THE YOUNG ‘UNS – Strangers (Hereteu Records YNGS17)

StrangersThe Young’Uns have come a long way in a few short years. Strangers is their fourth studio album, coming a mere three years after they turned professional. The trio are strong singers, they enjoy the sort of on-stage banter that only good friends can get away with and they have a fine songwriter in Sean Cooney. The theme of the album is, I think, that there are no strangers, or if there are it doesn’t really make a difference. Cooney’s songs in this set are full of “ordinary” people doing extraordinary things on behalf of people they don’t necessarily know.

The album opens with ‘A Place Called England’ which suggests that we are now strangers in the country we thought we knew. They take it a bit fast for my taste but I’ve heard Maggie Holland’s original so many times that it feels “right” now. Next is ‘Ghafoor’s Bus’, the story of a grandfather from Teesside who converted a bus into a mobile kitchen and drove to Europe to feed refugees. To him, they weren’t strangers. Switching from accompanied harmony we have ‘Be The Man’ with David Eagle on piano and Michael Hughes on guitar with support from Rachael McShane on cello and a topping of flugelhorn from Jude Abbott.

‘Carriage 12’ tells the story of the terrorist attack on a French train two years ago. We’re back to unaccompanied harmony with a tune inspired by the familiar cadences of country music that suits the song perfectly. The four heroes of the attack could have run and saved themselves but they stood and fought. ‘Cable Street’ is a story familiar to all of us and ‘Dark Water’, the story of two refugees fleeing by swimming five miles of open sea, returns to the accompanied style and features Mary Ann Kennedy on harp.

Sean borrows the idea of pairing a jolly, singalong tune with a lyric that carries a serious message but he doesn’t overuse it. ‘Bob Cooney’s Miracle’ tells how fifty-seven men in the Spanish Civil War were fed from a loaf of bread and a tin of corned beef. OK, it’s not exactly Biblical but the humour makes it. Arguably, the best song is ‘These Hands’, the story of Sybil Phoenix, the first black woman to be awarded the MBE for fostering children in London but who faced racism throughout her life. The song is uplifting and ultimately ends happily. Finally we have ‘The Hartlepool Pedlar’, about a Jewish refugee named Marks who opened a shop in Leeds and took on a partner – and we all know what happened to them.

So The Young’Uns go from strength to strength with an album of great, thought-provoking stories and they probably have another forty years left in them yet.

Dai Jeffries

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 THE YOUNG ‘UNS – Strangers 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]

Artists’ website: www.theyounguns.co.uk

‘A Place Called England’ – live:

ELEANOR McEVOY – The Thomas Moore Project (Moscodisc MOSCD4015)

Thomas MooreWell, you certainly can’t accuse Eleanor McEvoy of being predictable when it comes to releasing albums. Over the past six years she’s done stripped down solo (Alone), bluesy (If You Leave), a collection of fan-requested rarities (Stuff) and studio recordings of songs played as in a live show (Naked). Now, for her 14th album she’s recorded a collection of her arrangements of songs and poems by the Dublin-born 18th/10th century poet, singer, entertainer and songwriter Thomas Moore who, along with John Murray, was responsible for burning Byron’s memoirs after his death.

Although regarded as Ireland’s answer to Robert Burns, and with poems having been set to music by the likes of Schubert and Britten as well as referenced by James Joyce, his work is probably less popularly well known to contemporary audiences not of Irish heritage, so the album serves as both homage and introduction.

One of his best known songs is ‘Oft In The Stilly Night’, a song about memory quoted by Joyce in Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man and recorded by, among many, Sarah Brightman and John McCormack, and it’s this that opens the album, giving it a tumbling, pop-folk melody etched out with piano, Hammond and electric guitar. Another much adapted and covered lyrics is ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, with recordings by Clannad, Charlotte Church, James Galway. Indeed Beethoven used it twice, although McEvoy’s arrangement is somewhat different, the jaunty glockenspiel, ukulele and trombone belying its meditation on mortality.

‘Come Send Round The Wine’ is a celebration of good company and good drink, and not allowing differing opinions get in the way of a good night, and, featuring piccolo trumpet, Hammond and even maracas and flamenco clapping, is suitably endorsed here. The theme of good company further extends to ‘Though Humble The Banquet’, Damon Butcher’s Hammond and Eamonn Nolan’s flugelhorn giving it a late night jazzy vibe.

Lyrically rather less upbeat, ‘At The Mid Hour of Night’ takes the form of a one sided conversation with a loved one who has recently passed, McEvoy’s musical box arrangement for piano and strings resonating with the fact all five of Moore’s children died in his lifetime. An Irish patriotic song, ‘The Minstrel Boy’ is another popular work concerning a warrior harpist, often played at the funerals of American police and fire department officers, McEvoy eschewing the usual military snare arrangement with the rousing finale interpolating the crowd vocals of “The Minstrel Rabble” (among then Ronan Kelly, author of The Bard of Erin) before a flugelhorn last post.

The Rabble return for Moore’s song of enduring true love, ‘Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms’ and, while you might not recognise the title, those familiar with Warner Brothers cartoons, usually starring Bugs Bunny, featuring a keyboard rigged to explode at a certain note will know the glockenspiel tinkled slow march melody. You’ll be pleased to learn McEvoy makes it through unscathed.

Arranged for moody Rhodes and spare jazzy piano and flugelhorn, ‘The Song of Fionnuala (Silent Oh Moyle)’ is based on the Irish legend of the Children of Lir, whose wicked stepmother turned them into swans, spending 900 years on the Sea of Moyle before returning home and having the spell broken by St. Patrick (only to die soon after, being 900 years old). Butcher’s minimal piano underpins Erin, ‘The Tear And The Smile In Thine Eyes’, is themed about the contradictory entwined aspects of the Irish persona as echoed in the mournful, reflective flugelhorn and McEvoy’s dreamy violin solo.

At just over a minute, ‘Oh! Breathe Not His Name’ is the album’s shortest track, its title inspired by the words of Irish revel Robert Emmet, a close friend of Moore’s regarding his epitaph, shortly before his execution, sung here with just an itchy percussive backing of matchbox, congas triangle and woodblock.

The Minstrel Rabble return (as drunken crowd) for the final number, a rousing romping reel on the back of ringing guitars, shuffling snare beat, tambourine, Hammond and bass through ‘The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls’, a deftly ambiguous lyrics about Irish nationalism (Tara being the hilltop castle home to the Irish high kings, here symbolising Irish rule and the harp its people’s culture and spirit) but also the fleeting nature of fame. Though, for Moore, with the likes of McEvoy’s fine album keeping the flame burning, not that fleeting after all.

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 ELEANOR McEVOY – The Thomas Moore Project 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.eleanormcevoy.com

The Thomas Moore Project launch event:

RICHARD THOMPSON – Acoustic Classics II (Beeswing BSW015P)

Acoustic Classics IIThe latest batch of new solo, stripped back acoustic recordings from the Thompson songbook brings together material previously only available in band format or not on his solo releases. Fairport devotees will be particularly enthused by a version of the song that launched it all, ‘Meet On The Ledge’, a number that has lost none of its power or mystique over the years. He also visits 1969’s Liege &  Lief for the traditional-styled ‘Crazy Man Michael’, while, originally played on dulcimer and released as the B-side of ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’ before resurfacing on Unhalfbricking, ‘Genesis Hall’ continues to feature regularly in his solo shows.

The Richard and Linda years are represented by an achingly plaintive ‘A Heart Needs A Home’ from Hokey Pokey and the catchy folk pop sensibilities of ‘Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair’ off Pour Down Like Silver. Moving on to his second solo album, 1983’s Hand of Kindness, there’s a particularly striking and to the musical point revisiting of ‘Devonside’. The follow-up, Across A Crowded Room provides this collection’s opening track, the barbed ‘She Twists The Knife Again’, here in a brittle bluesy arrangement sung with an almost venomous pent-up intensity.

Moving to 1988’s Amnesia, there’s a resonant, brooding reading of the socioeconomics-themed ‘Pharaoh’ while 1991’s Rumor And Sigh, has one from each side; the almost hymnal-like fingerpicked ‘Keep Your Distance’ (a song the Byrds would have done brilliantly) and, closing proceedings here, ‘Why Must I Plead?’ A double album came along in 1996 with You? Me? Us?, the material split between the electric Voltage Enhanced and the acoustic Nude. From that first disc, ‘The Ghost Of You Walks’ now gets the bare bones treatment, allowing the lyrics greater prominence.

His last for Capitol, Mock Tudor was a thematic album divided into three sections, Metroland, Heroes In The Suburbs and Street Cries And Stage Whispers and it’s from the first of the three that comes the intricately picked troubadour styled ballad ‘Bathsheba Smiles’. For his tenth solo album, 2002’s self-financed The Old Kit Bag, Thompson signed to Cooking Vinyl and the resurrection in sales it brought is appropriately represented by ‘Gethsemane’. The final track to be reworked from a solo album comes with a powerfully delivered ‘Guns Are The Tongues’ from the conflict-themed Sweet Warrior.

A third volume, Acoustic Rarities, is planned for later in the year, presumably around the October tour, featuring some songs only existing as cover versions, in the meantime, this is another welcome opportunity to remind yourself of arguably the finest musician British folk rock has produced.

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 RICHARD THOMPSON – Acoustic Classics II 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.richardthompson-music.com

‘Meet On The Ledge’ – live and acoustic:

MARTIN SIMPSON – Trails & Tribulations (Topic TSCD593)

Trails & TribulationsMartin Simpson never disappoints, whether live or on record, but rarely does he surprise. Rather he evolves over time and emerges with something new and different as he has here. Trails & Tribulations is his 20th solo album in a career going back to the early seventies. You sort of know what to expect – Martin is equally drawn to the English and American traditions; he will have borrowed a song or two and written a couple more; there will be a variety of guitars plus banjo and ukulele and it will probably all come together with a fine group of musicians supporting him. And, of course, you’ll be absolutely right.

What’s new is a richness to the music which I suspect comes from working with The Full English and Simpson Cutting Kerr. Both Andy Cutting and Nancy Kerr feature here as does percussionist Toby Kearney, guitarist John Smith, Ben Nicholls on bass and Martin’s daughter Molly on vocals. Toby is generally restrained but the percussion is more noticeable than I remember. Take the first track, Jackson C Frank’s ‘Blues Run The Game’. It’s a short song but Martin takes his time over it, warming up his fingers as he does on stage as the introduction emerges. Bass and percussion provide an unobtrusive foundation and Martin tops everything off with Weissenborn decoration. Next is Emily Portman’s ‘Bones And Feathers’, which he has been singing for a year or so now, and which features banjo – not one of Emily’s chosen instruments. Martin owns it now.

From the Americas we have ‘Thomas Drew’, which would appear to be a distant cousin of ‘John Hardy’, ‘East Kentucky’ and ‘St. James Hospital’ but the first two are written by Martin and perfectly match the period feel – he had me fooled. From the English tradition come ‘Rufford Park Poachers’ and ‘Reynardine’. That leaves four others. Charles Causley’s ‘A Ballad For Katherine Of Aragon’ – music by Alex Atterson – has also been in Martin’s live repertoire for a while and it sounds like a song he would have written if someone hadn’t already done so. ‘Maps’, ‘Jasper’s/Dancing Shoes’ and Ridgeway are three more of Martin’s songs, continuing the semi-autobiographical style that began with ‘Never Any Good’.

Trails & Tribulations will be available in multiple formats including a deluxe double CD with six extra tracks including my all-time Simpson favourite, ‘Joshua Gone Barbados’. I’m holding out for that!

Dai Jeffries

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 MARTIN SIMPSON 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: http://www.martinsimpson.com/

‘Blues Run The Game’ – live:

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BOB LESLIE – Land and Sea (Big Red Records. Big Red 3)

Land And SeaFollowing 2010’s In a Different World and 2011’s Fat Cat, Land and Sea is the third release in the discography of Bob Leslie, and it offers a dozen tales, some from history and others from the heart, but all of which are well informed, well composed and personally felt in their delivery. The record opens with one of its standout tracks, ‘The World Came To Springburn’, a lament to the area’s industrial past, which fuses the echoes of rose-tinted history with modern day reality, in a style which, at times, is on a par with some of the folk canon’s past masters. The record continues with the broadly sung ‘The Seanachai’, the beautifully played ‘Sir Alexander Leslie’ and ‘Bess Millie’, with a strong vocal take which draws in the listener immediately.

The upbeat, ‘Ah Wid Dance Wi Ye Darlin’ is another of Land and Sea’s standouts. Lyrically well written, the piece still allows the accompanying instrumentation (as provided by Avril Cleland, Bernadette Collier, Kate Kramer and Wendy Weatherby) enough room to breathe and really add to the song. It is worth noting however, following this track into the last third of the album, there appears to be less emphasis on the broad Scots pronunciation as used by Leslie in the album’s first two thirds. More of an observation than a criticism, it just feels as though perhaps the order of the track list could have been juggled slightly, in order to avoid such a noticeable shift.

Nonetheless, the album continues and concludes strongly with the (fairly eclectic) last portion of the record, featuring two of Leslie’s more light-hearted compositions, as well as Spanish Civil War ballad, ‘The Church Of San Pedro, El Viejo’ and ‘Me And Kenny’; a simultaneous ode to friendship on the road and an endearingly honest tale of homesickness. Good stuff.

Christopher James Sheridan

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 BOB LESLIE – Land and Sea 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: http://www.bobleslie.scot/

‘The World Came To Springburn’ – live:

TOM RUSSELL – Folk Hotel (Proper PRPCD143P)

Folk HotelTom Russell releases a new studio album Folk Hotel on September 8th. Russell has been described as “The greatest living folk-country songwriter” by John Swenson in Rolling Stone. Folk Hotel is a mix of Americana, Tex-Mex, Cowboy, Folk, Blues, Poetry and Elizabethiana (I may have invented the word but have a listen to ‘The Dram House Down In Gutter Lane’). In the video below Tom Russell introduces the album: the songs, his artwork and the guest musicians. This is, of course, what a review would normally do – but in addition Russell plays snippets from this first-rate album of American songs so you can hear them instead of trying to imagine them from the written word.

So a different kind of review. Folk Hotel hits you with a cornucopia of characters. We see pictures of America: a café where the mountain lion walked in one day thirsty for water, taken down by the cops; drunken Maggie; a rancher refusing to leave his old horses; JFK as ‘Handsome Johnny’; the smell of saffron and chorizo coming through cracks in the floor; Motel rooms on the interstate; broken guitar strings and a pocket full of guitar picks because “that’s my trade sir”; Indians on the edge of this society; a ‘princess’ on the road to Santa Fe; piss-smelling beer parlours.

……and then there’s ‘Harlan Clancy’, a man who throws his TV in the river because of the commercials and bad news shows; a man who we then see sympathetically – a common man with Irish heritage, “a penchant for a drink, it don’t get in my way”, five kids, “three of whom still talk to me”; a wife; a man (“I ain’t no racist”) with a workmate with a Spanish/Mexican name “I didn’t ask to see his papers”- with whom he goes for a beer after work in a bar where they drink with a black man named Jimmy Lee More. The song also has a tremendous description of ringing the breakdown service and getting a voice in the Philippines. Russell gives us detail enough to imagine the characters’ lives behind the lyrics. Just as Dickens gave us everyday protagonists in 19th century London, treated as persons not caricatures, Russell’s songs do this for America; not the New-Adam-Frontier-America with John Ford characters who created the nation state but the modern America of the common man.

We also see Europe. The album takes us to Wales, Ireland, the A1, Copenhagen and the Faroe Isles. We meet Dylan Thomas twice. In ‘The Sparrow of Swansea’ he is found in “Brown’s Hotel/ or The Mermaid, The Three Lamps/The Boar’s Head, The Cross House/Back on around to The Worm’s Head Hotel”. The writing is vivid in its detail. Thomas is “raging with whisky /he lived out his poetry/ He did not go gentle into that good night”. We also meet Thomas as one of the residents in ‘Up in the Old Hotel’ after a record 18 shots of whisky and Caitlin’s imagined voice screaming across the ocean from Wales asking, “Is that bastard of a man dead yet?”. In ‘All On A Belfast Morning’ the characters come similarly alive: Spanish Frankie; the young mother advising her children to beware the badgers in the boggy ditch; the buskers being secretly listened to by the superior shop girls; the old men going to the corner bar; the wives at home wondering where the romance went. Later, we meet ‘Jimmy’ Joyce and ‘Billy’ Yeats as part of the Anglo-Irish literary canon in ‘The Day They Dredged The Liffey’.

Dotted amongst the stories are gems of lines, such as the image of reality and anticipation “Let us not confuse the pint with the pouring’” or this, “The road goes on and on and on/Driven by a dream wrapped in a song”.

On the physical CD there are two bonus tracks – a version of ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’, which Russell makes his own, and ‘Scars On His Ankles’ an extended blues about Lightnin’ Hopkins, whose scars were caused by chains from the chain gang.

Russell is a remarkable chronicler of modern America. Just as in a Dickens novel or a poem by Charles Bukowski (with whom Russell corresponded), you catch the minor characters in glimpses – black and white maybe but never a cartoon – while major characters like Harlan Clancy are fully formed, treated compassionately, with respect, seen as they would wish to see themselves – and then some.

Mike Wistow

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 TOM RUSSELL – Folk Hotel 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: http://www.tomrussell.com/index.php

Tom Russell talks about Folk Hotel: