AOIFE O’DONOVAN ­– In the Magic Hour (Yep Records B016LKYKVW)

In The Magic HourCall me crazy, but I hear a bit of Patti Smith in Aiofe O’Donovan’s startlingly lovely new album In the Magic Hour.

No, she’s not following in Smith’s punk-rock vocal-guitar shredding wake. But she does share Smith’s rare gift of waving deeply personal meditations in her lyrics a la Steve Earle, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and a handful of other boldface Americana songsmiths.

On the ten songs on this, O’Donovan’s second solo album, the Crooked Still alum melodically analyzes the intersections of ambition, loneliness, family and solitude. But unlike the full-on assault of much of Smith’s punk rock, O’Donovan wraps her words around impressionistic sounds reminiscent of some of the work of The Beatles (Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Revolver), Tori Amos (Scarlet’s Walk comes immediately to mind) and other dream weavers.

You’ve likely read some reviews comparing O’Donovan – who is joined by guests including Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins and the Punch Brothers’ Chris Thile – with Patti Griffin and Shawn Colvin. Certainly songs such as the richly textured folk-with-Celtic ‘Magpie’ can bring those artists to mind.

But O’Donovan is no Griffin- or Colvin-come lately. Her song ‘Detour’ suggests as much Emmylou Harris as it does Griffin and Colvin while ‘The King of All Birds,’ with assertive strings and vocals would slip comfortably into a set by Amos.

When O’Donovan was writing the songs for this album, her family patriarch died. Indeed, his singing is heard on a snippet of the traditional Irish song ‘Donal Og’ and the album’s artwork features a 7-year-old O’Donovan frolicking in the small Irish town of Clonakilty on a visit to her grandfather.

The Boston-area born, Brooklyn-based O’Donovan is only 33, decades younger than Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and her other reported musical idols but this album proves her musical soul is just as old.

Nancy Dunham

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Artist’s Website: http://www.aoifeodonovan.com

‘Magic Hour’ – official video:

BELLOWHEAD – The Farewell Tour (Navigator NAVIGATOR095X)

The Farewell TourBellowhead are really going out in style. The Farewell Tour comes in a lavishly packaged hard-back book containing two CDs recorded at various venues across the first half of the tour and a DVD filmed at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester. The audio recording is superb, clear and crisp and twenty-nine tracks are crammed onto the two discs which, unusually, caused me to turn the volume up to maximum. Mind you, my auditory nerves were burned out years ago but I do want an album like this to pin me to the back wall.

This being a show for an audience who want to bop their socks off, Bellowhead avoid some of their more experimental material. Thus ‘Whiskey Is The Life Of A Man’ is the only selection from Matachin and I was surprised at the omission of ‘Fakenham Fair’. That said, we do have Pete Flood particularly strange ‘Moon Kittens’ and they do find room for the marvellous ‘Black Beetle Pies’. ‘Fine Sally’ is a bit strange, too. Almost every track is taken at the gallop, ‘Captain Wedderburn’ being one of the few moments of relative respite on the first disc. That’s not to say that the playing is in any way sloppy – perish the thought – and the stage chat is kept to the absolute minimum. The editing gives the impression that the band move straight from one song to the next but they must have stopped for breath sometimes.

There are a couple of previously unrecorded tracks including the version of Richard Thompson’s ‘Down Where The Drunkards Roll’ that ends the video but they are merely  the icing on a very rich cake. What comes across is the sheer inventiveness of the arrangements – the swagger of ‘Byker Hill’ followed by the almost-Wagnerian ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’ and the not quite laid-back ‘Jack Lintel’.

The film has twenty-three songs, in a different order, and begins with spooky blue lighting and the equally spooky ‘Moon Kittens’. It shouldn’t work as an opener but it does, seeming to set up expectations in the audience. The filming can’t be faulted, getting close in on the players as well as giving us panoramic views – and there’s plenty of scope for that – but the “atmospheric” lighting gets a bit much at times. I feel that about live gigs a lot of the time, anyway. Oh come on, I’ve got to find something to criticise!

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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‘Fine Sally’ – live at Leicester:

Moulettes – new album

Moulettes
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

On May 27th Brighton based collective Moulettes, continue their journey into the alt.pop/rock/folk universe with the release of their most accomplished album to date – Preternatural.

It was in early 2015 when reading an article in the New Scientist that lead singer Hannah Miller first starting thinking about a concept for the new album. “I’ve always been fascinated by the natural world” says Hannah. “But this article compelled me to look deeper and start exploring all the surreal and beautiful diversity that exists. There’s so many phenomenal creatures out there we thought they deserved their own album.”

Fast forward to 2016 and the result is Preternatural – an eclectic but cohesive 11 track collection, which marries the thought provoking concept with elements of prog, pop, alt-folk and rock. It’s a beautifully orchestrated piece of work, experimental in parts but still accessible, fusing rich vocal harmonies, persuasive melodies, and elaborate compositions to make a genre defying album that explores the moving gaps of electronic and acoustic; DIY and big production.

Highlights include the epic opener ‘Behemooth’, a heavy, drum-driven progressive anthem inspired by a loud and unidentified sound recorded in the pacific, and electro-rock lead single ‘Underwater Painter’, which explores the way Octopus-chameleons of the sea can switch between camouflage and a psychedelic electric light show. “The solo was recorded in one take” recalls Hannah, “and was definitely a homage to Prince!”

There is currently no video releases for any of the new material yet but ‘Behemooth’ is available to listen to via soundcloud here:  https://soundcloud.com/moulettes/behemooth-singleedit

One of the album’s finest moments, the sublime ‘Pufferfish Love’, drew on recent ground-breaking Attenborough footage of the Japanese mandala-making Pufferfish, whilst the groove-based Art Pop of ‘Coral’ describes the crises facing coral reefs, – “A beautiful illustration of symbiosis between animals, minerals and plants” says Ollie.  Other standouts include the addictive ‘Patterns,’ the ethereal vocals of ‘Medusa’ and the album closer, ‘Silk’ about spiders who pluck harmonics on the strands of their webs to tune them…

“There are so many things to write about,” says Hannah, “Lost love is sad, but a lost species is a tragedy for us all.”  “Presenting your own sort of eclecticism is the aim,” says Ollie. “Zappa, Gentle Giant to current bands like Field Music, John Grant, Snarky Puppy, My Brightest Diamond, Tuneyards, Tortoise etc would all agree. These were all references for the record.”

Moulettes are a Brighton based British band of multi instrumentalists that weave in and out of several genres with 3 part harmony female vocals, amplified Cello, distorted Bassoon, Auto-Harp, Guitar, Drums, Bass and Synths into an incomparable alt.pop/rock/folk universe.  Singles from their eponymous release in 2010 (****Mojo), their follow up The Bear’s Revenge in 2012 (**** The Guardian) and third studio album Constellations (No.7 Indie Charts, Best Album: Spiral Earth Awards) have been played across BBC6 and BBC2 with support from Cerys Mathews, Mark Radcliffe, Mary Anne Hobbs, Bob Harris, Tom Robinson and Lauren Laverne.

Since playing together at school in Glastonbury to residencies on Tin Pan Alley, to a multitude of festivals including Glastonbury, Bestival, Cropredy, Cambridge Folk, End Of The Road and Green Man along with relentless world touring, the band have become renowned for their breath taking live shows. On the way the band have shared both the stage and studio with many well-known artists in Folk, Prog, Pop and Rock, including Mick Jagger, Nick Cave, Seasick Steve, Bonobo, Gentle Giant, Mumford and Sons (Ted Dwane was a founding Moulette), Dave Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Bellowhead, and The Levellers.

Moulettes are: Hannah Miller (Cello, vocals, guitar) Ollie Austin (Drums, guitar, piano, vocals) Ruth Skipper (Bassoon, vocals, autoharp, synths) Jim Mortimore (Double bass, Guitar, vocals) Raevennan Husbandes (Electric Guitar, Vocals, Percussion).

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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Live at the Great British Folk Festival last year. Guess where the photograph was taken.

 

Artist’s website: www.moulettes.co.uk

Rachel Newton – new album

Rachel Newton

Rachel Newton’s third solo album, Here’s My Heart Come Take It, is named after the opening track on this exciting new album; a bold combination of traditional folk songs and Rachel’s own compositions.

Recorded in December 2015 at the recently opened Caribou Recording studio near Edinburgh, Rachel and co-producer/drummer Mattie Foulds took time to build up a unique sound using voice, harps, piano, keyboards and percussion before inviting fiddle player Lauren MacColl and trombonist Michael Owers to complete the picture. Keen to try something different and to bring out the personality of each musician involved, Rachel deliberately chose a more experimental approach for this recording than she has with her earlier albums. Developing ideas, playing with sounds and improvising in the studio, combined with a considered choice of material has resulted in a very personal and heartfelt piece of work.

Founder member of The Furrow Collective, The Emily Portman Trio and The Shee, Rachel released solo albums The Shadow Side in 2012 and Changeling in 2014. As well as voice and harp, Rachel also plays piano, fiddle and viola and has worked across a range of performance platforms including theatre and storytelling. A skilled collaborator, Rachel also recently started working with Scottish/Norwegian band Boreas and was one of the eight musicians to work on The Elizabethan Session project.

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.

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

Not on the new album, but what the hell – ‘Jolene’:

NINEBARROW – Releasing The Leaves (own label)

Releasing The LeavesReleasing The Leaves is the second album from Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere, aka Ninebarrow. Jon and Jay are from Dorset and the landscape and history of the county inform and inspire their songs and music.

The first track, for example, is inspired by a 13th century chapel near Worth Matravers. ‘The Pinner’ is the story of a woman who works all her life at the craft of pin-making hoping to make a perfect example. The legend tells that women would place trinkets, especially pins in the chapel while wishing for their heart’s desire. It takes the mind of a real songwriter to avoid the obvious tale of a woman who is cruelly misled or, alternatively, finds her true love in this manner. No, this lady wishes for perfection.

‘For A Time’ is a much more modern tale, that of Tyneham, the village commandeered by the government in preparation for the D-Day landings. Again Jon and Jay avoid the obvious and tell the story through the recollections of an old man – a former resident. ‘To The Stones’ is inspired by a long barrow near Abbotsbury and ‘Blood On The Hillside’ comes from observing a murder of crows and extrapolating the old nursery rhyme into something more sinister. The duo’s use of a reed organ emphasises the creepy story.

Amongst the original compositions are a number of traditional songs, each one memorable in its own way. ‘Lord Exmouth’ is a tale from the Napoleonic wars extolling the virtues of Admiral Pellew and sung in a heroically simple style. ‘Weave Her A Garland’ is from Folk Songs Of The Upper Thames, which necessitated the boys writing their own tune and ‘Back & Sides’ is the song of begging and ale given a charmingly rustic setting. ‘Three Ravens’ is well known but none the worse for that and ‘Dark Eyed Sailor’ is one of the great broken-token ballads and one with a happy ending – William doesn’t get handbagged for testing her like that.

A booklet of lyrics, song notes and photographs is free to download and is well worth doing – happily, Ninebarrow sent me a pukka printed version. You can enjoy this fine album without it but go on, spoil yourself.

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).

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: www.ninebarrow.co.uk

‘For A Time’ – live:

John McCusker – new album

John McCusker

In celebration of his 25th Anniversary as a professional musician, John McCusker will release Hello, Goodbye on April 29th 2016 and tour the UK in April and May. A wonderfully evocative set of compositions, Hello, Goodbye is John’s first solo album in thirteen years, the first on his new record label Under One Sky Records and the first recorded in his state of the art studio, built over the last 2 years in a bothy dating from 1779, which neighbours his Scottish Borders home. Designed by legendary record producer and studio designer Calum Malcolm, the new studio is a winning combination of the traditional and the new, much like John’s music itself!

Hello, Goodbye was composed while John was on a world tour with Mark Knopfler. The core musical group for the album is an all-star cast of handpicked musicians with whom John has been fortunate to work over the past 25 years: James Mackintosh, Drums/Percussion (Shooglenifty, The Blue Nile, James); Ewen Vernal, Bass (Deacon Blue, Capercaille); Ian Carr, Guitar (Eddi Reader, Julie Fowlis, Swap); Michael McGoldrick, Whistle (Mark Knopfler, Capercaille, Sharon Shannon); Andy Cutting, Melodeon  (The Who, June Tabor); Tim O’Brien (Grammy Award Winning US bluegrass star); Phil Cunningham MBE, Accordion (Bonnie Raitt, Nicola Benedetti) and acclaimed Irish singer Heidi Talbot.

Born in Bellshill, near Glasgow, John began playing whistle and fiddle as a child and joined the legendary folk outfit Battlefield Band aged 17. During his 11 years with the band, he also released his first two solo recordings, 1995’s self-titled debut and 2000’s Yella Hoose. His most recent albums include Under One Sky and the reissues of Yella Hoose and Goodnight Ginger re-mastered deluxe.

John has long been renowned for his skill at transcending musical boundaries: striving to keep his music fresh and exciting, never leaving the past behind but always embracing new sonic adventures. As a live and studio guest he has shared stages with Paul Weller, Paolo Nutini, Teenage Fanclub, Graham Coxon and Eddi Reader. Since 2008, he has been a member of Mark Knopfler’s band, playing arenas around the world including a double bill with Bob Dylan at The Hollywood Bowl and 20 nights at the Royal Albert Hall.

An expanding portfolio as a producer features debut albums by Kris Drever and Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble. He’s also manned the controls for top folk chanteuses Eddi Reader, Heidi Talbot, Eliza Carthy and Linda Thompson. Film and TV work includes soundtracks for the movie Heartlands (2002) and 16 Years of Alcohol (2003), Billy Connolly’s World Tour of New Zealand (2004), Jennifer Saunders BBC sitcom Jam and Jerusalem (2008) & Starlings sitcom for Sky TV (2012).

John was awarded the coveted BBC Radio 2 Musician of the Year in 2003 and also The Spirit of Scotland Award for music in 1999 and again in 2009.

The John McCusker Band, featuring some of the finest traditional musicians including Andy Cutting, Adam Holmes, Innes White and Toby Shaer, will embark on an extensive UK tour in April/May:

“One of the UK’s most gifted and versatile musicians in any genre, John McCusker is equally in demand as a multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer.” The Guardian

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.

‘Muireann’s Jig/Farewell to Whalley Range/Roddy McDonald’s’ – The John McCusker band live:

 

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