett’s cutting polemic, becomes a real show-stopper here. Duncan’s youthful vocals might suggest a break-up song with the opening lines, “There’s a man in my bed, I used to love him, His kisses used to take my breath away”, but that only makes the full impact of this dying man, ruined by mining and unlikely to live to see any compensation, all the more crushing, “They never told him the cost of bringing home his weekly pay”. The muted flugelhorn and cello accompaniment follow on the deceptive simplicity of the lyrics to pack a real emotional gut-wallop.

Canadian song ‘Kerosene Light’ somehow manages to be both sentimental and clear-eyed, its nostalgia tempered with the harshness of the life it celebrates in lyrics like “sometimes love bloomed and sometimes dreams died by the glow of the kerosene light”.

Duncan’s own song, ‘The Great Escape’ is complemented beautifully by Colin Macleod’s tender vocal and indicates that she’s a more than capable songwriter on her own account.

This is a bright, airy, confident and sure-footed debut that will only cement Josie Duncan and Pablo Lafuente’s growing live reputation and build on their well-deserved 2017 Radio 2 Folk Awards win.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website.

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Artist website: www.josiepablomusic.com

‘The Great Escape’:

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 (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click 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.maevemackinnon.com

‘Iomaraibh Eutrom’:

WINTER WILSON – Far Off On The Horizon (own label, WWCD009)

Far Off On The HorizonWinter Wilson’s eighth album, Far Off On The Horizon, does not do showy or flashy. It just calmly and confidently insinuates its way into the “it’s a keeper!” section of the CD collection, song by well-crafted song.

And each song is most artfully put together with thoughtful lyrics and fully-formed melodies, gently reinforced by sympathetic vocal and instrumental arrangements. It’s a real credit to Winter Wilson, especially songwriter Dave Wilson, that there’s an established, familiar, even lived-in feel to the tracks, a feeling that some of them could be centuries old already.

Yet, with tracks also dealing with topics such as Australian weather, migration and homelessness, the subject matter is often bang up to date. Avoiding straying into preachiness, the result is an album of very naturalistic yet utterly contemporary folk laid over a solid spine of social conscience.

Rather cannily, the album was written, recorded, produced and released to coincide with the duo’s tour with the legendary Fairport Convention (on now, don’t forget your tickets). Given such tight time pressure, it’s all the more remarkable that the result is a genuinely solid album without flab or filler.

Opening – and title – track ‘Far Off On The Horizon’ sets a melancholy mood, with some gorgeous harmonies underscored by Marion Fleetwood’s delicate strings. On ‘The Ship It Rocked’, Fleetwood lends a far more angular counterpoint to a fretful sailor’s tale.

Migration comes in different guises, from a sorrowful family parting in banjo-led ‘Grateful For The Rain (Billy Boy)’, to the poignant and highly topical ‘I Cannot Remain’. Despite its traditional feel, it’s as currently relevant as can be (reducing this listener to furious tears). ‘Ghost’, a moving observation on homelessness and the ease of slipping between society’s cracks, is another openly political/socially aware track.

But what really stands out throughout all these songs is the deep vein of empathy. From ‘The Old Man Was A Sea Dog’, Wilson’s touching tribute to a difficult relationship with his father, to the tragic loneliness of ‘St Peter’s Gate’, the anti-materialism of ‘What Can I Do To Make You Happy?’ and the lingering, regretful ‘When I First Met Amanda’, even the tartest observations are made with a kindly eye.

Kip Winter’s strong and characterful voice slips easily into blues and country-tinged tracks like ‘The Freo Doctor’ and ‘Tried And Tested’ and final track, the striving, uptempo ‘Hard Walkin’’. Having worked hard at turning a mid-life redundancy into an opportunity, it’s perhaps it’s not surprising that Winter Wilson choose to sign off with such a philosophy of optimism after leading us over some tough emotional ground,

Far Off On The Horizon is Winter Wilson’s third album as full-time musicians and can surely only cement their rightful position as songwriters and performers at the forefront of contemporary traditional music.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click 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 website: winterwilson.com

‘Far Off On The Horizon’ – live in the studio:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Strange Angels: In Flight With Elmore James (Sylvan Songs Records)

Strange AngelsTaking its name in part from a James song, Strange Angels: In Flight With Elmore James reworks thirteen well- and lesser-known James songs in homage to his lasting influence on not just the blues, but far beyond.

To do justice to the roll-call of first-rate musicians appearing on this album would leave little room for discussing the music itself. Suffice to say, stellar names from soul, country, rock and pop feature large. Even the notional “house band”, Elmore’s Latest Broomdusters (an update of James’s own band name), consists of hugely respected musicians including producer/drummer Marco Giovino. Special mention here goes to Rudy Copeland whose mighty Hammond sound provides a meaty punchline to many of the tracks.

Wisely, perhaps, no-one tries to emulate the shimmering metallic thrust of James himself, and these covers are largely indebted to his influence on later blues rock. The resulting tracks are, broadly speaking, much heavier sounding, with plenty of what the Buzzcocks used to refer to as “tricky guitar solo(s)”.

Elayna Boynton sets the pace with a galloping take on ‘Can’t Stop Lovin’ You’, followed up by soul legend Bettye Lavette’s lived-in ‘Person To Person’. A briskly rollicking trot through ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ by country singer Rodney Crowell is followed by the unmistakeable grunt “Huh, yeah” as Tom Jones powers through ‘Done Somebody Wrong’. ‘Mean Mistreatin’ Mama’ is a triple-bill of Warren Haynes, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Mickey Raphael’s storming harmonica.

Deborah Bonham’s ‘Dust My Broom’ unfortunately somehow manages to lose that classic raw slide guitar wailing riff under a country rock beat, although Jamey Johnson’s ‘It Hurts Me Too’ keeps the bar room piano firmly on tap.

‘Strange Angel’ (singular: as listed on the promo CD) brings together the stunning sibling harmonies of Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer over a long, slow, jazzy beat embellished with more of that Hammond sound, plus a fat, gritty guitar riff, all underpinned with a twanging county steel.

Triple Grammy award winner, Keb Mo’, lends an almost fairground-ride motion to ‘Look On Yonder Wall’, with maybe just a soupçon of the Grange Hill theme. In contrast, Mollie Marriott delivers an impassioned vocal on ‘My Bleeding Heart’, bringing real pathos to lines like “People, people, you know what it means to be left alone”.

The ringing phone that opens Chuck E Weiss’s take on ‘Hawaiian Boogie’ is followed by the most gorgeous dirty, fuzzed out guitar, with just a taste of New Orleans. Weiss said of his choice, “After careful consideration the vocal work for Elmore was too perfect for me to touch… So I chose my favourite instrumental!!!”

Perhaps the most radical interpretation here sees Addi McDaniel’s smooth lounge vocal smouldering over a slouchy, loose gypsy fiddle-led blues with touches of banjo and a Spanish-inflected guitar. Then the house band winds up proceedings with ‘Bobby’s Rock’, another scuzzy, fuzzy rendition, with that driving Hammond in place of the sax of the original.

And if all of this collected talent offering updates on some classic songs is not enough of a feel-good factor, profits from the album go to benefit two US charities. C’mon, what’s not to like?
Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click 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 website: www.elmorejamesstrangeangels.com

Rodney Crowell – ‘Shake Your Money Maker’:

CIRCUMNAVIGATE – When Worlds Collide (Own Label)

When Worlds CollideThe members of Circumnavigate are from Sandvika, Norway and from London, so it’s not unnatural that this band has a particular interest in making music about the meeting of cultures, communities and people. When Worlds Collide, a twelve-track Kickstarter-funded project, is the band’s debut outing, although they have been a functioning ensemble for some time.

This is an ambitious album, debut or no, with its extravagantly lush arrangement and production. Glossy, shiny tracks based on piano or guitar lines are heavily layered with delicate strings as an angelic chorus of backing vocals insinuate their way through and muted, jazzy trumpets provide subtle punctuation.

It’s an album that cries out to be heard via a decent music system to get the full benefit of the production. Compressing the audio (via laptop speakers for instance) can make it seem a bit squashed together and, unfortunately, it’s slightly too easy to let this rich curtain of sound sloosh politely around in the background. That’s a shame, because there are some terrific songs and musicians at work here.

Singer Sigrid Zeiner-Gundersen has a cool, crystalline voice that soars with an easy precision through its soprano range. Occasionally, her vocal style is slightly reminiscent of Bella Hardy – certainly no bad thing.

Lyrics are clear and audible, tending to frankness (“You used to piss me off” from the upbeat sibling love song ‘Back In The Day’) mixed with a touch of new age (“It is what it is now” advice for dealing with the commitment-phobe in ‘Breathe Slow’).

After repeated listens, any slight lingering reservations about this album really come down to what comes across as an excess of production. It’s a matter of personal taste, ultimately, but a less smoothly processed sound might allow the emotional heart of the band to surface more readily. Obviously, the band aims to create a specific ambience and soundscape, but dialling back at the mixing desk and allowing more of the songs’ individual identities to break through would be very welcome.
Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click 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 website: www.circumnavigatemusic.com

The single ‘Secret’ – official video:

ALESSIO BONDÌ – Sfardo (Malintenti Dischi/800 Records 800aMLT/001)

ÌSfadoSfardo, a Sicilian dialect word meaning “strain”, is the debut album from singer-songwriter Alessio Bondì. It reveals a wide range of influences, like the rap-inflected pattering groove of ‘Vucciria’ with its homage to young men drinking and hanging tough in Palermo’s marketplace. Elsewhere, Latin charango breezes along with the cantering rat-a-tat percussion of lead single and opening track, ‘Di Cu Si’, with its nostalgic recollection of childhood games (including the classic, “got your nose”).

While it’s not strictly necessary to understand the lyrics, as the emotions are quite apparent through the delivery of the songs, the accompanying booklet is so informative that it would be a shame to overlook it. Its translations and explanatory notes fully bring to life Bondì’s delicious word play and imagery.

These songs of the joys and pains of life are full of inventive rhymes and rhythms, slipping effortlessly between realism and metaphor. In ‘Granni Granni’, for example, the child is creating both a physical and psychological safe place (calling to mind the shed in the film “Adult Life Skills”). Imagery of the sea in ‘In Funn’o Mare’ is woven through with metaphors of life, death and love. The gentle ‘Un Pisci Rintr’a To Panza’ is a multi-layered contemplation of the bond between mother and child, the purity of pre-birth innocence and the inevitable mortality.

Bondì’s guitar playing is another mainstay of the album, mirroring the emotional lyrical intensity in its pacing and sensitivity. He moves fluidly between the intimacy and immediacy of ‘Rimmillu Ru’Voti’, a love song recorded straight to tape, and the moodier ‘Wild Rosalia’ or the angsty wail of the title song. There’s a jazzier feel to ‘Iccati Sangu’, sitting loosely against an increasingly vehement vocal. In total contrast is the rolling guitar bounce of ‘Es Mi Mai’ with its euphoric “yee-ha” refrain.

This is a truly delightful album, full of compelling imagery. It offers up a wealth of musical flavours, delicately and thoughtfully arranged. From the greyness of a British winter, these ten songs bring a very welcome splash of light and warmth, with the promise of summer to come.
Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of an album (in CD or Vinyl format), download one or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click 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.alessiobondi.com

‘Granni Granni’ – official video: