FY5: FINNDERS & YOUNGBERG – Eat The Moon (Swingfingers Records sf003)

FY5 FINNDERS & YOUNGBERG Eat The Moon Since Finnders and Youngberg doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, the Colorado quintet headed up by Mike Finnders and Erin Youngberg have adopted a rather shorter name. However, to ensure that old fans know who they are, they’ve also kept the two surnames, which makes it a bit of a mouthful. None of which is actually relevant to the music, which combines Appalachian bluegrass and honky-tonk to enjoyable effect.

As well as the aforementioned singers (of whom Erin is the more distinctive), the line up also comprises banjo and pedal steel player Aaron Youngberg, mandolinist Rich Zimmerman and violinist Ryan Drickey, this being their second album, following on the heels of 2013 EP, I Don’t Want Love You Won’t Give Until I Cry.

The title track, or rather the full version, ‘She Wants To Eat The Moon’, sets the ball rolling with Erin taking lead on an airy old time-styled ballad coloured by steel and fiddle that picks up the tempo slightly after the intro before Aaron’s banjo kicks in and Mike steps up to the microphone for the frisky ‘Desert Bluebell’, a paean to a flower though that could easily be a blooming metaphor.

Erin takes on the upright bass for the breezy goodtime banjo dappled Bill Monroe feel of Back Door before, Youngberg on vocals again, more old time hillbilly colours splash across the optimistic ‘The Day Is Wide Open’. Being accomplished musicians all, it’s no surprise to find an instrumental nestling in with ‘Old Dog Waltz’, opening with Zimmermann’s mandolin picking before Drickey and the other players get their spotlight. Vocals resume with Finnders providing the refrain back ups to Erin on the honky-tonking ‘After Tonight’, a track on which it sounds like someone’s playing spoons. Backed by pedal steel, Finnders take over for the equally country sounding midtempo playfully cautionary ballad ‘Watch Out For The Blues’ then its down to Aaron to showcase his banjo chops again as Erin kicks up her heels for the hayride romping ‘What Do I Do’.

The mood then changes dramatically with ‘Saint Vrain’, dark, fiddle and nervy banjo accompanying a song sung by Finnders in the voice of the titular Colorado river as it recalls getting as mad as hell and flooding and devastating the town of Lyons, After which, the album ends with a palate cleanser, perhaps quite literally, called ‘Mama’s Cooking’, Finnders heading up the bluegrass rockabilly swing as banjo and fiddle trade licks. It’s not anything revolutionary, but those who appreciate well played, well written old school American roots won’t be disappointed. Grab a fork and dig in.

Mike Davies

‘Lonely’ live at The Swing Station:

GENTLEFOLK – Into The Greenwood (Dharma DHARMACD23)

GENTLEFOLK Into The GreenwoodThere have always been bands that ignore the conventional way of doing things. Back in day it was Comus, Amazing Blondel and Incredible String Band, although there were countless others. Now it’s The Owl Service and Trembling Bells. To those names add that of GentleFolk. Nigel Hoyle is the band’s songwriter and lead vocalist with singer/multi-instrumentalist Ian Kennedy, fiddler and vocalist Sarah Lloyd and Elizabeth Forrester on vocals and shruti. They emerged from sessions at The Old Nun’s Head and are very much a part of their quarter of south-east London.

Into The Greenwood is their first album and it’s pretty special. There are eighteen titles but, in reality, it is a single piece of music. The songs are linked by accompanied narration but these blend seamlessly into the songs. The story is essentially that of a journey around the ancient woodlands of southern England led by, or in search of, Herne The Hunter or ‘Cernunnos’ as he’s called in the second song. The journey takes in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and Dorset all the way to Devon. It encompasses Blean, Anderitum – now Pevensey – the New Forest and Badbury Rings; all ancient sites.

Now you’re thinking “concept album” and you’re absolutely right but what a concept. It’s about conservation, history and mythology. It’s enough to make you bundle up and kick through the fallen leaves of autumn searching for fairy rings – but be wary of ‘The Hidden People’ – and think yourself back in time. Musically, it is all acoustic and complex but with a sense of freedom that matches the songs. Ian plays cello, giant tin whistle, flute and bodhran and, in partnership with Sarah’s fiddle, he provides much of the decoration. Nigel’s guitar sounds quite mediæval and I’m agog to see the band live just to watch him play those lead lines.

If you’re thinking that I’m rather taken with GentleFolk again you’re absolutely right. Into The Greenwood has cheered a dull and sunless day.

Dai Jeffries

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A short clip of GentleFolk performing ‘Wild & Free’:

DEREK GIFFORD – Songs From The Past…Into The Future (WildGoose Records WGS412CD)

DEREK GIFFORD Songs From The Past Into The FutureIf you have spent any time in festival singarounds it’s pretty sure that you will have sung one of Derek Gifford’s tunes – the one he wrote for Keith Scowcroft’s poem, ‘When All Men Sing’. If you enjoyed those sessions and that song then you’ll love this album.

Oddly, there are none of Derek’s own compositions here. Other than two traditional songs – ‘Dives And Lazarus’ and ‘Bold Fisherman’ – this is collection of writers famous and (relatively) obscure, mostly British with one from across the Atlantic. The best songs, for me, are Pete Coe’s ‘Farewell To The Brine’ and ‘The Cocklers’ Song’ by Alan Bell. That said, Miles Wootton’s ‘Early One Evening’ is a piece of whimsy from bygone days that still resonates with beer-drinking men but oddly I’ve only heard it sung once in the last thirty-odd years.

The song that first caught my attention is ‘Songs They Used To Sing’ and I wondered, rather wickedly perhaps, if Derek sings it in post-modern ironic way or takes it seriously. Essentially the writer, Mike Bartram, is saying OK, I was never a sailor or farmer or a miner but those workers left us choruses we can sing and enjoy and that’s what we’re doing. I’d like to think that the singers appreciate the contradiction inherent in the song.

As usual with WildGoose recordings the production is clean and unfussy with Keith Kendrick’s concertinas, Gill Redmond’s cello and Paul Sartin’s oboe used sparingly. The chorus, including Tom and Barbara Brown, bridge the gap between studio and live although I think that Derek might be best served by recording in the latter environment. Perhaps a little more reverb next time.

Dai Jeffries

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).

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‘Spirit Of The Sea’ live at theRNLI Dungeness Memorial Concert:

KELLY & WOOLLEY – Papers In My Shoe (Clunk & Rattle Records CRLP 008)

KELLY & WOOLLEY Papers In My ShoeIt’s rare enough to hear a Cajun duo from East Anglia, rarer still to find one that sings ‘Jock O’ Hazeldean’. This would be my benchmark: Sir Walter Scott’s tale of attempted marriage has long been a favourite of mine. Matt Kelly and Gary Woolley say they have based their interpretation on a version by Dick Gaughan but it isn’t the one he sings on No More Forever and, in fact, their setting owes something to Fairground Attraction. They’ve clearly thought about the presentation of an old chestnut and determined to do something different but, for me, they’ve taken something away from that distinctive tune. People never make things easy, do they? I’m in a dilemma but at least they don’t sound like The Corries.

By coincidence, this is the second album I’ve received within a few weeks to include a version of Paul Metsers’ ‘Farewell To The Gold’ – is Paul due for a revival do you suppose? Matt and Gary base their version on Nic Jones’ and that I can hear as Matt holds the melody on viola while Gary’s guitar does something else entirely.

The bulk of the album is made up of pacy guitar and fiddle two-steps, the majority in French and they apply something of the same technique to ‘When I Was Young’, translating the English words to the bayou. That is clever. The production is solid but I felt the need for some space in the music sometimes and perhaps a little bass and/or percussion for a change of emphasis. The title track provides something of that space but we’re almost at the end. ‘Hand Me Down My Walking Cane’ provides a rousing finish to an album that’s programmed like a party disc – lots of floor-fillers with a couple of slow numbers. It’s just the music that’s different.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.kellyandwoolley.co.uk

‘Port Arthur Blues’ live:

SALLY BARKER – Love Rat EP (Old Dog Records 015)

SALLY BARKER – Love Rat EP (Old Dog Records 015)Sally Barker’s appearance on The Voice brought her to the attention of a new audience and her joining Fotheringay reminded the rest of us that she is still here. Those of us fortunate enough to hear the rejuvenated band on stage also got to learn first hand what a fabulous voice she has.

This six-track EP is the next step in her career relaunch, which sounds a bit cynical of me but it’s the way the business is. It closes with ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ which should guarantee some extra sales but the record isn’t a one-trick pony. The opener is an acoustic rocker, ‘Jealous Bones’, written by Sally and Carol Leeming with Glenn Hughes keyboards laying down the foundation and that’s followed by Debbie Cassell’s jazzy ‘Kissing A Stranger’ with a deceptively simple backing of acoustic guitar and piano.

Next comes a classic, ‘Walk On By’, recorded live with just piano – Glenn Hughes earns his corn yet again – in a stripped-down, slowed-down arrangement. The title track is written by Barker, Cassell, Ian Crabtree (Sally’s producer/bassist/guitarist) and Martin Ansell and returns to the funky acoustic rock that opened the show. In a change of style ‘Heat & The Shell’, another of Sally’s own songs, features Keith Buck’s pedal steel guitar and Crabtree’s bass before building to a big finish with Adam Ellis’s accordion.

Finally, a live ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ is gorgeous and brittle with Sally’s voice about to crack at the end of the bridge – a brilliant example of vocal control before Hughes’ piano gives her a break before the final choruses in a feat of understated drama. There’s a huge list of projects I’d love to see Sally involved in – and I don’t think I’m alone – but this will do nicely for a while.

Dai Jeffries

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).

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Artist’s website: www.sallybarker.co.uk

“Walk On By” live. Not the performance on the record – too much audience chatter!

RACHEL TAYLOR-BEALES – Stone’s Throw – Lament Of The Selkie (Hushland HUSCD05)

Stone’s Throw Lament Of The SelkieRachel Taylor-Beales’ first three albums were the Kieślowski inspired colours trilogy beginning with the jazzy Brilliant Blue followed by Red Tree and Dust And Gold. Having taken a break from performing she now returns with a rather different sort of project.

The subtitle tells you a good deal but the album is more complex than you might imagine. Yes, it is inspired by the Orkney legends of the seal-folk but Rachel has turned the story around, brought it up to date and gone deep into it to produce a concept album – unfashionable though that idea might be – based on a single relationship. Unlike the well-known ballad, our heroine is a Selkie maiden who gives up her aquatic existence for a human man – a bit like Andersen’s Little Mermaid if you will. As you might imagine the path of true love doesn’t run smoothly but I don’t want to spoil the story by saying any more.

The principal musicians are Rachel and her husband Bill playing a plethora of guitars and half a dozen other instruments with support from Lucy Rivers’ violin and Rosy Robinson’s cello with walk-ons for Dylan Fowler, Paul Gray, Angharad Evans and Rachel’s brother Shane Beales. The result is a variety of sounds that still retain a coherence as the story unfolds. There is pounding percussion on ‘Summer Again’, for example, immediately followed by the piano-led delicacy of ‘And May It Be’ with Lucy’s soaring countermelody soaring over the top. The songs are strong but I wish the budget had run to including the lyrics – a relatively minor criticism of an excellent and original album.

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.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.racheltaylor-beales.com/

Rachel’s showreel will fill in some background: