BENJAMIN FOLKE THOMAS – Copenhagen (LOUVAIO L00005)

CopenhagenBenjamin Folke Thomas was born on a small island off the coast of Sweden, mainly populated by evangelical Christians, but his third album takes it’s title from across the Øresund; Copenhagen.

Combining his upbringing with musical influences ranging from Leadbelly to Cohen and Jackson Browne means his work tends, perhaps not surprisingly,  to be introspective and personal. His style and voice are similar to Martyn Joseph and, like Joseph, he is a supreme storyteller.  His stories encompass large issues but at the individual, human level so this is not necessarily an album to be put on in the car whilst driving.  To get the most from it you need take the time to sit down and listen to every word and you will be well rewarded for your effort.

The title track, ‘Copenhagen 30/6’, is a good example of his work as a storyteller.  There are seven verses and no chorus, which is fairly typical.  It’s a song about needing somebody in order for life to make sense and have purpose and yet not until the very end of song are we given any hope there might be a happy ending.  There may also be an element of autobiography in it

“I missed you tonight when I was up on stage,
I couldn’t find my focus I was unable to engage,
The sound was bad not enough tickets sold,
I wish I was with you tonight.

‘Finn’ is another story set to music, rather than a song, and it is a terrific story about the passing of time; how things change but how they also stay the same.  It chiefly concerns two men who have come into Benjamin’s life and the song is so convincing I believe they are real people.  We are first introduced to Abbas, a Palestinian and doctor but trying to make ends meet working in a supermarket having left his wife and children behind.  Next we are introduced to Benjamin’s grandfather, the Finn of the title, who also ended up as a refugee from the Nazis and lost his brother to them.  Two men separated by time and yet neither are able to live the life they wanted because of forces they cannot control which separate them from loved ones.

If there is a theme to this album it is that search for love and stability yet worrying that finding what you want may not be the answer.  As he sings in ‘Safe and Secure’

They say that love is liberating
But I don’t understand
How can anyone in love ever feel
Safe and secure

Musically the influence is Blues with a bit of Rock but the strength is the words.  In a different persona Benjamin could be described as a poet, rather than singer, and he would be equally good.  Copenhagen is an incredibly good album of contemporary music from a performer who has a lot to give and is not afraid to give all.  It is highly recommended.

The album was released on the 3rd March and is available through the artist’s website as well as the usual platforms.

Tony Birch

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 Benjamin Folke Thomas link 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

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

‘Copenhagen’ – official video:

DARIA KULESH Live at Cecil Sharp House

Daria Kulesh live
Photograph by Tony Birch

February 23rd is a date that should be known in history.  On this day in 1944 the entire population of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, those who weren’t away at war fighting for the Soviet Union, were told they were being deported for alleged collaboration with the enemy.  Many were children and resistance was met with death.

Move forward to 2017 and February 23rd was the date chosen by Daria Kulesh to launch her second album Long Lost Home at Cecil Sharp House in London. The location was appropriate because, as Daria said, CSH collects and stores folk memories so that they are available for future generations and Long Lost Home is more than just an album of songs as Daria through her Grandmother, Fatima Akhrieva, is Ingushetian. The evening was a celebration of her journey to find that link to her past.

February 23rd 2017 will also be remembered for Storm Doris, which provided a suitably tumultuous backdrop to the event but unfortunately disrupted travel and meant some audience members were unable to attend. They missed an evening of powerful, moving emotion that was also uplifting with its message of hope for the future.

The evening began with two well received pieces from Timur Dzeytov, People’s Artist of Ingushetia, including a song about the deportations followed by a traditional tune.  He played the dakhchan pandar, a form of the balalaika, and it was obvious even to me that this was not “Russian” music.  There were resonances of the near- and middle-east in the sound.  It was a suitably exotic opening.

Daria then took to the stage wearing a most beautiful dress that had been hand made and decorated in traditional style. She opened, as does the album, with ‘Tamara’ a dark song about sorcery and death.  The simple accompaniment from Timur and Evan Carson (percussion) emphasised the words well.  Evan came in as an emergency replacement but it certainly didn’t look that way, the sign of a very talented musician.

I’ve been fortunate to have seen some of these songs before, at least one on its debut, often with just Daria accompanying herself on guitar or shruti.  For the album launch we were treated to a full backing band which allowed the music to be fully expressed.  At various points during the evening we were also introduced to Jonny Dyer (piano and guitar), Kate Rouse (hammered dulcimer and piano), Vicki Swan (double bass, nyckelharpa and small pipes) and Phil Underwood (various accordions and guitar).

Daria Kulesh live
Photograph by Tony Birch

The evening followed the album so we were quckly enraptured with the ‘The Moon and The Pilot’, the story of Daria’s great-grandparents, Diba Posheva and Rashid Akhriev.  Diba was one of the deportees in 1944, two years after Rashid died a Hero of the Soviet Union in the battle for Leningrad.  It could not save his wife and their two young children, one of whom was Daria’s grandmother.  It was impossible not to be moved by Diba’s story of resilience and love for her children.

My personal favourite on the album came not long afterwards. ‘Amanat’ is the story of a relative even further back in time, Chakh Akhriev, who was born in 1850 and essentially fostered to Russian parents as a hostage.  It’s a story of a different time and place, yet of a man who never quite fitted in.  The song appeals to me, maybe for that reason, and it is also a fine example of Daria’s incredible vocal ability.  There’s so much power, range and control in her singing she entrances a room in the way very few other singers can.

This is not a review of the album so I will only mention one more song, ‘Heart’s Delight’.  This is Daria’s translation of the Ingush ‘Song of Mochkha’.  She also wrote the gloriously uplifting tune.  The first time I heard it I thought it was the Ingush National Anthem, and it possibly should be.

What is yours by right, May you always hold/May your heart’s delight become your fate.

To show how music can cross boundaries this was the tune where Vicki Swan played her small pipes, a suggestion which originally came from Timur Dzeytov.  It worked so very well; the drone of the pipes adding a frisson to the words that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

For an encore we were treated to ‘Fata Morgana’, the opening track from debut album ‘Eternal Child’ and the start of Daria’s journey to her Long Lost Home in the Caucasus Mountains.  To complete the journey Timur Dzeytov returned to the stage to play a lezginka, a traditional dance from the Caucasus.  In the dance the man (on this occasion Anzor Aushev, who was one of Daria’s hosts in Ingushetia on her research trip for the album) is an eagle and the woman, whose name I don’t know, is a swan.  It was a beautiful insight to a different culture, the dance involved no contact between the partners but the courtship aspect was more than clear.  This is the dance which is also referred to in ‘Like A God’, the story of Daria’s great-great-uncle, and Diba’s brother, Aludin Poshev.  It was said he could dance like a god.

We also had a speech from Khairudin, the leader of the Vainakh (Ingush & Chechen) community in London  and I was left with the impression that Long Lost Home is a folk memory of Ingushetia that will become important to a country and people who are trying to reestablish their identity after many years of turbulence and suppression.

Tony Birch

Artist’s website: http://www.daria-kulesh.co.uk/

‘The Moon And The Pilot’ – official video:

CARREG LAFAR – Aur (Sain SCD2754)

AurCarreg Lafar are a five-piece band from Wales and Aur is their fourth album in a career that has spanned 20 years.  From the front cover picture, with its carefully arranged Victoriana it’s clear that this is going to be an album of traditional music and a glance at the track list confirms it will be in Welsh. That gave me two options; I could try to translate, or accept the language as part of the sound.  I went for the latter and discovered an album of great charm and delightful music, although the bi-lingual sleeve notes give some useful pointers.

The album opens with ‘Aderyn Bach’ or ‘Little Bird’ is is very up tempo.  The song is brought to life by the stylish singing of Linda Owen Jones and also demonstrates the wide range of instruments the band have at their disposal.  This song, I am certain, also introduced me to a new instrument; the pidgorn or horn pipe.  It has an ethereal quality, not quite a Northumberland pipe, but far more ancient sound.

Following that comes a love song ‘Cariad Aur’, which is absolutely beautiful mainly because the musicians blend together so well.  Here the flute, fiddle and voices weave through each other solidly supported by Danny KilBride’s guitar.

Each of the songs has been carefully selected and placed within the album to give a range of style and tempo that keeps everything fresh.  For example the lively ‘Tom, Dic A Chwrw’ is followed by the lullaby ‘Baban Bach’ before the album ends on another love song ‘Titrwm Tatrwm’.

Welsh traditional music has never had the exposure of its Gaelic cousins and yet this album shows it is a vibrant genre in its own right, which deserves to more widely heard and appreciated.  Carreg Lafar, along with other bands such as Allan Yn Y fan, are certainly providing us with an opportunity to listen and we would be missing out if we didn’t take up their invitation.

The album is available from the band’s website, or from various sources as both CD and download.

Tony Birch

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 CARREG LAFAR – Aur link 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artists’ website: http://www.carreglafar.co.uk

Carreg Lafar live (Caution: bagpipes):

ROSIE HODGSON – Rise Aurora (own label)

rise auroraI’ll get straight to the point.  Rosie Hodgson’s Rise Aurora is an absolute gem of an album and I will probably not be the first reviewer to say you will want to listen to it over and over again.  It’s full of beautiful music with seven of the twelve tracks being written by Rosie herself and the rest being either traditional folk songs or works by Burns and Kipling.

Rosie Hodgson released an EP Somewhere North in 2012 and was a finalist in the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2013 but is probably best know as the lead singer with Crossharbour who are a London based Irish band, even though she comes from West Sussex and is a Morris dancer. On this album she teams up with Rowan Piggott, an Irish fiddle player who is also classically trained and a chorister.  From that you can assume that quality is going to be core to the music and you would not be mistaken.

Rosie’s songs revolve around ordinary individuals, which is what folk music is about, and two of them relate to her own family.  The title track ‘Aurora Rising’ is based around her Grandfather’s home town of Cromer in Norfolk.  Fishing was the main industry with all the hardships and dangers that brings, not least for the families left ashore hoping the men will come back again.

On an album this good it’s difficult to pick the stand out tracks but ‘Hetty’s Waltz’ deserves mention.  This is a song for Rosie’s Grandma and Grandfather who fell in love on a bus and enjoyed dancing all their lives.  It’s beautiful and showcases both Rosie’s crystal clear voice and Rowan’s delicate accompaniment.  Both artists have good voices and are more than capable of singing a capella, as they show on a excellent arrangement  of Robbie Burn’s ‘Westlin Winds’.

The album is well produced and Rosie’s precise enunciation means there is no need for the lyrics to be written down.  Instead the background to each song is given, again following that folk tradition of explaining why a song exists.

Final mention must go to the last song, ‘Liverpool Lullaby’, written by Rosie when she was just fourteen.  What’s remarkable about that, apart from it being another beautiful song, is that is now ten years old.  Rosie is only twenty-four!  There is a very long and bright future dawning.

The album was released on December 1st and is available through the artist’s website as either a CD or download.

Tony Birch

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 ROSIE HODGSON – Rise Aurora link 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

 Artist’s website: http://www.rosiehodgson.com/

‘Rise Aurora’ – live:

THE REVELLERS – Skeletons (The Revellers REV12345678)

skeletonsA normal drive to work, a quiet day and you slip a CD into the player, which then explodes with raw energy.  That is the impact upon first hearing the Revellers second album Skeletons.  The Revellers are a seven piece band from the Shetlands who mix folk lyrics, banjos and mandolins with rock and punk influenced music to produce something that is none of the above, but different.  Comparisons with The Levellers, whom they have supported on tour, are valid but this is not in any way a tribute act and there’s also the energy of early punk  at its best best and most lyrical.

The opening track, ‘Excuse This Scene, sets out the stall with plenty of throbbing rock and clever lyrics about a band trying to make it and having to decide where and when to compromise and there’s a feeling this song was perhaps inspired by modern talent shows.

Write then play then rewrite,
Play and then rehearse then play,
Or you can get the look right,
Don’t let melodies get in the way.

There’s plenty of power here and ‘Get Away even includes a count in of ‘wun, too, wun too, free, faw’ but this is no bunch of one-chord wonders. This particular track is one of the shortest on the album but has some great driving fiddle and banjo and they are certainly skilled musicians who produce a tight sound.  The title track ‘Skeletons is, perhaps, from a more traditional folk base lead by the fiddle and banjo but again with an electric backing and lyrics that demonstrate folk belongs just as much in the modern urban environment as in history.

Unused cranes and the falling pound,
Brick through pane in a one-horse town,
Rush of blood and a scent of fear,
Evacuate me outta here.

This album consists of twelve songs, all written by various members of the band, and is a great advert for an outfit who have the potential to be around for a long time.  I hope it gets heard by festival organisers as the video clips available suggest they are a dynamic live act worth seeing.

The album is available from the band’s website as a physical copy, or from various sources as both CD and download.

Tony Birch

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 THE REVELLERS – Skeletons link 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.

ORDER – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://www.the-revellers.com/

‘The Glass Is Never Empty’ – live. An old song but a new video:

MARTHA FIELDS – Southern White Lies (own label)

southern white liesOne of the joys of reviewing is picking an artist you’ve not heard before and realising you’ve been missing out.  Southern White Lies, the second album from Martha Fields certainly falls into this category.  It’s a glorious procession of Americana, Country and Blues  but delivered with lyrics that steer well clear of apple pie and are not afraid to look at the darker underbelly of life and challenge the American Dream.  Martha hails from Austin, Texas, but has a family history of music stretching back to the Appalachians of Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia so the pedigree is certainly there and used to good effect on the album.

My immediate port of call was the title track ‘Southern White Lies’ because it has an ambiguity about it; are these white lies from the south or lies relating to the southern white, which has a very different interpretation?  It turns out to be both.  The South is, in turn, treated with suspicion

Rest of the world sees us full of hate, Don’t mess with Texas – it’s too late

whilst being used to further the aims of others to its own detriment.

Big box [UK = superstore] killed all them mom and pops, Big man gets all the handouts”.

This feeling of injustice and not getting a fair roll of the dice occurs throughout the album.  In particular the final track ‘American Hologram’ is a protest song with real strength of feeling, again with reference to the real sense of social inequality felt in the Southern states whilst also criticising the right wing commentators who try to capitalise on that.

I’m a blue state girl with red state roots,
We were poor white trash… now we’re the underclass
They send us to war, we don’t know what for
We got no jobs so we come back for more

No need for education, no money for schools
Easier for Limbaugh, to play ’em like the fool
”.

It isn’t all protest, though.  There’s plenty of other material to both attract and enjoy and Martha isn’t afraid to dip into tradition when it represents her roots.  ‘What Are They Doing In Heaven?’ is an American Methodist hymn from the early 1900s given a real country feel with fiddle and steel guitar.  The blues are not ignored either, with a cracking up-beat version of Janice Joplin’s ‘What Good Can Drinking Do’ amongst others.

Martha’s voice has that distinctive southern drawl which suits these songs well and has been compared by more than one person to Loretta Lynn.  Backed by a band that enhances, rather than competes with, the lyrics this is an album which will appeal to anybody interested in modern American roots music and is highly recommended.

The album can be downloaded from the artist’s website or usual sources although I have been unable to track down a physical version, which does exist.

Tony Birch

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 MARTHA FIELDS – Southern White Lies link 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.

DOWNLOAD – [CD]

Artist’s website: http://texasmartha.com/

‘Dead End’ – live at the O2, London: