BRYONY GRIFFITH – Nightshade (Selwyn Music SYNMCD0008)

NightshadeBryony Griffith’s first solo album exudes a great sense of freedom. Shorn of the melodeon which gave Lady Diamond, her duo album with Will Hampson, its dynamism and with Bryony almost completely solo except for some restrained guitar from Jack Rutter who co-arranged three tracks Nightshade is light and unconstrained but sometimes quite stark. Or am I just imagining the sound of the fiddle over the Yorkshire moors as night falls?

The opening tune of the first set ‘Stybarrow Crag’, although a traditional dance tune, is perhaps more suited to modern expressive dance but it soon morphs into the more recognisable rhythms of ‘The Sheffield Hornpipe’ and ‘Miss Nicholson’s Favourite’. The same is true of the Morris set, ‘Old Molly Oxford/Sherborne Jig’, which would require the talents of a very skilled dancer but would be wondrous to behold. There are four songs in the set and the first, which gives the album its title, sees Bryony moving to piano. ‘The Wild Wild Berry’ is a variant on the Lord Randall story and, as always, Bryony is meticulous in charting its provenance from Shropshire singer Ray Driscoll – John Kirkpatrick might be amused to find that he is no longer the final link in the chain. ‘Kemp Owen’ is an eight-minute plus ballad and, as Bryony observes, it rarely gets sung out but it’s important that it is recorded. That is also true of ‘The Queen Of The May’ from the Frank Kidson collection which features Bryony on cello.

My favourite set is possibly ‘Flame/Edinburgh Zoo/Lawrenson’s Spurtle’, three of Bryony’s own compositions with Jack’s guitar at its most dynamic and I’ll pair that with ‘The Cropper Lads’ – a bit of real Yorkshire grit. Nightshade is a fine album and is highly recommended.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

Bryony sings ‘The Wild Wild Berry’ at Shepley Festival:



“I thought I’d learned my lesson on the last record. A pretty towering lesson.That what’s most important to me are my roots, my family, my home and ultimately ‘knowing thyself’.”

Three years ago and three albums into a career that began with his 1998 self-titled debut, Cohen decided that he and the music business should call it quits. Talked into giving it one last go, he released his best and biggest album to date. Like A Man (2011) was an elegant, intimate beauty. His songs, performed on a nylon-string guitar, both had a deep connection and engaged in deep personal conversation with one of his greatest musical influences, Leonard Cohen. Adam’s father. As MOJO said, this was an album in which Adam Cohen “set about a quiet rapprochement with his DNA.” It was also, as Leonard Cohen said, an album of “world-class love songs.” A critical and commercial success, it brought Adam a gold album, a long world tour and great anticipation for the follow-up.

In a break between concerts, he went into the studio and emerged with a new album, which he scrapped. It didn’t feel honest. “I realized that I needed desperate measures to keep me honest and also to relieve me of the anxiety of following up the only successful record I’ve ever made. However deliciously I had been in orbit, touring with that record, I needed to tap into something more terrestrial, more rooted and real.”

We Go Home, Cohen’s fifth album, is by all definitions homemade. He recorded his songs in rooms as familiar to him as his name. Since the band was playing in Europe, Adam decided to set up shop in the little white house on the Greek island of Hydra where he had spent much of his childhood. “Making an album in the comfort of home on makeshift equipment with this band of touring musicians who had become my family immediately offered a beacon of hope that no studio, or session players or priceless gear ever could.” They continued recording in Montreal, where Adam was born, in the house where he spent his earliest years. “I knew I was painting a target on my back, making my album in the so-called homes of Leonard Cohen, but they’re my homes too. These are the walls that saw me grow up the most and that I needed to come back to. My muse is my home.”

Some of the themes on We Go Home continue the conversation that Like A Man began. “I want the songs to speak for themselves”, says Cohen, “but what I can say is that the songs on this record mostly chronicle conversations I’ve either had with my old man, or want to have with my boy”, Adam’s seven-year-old son Cassius, “and a few conversations I’m having with myself. And, of course, there are love songs.” What’s different is the tone—richer and fuller this time, more diverse, making the most of the three-piece band and three-piece string section from his tour. The nylon-string guitar is still there, but there are also piano songs – the title track’s tenderness and self-mocking humour recalling one of Cohen’s other great musical influences Randy Newman.

“My last album was about me finally claiming my belonging to a tradition and finding my voice within that tradition. My new album,” Adam Cohen states, “is about me raising my voice.”

We Go Home is released in September. Adam Cohen’s European tour, featuring the band and string section, begins in Denmark, culminating in a concert at London’s Bush Hall on 15th October.

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The Willows’ new album, Amidst Fiery Skies, released October 6, 2014

AFS CoverRising Cambridge five piece’s striking second album sets alight Anglo-American melting pot

Outstanding young Cambridge band The Willows will release a striking follow up to their debut album this autumn, further enhancing their growing reputation as inspired musicians and innovative songwriters.

Amidst Fiery Skies, due out on October 6, rekindles the flame sparked by their acclaimed first album Beneath this Humble Soil and reveals a mellifluous melding of influences -11 tracks infused with Americana, bluegrass, country and English folk, from foot stompers to ballads.

The Willows are adept at juxtaposing fiery and fragile, tough and tender, lush and light, in an emotive rollercoaster mix, perhaps no more so than on this new release. With shades of Alison Krauss and Union Station, The Waifs, Gillian Welch and Be Good Tanyas, theirs is life affirming, affecting, energised and evocative music.

There is alchemy at work in this smart, sassy line-up with familial links. The band is fronted by Jade Rhiannon with her distinctively husky but tender vocal, aided and abetted by talented multi-instrumental husband Cliff Ward on banjo, guitar, violin and vocals and sister-in-law Prue Ward, a superb, sensitive fiddler. Ben Savage, apparently “found” in the Gumtree free ads, is a dynamic dobro and guitar player while “new kid on the block” is versatile Evan Carson on bodhran, drums and percussion.

Skilfully produced by Sean Lakeman who has masterminded albums for brother Seth Lakeman, The Levellers, Carus Thompson and Rev Hammer as well as his own duo with Kathryn Roberts, this release brings together poetic songs of land and sea from both sides of the Atlantic, mixing original, traditional and covers songs in one beguiling and enigmatic collection.

Feted for their “absolutely gorgeous sound” by Bob Harris and championed by the likes of Mike Harding, The Willows formed four years ago, making waves with their 2013 debut album produced by Stu Hanna, which was nominated for Best Debut Album in the Spiral Awards, run by popular music website Spiral Earth. They clinched the Pride of Cambridge prize in the New Music Generator Awards hosted by radio station Cambridge 105 and along the way have supported the likes of Lau, Seth Lakeman, Peatbog Faeries and Rory McLeod.

“Engaging and sensitive newgrass musicianship – The Willows come across like an English take on Union Station” – fRoots Magazine

“A unit that ply their brio and accomplishment – The Willows know what they are about”Songlines Magazine

The vibrant new album, which also features guest double bassist Ben Nicholls (Seth Lakeman Band/The Full English) delivers vivid narrative songs. The compelling banjo-driven ‘Johnny Robson’ tells of a man who throws himself into the fire after seeing an apparition of his dead wife while ‘The Visitor’ is a fine original inspired by the band’s trip to Robin Hood’s Bay, telling the true epic story of one of the most significant lifeboat rescues in British history.

“Absolutely gorgeous sound” – Bob Harris, BBC Radio 2

“They straddle the worlds between Americana and English roots music in a very deft way; for such a young band they don’t take any prisoners. Fabulous music”- Mike Harding

The CD opens with the winsome ‘Red Sands’ interweaving several story threads – from tales of Welsh great grandparents to those forced to move from the land they love and cherished memories of childhood holidays in Norfolk. There’s an infectiously catchy reading of Bill Staines’ sublime ‘Roseville Fair’ – a song Ben was drawn to after hearing Chris Wood and Andy Cutting’s interpretation while Jade brings her warm honeyed vocal to the poignant Irish ballad ‘Maid of Culmore’ and America’s early Irish immigrants working on the Central Pacific Railroad are the focus of ‘Shores’ on which Cliff takes lead vocal.

The self-penned ‘Our Road’ is mellow and mournful with the fluid fiddle of Prue to the fore while ‘Daughter’ is punchy, pacy and free flowing as it looks through the eyes of a young girl and her evolving relationship with her family as she grows from a cautious child into a wise mother.

Utah Phillips’ ‘Goodnight Loving Trail’, learned from the singing of Sara Grey, tells of an old cowboy who became the cook of the 2000 mile cattle trail from Texas to Wyoming while the achingly tender ‘Outward Bound’ is the result of delving into the treasure trove that is The Full English Digital Archive and alighting upon a manuscript collected by Francis Collinson in Kent. Based on ‘The Faithful Sailor Boy’ it tells of a ship’s safe return to land minus the maiden’s lover and is set to a fresh new melody by the band.

The lush full sound of album closer Wave washes over this classy collection, again featuring soaring violin and reversing a common song theme of yearning to return home to civilisation with a desire to stay away and linger a little longer in isolation.

Amidst Fiery Skies is released on the Elk Records label and distributed by Proper Music.

Artist’s website:

PETUNIA – Inside Of You (own label)

PetuniaWho is Petunia, what is he? As William Shakespeare didn’t actually say. Originally from Quebec he’s now based in Vancouver and he’s been described as conjuring up the ghost of Jimmie Rodgers. It’s fairly certain that Petunia is not his real name.

Inside Of You opens with the high-speed rockabilly of ‘Runaway Freight Train Heart’ with great drumming from Paul Townsend. Then we get ‘Forgotten Melody’, which begins conventionally enough with strings and trumpet from JP Carter but then gets …well…weird, actually, in the way that Tom Waits can subvert a song. ‘Bicycle Song’ is somewhere on the edge, too and then there is a tale of religion and forest fires that is ‘Holy Budge Winters’. At the very end there are twelve seconds of silence, divided into three tracks (what?) before a “hidden”, uncredited track sung in Spanish.

Petunia himself plays guitars, keyboards and baritone ukulele and has an impressive cast of musicians with him, including his regular band, The Vipers. The music sometimes has the feel of carefully arranged discordance – ‘Gunned Down’ has sawing strings that match Petunia’s strained vocals – and sometimes of a band that’s having a lot of fun – ‘They Almost Had Me Believing’ is another slice of rockabilly with some sparkling electric guitar from Stephen Nikleva and lap steel from Jimmy Roy. By the end we’ve heard Americana, countrty, jazz and something that might have been derived from a mariachi band.

I’m not suggesting that you’ll like all the album – you may not like any of it – but you should take a listen.

Dai Jeffries

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JOHN FULLBRIGHT – Songs (Blue Dirt Records)

SongsThe Oklahoma native made his recording debut in 2009 with a live album, three years later his first studio outing, From The Ground Up, earned a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album. Now comes his starkly and unequivocally titled third release, a reflective troubadour collection that, putting his piano playing front centre and conjuring thoughts of Randy Newman, should firmly establish him as one of the finest new songwriters out of America in the past decade.

As well as pouring more of himself in musically, handling guitar, keyboards and occasional percussion with Wes Sharon, David Leach and Mike Morgan variously contributing bass and percussion, there’s also more personal investment in the lyrics, many of which seem to be the outcrop of a broken relationship while others pertain to the actual act of songwriting. Indeed, the opening drawled and slouching (and a touch John Prine) ‘Happy’combines the two when he sings “every time I try to write a song I always seems to start where we left off.” Then there’s actually a sparse number titled ‘Write A Song’, although lines like “write a song about the very song you sing” and “think a thought about the very thought you think” are, perhaps, pushing self-reflexiveness a little far.

In terms of the heart, while there’s blood over ‘Until You Were Gone’, which features just acoustic and steel guitar as he sings ‘I didn’t know I was in love with you until you were gone”, there’s a vein of optimism pumping away. It might not seem so from ‘Going Home’, a catchily simple 60s folk pop (Beatles?) flavoured number with harmonica and whistling, where he and love may have “agreed to disagree” and he seems to be throwing in the towel (“I’m all through walking”, but, as he notes on the spare acoustic ballad ‘Keeping Hope Alive’, while that may be like “running on a razor blade”, it’s a fight he’s prepared to take on.

On piano ballad ‘When You’re Here’ (where he sounds uncannily like a cross between the young Billy Joel and Elton John), he’s punningly noting that while “some are lovers, some are leeches, summer flings on sandy beaches” and that there’s a scarecrow in his heart that “chases everything he loves away”, at night there’s also “a bluebird on his shoulder and he whispers that he’ll hold her one bright day.”

Likewise, while on the full band treatment of the mid-tempo ‘Never Cry Again’ he notes “there were nights I knew I’d be alone”, he also adds “I’m glad you took the time to remember you still had my number in your phone.” In similar manner, even though he gravelly intones how he’s feeling cold and naked and a long distance relationship means “the odds are stacked against us” on the wistful, slow swaying classic Jackson Browne-like ‘The One That Lives Too Far’, he asks her not to “forget the one that lives too far”.

He’s more openly positive on piano ballad ‘She Knows’ (“a thing or two about me”) where his lover “washes away my pain” while the Wurlitzer-accompanied, hymnal-like ‘All That You Know’ he soulfully preaches that we should cherish what we have while we have it and “love all that is real, love all that you know”. If there was any doubt that, whatever may have happened, he still believes in the durability of love, then it should be settled with the seven and a half minute ‘High Road’, a song written in his late teens, in which (hinting at The Band and closing on the piano notes of ‘Loch Lomond’), he tells the tragic story of young farming couple, the woman never remarrying after her husband’s killed in a tractor accident.

The album ends on the redemptive notes of ‘Very First Time’, another hymnal sounding ballad with solo piano that he calls the most honest song he’s written, where, needing only themselves and the wine, two lovers leave the phone and door unanswered as “between love everlasting and meaningless rhyme sits feeling good for the very first time.” There may be hurt, but at the end of the day, these terrific Songs have a feelgood attitude. And, as he says at the start of the album, “what’s so bad about happy?”

Mike Davies

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BROKEN BOAT – Small Defeats (Self-Released)

Broken BoatA Hertfordshire-based acoustic trio comprising songwriter Daniel Bahrami and multi-instrumentalists Brendan Kearney and Jess Hart (who also did the embroidery for the sleeve design) with contributions from Jerome Maree on percussion and Tim Winward on trumpet, their debut album arrives after a couple of years of gigging and a 2012 EP that earned the blessing of Bob Harris.

Blossoming from a five song home demo, despite a couple of lightweight tracks (the jaunty, accordion driven ‘Basement Days’ sounds like an Eels throwaway and the la la la-ing shuffle ‘Two Balloons’ is rather Slim Chance lite) it’s a generally appealing affair that wisely opens with its most immediate offering, the sunny melancholia of the jogging folksy pop title track with its trumpet stabs and defiant I’m alive lyrics.

They sustain attention with the part sung, part spoken, lap-steel coloured slow swayer ‘Pencil Memories’ and the glockenspiel tinkling of ‘Night Owl’, its summery jauntiness belying the equally regret-streaked ‘sorry I let you down’ lyrics. They’ve been likened to Bright Eyes and The Decemberists, which seems as fair a comparison as any, even if Bahrami’s laconic nasal tones don’t have the same textural timbre or colour as Conor Oberst or Colin Meloy, although the frequent mingling of folk, country and bluegrass might equally call The Lilac Time to mind while on the perky ‘God Writes Fiction’ he even put me in mind of young Al Stewart.

Although predominantly of an upbeat tempo, there are a clutch of slower numbers: ‘Water & Wine’is a dreamily tender affirmation of love that features a wistful line about being “the bent and broken half of a better whole” while the achingly lovely ‘Song In D’ sketches an incipient reconciliation to the accompaniment of lap steel, harmonica and acoustic guitar. Again essaying a theme of (alcohol) troubled relationships, the slow waltzing ‘Morning Rain’ marks a stylistic departure with its accordion conjuring a Cohenesque Gallic ambience as Bahrami and Hart trade verses and harmonise.

The album closes on a quiet Cohen influenced note too with the enigmatically autobiographical (“no god could forgive what your friends did”) six minute, slow swaying ‘Time Takes Us All’’s late might life-affirming meditation on mortality, change and the need to follow where our paths leads, wrestling big triumphs from small defeats.

The band’s name might evoke notions of being becalmed or floundering, but on this evidence they’re definitely making progress upstream.

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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Here’s the official promo video: