ROB LINCOLN – 5 Cents A Song (own label)

5 centsIt used to be true that every pop star or group needed a gimmick. If they didn’t have one the press would take something and make it into one – The Beatles’ haircuts, Orbison’s shades, whatever. Rob Lincoln will be the first to tell you that what he’s done isn’t a gimmick but it certainly attracted our attention.

Consider the title of the album, 5 Cents A Song. It’s meant literally – the album retails at $15.00 in the States so at 5 cents a song that’s 300 songs. That’s a hell of a debut solo album. The main course of this double-disc banquet is in DVD format containing the first 300 songs that Rob wrote beginning when he was fifteen. In addition, there are files of lyrics and chords and, I kid you not, 42 bonus tracks! This disc runs to over eighteen hours and even the most dedicated reviewer isn’t going to get through all that before sitting down to write so Rob has thoughtfully provided a standard CD sampler of twenty-three songs. I started there.

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PAUL HANDYSIDE – Wayward Son (Malady Music MALCD004)

Wayward SonPaul Handyside is formerly of indie pop band Hurrah! and later of alt-country outfit Bronze. Wayward Son, his second solo album, combines these influences and, you might argue, places him somewhere outside our remit. However, he is a fine songwriter and there is a banjo.

Two musicians, David Porthouse and Rob Tickell who also produced the album, support Paul and between them they handle more than a dozen instruments. This isn’t an attempt to duplicate a live sound; this is making an album as good as it can be. Where to start? ‘When The Good Times Roll Again’ tells of a soldier shot for cowardice in WW1 and here Paul lets his Geordie roots show for the first time on the record. It is immediately followed by ‘Man Overboard’. A fisherman is lost at sea and we can imagine that this was a story that Paul was all too familiar with. Two more songs have the ring of truth. ‘Rose Of The Street’ needs no explanation and if Paul isn’t the subject of the title track then he knows who is.

The mood ranges from the battle-cry of ‘Glory Bound’ to the acoustic pain of ‘Still Time Away’. Paul’s voice is powerful but flexible enough to handle the changes of style and pace. There isn’t a bad track and there are some really good moments – the piano riff in ‘Love Lies Elsewhere’ sticks in the mind.
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BEAU – Fly The Bluebird (Cherry Red)

beauAnyone with an interest in the British music scene of the late 60s may remember Beau, the first artist to release a record on John Peel’s Dandelion label. Issued in July 1969,  ‘1917 Revolution’, a song about the Russian uprising, echoed the English protest folk also being produced by the likes of Al Stewart and Roy Harper.

No 1 in the Lebanon, it’s success back home was considerably less spectacular but generated sufficient interest to spawn two albums, the eponymous debut and 1971’s Creation. A third was planned for 1972, albeit to be released under the name of John Trevor (his real name being Trevor Midgley) although the only recording that saw light of day was ‘Sky Dance’,  part of the label’s swansong compilation, There Is Some Fun Going Forward.

Beau may have been subsequently consigned to the land of the musical forgotten, but he’s remained active, albeit mostly as a songwriter, interest being rekindled with reissues of the two albums in expanded formats and, in 2009, the release of Edge Of The Dark featuring five recordings from the scrapped third album alongside other previously unreleased tracks. This in turn was followed by Fables & Facades, a Cherry Red collection of full band versions of songs recorded between 1978 and 2000, 2011’s re-recordings of previously unissued material, The Way It Was and, last year, Twelve Strings To The Beau, featuring numbers recorded with Jim Milne and Steve Clayton from Tractor between 1975-1985.

He returns now with an all new download only collection, although, some subject matter aside, it sounds as though it could easily have been dusted down from the early 70s vaults. You may say it sounds dated, which, in the sense of being of a particular era, it does, but I think timeless might be a better description.
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THE O’CAROLAN FAMILY – A Language Within (Self Released)

ocarolansLet me say from the outset, I’m more of a song than an instrumental man and instrumental trad folk isn’t at the top of list of genre passions, indeed I tend to find most instrumental albums never quite manage to capture the feel of the same music being played live, too often that energy being replaced by studio sterility and a sense of proficiency rather than passion.

However, I surrender on all fronts to the young Derry trio, siblings Karen, Ciaran  and Steven on fiddle, flute/whistles and button accordion, respectively. Recorded in the Donegal cottage featured on the album cover, it’s a sprightly collection of reels, jigs, barn dances, ballads and even a waltz and polka that bears testament to early years absorbing Irish traditional music and learning their craft under the tutelage of names like Eugene O’Donnell and the Harrigan family, to mention time spent listening to the music of artists from their home region such as Altan, De Danann and The Bothy Band.

Not being a musician myself, I’m not going to get into technicalities of technique, but I can say that the three interweave seamlessly, the instruments playing off each other without any hogging the spotlight and capturing their very obvious love of the music and heritage of their raising.

Helped out by a dozen guest musicians variously contributing guitars, piano, harp, bouzouki, cello and bodhran, save for ‘Around The Fairy Fort/The New Broom’, a  barn dance set  from the  repertoire of flautist Vincent Broderick, the numbers are all either self-penned (Steven the prime writer) or (as with Bunker Hill, part of the opening reels)  trad arranged by the family.

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3 BOXES – Strings Attached (Gregsongs CGCD1401)

3BoxesThe men behind the three boxes are former members of Plainsong: Andy Roberts, Clive Gregson and Mark Griffiths. All are experienced composers, players and singers which is why this album is rather puzzling. You see, Strings Attached is a set of guitar instrumentals written by the players and produced by the legendary John Wood. Not that there is anything wrong with that, except that I suspect that the majority of their audience would give their eye teeth for an album of songs from this trio.

The set opens with Roberts’ ‘Wranglin’’, typical of his penchant for country-rock guitar picking.and a good way to kick off. It’s followed by Griffiths’ ‘The Last Goodbye’ and like the later ‘The Car & The Great Salt Lake’ it has the expansive quality of a piece of film music. Gregson’s pieces tend to the quirky, at least as far titles go: ‘No Parrots In Tescos’, for example, although ‘Horny Pipey’ is what it says it is. Roberts is on particularly good form. ‘All The Pretty Little Horses’ and ‘I Have Lately Learned To Swim’ are both delightfully languid pieces and ‘Tick Tock’ harks back to the seventies. Tell me it was written for Nina And The Dream Tree and I’d believe you.

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PAUL McCLURE – Smiling From The Floor Up (Clubhouse CRUK0019CD)

PAUL McCLURE Smiling From The Floor UpAt first hearing Paul McClure hails from somewhere between New York and Texas. Then you hear certain inflections that are decidedly English in the midst of a style that suggests pre-electric Dylan, maybe around Another Side Of. There’s little to be gained from guesswork, however, we need the facts.

Paul is from Rutland and Smiling From The Floor Up is his third solo album. It was recorded with minimal support, just two backing singers (Hannah and Alex Elton-Wall) and a lap steel (Joe Bennett) on the title track. It’s not quite as live – Paul overdubs piano, accordion, drums and ukulele on his acoustic guitar – but the feel is right, as are the songs.

I take it that the opener, ‘Long Gone Out Of Here’, is about a deceased musician but Paul isn’t explicit. The mention of New York conjures images of night-shrouded alleys and iron fire escapes but the song is a simple hymn of praise to the un-named singer. The final track, ‘Moments Lost’, is initially on the “lonely in a crowd” theme but then Paul is singing about his baby daughter and you realise that the moments are ones that he has lost. Other top tracks are ‘Pollyanna’ – truck-stops, pickups and a girl who is no better than she ought to be – and ‘Any Number You Like (As Long As It’s 4)’ which is about …well actually I’m not quite sure but there is a touch of “everybody must get stoned” about it.
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