CATHRYN CRAIG & BRIAN WILLOUGHBY – The Cooley & Mourne   (Cabritunes CAB010)

The Cooley & MourneI should begin by saying that The Cooley & Mourne is, for me, the best album that Cathryn and Brian have made to date. The blend of Carthryn’s southern US roots and Brian’s Irish heritage gels perfectly into an album that makes for absolutely delightful listening.

The couple live in what Brian describes as “a beautiful area” on the Irish border and the opening track, ‘County Down’, expresses their joy in their situation. It is decorated by Dermot McQuaid’s whistle and slyly references the traditional ballad ‘The Star Of The County Down’. The album was recorded at Narrow Water Studio in the castle of the same name on the banks of the Newry River. The location also inspired the four acoustic instrumental interludes Brian wrote to divide the songs. The delight in their location is echoed in ‘The Cooley And Mourne’ with the suggestion that Brian had a big hand in the lyrics. ‘On This Ground’ takes these ideas and expands them into a cry of defiance against incomers and speculators who just want to buy up land and property.

So, the album isn’t all bucolic happiness. ‘To The Past’ and ‘Goodbye Old Friend’ suggest distant pain and both feel like Cathryn’s lyrics. I could be wrong, of course. ‘For Martha’ is a bit of a mystery. Is it the story of an itinerant musician or a young street person? ‘Take Me With You’ suggests the former but given Cathryn’s background it could be the tale of a woman trying to hold on to her lover. ‘All The Way To Denver’ is pure country and the band: McQuaid, Fergal Hughes and Paul French are given free rein.

With Cathryn taking all the vocals you really have to hear Craig and Willoughby live to appreciate Brian’s input but even then he mostly sits quietly and just plays his guitar. But his solos and fills are integral to the sound of all their records and I found myself waiting for his contributions time after time. As I said, their best album so far.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.craigandwilloughby.com

‘All The Way To Denver’ – live:

CATHRYN CRAIG & BRIAN WILLOUGHBY – In Concert Saint Pancras Old Church London (Cabritunes CAB009)

In Concert Saint Pancras Old Church LondonThe title says it all. Cathryn and Brian recorded the final gig of their 2016 UK tour – well, the first leg of it, anyway; they’re on the road again now – for their first live album. They prefer studio recording so this is a bit of a step but if you have heard them live you’ll know that their shows add an extra dimension to their music and Cathryn’s voice and Brian’s guitars are enhanced by the acoustics of Saint Pancras Old Church.

They begin, as always, with Shel Silverstein’s ‘That Ol’ Guitar’ and we know now that it isn’t autobiographical as Brian and Cathryn married in Nashville in July. It may a little young to be considered a country classic yet but it’s heading that way. From that, they dig into material from their most recent studio album, In America, some of which explores Brian’s Irish heritage. First comes ‘Malahide Moon’ for his father and ‘These Old Stone Walls’ for his uncle which Brian decorates with an ethereal E-bow part. ‘A Soft Place To Fall’ is for Cathryn’s daughter and ‘Time Has Proved You Right’ is dedicated to the Hillsborough survivors.

I’m sure they timed ‘Spirit Is Stronger Than Truth’ to coincide with the ten o’clock chimes of the church clock (Cathryn hints as much) and I swear they are in the right key, too. This album makes space for a Willoughby solo, ‘Fingers Crossed’, something that often gets squeezed out of studio sets but he also gets to stretch out with some gorgeous guitar breaks notably on ‘Two Hearts One Love’. The set can’t be complete without ‘Alice’s Song’ and I guess that Cathryn’s nod to her early professional career in ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ will be a semi-permanent feature in their set.

They encore with a real country classic, ‘My Window Faces The South’, as recorded in 1938 by Bob Wills and a more un-churchlike sound you couldn’t wish to hear and both Cathryn and Brian let their hair down. I know the serious and thoughtful songs are their stock in trade but they should let themselves go a little more often.

Dai Jeffries

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Artists’ website: www.craigandwilloughby.com

CATHRYN CRAIG AND BRIAN WILLOUGHBY – In America (Cabritunes CAB008)

In AmericaIt’s difficult to write about In America, the latest album by Virginia-born singer Cathryn Craig and the British guitarist Brian Willoughby without sounding like a fan girl to the nth degree.

Many a night I’ve been in that state somewhere between awake and asleep with Craig’s rhapsodic vocals accompanied by Willoughby’s masterfully emotional playing coursing through my mind. I can only imagine that the duo is among the rare musicians that envelope themselves in their music, much as the Frank Sinatra embodied the lyrics, which he sang.

Although Mr. Willoughby and Ms. Craig have each extensively worked with A-list artists ranging from The Strawbs to Nanci Griffith and Chet Atkins, their work is as individual as their duo. Consider the album’s title track on which Ms. Craig’s voice takes on a rare ethereal quality that puts me in mind of the haunting vocals of the late Mary Travers of Peter Paul & Mary on such songs as “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.” Yes, it’s that haunting.

And the beauty of her voice combined with Willoughby’s guitar mastery never falters as the duo works through a host of poignant songs including ‘These Old Stone Walls,” and “Whatever Is For You,” both ruminations on our lives’ journeys.

Joining the duo are a host of luminary musicians including Jeff Taylor (Vince Gill/Time Jumpers), Fran Breen (Waterboys, Saw Doctors), Dennis Bryon (Amen Corner/Bee Gees), Pat McInerney (Nanci Griffith, Doc Watson), Brent Moyer (Lynn Anderson), Andy Reiss (Reba McEntire/Time Jumpers), Ron de la Vega (Nanci Griffith), and Richard Bailey (Steeldrivers).

As you’d expect, the playing is superb and elegantly woven among the duo’s work thanks to engineer/producer Thomm Jutz.

Perhaps the superlatives in this review do put me in super fan territory but one listen to the new album by rare artists that infuse their music with heartfelt spirituality and you’ll be one, too.

Nancy Dunham

Artists’ website: www.craigandwilloughby.com

‘Malahide Moon’ – live:

Cathryn Craig and Brian Willoughby release Real World

Cathryn Craig and Brian Willoughby Real WorldIt’s interesting how all of us keep people in certain slots, no matter how we deny it.

Consider Brian Willoughby, best known for his work with the legendary folk-rock band the Strawbs. Sure, he’s a guitar master who is much in demand as evidenced by his work with Nanci Griffith, Mary Hopkin and many others, obviously including the Strawbs. Still, thinking of him always conjures up Strawbs’ melodies.

What a delight it is to remind ourselves of his fluid versatility. Perhaps nowhere is that clearer than on his just-released album Real World with Cathryn Craig. For those that don’t know, the U.S.-based Craig makes her home in Virginia, not far from Nashville where she used worked with such legendary artists as Chet Atkins and the Righteous Brothers.

Combining Willoughby’s lush, acoustic guitar work with Craig’s emotive vocals truly brings out the best in both artists’ offerings. Think of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell but replace the honky tonk vibe and cowboy with a folk sensibility in the most elegant sense and you have a feeling of what Real World offers.

Consider the opening track of the album “Eastview Lane,” that finds Craig’s vocals — that put one in mind of Griffith herself perhaps mixed with a twang less Emmylou Harris — ruminating about sweet times with dolls, bikes and granddaddy’s old place when as children we “used to be so happy, we really had it all.”

Perhaps the look at life through a panoramic camera sweeping from sweet childhood memories to adults sorrows — such as those told on “Alice’s Song” about a girl with Asperger’s Syndrome and “Cumberland” about the devastating 2010 floods in Nashville — and you have a soundscape that could play behind most of our lives.

Combining Willoughby’s spiritual guitar work and Craig’s poignant vocals reminds all of us that life, for all its dips and curves, truly is as rich as we make it.

By Nancy Dunham

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Artist Web link: http://www.craigandwilloughby.com

WHOLE WIDE WORLD… CRAIG & WILLOUGHBY featuring RIGHTEOUS BROTHER BILL MEDLEY

Craig & Willoughby’s new single, WHOLE WIDE WORLD is now available online via Amazon, iTunes, etc.

It features Cathryn’s mentor, Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers, singing a duet with her, backed by Dennis Bryon (Amen Corner, BeeGees) on drums, producer Phil Rynhart on bass, a string quartet led by Antonia Pagulatos and Brian on acoustic and electric guitar.

The single has its first airing on Thursday March 8th., on Sue Marchant’s BBC Cambridge show, just after 7.00 p.m., with an interview and a live song.

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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. Can’t find what you are looking for? Search Amazon Store below.

I also wanted to share with you a folking live gem from a few years back of the duo performing “Mr Jefferson” also with Dennis Bryon on drums.

Artist’s website: http://www.craigandwilloughby.com/

STRAWBS – Acoustic Gold (Witchwood Media WMCD 2052)

As the blurb says, The Strawbs have created a unique niche for their progressive folk-rock sound but, stripped bare it is the ‘acoustic’ element that shows how strong these basic concepts were. Therefore, trawling their impressive back catalogue is by no means an indulgence but a necessity and as I listen once again to “Ghosts”, “Grace Darling”, and “A Glimpse Of Heaven” I marvel at the majesty of it all. There’s an inherent clarity from the instruments that drives everything along on a bed of string based accompaniment to Dave Cousins tortured vocals whether it be the chiming of his dulcimer/autoharp and banjo, Chas Cronk’s 12-string guitar or the lead lines provided by Brian Willoughby, Dave Lambert and even the inclusion of Ian Cutler’s fiddle is well placed for dramatic effect. OK, so the pomp element that always typified a Strawbs performance (much like it did with the Alan Parsons Project) may, on first hearing sound a little over the top at the end of the day it is these artistic flourishes that provides the listener with something more substantial than the often derided term ‘folk’ could ever hope to achieve. By the way, for those collectors out there, there are three unreleased tracks included as a bonus. 

PETE FYFE

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Artist’s website: www.strawbsweb.co.uk