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’:

THEA GILMORE – Small World Turning (Shameless Records, SHAME19001)

Small World TurningIf you’ve ever wondered what the sound of a Small World Turning is, Thea Gilmore’s first album in two years has the answer. It’s furious, witty and socially astute. It’s maternally fierce, compassionate and tender. It’s a state of the nation address. It’s a call to arms.

A sense of urgency pervades the album, as darkness skulks around the periphery. The premature fade-out of an intimate, bathroom-echoey, a cappella rendition of traditional lullaby, ‘Mockingbird’, opens up an unsettling sensation of loss. Later, the intensely lovely, bittersweet piano ballad ‘Karl’s Lament’ confirms our fears, “somewhere there are crosshairs on a mockingbird”. Listener, there’s trouble at t’mill.

Fortunately, Gilmore’s songwriting is on searing form, tackling cultural commentary with biting precision. Oxford’s notorious ‘Cutteslowe Walls’ provide the perfect allegory for the country’s ever increasing rich/poor divide, ‘where there’s a line at the foodbank, where they’re handing soup to the boys on the floor, where sleeping bags are blocking doorways, you’ll see the shadow of the Cutteslowe walls”.

That song’s brightly toiling percussion, suggestive of the kind of manual labour seen in the area’s once-booming car industry, is typical of the glove-snug fit of the musical arrangements – with a generous roster of artists including Sam Lakeman and Ciaran Algar making significant contributions. This review copy is light on detail, but Seth Lakeman’s distinctive fiddle graces the ominous ‘The Loading Game’ and Cara Dillon’s Irish whistle coolly pierces the warmth of countryish ballad, ‘Don’t Dim Your Light For Anyone’.

Brimming with fury, the fiercely spat out, heavily sardonic ‘Glory’ condemns media manipulation and fake news with its “welcome to brand new history”, much as the skronky angularity of ‘The Revisionist’ takes angry aim at right wing ‘populists’ – whilst also perfectly demonstrating the power of a well-placed Oedipal insult.

Shuffling percussion and chain-gang vocalisations lead the bluesy, pro-migration ‘Shake Off Those Chains’. A mariachi-style trumpet might suggest Mexico, as might the border-crossing closer ‘Dreamers’. This final lullaby appears to bring the album full circle. But its melodic echoes of Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ plus Egan Stonier’s lamenting, Irish-style fiddle make it more uncomfortable than comforting: more Cormac McCarthy than AA Milne.

Even the vibrant ‘The Fuse (Let It All Come Down)’ – perky tv-jingle meets the gleeful sensuality of Kate Bush’s ‘Eat The Music – bristles with uneasy tension. The Kinks-ish ‘Blowback’ swarms with suitably deceptive pubby jollity, as does the “the people’s reactionary”, a public-school educated millionaire faux ‘man of the people’. Insert name here.

‘Grandam Gold’ (a Chaucerian-era phrase for wealth hoarders) is the most obviously “folky” sounding, with Dillon and Gilmore’s harmonies sublimely delicious. But there’s no mistaking the message, “take up your arms and prepare for the fight, accept what is simple or defend what is right’. Pick your side.

This album turns an incisive female gaze on a small world that’s increasingly turning off-kilter. It walloped me right in the maternals and isn’t about to let go. A brilliant, necessary album for our times.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.theagilmore.net

‘The Fuse’ – lyric video:

HONEY AND THE BEAR – Made In The Aker (own label)

Made In The AkerBased on a ridiculously small sample, I’m beginning to detect a trend for small groups of players making big music overlaid with powerful vocals. If I’m right then Made In The Aker, the debut album by Honey And The Bear, is right on the money. Honey And The Bear are multi-instrumental/vocal/songwriting duo Lucy and Jon Hart. They have waited a while to record this album and their patience shows in the quality of their work.

Lucy and Jon live on the Suffolk coast – aker is Suffolk for turbulent current, if you were wondering – and many of their songs are inspired by their surroundings and local legends. The opener, ‘Dark Heart’, is the story of a girl who cut her heart out in despair for her missing lover and whose ghost is said to haunt Dunwich beach. More prosaically, ‘The Ferry’ is a tribute to the two families who have operated the Southwold to Walberswick ferry for generations. Even when writing in less specific terms they start by drawing on their locality so ‘Sailor’s Daughter’, about breaking free of society’s shackles, starts with an imagined girl, presumably from one of the coastal villages.

It’s back to a local story for ‘Margaret Catchpole’, who was transported to Australia for stealing a horse but ‘Springtime Girl’ was inspired by Lucy’s grandparents, in particular her grandfather who planted his wife’s name in daffodils in their meadow. Other songs were inspired by a Cuban coffee plantation, a tree house and Sir Christopher Cockerell who is rumoured to have tested his hovercraft prototype on Oulton Broad.

Principal among the small group of musicians supporting Lucy and Jon is Toby Shaer, who plays on every track, Evan Carson who provides all the drums and percussion and Graham Coe whose cello underpins eight of the eleven tracks. There are cameos from Archie Churchiill-Moss and Ciaran Algar and, of course, Lucy and Jon play eight instruments. It is their combined vocals, however, that make the album what it is and what it is is a very accomplished debut.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://honeyandthebear.co.uk/

‘Dark Heart’ – live:

DAN WALSH – Trio (Rooksmere Records RRCD118)

TrioI’ve always liked Dan Walsh ever since his debut album, Tomorrow’s Still To Come. It was perhaps unpolished by modern standards but the potential shone through every note. Sadly, I was disappointed by his previous album, Verging On The Perpendicular, but I’ve always thought that Dan was at his best with someone to spark off. At first it was Will Pound, then the UFQ and his partnership with Alistair Anderson was something to be seen and marvelled at. Now his trio with Ciaran Algar and Nic Zuppardi have committed themselves to record and, for me, everything is back on track.

All the material is Dan’s except for the closing ‘Sleep With One Eye Open’ by Lester Flatt. We’re told that it’s a bluegrass classic but it seems oddly hard-bitten.  The opener is ‘Late Night Drive’, a real knees-up with Algar’s fiddle and Zuppardi’s mandolin sharing the second lines. Next is the first song, ‘Life On The Ground’, about homelessness and inspired by a lady Dan met on the street. It holds a political message if you listen carefully. ’80 Years Of Pleasant Half Hours’ is a funky tune which lets Ciaran stretch out a bit and ‘Same Time Different Place’ was inspired by a street cleaner in Stafford.

‘Dizzy Heights’ is a real show-stopper, allowing the chaps to explore their jazz leanings and giving Nic a chance to show off, although there are chances to do that a-plenty throughout the record. Dan gets really country on the next song, ‘The Light Of Day’, and reflects on the life of a touring musician on ‘When I’m Back Around’. It’s a familiar theme but done very well in this song. Two more instrumental sets bring us to the Lester Flatt closer. If I were to be critical I might say that it’s an odd note to finish on but it’s such a good song and it’s great to hear Dan, Ciaran and Nic firing on all cylinders.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: https://www.danwalshbanjo.co.uk/

‘Late Night Drive’ – live:

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’:

THE MELLOWSHIP – You Belong With Me … (own label)

You BelongBorn, raised and still based in the West Country, when she was 23 aspiring singer-songwriter Mo Dewdney had a motorbike accident that left her paraplegic. For some years, music was no longer part of her life, but, then, after the birth of her son, she found herself playing out words and music in her head. She began putting these down on paper, began singing with a local band and, eventually, decided to try her luck by singing her own material in a capella settings. This in turn led her to link with other folk musicians from the region, such as Anthony Chipperfield, and, now, her self-released debut album, You Belong With Me… recorded in collaboration with folk luminaries Lukas Drinkwater, on guitar, bass and harmonies, and fiddler Ciaran Algar.

As their involvement might indicate, Dewdney is of a traditional persuasion, although all but one of the numbers are self-penned, her pure, clear and often yearning vocals and phrasings having earned comparisons with Judy Collins and Sandy Denny. The collection opens with the contemplative ‘shine on’ optimism of ‘Starlight’, leading to an unaccompanied introduction to ‘Marriage Bands’, a song that strikes a rather less upbeat note with its tale of a warrior spirit woman losing her independence, freedom and spirit in the chains of loveless marriage, the cycle repeating itself with her daughter in the last verse; however, buoyed up by Algar’s rustic backwoods fiddle and Drinkwater’s waltz time guitar melody, the nature imagery dressed ‘Kiss All The Stars’ has a rosier view of love’s binding power.

With Drinkwater adding drums, as per the suggestion of the title, ‘The Woad – The Last Battle of Maidens Castle’ takes on traditional ballad form, returning to warrior imagery for the story of a woad-painted tribe facing the end of their dream, the vocals adopting drone line tone, complemented by hollow plucked fiddle and a hypnotic war dance rhythm.

Underpinned by Algar’s lullabying fiddle, another celebration of love, ‘You Belong To Me’ with its dreamy chorus is a warmer affair, while, again in waltz time, ‘Grampa Sam’ sets Dewdney’s lyrics to a tune by Jim Causley in a touching tribute to an elderly gent who took her under his wing when she first moved to the country, taught her to garden, told her tales of his life’s joys and tragedies and became a grandfather to her child.

The musically upbeat mood continues with the fingerpicked jauntiness of ‘The Moment I Now’, a call to do the right thing by the planet on which she live, its love of the natural world and eco message echoed in the album’s sole cover, Drinkwater playing guitar and harmonising on Stan Rogers’s classic ‘Northwest Passage’.

It ends with again just the two of them, this time Drinkwater also adding bass, on ‘Down By The Fire’, the sound of the sea backdropping a final affirmation of finding a place and a partner with whom to share your life. With another project already in hand in collaboration with Greg Hancock, you might want to climb aboard and share yours with her.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.themellowship.co.uk