MARK T. – From Blues To Rembetika (Circle Of Sound COS330CD)

From Blues To RembetikaFrom Blues To Rembetika neatly encapsulates the two strands of Mark T’s music and his love for both the resonator guitar and the bouzouki although there is rather more of the former than the latter here. Rembetika is an urban music from Greece and Turkey which spawned the bouzouki music of the early 20th century. Mark finds a parallel between the two musics; both coming as they do from the poor communities with their own language and conventions.

The album is topped and tailed by ‘An Old Road’, a short solo instrumental, and immediately dives into the old blues with ‘Worried Life’, co-written by Mississippi Fred McDowell and Mike Cooper, who Mark credits as a big influence on his music. That’s followed by a Mark T original, ‘Going Down The Road’ again in the blues form.

Finally Mark turns to rembetika with two original compositions, ‘Taxim/Shirts Of The Earth’, recorded live at The Troubadour last year. The two tunes employ the opposite ends of the bouzouki’s range to good effect. A taxim is a solo instrumental improvisation, a musical form that Mark has used several times on previous albums.

Four more tracks were recorded live at the Troubadour: Son House’s ‘Death Letter’, Woody Guthrie’s ‘Dust Pneumonia Blues’, ‘Ain’t Going Down The Well No More’ – another original – and Robert Johnson’s ‘Ramblin’’. After the latter Mark returns to rembetika with a long set of original tunes, ‘Erinaki’, featuring Charles Spicer on cor anglaise which really adds a richness to the music. It’s probably my favourite track on the album and just flashes by.

Although the album is generally quite sparse, there are three percussionists helping to drive it along: Iqbal Pathan on tables, Mysterious Bob playing bongos and congas and Fran Wood who also provides backing vocals. Mark’s approach to the blues is pretty authentic – that’s an all-wooden National Triolian on the cover – but I’m not expert enough to judge his rembetika. I just know I enjoy it.

Dai Jeffries

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

‘Going Down The Road’ – live:

SHANKARA ANDY BOLE – Rainbow Crow (Left Leg Records LL2017)

Rainbow CrowRainbow Crow is a new CD from Shankara Andy Bole, featuring what are described as seven “spontaneous compositions” recorded at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios.

Bole is best known, perhaps, for his work (especially on guitar) with the late Daevid Allen’s Glissando Guitar Orchestra and the folkier Bonfire Radicals, as well as with members of Fairport Convention, Blowzabella, even the Electric Light Orchestra. But his talents are by no restricted to the guitar. Rainbow Crow focuses on his playing of the bouzouki, augmented by the use of a looper and EBow.

  • A looper pedal is often used in live performances to allow guitarists (most often) to record an instant backing track over which other parts can be overlaid. And yes, there are loopers that can be used with a microphone for vocal and other instrumental work, allowing multi-tracking and other effects. One of the less obvious uses of a looper is to allow switching between instruments in live performance, and while the press release does say that there are no overdubs on the album, there are bass guitar, guitar and percussive sounds on some tracks that may have been obtained in this way. At any rate, if they were extracted from a three-course bouzouki, I’d love to know how. J
  • An EBow can be described as an electronic bow for guitar (though it can be used with other instruments). However, its ability to manipulate harmonics and use of Direct String Synthesis gives a player potential techniques that go far beyond a violin-like sustain.

The title of each track reflects one of the colours of the rainbow, which makes a track-by-track summary look a little odd, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. I don’t usually include track times, but given the variance between tracks here, it seems more than usually appropriate.

  1. ‘Red Crow’ (14.31) is the longest track on the CD, and to my ear has an indefinably North African feel. (Or maybe I’ve just been influenced by my recent revisiting of some of Davy Graham’s Moroccan-ish work.) It starts off very simply with slow, sparse chords, building up gradually to more complex single string and double-stopping (a more recognizably Greek technique) around a minor mode. Nearly 5 minutes in, a bass line/countermelody is added. And about nine minutes in, the bouzouki improvises over a previous layer of bouzouki. From around eleven minutes in, the recording is dominated by EBow sustain giving extra oomph and colour (and, sometimes, near-atonality) until almost the end of the piece.
  2. ‘Orange Crow’ (2.33) has a similar melodic feel, though it’s a faster piece played against a continuous chord, almost like a mountain dulcimer piece.
  3. In ‘Yellow Crow’ (6.29) the EBow is predominant, but the piece features some percussive effects against a periodic bouzouki line and sharply percussive chords.
  4. ‘Green Crow’ (14.15) is only a little shorter than the first track. It begins with percussive effects and slow, sparse single string – or rather single-course work, since it’s in octaves – giving an almost bell-like tone. About 5-6 minutes in, the EBow comes in, then a plangent guitar (I assume) dominates the lengthy final section.
  5. ‘Blue Crow’ (2.10) is another slow track that seems to consist entirely of a single-layered bouzouki improvisation, lifted by some muscular tremolo.
  6. ‘Indigo Crow’ (7.42) features angular percussive effects and changes of rhythm, with a melody line overlaying the simple but driving chordal work after the first three minutes or so. To my ear the melody line is a little overwhelmed by the chord work on this track.
  7. ‘Violet Crow’ (2.20) is something of a contrast, apparently consisting of a single bouzouki without overlays, in a predominantly major mode.

I often see albums where the sleeve claims that no synthesizer/overdubs/looping/second takes were used. Does all this matter? Well, it does enable a spontaneity that gives a recording some of the feel of a live performance, while lacking the ‘perfectibility’ of a heavily layered, multiply-overdubbed recording. Especially in this case, where presumably the entire recording was improvised. But in the end, it’s the final sound that matters, not how it was achieved. Yes, you may hear the occasional moment of fretting imperfection, for instance, but a true obsessive can spend years on recording a single track and still not achieve uniform perfection.

I’m not sure how to describe this CD. If you’re looking for slick bouzouki music to bring back memories of that holiday on Cephalonia, this isn’t it: rather, it brings to mind some of the experimental fusion music of the 60s and 70s. While these pieces seem to me to be shaped by the choice of instrument and tuning rather than by a specific genre, most of these tracks have a North African timbre. As an occasional (and neither prolific nor authentic) bouzouki player myself, I was fascinated, but I’m not sure how other people will react to it. The combination of EBow and (mostly) slowly-paced music could sound dangerously ‘ambient’ but it’s used sparingly here, and with some unexpected dissonances to great effect, especially in the first track. Check the video, or even the sound clips on his web site, and see what you think.

David Harley

Artist’s website: andybole.co.uk

‘Red Crow’ (edited version):

ONE BLOKE ONE MANDOLIN – Fair Travels & Fine Times (Mind If I Play Records MI-IPR-2148)

Fair TravelsOne Bloke One Mandolin is better known to his friends as Stevie Simpson. He’s a much-travelled veteran who exists under the radar as far as too many people are concerned and he’s still paying his dues. That can’t be right. Fair Travels & Fine Times is something like his sixth album and it’s a fine piece of work. Live, he lives up to his pseudonym although it’s actually a mandola, the better to make an impact on a bar full of noisy drinkers.

Many of Stevie’s songs come from his life and travels. Take ‘The Lure Of The Road’ – Stevie is a biker and lives in a trailer and the song is a surprisingly tender acknowledgement of the freedom that he enjoys and echoed in the title track. I’m not sure how autobiographical ‘I Don’t Drink These Days Like I Used To’ really is – he was on diet Coke the last time I saw him – but it’s a great song. His style is Americana which makes him welcome just about everywhere with the exception of one town in Germany as chronicled in ‘I’ll Just Call You Clint’, which is very nearly a misprint. ‘(Still) Too Poor For Trailer Trash’ is a revisiting of one of his early songs so I guess Stevie is staying true to his roots.

The other strand of Stevie’s songwriting is history and he is obviously very well-read. The first track, ‘Sweet Dark Wave’ tells the story of the Boston Molasses Disaster and no, I hadn’t heard of it until today either. Back in 1919, a storage tank exploded and two million gallons of molasses flooded downtown Boston killing eleven people. Locals claim that, on a hot summer day, you can still smell molasses but I have to ask how you even find out about something like that. He’s less specific about the origin of ‘One Night In Old Detroit’ but it feels like it’s based on truth and ‘The Arctic Convoy’ certainly is.

Stevie is the sort of guy who knows everyone. On Fair Travels & Fine Times you’ll find Jim Bennion and Jono Watts from Leatherat, Tracey Browne and guitarist Steph Hoy and if you think that ‘A Temporary Boatman’ is evocative of another song, you’re right. He always adds a hidden track on the end of his albums and here it’s the Levellers’ ‘Red Sun Burns’. Sadly, he’s not allowed to record his version of ‘Ernie’!

Chances are you’ve never heard Stevie and I urge you to rectify that. This album is the perfect place to start.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.oneblokeonemandolin.com

‘The Bosun’ live:

CARA DILLON – Wanderer (Charcoal CHARCD009)

WandererFollowing last year’s release of her first Christmas album, Upon A Winter’s Night, Dillon returns to secular form with a predominantly traditional collection, again produced by and featuring husband Sam Lakeman.

Pivoting around an underlying theme of transition and departure, whether that be through emigration or the search for love, it keeps the instrumentation spare and intimate, predominantly built around Lakeman’s piano and/or acoustic guitar, but also with occasional contributions from Ben Nicholls on double bass, Niall Murphy on fiddle and both John Smith and Justin Adams on acoustic and electric guitar, respectively.

There are two original numbers, the first up being the piano-accompanied ‘The Leaving Song’, inspired by “living wakes” held for those about to emigrate in pre-war Co.Derry with its lyric about a mother bidding farewell to a son seeking his fortunes in some other land, with a reminder that he can always find his way home. The other, the penultimate track, the simply styled metaphorical ‘Lakeside Swans’ touches a similar note, here concerning migrants and refugees and the decision to leave their homes.

There’s also a cover, the album’s final track being their dreamily lovely piano-led arrangement of ‘Dubhdara’, the slow-swaying sailing out Celtic anthem written by Shaun Davey for his 1985 album Granuaile.

The remaining seven numbers are all traditional, some familiar, others less so, case in point being the opening Ulster thoughts of home folk song ‘The Tern And The Swallow’ with its references to Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in Northern Ireland, and Slieve Gallion, the mountain in Co. Londonderry. Also with their roots in Derry and nostalgia for home, ‘The Banks Of The Foyle’ concerns a girl forced to leave her true love by cruel misfortune but then learning he’s remained constant in her absence, while, featuring just Dillon and Lakeman’s guitar, ‘The Faughan Side’ conjures memories of an emigrant to America of happy days spent by the bridge of Drumahoe over the titular river.

A fine, yearningly crestfallen reading of the much recorded ‘Blackwater Side’ leads the charge for the better known songs, with its tale of a young lad lying his way into a maiden’s bed with false promises. This is complemented by ‘Both Sides Of The Tweed’, a traditional number given a makeover by Dick Gaughan, here presented in simple style with Dillon’s pure vocals and Lakeman’s piano. She’s joined by Kris Drever who duets and plays guitar for ‘Sailor Boy’, the album’s obligatory death song (you know the plot, maiden dies from grief when her sailor lover drowns) with Murphy on wheezing fiddle. Which just leaves a haunted interpretation of ‘The Banks Of The Bann’, which, combining emigration and thwarted love and arranged for piano and fiddle, is fittingly set to the tune of ‘Lord Of All Hopefulness’.

Her most reflective and most musically introspective album to date, the spare arrangements putting the spotlight on her warm, crystal clear vocals, it is arguably also the best of her career.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the one of the albums (in CD or Vinyl), download them or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the CARA DILLON – Wanderer link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. 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.

ORDER – [CD]

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

Promo video:

BIERE DE LUXE – Into The Thicket (own label)

Into The ThicketBiere de Luxe are five guys from Falmouth who don’t say much about who they are except to describe themselves as rural gypsy-punks. They do live up to the punk ethos in some ways. Into The Thicket is very much a collaborative effort in a sleeve that carries minimal information – designer Eloise Pilbeam is the only other person to receive a credit. The band recorded it themselves but don’t say where; on their home page they give themselves nom de plumes and on CD their names are in an almost indecipherable script – I would never have identified bouzouki player Tadgh Shiels, without finding his name in print.

Where they differ from punk is that these guys can play. And they rock. On the one hand there are drums, bass and guitar topped off with harmonica and on the other we have bouzouki,  accordion and keyboards and it’s they way they combine these elements that gives Biere De Luxe their unique sound. The opening track, ‘Up To My Neck In Trees’, begins with raucous bouzouki and harmonica before abruptly switching to fast country-rock. I went looking for the banjo but there isn’t one.

Guitarist Oliver Philp is the lead vocalist although bassist Andy Annear also sings so they may share lead duties. ‘Lost In A Dream’ has a strange echo on the vocals and ‘Rusty Old Blade’ is straight out of Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones period complete with oom-pah band sound. ‘Biere De Luxe Theme’ is a relatively conventional instrumental opening with a nice guitar figure before Lawrence Engledow’s accordion takes over and the same combination continues through ‘Gypsy Christmas’.

‘Barley Wine’ takes us back to punk, lyrically at least, but with a jolly tune and even jollier accompaniment – it’s great fun – while ‘Hambres E Incedios’ takes us somewhere between eastern Europe and Mexico. Biere De Luxe mix it up very well and the excellent sequencing of the album pulls you along very nicely.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://www.facebook.com/bieredeluxe/

‘Rusty Old Blade’ – official video:

Albion Christmas Band announce their annual tour

Folk music fans can start their Christmas celebrations early with the help of the Albion Christmas Band when the band hits the road for its annual tour on Saturday 9 December.

The band’s annual foray into the musical joys of the winter festival has been described by many as the perfect start to Christmas. This popular show will start in Birmingham then visit fourteen venues around the country before finishing at Bury St Edmunds just a few days before Christmas itself.  The show features a mixture of seasonal carols, spoken word, humorous readings and dance, enhanced by great musicianship and a wicked sense of humour. The band adds a modern twist to its arrangements of traditional tunes and showcases some newly written songs. The show reminds audiences of the simpler pleasures and values of a traditional Christmas and offers them a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of festive preparations.

This year the four band members will share their personal favourites from their extensive back catalogue that to each of them best signify the meaning of Christmas, as well as songs from their latest album Magic Touch. “We’ve spent many years spreading our take on Christmas around the country and have made so many friends on our travels” Simon Nicol explains. “Every night on the tour feels like a family celebration so we get to enjoy Christmas for the whole of December not just one or two days”.

The Albion Christmas Band has been kicking off the Christmas season for nearly twenty years, but it was the last incarnation of the Albion Band that originally created special seasonal shows. From an initial idea by melodeon player Simon Care, a previous Albion band member himself, the Albion Band founder Ashley ‘The Guv’nor’ Hutchings brought together two other previous Albion Band members to create an autonomous band to present a guided tour through the Christmas customs of Britain. Joining Care and Hutchings are Simon Nicol (founder member of Fairport Convention) on acoustic guitar and vocals, and Kellie While (Albion Band), acoustic guitar, vocals and percussion.

Full tour details can be found online at http://www.albionchristmas.co.uk

‘Mad World’ live at Under The Apple Tree: