SMITH & McCLENNAN – Small Town Stories (White Fall Records)

Small Town StoriesSmith & McClennan’s Small Town Stories is a beautiful folk record of oxymoronic depth. It’s authentic folk music which oozes (heaven forbid!) with commercial appeal. It also blinks cleverly between the Scottish west country and Americana Appalachian roots.

Just like Richard Thompson’s ‘Great Valerio’, this album “dances through the air” on a razor-sharp tightrope of deep emotion. There’s such folky grace to this album. ‘Firefly’ is an acoustic rifle shot that embraces the rough world of “stone cold fingers clinging to a cardboard home” which ends with some sort of redemption. It’s just an idea, but humanity is always predicated on redemption. Not only that, but fireflies do, indeed, spark with weird electric hope in any dark night sky.

‘Sailin’s A Weary Life’ is a traditional tune with banjo prodding. Odd: when I was younger, I thought there was a huge chasm between a pint in a Scottish pub and my own Wisconsin bar. Now, with this song, I’m not that sure. And with age, I’ve come to drink folk music that’s brewed with universal hops.

The album is filled with lovely acoustic music. Jamie McClennan (who wrote all but two of the songs) sings the beginning lead on ‘Hummingbird’. Emily Smith adds a joint vocal, and each voice embraces the other in the tender tune that’s driven by a dramatic drum. ‘The Sweetest Girl’ dips and sways with a backing violin, and it echoes the charm of an early Nanci Griffith album like Poet In My Window. ‘Leaving’, too, is a dual voiced tight-walked wonder of a song with pathos to burn for “a hand I wouldn’t hold and a friend that won’t grow old”. Then, ‘Bricks And Mortar’ answers that pain with the softest pulse of a melody that just begs “for one last dance and an old house that keeps us safe in every storm’. It’s a beautiful tune that conjures recalled comfort.

And, once again, the song is equally potent, whether I raise an Old Chub Scottish Ale or a Wisconsin brewed New Glarus Cabin Fever Bock.

Now, in all fairness, this record doesn’t play the Scottish poker hand of the traditional (oft times including a Robert Burns’ tune) songbook. “For a’ that”, look to Fiona Hunter (of Malinky fame), Julie Fowlis, and Mairi MacInnes with their gorgeous records. But this album certainly spins in the same orbit as Karine Polwart’s Faultlines.

That said, ‘Long Way Down’ rocks a bit. Perhaps, it sounds like a Fleetwood Mac song, circa Rumours. That also said, Willow Macky’s ‘Better Than War’ is a quiet throwback to 60’s optimism. It’s a cliché that prefers ‘wisdom’ to “war’, but perhaps, really decent clichés may be all we have to keep the campfire burning.

The last two songs, ‘Wait For Me’ and ‘One More Day’, once again, toss a coin betwixt a Scotch beer and an American brew. And it’s a beautiful coin toss that sings with the soul of an always acoustic heart. You know, fellow Scot Jackie Leven once sang about “walking backwards in the snow”. These songs, too, touch and retreat from the weather of the world. They cup all the storms and sing to the safety of any final melodic harbour.

Wonderful folk albums are sort of a dime (and/or a 10p coin) a dozen these days. But Small Town Stories is worth the time. It’s ages old, and it’s ages young. And then it treads a tightrope with the balance of melody, harmony, and passion that will always keep the audience’s attention, because this music, indeed, “dances through the air.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website:

‘Long Way Down’ – official video:

Folk On The Pier 2020 – all you need to know

Pavilion Theatre Cromer, North Norfolk
8, 9, 10 May 2020

Folk On The Pier

Nineteen highly talented acts plus an extended Fringe Festival will ensure Cromer’s Folk on the Pier festival will be offering twenty of the best for 2020.

Taking place on 8, 9 and 10 May in the prestigious Pavilion Theatre the festival will feature a bumper bundle of established artists and rising stars from the folk-rock and acoustic music scenes. And with the Fringe Festival taking over many venues in the town there will be something for everyone to enjoy.

This year’s line-up is peppered with award winners – among the headliners are BAFTA Nominated TV Entertainer Of The Year and The British Academy Gold Award of Composers recipient Richard Digance, and Wizz Jones who recently picked up a Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

The ever evolving Demon Barbers XL who also won a BBC Radio Award for Best Live Act will present their new show Rise Up and festival Patron Ashley Hutchings MBE who has been the recipient of numerous awards  will present ‘Dylancentric’ – his tribute to Bob Dylan.

And closing the festival on the Sunday evening is ‘the band without whom’ there would not be a Folk on The Pier – Fairport Convention. Little did they know when they invented British folk-rock that it would become the inspiration for what has become a very popular music festival.


The Redhills
Kevin Dempsey
Urban Folk Quartet
Alden, Patterson & Dashwood
Richard Digance
Demon Barbers XL – ‘Rise Up’

The Shackleton Trio
Wizz Jones
Ashley Hutchings’ Dylancentric
Linda Watkins
Alan Reid
Feast of Fiddles

The Spikedrivers
Gerry Colvin Band
Martin Harley
2020 Showcase Winner
Fairport Convention

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Hilary James’ English Sketches is re-released

Hilary James

Hilary James’ “elegant singing” (Daily Telegraph) has received much acclaim: quintessentially English but easily crossing the great musical divides from British folk ballads to blues and Berlioz. She’s famed too for an unlikely taste in bass instruments (she could turn up with her giant mandobass or slimline, semi-acoustic double bass). Her fine guitar accompaniments cross the genres from Vivaldi to bluegrass and she might even manage a step-dance if the wind is in the right direction. She has recorded six solo albums and also illustrated books, produced video art animations, and augmented reality projects. Continue reading Hilary James’ English Sketches is re-released

VETIVER – Up On High (VJCD251P/LC 29868)

Up On HighVetiver is the vehicle for the music of Andy Cabic and the album Up On High was released earlier in November. Up On High is gentle, warm folk/folk-rock.

The album opens with ‘The Living End’, Paul-Simon-picking, a voice that has been likened to Nick Drake and to my ear also has echoes of post-Zombies Colin Blunstone. Hopefully, this gives you a sense of the mellowness of this album. You can hear just how mellow on the second track, ‘To Who Knows Where’, which is linked in the video below.

‘Swaying’ ups the tempo; hints – more than hints – of late 60’s west coast folk-rock are to the fore. ‘All We Could Want’ continues in the same mood. ‘Hold Tight’ continues the mellow theme, but adds a touch of funk to the mix. The second half of the album is opened with the bright sound of ‘Wanted Never Asked’, slows for ‘A Door Shuts Quick’ before bopping a little on ‘Filigree’. The album finishes with the infinite calm of ‘Up On High’ and ‘Lost (In Your Eyes)’.

Somewhere along the way the ambience of Up On High time-travels giving us a modern album with reminiscences of past sounds, from late 60’s west coast to well produced early 70’s folk and then on to early Indie music. It’s consequently no surprise to find that the album was written on acoustic guitar. It captures the warmth and tenderness of playing music with half a dozen friends close by – but (because it’s late) playing it quietly, gently by the tent at a festival or packed together in someone’s front room.

By chance, someone came by as I was playing Up On High, so I asked, “What do you think of this?”. My sense of the album was reaffirmed when I got the thoughtful reply, “I like it. It’s very listenable. I’d like to go to bed listening to this like I used to listen to Whispering Bob Harris when he was on in the early hours of a Sunday morning”. In a nutshell, I thought.

Vetiver are currently on tour in America, come to the UK (with one date in Holland) from December 4th – 17th, before returning to mainland Europe again in January and February.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website:

‘To Who Knows Where’ – official video:

SEAMUS EGAN – Early Bright (THL0003)

Early BrightThe Seamus Eagan Project release Early Bright on January 17th. The launch will be at the 2020 Celtic Connections in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in the evening concert (with Breabach). This tells you all you need to know about the regard with which the Seamus Egan Project is held.

Egan is a multi-instrumentalist; on this album he plays banjo, guitar, whistles, mandolin, keyboard and percussion. He was a founder member of Irish-American band Solas, has scored a range of films and inspired a variety of musicians through his skills and inventiveness. For twenty years he helped keep Solas fresh, through various membership changes and in its drawings from Irish music.

Solas have taken a break (of indeterminate length) and The Seamus Egan Project, then, is Egan’s latest incarnation. As you’d expect, the music is based on the sound of Irish tradition. However, this is an album of new music, Egan has written eight of the ten tracks himself.

The album opens with ‘Early Bright’, its delicate piano waking you into the album like the soundtrack a film maker would put to someone waking and stretching to a bright dawn sky. ‘6 Then 5’ segues from this into a delicate banjo (yes, really), the up-beat Irish rhythms pushing the track on. The tune in ‘Welcome to Orwell’ (I have no idea what the title means, though there is a town of that name a few hundred miles from Egan’s birthplace) is driven by Egan’s low whistle and some delicate playing behind them. The album then bounds, fittingly enough, into the dexterity of ‘B Bump Bounce’ which you can see on the video below. ‘Tournesol’ combines the whistle of the former with the energy of the latter.

‘Everything Always Was’ has a more haunting opening before progressing to a guitar led tune you couldn’t help but chill out to. ’52 Hertz’ has a similar feel. ‘Simon Nally Hunt The Buck’ somehow manages to be a lovely Irish tune while bringing in a sense of the mediaeval, dancing along in the middle until a final delicately picked ending. The album closes with ‘Under The Chestnut Tree’, calm and somnolent, a neat bookend to the opening track.

The Seamus Egan Project has a number of renowned musicians playing with Egan: Kyle Sanna (guitar, piano), Owen Marshall (bouzouki, harmonium), Moira Smiley (piano accordion), Joe Phillips (double bass) and additional depth from The Fretless String Quartet. They combine to create a set of finely-crafted tunes on Early Bright.

As well as their appearance at Celtic Connections on January 17, the band will play Glenbuchat Hall, Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, on 18th, Reeth Hall, Reeth, North Yorkshire on the 24th and The Ropewalk, Barton-upon-Humber on the 25th.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website:

‘B Bump Bounce’ – live:

Mishra announce their debut album

Award winning new band Mishra release their debut album The Loft Tapes on December 7th


Mishra are an exciting new band based in Sheffield and led by Ford Collier and Kate Griffin. Ford and Kate won the inaugural Christian Raphael prize at the 2018 Cambridge Folk Festival and used the award money to record their first album as Mishra which they are now touring the country with.

Mishra describe themselves as a global folk “collective”. With strong roots in U.K folk, they weave a tight web of intricate, Indian-influenced original music that defies genre labels. Led by Kate Griffin’s voice and inimitable clawhammer banjo and driven by Ford Collier’s continent-hopping instrumental skills (Indian tabla, African calabash, Irish whistle and guitar). Ford and Kate were both separately shortlisted for the 2018 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards in different projects. Both are already accomplished folk musicians (The Drystones and The Unsung Roots) 2018 saw them play Sidmouth Folk Week, Cambridge Folk Festival, Priddy Folk Festival and many more.

Until 2019, Mishra performed as a duo under the name Kate Griffin and Ford Collier; their sound has now been further underpinned by the addition of versatile jazz-folk double-bassist and bouzouki player and fellow Sheffield University alumni Joss Mann-Hazell.

For the debut Mishra album it was important to Kate and Ford that they capture the spirit of their live performances. So each track is made from a single take recorded live on analogue tape. They did this in the seclusion of a farmhouse loft in a secret Gloucestershire location. The result captures the energy of performance and the atmosphere of the setting. It’s interesting to note that on the final track ‘Morphology’, Ford recites inTabla Bol (the spoken form of the tabla drums).

As Ford says “We didn’t want the recording process to interfere with our music. We wanted to capture the fun we have in performing”. For these loft tapes they were joined by their Sheffield university mentor John Ball who is an accomplished table player and has been a mentor to the Mishra performers. His contribution allowed Mishra to produce a full band sound on live-in-room analogue tapes.

Kate says “It was such a pleasure to work with John and it helped us achieve our musical vision. He got all of us passionate about this music, so it was great to have him with us as we finished this project”

The Loft Tapes is officially released on 7th December at a concert in Kate’s hometown of Kempsford and Mishra will be touring the album across the UK in November ahead of the launch. You can find out more about their “uniquely accessible Indo-folk” on their website .

‘Taru Taru’ – live: