MIKE TURNBULL – …In So Small A Compass (own label MTM03)

In So Small A CompassMike Turnbull’s debut, Circlet Of Gold, was a delightful vignette that began with the landscape of his native Lake District and told stories from here, there and everywhere. He sang and played every note but it was inevitable that he would stretch his metaphorical wings. …In So Small A Compass is produced by Lukas Drinkwater who also plays bass, guitar, banjo and percussion with Ciaran Algar on fiddle and Ewan Carson on bodhran.

On the first play I just gathered impressions. Mike hasn’t strayed far from the landscape – and seascape, for that matter – and birds feature heavily as a motif. Indeed, the sound of chattering birds leads into the opening ‘Seek Thy Brother’ which takes as its starting point the children’s magpie rhyme and maybe the old adage that if you see a lot of crows together, they’re rooks. Of course, it’s all a metaphor. ‘Boat Thief Song’ seems to stem from a memory of youthful mischief and is decorated by country tinged fiddle from Ciaran. Memories and birds appear again in ‘Heart Shaped Wood’, somewhere Mike probably knows well just like the landscapes he’s walking in ‘Between Breaths’ and ‘Sycamore Gap’, a song about the building of Hadrian’s Wall.

Mike is a fine story-teller, as his debut proved, so ‘Louisa’ isn’t about a lady but the famous overland launch of the Lynmouth lifeboat to Porlock in the teeth of a gale back in 1899. I’ve compared Mike to Seth Lakeman before (although I’m not sure he agrees with me) but this is just the sort of song that Seth would write. Sorry Mike. …In So Small A Compass is rather more poetic than I was expecting so ‘Edge Of The Map’ could be a tale of mediaeval sailors or, more likely, a metaphor for striking out in a new direction. There is nostalgia in ‘Lakeland Heart’ and romance in ‘Seabirds’ Call’ but also a sense of practicality – the couple are on the sea in a small boat travelling “once around the island” so there is no time to be soppy.

This is clearly a big step forward from Circlet Of Gold – much as I liked that record – but what is most impressive is the fact that Mike’s songwriting has maintained its quality. …In So Small A Compass is all meat and no filler.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: https://www.musicglue.com/mike-turnbull

‘Lakeland Heart’:

KALYN FAY – Good Company (Horton Records)

Good CompanyAfter international critical recognition for Caroline Spence and Courtney Marie Andrews, it’s time for the Tulsa-born singer-songwriter to step up to the plate and take her deserved place in the spotlight. Following on from her 2016 debut, Bible Belt, which was rooted in her father’s Cherokee heritage and her mother’s Christian beliefs, featuring John Fullbright on keys, Jesse Aycock on guitars, dobro and lap and pedal steel, and Carter Sampson and Jared Tyler among those providing harmonies, Good Company both consolidates and expands her prowess as both a writer and a singer on songs that explore her relationship with her home state of Oklahoma, looking forward rather than back.

It opens with her “staring out the window of this beat up old Camry” on the slow paced, wearyingly sung title track, seeking to break free of a life just running to stand still and how “we’re all just looking for something” though, for her, not, like her friend, settling for marriage and a family simply because that’s what you do. ‘Wait For Me’ has a more soulful edge to its sway as, accompanied by muted resonant guitar, she asks “will you miss me when I’m gone?”, underscoring the urge to get away but also the need to hold on to ties.

Riding a chugging rhythm and electric guitars crafting an open desert ambience, ‘Highway Driving has an appropriately more uptempo approach with its hints of Gretchen Peters and again talks of hitting the road even if you’ve “got no place to go and nowhere to run” in the hope that something or someone will turn up to provide a distraction.

Inspired by seeing both her friends and parents working through rough patches in their relationship, ‘Baby, Don’t You Worry’ is a slow, accordion-coloured barroom waltz about taking it slow, easing into the similarly paced, late evening bluesy post-break up ‘Come Around’ as she sings about “missing things I can’t seem to get over”, wondering whether “it’s pride I feel or an ache that I suffer” and planting her feet on steady ground, sustaining the mood with the pedal steel ache of ‘Long Time Coming’ and trying to put the past behind.

‘Oklahoma Hills’ lifts the pace slightly for a bluesy, organ-backed number about becoming tired of the road and thinking of things left behind as the seasons change and the songs of home are whispered in the wind and she pointedly admits “maybe I’m just a mess.” Another organ-paced slow waltz, ‘Alright In The End’ again has thoughts turned homewards and of “stars shining over Tulsa” and the hope “that they’re shining over you too.” Starting quietly, ‘Faint Memory’ maintains the reverie with thoughts of missing “slow dancing close in the living room and the record skips while it plays our tune”, remembering “the good times when life didn’t seem so bad”, and reflecting on how “sometimes it’s hard to see what you had”.

Veined with hints of The Band, the penultimate organ-based number, ‘Fool’s Heartbreak’, speaks of the challenges of moving on when you’re not even sure that’s what you want (“Feels like I’ve been working hard but I’m not sure what for/What’s the point of fighting if you don’t want the war”), waiting on the good times but “stuck in the chains of love” caught between “hell and the heavens above”.

It ends, a candle in the window, with the hauntingly lovely, dobro and accordion-stained ‘Dressed In White’, a song enrobed in grace and redemption, forgiveness and rebirth “calling for the best her father offered” as it gathers to a hymnal fall.

If there’s a criticism it’s that, because of the thematic nature of the songs, it can feel a little one-paced, and a little musical uplift might not have gone amiss, but, regardless, this is company you will want to keep close.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.kalynfay.com

‘Come Around’ – official video:

WEST OF EDEN – Flat Earth Society (West of Music WOMCD12)

Flat Earth SocietyIt’s a touch ironic that one of the best bands currently energising traditional British and Celtic folk music with a contemporary lens happens to come from Sweden. Comprising Lars Broman on fiddle, Martin Holmlund on bass, drummer Ola Karlevo, Henning Sernhede on lap steel and electric guitar and fronted by Jenny and Martin Schaub, the former on accordion and the latter playing assorted guitars, piano, cittern and mandolin, they’ve been playing music since 2005 and this is their eighth album (two of them being Celtic Christmas collections), recorded predominantly in Scotland (in anything from churches to distilleries) and featuring contributions from such folk luminaries as Damien O’Kane, John McCusker and Heidi Talbot.

Unlike some of their past albums, this doesn’t have a conceptual basis, other than generally being about partings and new beginnings, opening with the moody, rumbling percussion, acoustic title track, Jarlath Henderson on low whistle and Jenny, her airily pure vocals at times evocative of Anne Briggs, taking lead on a song about a broken romance in which the narrator’s world has been left flat.

Kicking up their folk rock heels, as the title suggests ‘The Dwindling Of The Day’ concerns the passing of time, Jenny singing about holding on to memories of someone who’s no longer around, slowing down slightly for ‘Horsehoofs & Primroses’, O’Kane on tenor guitar, a traditional-flavoured number of the urge to go a roaming when Spring is in the air.

Henderson contributing harmonies, set to puttering percussion, ‘Pretty Please’ is a liltingly lovely song about being weary of domestic squabbles and “rocking our boat on the wildest of seas”, giving way to ‘Kate, Are You Ready Now?’ as, Henderson on Uillean pipes and Karlevo laying down a slow march beat, Martin makes his first lead vocal appearance on a stirring strummed ballad that puts a spin on the jilted at the alter tale, this time it being the bride who doesn’t turn up while the groom tries to convince himself she’s just running late. Jenny returns for the jazzy ‘Porcelain Days’, hints of Pentangle colouring its lyric about navigating your way through a fragile relationship walking on eggshells and hoping the other partner will stick around as the ice starts to crack.

The first of two instrumentals, ‘Isak/Doris’ combines two fiddle tunes, Duncan Chisholm on the first with its military snare beat before McCusker takes over on the sprightlier second half. Then, it’s on to ‘Old Miss Partridge’, O’Kane on banjo and Jenny duetting with Talbot on a jaunty, accordion-led romp about an eccentric old bird suspected of being a witch and being found dead, blasted by lightning near a tree on the hill, her ghost still wandering at night.

It’s back to melancholia with McCusker providing low whistle for as Jenny sings the simply strummed, strings laden lament ‘Come Winter, He’ll Be Gone’, another song about loss and partings with the changing seasons serving to metaphorically chart the course of the relationship on the album’s most poetic lyric, evocative at times of Christina Rosetti.

Putting on his best Irish accent, the fiddle-accompanied, trotting rhythm ‘Vipers & Fireflies’ is Martin’s only other lead vocal, another song about how our worst nature sometimes gets the better of us and we say things in the heat of the moment we later regret, here using weather imagery as a metaphor.

The final song has Jenny accompanied by McCusker on tin whistle for ‘Peacock Blues’, its lively Irish jig-like tune belying a lyric that returns to a theme of arguments with the narrator being in the shadow of a more dominant personality (“I am the ceiling and you are the sky…you light up the room and I’m in the gloom”), the album ending on the other instrumental, ‘Rowbotham’s Map’, arranged for accordion and fiddle, bringing things full circle with the title referring to the Flat Earth Map of the World drawn up by the artist Samuel Rowbotham around 1873. Flat or round, global recognition for West of Eden among folk circles is long overdue.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.westofeden.com

West Of Eden and friends live at Ben Nevis distillery:

MARTYN JOSEPH – Here Come The Young (Pipe Records PRCD028)

Here Come The YoungMartyn Joseph released Here Come The Young on January 25th. I imagine most people reading Folking.com will know Martyn Joseph, but in case he’s new to you, Joseph is a multi-award winning singer and songwriter. His lyrics spring from an internationalist and humanitarian belief in people and their ability to make the world a better place; his music has that rare ability to draw you in on first hearing – and years later you’re still playing it because you’re not yet sated by the songs; his live performances are compelling.

That’s rather a lot for a new album to live up to – but it does. Here Come The Young was produced by Gerry Diver, who apparently took Joseph outside his comfort zone and the resulting album, while still being very recognisably the same artist, has an even greater energy and depth of sound than previous albums: Martyn Joseph plus, perhaps? Bob Harris has described Here Come The Young as “Strong, powerful and brave, it takes Martyn’s songs to a new, exciting and challenging place”.

The video below is to the title track and would give an excellent introduction both to Joseph the artist and to this particular album. The song, which looks outward onto our world, is a simple statement of challenge and hope that the young who are tired of so much of our unequal socio-enviro-political world “might just save the day”. The powerful graphics on the video enhance the track even further.

By contrast, ‘Oh My Soul’ turns inwards, asking at us to believe in our “heart’s poetry” and has an exhortation in the chorus as part of the quatrain “Oh my soul/Let me get out of your way/Oh my soul/Wake up and seize the day”.

We are a chorus of many” is central to ‘Love’s Majority’, a classic Martyn Joseph song with a quietly expressive vocal and the ability to merge poetry into song in a verse like “We’re not just straining for the echoes/Of all the vision we hold dear/We’re looking for the common threads of love/That bind us truly human here”.

I don’t know if it’s the best song, but among many powerful tracks on the album ‘Driving Her Back To London’ is the one that tears most at my heart (in a good way). It’s a song about inter-generational swapping of tunes on iPhones “She plays Kings Of Leon I play her rolling Stones……I play you Bruce you play me Muse” and builds to a wider reflection of uncritical love – it’s something I’ve done, and this track captures the moment perfectly.

‘Take Back The Sky’ is written in memory of a young Palestinian medic, shot in Gaza; ‘Summer Has A Way of Finding You’ has the simplest arrangement (vocal, piano and cello), a complement to the more up-tempo band sound of ‘Get Back To You’ and the almost bluesy ‘This Glass’ – the latter a song which asks us to take our half-filled glass and fill it up with things of beauty for the human spirit. ‘Nothing Is Lost in Love’ is not only a tribute to the power of love but I’d imagine will become as much of a song for an audience to quietly sing along with several thousand full marquees have done previously with ‘On My Way’.

I’ll finish with ‘Communion’ in the middle of the album, which has the distinctive musical depth I mentioned earlier. I know of no other artist who could both write lines like “When I make the bed, it’s like breaking bread/I stand in our room and I fall in communion with you” and make them sound as pure as poetry when they are sung. Similarly the chorus:

So when we’re all cried out from singing
We’re gonna rise up and sing it again
And when the light goes down we’re gonna stoke the fire
And bring it back to life, bring it back to life again”.

These are images which can be seen as purely descriptive, but which are surely metaphors for hope. And, as ever with Martyn Joseph, these aren’t treatises, these are songs – when you hear them, you want to sing along.

Here Come The Young is a great addition to Joseph’s already impressive series of albums. He is on tour in Germany from February 15th and then in the USA before returning to the UK from mid-May

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: http://www.martynjoseph.net

‘Here Come The Young’ – official video:

THE UNTHANKS – Lines (RRM021S / RRM021SLP)

LinesLines is a trilogy of song cycles inspired by poetry, focusing on three female perspectives across time: Hull fishing worker Lillian Bilocca; World War One poets; and writer Emily Brontë. Lines is available on general release from February 22nd .

After discovering Brian Lavery’s book, The Headscarf Revolutionaries, the actor and writer Maxine Peake created the play The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca as part of Hull’s hugely successful City of Culture events. Bilocca was the woman who changed policy and regulations following the loss of three trawlers in close succession in early 1968. She led women from the Hessle Road area of Hull (where many of the trawlermen came from) in protest against the lack of safety in the trawling industry. The protests led to a meeting with the government in London and then to eighty-eight safety measures being enacted.

The play had an original live score by The Unthanks and this album has five tracks. The music is predominantly written by Adrian McNally. A couple of the songs have lyrics by Peake – but the album also includes Bolling and Fishman’s ‘Lonesome Cowboy’ (which is a surprise until you relate the lyrics to the long journeys of the trawlermen). I didn’t get back to Hull to see the play, but based on this album, I regret it even more than I did at the time – the music is magnificently atmospheric, with rich but hushed tone set by McNally’s piano and supported by equally soft vocal and playing from the rest of the band.

It isn’t possible to understand Hull, particularly West Hull, without understanding its trawling history. Peake’s play with its focus on the events of 1968 has helped unite this fishing tradition into the modern city of culture. To give an idea of the significance of the women’s protests, Brian Lavery quotes one of Bilocca’s colleagues on her return to Hull from London as saying that the women of Hessle Road “did more in six days than Trade Unions and politicians had done in a century”. The definitions of folk music are many and varied but one of them is “the people’s music”. The Unthanks album will help preserve the story of Lillian Bilocca and the Headscarf Revolutionaries. It will also widen the audience that knows the story.

Mike Wistow

The second part of Lines comprises six songs concerning the Great War and, of course, there is a back story. The songs were originally written for a project marking the beginning of the war and have now been recorded to mark its end. Such projects tend to be collaborative affairs and so the first voice we hear isn’t an Unthank but Sam Lee who sings the first part the long opener ‘Roland And Vera’. Roland was Roland Leighton who was shot and killed two days before Christmas 1915 and Vera was his fiancée Vera Brittain. The song is based on her memoir and there’s lots about her to look up.

‘Everyone Sang’ is the first set of words by a contemporary poet, in this case Siegfried Sassoon with music by Tim Dalling who also sings on this recording. Sassoon was also responsible for the harrowing ‘Suicide In The Trenches’. Adrian McNally takes over as composer from this point beginning with ‘War Film’ by Teresa Hooley, although the poem was probably written in the 1920s. We don’t often think of women as war poets but Jessie Pope, who wrote the final piece ‘Socks’ is one such. Wilfred Owen dedicated Dulce Et Decorum Est to her which shows the regard in which she was held at the time.

The short poem ‘Breakfast’ was written by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, the leading Georgian poet. It’s typical of the way wrote about the minutiae of life and The Unthanks expand it including lines from ‘Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire’ which are perfectly in keeping. The music is, perhaps inevitably, dominated by McNally’s piano with extra strings brought in to bolster Niopha Keegan’s fiddle and Chris Price’s bass and guitar

Dai Jeffries

As the concluding part of The Unthanks’ Lines trilogy, part three is based on the poetic works of Emily Brontë. Commissioned by the Brontë Society to commemorate the bicentenary of Wuthering Heights, this set of scored poems also forms an audio trail around the Haworth Parsonage (until 31 March 2019; free, but equipment booking required).

Unlike the epic adventurousness of some of their more recent work, this album has a direct simplicity, featuring only Rachel and Becky Unthank’s voices accompanied by Adrian McNally’s piano. McNally composed and performed on the parsonage’s 5-octave cabinet piano, which no doubt informed the hypnotic minimalism of the resulting music. Ambient sounds derive from on-site recording sessions, which took place after museum hours.

As we enter ‘The Parsonage’ the crows take raucous flight from the churchyard next door. Opening the door, only footsteps and the chiming and ticking of clocks disturb the stifling stillness. Nature, time, death. A triumvirate of forces scouring across Emily Brontë’s life and work.

Brontë’s nature is not manicured or cultivated, but an untamed, raw beauty. As the little piano riffles of ‘High Waving Heather’ sketch in the endless moor-top breeze (just as likely to be a bitterly whipping wind!), Becky and Rachel sing alternate lines, before they run together in a harmonic stream.

Connecting with nature is therapeutic. ‘Shall Earth No More Inspire Thee’ makes a plaintive and heartfelt cry for its subject to re-embrace nature to gain relief from inner torment. Yet ‘Lines’ conveys the sadness of finding that nature cannot soothe those who do not allow it in.

‘Remembrance’ has been set to an arrangement of a traditional tune, which pairs very well with this heavily Romantic lament. But it’s the deceptively simple and placatory dissembling of ‘She Dried Her Tears And They Did Smile’, set to a slow waltz, that really gets under the skin.

Some of the songs comprise several poems in well-considered conjunctions, such as ‘Deep Deep Down In The Silent Grave’ partnered with the equally solemn ‘Oh Hinder Me By No Delay’. But it’s ‘The Night Is Darkening Around Me’ where the dread and defiance of “I will not, cannot go” is perfectly counterpointed by the tender ‘I’ll Come When Thou Art Saddest’. Bridging back to the first poem via a short poem fragment, ‘I Would Have Touched The Heavenly Key’, this is a delightfully constructed track.

The refrain of crows, clocks and footsteps opening ‘O Evening Why’ suggests this as a logical end to the album, but perhaps it’s just too downbeat, as Becky sings the first poem in a dirgey minor before Rachel joins with the equally tonally bleak ‘It’s Over Now; I’ve Known It All’. Instead, the brighter ‘I’m Happiest When Most Away’ escorts the listener back to the moors and leaves them contemplating the shifting night skies at the top of the world.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.the-unthanks.com

Recording the Brontë song cycle:

MARTIN LLOYD CHITTY – Antiques (own label)

AntiquesWhen I listened to the first few tracks of Antiques I realised that it was a rather special debut album. Martin Lloyd Chitty is a singer-songwriter from Lancaster – his voice retains the trace of an accent – with a remarkable talent for story-telling. He wrote, produced and performed every note on the album from acoustic guitar to grungy electric and drums.

Martin’s songwriting is reminiscent of the way the young Al Stewart used to build a story from small observations. The opening tracks, ‘Diana Camera’ and ‘You, Me & The Coffee Pot’, are both domestic stories, the first being a not-so-simple love song and the second recounting a trip to Scotland but saying much more. You would think that the third song, ‘Alaska’, would be a more expansive piece and, indeed, it records a day in…the Lake District but it’s the little details that make the song real. I won’t explain the title; that would spoil it.

The centre-piece of the album is the twelve-and-a-half minute ‘Antiques Shop (1923-2017)’. I’m guessing that most of it comes from Martin’s imagination – it’s a bit too melodramatic to be completely true – but it feels real as it tells of the owners of the titular shop and their destinies. The last verse tells how the final owner took a pocket-watch, the property of the shop’s founder, onto Antiques Roadshow – “they said that it was rare but the clip was never aired”. That is so sad that there has to be a grain of truth in it.

From here, Antiques takes a darker turn. ‘The Shadow Never Fades Away’ is a description of depression if I’m any judge and ‘Mere Mistakes’ takes that feel a step further. The record continues its downward spiral until the final track, ‘The Only Perfect Love Song’. Yes, it’s sad and nostalgic but like the first tracks it’s based a seemingly inconsequential moment and slowly takes an upturn of the kind that only music can engender ending in a cry of triumph. I do hope that we’re going to hear much more of Martin in the future.

Dai Jeffries

We have set up a new UK & U.S Storefront for brand new CD/Vinyl/Download releases recently featured together with a search facility for older stuff. The link for the folking store is: https://folking.com/folking-store/

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‘The Only Perfect Love Song’ – live: