CHRISTINE KYDD – Shift And Change (Greentrax CDTRAX401)

Shift And ChangeI looked forward to this record, and it didn’t disappoint. The brilliant Christine Kydd has been kept busy of late, with yet another project, this time materialising as a solo album titled Shift And Change: Songs from Scotland. It is as an eclectic a collection as ever, made up of traditional pieces, original writings and takes on the work of contemporary artists.

A rendition of the late Michael Marra’s ‘Just Another Rolling Stone’ begins the album, with Fraser Spiers’ harmonica and Kydd’s vocal guiding this tremendous track. This is followed with another excellent example of Kydd’s ability to interpret contemporary songwriting, this time, it is a powerful protest number by Alistair Hullet, titled ‘Blue Murder’. Set in the Wittenoom Mines of Western Australia, Kydd herself points out (in the album’s liner notes) that “The people in this song find themselves with no choice but to work in conditions which will eventually cause an early death…blue asbestos was the cause and profit was the motive…”. The lyrics are even more to the point and ever more powerful:

Day in day out, every day they drive us harder
Day in day out, they’re getting away with blue murder”.

Even so early into the record, the eclectic flavour of the album is apparent, and from the mines of Australia, we travel to Dundee, with ‘The Back O Reres Hill’, a traditional lament, arranged by Kydd. While this album is a fantastic patchwork of interpretations of songs by Scottish writers, Kydd’s own work must not go overlooked. Firstly, ‘This Is The News’ a scathing social commentary on media bias, inaccuracy and falsehood in reporting. It is extremely applicable to the present day, and as long as there is bullshit in the press, this song will be relevant… and (somewhat unfortunately) I suspect there is a good deal of longevity in this one yet.

‘Comin’ On Strong’; “a positive wee song” as Kydd tells us, is another original about travelling and returning….with a bit of reminiscing in between. Another track worth mentioning is ‘Shift And Change’, both the final song by Kydd and the final song on the album. It is a celebration of the moment and an anthem for embracing change rather than fearing it, punctuated by Kydd’s staccato piano notes and beautiful fiddle and harmonies by Gillian Frame.

Kydd has a tremendous ability to make original, something which is already established, yet she also has the ability to breathe new life into older writings and provide new context to other work, see ‘The Wild Geese/ Norland Wind’ and ‘Halloween’, adaptations of Scottish poems circa 1914 – 1916.

From start to finish, I can’t speak highly enough of this album; its song selections, performances and musicianship are just a few of the more obvious selling points of something which I am glad to say is an absolute joy to listen to.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artist’s website:

There are few videos of Christine but here’s a classic oldie, ‘Seal Woman/Yundah’:

MIKEY KENNEY – The Reverie Road (Penny Fiddle Records PFR1902CD

The Reverie RoadMikey Kenney is an accomplished fiddler and balladeer with wealth of English and Irish folk song in his repertoire. His most recent release, The Reverie Road, brings these traditions (and a few other influences) together.

Beginning with ‘Bacca Pipes’ (the English variant of Greensleeves), it isn’t long before Kenney turns from interpreter to original composer, firstly with a collection of thematically connected reels; ‘The Devil Goat of Keady/ Mr West’s Fiddle/ The Repair Job’, re-telling the tale of a billy goat that broke the treasured instrument of a fellow musician.

While this story is told without lyrics, ‘The Path I Walk Upon’ is crammed with interesting lyrical imagery, telling of a recurring dream of Kenney’s about a white bear which guides him to the edge of an icebound cliff. These images reoccur throughout the album, particularly in ‘Montagna Di Menta (Calitri)’. In some ways this song feels like the connection for the entire album, however, on other levels, it creates a notable shift from English and Irish folk song, to Italian-inspired work, largely brought about through the tremolo-heavy mandolin style.

A series of jigs, (‘Brigid’s Jigs’) bring back the original flavour, while ‘Napoli’, another one from Kenney’s pen continues to effortlessly blend the mix of influences on this album. This ‘Italian sound’ surfaces once more, before the album bows out, this time on a track called ‘Soggy Desert’, a piece about the bleak beauty of the Lune estuary in Lancaster.

While this album is strong from a traditional music standpoint (at times, in some ways, vaguely reminiscent of a Martin Carthy or Dave Swarbrick recording), it is also worthy of praise for its songwriting. It is not just a fiddle album, it is the broader works of a gifted musician, so if the idea of an album made up exclusively of fiddle tunes isn’t quite your thing, this is still worth tracking down.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artist’s website:

‘Montangna Di Menta’:

TRAPPER SCHOEPP – Primetime Illusion (XtraMile)

Primetime IllusionBased in Wisconsin, Schoepp’s third album, Primetime Illusion, produced by Wilco’s Pat Sansone, boasts a co-write with Dylan in celebration of his hometown. Well, sort of. Closing the album, the waltztime ‘On, Wisconsin’ has its origins in news that, back in 1961, Dylan had written but never recorded a song about a homesick traveller pining for his home state. A former roommate unearthed the handwritten lyric and put it up for auction. Schoepp didn’t stump up the $30,000 asking price but he did see a photo of the words and set them to music, sending his arrangement to Dylan’s management, eventually getting consent to publish as a co-write.

It also served as a catalyst to start writing his own material again after going through a series of downers that included the end of a lengthy relationship being forced out of his home, suffering the recurrence of a hernia in his back and, worst of all, the election of Trump. All of which fed into the songs on this break-up album, both on a traditional level and also with his country.

It opens with the tribal drum thump of ‘Shakedown’, 12-string guitar ringing track that suggests Tom Petty constitutes a healthy percentage of his music collection. If that has a buoyant optimistic feel, he quickly sets that to lyrical rights with the fingersnapping rhythm and cascading chords melody of the infectious 60s-inflected ‘It’s Over’ (12-string again making is presence felt) and the piano-accompanied mid-tempo ballad ‘Drive-Thru Divorce’ where those Petty influences hold hands with Billy Joel.

Indeed, this is very much a pop album, jammed with catchy melodies, punchy riffs and hooks, taking a tougher, bluesier groove on ‘Freight Train’, wailing harmonica on the bopping Nicole Atkins collaboration ‘What You Do To Her’ and nodding to Free’s ‘All Right Now’ on the opening of the strutting ‘If All My Nines Were X’s’.

The soulfully sung ‘Sleight Of Hand’ shows the softer side musically, keys, harmonica, bass and tambourine providing the backdrop while spaghetti western twang chews on a cigar for ‘TV Shows’. At just over five minutes, introduced by a chugging guitar riff, ‘My Comrade’ is the longest cut, another big production nod to the sort of classic American rock’n’roll celebrated by bands like The Replacements, The Feelies and Soul Asylum. Sure, the Dylan connection may be news and attract the curious, but, actually it’s the least interesting number here on an album that ably demonstrates Schoepp has no need to ride anyone’s coattails.

Mike Davies

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It has to be ‘On, Wisconsin’ – live in the studio:

LAU – Midnight And Closedown (Reveal REVEAL078CD)

Midnight And ClosedownFollowing their tenth anniversary retrospective Kris Drever, Aidan O’Rourke and Martin Green return with an album of new music and Midnight And Closedown is certainly new.

It opens with a stunning song, ‘I Don’t Want To Die Here’. Drever says that the album is about islands and the listener is left imagining some God-forsaken lump of rock out in the ocean or wondering whether “here” refers to a state of mind or circumstances. Paul Simon wrote ‘I Am A Rock’ about just such a man and that theme is at the forefront of Midnight And Closedown. A long fiddle intro resolves into another song, ‘She Put On Her Headphones’ – the modern method of isolation – and that is followed by ‘Toy Tigers’ which I’m still deciphering. That’s three songs in succession: what’s going on?

‘Echolalia’ is the nearest we get to a “traditional” Lau instrumental track but even here Drever adds some la-la-la vocals and the beginning and the end. ‘Itshardtoseemokwhenyourenot’ seems to link an old and a new Lau. Martin Green’s electronic percussion pounds and Aidan O’Rourke’s fiddle pulses and dances as the track briefly breaks into something resembling rock’n’roll in the middle. It really is a terrific song and is only bettered by ‘Dark Secret’. The slightly sinister lyrics seem to be about therapy, at least in part, and drinking and I can’t believe that it is in any way autobiographical. Drever sings of being “born on the Isle Of Horses” which could refer to Shetland but I don’t want to follow that trail any further.

‘Return To Portland’ is the album’s second big instrumental piece with Green and O’Rourke trading lead lines and Green doing very much what Brian Eno did back in the day. There is noticeably less accordion here than we’re used to. Finally we have the acoustic ‘Riad’, written by O’Rourke although all three share writing credits, harking back to the band’s early days.

Midnight And Closedown is as brilliant as it is unexpected. Decade was full of the power and sheer volume that characterised Lau’s earlier work but this seems like a whole new direction.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Echolalia’ – live:

LUCY KAPLANSKY – Everyday Street (own label)

Everyday StreetAlthough she released Tomorrow You’re Going, a collaboration with Richard Shindell, in 2014, it’s been six years since Kaplansky’s last solo album. Primarily available direct from her website, Everyday Street is her eighth and, a reflection of her live shows, the most acoustically-based work she’s recorded, accompanied by just multi-instrumentalist Duke Levine on assorted guitars and mandolin with harmonies from Shindell and Shawn Colvin. Recorded over just four days, many in just one take, it mixes original material, co-written with her husband, Richard Litvin, alongside four covers that have been live staples over the years.

Charting themes of joy, friendship, family, loss and discovery, it opens with the simple fingerpicked ‘Old Friends’, an aptly titled duet with Colvin, that both recalls their times singing together in the early days of the Greenwich Village folk scene and marks the end to a chapter when, for whatever reasons, they had a falling out.

Thoughts turn to family on ‘Sixth Avenue’, an 11th birthday eve musing on how your children grow up before you realise it, from a “little face covered in ice cream” to letting her cross the street on her own to join her friends until “the crowd is all I see”.

Spending time with her daughter while she’s still young remains the focus for ‘Janie’s Waltz’, from whence comes the album’s title, celebrates the mundane pleasures of everyday life, the walk to the park and the wonders of a child discovering the world as, “amazed by a tiny blowing leaf/You have to chase it and pull away from me”. Likewise, the countrified strum of ‘Day Is Done’ finds her kissing her goodnight, wishing time would slow down, her daughter impatient for it to move on.

‘Keeping Time’, on which Shindell sings harmony, initially seems to tread a similar path, singing of morning walks after dropping her daughter at school, parents walking with their kids, but it narrows the focus to become a tribute to the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, a neighbour, recollections of seeing him with his family “scruffy and smiling/After school in the yard”, and recalling the shock on hearing how “the movie star father”, the “neighborhood king” had been found dead from “chasing the dragon.” The song serves as both a poignant memory, but also a reminder of the fickle nature of life where “the cruelest undertow/Is stronger than all a man builds and loves/And dreams and knows”.

Further into the running order comes the mandolin-led strum of ‘Thirty Years Begin Now’, a Townes Van Zandt-like number celebrating her marriage to her husband, remembering their wedding day (“we stood beneath an antique quilt/Our multithreaded canopy/ee cummings words were read”) three decades earlier, reaffirming the promises made and the feelings in her heart.

Turning to the covers, the first is something of a surprise, being her reading of the Scottish traditional ‘Loch Lomond’, given an atmospheric electric guitar intro before unfolding as a weary, regret-stained lament for a relationship that has run its course, Kaplansky bringing a hint of a Highlands accent to her vocals. Second up, she nods to one of her influences with the Appalachian-hued, mandolin-strummed Nanci Griffith’s ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ evoking her formative years in the 80s Greenwich Village folk scene. She follows this by adding her name to the roll call of those who have covered Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, a piano-backed arrangement highly respectful of the original. The final choice is a terrific National steel-flecked reinterpretation of Springsteen’s ‘Thunder Road’ that swaps his blue collar teenage defiance and reckless romanticism for a far quieter approach without ever diluting the passion about breaking free.

The album ends on one final original, not a new number but rather a reimagining of ‘The Tide’, the title track of her 1994 debut, its lyrics capturing frustration (“now I see this anger/Is the horse I choose to ride/Now you say you want something nice from me/Well if you find it, take it, it’s on me/In the meantime don’t bother me/The tide has washed the nice from me”) and wildness (“I could drink you under the table/I could drink you out of town”) a contrast to the sense of contentment that infuses the new songs. She may still be the “sad-eyed little girl/On a tightrope … singing/As she passes through this world”, but these are now songs to make you feel grateful for the life you have lived and accepting of the experiences rather than treating it as a confrontation.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Old Friends’ – live on the sofa with Shawn Colvin:

NIGHT TREE – Dedications (Night Tree Records, NT02)

DedicationsNight Tree is an American/Swedish sextet, all alumni of the New England Conservatory. The group has worked extensively with US-Irish band Solas, with founder Séamus Egan producing both their albums so far. Dedications is Night Tree’s second album, commemorating places and people of significance to them.

The unique set-up of saxophone, accordion and percussion supplementing a classical string trio alerts the listener that this album will be something out of the ordinary. From beginning to end, nothing goes quite where you imagine it will, each track a travelogue of global musical styles drawn from an extensive repertoire. As well as many shades of classical music, from chamber to avant-garde/minimalist, there are rich seams of jazz, traditional and world music. The Celtic influence features strongly throughout, particularly evident in tracks like ‘The Last Day Of Summer’ and ‘Blue-Eyed Sailor/The Piano Room’.

The nine-and-a-half minute superbly-titled ‘Elvish Warfare Suite No.1’ sets the tone for what to expect. Shifting constantly, from moodily enticing accordion to a wave of fast strings over a muted percussive beat, this is a twisty-turny beast. A curving sax line gives way to a husky violin lamenting over a spare piano line before the mood becomes lithe and light once more, over a cidada-like swish of percussion. The return of the sax lends an unsettling shift to a cooler angularity, concluding with heavy-bowed melancholy strings.

‘Oya’ culminates in African-sounding vocalisations, whilst ‘Baby Blue’ kicks off with doo-wop harmonies over plucked violin before taking a woozy turn past some metronomic strings. ‘The Girl In The White Dress’ continues with the Michael Nyman-esque strings, a slippery accordion leading off the main melodic line.

‘North Carolina Cottage’ begins with a cappella voice, instruments joining the off-beat in a flowing, jazz style, accompanied by a bleating sax. ‘Year With The Yeti/Wings From The North’ is a light, skipping melody with a nimble sax part and ‘Point Joe’ culminates in a sax coda of the main tune. Although the sax is used with great invention, it’s hard to shake off some of its 1980s connotations, which linger in the rather bland finale ‘Great Storm’.

Night Tree clearly relish playing with the possibilities of harmonics and composition, skilfully fusing unlikely musical bedfellows and taking their music to the edges of disconcerting atonality. They’re tightly attuned to each other’s playing, apparently even practising in darkness sometimes, so as to concentrate more. There’s a constant, fluid restlessness to the music, yet it remains highly listenable and enjoyable. Someone should probably tell the band’s faces, though: their cover photos look like they just got a nasty tax bill.

Su O’Brien

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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‘Oya’ – live: