LUCY KAPLANSKY – Everyday Street (own label)

Everyday StreetAlthough she released Tomorrow You’re Going, a collaboration with Richard Shindell, in 2014, it’s been six years since Kaplansky’s last solo album. Primarily available direct from her website, Everyday Street is her eighth and, a reflection of her live shows, the most acoustically-based work she’s recorded, accompanied by just multi-instrumentalist Duke Levine on assorted guitars and mandolin with harmonies from Shindell and Shawn Colvin. Recorded over just four days, many in just one take, it mixes original material, co-written with her husband, Richard Litvin, alongside four covers that have been live staples over the years.

Charting themes of joy, friendship, family, loss and discovery, it opens with the simple fingerpicked ‘Old Friends’, an aptly titled duet with Colvin, that both recalls their times singing together in the early days of the Greenwich Village folk scene and marks the end to a chapter when, for whatever reasons, they had a falling out.

Thoughts turn to family on ‘Sixth Avenue’, an 11th birthday eve musing on how your children grow up before you realise it, from a “little face covered in ice cream” to letting her cross the street on her own to join her friends until “the crowd is all I see”.

Spending time with her daughter while she’s still young remains the focus for ‘Janie’s Waltz’, from whence comes the album’s title, celebrates the mundane pleasures of everyday life, the walk to the park and the wonders of a child discovering the world as, “amazed by a tiny blowing leaf/You have to chase it and pull away from me”. Likewise, the countrified strum of ‘Day Is Done’ finds her kissing her goodnight, wishing time would slow down, her daughter impatient for it to move on.

‘Keeping Time’, on which Shindell sings harmony, initially seems to tread a similar path, singing of morning walks after dropping her daughter at school, parents walking with their kids, but it narrows the focus to become a tribute to the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a neighbour, recollections of seeing him with his family “scruffy and smiling/After school in the yard”, and recalling the shock on hearing how “the movie star father”, the “neighborhood king” had been found dead from “chasing the dragon.” The song serves as both a poignant memory, but also a reminder of the fickle nature of life where “the cruelest undertow/Is stronger than all a man builds and loves/And dreams and knows”.

Further into the running order comes the mandolin-led strum of ‘Thirty Years Begin Now’, a Townes Van Zandt-like number celebrating her marriage to her husband, remembering their wedding day (“we stood beneath an antique quilt/Our multithreaded canopy/ee cummings words were read”) three decades earlier, reaffirming the promises made and the feelings in her heart.

Turning to the covers, the first is something of a surprise, being her reading of the Scottish traditional ‘Loch Lomond’, given an atmospheric electric guitar intro before unfolding as a weary, regret-stained lament for a relationship that has run its course, Kaplansky bringing a hint of a Highlands accent to her vocals. Second up, she nods to one of her influences with the Appalachian-hued, mandolin-strummed Nanci Griffith’s ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ evoking her formative years in the 80s Greenwich Village folk scene. She follows this by adding her name to the roll call of those who have covered Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, a piano-backed arrangement highly respectful of the original. The final choice is a terrific National steel-flecked reinterpretation of Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’ that swaps his blue collar teenage defiance and reckless romanticism for a far quieter approach without ever diluting the passion about breaking free.

The album ends on one final original, not a new number but rather a reimagining of ‘The Tide’, the title track of her 1994 debut, its lyrics capturing frustration (“now I see this anger/Is the horse I choose to ride/Now you say you want something nice from me/Well if you find it, take it, it’s on me/In the meantime don’t bother me/The tide has washed the nice from me”) and wildness (“I could drink you under the table/I could drink you out of town”) a contrast to the sense of contentment that infuses the new songs. She may still be the “sad-eyed little girl/On a tightrope … singing/As she passes through this world”, but these are now songs to make you feel grateful for the life you have lived and accepting of the experiences rather than treating it as a confrontation.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.lucykaplansky.com

‘Old Friends’ – live on the sofa with Shawn Colvin:

NIGHT TREE – Dedications (Night Tree Records, NT02)

DedicationsNight Tree is an American/Swedish sextet, all alumni of the New England Conservatory. The group has worked extensively with US-Irish band Solas, with founder Séamus Egan producing both their albums so far. Dedications is Night Tree’s second album, commemorating places and people of significance to them.

The unique set-up of saxophone, accordion and percussion supplementing a classical string trio alerts the listener that this album will be something out of the ordinary. From beginning to end, nothing goes quite where you imagine it will, each track a travelogue of global musical styles drawn from an extensive repertoire. As well as many shades of classical music, from chamber to avant-garde/minimalist, there are rich seams of jazz, traditional and world music. The Celtic influence features strongly throughout, particularly evident in tracks like ‘The Last Day Of Summer’ and ‘Blue-Eyed Sailor/The Piano Room’.

The nine-and-a-half minute superbly-titled ‘Elvish Warfare Suite No.1’ sets the tone for what to expect. Shifting constantly, from moodily enticing accordion to a wave of fast strings over a muted percussive beat, this is a twisty-turny beast. A curving sax line gives way to a husky violin lamenting over a spare piano line before the mood becomes lithe and light once more, over a cidada-like swish of percussion. The return of the sax lends an unsettling shift to a cooler angularity, concluding with heavy-bowed melancholy strings.

‘Oya’ culminates in African-sounding vocalisations, whilst ‘Baby Blue’ kicks off with doo-wop harmonies over plucked violin before taking a woozy turn past some metronomic strings. ‘The Girl In The White Dress’ continues with the Michael Nyman-esque strings, a slippery accordion leading off the main melodic line.

‘North Carolina Cottage’ begins with a cappella voice, instruments joining the off-beat in a flowing, jazz style, accompanied by a bleating sax. ‘Year With The Yeti/Wings From The North’ is a light, skipping melody with a nimble sax part and ‘Point Joe’ culminates in a sax coda of the main tune. Although the sax is used with great invention, it’s hard to shake off some of its 1980s connotations, which linger in the rather bland finale ‘Great Storm’.

Night Tree clearly relish playing with the possibilities of harmonics and composition, skilfully fusing unlikely musical bedfellows and taking their music to the edges of disconcerting atonality. They’re tightly attuned to each other’s playing, apparently even practising in darkness sometimes, so as to concentrate more. There’s a constant, fluid restlessness to the music, yet it remains highly listenable and enjoyable. Someone should probably tell the band’s faces, though: their cover photos look like they just got a nasty tax bill.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: www.nighttreemusic.com

‘Oya’ – live:

Sound Of The Sirens release new single and announce tour dates

Sound Of The Sirens
Photograph courtesy of Rust Magazine

West Country folk-rock duo, Sound Of The Sirens, have shared ‘The Yellow Road’, the latest track to be taken from their upcoming album This Time, out January 25th via DMF Records.

Showcasing the duo’s virtuosic capability for rousing songwriting and mesmerising harmonies, ‘The Yellow Road’ is a touching and heartfelt track, flowing from beautifully subtle verses to choruses that swell in both intensity and emotion. The track follows the release of ‘Troubles’ at the end of 2018, the first single to be taken from the album.

This Time – the follow-up to their debut album, For All Our Sins, which was released in 2017 to widespread praise – continues to showcase an evident gift for crafting unique, vivid and enduring melodies over 15 heartfelt tracks.

This Time is a collection of moments, emotions, challenges and stories,” say the duo. “We’ve collected lyrics, melodies and ideas from the past couple of years for this project. We created this album last winter in an isolated barn in Wales with only guitars, a piano, wine and the dogs for company. The themes of time, love, loss, perseverance, hope and clarity are intertwined in these songs.”

Throughout the album, Sound Of The Sirens – duo Abbe Martin and Hannah Wood – blend intoxicating vocal harmonies with beautifully crafted instrumentals to create a seamless collection of captivating tracks.

The album will be available digitally, on CD and black heavyweight vinyl, with signed copies available to pre-order now from Sound Of The Sirens’ online store ‘Troubles’ is available as an instant grat with all album pre-orders.

Sound Of The Sirens will embark on a 20-date UK tour this month, including dates in Exeter, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow and Manchester, and a date at London’s St Pancras Church.

Artists’ website: https://www.soundofthesirens.net/

‘The Yellow Road’:

TOUR DATES

25/01 – Paignton, Palace Theatre
26/01 – Exeter, Phoenix
27/01 – Winchester, Railway Inn
28/01 – London, St Pancras Church
29/01 – Hull, Adelphi
31/01 – Milton Keynes, Stable Room 2

14/02 – Bath, Komedia Café
15/02 – Leeds, Mill Hill Chapel
16/02 – Southport, The Atkinson
17/02 – Oxford, Bullingdon

14/03 – Barnstaple, Plough @ St Anne’s
15/03 – South Molton, Plough @ The George
16/03 – Great Torrington, The Plough
21/03 – Colchester, 3 Wise Monkeys
22/03 – Newcastle, Cluny 2
23/03 – Glasgow, Hug & Pint
28/03 – Manchester, Band On The Wall
30/03 – Chester, Storyhouse

05/04 – Hastings, White Rock Theatre
06/04 – Bedford, Esquires

Mavis Staples announces live album

 

Mavis Staples

“It’s kind of unbelievable to me that I’m still recording,” said the 79 year old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Kennedy Center Honoree Mavis Staples. “I never thought I would still be singing at my age, and people seem to really want to hear me, they know me, they give me love—I’m just overwhelmed, really. I thank God every night before I go to bed and then again every morning for waking up.”

Today Staples is announcing Live in London, a new live album recorded over two nights at London’s Union Chapel (which she calls “the best place in the world to sing”) and produced by Staples herself. Live in London reveals that the singer retains astonishing power after seventy years as a performer and that while her repertoire continues to expand her philosophy is unchanged since her days in the groundbreaking family group, the Staple Singers.

‘No Time For Cryin’’ is a song whose message “We’ve got work to do” is more than relevant to tomorrow’s important United States mid-term elections. Ironically her last live record—2008’s Hope At The Hideout—was cut against the background of her fellow Chicagoan Barack Obama’s historic election, while the new album inevitably addresses the horrors of the Donald Trump era. ‘No Time for Cryin’’ not only connects the timeless gospel image of “motherless children” to the modern-day refugee crisis, it also calls for action, just as Pops Staples and his children did during the Civil Rights movement.

With the recent passing of her sister Yvonne and her dear friend Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples is one of our few remaining links to an extraordinary time when the gospel tradition and the fight for social justice were deeply and movingly entwined. The focus of this collection is material she has recorded since signing with ANTI- Records in 2007. In recent years, Staples has had songs written for her by iconoclastic artists like Nick Cave, Neko Case, and Merrill Garbus (Tune-Yards); collaborated with modern rock powerhouses Arcade Fire, Gorillaz, and Hozier; and recorded multiple albums working with Jeff Tweedy from Wilco.

“I’ve stretched out—I’m singing songs that rock stars have written for me,” says Staples, “but they know me and the kind of songs I want to sing.” She points to the opening song on Live in London, ‘Love and Trust’, which was composed by Ben Harper. “I love that song, it’s a beauty,” she says. “I’ve been sending a message of love and trust since the Sixties, and I’m still searching for that.”

Artist’s website: www.mavisstaples.com/

‘No Time For Cryin” – live:

DAVID IAN ROBERTS – Travelling Bright (Cambrian Records CAM014)

Travelling BrightI enjoyed David Roberts’ debut album, St Clears, principally for his arrangements although I found his lyrics rather too stream-of-consciousness. Hearing the first few tracks from Travelling Bright I was immediately hooked by his music all over again. He plays four different guitars, bass and eight other instruments calling only on Kirsten Miller on cello, Aidan Thorne on double-bass and Daan Temmick for most of the piano.

The opener, ‘A Million Winds’ is almost an instrumental with just three lines of lyrics and there are two fully instrumental tracks, ‘Garillon’ and ‘Winter Sun’. I tried harder to concentrate on the lyrics, hopefully to figure out how he puts a song together although anyone who uses the word “octarine” is already ahead of the game as far as I’m concerned. Let’s take ‘The Holloway’ as an example. Although David is from Herefordshire, it’s reasonable to suppose he’s writing about Holloway Road in Islington. He takes a series of images and spins them into a sort of narrative mixing his own feelings about the place into it. On one level it’s a vision of a snowy day in town and on another it’s a sort of pilgrimage of discovery. Or maybe I‘m just getting too pretentious for my own good but you can take whatever you want from the songs.

‘Grail’ and ‘Glass Bead Game’ are both stories without a back-story. The listener is dropped into the scenarios without explanation and left to figure them out. Both have a mediaeval, fantasy universe vibe in a late-sixties way – the sort of thing that Marc Bolan wrote and which David actually does better. In contrast is ‘Amber’ which is probably my favourite track. For all its poetry it feels direct and personal. On second thoughts my favourite track could be ‘The Old King Of Sunsets’; direct again and very simple.

Travelling Bright is an album you should really check out and take some time over. It deserves that.

Dai Jeffries

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

‘Grail’ – live in the studio:

VIDEO WALL 7

It has been a while since we posted a video wall but some goodies have been arriving recently. A few are related to upcoming releases and some are just for fun.

We begin with Serious Sam Barrett and an unofficial taster for his new album Where The White Roses Grow which will be reviewed here very soon. This is a live take on the title track.

From another album that will be reviewed soon, this is Mandolin Orange and ‘The Wolves’ from the album Tides Of A Teardrop.

Skinny Lister’s new album The Story Is… will be released on March 1st. This is the official video of the title track.

We have already reviewed Anne Marie Almedal’s album Lightshadow. Here’s her version of The Cure’s ‘Lovesong’.

We will always review an album from the mighty Breabach.  Here’s the single, ‘Birds Of Passage’, from their most recent album Frenzy Of The Meeting.

We missed this one when it was released last year but it’s a song that deserves a hearing. Tommy Ashby sings ‘Bowlegged’.

Seeing that Richard Thompson is our top solo artist of 2018 – Charlie Foskett thought he’d post you this Thompson penned piece of sadness from his forthcoming debut folk album collection Bugles And Bagpipeswww.foskettsfolkfactory.com – It’s almost completed and hosts many high profile guests whose magical, musical input you are just going to love – including Peter Knight and Rick Kemp (ex Steeleye) – Aidan Burke (cousin of Kevin Burke – Bothy Band and Ireland’s number celtic fiddler for the last 22 yrs – Julie Felix (duet) – Simon Care (Albion Band ) – Chris Spedding – Wizz Jones – Mike Wilson and Damian Barber (Demon Barbers) – Judie Tzuke and more !

The official album launch will be early summer 2019 along with a big, big promo campaign and tour to follow with his newly formed band The Pitmatics! – www.pitmatics.co.uk

Charlie says:

I originally recorded and produced the first version of ‘Nothing at the End of the Rainbow’ in 1986 with Elvis Costello – I was working with Elvis and Loudon Wainright III on other material at the time for EMI Records – I remember receiving a cracker review saying that I had produced “A Song to Slit one’s Wrists to” ! that was the headline – nothing’s changed there then! This, my own version also features Peter Knight on fiddle!

Mostly for fun now. Here are our old mates Merry Hell and ‘My Finest Hour’ from their album Anthems To The Wind. A wonderful euphemism.