BOO HEWERDINE – Before (Reveal Records REVEAL083CDX)

BeforeBoo Hewerdine never seems to do anything the obvious way and there can hardly be anything less obvious than Before. The basic idea is that the music has been recorded before it has been overthought, hence the title. The packaging is minimalist – an 18th century painting on the outside, plain green on the inside with just enough information to allow you to get started. Boo opens the door a little and lets you peek into the dimly lit space beyond but no more than that.

The fact that the design is minimal doesn’t mean that the music is although, in line with theme, it’s not over-arranged. It began when producer and percussionist Chris Popper acquired a dulcitone and, from that starting point, the record is almost a guitar-free zone. Boo doesn’t play one at all but there is a pedal steel and a “prepared” guitar played by long-time collaborator Gustaf Ljunggren. It turns out that Gustaf has a sizeable collection of instruments and he plays fourteen of them here, if you count the toy piano.

The album contains ten songs each one separated from the next by an instrumental interlude, some very short, so the record plays like a single composition. Except that Boo breaks his own rule so there isn’t an interlude between ‘Wild Honey’ and ‘Old Song’. The first two songs, ‘Last Rays Of Sun’ and ‘Imaginary Friends’ could be played by a conventional band and sound good, as could ‘Reno’ but ‘Before’, for example, wouldn’t be the same with anything other than the piano and woodwinds that give it a thirties vibe.

One song that you might have heard before is ‘Starlight’, co-written with Eddi Reader. Boo builds it on vibes and glockenspiel – a contrast with Reader’s rich arrangement – and it feels so melancholy. Can I say that I prefer this version? Before is an unconventional album but it hangs together so well. I’d like to think that it will be there come prize-giving time.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://boohewerdine.net/

‘Last Rays Of Sun’:

GALLERY 47 – Chaos Ensued (Bad Production Records)

Chaos EnsuedGallery 47 used to be a six-piece band from Loughborough but it/he is now just Jack Peachey working solo under the name with Chaos Ensued as possibly the completion of a trilogy. Or possibly not. The album came to me out of the cloud, as many do, and will be commercially available only as a download. Fortunately, I’ve got a rather sprauncy hand-made CD so thanks for that, Jack. I listened and was instantly knocked out by the opening track.

‘Rolling Tight’ opens with a guitar riff topped off with electric keyboard and then a mean lead guitar break before the song starts. It’s a very 1960s sound and it reminds me of something but I can’t quite think what it is. It’s a belter of song.  Jack takes things down a little with the piano-based ‘Embers’ and it initially seems that ‘Choices’ will go the same way until the drums come crashing in. It’s an odd juxtaposition of Jack’s fragile voice with a big arrangement but effective nonetheless.

Next we’re into some straight rock’n’roll with ‘Weeklong’ which sounds like one hell of a party followed by a contender for the album’s best song. I’m not sure what the principal instrument on ‘Rise’ is – if I said pizzicato bass ukulele you’d have me locked up – but it’s very catchy with a guitar break that sort of matches the whatever-it-is. Lyrically it’s very clever. Try this: “Would you reckon I was under-ripe? Would you put me in a fridge or a dustbin?”. It’s a song about ambition and lack of success as far as I can tell.

Jazz piano introduces the 12-bar ‘Downcaster Rivers’, a blues about depression in the modern world – just my interpretation, you understand – while ‘Going Steady’ begins with strange drones and hand-claps with Jack’s voice half-buried in the mix. ‘Give In’ is possibly about parents and children and the lack of understanding therein and with ‘Lay Me Low’ and ‘Song For Ben’ we are back to urban melancholy with almost minimalist accompaniments.

Chaos Ensued is a record that defies categorisation and doesn’t follow any rules, which is good with me, and the more I listen to it, the more I like it.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.abadgeoffriendship.com/gallery-47

‘Rolling Tight’:

JESSE DAYTON – Mixtape Volume 1 (blu-elan Records BER1175)

Mixtape Volume 1Jesse Dayton wanted “to do cool versions of the songs that I thought the original writers would dig”. His new album Mixtape Volume 1 is released on August 30th.

After vinyl, and alongside it, came the cassette tape. For the first time you could take control of your music by selecting a dozen or so favourite tracks to play one after the other. As time passed, you could even play them in the car or walk around with them attached to your belt. Fifty years on and playlists make it all an awful lot easier to be your own DJ. However, along with that easiness is the loss of careful thought and selection, knowing you’ve spent hours picking favourite tracks from albums or singles and putting them in the (immoveable) order you want so they enhance each other.

Look at the album cover – this album isn’t a playlist, these songs are as carefully chosen as you would do if you were making a tape. Hence, presumably, the title Mixtape Volume 1. The songs? – I’m biased because mostly they’re straight out of music I bought in the seventies. That makes me potentially a harsher judge, but I have to say that this is a cracking selection, with songs by Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, The Clash, ZZ Top, Elton John, Dr Feelgood, AC/DC, The Cars and Bruce Springsteen. And Jesse Dayton hasn’t just picked these songs – he’s felt them and then he’s played them.

Dayton has a career of more than thirty years as guitarist for the likes of Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash – and also for the punk bands. He has ten albums of his own. That’s a hell of a fusion of styles and experience in his locker and you can hear all elements in the choice of tracks, from ‘Bankrobber’ or ‘She Does It Right’ to ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ or ‘Redneck Friend’.

Even more staggering, while the songs are recognizable he makes them his own. The video link below takes you to ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ – it’s not a heavy metal arrangement, but emotionally it’s as metal as the original and you just want to hear it live with mates and a pint or two, in a darkened cavern venue, the sound reverberating off low slung curved ceilings.

Like all good mix tapes, it’s hard to pick favourite tracks (a mixtape is a work of contemplated curation, nothing would be on there that you didn’t think was good) but I’d give a particular mention, not only to the uptempo Clash, Feelgood, AC/DC covers, but also to Dayton’s version of Elton John’s ‘Country Comfort’ and a great version of ‘Just What I Needed’, originally by The Cars.

The album I got for review was on CD but it’s available in a number of formats – including cassette. Dayton produced it himself and he is on tour in America currently.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: https://www.jessedayton.com/bio/

PHIL LANGRAN – Skywriting (Longshore Drift LODR001)

SkywritingPraised by Kathryn Williams and produced by Boo Hewerdine, who also contributes guitar, harmonium and dulcitone to Skywriting, veteran Nottingham singer-songwriter Langram comes from the old school of troubadours, his keenly observed songs gentle, wistful and poetic, his voice seasoned with the years.

The bucolic ‘Bright Autumn Sky’ with its love of nature opens the album and sets the template for what follows and, while love song ‘World Enough’ sings of him shivering and shaking with emotion, the song itself is serene, a mood never broken by the ensuing eleven songs. ‘Leave To Live (Etechachan)’ sketches a portrait of a “barefoot child” as she “peels back the peat from the moorland” and ‘Time’s Dark Wing’ treats on mortality (“all the treasures we bring/Gathered under time’s dark wing”).

Elsewhere, there’s a disconsolate mood permeating ‘The Diamond Wheel’ where “we all dream or dreams alone”, while, on a more positive note, ‘Snow Angels’ talks of that, a Emily Dickinson might put it, certain slant of light when “The hours fall away/From the veil of time/To show the best of strangers/The way things were”.

At times he reminds me of the mellow aspects of Jim Croce while, Hewerdine on vibes, the jazz-shaded ‘Snow Angels’ conjures a mix of Al Stewart and Brian Protheroe.

Don’t come to Skywriting looking for social angst, but if you hanker after reflective songs that paint musical and lyrical landscapes, sharing the spirit of writers like Robert Frost and John Clare, then the slow waltzer ‘Snow on the Mountain’, the sense of wonder in the brief ‘Camera In The Sky’ (“Look up my little one/Look up on high/To all the future all around you”) and the fading relationship drawn in ‘Injury Time’ (”You hide your hand, I hide my heart”) will prove soothing balm.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.phillangranband.com

‘Bright Autumn Sky’:

 

Chris Ricketts to release a new album after seven year gap

Chris Ricketts

After seven years away from the folk scene, Chris Ricketts announces a much anticipated new album of self-penned sea songs and re-visited traditional shanties for 2020.  Renowned for his unique take on sea song classics Chris promises his best work yet. The album is titled Songs In The Key Of Sea, a humorous name that accurately reflects the intelligent, quick-witted storytelling at live performances.

The album features Ricketts’ usual suspects including Feast Of Fiddles’ Garry Blakeley, the extreme talent of Steve Hampton (Dead Crow Road), fan favourite Matt Blackwell (piano) and newcomer David Dove (acoustic guitar).

The release will be supported with a tour featuring these musicians that includes dates in the UK, Canada and Europe throughout June and July. This will be leading up to the official release date at a well known festival at the start of August (yet to be announced). Physical copies of the album will be available only at live shows prior to this release date.

Ricketts’ previous albums have been endorsed and praised favourably by the likes of BBC Radio 2, BBC Introducing, CBC Canada, R2 magazine, fRoots, Brightyoungfolk.com, folking.com, Acoustic Magazine, Spiral Earth, Folk London to name just a few.

Artist’s website: http://www.rickettsmusic.com

To whet your appetite. Chris calls this version of ‘Shenandoah’ a rough mix but it sounds good to us:

AIDAN O’ROURKE & KIT DOWNES – 365 Volume 2 (Reveal Records Reveal018CDX)

365 Volume 2Having been privileged to see Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes performing their 365 Volume 1 in 2018, the release of 365 Volume 2 was extremely high on my “most anticipated” list. And rightly so. This two-disc album presents a further 25 compositions inspired by (and fully the equal of) author James Robertson’s virtuoso short-story collection 365: stories.

The music contains its own energy and works perfectly as a standalone piece but, when combined with reading Robertson’s stories (presented in the CD booklet), a strange sympathetic magic occurs. O’Rourke’s music is, after all, created in response to Robertson’s tales and perhaps this is what creates additional sensory depth when the two art forms coincide: a rich, dense, absorbing world evolves with slow-burning intensity.

As in 365 Volume 1, this is a fairly minimalist piece featuring two highly skilful musicians making graceful, richly textural sound paintings – listen to ‘That Place, Mick Said, Christ What A Hole’ or ‘Off The Motorway And Onto The Short Cut, Over The Hill’, to pick just two. A masterful, controlled tightness of playing exists between Downes on piano or harmonium and O’Rourke’s fiddle, yet the overall feeling is free and loose-limbed.

Naturally, traditional music influences feature large, emphatically Scottish in the bluster of ‘That Braggart Has It Coming To Him’, ‘I Met Him Only Once’ and the rustic ‘On This Day The First Recorded Total Eclipse Of Scotland Took Place’. Almost-cheery jigs are slyly subverted in ‘There’s A Rumour Going Round, We Don’t Know What It Is, But We All Get In Line’ and ‘One Day She Decided To Open Her Own Library’, to create a fidgety tension.

Folky motifs also seem favoured to sketch in elements of the natural and supernatural, as in the darkly atmospheric ‘Now You Know About Clootie Wells, Do You?’, the brightly surreal ‘Douglas And Aileen Stood In Front Of The Blue Plaque’ or ‘They’d Start Their Calling Around Midnight’, this last twining vine-like around a jazzy piano.

Angular atonalities slant by like icy rain in ‘We Drove Down That Road Saddened By My Father’ and ‘Right William, Trolley Duty, Kev Said’. The modernist jagged repetition, (think a less-saccharine Einaudi) in ‘The Film Was Preceded By A Warning’ would make a great setting for contemporary dance.

365 Volume 2 is an intimately-recorded performance with each piece a beautiful, vividly-coloured miniature portrait, a perfectly executed distillation of emotion and style. All life is here: drama, empathy, wit and melancholy. The scale of this ambitious project remains as awe-inspiring as the consistently superlative quality of the results.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.aidanorourke.net

Read about the installation at Edinburgh Book Fair here.

‘There’s A Rumour Going Round, We Don’t Know What It Is, But We All Get In Line’: