JOHN MOSEDALE – We’re Not Packing Parachutes (own label)

We're Not Packing ParachutesEarlier 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 sure they didn’t get a Spitfire into the studio. Three of the ten tracks are written by fellow solo singer Rob Carey and one, the best track on the album, is a co-write.

The title track which opens the record is a metaphor that I’m still trying to work out. I think it may be about mental health and feelings of the need to escape sometimes. It’s followed, neatly, by the first of Rob’s songs, ‘Not Every Parachute Was Made For War’. This is an exercise in nostalgia beginning in the apple orchards of Kent and soldier setting off for WWII. The narrative isn’t explicit about whether the soldier returned but the inclusion of the opening bars of ‘The Last Post’ suggests otherwise.

One of John’s specialities is the humorous song of the type popular in folk clubs back in the 60s. That was then and this is now and you can’t get near the knuckle anymore. ‘Always Putting My Foot In It’ may be a clever idea that works well in a live setting but shouldn’t be allowed inside a recording studio and Carey’s ‘Plastered In Paris’ seems lyrically illogical. ‘My Dog Has 3 Balls’, which appeared on the EP, is a tribute to John’s Labrador and not a triple entendre although still full of gags while ‘Doc Brown’s Car’ suggests humour but is full of nostalgia for the 50s. I’m sure that you can work out what make it is.

John isn’t the first singer to turn to music full-time after escaping the nine-to-five and ‘Old Man In The Mirror’ is a wry meditation on the aging process. Finally, we have ‘Remember Me’, the best song in the set. It begins oddly with the singer enumerating pi (but only to five decimal places) but develops into a contemplation of Alzheimer’s from the point of view of a carer. It deserves to reach the widest possible audience.

John has enjoyed a successful first year on the circuit and We’re Not Packing Parachutes certainly won’t do him any harm.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.johnmosedale.com

‘My Dog Has 3 Balls’:

BENJI KIRKPATRICK AND THE EXCESS – Gold Has Worn Away (Westpark Music LC07535)

Gold Has Worn AwayGold 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 as a surprise to most people, but I asked for this album to review as I wondered what Pete Thomas had been up to not having seen him since a gig with Megan Henwood in late 2018. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t come across either Benji Kirkpatrick’s or Pete Flood’s work even though they are associated with such bands as Bellowhead and Faustus. What have I missed out on?

This debut album from the trio was recorded at Henwood Studios by Pete Brown and Adventures in Audio by Matt Williams and the guest musicians are Rowan Godel and Janie Mitchell. The production is fantastic and every song crisp and fresh.

The subject matter covered is, as with many musicians these days, a comment on today’s social and political environment with a touch of personal perspective. That said the songs are in the main vibrant and upbeat and get the head nodding and fingers drumming the steering wheel.

I’m not sure who Benji would say who his influences were for this album, but as I grew up listening to mainstream rather than folk music I hear Yes, early Genesis, Robert Palmer and Joe Jackson, not many folk names in that list I know, but this is an album hard to categorise in any one genre.

The tracks I particularly enjoyed were “In Your Cave” (reminded me of ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’) and who can’t smile at a track called “Stuck In The Loop”, which is one of the three instrumentals included in this gem of thirteen track album. This is a 5* album as golden as the CD sleeve, so go and have a listen.

I think they would be a fun band to see live and I’m regretting missing out on their UK tour in the summer, especially as they’d got as close to me as Winchester. Hopefully it won’t be too long before they tour again.

Duncan Chappell

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

‘Fill My Heart’:

THE YEHLA COLLECTIVE – Steel Strings And Iron Curtains – Songs that Ignited The Downfall of Communism (Sun King Records)

Steel Strings And Iron CurtainsIt’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 – in partnership with Sun King Records and a group of musicians known as the Yehla Collective – on the 17th November it published the CD Steel Strings And Iron Curtains.

The Yehla Collective is an international group of musicians from the area around Washington, D.C. that includes Czech musician Bohuslav Rychlík and Slovak guitarist Tomáš Drgoň. America, Moravia and Armenia are also represented in the group by other members of the collective – including Anna Connolly, Ian Jones, David Keplinger, Christine Kharazian and Reggie Love – who have a range of musical experience from punk to folk, from rock to jazz and classical music, and the range of settings here reflects that wide spectrum. While some tracks lean towards gypsy jazz, the CD is nudged towards Central/Eastern Europe tradition by the use of the Slovak fujara (a contrabass fipple flute) and koncovka overtone flutes.

The record comprises ten ‘protest’ songs with political undertones by Czech songwriters Karel Kryl and Jaromir Novahica. These poetic yet subtly subversive lyrics – not so subtle as to escape the attention of the Communist authorities, though, since Kryl’s songs were officially banned before the revolution – have been translated into English by Plamen founder and publishing director Roman Kostovski.

My extraordinarily limited knowledge of Slovak doesn’t run to assessing the accuracy of these translations from the Czech, but they do seem to me to work very well indeed in English. Comparisons have been drawn with Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits: certainly I can understand comparisons with Cohen, especially, not only lyrically but in terms of the eclectic musical styles and arrangements. You might even see occasional similarities of expression with Brel or even Brecht.  Here’s the track listing: songs marked with a single asterisk are credited to Karel Kryl and Roman Kostovski while songs by Jaromir Novahica and Roman Kostovski are marked with a double asterisk.

  1. ‘The Angel’* is said to be Kryl’s most popular song. With its acoustic guitars and flute, it’s quite folky.
  2. ‘The Comet’** is apparently Novahica’s most popular song and perhaps refers to Halley’s Comet, which last visited the Solar System in 1986. The comet is often seen as presaging major changes/events (the Norman invasion of 1066, the Great War, the Velvet Revolution…). Given the present state of the world, perhaps it’s a matter for regret that it isn’t due back till 2061. But given the present state of society, perhaps he’s correct in believing that we won’t be around by the. Structurally, the song reminds me of some of Brel’s songs such as ‘Port Of Amsterdam’.
  3. ‘Morituri Te Salutant’* (“We who are about to die salute you”) seems to compare the mandatory acquiescence of the gladiator to that of the soldier. It’s a very powerful song with echoes of both Cohen and Brel.
  4. ‘Magdalene’** seems deeply pessimistic on a more personal level.
  5. The arrangement of ‘Sarajevo’** puts a slightly gypsy jazz framework around a Balkan theme. I guess back in the day the very mention of a church wedding might have worried the authorities.
  6. Though ‘Salome’* has a distinctly Eastern European setting, the melody actually reminds me somewhat of the Scottish song/lullaby ‘Chì Mi Na Mòrbheanna’, better known as the tune used by Jim McLean for ‘Smile In Your Sleep’. In combination with the harsh, unsettling lyric, it makes for a powerful musical statement.
  7. ‘The Wastrel’** has a particularly interesting and poetic lyric, in a disturbing sort of way.
  8. ‘Habet’*, like ‘Salome’, borrows imagery and even the name of Herod from the Christian mythos as a metaphor for a cruel 20th-century modernity.
  9. ‘Petersburg’** has a distinctly uptempo gypsy jazz feel set against a slightly Pushkinesque story. I’d rather like to hear Daria Kulesh sing this, but this is a good version. The trumpet gives it a slightly jokey dimension, but perhaps that’s meant as a counterweight to the exaggeratedly suicidal lyric.
  10. ‘A Heart And A Cross’*: yes, I can certainly see why songs like this would have been banned. A dramatic and satisfying end to the CD.

While the publisher’s claim that these songs “ignited the downfall of Communism” might be a little overblown, there’s no doubt that these “powerful and existential lyrics” were and still are immensely important to those who survived the Communist era, and Steel Strings And Iron Curtains would be an important social and historical artefact irrespective of its literary and musical merit in terms of high culture. However, Plamen quite rightly regards this as literary project as well as a music project. While some of the vocals are a little patchy, the music is engagingly presented, and to me the lyrics are worth the price of the CD. It would be well worth your taking a look at the promotional video to get more idea of what the music is like. (More information and the promotional video are here.)

David Harley

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Karel Kryl sings ‘Habet’ in the original Czech:

RANT – The Portage (Make Believe Records, MBR8CD)

The PortageThe 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 sound is airy, clean and wonderfully detailed. And from the moment the uplifting swirls of ‘Göran Berg’s’ curl up into the air before metamorphosing into its more melancholy companion piece, ‘Crow Road Croft’, it’s obvious that this album is something truly special.

The spaces between the notes make themselves felt in ‘Sir Ronald McDonald’s Reel’, as the snaking lead winds around a volley of plucking before a graceful downward swoop suddenly gets scooped up into the upwardly spiralling motif of ‘Johhny D’s’, served over a dark chocolate richness.

A change in mood comes with the measured and wistful ‘Now Westlin Winds’, before a sprightly ‘Annie Allan’ (with its dark colouring to the playing over an intriguing reggae syncopation) bridges into the Scandinavian ‘Hambo’, a tune with an altogether more classical edge, somewhat Strauss-like in its melodic ebb and flow.

‘Rosemarkie Man’ feels like a blustery walk along windswept Scottish coastlines, while ‘Arnt Ivar’s Polska’ is more stately, tenderly-twining embrace than lively dance tune. An angular prickliness opens ‘The Rescue Man’, warming up as it reaches the sprightly gallop of ‘Pam’s Hoose’. There’s a sensitive flourish to Andy Cutting’s ‘Altfechan’, as it spins out its central, gracefully climbing motif.

The spartan traditional lament of ‘Nach Truagh Mo Chàs’ (‘Hard Is My Fate’) is a tune of such intense mournfulness as to move even the hardest heart. Avoiding mawkishness, it makes for a real sustained hit of raw emotion, after which ‘The Portage’ very sensibly picks up gently. Tasting of salty sea air on a chilly bright day, it’s an affectionate and hopeful tune and a very fitting place to end the album.

Not a note feels out of place or unnecessary in the arrangements, and the performances are absolutely stunning. Whether writing their own tunes or arranging others’ work, Rant captivatingly weave together classical styles and the drive of traditional folk playing, all with an open, contemporary feel. The Portage is a flawless album of understated perfection.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.rantfiddles.com

‘Göran Berg’s/Crow Road Croft’:

LORRAINE JORDAN – Send My Soul (Hazelville Music HZ013)

Send My SoulBorn 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 it, ‘Heavenly Voices’ offers an intermingling of both Celtic (fairy rings) and Catholic (angel wings) archetypes, all to the accompaniment of strings, piano and Steafan Hannigan’s low whistle.

Backed by just guitar, piano and strings, again drawing on mysticism, ‘Light Seekers’ raises a musical glass to “dreamers of the night” and “distant healers working through these troubled times” and make you feel like smiling rather than crying. Again featuring Hannigan, this time on duduk, with Jordan on bouzouki and Gill Hunter adding accordion, ‘Desert Sands’ has an Eastern tinge and snake charmer sway to a song that falls firmly into the ‘to see you again’ category.

There’s rather less of a sympatico nature to the relationship on ‘Say It Now’ (“you’re smiling but the smile I see/is not a smile that makes me feel/that you and I have made our peace”), Jordan harmonising with herself and Sean Whelan accompanying on mandolin.

She describes the lovely understated Celtic spiritual title track as “a reflection upon society”, not a particularly upbeat one as she talks of walking lonely streets, her soul lost and how “I can’t tell you when/I stopped listening/I can’t tell you/When I stopped believing”, John Wallace on resonator solo and the backing voices gathering on the chorus as she declares herself “ready to be found”.

That theme of looking to be found, of searching for glimmers of light, of rising above the obstacles of life and love runs throughout the album, finding expression on the likes of the quiveringly sung ‘A Sign’, one of the few tracks to feature drums, ‘You Come To Me’ (which would seem to suggest Armatrading, Baez and Cat Stevens influences),the heady rhythms of ‘Gypsy Soul’ (Jackie Leven traces?) and the organ and piano-backed gospel tints of ‘Love Is All Around Us’.

It ends with, first, the five-minute slow but deliberate paced ‘The Riverside’, a song of those (a lonely, suicidal woman, a soldier seeking meaning to his life, a young girl emigrating to bring blue skies back) who have lost their compass (“someone has moved the northern star..led us too far along the path/left is to find our own way back”) and, finally, the waltzing, far more optimistic shuffle of ‘Minor To Major’ (“it feels like something is waking up in me” as the blues have “called farewell and adieu”.

I want to dance and sing and I want to spread my wings”, she sings at the start of the album. You should join her in the flight and soar.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.lorrainejordan.net

‘The Riverside’:

BILLY PRICE – Dog Eat Dog (Gulf Coast Records)

Dog Eat DogBilly Price, inducted as a Pittsburgh Rock ‘n’ Roll Legend, released Dog Eat Dog in September. If you’re looking for folk music (not unreasonably since we are the folking.com website), this isn’t the album for you. However, if you want something rather likeable which captures a great spirit from previous years, it’s well worth a listen. Price has won a 2016 Blues Music Award and to give you a sense of the album I’d describe it as being at that point where the border melds between blues, soul and rhythm & blues – though the latter term has come to define a different genre in recent years. Price’s vocal is to the fore, along with exuberant keyboards and brass.

So…..if you place yourself in the middle of that stream of music from, say, Booker T and the MG’s in the mid-sixties to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes in the late seventies, with an occasional touch of the new directions that Nile Rogers et al took the music in – that’s where this album is.

To give a flavour then, have a listen to ‘Walk Back In’. As the title suggests, it’s a break up/get together again song but you can’t listen to this without getting that sense of late night dance floor sheer joy, no doubt with everyone joining in the title refrain. Price’s vocal soars in tandem with his aching soul, his reformation and his recognition that he needs to be back with his lover. The keyboards swirl in support of the vocal, the brass kicks in, the rhythm is held tight, the song moves between full band to limited instrumentation behind his personal confession. If Wigan Casino were still in business, this would be on the track list.

There’s a similar bounce to ‘We’re In Love’, the funkier ‘All Night Long Café’, ‘Same Old Heartaches’. Elsewhere, Price shows a more intimate style on, say, ‘Lose My Number’ and ‘More Than I Needed’ but carries that classic soul-vocal-shift from calm to heart-grabbing crescendo in a way that belies his age.

If there comes a point where you just want to feel good, give this album a play – it’s not folk music but it’s rather fun and it’ll probably give you a boost.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: http://www.billyprice.com/index.php/#bio

‘Walk Back In’: