Reviews

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Welcome to the folking.com review section.

The folking review team is a small, dedicated group of people with a passion and a commitment for the folk, acoustic and Americana music scene. They review the latest releases, each in their own inimitable style…

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KRIS DREVER – Where The World Is Thin (Reveal Records)

Kris Drever’s Where The World Is Thin is a musical glance at the beautiful horizon of very current Scottish folk music. A necessary metaphor: Although Kris (and dad Ivan of solo and Wolfstone fame!) hail from Orkney, the songs on this album conjure my Midwestern American traveller’s memory as our ...
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FELIX HATFIELD – False God (FB:02)

“Songwriting is one of the most mysterious and magical forms of art. It’s like having a blank piece of paper and some crayons. You don’t have to be the best, you just have to be brave enough to explore and bold enough to court the unknown.” Felix Hatfield, who wrote ...
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MARTIN STEPHENSON – Pink Tank (Barbaraville Records BVPTCD)

Having revisited, reworked and rerecorded Salutation Road (a wonderful piece of work), Martin Stephenson turns his attention to another bunch of old songs – let’s face it; there is only so much new say about being in isolation on the Scottish coast. These eleven tracks were originally released in 2004 ...
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BRENT COBB – Keep ‘Em On They Toes (Ol’ Buddy Records)

Cousin of producer Dave Cobb, Keep ‘Em On They Toes is Brent’s fourth album, one on which he says is more about thoughts and feelings than people and places. It’s also got quite a playful tone in places, especially on the title track opener, a co-write with his wife designed ...
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JENNY STURGEON – The Living Mountain (Hudson Records HUD021CD)

I’ve long been an admirer of Jenny Sturgeon’s work, both as a soloist and lately with Salt House, and I suspect that The Living Mountain will soon come to be regarded as a classic. The music and the record’s title are inspired by the poetry of Nan Shepherd who wrote ...
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BEULAH – Hollow (own label)

From Manchester and based in the High Peak, encouraged in songwriting by family friend Gary Barlow, Beulah Garside (as was) released her debut album, Mabel and I, back in 2005, the track ‘Stay’ going on to become a compilations staple and she spending time working in Nashville and LA. The ...
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KRISTOF ROBERT – Nice Place (own label KRISRCD001)

Nice Place is Kristof Robert’s debut album, released in September this year. Robert is based in Carrick-on-Suir towards the south of Ireland but grew up in Orleans (in case you mis-read that, think the Loire, not the Mississippi) and the Guerande Peninsula, and this album is a delightful blend of ...
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JACK HENDERSON – Where’s The Revolution (Fretsore Records FR0014)

Jack Henderson is a veteran Scottish singer-songwriter with a voice that seems capable of anything. At first he put me in mind of Frankie Miller but Jack is much smoother. He’s also a more than capable instrumentalist – there are some lovely sounds on this record, notably the guitar leads ...
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PETER MULVEY & SISTASTRINGS – Live At The Cafe Carpe (Righteous Babe Records)

A digital download, Live At The Cafe Carpe brings the veteran Milwaukee songwriter and activist together with sibling violin and cello duo Monique and Chauntee Ross also adding harmonies for a collection of old, recent and new material along with some choice covers, recorded at the venue where he began ...
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JEFF AND TERESA DAVIDSMEYER – Songs From The Cabin (own label)

Neil Young once sang, ‘Like A Hurricane’. Fair enough! But Jeff and Teresa Davidsmeyer sing from the calm eye of the hurricane. Songs From The Cabin is an absolute moment of acoustic folk song solitude midst tough and turbulent times. It’s a musical balm in the quietude of nature’s folky ...
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THE TEA CUPS – In Which… (Haystack HAYCD014)

In Which... is The Teacups third and as it transpires final album, the Newcastle on Tyne a capella quartet deciding to call it a day after ten years. Alex Cumming, Kate Locksley, Rosie Calvert and Will Finn go out on a high with this rousing collection of seafaring songs and ...
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TOM HOUSTON – Gap In The Fence (IPP333)

Gap In The Fence, the fourth album by Scottish Highlands singer-songwriter Houston, produced by and featuring Neill MacColl, son of Ewan and erstwhile member of The Bible, takes its title to represent both the enticing promise of adventure into realms unknown and the potential threat of what lurks beyond, and ...
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JOSIE BELLO – Have Purpose Live Long  (own label)

Josie Bello released Have Purpose Live Long over the summer, a collection of eight songs and her second album, following the well-played Can’t Go Home. Bello is a singer-songwriter born and raised in New York City and now living on Long Island, where she plays as a solo artist, as ...
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RYAN HAMILTON & THE HARLEQUIN GHOSTS – Nowhere To Go But Everywhere (Wicked Cool)

Among the many videos we received this summer was one to accompany ‘Jesus & John Lennon’, the third song from Nowhere To Go But Everywhere. The film was OK and the song was intriguing but there was always the suspicion that it could just be the best song on the ...
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PADRAIG JACK –Making Sand (Good Deeds)

Born and raised on the Aran islands off the west coast of Ireland, son of Irish songwriter Barry Ronan and nephew of poet Mary O’Malley, Making Sand is his debut album, although, despite writing and singing in both Gaelic and English, it contains only one wholly in the native tongue ...
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DARLINGSIDE – Fish Pond Fish (More Doug Records)

Darlingside’s new Fish Pond Fish is a wondrous tapestry of baroque pop music knitted with the purity of folk needles. Now, just a confession: Too many years ago at my eight-grade graduation party at the local bowling alley, somebody coughed up a coin that spun the juke box into the ...
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SCREAMING ORPHANS – Sunshine And Moss (own label)

Sunshine And Moss, the second album by the Co. Donegal Diver sisters opens with ‘Every Woman Gardens’, a steady-paced strumalong written by Padraig Stevens from The Saw Doctors about the consequence of every action, apparently inspired by an overheard conversation about giving a chainsaw as a present, the girls seeing ...
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KAT RIGGINS – Cry Out (Gulf Coast Records)

Kat Riggins released Cry Out in August but I’ve only just come across it. I don’t know who first said. “You don’t play the blues, you feel the blues” but it came to mind within a few seconds of putting this album on for the first time. An opening burst ...
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DIANA JONES – Song To A Refugee (Proper PRPCD157)

Born in rural Tennessee, Jones has a natural affinity for the dispossessed, her latest work, Song To A Refugee, inspired by both the distressing scenes at the US-Mexican border and a meeting with Emma Thompson and her work as president of the Helen Bamber Foundation, a Human Rights charity supporting ...
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WORDS OF A FIDDLER’S DAUGHTER – Rúnian (own label TCR02)

Should poetry be read or listened to? As a modern person, I tend to the former – I like to pause and reflect on what I’ve read. Time was, though, when people would sit round the hearth and listen to the words of bards and storytellers and learn those words ...
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MARK MANDEVILLE & RAIANNE RICHARDS – Road May Rise (Nobody’s Favorite Records)

Unforgivably, Road May Rise, the latest studio outing by the Massachusetts’ duo disappeared into a black hole in my reviews pile, but has now been excavated for a somewhat overdue and well-deserved review. The follow-up to their Live In Manitoba album, and featuring studio versions of two new numbers included ...
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BELLA WHITE – Just Like Leaving (own label)

Born in Alberta but with Blue Ridge roots, White was reared on a bluegrass diet of Bill Monroe and Doc Watson before heading off to Boston and immersing herself in the local acoustic scene. Now, just twenty and based in Nashville, she makes her debut with Just Like Leaving, an ...
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MICHAEL CHAPMAN – Sweet Powder & Wrytree Drift (Mooncrest CRESTCD107)

Some explanation may be helpful here. Michael Chapman was between record companies when these two albums were recorded: Sweet Powder in 2008 and Wrytree Drift in 2010. Michael made them for his own production company, Rural Retreat Records with producer Alex Warnes in the familiar surroundings of Phoenix Studios and, ...
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KENNETH J NASH – For Sarah (Oh! OHRKJN01020)

Written for his wife, three years in the making, For Sarah is a simple, low key, introspective collection of musical vignettes, recalling the good times shared as a way to help her deal with the grief and loss following a succession of family bereavements. As you’d imagine, while they may ...
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OH SUSANNA – Sleepy Little Sailor (MVKA Records)

Oh Susanna’s 2001 Sleepy Little Sailor gets a deluxe re-issue with four acoustic re-visits and one newly covered tune. But first, for the initiate, Oh Susanna is the nom de plume for Canadian folk singer Suzie Ungerleider. Good choice! Now, I’ve nothing against ungainly names (check my own by line), ...
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O’HOOLEY & TIDOW – Live At St George’s (No Masters NMCD55)

With immaculate timing Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow recorded this live concert in front of an enthusiastic audience in the former church of St George’s in Bristol just before the first lockdown began. Is it cynical to suggest that they held on to Live At St George’s until we were ...
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LOUDON WAINWRIGHT III – I’d Rather Lead A Band (Thirty Tigers)

I admit that it's been quite a few years – decades, perhaps – since I listened to Loudon Wainwright III, but I suspect that even if I'd been more au fait with his 21st century output, the album I'd Rather Lead A Band, scheduled for release on October 9th 2020, ...
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LUCIA COMNES – Uncaged (own label)

Recorded by Comnes in Liguria, Italy, and Gawain Matthews adding keyboards in San Pablo, California, Uncaged comes at the end of what has clearly been an annus miserablis for her, one that saw the loss of her marriage, the respect of her parents, the support of her family, her visa ...
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SAM BROOKES – Black Feathers (Go Slowly Records)

Now, it’s a given that Joseph had “The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”; but truly, Bristol-based Sam Brookes, with his album Black Feathers, has produced an “amazing technicolour” record of sublime vocal beauty, fronting a well-produced album of softly exquisite folk songs. Quite frankly, the first song, ‘Ekarma’ (which is a lonely ...
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GRANVILLE AUTOMATIC – Tiny Televisions (Star Swimming)

The seven songs on the follow-up to the typewriter-named Nashville duo’s Radio Hymns, continues its concept theme of of songs inspired by Nashville’s lost history, this time as a companion piece to Vanessa Olivarez and Elizabeth Elkins’s first book, Hidden History Of Music Row. Tiny Televisions opens with the throaty ...
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SINGLES BAR 57 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Nashville’s JARROD DICKENSON pays tribute to five of his Texas heroes on Under A Texas Sky (Continental Records), kicking off with a slightly slower paced interpretation of Roy Orbison’s minor 1959 doo wop hit ‘Uptown’ featuring bluesy organ and Claire Dickenson and Stephanie Jean’s backups, following with a slow and ...
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STEVE TYLER – The Enduring And The Ephemeral (own label Rufus 5)

The strap-line may be considered a touch pretentious but so may the music so that’s probably OK. Steve is a multi-instrumentalist and he throws everything he has into The Enduring And The Ephemeral and then adds Katy Marchant on bagpipes, shawn, recorder and voice, Jane Harbour on violin and voice ...
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KAVEE – Metempsychosis (Rock CD Records)

Italian multi-instrumentalist Valerio Willy Goattin (he of Galaverna and Slap Guru fame!) adds to the shut-in musical cornucopia with his new alias Kavee and a current record, Metempsychosis. He describes the album as “an acoustic escape towards the dreamlike dimension of music, a journey through mysterious and distant landscapes”. In ...
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EMILY BARKER – A Dark Murmuration Of Words (Thirty Tigers)

“Where have the sparrows gone?” ponders the Australian ex-pat on her fourth full-length solo album, A Dark Murmuration Of Words, as the narrator looks out of her window on a post-apocalyptic London devoid of birds, a contemplative rumination of “climate change, racism, sexism, and myths of economic progress through the ...
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LOU KYME – What’s The Worst That Can Happen (Blue Smoke BSCD3503)

A while back, the Southampton-born, London-based former frontwoman (Louise if we’re being precise) with the family country and rockabilly band The Okeh Wranglers (no, me neither) ended up in Austin where she ran into Chuck Prophet, resulting in two years of songwriting collaboration and now this debut album, What’s The ...
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RURA – Live At The Old Fruitmarket (RURACD003)

Rura release Live At The Old Fruitmarket on September 11th. There are a limited number of ways of saying how good this is, so let’s try one I’ve used before: this is good; and one I haven’t: I wasn’t at Celtic Connections this year but there have been a number ...
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BEN BEDFORD – Portraits (Cavalier CR255626)

I first encountered the Illinois-based singer-songwriter back in 2012 with his third album, What We Lost, and immediately set about acquiring its two predecessors, 2009’s Land Of The Shadows and, from the previous year, his debut Lincoln’s Man. Since then he’s released a further two albums, The Pilot And The ...
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FAY HIELD – Wrackline (Topic TSC608)

With her new album, Wrackline, Fay Hield takes a giant step in her exploration of folk music. It’s a record about crossing lines – a wrack line is the high water mark where the debris of the sea collects and it marks a barrier. Fay makes this explicit in ‘Swirling ...
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JAMES LEE BAKER – 100 Summers (own label)

The great transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau proudly proclaimed, “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” And James Lee Baker, with his 100 Summers album, follows the path to a modern Waldon’s cabin door, and with melodic introspection, sings songs that (to quote Henry David) “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life”, ...
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WILLIE CAMPBELL – Nothing’s Going To Bring Me Down (Invisible King IK0020)

Willie Campbell is a singer and songwriter from the Isle of Lewis and, as well as being a soloist, he fronts The Open Day Rotation, formed astrid with long-time friend Charlie Clark and was a founding member of The Reindeer Section with Gary Lightbody, not forgetting his other band, Tumbling ...
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ANNIE DRESSNER – Coffee At The Corner Bar (Proper)

A native New Yorker but, for the past nine years, based in Cambridge, Dressner released her debut album back in 2011, immediately indicating that here was an artist whose way with words and melody, couched in Americana but informed with folk and a touch of classic Brill Building pop, was ...
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NATIVE HARROW – Closeness (Loose Music)

Pennsylvania duo Native Harrow’s Closeness is a wondrous folk marriage of lonely lyricism with the hand hold of beautifully warm and melodically earnest (and even hopeful) melodies. This is Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter music that irons on all those patches (a la Neil Young on the cover of After the Goldrush) ...
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DANIEL NESTLERODE – Windrush (Clunk & Rattle Records CRLP021)

Born in Pennsylvania, raised in California and currently based in France after seven years living in Cambridgeshire, Nestlerode was inspired to make the album following the recent Windrush repatriation scandal, intending it as both a celebration of the Windrush Generation and the courage it took to leave their homes for ...
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THE STRUNTS – Too Much Of Everything (own label STRUNT01)

The Dictionary Of The Scots Language tells us that “strunt” is a fit of pique or pettishness, or as we might say in the Home Counties, a bit miffed. The Strunts tell us this on their album, too, but I never take anything on trust these days particularly when, in ...
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ROBB JOHNSON & THE IRREGULARS – Pandemic Songs (Irregular Records IRR114)

I once made the mistake of asking Robb Johnson how many songs he’d written. To protect yourselves from a similar embarrassment I’ll tell you now that he doesn’t know. But it’s not just the quantity of his writing – it’s the quality. Whether you’re considering a major, heartfelt work like ...
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RAKOCZY – Frontrunner (Talking Cat Recordings TCCD2002)

Well, this is a bit different. Fruzsina Zsofia Rakoczy is an Anglo-Hungarian singer, concertina, recorder and bagpipe player, born in Budapest and based in Manchester who got into folk through the local euro dance scenes. As such you might expect either rave culture influences or songs steeped in her Eastern ...
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SINGLES BAR 56 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

The first of LAU’s Live Series EPs opens with the sound of crashing waves and the cries of seabirds before Aidan O’Rourke’s melancholy fiddle leads into his tune ‘Gallowhill’ which he wrote on the Black Isle. The music was recorded in London at the start of a truncated acoustic tour ...
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H.C. McENTIRE – Eno Axis (Merge MRG772)

Eno Axis, the second solo album by the former Mount Moriah singer opens with country gospel keyboard backing and the lines “early rise, start the fire, till the rows, pass the tithes” on ‘Hands For The Harvest’, a celebration of rural simplicity, of sowing, growing, and nurturing, written in woodlands ...
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JAMES EDWYN & THE BORROWED BAND – Before We Go (Dead Records Collective)

Lockdown and the on-going impact of Covid-19 continue to reshape the music industry. In this case, I don’t mind too much. James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band have released a seven-track digital album, Before We Go. The band were formed in 2013 and are one of those that you wonder ...
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JERRY JOSEPH – The Beautiful Madness (Décor DECOR55CD)

The name might not mean much to you, but it does to Patterson Hood and Jason Isbell, the latter recording with his former Drive By Truckers bandmates for the first time since 2007 to provide the album’s backing musicians. Born in LA. and currently resident in Portland, Oregon, while flying ...
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JOSHUA BURNELL – Flowers Where The Horses Sleep (Misted Valley Records)

Joshua Burnell’s Flowers Where The Horses Sleep is a wondrous album of original songs with vivid and very modern folk roots. The first song, ‘Labels’, testifies to the oldest wisdom, “Throw your labels away because love has no use for them”; yet it manages to sing (with nice violin!) from ...
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SOLAS – Shamrock City (THL001)

Solas’ Shamrock City, originally out in 2013 has just been re-released. Solas are currently paused indefinitely while founder Seamus Egan develops The Seamus Egan Project, but there is an unexpected relevance to reviewing this re-release given the current political climate. The album is a “family story of immigration, mining and ...
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DARREN BLACK – Playing With The Truth (own label DBCD006)

If one good thing comes out of this crisis it may be that musicians have come up with new ways to pursue their art. This isn’t quite true of Darren Black who actually met his collaborators Robert Sword and Stewart Prosser back in 2016 so it might be that this ...
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HE MISTOOK HER FOR A SWAN – He Mistook Her For A Swan (own label, digital only)

He Mistook Her For A Swan is a Canadian acoustic guitars/vocal duo comprising Colleen Hodgson and Steve Koch, seasoned musicians both. The duo’s wordy, murder-ballad derived name, we’re assured, is usually abridged to HMHFAS, an unpronounceable acronym that could only ever work written down. But, on to HMHFAS’s debut, self-titled ...
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ARLO McKINLEY – Die Midwestern (Oh Boy Records)

Arlo McKinley’s Die Midwestern is a folk-rock-country album whose songs carve a lifetime of tough conversations into granite tombstones found in any cemetery optimistically named Evergreen. Although there are no characters created, these tunes sing with a Walt Whitman ‘Song Of Myself’ universality that confesses sad truths, with Spoon River ...
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KATE RUSBY – Hand Me Down (Pure PRCD64)

Already planned but given new homemade intimacy through its lockdown recording (aside from some occasional remote contributions, as intended, it’s just her and Damien O’Kane), Hand Me Down sees Rusby interpreting not traditional folk songs but those from a more contemporary era, although, as she says, still doing what folk ...
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SUNJAY – More Than A One Night Stand (digital release)

It wasn’t until I saw him live on stage that I really got Sunjay. I’d enjoyed his records, admired his excellent guitar playing and songwriting but in the flesh he has that rare quality – charisma. He is a natural raconteur and if he ever gets fed up with music ...
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CHRIS LESLIE – Fiddle Back (Paws Records PAWS003)

Chris Leslie really doesn’t need any introduction from me so let’s get straight down to business. Fiddle Back is his contribution to lockdown; thirteen tracks recorded entirely solo at home using a mere dozen instruments and some samples. Chris obviously has an impressive studio set-up at home but uses it ...
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JACK BESSANT – Lucky Mountain (CHEDX Records)

On the one hand Jack Bessant plays bass with the band Reef who aren’t exactly heavy metal but certainly don’t hold back. On the other hand he’s a singer songwriter. The thing is: he looks like a bass player – Jeremy Cunningham immediately springs to mind – and on Lucky ...
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Colin Reid – Tilt

Topic took an interest in Reid’s formidable skill as a guitarist over a year ago and Tilt is the first of what I hope will be many recordings from him on the Topic label. It’s vital that the more successful labels on the folk and acoustic scene invest in the ...
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