THE HOT SEATS – Stupid Mountain Too Big

Stupid MountainNot only is Stupid Mountain Too Big a great title, but it is also the first album in three years from the Virginia-based Hot Seats. Heavily influenced by the much rustified sounds of old-timey, shellac recordings, the original mission of this album was to conjure up the false sense of nostalgia created by those works, by dealing with the typical subjects of love, death, mountains and railroads and other such subject matter, prominent in old timey music. During the writing process, the plan changed somewhat and other elements were introduced to the mix, resulting in a collection of songs, which tell the broader story of human life…or as the Hot Seats describe it: “from procreation all the way to the inevitable realization of the inconsequential nature of existence”. The result? Two records merged together to form one 17 track monster album that is part concept and part traditional. Furthermore, rather than sub-divide the tracks into ‘Side A’ and ‘Side B’, both the traditional numbers and the original ‘concept’ pieces co-exist and make way for one another.

The album kicks off on the traditional side of things with ‘Ida Red’; a piece made famous in the late 1930s by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, although this rendition is more akin to a 1927 version recorded by Dykes Magic City Trio.

Following this is the first of the album’s ‘concept’ pieces; ‘Springtime’. Inspired by spotting shoals of gar fish in the Chickahominy River, in the east of Virginia, the song, in its post-winter setting, deals with what happens before life begins and the blissful ignorance of what lies ahead. Mirroring life, what quite literally, what lies ahead is ‘Bad Decisions’; an upbeat ode to humankind’s collectively poor decision making abilities. From here, the idea of ‘everyday life’ continues to flow in and out for the duration of the album; the catchy and clever ‘When You Were Young’ laments fleeting youth while ‘Compliance’ is a commentary on 21st Century living (done, of course, in an old-timey style). ‘Bad Luck’ and ‘Life Story’ kind of do what they say on the tin while the lyrics and outlook of ‘Briney Foam’ manage to successfully combine grim, with weirdly uplifting:

One of these days, you’re gonna go to sleep/ You’re not gonna wake up again
You’re gonna open your eyes and to your surprise / You’ll be free as a bird floating overhead
All of your friends will weep and mourn ‘bout where you’ve gone / Pretty soon they’ll be talkin’ like you never were born
And although your hair and teeth grow when you’re down below/ You can’t take nothing with you when you go.”

For the most part, the observations made by the Hot Seats are funny because they’re true, in the case of ‘Gun Crazy (In The USA)’ the fact that the observations are (albeit, a little exaggerated but) generally so spot on, makes the song quite sad. Essentially the song ironically suggests that the solution to all of life’s problems is to acquire a firearm; if your “Daughters always on the phone…Neighbour’s lawn is overgrown…Line up and get yourself a gun!

Following this, is a borrowed fiddle-led instrumental, ‘Old Bunch Of Keys’, from the discography of turn-of-the-century Appalachian musician, Tommy Jarrell. In total, there are four instrumental tracks on the album: ‘Benny Martin Special #2’, ‘Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase’ and a lovely and lonesome banjo and yodelling trumpet arrangement of the Jimmie Rodgers staple ‘Miss The Mississippi’.

While it is a long album, there is so much to it that it doesn’t feel like a drag. Furthermore, it is a grower. Things which didn’t jump out initially begin to do so after a few listens, causing songs, lines and runs to get stuck in your head, prompting yet another listen of the record, where things take shape, make sense and generally just come together.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artists’ website: http://thehotseatsrva.com/

The Hot Seats live at Grateful Fred’s:

Introducing Young Waters

Young Waters

Young Waters’ twisted neo-folk is a tapestry of emotionally powerful vocals, stirring harmonies, lyrical strings and finely mastered acoustic guitar. Their exhilarating rhythms and intricate melodies, coupled with a repertoire that combines startling original material with unique arrangements of traditional folk songs, makes for a captivating stage presence. This young band is set to make a big impact in 2018.

A host of festival appearances (including Glastonbury, Broadstairs, Cambridge, Wilderness, Boomtown and Smugglers) have cemented their reputation with fans. After winning Bath Folk Festival’s New Shoots competition, earning themselves a recording session at Peter Gabriel’s legendary Real World Studios, where most of this stunning debut album was recorded.

Young Waters’ is a five-piece band led by Theo Passingham (vocals and guitar) with Kerry Ann Jangle (vocals and percussion), Liam O’Connell (double bass and vocals), Calum Smith (violin) and Rowen Elliot (viola).

Young Waters’ themes range from questioning our contemporary reality to more personal enquiries into Theo’s life and history. Compared to the likes of The Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Fleet Foxes and traditional Celtic music. Inspired by composers like Philip Glass, John Taverner (old and new), and Arvo Pärt. Six tracks from the album were recorded in one day at the legendary Real World Studios, and the other two (‘Polly Vaughn’ and ‘Don’t Stare At The Sun’) were recorded in Norton St Philip Church.

The writing is done by Theo Passingham, but the arrangements are heavily collaborative; there is a joint obsession with finding the most emotive and beautiful possible way of conveying the songs through harmony, texture and tension and release.

Young Waters are appearing at:

17th August – Purbeck Folk Festival, Dorset

24th August – Shambala

Artists’ website: https://www.young-waters.com/

‘Swimming Pool’ – official video:

DUNCAN McCRONE – Land Of Gold (Greentrax CDTRAX398)

Land Of GoldA well-established veteran of the Scottish folk scene, Duncan McCrone returns with Land Of Gold, his fourth solo album, and his first on the esteemed Greentrax label. It is a record of new and revisited songs; some recent originals inspired by old stories, a few recordings of older writings and a fine selection of covered material; which fit seamlessly with Mr McCrone’s own songwriting style and (at times) the album’s subject matter. While this is no concept album, there are certainly recurring themes; nautical themes, geographical themes, themes of wishing, travelling and searching to find…but sometimes never finding.

The title track opens the record with its beautiful melody, lyrics and imagery, telling the story of the “Hebridean Klondike Kate”, who left behind her home in Scotland to seek her fortune in the Yukon Valley, at the time of the gold rush. While this track deals with the song’s protagonist leaving Scotland, McCrone later deals with songs in which the lead protagonist is arriving in Scotland; namely ‘The Pioneers’, which tells the story of Bashir Ahmad, Scotland’s first Asian MSP who emigrated from Pakistan to Scotland as a 21 year old, in 1961.

Throughout the album, McCrone takes the opportunity to showcase his ability to retell engaging stories through music. This can be seen, particularly, in numbers like ‘Song of the Skylark’ (an ode to a small sailing vessel which saved over 600 lives during the Second World War), ‘Honeymoon Bridge’ (about a husband and wife, reunited after four years, tragically killed en route to their belated honeymoon), ‘Harbour Wall’ (where the souls of deceased mariners wait for their true love) and ‘Resurrection Road ( A Clydeside Carol)’ featuring Rab Noakes, which juxtaposes nostalgic images of Christmas time in Glasgow, with the harsh, grittier images of the realities of homelessness in the city.

Between these numbers, it is the well placed selections of cover material which fill in the gaps.

Love songs and industrial ballads by Ewan MacColl’s ‘The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)’ and ‘My Old Man’ respectively) are done tremendous justice by Mr McCrone, as is Eric Bogle’s ‘If Wishes Were Fishes’ and Matt McGinn’s poignant masterpiece, ‘Magic Shadow Show’. However, it is Graeme Mills anthem for dreamers, searchers and ‘nearly men’ titled ‘My Eldorado’ which is perhaps the most bittersweet song on the entire record.

This is an album that is rich in great talent, with finely crafted songs, punctuated by the incredible musicianship of some of the most respected names on the Scottish folk scene. What is even more impressive, is that it is a recording by an artist whose already noteworthy musical resume must date back some 40 years, and Land Of Gold might just be Mr McCrone’s best work yet.

Christopher James Sheridan

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

‘The Surf And The Silver Fishes’ – live:

MARTIN BARRE – Roads Less Travelled (Garage Records GAR0002)

Roads Less TravelledI don’t think I’ve heard Jethro Tull for decades, but one of the highlights of the band’s music was, for me and many others, Martin Barre’s guitar work, so I jumped at the opportunity to check out his solo album Roads Less Travelled, for release on 31st August 2018. The CD features ten excellent songs plus an instrumental, all composed by Martin. As well as Martin’s guitars, banjo, mandolin and mandola, these tracks also feature regular members of the Martin Barre Band Dan Crisp (lead vocals on most tracks), Alan Thomson (bass/fretless bass) and Darby Todd (drums), augmented by Alex Hart and Becca Langsford (lead and backing vocals), Josiah J (percussion and Hammond organ), Aaron Graham (drums) and Buster Cottam (double bass).

If some of the tracks here make me think of 60s/70s West Coast and/or fusion music, that’s by no means a criticism, and it shouldn’t be taken as implying a dated approach. Partly, I think, it’s because Dan Crisp’s versatile vocals sometimes remind me of specific individuals from that era; partly because of the effective use of harmonizing lead guitars; partly because of the super-accurate way the guitars, bass and organ track each other’s lines.

Here’s the track listing.

  1. ‘Lone Wolf’, with the addition of Martin’s mandolin, mandola and banjo, borders on country-rock. And a splendid example it is. Slightly reminiscent of the Eagles or even Buffalo Springfield.
  2. ‘Out Of Time’ alternates some nifty electric riffing and athletic drumming with some gentler acoustic work.
  3. ‘I’m On My Way’ also benefits from Martin’s mandolin and mandola, as well as some tasty electric guitar.
  4. ‘Roads Less Travelled’ features some very nice lead guitar harmonies, and lots more.
  5. Becca Langsford takes over the vocals on ‘Badcore Blues’, a moody song supported by acoustic guitars, drums and bass guitar. A long way from country blues, but captures some of that desperation despite its sophistication.
  6. The nostalgic ‘Seattle’ balances acoustic and electric guitars with spot-on vocal and instrumental harmonies.
  7. ‘For No Man’ features breath-taking interplay between the guitars, fretless bass and organ over sophisticated changes.
  8. ‘(This Is) My Driving Song’ leans towards riff-driven 70s rock. Works for me…
  9. The jazzy ballad ‘You Are An Angel’ features Alex Hart on vocals, backed by Martin’s acoustic guitars and Buster Cottam’s double bass. Very classy.
  10. ‘Trinity’ is the CD’s only instrumental, with Martin playing all instruments. A tour de force, drawing on a wide range of musical influences.
  11. ‘And The Band Played Only For Me’ features Becca Langsford on lead vocals, ably augmented with Alex Hart’s backing vocals. Somewhere on the borderline between jazz and city blues, with lovely guitar and organ. If ‘Trinity’ is my favourite track, this is my favourite vocal track, though ‘You Are An Angel’ isn’t far behind it.

Excellent songs sympathetically sung, a master of the guitar (and no slouch on several other instruments), accompanied by a set of accomplished musicians and singers, and flawlessly produced: this is an album that’s going to stay on my iPod…

David Harley

Artist’s website: https://martinbarre.com/

The Martin Barre Band at The Citadel, Wigan:

Swedish Celtic punks Sir Reg announce new album

Sir Reg

Sir Reg is an energetic six piece from Sweden fronted by Irishman Brendan Sheehy on vocals, who left his home-town of Dublin to come to Sweden to fulfil his dream – to put together the most amazing band possible. With songs about everything from the issues of modern day society to finding the right bar on a Saturday night, combined with strong melodies and explosive live shows, Sir Reg have made a name for themselves in the Celtic punk and rock scene. Since the birth of the band in 2009 they have released four critically acclaimed albums and have performed on many of Europe’s biggest stages alongside bands like The Mahones, The Misfits, Thin Lizzy and The Real McKenzies.

The Underdogs, the band’s latest album, captures the raw essence of the Sir Reg raucous live show. From the chaotic first single ‘F.O.O.L (Fight Of Our Lives)’, through the infectious title track and onto their tribute to UFC legend ‘Conor McGregor’, Sir Reg embrace traditional Irish folk music, unforgettable melodies, propelled by an driving, energetic punk rock backing.

The band will touring the UK in October 2018 and will be playing a very special, exclusive showcase gig in London on August 22nd.

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.

Artists’ website: http://sirregband.com/

‘F O O L (Fight Of Our Lives)’ – official video:

Gryphon announce new album – forty-one years on

Gryphon

Would you believe it? Gryphon are releasing an all-new studio album of especially written, previously unheard material – and this comes all of 41 years after their fifth album, way back in 1977. Release date is set for 17th August. Now they really are the oldest and the newest thing – a legendary British band that’s as exhilarating, energetic, unpredictable and addictive now as it ever was.

No-one could ever pigeonhole Gryphon. When the first album came out, the band appeared on BBC Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4, all in the same week. They appeared with Yes at Madison Square Garden and Houston Astrodome, played prog rock festivals, folk clubs and cathedrals. They wrote and played the music for Sir Peter Hall’s National Theatre production of The Tempest at the Old Vic and found a unique place in the hearts of folkies, proggers, Early Music aficionados and anyone with an ear for something creative, fresh and different.

When they split, the members furthered their experience appearing alongside everyone from Kate Bush to Van Morrison, Cher to McCartney, John Williams to Long John Baldry, but after a one-off sell-out show in 2009 at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London the band reformed in 2016 as a six-piece with three new members and since then have been back on the road wowing audiences all over again and rapidly gaining a new fanbase.

ReInvention returns in part to their early connection with Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, in which they found their name. Guitarist Graeme Taylor has set the White Knight’s song ‘A-Sitting on a Gate’ into an epic eleven minute extravaganza which takes us on a musical journey from a reflective Brittenesque bassoon, clarinet and violin trio introduction, into a prog-rocky dialogue between the White Knight (Brian Gulland) and an ‘aged, aged man’ (Dave Oberlé), through a heavy-metal riff with a suddenly distorted and harmonised bassoon, and thence to a plaintively tragi-comic conclusion to bring us home with a rousing military march. Something for all the family!

Brian Gulland, as usual, entirely off the wall, provides four new compositions, displaying his wide influences from 20s English humour, through harrowingly massive church organ chordal sequences, and haunting New Age recorder, acoustic guitar and vocal moments, through the gamut to some strident and stirring full-on electric rock riffs.

Relatively new member (of a mere 9 years’ service!) Graham Preskett also contributes four new compositions, very much in a mid-70s Gryphon style, though adding for the first time some Celtic influence, and demonstrating his experience in writing filmic music. Graham is not only invaluable for his writing, but is also a brilliant multi-instrumentalist and employs his talents on violin, mandolin, harmonica and keyboards to great effect.

So what is Gryphon’s music? It’s just as it always was – imaginative, quirky, dazzling yet full of humour. It’s mainly acoustic, featuring a kaleidoscope of instruments. Every gig and album utilises at least 40 instruments, so the textures can be pretty varied and unfamiliar.

Singer Dave Oberlé provides creative percussion, whilst alongside founder member, Brian Gulland on bassoon and bass crumhorn, the extraordinarily virtuosic Andy Findon shines on clarinets, saxes and flutes. Rory McFarlane supports all this with his solid, sensitive bass, and also donates his original composition, ‘Bathsheba’.

Gryphon, as ever, is the antidote to genres. Whatever you expect, you’ll get something different, surprising, and exciting. Whatever you get, it’ll make you wonder why it took these guys so long to crank up the engines and get back in the studio again. But, as ReInvention proves, it will certainly be worth the wait.

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.

Artists’ website: http://www.thegryphonpages.com/

‘Midnight Mushrumps – 3rd Movement’ – live: