GREGORY ALAN ISAKOV – Evening Machines (Dualtone Records)

Evening MachinesEvening Machines was released on October 5th, Isakov’s fifth album. Isakov is a full time farmer in Colorado, who tends to his music career in the winter (he has his studio in a barn on his farm). He has been described as an indie-folk artist. This feels like a full life – it’s difficult enough keeping a farm going, but Isakov has also sold a large number of albums (370,000), impressive for a musician who hitherto has released them only via his own label.

The music is more indie than folk – a rich sound pervades the album, a wall of sound behind the tracks which is more Elbow and Eels than Spector but nonetheless providing a unity of mood to the album. Even ‘Bullet Holes’, the track which is most obviously from the acoustic-Guthrie-tradition (‘Chemicals’ is the other one) moves from the initial sparse acoustic guitar and vocal into this wider tone as the song develops through the addition of background vocals and instrumentation.

Isakov’s vocals are understated, held back so they don’t dominate the mix on the songs – but in many ways the more powerful because of it. Have a listen to ‘Dark, dark, dark’ – “Won’t you sing me something for the dark, dark, dark” – in the link below and you’ll get a feel.

The lyrics have the same ability to hold the attention without overwhelming, a mood built by imagery. ‘Chemicals’ has a great line, “You saw her bathing in the creek/Now you’re jealous of the water” but in general Evening Machines isn’t an album of songs where you’re going to pull out individual lines. The lyrics merge into the musical sound as a whole. You can get a feel for their broader poetic quality in the following as the images build their ambiguity to the concluding title line of ‘Was I Just Another One’

Did you ever find the garden/where the doves go to bathe
did you open up your heart there/or were you quiet and afraid

did you light up every lantern/your flame whipping against the wind
or did you fall back to the alleys/with all your secrets to defend

between the cities and the temple/between the jury and the judge
gavel pounds down like thunder/that’s inside of all of us

were we kids out in the desert/or birds running cross the sun
did I stumble through your darkness/or was I just another one

Not just because of Isakov’s background (though presumably this is part of it?) it feels like you’re listening to the quieter countryman whose voice carries the room not because he dominates, but because what he says quietly is more musical and more worth listening to than the loud person trying to hold attention.

Isakov has a short tour of the UK from December 4th – 9th, details on his website.

Mike Wistow

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

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

‘Dark, Dark, Dark’ – official audio:

The Great British Folk Festival 2018

The Great British Folk Festival 2018

Hi-de-Hi! Hi-De-Ho! to all the team at The Great British Folk Festival 2018 at the Butlin’s Skegness resort.

Yep, its that time of the year again when “That Old Sweet Folk and Roll” comes to Skeggy and the “Blood, Sweat & Tears” of the Bultlin’s Live Music Weekend calendar, clashes with their other Electric Dreams weekend event in Bognor (where you can see Pat Sharp and join the Eighties music themed Pool Party). There is some brilliant banter already on the ‘Live Music Weekends’ facebook page suggesting that one individual would ‘rather watch paint dry’ than make the trip up North. Well, all we can say is your ‘folking loss Me Ol’ Mucker’ as I believe there is workshop on the Saturday morning up in Skeggy for that.

Look at that line-up above! Where else are you going to get that sort of a bill during 30 November to 2 December?

Anyway, you can probably tell that we are excited to the point of delirium so I’ll hand you over to folking.com’a answer to “Smashie” (I’m apparently Nicey), Mr Paul ‘How are Ya’ Johnson who is going to say a few words…

For tickets and more information visit GBFF 2018

Darren Beech

Here is Dai Jeffries excellent review from 2015 to get you in the mood.

THE GREAT BRITISH FOLK FESTIVAL, Skegness, 4th-7th December

Catty Pearson releases debut EP

Catty Pearson

London singer-songwriter Catty Pearson, with her musical roots planted in folk, country and blues and her head set on unravelling some of the confusion she feels in today’s world, releases a stunning debut EP Time Tells Me (reviewed in our recent Singles Bar) on Wednesday 24th October, recorded by Rolling Stones producer Chris Kimsey. The launch gig is at Laylow in Notting Hill, London, on October 23rd with Ollie Clarke on the guitar, Lukas Drinkwater on the double bass and bass, Duncan on the mandolin and violin and James Larter on the drums.

These song hold up a mirror and reflect, beautifully and poignantly, what many of us are thinking and feeling.

“Her voice forms an oasis of serenity amidst the chaos of the world.” A fan. 

The new collection was recorded with Chris Kimsey, best known for his work producing the Rolling Stones at legendary Olympic Sound Studios:

“when you listen to Catty Pearson, take a deep, deep breath as her gracious soothing voice transports your blood pressure and heartbeat to a new vista. Truly unspoilt, a breath of Mother Earth.”

Catty, who has been compared to Norah Jones, describes Time Tells Me as her enquiry into materialism and the insidious creeping of technology into all areas our lives.

It’s not unusual for a singer-songwriter to question the state of the world today in their songs. What IS rare is to discover a young musician as prepared as she is to turn words into actions. Catty has lived with a tribe in Malaysia, walked across parts of Northern India with 1000 nuns to raise awareness of and help educate people about the detrimental effects of plastic and pollution on our planet, worked on a farm in California to learn skills for sustainable living, and most recently swam from Albania to Corfu to help raise funds for an orphanage.

So when she talks about the passion behind her writing, we know she’s not just paying lip service, and nor is she preaching. Instead she holds up a mirror and reflects, beautifully and poignantly, what many of us are thinking and feeling.

Catty grew up listening to the sounds of Neil Young, Donovan, Cat Stevens, Norah Joans, Eva Cassidy, Joan Armastrading, Bob Dylan, David Grey, Eddie Vedder, Moby and Leonard Cohen.

Time Tells Me will be released on Spotify and iTunes via AWAL. The EP features Ollie Clarke on the guitar, Evan Jenkins on drums, Lukas Drinkwater on the base and double base, Flora Curzon on the violin, Nichol Thompson on the trombone and Jansen Santana playing percussion.

Artist’s website: cattypearson.com/

London launch gig: 8pm Laylow, 10 Golborne Road, W10 5PE

‘Electricity’ – the first single:

SINGLES BAR 34 – A round-up of recent EPs and singles

JOHN SMITH – Hummingbird (Commoner COMM01CD)

HummingbirdJohn Smith is a name I’ve been circling around for some time without actually hearing him so I was delighted when his new album, Hummingbird, his sixth, fell into my lap. I now have some serious catching up to do. If you haven’t encountered him yet you should know that John is a fine fingerpicking guitarist and songwriter with a very individual take on traditional songs.

John names his influences as John Renbourn and Richard Thompson. The former is obvious from his guitar style and the latter becomes so with the opening song in this set. ‘Hummingbird’ is a beautiful song of love yearned for, gained and lost and also a middle class homage to ‘Beeswing’. If you’re not immediately grabbed by it you should be listening to some other music. The second original song here is the fiery ‘Boudica’, the story of Iceni queen bolstered by strings and the third is the long modern murder ballad, ‘Axe Mountain (Revisited)’, which comes straight after the traditional ‘Willy Moore’. Whether this is actually a murder ballad is hard to say, although the set-up of the first three verses suggests it, but it feels more like a story of thwarted love and suicide.

It’s John’s approach to traditional songs that really engaged me, though. He approaches them as though they were modern with a changed note here and there and a contemporary inflection in his voice. ‘Hares On The Mountain’ has more recorded versions than you can shake a stick at but he makes you listen to it afresh as he does with ‘Lord Franklin’, a favourite of mine, I must admit.

The odd man out is Anne Briggs’ ‘The Time Has Come’ performed in the style of a sixties guitar player which is entirely appropriate given that John learned it via Renbourn. His band is used sparingly; there is lovely bass from Ben Nicholls and fiddle and whistle from John McCusker with Cara Dillon adding vocals to the closing ‘Unquiet Grave’. Sam Lakeman’s production is perfectly restrained and perfectly judged even when a song like ‘Axe Mountain’ is a temptation to pile on the drama.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: www.johnsmithjohnsmith.com

‘Hummingbird’:

Larkin Poe announce new album and European tour dates

Larkin Poe

Larkin Poe have announced details of their new album Venom & Faith, to be released November 9. The Nashville-based sister duo have also announced a headline European tour in support of the new album, starting in London at Islington Assembly Hall on November 21 and taking in dates in Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain. The European dates will follow Larkin Poe’s featured guest performer spot on Keith Urban’s Graffiti U Tour across North America this autumn.

The follow-up to their critically acclaimed second album Peach, which was nominated for a Blues Music Award for Best Emerging Artist Album, Venom & Faith was produced by the band and their long-time engineer Roger Alan Nichols.

In a genre as storied as American roots and soul, Larkin Poe – aka Atlanta, Georgia-born sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell – make a mark all their own with Venom & Faith. Rather than concede to the history of the canon they hold dear or rest on their laurels, Larkin Poe persist and emerge rattling, stomping, and sliding into a modern-day depiction of what roots rock should sound like… another chapter in an everlasting story.

“It’s a celebration of American roots music as translated by two sisters who are playing the blues in a modern age,” says Rebecca about their new album.

Descendants of celebrated US writer Edgar Allen Poe, since forming Larkin Poe in 2010, Rebecca and Megan have proven a formidable duo both in and out of the studio. In 2014, producer T-Bone Burnett enlisted them for Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapes, a project that also saw contributions from Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons) Elvis Costello, Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), and Rhiannon Giddens. The sisters have performed at Glastonbury Festival twice, and were named ‘Best Discovery Of Glastonbury’ in 2014 by The Observer.

They have opened for and been in the backing band of Elvis Costello and Conor Oberst; and supported the likes of Gary Clark Jr. Rebecca and Megan were also members of the all-star backing band for the 2017 MusiCares Person Of The Year tribute honouring Tom Petty (also organized by Burnett) alongside Jakob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Elle King, Lucinda Williams, Gary Clark Jr., Don Henley, and Randy Newman.

Recorded in Nashville earlier this year in between headline shows, festival dates such as Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, Larkin Poe approached Venom & Faith with fierce independence. From Rebecca’s powerful vocals on “Ain’t Gonna Cry” to Megan’s sultry lap steel on ‘Good And Gone’, the sisters weave their talents into the fabric of their experience and a picture of the American South. ‘Blue Ridge Mountains’ harkens to the sisters’ hometown, “drinking sweet tea every day” with stomping percussion and churning riffs.

Still, the sisters maintain an outlaw mindset in a traditional genre. Unbound by tawdry embellishments, Larkin Poe infuse pop sensibilities into their sound, blending old-school elements of rock and soul with drum samples, hip-hop production values, and resonant lyrics like “California king-sized dreams in a twin bed.” Venom & Faith redefines what it means to make emotionally resonant music while also maintaining boundary-pushing musicality.

Save for two covers (‘Sometimes’ by blues legend Bessie Jones and Skip James’ ‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues’), the rest of the record’s tracks are Larkin Poe originals. Paired with unique production touches like organic percussion sounds — the thumping of dresser drawers, the slamming of back doors, and stomping on hardwood floors — Venom & Faith bleeds Lovell. The sisters once again perform all instruments on the album except on ‘Mississippi’ which enlists the slide stylings of friend and seasoned guitar legend Tyler Bryant.

The album’s title, Venom & Faith, is taken from a lyric on ‘Honey Honey’ and, according to the sisters, is intended to conjure a southern gothic image.

“The title of our last album, Peach, was an homage to our Georgia roots. With this album, we wanted a title that would allude to the duality of our art: gritty guitars offset by gentle vocals; musical moments of both tragedy and joy; the sacred and the profane.”

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.larkinpoe.com

‘Bleach Blonde Bottle Blues’ – official audio:

European Tour Dates

Wed 21 November           London, Islington Assembly Hall tickets
Fri 23 November              Berlin, Musik & Frieden tickets
Sun 25 November            Cologne, Luxor tickets
Mon 26 November           Munich, Strom tickets
Tue 27 November            Vienna, Flex tickets
Wed 28 November           Bergamo, Druso tickets
Sat 01 December              Madrid, Cool Stage tickets
Sun 02 December            Barcelona, Razzmatazz 2 tickets

JENNIFER BELL AND WILSON WALKER – …And So To Bedlam (own label JBWW01)

And So To BedlamIt isn’t often that a lutenist will send us a CD but Jennifer Bell did just that. Jennifer is a singer-songwriter and, in addition to lute, she plays 12-string guitar. In partnership with fiddler Wilson Walker and assisted by percussionist Neil Rabjohn she has released her debut album. …And So To Bedlam is a title that amused me when I first saw it.

At first I thought this album might be a bit too romantic for my taste. The first two tracks, ‘Winter’s My Lover’ and ‘Colours Of Harmony’, are quite stately as is quite a lot of the material. Jennifer avoids the feyness of Amazing Blondel and the bawdiness of the mediaeval festhall but brings her expertise in early music to her own songs without compromising either. The third track changes the emphasis. ‘The New Mistletoe Bough’ is a reworking of the old traditional song which is usually held to be an apocryphal story although everyone knows where it happened. Jennifer gives the tale not one but two macabre twists and that’s clever.

‘High Degree’ sets Jennifer’s word to a melody by Thomas Tallis. She solos on lute here and I can’t help but think that even one instrumental piece would have added a nice contrast. ‘The Lincoln Imp’ purports to describe the origin of the gargoyle in Lincoln cathedral and is a really jolly piece while the title track points the finger at the Victorian habit of visiting the local asylum for entertainment. Jennifer describes ‘Ashes In The Rain’ as a miserable song but it is rather lovely in its misery and then we come to my favourite song in the set. I was briefly disappointed to discover that ‘Oh Boy’ isn’t a cover of the Buddy Holly song but is a well-written and witty dialogue loosely based on Jennifer’s childhood. Finally, ‘The Pilgrim’s Song’ is about pilgrim fathers’ hopes and fears on leaving their home in Boston – see what she did there?

…And So To Bedlam is an album that rapidly grew on me. Jennifer Bell is a talented songwriter and although I prefer her narrative songs to the emotional ones – that’s true of me and most songwriters, actually – this is a very satisfying record.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.jenniferbellsongwriter.com

‘And So To Bedlam’: