HARRI ENDERSBY – Mazes (Ivy Crown Records)

MazesMazes is the second enchanting album from Durham singer songwriter Harri Endersby. It follows on from her excellent 2017 debut album Homes / Lives, which I was also privileged enough to review. I must confess to having some bias when it comes to Harri’s work, having fallen in love with the first album the love affair continues with Mazes.

There are nine original songs, many of which will be familiar if you have seen Harri live in the last 18 months or so. Whereas live she performs playing acoustic guitar with her husband Rich Marsh (acoustic guitar and cajoun), on this album she adds electric guitar, piano and mandolin and Rich adds electric & bass guitar and programming.

The album also has the addition of some of the finest young folk talent there is in the shape of Ciaran Algar (fiddle and bouzouki), Toby Shaer (whistles, fiddle, mandolin and harmonium) and Ian Stephenson (harmonium and piano). It was recorded, mixed and mastered by Ian and produced by Harri and Rich themselves.

The opening song ‘Mountainside’ starts the ball rolling nicely in a gentle upbeat fashion. ‘Breathe’ slows things down a little and brings the first bit of fiddle to the album. In ‘Golden Hour’ you can hear the passion in Harri’s voice for the natural world around her. Many of the songs are inspired by the countryside of the North East and also the Isle of Harris, which is one of her favourite places.

The title track ‘Mazes’ is another easy-going track with its gentle percussion and Harri showing her vocal range. ‘Glow’ ups the tempo which is kept up with ‘Small Birds’. ‘Isla’ is started with a field recording of bird song which she did on the Isle of Harris and it brings in the whistles, harmonium and fiddle to great effect.

Having heard many of the songs live, I particularly remember a fine performance of ‘Flight’ at the 2018 Oxford Folk Weekend, so listening to this track took me straight back to that hall. It’s just yet another beautiful and gentle song from Harri, though of course we didn’t have the harmonium and fiddle that day.

I love the way the final track, ‘Close To Home’, is brought in from the outside to the inside (if you listen to it you’ll get what I mean). It also finishes the album in a great upbeat way. I suspect it may be an encore song, but I guess I’ll find out when I see her in Harwell (and possibly London and Bristol) next month.

And so, before you know it, 33 minutes of listening to a beautifully and lovingly crafted album have passed leaving me craving for more. My Sonos is set to repeat so I dive straight back into it.

Harri is touring Mazes around the UK from 25th October to 11th November. I put her on during her first ever tour in 2017 and am thrilled to have her back in Harwell for this one. Go and see her and Rich if you get the chance and you’ll have a really lovely evening full of enchanting music.

Duncan Chappell

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

There are no videos from the new album yet, so here’s one from last year. ‘Breathe’:

OONAGH DERBY – Breathe (own label KTM002)

BreatheIn real life Oonagh Derby is a PR representing a number of distinguished Irish artists. Behind that façade, however, there is a diva waiting to burst out. Breathe is her second solo album and where it fits on the musical spectrum is open to debate. For the most part these are romantic songs written or co-written by Oonagh. Her small band has constructed superb arrangements based on Cormac O’Kane’s keyboards and Paul Campbell’s string arrangements but the decorations are what make the album stand out.

So we can call Breathe sophisticated pop but it sometimes leans towards blues and jazz and even acoustic folk with the acoustic guitar of ‘Missing You’. The opening title track opens to an almost Latin rhythm – music to move your hips to is her tag – with nice acoustic guitar leads. The guitars of David Bell and Dick Farrelly are a real feature throughout. It shouldn’t but ‘Everything’ comes as a bit of a shock because it opens with the gravelly vocals of Conor McGuinness and just for a moment I wondered where Oonagh got that voice from. It’s actually a great bluesy song.

Oonagh has dedicated Breathe to her mother and ‘Mothers Heart’ perhaps explains why. The piano intro is a variation of ‘Young Sailor Cut Down In His Prime’ but I don’t think we should read too much into that. Oonagh takes the role of the mother writing to her daughter in America but the song isn’t set in this century; more likely the time of mass emigration following the famine.

The songs are described as being written by a woman for a woman but that shouldn’t put off the other half of the population. I like it.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.oonaghderby.com

‘Everything’ – live:

THE PAUL McKENNA BAND – Breathe (own label PMB002CD)

BreatheThe Paul McKenna Band is a Glasgow-based five-piece, lining up as Robbie Greig on fiddle, Conar Markey on banjo, bouzouki, mandolin and guitars, percussionist Ewan Baird, Conal McDonagh providing pipes and whistles with McKenna on guitar and piano, Breathe is their fifth album. Produced by Mike Vass, this time around it’s all original material save for an urgent reading of the Irish traditional Fanad Mare, the Donegal name for ‘The Nine Points Of Roguery’, a reel written by Fiddler Doyle of Fanad after supposedly experienced a vision of a druid while returning home from a dance party and based around the rhythm of his horse’s hooves.

Breathe opens with the balladeering title track, one of the four solo penned McKenna numbers, which, coloured by Uillean pipes, is a tenderly simple love song delivered in his distinctive, warbly vocal style. Played out on acoustic guitar, ‘Holding On’ is similarly restrained number about memories and mortality, while, (incorrectly numbered on the lyric booklet) ‘Open Road’ is a wistful reminiscence of a past relationship set to percussive puttering behind the circling guitar pattern, the last being the Irish migration-themed album closer ‘Foreign Land’ with its woodwind intro and a narrative about a fifteen-year-old becoming a man working in the mines before finally returning home.

Two numbers are co-writes with Canada’s Dave Gunning, first up being the piano-based, pipes and fiddle shaded ‘Never Seem To Leave, a song about a relationship broken by the conflicting desires of wanderlust and staying put, and the nimbly fingerpicked ‘Beyond The Day’, another song about the road and what lies ahead, more specifically after death, McDonagh proving brief pipes solo midway.

The remaining co-write is with Australian songwriter Liz Stringer, the musically atmospheric ‘Broken Houses’, yet again a number about themed around migration in the quest for a better life and memories of home.

Fingerpicked, softly sung and coloured with pipes and whistles, the final song is a cover of ‘The Molly May’, written by Canadian bluegrass/Celtic singer-songwriter J.P. Cornier (and himself a collaborator with Gunning) which, featured on his 1997 release Another Morning, fits neatly into the album’s pervasive themes as the narrator, recalls his years as master of the titular fishing boat before, too old to man the wheel, he finally watches it meets its end at the hand of an inexperienced boy from Canso.

One of Scotland’s most respected folk outfits, their name lauded from Ireland to America, they baffling remain little known this side of the border. Hopefully, Breathe will change that.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.paulmckennaband.com

‘Beyond The Day’ – live: