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STEPHANIE HATFIELD – Out This Fell (own label)

Out This FellAlways a question to wonder about – what should you do for Valentine’s Day that isn’t cheesy, superfluous or slushily romantic? How about listening to Stephanie Hatfield’s new album? Out This Fell is Hatfield’s fourth album, released in the UK on February 14th, is none of those things.

Hatfield is originally from Detroit, has a Kentucky hillbilly heritage and now lives close to nature in the South-West. Throw a few more things into the recipe – childhood singing in a Presbyterian church, youthful holidays doing everything the old fur traders did, moving to New Mexico “on her own with her cat, her snake, and her motorcycle, with no job lined up, and only $100 to her name after her first month’s rent” – and you get a sense of someone who has travelled. Listen to the album and you can hear some of the diverse influences that Hatfield has picked up along the way: some Americana, some Folk, some Indie Rock, and the odd flicker in the arrangements of things more diverse from Mexican to Opera. This jumble might make for a strange brew, but on Out This Fell Hatfield has pulled it all together into a gently creative tension.

Listen to ‘Gone, Gone, Gone’ in the link below – you can hear the Americana/Indie sound in the tune and the guitar breaks; there’s a lovely lyric of loss comparing now to previous times when “[we were] Lit inside like the charges from/An electrical storm twisting to the ground”. And above all, there’s Hatfield’s voice, holding all that tension together reflectively and then teasing out the emotion with an operatic interlude.

Have a listen to the haunting ‘In Those Woods’ which includes the title lyric, another great vocal performance, an understated band and the howl of dogs as it builds to the conclusion “Deliver me an end”. ‘Not Her’ is (I think) a description of Detroit “torn down by its pride”, “vines splitting bricks” but now also “A beauty rarely seen/Pockets of resurgence”. These are songs about tough things in life, but Hatfield’s voice and the restrained arrangements and production (by Hatfield and husband/guitarist/keyboard player Bill Palmer) make them easy to listen to.

If you want a couple of tracks which are a gentler introduction to Out This Fell, try ‘Lucy’ or the rather beautiful ‘River Still Runs’ which intermingles a melodic tune to a love story with images of nature such as “Clinging to you/Like Spring comes through a winter breeze”. But the power of the album is in Hatfield’s voice backlit by a delicate band on the tough songs. She’s touring in America currently but this is well worth a listen (whether on February 14th or later in the year) – and there are tracks on here that will stay in the memory longer than most Valentine’s Days.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: https://stephaniehatfieldmusic.com

‘Gone Gone Gone’ – official video:

Bob Fox and Billy Mitchell on tour in March

Bob Fox

Looking forward to getting back on the road in March with my mate Billy Mitchell for some 5 Star B & B duo gigs and lots of haha,

Three solo gigs in there too, hope to see you somewhere.

‘Sally Wheatley’ – Live:

5 Star B & B dates

MARCH

Sunday 8th (3pm start) Abbots Langley Community Centre, HERTS.WD5 0AP 01923 264536 Website 

Wednesday 11th Guildhall Arts Centre, Grantham, LINCS.NG31 6PZ  01476 406158 Website

Thursday 12th The Oval Tavern Croydon, LONDON.CR0 6BR  07837 715964  Website

Friday 13th Beehive, Honiton, DEVON. EX14 1LZ   01404 384050 Website

Saturday 14th Plough Arts Centre, Gt.Torrington, DEVON. EX38 8HQ  01805 624624 Website

Sunday 15th Kingskerswell Church, DEVON. TQ12 5LD  01803 875527 Website

Wednesday 18th The Studio@TPS, Petersfield, HANTS. GU32 3LU  01730 263119Website

Thursday 19th Chequermead, East Grinstead, W.SUSSEX. RH19 3BS  01342 302000 Website

Friday 20th Chesterfield Library Theatre, DERBYS. S40 1QN  01773 853428 Website

Saturday 21st Mottram St.Andrew Village Hall, CHESHIRE. SK10 4QP  07904 072190 Website

Sunday 22nd Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek, STAFFS. ST13 6AD  01538 385260

Friday  27th Dovecote Centre, Amble, NORTHUMBERLAND. NE65 0DX  01665 713655

Saturday 28th Letwell Village Hall, nr Worksop, S.YORKS. S81 8DF  01909 731626

BOB solo

Monday 30th Grayshott Village Hall, nr Hindhead, SURREY. GU26 6TZ 01428 607096 Website

Tuesday 31st (12-2pm) Brickkiln Garden Centre, Chichester, W.SUSSEX. PO20 1EJ Website

Tuesday 31st Mill Farm Studios, Bradford Abbas, DORSET. DT9 6RE  Website

Artist’s website: https://www.bobfoxmusic.com/

FAIRPORT CONVENTION – Shuffle And Go (Matty Grooves Records MGCD056)

Shuffle And GoFairport Convention’s Shuffle And Go is a “green and pleasant” lovely folk album that winks and waves at the past, and (to almost quote Procol Harum) it “trips the light fandango” and indeed, still “turns cartwheels ‘cross the floor”. This is wise and warm music.

Now, in his book Meet On The Ledge A History Of Fairport Convention, Patrick Humphries says that Full House’s ‘Sloth’ is “a complex narrative, the novel that Thomas Hardy always meant to write”. Well, that’s a dart to the triple twenty spot. The epic tune bleakly suggests a past that anchors its characters into an ink blot where “She’s run away, she’s run away/And she ran so bitterly” because “Now the right thing’s the wrong thing”.

The comparison is apt. Hardy’s Tess is haunted by her past, and Angel Clare and Alec return again (and again) to signpost her fate. Of course, The Mayor of Casterbridge tells the tale of Michael Henchard, he who has it all, and is dragged down by a dredged past because Elizabeth Jane really isn’t his child, and then that wedding gifted song bird dies in caged neglect. Let’s not even talk about Obscure Jude and Little Father Time! So, yeah, ‘Sloth’ touches a live wire that’s very human, very electric, and fueled with an ill-fated certainty.

But Shuffle And Go has very little to do with any unwritten Hardy novel. Truly, this album doesn’t get caught up in past glories. The band is simply comfortable in its own skin. As said, this record winks, waves, and then nods at its own history; and to quote another ageless band, Fleetwood Mac, simply chooses to Then Play On.

The first two songs are quite wonderful. ‘Don’t Reveal My Name’ is a spooky Chris Leslie penned song with Biblical references galore and smoky guitars. It’s a nice tune, with or without the Fairport tag. Oh my! ‘Cider Rain’ is folk pop perfection with the sturdy comfort of a Simon Nicol vocal.

This is good music which closely shadows their resurgent album, Myths & Heroes. ‘Good Time For A Fiddle And Bow/The Christmas Reel’ could pump up any flat tire with enough umph to dance into many more dawning miles. Oh my! (again), Simon Nicol captures the beauty of England’s public houses, places where free speech in ‘A Thousand Bars’ and sad reflections are poured to match any locally pure and melodic brew. And then there’s Leslie’s title tune ‘Shuffle And Go’, which is up-tempo with an almost Americana zydeco pulse. ‘The Year Of Fifty Nine’ is again, quick with Ric Sanders’ violin, while the lyrics mention “Sputnik”, which is a long way from John Babbacombe Lee or “sad little Matty Groves”. Ditto for the Dave Pegg’s bass bulging in Sanders’ raucous ‘Steampunkery’, as it glances with modern gusto at the ‘Dirty Linen’ of long ago.

There are light-hearted moments. ‘Linseed Memories’ is a casual stroll, and would fit into the relaxed grooves of Ralph McTell’s 1973 very fine album, Easy. ‘Jolly Springtime’ (written by James Taylor!) is a clever choral tune as various voices weave yet another “green and pleasant” moment that conjures the plaintive sound early Steeleye Span. And ‘The Byfield Steeplechase’ is timeless Fairport, with yet another epic (!) tale, in almost Morris-dance time.

Two songs touch history. ‘Moondust And Solitude’ envisions an Apollo Moon landing, with includes a radio broadcast from the time. It’s important to remember that Fairport were an essential addition to the broad and inclusive hope of the late 60’s, despite the occasional rather tragic lyric about ‘Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman’ and ‘Crazy Man Michael’. It was all part of a very nice game.

‘Moses Waits’ is the odd tune out, written (by Rob Beattie) from the point of view of a Kenyan who “waits for the tips that make up his rent”, “the union to organize”, and he thinks of “his children with their heads bowed down at school”. Then the music slides into an ethnic shuffle that touches a simple beauty that, hopefully, fulfills the pure intent of the pre-Fairport Ethnic Shuffle Orchestra. As Fairport’s signature song Meet On The Ledge still proclaims, even after all these years, “If you really mean it, it all comes round again”. It’s a brilliant tune that conjures the thought of Vin Garbutt’s very necessary song, ‘When The Oppressed Becomes Oppressor’.

The final song is a violin slow dance, ‘Precious Time’. It’s nice. It’s beautiful. But (perhaps, a gripe) Myths & Heroes also did that with ‘Jonah’s Oak’.

That said, in his old (but still optimistic) age, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in ‘Terminus’, “I trim myself to the storm of time”. Fair enough. But he also wrote, “Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime”. That’s what Shuffle And Go does because, as Emerson also said, “every wave is charmed”. And, in Fairport’s case, “every wave” is “green and pleasant” and “charmed”, thankfully, over and over again.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website: www.fairportconvention.com

It took some finding but here is ‘Shuffle And Go’ live at Cropredy:

THE LOST BROTHERS – After The Fire After The Rain (Bird Dog Recordings BDR007)

After The Fire After The RainHailing from Tyrone and Meath, respectively, Northern Irish duo Mark McCausland (a cousin of Lonnie Donegan, apparently) and Osin Leech have made a point of recording their albums in different cities. For After The Fire After The Rain, their sixth, they went to Brooklyn where they recruited Daniel Schlett and Tony Garnier, Dylan’s bassist and musical director for the past thirty years, as producers. Garnier also features on a double bass once owned by Charlie Mingus while other stellar contributions come from Howe Gelb, M Ward, Jolie Holland and Waterboys fiddler Steve Wickham.

The new album includes three instrumentals, the first being the hushed and reflective fingerpicked ‘Six Mile Cross’ (a location in Omagh) with its background wash of brushed drums and da da dah vocals while, played on Spanish guitar, the circling melody of ‘Ash Wednesday’ with its whistling and occasional bass drum thump has the feel of mountains and prairie nights in some Leone western. The third, and the album’s slow march swaying closer with its wordless oohing from Jolie, has a firmly romantic Irish flavour, not least in being titled ‘Glens of Gortin’, named for an area near Omagh. Indeed, the songs were written in an old County Monaghan hotel, the landscape, weather and their connections to their home informing and inspiring the finished work.

Meanwhile, back at the start and featuring a haunting harmonica, the world-weary ‘Fugitive Moon’ again has that dusty Americana texture, a five-minute strummed unrequited love song (“My heart is vacant like a desolate room”) of a man “cursed since the day I was born” in a lyric that references the river Boyne with the line “who knows where the time goes” surely a nod to Sandy.

The pace picks up, and even more so in the final stretch, with ‘Medicine Wine’, another widescreen number, here with Dave Murphy’s keening pedal steel and Garnier’s upright bass, that speaks of the Irish landscape’s healing power, namechecking both Gortin Glen and the Tara hills. It carries over into the chugging rhythm of the downbeat ‘Eight Hundred Miles’, the line “The loneliness of a long distance soul/Torn apart on the cambria shores” presumably a reference to the wreck of the SS Camria off the north-west of Ireland in October 1870 with great loss of life (“I’ll be gone in the grey winter sun/Forever tied to oblivion”), the harmonies underlining the frequent S&G comparisons. It is, however, Leonard Cohen who most comes to mind, both in melody and vocal delivery on the first of the two title tracks (a James Taylor nod, perhaps), a dappled rhythm underpinning a lyric Leech describes as a statement of perseverance and survival (“After the fire came the hard and blowing rains/At the belief seminar they said to face the pain”) as brass arrives in the closing stretch. His ghost is there again, hovering over the banjo-flecked and fiddle Appalachian flavours of the ominous -toned ‘Venus’ with its lines about how “I’ve come to be undone/By my blind faith” and “learned to smile as I make my kill” and

Things then take a bluesy turn with Garnier bringing a touch of his Tom Waits bass contributions to the spooked, loping and hushedely sung ‘Hope Machine’ with its Farfisa interjections while, harmonica putting in a return appearance along with brass shadings, ‘Wilderness’ is a slow lurch in keeping with lines like “comes a void where I slip and I fall into nothingness/Where I wait for the light to flood in out of consciousness/My back to the sun my weakness defenceless/I go blinded by the wilderness”, yet ultimately proving a refusal to surrender to despair – “And I look to the sky and I won’t be defied by the Emptiness/ Then comes a voice from above telling me to begin/Again/And I’ve got no choice but to heed the call and get up again”.

Paul Brainard’s mariachi horns also make a splash in the second half of the title as, McCauslan on baritone guitars, it swells midway before a soft dying fall as, haunted by the call of his native land, Leech sings “Now I’m far away I’m trying to get home/Pray to St. Anthony don’t leave me alone”. Their last album was called Halfway To The Healing, this completes the journey.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.thelostbrothersband.com

‘After The Fire’ – official video:

Kit Hawes & Aaron Catlow announce new album

Kit Hawes & Aaron Catlow

Weaving a musical dialogue between fiddle, guitar and voice, Kit Hawes and Aaron Catlow explore the rich musical heritage of the British Isles, and create original music inspired by the traditions they grew up in. In demand as musicians, writers and arrangers, Kit and Aaron have worked with many established artists including Grammy Award-nominated Yola, Seth Lakeman, Afro Celt Sound System and Roni Size. Since the release of their highly acclaimed debut album The Fox in 2016, the pair have built a reputation as one of the standout acts on the UK music circuit. Praise comes from music lovers and press alike, including Mark Radcliffe on BBC Radio 2 – “reminiscent of Martin Carthy and the late Dave Swarbrick, I can give them no higher accolade”, Acoustic Magazine – “head and shoulders above the rest” and Living Tradition – “mightily impressive”.

Their follow up album, which draws its name from the title track ‘Pill Pilots’, is due for release in February 2020. The Pill Pilots were a group of highly-skilled mariners, who for over a thousand years guided tall ships through the treacherous waters of the Bristol Channel and the river Avon. The album was recorded live in a single room and celebrates the time-honoured relationship between the fiddle and guitar. The pair pay tribute to the past, whilst setting themselves apart with an unparalleled mastery of their instruments and dynamic range to create a musical conversation that wends its way through the album’s nine tracks. The album opens with I Know My Love, a song of unrequited love and longing which has its roots in Ireland. This rendition is inspired by the time the pair spent playing amongst Appalachian musicians whilst on tour in Nashville and serves an anglicised take of the vibrant musical vocabulary of this tradition.

For more information and the latest tour dates, please visit www.kitandaaron.com

‘I Know My Love’ – live in the guitar shop:

AL LEWIS – Te Yn Y Grug (Al Lewis Music ALM023)

Te Yn Y GrugThere is a story behind this album and it’s somewhat involved so settle down at the back, please. Te Yn Y Grug (Tea In The Heather) is a novel, or perhaps a collection of short stories, written by Kate Roberts and published in 1959. It tells the story of three young girls growing up in Gwynedd at the turn of the 20th century but, sadly, it seems to be long out of print. Two years ago Al Lewis was commissioned to write the music for the National Eisteddfod of Wales’ choral musical based on the book. The lyrics were written by Karen Owen and Cefin Roberts with one song written by Frank M Davis and Mary A Kidder. The intention was to perform one show in Llanrwst which seemed a bit wasteful so Al gathered together a band and members of the volunteer choir to record the piece for posterity.

The result is a contemporary sounding set of songs in the style of a folk-rock singer-songwriter with all the trimmings supported by thirty-eight members of the choir. I can’t be sure but I suspect that Te Yn Y Grug has been mutated to appeal to a less specialist audience. It rocks in a smooth way, although rocks is perhaps not the best word. For example, the odd song not wrtten by Al, ‘A Yw Fy Enw I Lawr?’, is performed by the choir in the style of a hymn and it’s followed by by ‘Mae Bywyd Yn Berfformans’ on which Al duets with Glain Rhys. It sounds very romantic but is more philosophical in nature.

It’s all in Welsh, of course, and punctuated with archive spoken word passages. Translations of the songs are helpfully provided although one title, ‘Ciaridŷms’, seems to be one of those words that defies translation. Ignore the language barrier, the album sounds absolutely gorgeous and I’m content with that.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://www.allewismusic.com/

This is the only video we can find: