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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THE SMOKE FAIRIES – Darkness Brings The Wonders Home (Year Seven Records)

The Smoke Fairies new album, Darkness Brings The Wonders Home, is music that coughs up a bluesy and very British folk rock beauty. You know, the brilliant bottleneck player Mississippi Fred McDowell said, “I do not play no rock ‘n’ roll”, but these women certainly do - with British silky ...
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GEMMA MAE ANDERSON – Life (own label GMAZE2CD)

Like many musicians, I'm all too well aware of the risks and consequences of joint damage and pain, especially in my own age group (let's just say the wrong side of retirement age…) I find it difficult to imagine, though, what it's like for Gemma Mae Anderson, though, being diagnosed ...
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THE OLD SWAN BAND – Fortyfived (Wild Goose WGS434CD)

The Old Swan Band, rightly lauded for its longstanding championing of English dance music, broke a 20-year recording hiatus in 2014 to mark its 40-year anniversary. Fortyfived, the band’s latest album, celebrates this continued survival across four and a half decades. Much like the dwarf’s axe, some of the band’s ...
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BLACKBIRD & CROW – Ailm (MIG MIG 01652)

I don’t believe that anyone has coined a term for the music that Blackbird & Crow play. I’d like to suggest “gothic folk-rock”. Other artists have ventured down this road but I’d also like to suggest that Maighréad Ní Ghrásta and Stephen John Doohan do it best. Ailm is their ...
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JULIE ABBÉ – Numberless Dreams (Anisogoma Records ANIS001)

She doesn’t sound it but Julie Abbé is French and grew up in Poitou-Charentes, south of Roquefort and North of Bordeaux, which sounds like a good combination to me. She grew up with the Bal tradition but expanded her repertoire into swing, Latin jazz, blues and the English and Irish ...
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DEBORAH ROSE –The Shining Pathway (own label)

Originally from Newport in South Wales but now based in Worcester, the pure-voiced Rose comes impressively endorsed by no less than Mary Gauthier and Judy Collins. Recorded variously in Nashville and Ludlow, The Shining Pathway  is her third album, a collection of songs about love, loss and transformation, much inspired ...
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MIKE ZITO – Live From The Top (Gulf Coast Records)

Mike Zito, Blues Music Award winner whose 2018 album First Class Life entered the Billboard Top Blues Albums chart at number one, has re-released Live From The Top. The re-release whets the appetite for a three-part tour of America, Europe (Germany, Holland, Belgium and France) and the UK from January ...
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THE AERIALISTS – Dear Sienna (Fiddlehead Records)

Although The Aerialists’ Dear Sienna spins in a distant orbit around any Irish Pub’s dartboard hub, it’s a wondrous Canadian album filled with acoustic magic. ‘The Rope Is The World (Intro)’ opens with Mairi Chaimbeul’s harp, which preludes ‘An Gille Dubh Ciar Dubh’, with a Gaelic vocal, Elise Boeur’s fiddle ...
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VARIOUS ARTISTS – Sounds From The Great Garden: A Lismore Gathering (Clincart Music CLINC770190010)

A double CD ‘concept’ album, the title refers to the historic description of the Scottish island of Lismore, the music within it, all recorded at Davy Clincart’s studios on the Hebridean isle, conceived to reflect the rich diversity of song, story and music from the community of local artists involved ...
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DÀIBHIDH STIÙBHARD – An Sionnach Dubh (Wildtune Records)

Dàibhidh Stiùbhard’s An Sionnach Dubh (aka The Black Fox) is an album that touches deep Irish roots and is graced with immense subtlety. Dàibhidh’s vocals glance with the pathos of heavy wisdom, and are framed with sympathetic violin, guitar, and button accordion. A ghostly harmonium hums to welcome the tune ...
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DAVEY DODDS – Toadstool Soup (Coalshed Music CSM031119)

Davey Dodds, rather belatedly it must be said, has had fame thrust upon him all because of a song he wrote back in the 1970s. The Unthanks recorded ‘The Magpie’ which was then used in The Detectorists and that resulted in a namecheck by Sam Lee from the stage of ...
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FRUITION – Broken At The Break Of Day (Fruition LCC FLC012)

A promising roots-rock five-piece from Portland, Oregon, Broken At The Break Of Day is their second mini-album in three months, a seven-track collection of catchy melodies and hooks that kicks off with the strummed shuffling ‘Dawn’ with its lead vocals traded between guitarists Jay Cobb Anderson and Mimi Naja with ...
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THE EPSTEIN – Burn The Branches (Zawinul Records ZWRO102)

Having followed The Epstein for many years, I’m constantly reminded of how difficult it is for a top quality band to find the break they deserve to take them to the next level. With fierce competition in the UK, the answer may lie more in luck than skill, despite the ...
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MARTYN JOSEPH – Days Of Decision (Pipe Records PRCD029)

What do we know about Phil Ochs? He was a member of the 50s/60s protest movement and a prolific songwriter admired by his contemporaries. He never really had a hit in any conventional sense and died far too soon by his own hand. Yet, he is still remembered although, sadly, ...
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THUNDER AND RAIN – Passing In The Night (own label)

Thunder And Rain are a four-piece band from Colorado who play Americana-esque music that is influenced by a mix of styles from classic country to old time, bluegrass, pop, and folk. Passing In The Night is their third album, to be released on January 31st and supported by gigs in ...
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RAGTOP DOWN – Contents May Settle (own label)

They took their name from an old Little Feat song which should give you a clue about where they’re coming from. Except that Ben Tunningley, Gaby Szabo and Lyle Zimmerman are from London and their brand of Americana has an unmistakably English edge. There’s a feel to the songwriting on ...
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TOMMY SANDS – Fair Play To You All (Spring SCD 1066)

The picture on the cover of Tommy Sands recent album is a literal illustration of an old Irish saying which, in England, is only uttered by football club managers. It has a number of meanings and interpretations. Superficially Fair Play To You All would seem to be a simple album ...
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JIM AND SUSIE MALCOLM – The Berries (Beltane Records Belcd113)

Jim and Susie Malcolm’s The Berries is an exquisite album of Scottish folk music. This is a record of harmony, in which Jim’s Scottish porridge-pure vocals blend effortlessly with Susie’s ability (much like the great Linda Thompson) to touch the pathos in the minor moments of any tune. Just a ...
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ARFUR DOO & THE TOERAGS – Till Death Us Doo Part (own label)

Unless you live in the Essex area some explanation may be required. Arfur Doo & The Toerags have been together for twenty years but have maintained what you might call a low profile. In fact, Till Death Us Doo Part is only their second album and if it will bring ...
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SAM WEBER – Everything Comes True (Sonic Unyon Records)

Sam Weber’s Everything Comes True is a warm walk in favorite forest. It’s a record of commercial appeal that still contains the wooded feel of tree bark, fallen leaves, and distant sounds of broken branches that crack in the autumnal air. This is a really nice listen that recalls the ...
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WAYWARD JANE – Old Train (own label WJ002)

Wayward Jane are a quartet from Edinburgh who play old-timey and Americana as though they were born to it. In fact, Michael Starkey has lived and worked in the Appalachians and it is his distinctive banjo style that gives the music a real authenticity. The second lead instrument is Rachel ...
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ANNE LISTER – Astrolabe (own label)

I’ve known Anne Lister for so long that I can’t remember when and where we first met. There was a certain festival and a certain band....no, that’s another story. Anne is best known for he song ‘Icarus’ but, unlike her tragic hero she has stayed mostly under the radar. Recent ...
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KATIE BLOUNT – Dark Water (own label)

There are pure and acoustic “diamonds” in Katie Blount’s new album, Dark Water. It’s a lovely listen. Now (the great) Sandy Denny altered the opening line to her song, ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’. In the original version she sang, “Across the purple sky all the birds are leaving” ...
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STEVE WINCHESTER – Magik (own label)

You may suspect from the title of Steve Winchester’s album, Magik, that it might be a touch fey. True, he strays that way a little but he comes from north Cornwall and it sort of goes with the territory. This is very much a one-man project with Steve singing and ...
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KELLY STEWARD – Tales And Tributes Of The Deserving And Not So (Glass Wing)

While I don’t find her voice as distinctive as Linda Ronstadt, to whom she’s often likened, the Illinois singer-songwriter’s sound is firmly rooted in the guitar twang Americana of 70s Laurel Canyon. Tales And Tributes Of The Deserving And Not So is her debut album after two EPs, the last ...
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JOE HENRY—The Gospel According To Water (Earmusic)

Joe Henry’s The Gospel According To Water is an acoustic, melodic, and eclectic warm root that wraps its deep soul around very vital American folk music. Let’s face it: Ray Davies summarized modern existence when he wrote in ‘Lola’, “It’s a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world”. And let’s ...
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THE MANIACS – The Maniacs (own label)

If there is a band more miss-named than The Maniacs then I’ve yet to discover them, although those who know him will testify that Paul Hutchinson can be quite eccentric. Paul has spent many years working with old tunes from all over the country and this album may be the ...
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THURSDAY’S BAND – Chittagong Tattoo (CRLP018)

I think this is very good. Thursday’s Band released Chittagong Tattoo, their second full album, in November. Sometimes, you go to watch a live band and get the sense, “Ooh, they’ve got something.” I’ve not seen Thursday’s Band play live, but I’d rather like to. Chittagong Tattoo seems ‘to have ...
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SINGLES BAR 47 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

We’ll leave Christmas until later if you don’t mind. Belle Of The Ball is the debut solo recording by AINSLEY HAMILL of Fourth Moon and Barluath. She has an amazing cast of supporters including Graham Coe, Lucy, Evan Carson and Toby Shaer but what jumps out at you is that ...
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THE MILK CARTON KIDS – The Only Ones (MCKR001)

The Milk Carton Kids released The Only Ones on December 6th. This is the band’s fifth studio album since they first came to prominence in 2011 with Prologue. After the full band sound of their previous album All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t ...
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PAULA WOLFE – White Dots (Sinb Records SIB0318CD)

Her first new album in a decade (Lemon, Staring and Find are being remastered for a 2020 reissue), during which time she built her own studio, completed a PhD in Music Production and Gender and published Women In The Studio: Creativity, Control and Gender In Popular Music Sound Production, White ...
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ELAINE LENNON – Elaine Lennon (LSR001CD)

Elaine Lennon releases her debut album on January 24th. Unless you knew the background, you wouldn’t know it was a debut album. Findlay Napier has produced it, the songs - almost all written by Lennon - are engaging, and Lennon’s voice is enthralling. The background is that Lennon’s lifelong passion ...
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MISHRA – The Loft Tapes (Hudson MSR004)

Fronted by guitarist Ford Collier and vocalist-banjo player Kate Griffin, winners of the inaugural Christian Raphael prize at last year’s Cambridge Folk Festival, and augmented by jazz-folk double bassist Joss Mann-Hazell, Mishra are a new Sheffield-based ‘global folk collective’, the instrumentation on their debut album, The Loft Tapes,  encompassing clawhammer ...
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JOHNNY CAMPBELL – From Hull And Halifax And Hell (Subversive Folk Records SF002)

Johnny Campbell is a singer/songwriter/guitarist from Manchester who has not forgotten the sixties although I suspect that he’s too young to have actually been there. That doesn’t matter: the spirit of the folk clubs in their heyday runs in his veins. The set, complete with all his introductions, was recorded ...
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JUDY COLLINS with JONAS FJELD and CHATHAM COUNTY LINE – Winter Stories (Wildflower/Cleopatra)

A seasonal collaboration between Collins, Norwegian singer-songwriter Fjeld and the North Carolina bluegrass outfit, recorded over the course of just a few days, Winter Stories brings together reworks, covers, and new material, getting underway in stirring fashion with their take of Stan Rogers’ classic ‘Northwest Passage’, the verses shared between ...
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JOHN MOSEDALE – We’re Not Packing Parachutes (own label)

Earlier this year we reviewed Twenty Seven, the debut EP by Hereford singer-songwriter John Mosedale. Now he returns with his first full-length album, We’re Not Packing Parachutes. This is an entirely solo project although there are one or two uncredited extras which may come from library tapes – I’m damn ...
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TRACK DOGS – Fire On The Rails (Mondegreen Records)

Track Dogs’ Fire On The Rails is folky and funky with trumpets galore and the occasional violin that soars above the usual musical fray. A flashback: there was a great world music band in the 90’s called 3 Mustaphas, whose motto was “Forward In All Directions”. And this album takes ...
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THE SERVANTS’ BALL – The Servants’ Ball (D.Wink CD13)

The West Sussex Gazette, December 15, 1938 The other evening, I had the good fortune to be assigned by this paper’s editor to attend a performance given at the Whittington Village Hall by an ensemble of performers going by the name of The Servants' Ball. Individually, they comprise banjulele (a ...
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GWEN MÀIRI – Mentro (Erwyd ER004)

Gwen Màiri is of Scottish/Welsh ancestry and, if you wish, you may explore the mysteries of Yr Hen Odledd for yourselves. Gwen is a tutor and author, singer and harpist and has performed with major orchestras as well as musicians in the Welsh tradition. Mentro is her first solo album, ...
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BEANS ON TOAST – The Inevitable Train Wreck (BOT Music)

Every year since 2009, Jay McAllister has released a new album of protest and social comment songs on his birthday, December 1. He’s now 39 and The Inevitable Train Wreck is his eleventh. I have to confess that albums in recent years have done little for me, but this, quite ...
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MATTHEW ROBB – Dead Men Have No Dreams (own label)

It’s no mean feat to release an album which stays in the mind for both its music and its sense of authenticity. Two years ago, Matthew Robb released Spirit In The Form which did just that. On December 5th he releases Dead Men Have No Dreams and I suspect he’s ...
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BENJI KIRKPATRICK AND THE EXCESS – Gold Has Worn Away (Westpark Music LC07535)

Gold Has Worn Away by Benji Kirkpatrick and The Excess is a real grower of an album. Benji Kirkpatrick, Pete Flood and Pete Thomas deliver fifty-seven minutes of dynamic and rhythmic roots music which I’ve had on repeat in the car and absolutely love it. I expect this will come ...
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JUDE JOHNSTONE – Living Room (BoJack BJR2221960-3)

As I noted in my review of her previous album, Johnstone is better known as a songwriter than a performer in her own right, her work having been covered by many of Americana’s great and good. As such, Living Room, often stripped to basics with minimal arrangements (the sleeve is ...
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KIM THOMPSETT – The Hollows (Meniscus Hump)

In case you’re wondering that’s Newgrange on the cover and I had a clever paragraph linking Kim Thompsett’s Irish heritage with her music. Then I discovered that she’s from Bexhill-on-Sea. The Hollows is her second album and her first for ten years. Kim Thompsett’s music has been described as “fairy ...
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YVONNE LYON – Songs For Christmas (own label BC112)

Continuing to add to this year’s musical Christmas tree, Lyon brings her Celtic folk influences to a collection of self-penned seasonal songs and reworked traditional carols, variously accompanied by flugelhorn, fiddle, whistles (Skerryvore’s Scott Wood), accordion and bouzouki. It opens in march beat anthemic mode with her own strumalong ‘Peace ...
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FRANK BIRTWISTLE – Volumes 1-4 (own label)

Frank Birtwistle is a guitarist and composer based in Sheffield who has released a set of four EPs of solo pieces – twenty-eight tracks in all. Volume 1 is played on nylon strings although the opening track ‘Flight’ sounds rather robust. You can forget Pre-Raphaelite young ladies playing delicate little ...
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KATE RUSBY – Holly Head (Pure PRCD57)

Having already released the excellent Philosophers, Poets & Kings, Rusby returns with her second album of the year, the fifth in her ongoing biennial festive series that again, produced by Damien O’Kane, mixes Yorkshire variants of well-known carols with both obscure and her own seasonal songs. Substituting ‘People Awake’ for ...
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ATLANTIC UNION – Indulgence (Blue Island Records CD 20191)

When I reviewed the last CD from Atlantic Union here, I noted that "I’m looking forward to hearing where they take us next." Their new CD Indulgence was indeed worth waiting for, and while it includes a few familiar songs, the band goes further into exploring its own music with ...
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MOIRAI – Framed: The Alice Wheeldon Story (WildGoose WGS433CD)

I’m sometimes amazed at the historical material that musicians succeed in writing about, from Gary Miller’s epic Mad Martins to Amy Goddard’s poignant ‘Remembering Aberfan’. I think that Moirai have outdone them all with Framed. It tells how Alice Wheeldon and members of her family were imprisoned for plotting to ...
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JACK LUKEMAN – Northern Lights (own label)

Released to coincide with his Songs For The Winter Solstice tour, this live recording from the Unitarian Church in Dublin finds the deep voiced Irish baritone dipping into the bag of Christmas chestnuts roasting by the open fire, kicking off appropriately enough with a sedate piano ‘Jingle Bells’ intro to ...
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THE YEHLA COLLECTIVE – Steel Strings And Iron Curtains – Songs that Ignited The Downfall of Communism (Sun King Records)

It's just 30 years on from the Czech Velvet Revolution (more commonly known in Slovakia as the Gentle Revolution) that marked the transition from one-party Communist rule to a parliamentary republic. Plamen Press is an independent press specializing in Central, Eastern and Southeastern European literature, translated into English, and – ...
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CHRISTY MOORE – Magic Nights (Columbia 19075991082)

Magic Nights is the sequel to Christy Moore’s 2017 album, On The Road. Conventional wisdom says that a sequel is never as good as the original but, without making comparisons, that isn’t true here. As before, the twenty-six tracks here are neither a “normal” concert album nor a greatest hits ...
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PAUL MOSLEY AND THE RED MEAT ORCHESTRA – You’re Going To Die!   (Red Crow CROW001)

“You’re going to die and so am I. Why are we sitting here listening to all of these lies?” I rather wish that Paul Mosley had opened his new album with the title track; those first lines are the perfect thought for today. His last full length album that I ...
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RANT – The Portage (Make Believe Records, MBR8CD)

The quartet of superbly talented individual fiddle players – Bethany Reid, Jenna Reid, Lauren MacColl and Anna Massie – who in combination make up Rant, have just released their third album, The Portage. Recorded over four days at Queen’s Cross Church in Glasgow (Charles Rennie Macintosh’s only completed church), the ...
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SMITH & McCLENNAN – Small Town Stories (White Fall Records)

Smith & 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” ...
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VETIVER – Up On High (VJCD251P/LC 29868)

Vetiver 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 ...
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SEAMUS EGAN – Early Bright (THL0003)

The 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 ...
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LORRAINE JORDAN – Send My Soul (Hazelville Music HZ013)

Born in Wales of Irish parents, a purveyor of Celtic soul, this is her fifth studio outing on which, accompanied by a host of backing musicians on the different tracks, she opens in fine fettle with the anthemic acoustic chug of ‘The Secret To Everything’ before, as the notes have ...
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HARP & A MONKEY – The Victorians (own label)

We have waited a long while for Harp & A Monkey’s fourth album but, despite the hints they dropped, this may not be the album some of us were expecting. No matter for the band have gone back to their roots with a collection of songs that were popular during, ...
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FREEBO – If Not Now When (Poppabo PB2005)

A mainstay on the L.A. session scene for over 40 years, most notably spending nine years as bassist to Bonnie Raitt, since 1999 he’s also been making his own music and If Not Now When, his fifth, again self-produced, mixes up recent material with revisits to older songs. Joined by ...
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