– UK folk and Americana latest news

TWAS NOW – Flesh And Bone (own label)

Flesh And BoneHailing from Kitchener, Ontario, and taking their name from enigmatic graffiti adorning a prominent railroad bridge, Mike and Diana Erb have their feet firmly planted in traditional country roots. Indeed, their aptly titled debut album, Old Fashioned Way, featured songs by such legends as the Carter Family, the Louvin Brothers and Hank Williams. Flesh And Bone however, while drawing on those influences (although ‘She’s With Me’ leans to Paul Simon), is almost entirely all their own work.

It opens in fine form with ‘Next To You’, on old time country sounding song of domestic happiness marred by a legal misunderstanding, twangsome guitar paving the way into the steady chug love song ‘Show You Mine’ about how actions speak louder than words, or as they put it, “it’s not about how deep it runs, but how the current flows”.

Musically, ‘Two Step’ lives up to its title as Diana sings of finding love on the dancefloor before more serious concerns rear their head on the waltzing blues-tinged shuffle of ‘Black Coffee’, echoing personal experiences of infertility and miscarriage. Similarly, Mike on sensitive lead, the weeping steel and dobro-backed acoustic ballad ‘Part Of Me’ was inspired by the courage of friends to come out, even when married, changing the structure of their families in the process, while, a rousing fiddle-led hoedown, ‘Poor Orphan Child’, Mike echoing Diana on the chorus lines, addresses family from another perspective.

The song is, of course, a cover of the Carter Family classic and one of two non-originals on the album, the other being a more uptempo bluegrassy pedal steel-backed version of the ‘This World Is Not My Home’, originally sung by Jim Reeves and written by his wife, Mary.

Staying with the swing tempo and pedal steel, Diana takes lead on the brushed drums jaunty ‘Confessin’ Profession Blues’, a playful look at how the other man’s grass always seems greener before returning to the kinfolk theme with another slow waltz, ‘Family Roots’. They close up with Mike taking lead on the soulful, organ-backed slow waltz ‘Rudy’s Song’, written for his late brother but essentially about always being there to provide support for a friend in need and, even when things don’t turn out as hoped, serve as a reminder that those that cared did what they could and they were never alone.

Albums that arrive out of the blue like this are one of the reasons why we as music critics do what we do. Flesh And Bone is a terrific find.

Mike Davies

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‘Family Roots’ – official video:

EAMON FRIEL – Atlantic Light (Thran Records THR 1013)

Atlantic LightAtlantic Light is Eamon Friel’s eighth and final album. The Londonderry broadcaster, performer and songwriter died unexpectedly at a remarkably youthful sixty-nine over the weekend. He was immensely popular in and around Belfast and will be sorely missed.

The album fits smoothly into Eamon’s oeuvre. It’s gentle and understated with support from his regular band, some of whom, notably guitarist and arranger Eddie O’Donnell, have been with him forever. There is a thread of nostalgia running through much of Eamon’s work and Atlantic Light is no exception. The opening track, ‘The Old Songs’ harks back fifty years to the music that bound people together in their formative years. ‘Takeaway’ talks about holiday work in a Chinese in Clapham and we’re going back five decades once again. It’s a happy song: any chorus that starts “chicken and sweetcorn soup” is alright in my book. ‘Benediction’ is another song from his school days in Derry. Eamon has a quiet, sometimes whispery voice, that suits this song and the title track very well.

He can crank it up sometimes. ‘Under The Sun’ has the full bass, drums and lead guitar treatment and I’ve often wished in the past that he’d push a bit more. ‘Street Of Song’ moves back in time of Tin Pan Alley – a period that Eamon clearly has great affection for. Frank Robinson’s saxophone and Liam Bradley’s brushed drums give it the perfect period feel. ‘The Hammer’ is an attack on uncaring capitalism which is sung remarkably calmly – I can think of one or two singers who would double the speed and scream these words but Eamon’s regretful tone work just as well. The closing ‘Cnoc An Chónaí’ is another song of nostalgia sung for the musicians of the north London Irish pub scene decorated with Paul Cutliffe’s uilleann pipes. Even the old songs get old sometimes.

And so Eamon Friel formally closes his account with an album that will please his fans but I suspect that there are some demos and out-takes waiting to be unearthed.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

DYLAN LEBLANC – Renegade (ATO Records)

RenegadeDylan LeBlanc’s fourth album, Renegade, was released on June 7th – and it’s rather good.

LeBlanc’s publicity gives details of a pretty impressive back story – his first two albums included: acclaim as “the new Neil Young”; Emmylou Harris guesting on his first album; touring/ opening for Lucinda Williams and Laura Marling amongst others. All of which came early in life and led to “a blur of booze and self-doubt. Exhausted and damaged at just 23-years-old, Dylan came home to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to write a new life for himself”.

Renegade was recorded in Nashville. This is all a pretty rock’n’roll background. What makes this a better than average rock’n’roll tale is that the “blur of booze and self-doubt” doesn’t finish the tale but has led to a new discipline. The new album is just as worthy of the high praise as the early albums.

Renegade opens with the title track and you’re drawn instantly into LeBlanc’s world of great melodies supported by a rocking band – the signature highlights being Leblanc’s captivating higher range vocal and a slightly fuzzy lead guitar (hence the Neil Young references). ‘Born Again’ and ‘Bang Bang Bang’ keep you in this musical world and lead you into ‘Domino’ which is gentler, a picked acoustic guitar and LeBlanc’s vocal taking the lead above a quieter mix for the band.

‘I See It In Your Eyes’ and ‘Damned’ return to the rockier style of the initial tracks before the album closes with another four more acoustic songs.

Have a listen to the song ‘Renegade’ in the YouTube link below and you’ll get a good feel for the album. Gentler than the Neil Young tag that LeBlanc has been given and a guitar lead that’s not-quite-scuzzy, but it’s a damned good track.

The album is less than 40 minutes long but it keeps you listening all through and it’s got that kind of feel which is simultaneously both loud and intimate that I’d imagine works just as well on big stadium stages and in smaller clubs.

LeBlanc is touring in the USA and Europe for the next three months, including four gigs in the UK (London, Leeds, Manchester and Guildford) in the first week of September.

Mike Wistow

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‘Renegade’ – live:

EVAN CARSON – Ocipinski (Evan Carson Music – ECMCD001)

OcipinskiOcipinski is percussionist Evan Carson’s first solo album inspired by Jerzy Ocipinski and the Polish Resistance Movements of the Second World War. Why this subject matter you ask? It just so happens that Jerzy Ocipinski was Evan’s grandfather.

The album has taken somewhat longer to complete that originally planned, but as we all know Evan is a busy man recording and/or performing with The Willows, Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys, Carousel and more recently The Tweed Project, to name just a few. It was also recorded in places as far afield as the UK, Russia, Iceland and Australia so it was somewhat logistically challenging.

The music was co-written by Evan and Gleb Kolyadin, who also plays piano on the album masterfully. The lyrics are credited to Evan, Georgia Lewis, Jim Grey and Hannah Sanders who also provide their highly impressive vocal talents along with Evan himself and Ben Savage. Other musicians involved are Karl James Pestka (violin & viola), Graham Coe (cello), Toby Shaer (flutes), Chris Heales (electric guitars and bass), Josh Franklin (bass and synths), Chris Cawood (acoustic guitar and bass) and Archie Churchill Moss (melodian). You are probably already getting the feeling this is something you have to listen to.

The way the album flows is like a prog folk version of Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, albeit shorter and without all the psychedelic imagery. Four of the seven tracks are over six minutes long and all are filled with intricate percussion, piano and vocals. The album is obviously percussion driven and those of you who have seen Evan with any of his bands will know he is not one to stick with a standard drum kit and 4/4 beat.

‘Sky’, the opening track is the shortest on the album and it creeps up on you like an instrumental dawn, it builds gently and then leads into ‘Shards’ (for me the best track on the album) with it’s syncopated drum beat and frenetic piano and wonderful lead vocals from Georgia (someone I must find out more about). This leads into ‘Chrysalis’ with more haunting vocal which has an Eastern feel to it.

‘Otriad’ starts with more great piano from Gleb, features Evan/Jim on lead vocal and has the strings from Karl and flutes from Toby which come to the fore in a middle instrumental section. ‘Bloodlines’ starts slower, but then there is more of that driving percussion with Hannah on lead vocals and Ben’s warming backing vocals. This leads into ‘The Fireflies Of Falaise’ which is mainly instrumental with a multi-vocal chant to take it to the end. The final track ‘Anders Prayer’, has an industrial feel to it with Georgia again on lead vocal and it closes out the album in fine fashion.

This is a truly original piece of work brilliantly produced by Joshua Franklin, which I encourage you to take 43 minutes out of your day to sit down and listen to from start to finish. If you’re at the more open-minded end of the folk world, you will thoroughly enjoy the experience.

Duncan Chappell

Artist’s website:

‘Shards’ – in rehearsal:

STEELEYE SPAN – EST’D 1969 (Park Records PRKCD154)

Est'd 1969There are bands who seem to have always been there and have established a reputation that even allows them to break out into the mainstream on occasions.  Steeleye Span are one such band and this year they celebrate their 50th Anniversary with a brand new record Est’d 1969.  Perhaps you would expect some kind of retrospective and you might reasonably expect ‘All Around My Hat’ to appear at some stage.  However as lead vocalist Maddy Prior said in a recent radio interview, with Brian Player on Wey Valley Radio, “We’ve done a couple of “Best of..” type albums and I think we’ve covered that, and I thought for our 50th we should do something new.” They certainly have produced something new, and very good, being familiar enough for people who have followed them from the start to feel at home with whilst being fresh enough to appeal to new ears.

The album is a mixture of new songs, along with the traditional, but it has that distinctive sound of Steeleye Span to it.  The album opens with ‘Harvest’ and I’m sure that a lot of people, without knowing in advance who the band are, would recognise them within ten seconds.  If they didn’t get it from that then after twenty seconds there would be no doubt at all in their minds.  A close harmony opening, very reminiscent of ‘Gaudete’, gives way to a rollicking folk song that is going to go down a storm at festivals and live shows with a chorus you can’t help but sing along to “And we’ll roar out, roar out, roar out our harvest home.

Of the nine track on the album it’s difficult to pick which ones to talk about because there’s such a range across it.  Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’ is dominated by Maddy Prior’s voice, deeper than it was but still beautiful, and with a surprisingly detailed backing that doesn’t detract from the words.

Of the traditional songs ‘The Boy And The Mantle’ (Child Ballad 29) is an saga lasting over six minutes and demonstrates the best of prog rock folk, with a harpsichord and electric guitars adding to the effect.

Although the track listing is nine there are actually ten tracks as ‘Domestic’ has two songs in it, the second of which gratifyingly starts with “As I walked out one May morning” to show without doubt folk is the heart of Steeleye Span’s music.  This also harks back to The Silly Sisters, being a song Maddy used to sing with June Tabor.  The men don’t particularly come out well on either track.

Est’d 1969 has a huge range, different styles and tempos and new band members bringing their own influences but retaining the core sound in an evolution rather than rebellion.  Over fifty years cycles begin to appear so Benji Kirkpatrick is now part of the band, following in father John’s footsteps.   Given all the changes how is that sound maintained?  Maddy Prior again “It’s very interesting having new people, young people, who don’t know a lot about traditional music…they think they know what it is before they join us and then they discover it’s much more complex than that”.

There are a couple of chances to see Steeleye Span play at festivals over the summer but then also a major tour in November and December; full details are on the website.  If you can’t wait until then to get Est’d 1969, and you shouldn’t, it’s released on 28th June and is available from Park Records

Happy Birthday, Steeleye Span, 50 years young and still making a huge contribution to the folk scene.  Long may it continue.

Tony Birch

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‘Harvest’ – live:

SINGLES BAR 42 – The meaning of life, the universe and everything

A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 42Echoes is the first solo work from Sheffield’s NICOLA BEAZLEY. Nicola plays five-string fiddle which she blends with her brass band background into an intriguing EP of tunes. The opening track, ‘Cutting The Rushes’, is jig but with a slow mournful start. It was written by Nicola for Oakenhoof’s rushbearing and is paired with ‘Cross Of Honour’. Nicola’s brass section, Tom Hurst, Georgia Woodhead and Matthew Beazley, allow her fiddle, supported by Katie Williamson, to take the dominant role – for now.

The title set begins with ‘Blue Eyed Stranger’, led off by Andy Watson’s guitar but ‘Echoes’ is northern variant of ‘The Floral Dance’, and the brass really takes hold before ‘Dennis Crowther’s No 3’, which includes excerpts from the Britannia Coconut Dancers’ tune.  The EP continues its interplay between string and brass and several more of Nicola’s own tunes over four more tracks – ‘Damflask’ is particularly good.

Singles Bar 42Putting aside her chamber folk style, Things I Didn’t Need (Rough Trade) is a new stripped back EP from JOSIENNE CLARKE, the title track of which, on which she accompanies herself with moody, resonant guitar, she describes as “A love song to myself from the perspective of the fragile male ego; something I’ve come to know better than I’d care to.” It comes with two further numbers, the Nick Drake referencing ‘Season And Time’ with its watery pastoral acoustic guitar about the frustration and futility in communicating through song, and the gossamer-delicate ‘Never Lie’, which serves as a response to the self-delusion of the title track.

Singles Bar 42‘Rocks’ is the first single taken from sparrowfeather, the debut EP by JAY SUNAWAY. Now it gets complicated because Jay Sunaway is a they, not a he, a five piece collective led by Joe Woods. ‘Rocks’ is about subterranean London, its lost rivers and its denizens and if you’re a fan of China Miéville you’ll immediately feel at home here. The band combine folk instruments, accordion and fiddle, with bass and drums but without going all folk-rock.  In fact, their music displays great subtlety. The other two tracks, ‘Kittiwake Cry’, about a couple arguing on a beach amid the seabirds’ calls, and ‘10,000 Days’, both have a mystery about them: “sparrowfeather or neutron star, I can’t say how good you are”. ‘Rocks’ is available digitally now with ‘Kittiwake Cry’ being released next month and other tracks later. Jay Sunaway is a band we want to hear more from.

Singles Bar 42Following on from last year’s Radio Hymns album, Nashville duo GRANVILLE AUTOMATIC, Vanessa Olivarez and Elizabeth Elkins, return with the all new ‘You Can Go To Hell, I’m Going To Texas’ (own label), a twangily sung, big guitars number that sounds like it’s about a woman giving her lover the heave but is in fact about Davy Crockett’s kiss-off to Tennessee as he headed out west after failing to get elected to the U.S. Congress. In the interest of historical accuracy, however, it should be noted that what he apparently actually said was “Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me, you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”

Singles Bar 42Monsters is the new EP by COCO AND THE BUTTERFIELDS. The opening track, ‘Five Bells’, begins with a fast strummed acoustic guitar before the band kicks with a rocking track that’s pretty restrained by their standards. ‘Warriors’ isn’t so laid-back but clever production keeps the vocals high in the mix even when the rest of the Butterfields go into full-on headbanger mode. There are two versions of the title track, the full take and the radio edit, a surprisingly folky sound, at least in the long version, which has a melody that inexplicably brings images of Scottish islands to mind. ‘Battlegrounds’ completes the martial theme.

Singles Bar 42‘LONESOME’ CHRIS TODD is an Irish blues performer, front man of The Hardchargers who released their debut album last year. Now Chris has gone out on a vintage acoustic limb with a debut EP, Dark Horses. Not that there’s anything quiet or wimpy about it. ‘Red Lion Yard’ benefits from an insistent guitar pattern suitable for a song written in the pub car-park where Chris was living in his van. It’s the second of his own songs, the title track being the first, and these are paired with two covers. First is Lightnin’ Hopkins’ ‘Lonesome Dog Blues’ and if that’s still an acoustic guitar, it’s undergone some hefty post-production. That’s followed by Bukka White’s ‘Shake ‘Em On Down’.

Singles Bar 42There isn’t a lot we can tell you about DEAN MAYWOOD other than the fact that he’s Irish and has just released an eponymous EP. The five tracks are acoustic Americana with guitar and harmonica and some clever work going on in the background. The heart-breaking ‘Louisiana’ is probably the best track although ‘Knowing & Lying’ is pretty good, too. Sometimes that clever work gets too clever and there is far too much going on to give the songs a chance.

Singles Bar 42Hailing from the largest of the Aran islands, Irish singer-songwriter PADRAIG JACK gears up for his debut album with new single ‘Minnie’ (Good Deeds Music), a strummed folksy pop tale of a woman in an unhappy marriage who falls for a younger man (who serves as the song’s narrator) and realises there might be love and happiness waiting for her elsewhere. Being a folk song, her new love gets cold feet and does a runner, but she’s now liberated and ultimately ends up finding happiness with someone else.

Singles Bar 42We’re a bit late in reviewing ‘All The Signs Were There’, the latest single by S J DENNEY, his follow-up to ‘Here I Am’ – sorry S J. This time he’s rather more urgent with the drums well up in the mix, a nice rumbling bass and trumpet interventions culminating in a solo break at the end. Someone really should fund S J to make a full album – one song every two months doesn’t give the full picture.

Singles Bar 42JOSHUA BURNELL follows his very fine album, The Road To Horn Fair, with a single, ‘Skylark & The Oak’ featuring his wife, Frances Sladen. Acoustic guitar and harmonies backed by strings recreate the sound of the 60s, at least as we remember it, without imitating anyone. The lyrics have a mystic quality but Joshua insists that it isn’t a love song. Really?

Singles Bar 42‘Spencer Street’ is in Newcastle and is where REN once lived with a girl called Sophie. It begins with just acoustic guitar and slightly bluesy vibe, then a second guitar and a rather tasty lead come in. It’s a lovely nostalgic song and we should hear more of him.

Singles Bar 42MO KENNEY released ‘Ahead Of Myself’ a while ago but he’s touring the UK in July and August so we thought we should mention it. Mo is from Nova Scotia but doesn’t really sound Canadian and the song starts out as folk-rock (more or less) with clever lyrics but gives up pretending and becomes pop.