DAN WEBSTER- The Tin Man (Paper Plane Records PPR1501)

TheTinManDan Webster is a singer/songwriter/guitarist with an eclectic taste in musical styles which he employs with great skill on his third album, The Tin Man.

The record opens with an impassioned ballad, ‘Dancers’. There’s lots going with a foundation of cello, bass and drums supporting Dan’s voice and guitar. It’s a strong voice, nothing fashionably ethereal but he can crack it painfully if he needs to and holler if that’s called for. After one track you’ve got his measure, right? Wrong!

Next up is ‘Elvis’, a sparkling piece of rockabilly with electric guitar by Lloyd Massingham. The sound of it raises a smile and then you pay attention to the lyrics. “Manufactured pop commercial toss, all this stuff I’m asked for” – this is the bitter lament of a real musician in an age of synthetic pap. That should raise a cheer. ‘Number 17’ combines elements of the preceding songs. It’s a nostalgic song of separation with big strings and unexpectedly busy drums by Yom Hardy giving it an odd feeling of urgency. In fact, Hardy’s drums are a big feature of the album.

Then – a traditional song, ‘British Man Of War’. Where did that come from? It’s an interesting choice given that it dates from one of the more shameful episodes in British history, the Opium Wars, a broken token ballad which could be terribly gung-ho except that Dan downplays that aspect of the story and concentrates on the girl waving goodbye to her sailor boy. Dan brings him home with a medley of ‘Spanish Ladies/When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ again downplaying the death and mutilation of sea battles.

The album closes with the tragic ‘Goodbye’ which would be a good finish, if something of a downer, but he grins, picks up his electric and blasts out a chunk of infectious rock’n’roll called ‘Gin’. That’s better. There should be more like Dan Webster around.

Dai Jeffries

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A live version of ‘British Man Of War’:

ESMÉ PATTERSON – Woman To Woman (XtraMile)

Woman2WomanThe answer song is hardly a new idea, examples date back to the 40s although the form was most popular during the 50s and 60s. Generally, the ‘answer’ version would be a response to the original, usually, but not always, sung from the perspective of the opposite sex, sometimes from the perspective of the character in the ‘call’ version, and were, for the most part, to be found in the country and rock n roll genres. A couple of years ago, Dave Rotheray took the concept and ran with it on ‘Answer Songs’, an album which, featuring a variety of guest vocalists from the folk world, offered comebacks to a collection of well known hits written in the persona of the character in the original, such as Mrs Jones , Bobby McGee and Jolene. Now, Colorado country singer-songwriter Patterson has done a similar thing, only hers are all from the point of view of the women in the songs she’s selected.

As with Rotheray, Jolene is among them, bringing her infectiously idiosyncratic voice (a sort of cross between a drawl and a squeak coated in sand and honey) to ‘Never Chase A Man’, a catchy, upbeat slide guitar driven country pop number where she advises Dolly that any man who’ll cheat on her isn’t worth bothering with as she sings “You sit around and cry over him and you tell me you’re here to beg, well excuse me for sayin’, but that man ain’t worth the time you take ‘cause your man don’t mean a thing to me, he keeps leanin’ in.”

Her targets are an eclectic choice, the album opening with the choppy, chirpy, ‘Valentine’, sung in the voice of Elvis Costello’s Alison who, with a handclappy musical bounce reminiscent of Sheryl Crow, informs her judgemental, jealous that “I will make love to whomever I want, so give your blessings or give me your curses but I’ll be just fine”. Crow also seems to be the musical inspiration behind the musically similarly styled ‘Tumbleweed’, a response to Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Loretta’ that was the initial spark to the album.

Having already been the subject of one answer song in Lydia Murdock’s ‘Superstar’, Billie Jean is in similarly indignant mood on ‘What Do You Call A Woman?’, a plangent country blues with White Stripes echoes, pointedly asking the responsibility-shirking Jacko “what do you call a woman when she’s lyin’ in your bed? If you make love, ain’t she your lover?”, adding “call me what you want but let him call you father.” Often victims in the originals, Patterson’s versions are strong, self-aware women, the Latin swaying ‘Oh Let’s Dance’ featuring an unapologetically flirtatious Lola, Eleanor Rigby greeting her death with grace and courage in the strings-kissed sunny ‘Bluebird’, Leadbelly’s (‘Goodnight’) Irene telling her lover to harbour no romantic delusions because “I’ve done wrong, I cheat and I lie, I’m not going to heaven when I die…Heaven’s not a dream, so wake up darling” on the slow swaying doo wop ‘A Dream’.

The only exceptions would seem to be ‘The Glow’, a slide and strings adorned response to ‘Caroline No’ where Patterson’s protagonist seems to telling her ex that, even though she’s cut off her hair and got a new love, “you’re gone until I fall asleep, and no one knows why but me”, and the waltzing bluesy ‘Louder Than The Sound’ where The Band’s Evangeline loses her mind as she watches her man drown.

For her last retort, the sparsely guitar backed ‘Wildflower ‘closes the album with Dylan’s Ramona having moved down south “to escape the crowd”, bend back to the earth and find herself , writing to her old flame to say that, if he ever wants “to come and be cryin’“ to her , then, “if someday ever happened to be today, come on down here, darlin, and see me.”   With her rejoinders giving an often feminist voice to these characters, Patterson’s counter intelligence has crafted a clever and extremely listenable album. It deserves a warm response.

Mike Davies

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://esmepatterson.com/

Esmé sings ‘The Glow’:

HANNAH SANDERS – Charms Against Sorrow (Sungrazing Records SGR001)

CharmsAgainstSorrowHailing from Norwich, Sanders came to folk early, singing with her a capella family group, The Dunns, as a teenager before briefly putting music to one side to travel to America and develop a career as a cultural anthropologist, the album title bearing witness to her study of contemporary witchcraft. Returning to the UK in 2013, she’s resumed her relationship with folk music, releasing an EP last year and now following on with this full-length debut. Accompanied by musicians that include Ben Savage, Evan Carson and Jade Rhiannon from The Willows, bassist Jon Thorne and Anna Scott on cello, not surprisingly, it reflects both British and American influences in what is a predominantly traditional and simply arranged affair recorded in ‘grass roots’ settings that range from an old mill to a Lake District kitchen in order, capturing the intimate atmosphere, not to mention the sounds of fires crackling and birds singing

Sanders has a clear, pure vocal, a slight breathy husk alternating with soaring high notes and, listening to ‘Joshuay’, a sprightly variation on the song variously known as ‘The Prickly Bush’ and ‘Gallows Pole’, it’s hard not to sometimes find yourself thinking of the early Joni Mitchell. She certainly favours Mitchell jazz-folk stylings, both on that and on the ensuing versions of Michael Hurley’s psych-folk number ‘The Werewolf ‘(where her voice also suggests Janis Ian) and Annie Briggs’ ‘Go Your Way’. Elsewhere, the clear air of the Appalachians can be felt on ‘I Gave My Love A Cherry’ and in the Dobro colours of the otherwise softly sung English pastoral ‘I’ll Weave My Love A Garland’ while, in arrangements and vocal, both ‘Bonnie Bunch Of Roses’ (which segues into intricate guitar instrumental ‘Mayflower Stranger’) and ‘Lord Franklin’ are haunted by the ghost of Sandy Denny.

Harking back to her family heritage, there’s an unaccompanied reading of ‘A Sailor’s Life’ (aka ‘Sweet William’) and, her native accent heard in the pronunciations, a wearied, melancholic, cello-hued take on ‘Geordie’. Joined by sister Ruth on backing vocals, she’s slightly sprightlier on folk evergreen ‘Pleasant And Delightful’ (also known as ‘Dawning Of The Day’), though more restrained and tender than the rousing approach usually to be found in folk clubs while the album’s remaining track draws on the inspiration of Nic Jones (and, again, Scott’s cello) for a jazzy blues inflected interpretation of broadside ballad ‘Miles Weatherhill And Sarah Bell’.

It’s early days yet, but, with an extensive tour coming up to promote the album, Sanders could soon find herself numbered among the ranks of today’s contemporary masters of traditional folk.

Mike Davies

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: hhttp://www.hannahsandersfolk.com

Hannah sings ‘Lord Franklin’:

IAN CARR & THE VARIOUS ARTISTS – Who He? (Reveal Records REVEAL046CDX)

Who HeIan Carr is, as I’m sure you know, the guitarist who has been heard mostly on other people’s records; such names as Kathryn Tickell, Kate Rusby, Kris Drever and Eddi Reader. He’s taken top billing in several duos including an association with Simon Thoumire and a number of fairly obscure bands but he’s taken quite a while to produce this solo project from his home in Sweden.

Of course he’s not really solo. His band, The Various Artists, are a multi-national, multi-instrumental line-up that reads rather like a premier league team sheet with omnichord, kora and violino grande among the featured sounds. The opening track, ‘I’ll Call You’, is fairly conventional apart from the almost obscured vocals with Ian initially playing something like a rag-time melody with the whole ensemble pitching in and Ian switching to trumpet in the middle. Some of what Ian writes has the repetitive, hypnotic quality of the music that Simon Jeffes wrote for The Penguin Café Orchestra although he isn’t constrained by Jeffes adherence to strict mathematical patterns. The title track and ‘The Beans War’ employ this technique to particular effect. There are two actual songs sung by Maria Jonsson and Carina Normansson in English and, I presume, Swedish. There is one oddity, ‘Talking Frances’, which features Frances Carr impersonating Alan Bennett but whether it’s a true story or not (or even supposed to be Bennett) I wouldn’t like to say.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this album. There is certainly no pointless noodling nor screaming electric from a man who has been professionally restricted to the acoustic instrument. There is excellent playing and innovative ideas – enough to make Who He? a bit special.

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.iancarr.com

Ian Carr & The Various Artists – ‘Road Drill’:

KENNETH J NASH – The Fall Of Eden (Old Hotel Records)

FallOfEdenKenneth J Nash’s fourth album is a slow-burning affair, in keeping with his world-weary demeanour. It’s not just the structure of the album but of the songs themselves – they appear out of the silence with the tiniest of sounds and build gradually to what may be considered a climax.

Take ‘St Mary’s Heart’. It’s a song about a wedding, presumably Kenneth’s, but recounted with the knowledge that it is destined to fail. There is no joy here: Kenneth narrates the events of the day sombrely and only when the tragedy comes does he raise his voice to the accompaniment of a crystal clear mandolin. It’s a beautifully constructed song as is ‘The Way That She Moved’ which I think is about lost love. It’s carried along on Amber India Frost’s cello and fades out with the sound of the sea, mermaid voices and an accordion.

The record starts with a short instrumental, ‘Eden’, played on clear ringing guitar. Kenneth repeats the tune later as ‘The Fall Of Eden I’, a rather more subdued arrangement introducing the final track, ‘The Fall Of Eden II’, a song with such lines as “this lonely pain is driving me insane” and “I sorry but it’s gonna hurt you”.

Despite the fact that it oozes misery, I quite like The Fall Of Eden. It’s well put together and imaginatively arranged but I could take a bit more anger from Kenneth. He seems to have taken all the troubles of the world on his shoulders and his prevailing emotion is regret. It may seem cruel to say this but if you find Leonard Cohen too animated then Kenneth J Nash is your man.

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.

Hannah Sanders – debut album

CharmsAgainstSorrow

Charms Against Sorrow is the brand new début album from singer Hannah Sanders. A charismatic and distinctive vocalist, Hannah has already begun attracting critical attention. Reviewing her 2014 EP Fate, FATEA magazine stated “There are shades of Sandy Denny in Hannah’s expert vocal delivery at times… I hear as much akin to early Joni Mitchell, in terms of melodic manipulation and vocal compass (diagnostic features like confident leaps in register), moulding of phrasing and basic style of guitar accompaniment”. Ben Savage (of The Willows) produced the album and it is he who also plays the acutely sympathetic dobro and guitar in support.

What is evident throughout these recordings is Hannah’s deep respect for tradition, something ”that is really important to me”. ”I work from primarily traditional sources”, she says, ”and traditional song was what I first sung with my family, The Dunns, when I was still a teenager”. Subsequently, as an adult, she left music for a time to pursue a career as a cultural anthropologist, becoming a leading expert on contemporary witchcraft and popular culture, and living in Boston, Massachusetts, until returning to the UK in 2013. “When I lived in America”, she continues, ”these songs were invaluable as they kept me anchored to my own history and landscape.”

The instrumentation deployed on the album reflects both the American and British influences on her musical style. These instruments were ”selected because they work in sympathy with the songs, but speak more of the range of my (and Ben’s) influences (both folk and otherwise).” The musicians involved include family (Hannah’s sister Ruth) and friends — Jon Thorne (Lamb, John Smith, Martha Tilston), and three members of The Willows (Ben, Evan and Jade).

From the beautiful ballads of Britain to sweet songs of the American mountains, Hannah brings lightness and depth to her renditions of songs traditional or contemporary. ”My intention” she explains ”is that my delivery and the material itself should convey depth and substance and not just through control or tone (which are esteemed in traditional singing). Instead, for me delivery is about risk – taking risks in arrangement, in vocal elasticity, and in tonal blending. The songs are big enough, and old enough to have anything thrown at them!

”My job is to deliver a real range of mood and feeling, to bring the listener into a place where they can feel more. I sense this about all the songs, but for me it is most notable in ’Go Your Way’, ’I Gave My Love A Cherry’ and Lord Franklin’”.

The recording was made “grass roots”. ”We recorded it, variously, in an old mill in Suffolk (in a massive empty octagonal room with a fire), in my friend (and folk singer/harpist) Nick Hennessey’s little rural Lake District cottage in the heart of winter, and in our (mine and Ben’s) kitchens and living rooms. You can hear various ambient noises: the fire crackling in the background, you can hear birds and the wind – the funny noise before ’A Sailors Life’ is me trudging up the stairs in the mill. We wanted a sense of liveness, of intimacy, to the album.”

The result is a work that bears the intimacy of all these recording spaces yet is the culmination of a musical journey across two continents. ”For me singing is a moment of connection” Hannah says ”to history, to the inner emotion of a song, and, ultimately (if I’m lucky), to the listener”.

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: hannahsandersfolk.com

A live take of ‘Geordie’: