TOM PETTY AND BOB DYLAN – New York 1986 (Rox Vox RV2CD2128)

New York 1986In the mid-80s and in the midst of his own musical wasteland, Bob Dylan went down a number of different angles in a bid to rejuvenate his career. While some of these efforts were more successful than others, one of the more favourable endeavours from this time was his work with the late Tom Petty. Prior to their work with The Travelling Wilburys super group, Dylan and Petty took to the road, with the extensive True Confessions tour, beginning in February 1986. This double disc, New York 1986, released on the ‘Rox Vox’ label presents an entire concert recording, from a rainy night in Saratoga Springs, New York, from July of that year.

Opening with Dylan’s onstage entrance, it is immediately clear that this is not a recording, originally intended for release, and indeed there are several, similar cuts throughout the duration of the 32 song double album. With the backing of Petty’s Heartbreakers, the lion’s share of the set comes from Dylan, who draws from his own extensive catalogue; fusing solid gold classics, with some of his lesser remembered 1980s works.

Decent live versions of ‘I’ll Remember You’ and ‘When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky’ from 1985’s ‘Empire Burlesque’ are worth a listen, as are Tom Petty’s contributions; particularly ‘Straight Into The Darkness’, ‘Even The Losers’, ‘Spike’ and ‘Waiting’ – even if on-stage sound issues detract from the audio quality of this particular version. From the Dylan camp, there are re-workings of 60s classics; including a punchy version of ‘Positively 4th Street’, an enjoyable guitar and harmonica led rendition of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, a rock n roll styled ‘Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35’ as well as alternative, electric delivery of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’. Some songs don’t translate as well however, ‘Masters Of War’, for example, doesn’t need a minute long guitar solo. What makes the recording most interesting, however, is the handful of covers, performed and confined by Dylan to his 1980s tours. ‘Unchain My Heart’ which opens the album is a good example of this, as is ‘Lonesome Town’ by Ricky Nelson which kicks off disc two – although it does take so long to start you may find yourself double checking that you actually pressed ‘play’. Renditions of Ry Cooder’s ‘Across The Borderline’ and ‘We Had It All’ (by Donny Fritts and Troy Seals) are also worthwhile inclusions.

While I do like Tom Petty, I’m generally really not a fan of mid-80s Bob, but overlooking some of this recording’s audio inconsistencies, this is actually a very enjoyable album. It is a live document of a curious partnership which failed to produce an official studio album. The song selection is relatively unusual and true to Dylan form, for better or worse, the live versions of the live standards are unique to their own time and place.

Christopher James Sheridan

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‘Positively 4th Street’ live from 1986:

KITTY MACFARLANE – Namer Of Clouds (Navigator Records, NAVIGATOR104)

Namer Of CloudsGiven the praise heaped on Kitty Macfarlane’s 2016 EP, Tide & Time, expectations are understandably high for her first full-length album release, Namer Of Clouds.

Macfarlane’s light soprano, paired with an equally light-fingered plucky guitar, nonetheless contains a filament of controlled determination. Softness and steel are never far apart, even in the delightful gentle lullaby of ‘Dawn And Dark’.

Macfarlane’s strong poetic sensibility is evident from the CD booklet: song lyrics rarely read well but here they hold their own, even against Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, ‘Inversnaid’. Her songs often pull focus in a graceful shift from particular to abstract, like ‘Namer Of Clouds’ where Luke Howard’s original cloud identification system forms the starting point for contemplating the human need to name – and thus own – the world. Jacob Stoney’s riffling keyboard and the dense, layered swell of the arrangement underscore the narrative movement.

‘Seventeen’ is a rites of passage song with an underlying chill, much like ‘Frozen Charlotte’, an Appalachian cautionary tale of the perils of not wearing your big coat. Its finale, stripping away the instrumentation, allows an intense intimacy to the vocal, an idea also used effectively in ‘Morgan’s Pantry’, whose softly pounding drum, gull calls and water sounds add atmosphere to Macfarlane’s softly rasping vocal.

‘Sea Silk’ tells of Chiara Vigo, keeper of an almost fairytale tradition of the spinning of brownish clam silk into a golden thread by the womenfolk of Sant’Antioco island, off Sardinia. There’s a real sense of joy and wonder in chronicling this disappearing skill, and a slightly manic glee at accomplishing the feat.

As mentioned before in these pages, there’s a real vogue at present for adding ambient natural recordings and Macfarlane’s no exception, right from opener ‘Starling Song’, loaded with birdsong over a lean, steely slick of guitars and percussion to the closing ‘Inversnaid’ with its celebration of ‘the weeds and the wilderness’.

Studio wizardry is generally skilfully and subtly deployed and arrangements are convincing, although a folk rock re-working of ‘Wrecking Days’ doesn’t feel entirely comfortable. A handful of Lost Boys lend their creative talents, with Graham Coe’s tender cello fleshing out the softly-spoken defiance of ‘Man, Friendship’ and Jamie Francis’s lithe, writhing guitar under the migrationary musings of ‘Glass Eel’.

Macfarlane’s debut certainly doesn’t disappoint: it’s an assured and confident album that delivers all that the EP promised, and more.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.kittymacfarlane.com

‘Man, Friendship’ – official video:

 

 

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

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

‘Dark, Dark, Dark’ – official audio:

PETE SEEGER BIG BILL BROONZY – Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University (Echoes ECHO2CD2077)

Cahn AuditoriumAnother recording from the vaults is Pete Seeger and Big Bill Broonzy from the Cahn Auditorium at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, 1956 – a time in which McCarthyism was rife and the blacklist meant that performances in college and university campuses were Seeger’s main outlet. The performance is unscripted and unplanned, but in its own way, quite formal; with Seeger and Broonzy taking turns at listening to and performing for each other – occasionally performing together.

Seeger’s repertoire is vast, and draws from student songs, children’s songs, hits recorded by The Weavers (‘Kisses Sweeter Than Wine’) as well as his own compositions like ‘The Goofing Off Suite’. Of course, traditional, folkie standards are an important part of the set too; ‘Mrs McGrath’ and ‘This Train Is Bound For Glory’, for instance, which inspired the Bruce Springsteen Seeger Sessions LP and subsequent tour just over a decade ago. Alongside these, are folk songs from other corners of the globe; the Seeger staple, ‘Wimoweh’ from South Africa; songs in the Spanish language like ‘Que Bonita Bandera’, (a patriotic Puerto Rican anthem) and a devotional Hindu song, widely popularised by Mahatma Gandhi, titled ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’.

As always, Big Bill Broonzy’s performances are exceptional and his accompanying guitar work is stunning; ‘Glory of True Love’ and ‘Willie Mae’ on disc 1 are good examples of this, as is, a well picked rendition of ‘John Henry’ on disc 2, which really enables Broonzy to thoroughly demonstrate his talents.

This is a recording of two legendary artists on top form and in their prime. Their songs and performances don’t need my endorsement, and more than speak for themselves, making for a mighty fine double album with a great collection of songs, which are a pleasure to listen to whether you are just discovering or merely re-discovering the music of Pete Seeger and Big Bill Broonzy.

Christopher James Sheridan

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).

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Again, there is no relevant web-site but the album is available from the usual websites.

‘Midnight Special’ live at Cahn Auditorium:

LONGSTAY – Calling Me Home (Goldrush Records, GOLDCD017)

Calling Me HomeCalling Me Home is the debut album from Longstay, a precocious Perth quintet, still with an average age of only 17 – and with four years’ experience already behind them. These super-confident players are firmly rooted in Country and Americana, with more than a hint of the ‘70s thrown in. Yet there’s an unmistakable Scottishness woven through it all, adding a distinct tang to their rocking sound.

From the off, the poppy ‘Mariah’ sets the tone for a slew of songs that show a strong instinct for a killer hook. Band songwriter Callum Campbell shows an easy ear for melody and some mature storytelling in the eight original tracks featured here. Campbell and Malcolm Swan together create an interesting vocal balance with impressive harmonisation, such as on the loping ‘Forever’ with its late-60s organ fills.

Where ‘Too Long’ is a full-on growling rockout (shades of Pearl Jam about the vocal), ‘My Turn’ is a swaggering bar-room strut. ‘Thoughts I Can’t Help’ and ‘Summerton’ are both slow-burners that flesh out as they go. There’s more vulnerability in the gentle keyboard refrain that starts ‘Remember’, a decidedly Scottish lament, brushed across with lap steel and telling a dark tale.

Of the covers, the train-like shuffle of ‘A Ring Of Fire’ (Munro/McElligott, not Carter Cash/Kilgore) features some hot fiddling from Dave Macfarlane. A driving version of John Fogerty’s ‘Lodi’ contains rhythmic hints of ‘Proud Mary’ – not surprising in a band much influenced by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Chris Stapleton’s more recent song, ‘Fire Away’ gets a swaying ‘lighters-aloft’ anthemic treatment which rather suits it.

The album ends with the uptempo, early-90s sounding ‘Leaving’ with its bright brass section that calls to mind bands like The Rembrandts, Deep Blue Something and their ilk. It’s another insanely catchy song rousing to an abrupt finish. You may well find your imagination filling in the ensuing silence with a crowd’s uproarious applause.

Longstay’s brand of Scottish-American contemporary country rock proves to be joyous, infectious and energetic. If this is the standard of where they are at now, let’s hope they will be in for the long stay: we should be in for a treat.

Su O’Brien

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).

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Artists’ website: www.longstayband.com

‘Mariah’ – live:

ANNE MARIE ALMEDAL – Lightshadow (VMP 18/012 CD)

LightshadowAnne Marie Almedal is a Norwegian singer and composer whose album, Lightshadow, is now on release. Almedal, was the lead singer of the band Velvet Belly from 1989 – 2003 and has released a number of solo albums since then, a little more folk oriented than those I’ve listened to by the band.

Lightshadow has a classy sound to it, at times almost orchestral, occasionally almost ambient in its accompaniment. Her vocals are precise – sometimes breathy, sometimes with the vocal flourishes of a show singer. To give a mixed analogy to singers better known in in the U.K., the vocals and arrangements remind me of something somewhere between Judy Collins and Kate Bush.

All but one of the songs are written by Almedal and her partner Nicholas Sillitoe. Perhaps the most easily accessible is the single, ‘Sheltering Sky’ which you can hear in the video link below, which is quite lovely – folk-pop perhaps? I also like ‘Hard Times’ with a predominantly soaring vocal against the piano and strings which then finishes quietly, strings stilled, and the lyrics “I wish I was unbreakable/ That every wound would heal/ How strong it would make me/ feel”.

Lightshadow, I suspect, will speak to those who are already fans. I’ve enjoyed listening to the album but found it a little too stylized in places. However, that probably says as much about my preference for music which is a bit more raw than this as it does about Lightshadow, because the album is well played, well produced and beautifully sung.

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: http://www.annemariealmedal.com

‘Sheltering Sky’: