KELLY OLIVER – This Land (Folkstock FSR 14 004)

Kelly OliverReturning from Brazil determined to pursue her ambition of becoming a professional musician, Stevenage-based Oliver has had a busy and fruitful year. Since playing her first folk club gig in June 2013, she’s opened for such acts as The Urban Folk Quartet, Gilmore & Roberts and Dave Swarbrick, played numerous festivals, Cambridge included, released an EP and won a Help Musicians UK Emerging Excellence Award. Now comes her debut album, a simple, uncluttered affair predominantly constructed around her guitar playing and occasional harmonica that bears witness to her traditional influences (she’s been often likened to Annie Briggs) as well as her songwriting prowess on a largely self-penned set, drawn, the blurb says, from her Irish grandparents and “a dose of indignation”.

It’s one of her own that gets the ball rolling with ‘The Witch of Walkern’, an acoustic strummed number that mine the folk tradition of tales about women falsely condemned for witchcraft, though here, as in the titular case of Jane Wenham, a Hertfordshire woman whose 1712 ordeal is claimed to have been the last witch trial in the UK , the accused secures her pardon.

The perversion of justice is also at the heart of the bluesy, harmonica blowing ‘Mr Officer’, a song about witnessing a murder built around a repeated line, as she declares “that boy you have taken in is not the guilty man you seek” while righteous anger burns through ‘Off To The Market’, a familiarly traditional styled tune that addresses the cruel trade in human organs, guns, animal hides and horns, and girls abducted to be sold into prostitution.

She spins engaging stories, though most are haunted by dark shadows; the light, shimmering melody of ‘Grandpa Was A Stoker’, on which Swarbrick contributes fiddle, conceals a lyric about the hardship of life in a ship’s engine room that drove men mad, ‘Playing With Sand’, on which she harmonises with herself, talks of a prejudiced education system that assumed Irish immigrants to be ignorant and in ‘Diamond Girl’, a lovely rippling, descending chords ballad on which Luke Jackson provides harmonies, although the girl could do no wrong in her devoted lover’s eyes, she proves less forgiving of his mistakes. An a capella version is also hidden away at the end of the album.

There are, however, some patches of light. Although in the steady strummed ‘Dear Daughter’, the father refuses to let his daughter follow her lover to America, he does so because he won’t let her waste her life on a banished ne’er do who “shamed the girls and .. stole from all around’ and ‘only wants a wife to keep him from the cells’” And, while the gentle ‘A Gush Of Wind’ documents, rather like some Victorian ballad, how a milling family falls on hard times with the baby dying, being made homeless and the father accused of theft, they retain faith in prayer to deliver then which, in the ambiguous final line, seems to have been finally answered.

The remaining two numbers are non-originals, the first a crystal pure reading of the traditional ballad ‘Mary And The Soldier’ and the second, on which Sunjay Brayne provides guitar accompaniment, a heart-aching stripped down version of Dougie Maclean’s much-covered ‘Caledonia’ that makes me recant my desire never to hear it again.

With a full tour almost completed and featuring on November’s anti-war charities fundraiser cover of Pete Seeger’s ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone’ by folk supergroup Armistice Pals, alongside such leading folk names as Judy Dyble, While & Matthews, Reg Meuross, Dave Swarbrick, Christine Collister, Johnny Coppin, Merry Hell and Edwina Hayes, it’s been a remarkable year for Oliver. On the evidence so far, that’s just the tip of what promises to be a very big iceberg.

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.

‘Diamond Girl’ – the official video featuring Luke Jackson

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: