THE CROOKED JADES – Empathy Moves The Water (Jade Note Music CJ010)

Empathy Moves The WaterEmpathy Moves the Water is the ninth (and most recent) album from old-timey stalwarts, The Crooked Jades. Following a similar blueprint to previous releases, this nice little chunk of Americana combines traditional obscurities with original material.

The old-timey style is immediately apparent on this record, with fiddle-driven opener ‘Ryland And Spencer (Rise And Bloom Again)’ making a definite impact. The same flavour is retained into track two, with an enjoyable rendition of traditional instrumental, ‘Featherbed’; arranged by the Crooked Jades, with Emily Mann’s fiddle leading the song. ‘Down To The River’, inspired by Mississippi Fred McDowell’s piece of the same name, follows, changing the pace of this disc. It starts darkly, almost ‘dangerously’ before building into a solid, steady, all out blues number – a tactic applied to an arrangement of gospel standard ‘Wade In The Water’ a little later in the record.

One of the strongest tracks on the album is ‘Going Across the Sea’. Again, this builds slowly, with a terrific vocal take which sits alongside the comparatively sparse instrumentation, before the picks and strums of the banjo transform the direction of the song, in some ways, bringing the record back to where it started.

There is a good deal of instrumental numbers on this record, including ‘Mike In The Wilderness’, ‘Yellow Mercury 4’ and the beautiful ‘Am I Born To Die?/Long Time Travelling’, the latter being reprised from an earlier acapella rendition.

The whistle stop tour of all things Americana concludes with another original titled ‘Yellow Mercury 3’; perhaps the most lonesome track of the whole album. Led by the wails of the steel guitar and Jeff Kazor’s vocals, it is a piece which is both melancholy and hypnotic, bidding farewell on the mysterious parting shot “one day, one beautiful morning, I’ll be returned to you”.

Christopher James Sheridan

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DAVID BROMBERG – The Player: A Retrospective (Floating World Records FLOATM6382)

The PlayerDavid Bromberg always strikes me as one of those artists you’ve heard a hundred times without realising you’ve even heard him…perhaps because his extensive talents as a multi-instrumentalist have seen him credited on hundreds of albums by hoards of famous acts from the early 1970s to pretty much the present day. Among them there are names like Bob Dylan, Carly Simon, Tom Rush, Tom Paxton…Country music superstars like Willie Nelson…and even rock music royalty…performing on some of the solo recordings of former Beatles members. Even if you’ve less familiar with Bromberg’s own solo-ish output, The Player: A Retrospective is by no means a difficult listen.

The full on east meets west blues-funk epic of ‘Sharon’ kick starts the album, which after six minutes, rolls into ‘The Holdup’; a good fun, cowboy movie-styled “George Harrison” version of a song which actually bookends the record…”the Dead” version concludes the album. Of course, what comes in between these diverse takes is also pretty good.

There is ‘Yankee’s Revenge’, a toe-tapping medley which really showcases Bromberg’s abilities as an outstanding instrumentalist; this sits comfortably alongside numbers where his well-crafted narratives and cuttingly honest lyrics are at the fore, see ‘The Jokes on Me’ and ‘Sammy’s Song’:

Somewhere in the south of Spain, Sammy, still sixteen, goes with his uncle for a ride
The sun is high…Sailing through the city, For to see the sights and talking sex
Sammy’s sitting tall, The sun is high
His uncle brings him to a brothel, Being big he buys a drink…Rum and coke, Don’t taste too bad
Having brought him to the brink, His uncle leaves him with his drink
Rum and coke, Don’t taste too bad”.

While folk, rock and country influences mingle throughout, blues is another key ingredient of this retrospective. As such, Blind Willie McTell’s ‘Statesboro Blues/Church Bell Blues’, (Bromberg original) ‘The Main Street Moan’ and the traditional ‘Dehlia’ are all fittingly brought to the table. However, it is perhaps Bromberg’s rendition of (former band mate) Jerry Jeff Walker’s ‘Mr Bojangles’ which takes the prize on this album’s track list. It is simple; one man and one guitar, performing to a live audience; it is both sensitive and powerful, being talked, rather than sung as he tells listener(s) about the ‘real’ Mr Bojangles, presenting an entirely new dimension to a well-known classic.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artist’s website:

‘Mr Bojangles’ – live. David Bromberg is still performing it:

CHRISTINE KYDD – Shift And Change (Greentrax CDTRAX401)

Shift And ChangeI looked forward to this record, and it didn’t disappoint. The brilliant Christine Kydd has been kept busy of late, with yet another project, this time materialising as a solo album titled Shift And Change: Songs from Scotland. It is as an eclectic a collection as ever, made up of traditional pieces, original writings and takes on the work of contemporary artists.

A rendition of the late Michael Marra’s ‘Just Another Rolling Stone’ begins the album, with Fraser Spiers’ harmonica and Kydd’s vocal guiding this tremendous track. This is followed with another excellent example of Kydd’s ability to interpret contemporary songwriting, this time, it is a powerful protest number by Alistair Hullet, titled ‘Blue Murder’. Set in the Wittenoom Mines of Western Australia, Kydd herself points out (in the album’s liner notes) that “The people in this song find themselves with no choice but to work in conditions which will eventually cause an early death…blue asbestos was the cause and profit was the motive…”. The lyrics are even more to the point and ever more powerful:

Day in day out, every day they drive us harder
Day in day out, they’re getting away with blue murder”.

Even so early into the record, the eclectic flavour of the album is apparent, and from the mines of Australia, we travel to Dundee, with ‘The Back O Reres Hill’, a traditional lament, arranged by Kydd. While this album is a fantastic patchwork of interpretations of songs by Scottish writers, Kydd’s own work must not go overlooked. Firstly, ‘This Is The News’ a scathing social commentary on media bias, inaccuracy and falsehood in reporting. It is extremely applicable to the present day, and as long as there is bullshit in the press, this song will be relevant… and (somewhat unfortunately) I suspect there is a good deal of longevity in this one yet.

‘Comin’ On Strong’; “a positive wee song” as Kydd tells us, is another original about travelling and returning….with a bit of reminiscing in between. Another track worth mentioning is ‘Shift And Change’, both the final song by Kydd and the final song on the album. It is a celebration of the moment and an anthem for embracing change rather than fearing it, punctuated by Kydd’s staccato piano notes and beautiful fiddle and harmonies by Gillian Frame.

Kydd has a tremendous ability to make original, something which is already established, yet she also has the ability to breathe new life into older writings and provide new context to other work, see ‘The Wild Geese/ Norland Wind’ and ‘Halloween’, adaptations of Scottish poems circa 1914 – 1916.

From start to finish, I can’t speak highly enough of this album; its song selections, performances and musicianship are just a few of the more obvious selling points of something which I am glad to say is an absolute joy to listen to.

Christopher James Sheridan

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MIKEY KENNEY – The Reverie Road (Penny Fiddle Records PFR1902CD

The Reverie RoadMikey Kenney is an accomplished fiddler and balladeer with wealth of English and Irish folk song in his repertoire. His most recent release, The Reverie Road, brings these traditions (and a few other influences) together.

Beginning with ‘Bacca Pipes’ (the English variant of Greensleeves), it isn’t long before Kenney turns from interpreter to original composer, firstly with a collection of thematically connected reels; ‘The Devil Goat of Keady/ Mr West’s Fiddle/ The Repair Job’, re-telling the tale of a billy goat that broke the treasured instrument of a fellow musician.

While this story is told without lyrics, ‘The Path I Walk Upon’ is crammed with interesting lyrical imagery, telling of a recurring dream of Kenney’s about a white bear which guides him to the edge of an icebound cliff. These images reoccur throughout the album, particularly in ‘Montagna Di Menta (Calitri)’. In some ways this song feels like the connection for the entire album, however, on other levels, it creates a notable shift from English and Irish folk song, to Italian-inspired work, largely brought about through the tremolo-heavy mandolin style.

A series of jigs, (‘Brigid’s Jigs’) bring back the original flavour, while ‘Napoli’, another one from Kenney’s pen continues to effortlessly blend the mix of influences on this album. This ‘Italian sound’ surfaces once more, before the album bows out, this time on a track called ‘Soggy Desert’, a piece about the bleak beauty of the Lune estuary in Lancaster.

While this album is strong from a traditional music standpoint (at times, in some ways, vaguely reminiscent of a Martin Carthy or Dave Swarbrick recording), it is also worthy of praise for its songwriting. It is not just a fiddle album, it is the broader works of a gifted musician, so if the idea of an album made up exclusively of fiddle tunes isn’t quite your thing, this is still worth tracking down.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artist’s website:

‘Montangna Di Menta’:

OLDSEED – Bloom/ Burn (Bekassine Records)

Bloom/BurnOldseed is a name you might not be familiar with, but when it comes to touring and recording, it’s far from being his first rodeo; as he continues to work his way through extensive, underground, DIY tours of mainland Europe – particularly his native Germany. Bloom/Burn is the most recent addition to his discography – a lo-fi little jewel, recorded on 2 track tape.

‘Re/Tire’ (both the longest and heaviest track of the first half) kicks off the album; beginning with stop-starts, it rattles its way into all out rock – where forgivable comparisons to Ryan Adams or Neil Young could be made. This ushers in ‘No/Thing’; a more stripped back and menacing number, which taunts the listener with its lyrics:

“Stop wasting your time, stop wasting your breath/ You ain’t clever, you ain’t cheating death…I am nothing, you are nothing, we are nothing, there is nothing.”

Darkness and all, this is a fine number, but perhaps side one’s stand out tracks are the arguably lighter ‘Star/Bar’ – a county styled number, jam-packed with false endings or the electric and acoustic intermingling of ‘You/Me’.

Side 2, the ‘Burn’ half of the album if you will, kicks off with more of the same Americana, starting things off with the rather morose ‘Means/Ends’, which crawls, drags and eventually flows into ‘Pre/Tend’ which would feel like a continuation of the previous number, were it not for the cymbal flourish or the extended pause between the tracks. Adhering to the blueprint of Side one, these numbers are followed by brighter works, the delicately plucked ‘Take/Away’ and its positive mantra of “Stay strong…be safe”, before ‘Re/Fuse’ concludes this audio balancing act…where darkness and light gracefully coexist.

Christopher James Sheridan

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THE BYRDS – On A Wing: A Compendium Of Historical Performances: Volume 1 (Sound Stage SS8CDBOX48)

On A WingThe Sound Stage label are back with an absolute monster from the vaults, this time in the form of an 8 disc (yes 8 f*uking disc) box set, dedicated to the folk-rock pioneers, The Byrds. Made up of 109 tracks, there is a lot to get through in very little time (and cyber space) so I’ll pick out some of my own highlights and you can decide for yourself what I’ve missed.

Kicking off in 1968, in the wake of the band’s reshuffle, the historically “typical” sound of the Byrds is captured here. For example, renditions of folkie standards like ‘Old Blue’ and the JFK-themed arrangement of ‘He Was A Friend of Mine’ are among the company of the Dylan and Guthrie covers, so often associated with the Byrds. In among these, seep the country elements also associated with the group; of particular note are ‘Nashville West’ and Gram Parsons’ lament, ‘Hickory Wind’.

Parsons features a good deal and particularly on Disc 2, which transports us from November 1968 to June of 1969 and to the Palomino Club, in North Hollywood, where Clarence White joins forces with Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. At times, the sound really isn’t great, but the excitement of the moment comes across and at times it is hard trying not to get caught up in the concert, even if just as a listener…some near 50 years later.

‘The Train Song’ is an upbeat, energetic and that spur of the moment vibe still spills out through the speakers and jumps from one feeling to another; to that of the wild ‘Dream Baby’ or the laid bare and lonesome ‘She Once Lived Here’ or ‘Black Limousine’…yet the atmosphere reuses to die. Disc 3 continues the same performance and while the inconsistencies in the sound remain the main source of complaint, numbers like ‘Sweet Mental Revenge’, ‘Another Place, Another Time’ and an otherwise brilliant version of Merle Haggard’s ‘Hungry Eyes’ remain among the high points.

The halfway stage of this set takes us to some more intimate gigs, beginning with David Crosby, at the Matrix (December ’70) on Disc 4. On this occasion, he’s joined by members of The Grateful Dead to perform a mixture of freshly penned solo material (‘Cowboy Movie’ and ‘Laughing’ for example) and some interesting takes on standards like ‘Deep Elm Blues’. It is slow, more spacious and guides us in perfectly to Disc 5; a Roger McGuinn set from 1974, after the Byrds had finally parted. This one in particular, is a real treat. Alone on stage, McGuinn stands equipped with a guitar and harmonica, running down his Byrd-loyal set of 60s pop hits, traditional numbers and of course, the odd bit of Dylan. From his own work, ‘Bag Full Of Money’ is particularly good.

Disc 6 is probably the rockiest of all the collection, emanating from Amarillo, Texas and featuring McGuinn, Gene Clark and Chris Hilman, alongside a crew of session players. The familiar formula of Byrds big hitters and contemporary efforts is used here, and ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ turns up, surprisingly, for the first time. Of equal note on this disc, are the messy, audience participation-led version of ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’ and ‘Stopping Traffic’.

The final discs take us to Gene Clark and The Fyrebirds, circa 1985. ‘Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies; and ‘Tried So Hard’ stand out on Disc7, while Disc 8 builds slowly, through the likes of ‘Here Without You’, ‘She Don’t Care About Time’ and ‘See Your Face’, into the slightly heavier country-rock tinged ‘Dixie Flower’ and ‘One Hundred Years From Now’ and bidding a fitting adieu on Byrds-shaped classics ‘So You Wanna Be A Rock ’n’ Roll Star’ and ‘Eight Miles High’.

Byrds On A Wing…is something of a journey, but a delightful one. Spanning the 8 hour mark, there is a lot to take in. Naturally, there are a few tracks which repeat from time to time, but they’re not unwelcome and even at that, each of them are done with such a different style and approach, they feel completely different to their predecessors.

Christopher James Sheridan

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‘I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better’ – live on TV: