ALLISON LUPTON – Words Of Love (own label ALCD005)

Words Of LoveAn Ontario singer-songwriter and flautist in the Celtic folk tradition, Lupton twins her own material with traditional numbers from both Canada and the UK, this being her fourth album (she also recorded last year’s single ‘The Eve Of Christmas Day’ with The Young ‘Uns) on which she’s backed by a five-piece band featuring fiddle, mandolin and dobro but no percussion, other than Shane Cook’s feet.

She opens with one of her own, ‘Away’, a musically lively fiddle-driven song, inspired by her great uncle, one of some 100, 000 British children sent to Canada by the likes of Thomas Barnado’s Homes to work on farms between 1878 and 1948 in the hope, not always fulfilled, of a better life.

Andrew Collins’ mandolin providing a nervy backing, another uptempo track ‘What Will I Dream’ was commissioned for ‘Songs of Tomorrow’, a compilation on which Canadian artists where asked to reflect on their country’s place in the world prior to 2015’s federal election, followed by the first traditional number, returning to the theme of emigration with ‘When First I Went to Caledonia’, a melancholic reflection on how many Scottish settlers went to work in the Caledonia mine in Cape Breton, the tune here taken from the Gaeiluc ‘Mo Ruin Gael Dileas’.

Crossing back over the ocean, ‘Words Of Love’ itself is another upbeat fiddle-led number that has its origins in a show she performed at a decommissioned Methodiust church in Chippenham and learning of an old love letter, dated 1940, found during the renovations. Then, back in Ontario, the far slower swaying ‘Lost Jimmy Whelan’ is a log driver ballad set on the Mississippi and in the tradition of the bereaved lover being haunted from beyond the grave.

Providing an instrumental break with Lupton on tin whistle, ‘Ontario Tune Set’ is just that, a collection of three tunes from her home province.

It’s back then to self-penned material with the musically complex ‘Dusty Boots’ and another number about migration, this time internal, and inspired by how her paternal grandfather became one of thousands of young men in the 1920s who rode the Canadian Pacific Railway to work on the threshing teams in Western Canada.

The final traditional comes from the UK in the form of the oft-recorded ‘Poverty Knock’ (most recently by Thomas Ashworth) about the hardships of the weavers in the textile mills of Northern England in the 1890s, Lupton bringing a fresh, more uptempo, arrangement with pizzicato fiddle.

She brings things to a close with two more of her own, ‘I Will Rise’, a suitably musically upbeat song of resilience inspired by the strength of loved ones and featuring Ivan Rosenberg’s dobro solo, and, finally, taking the pace down to a reverie, the lovely Celtic-hued instrumental ‘The Grand River Waltz’ written in tribute to the watercourse that begins in the Ontario highlands and flows into Lake Erie.

Unpretentious and rich with her love of traditional folk music, life and the land of her birth, put the word about.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘What Will I Dream’ – live:

THE ANDREW COLLINS TRIO – Tongue / Groove (own label, ACT003/ACT004)

TongueFinally, there’s an album paying long-overdue homage to practical, yet rustic bathroom panelling. What’s that? It’s not? GrooveFortunately, Tongue / Groove is a paired album set from phenomenally talented, multi-award-winning Canadians, The Andrew Collins Trio. Their hard-to-pigeonhole fusion sound is sometimes referred to as ‘chambergrass’ but absorbs such a broad range of influences, it’s hard to know where to start. There’s bluegrass, obviously, plus flecks of country and bold splashes of swing, lounge and jazz. Here and there are Celtic touches, hints of Spain, Greece even, as well as playful sparks of popular music.

For a trio, they make a big sound across a hugely varied repertoire, all played with a relaxed and fluid skill. James McEleney’s supple expressive upright bass is the backbone for Mike Mezzatesta (guitar, mandolin, octave violin) and Andrew Collins. Collins is a staggering mandolin player, able to achieve extraordinary speed, variety and nuance, whilst also being equally fluent on mandocello, mandola, guitar and violin. And that’s just on this album: the band appears to switch and shape-shift between instruments and roles with absolute assurance and ease.

It’s an incredibly polished album pair, with Tongue, naturally, giving tongue to the songs within. A selection of Collins’ favourites, taking in The Hollies via Nick Drake and a couple of Roger Millers, plus a couple of his own compositions, it’s something of a departure from a band mostly known for instrumental music.

Collins brings a strong, slightly gritty vocal that gives suitably moody substance to Drake’s ‘Cello Song’. Elsewhere, McEleny provides vocal support and harmonies, as on fellow Canadian, Kevin Breit’s ‘Nothing About Us’, which at first sounds incongruously ‘modern’ next to more old-timey songs, but soon settles comfortably into place. In an album of covers, the trio’s startling but entirely brilliant reworking of The Hollies’ ‘King Midas In Reverse’ was a revelation.

As a songwriter, Collins seems to have plenty up his sleeve, too. ‘Coming Into Hard Times Blues’ demonstrates a Tom Lehrer-like sardonic wit. The intense, sawing violins of ‘Black Veil’ (co-written by Collins) lend drama to a darkly murderous tale (a strong contrast with the absurdly chirpy stabbing in ‘Katy Dear’).

It seems that the band felt their audience would expect instrumentals, so they delivered that as well, recording the Groove album to partner Tongue. Groove is a perfect, laid-back lazy Sunday soundtrack, prominently featuring Collins compositions like the gloriously mardy, low-slung ‘The Grumpus’, madly contagious ‘Badabada Ba Ba’ and the subtle mood changes of the Radiohead-ish ‘Lullaby For Ken’. Another surprising, yet oddly successful cover emerges as Pink Floyd’s ‘Goodbye Blue Sky’ gets stitched together with the traditional ‘Ship In The Clouds’.

Altogether, there’s so much going on in these two albums – in breadth and variety of styles, in musical skill – that it’s rather breath-taking. Luckily, just another of the talents this trio has is to make their work feel entirely natural, almost slouchily comfortable and deceptively easy on the ear. Tongue and Groove are worthwhile additions to any collection.

Su O’Brien

Artists’ website:

‘Coming Into Hard Times Blues’ – live: