MAIREARAD & ANNA – Farran (Shouty Records SHOUTYCD04)

FarranFarran is the Scots word for the starboard side of a boat and is also Mairearad Green and Anna Massie’s fourth album as a duo. It’s a stripped back album recorded by Andrea Gobbi and co-produced by Calum MacCrimmon of Breabach, recorded off the floor with accordion, pipes, fiddle, guitar and Anna’s voice on one track.

The album kicks off at a pace with three pipe tunes by Mairearad’s teacher, P/M Norman Gillies, followed by ‘Wee McGhee’s’ which starts deceptively slowly but builds up speed as Mairearad starts to slip the triples in. It’s a really nice set as is ‘The Merton Set’ with Anna’s “peal of bells’ figure on the guitar’s bass notes on her own tune, ‘Laura Drummond’ Slip Jig’. It also lets the listener get some breath back for a while, although the third tune in the set, Mairearad’s ‘Emma And Ali’s Wedding’ picks up the pace again.

Up next is the only song, ‘Molly May’ – check out the cover – by Canadian singer-songwriter J.P. (John Paul) Cormier and given its country of origin and subject matter I don’t need to tell you who it puts me in mind of. It’s set in Nova Scotia, by the way, and I like it a lot. Then we have another pacy set, ‘Jamie’s’, followed by a chance for Anna to show off on guitar with a set of more reflective tunes, ‘Rachel Newton’s ‘The Eggshell Brewery’ and  Ian Henderson’s ‘Trip To Austin’ – I have a romantic notion of someone playing the latter as the boats come in to port but don’t ask me why.

‘Willie Macrea Of Ullapool’, another tune by P/M Gillies, sees Anna switch to fiddle playing in the style of a slow march before Mairearad joins in. There’s a traditional set before the album closes with a beautiful fiddle tune, ‘Mo Chailean – Dileas Donn’, written by Hector Mackenzie, an Ullapool fisherman.

Farran seems a little short but there is no doubt that Mairearad and Anna have produced another fine album.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://www.mairearadandanna.com/

‘Polkas’ from Summer Isle Festival:

NIALL HANNA – Autumn Winds (own label)

Autumn WindsI have to say out the outset that this is rather lovely. Two years ago Niall Hanna received a Young Musician’s Platform Award from the Arts Council which gave him the opportunity to collect and record some traditional songs, mostly from Ulster. He threw in a couple of original compositions and Autumn Winds is the result. Of course, he had a singular advantage in that his grandfather, Geordie Hanna, was a notable singer and two of the songs come from his repertoire.

The album opens with an original song, ‘The Autumn Winds’, a typically lilting piece of Irish music which could be traditional and that says a lot for it. It’s about memory and loss. I must have noticed this before but Autumn Winds brought it home: how many Irish songs are named for a place, whatever the subject matter. Niall follows suit with his second original piece, ‘Sweet Lough Neagh’. After the title track comes ‘Lough Erne Shore’, originally collected by Paddy Tunney. Despite very few points of similarity it reminds of ‘Belle Isle’ as constructed by Bob Dylan who set the song on the banks of Loch Eiron. Given the number of Irish songs that travelled to the Americas I’m sure there’s a link.

‘The Granemore Hare’ is fairly well known but ‘The Mountains Of Pomeroy’ turns out to be a version of ‘Reynardine’. Niall says that the melody is commonly played as a barndance march but the lyrics were written by one George Sigerson. ‘The Stately Woods Of Truagh’ is the first song from Niall’s grandfather and tells of a soldier saying goodbye to his true love before riding off to fight in the Battle of Benburb. It has a happy ending as he survives and comes home to marry her. ‘The Rambling Irishman’ breaks the titling rule and is a song of emigration as is ‘Erin’s Lovely Home’, another song from Geordie Hanna. There is a set of reels and finally we have a real favourite of mine, ‘Banks Of The Bann’.

The album was produced and arranged by Niall and Dónal O’Connor who plays keyboards. Also in support are Ciaran Hanna on concertina and whistles, Rachel McGarrity on fiddle and percussionist Dermot Moynagh of Lonesome George. The arrangements can be delicate based on Niall’s multi-tracked guitars or as lively as ‘The Rambling Irishman’ demands.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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‘The Mountains Of Pomeroy’:

JACKIE OATES – The Joy Of Living (ECC Records ECC018)

The Joy Of LivingJackie Oates’ new album, her seventh, is an intensely personal one with songs spanning four generations of her family from her grandfather to her daughter Rosie. The latter can be heard on several tracks notably her “theme tune”, ‘Rosy Apple’. The Joy Of Living reflects on new life and death – Jackie’s father died unexpectedly five days after Rosie was born, and I really can’t imagine the tumult of emotions she must have felt.

So a makeshift studio was set up in her kitchen and producer Simon Richmond would travel to hers and they would get as much work done as possible in the time available – hence young Rosie’s contributions to some of the tracks. The album opens with Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye’. Jackie’s father fought in the 51st Highland Division, Henderson’s regiment, and she sings the beautiful tune sensitively but without excessive emotion. From there we turn to the new life with ‘Spring Is Coming Soon’, a song that Jackie made up when Rosie was very small and it paves the way for several other children’s songs scattered through the album.

John Lennon’s painful ‘Mother’ comes as something as a shock and I’m still not sure how to interpret it. Is Jackie lifting the lid on something better left concealed? If so she quickly slams it shut again with a reprise of ‘Spring Is Coming Soon’ with its repeated “we’ll be happy very soon”. It’s certainly a stunning performance and one that Jackie is not afraid to tackle on stage. The traditional ‘Virginny’ is a song that Jackie learned from her father and is faithful to his version and now we have encompassed all four generations.

‘The Joy Of Living’ had quite an impact on the young listeners at the launch event but, being an old codger, I can’t help but contrast it with ‘The Manchester Rambler’, written when MacColl was a young man. The love of the mountains is present in two songs written roughly fifty years apart in very different contexts. But I digress. ‘Unicorns’ is another song that Jackie grew up with and I suppose that ‘Catch Me If You Can’, ‘The Bird’ and ‘Sweet Farewell’ fall into that category. The last two songs return to Jackie’s father. ‘The Last Trip Home’ was one of his favourites and ‘Rolling Home’ is actually a fragment of a recording of him in a session – Jackie picks up the song as the clip fades out.

Musically, there is great variety but nothing is overbearing – how many musicians can you actually record in a kitchen at one time? The piano was already there but John Parker had to bring his double bass, Barney Morse Brown his cello and Matt Allwright his pedal steel. Jack Rutter is Jackie’s regular sidesman now, John Spiers dropped in and Megan Henwood was around a lot to provide the backing vocals. The Joy Of Living was recorded over a long period and not necessarily under ideal circumstances but it comes over as fresh and spontaneous and, indeed, a joy to listen to.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

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

‘Nay Ivy Nay’ – live:

LONESOME GEORGE – Flat As The Earth (own label)

Flat As The EarthWhat do you do if you’re essentially an Irish traditional band who also want “to represent an underlying dissatisfaction that we believe to be present in our generation”, as lead vocalist and lyricist Joe Campbell-McArdle puts it?  Lonesome George decided to do both on their debut album, Flat As The Earth, which leaves us with the question – does it work? I’m still trying to decide.

Let’s say first that the playing is excellent: basically guitar, mandolin, flute, whistles and percussion with occasional guest musicians but Lonesome George don’t overdo it. They tackle a nine-minute instrumental set, ‘Ruairi’s Lullaby’ with great aplomb and the assistance of Paddy McKeown on fiddle and Brendan Loughran on concertina and exhibit the same skill in the arrangements of their songs. The mandolin of Myles McCormack is the second lead instrument and Dermot Moynagh completes the line-up on bodhran and percussion.

Their songs adhere to Theodore Roosevelt’s maxim – “speak softly and carry a big stick”.  It’s not uncommon to match harsh words to a pretty tune but Joe has a very delicate voice and relies on the rest of the band for the forcefulness – Stiofan Loughran’s flute is key on the opening ‘Where We Gonna Be?’, an ecology song with perhaps too much resignation in its lyrics. ‘Lies And Adverts’ is definitely anti-capitalist with some clever lines and ‘Mercy’, about refugees and specifically the Calais jungle, is beautifully constructed.

The second half of the record opens with ‘Ruari’s Lullaby’ and is perhaps heavier on the instrumental side of Lonesome George’s performance. The two concluding songs, ‘Variety’ and ‘Alleycat Preacher’ develop the ideas set out in ‘Lies And Adverts’ – manipulation of thoughts and opinions, how easy it can be to conform and the power of religion – perhaps more keenly felt in Northern Ireland than here.

Flat As The Earth is very easy to listen to when you settle into it and, yes, I think it does work.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artists’ website: https://www.facebook.com/LonesomeGeorgeband/

‘Alleycat Preacher’ live:

BEINN LEE – Osgarra (own label BL18)

OsgarraBeinn Lee are a young six-piece band who are deeply rooted in the music of their home in Uist. Osgarra is their debut and I get the feeling that they had enough ideas for three different records but decided to combine them all into one to see what happened. It makes for a very varied record and I’ll bet that their live sets are equally good.

So, on the one hand we have tunes in the Hebridean style – I’m not an expert but I reckon that the instrumental set ‘Alasdair Uilleim’s’ and the beautiful Gaelic song ‘Moladh Eubhal’ fit that description. Angus John Macinnes’ drums give the former a jaunty military beat which may or may not be authentic but which sounds wonderful. The latter is sung by James Stewart and the band give it a rich, smooth arrangement. ‘Well Done The Dancers!’ is another set that sounds terribly four-square and features Micheal Steele’s pipes but I suspect tongues are in cheeks. On the other hand we have tunes from some of Scotland’s best known contemporary composers; tunes with titles like ‘A Bottle Of Vodka, Twenty Marlboro Red And £50 Cashback’. Of course, Beinn Lee mix the tunes up so Dòmhnail Ruadh Chorùna’s ‘An Eala Bhàn’, written on the Somme, is followed by a Fred Morrison tune and two band originals.

On the other hand…well, you get the point…Beinn Lee could be a Celtic rock band. James has written two songs here: ‘Begin Again’ and ‘Now Girl’ – the latter is particularly good – and they throw in Runrig’s ‘The Story’ which sort of links past and present. I like the variety of Osgarra – if you don’t particularly care for one track you’ll certainly like the next one, although what’s not to like about any of it?

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artists’ website: http://beinnlee.com/

A set of reels from Beinn Lee:

IRA BERNSTEIN & RILEY BAUGUS – Appalachian Roots (Yodel-Ay-Hee CD-0046)

Appalachian RootsI’m pretty sure I saw Ira Bernstein demonstrating his Appalachian clogging and flatfooting when he was the sensation of the festival circuit back in the 1980s. I have a vivid picture in my mind of a man impossibly high off the ground given that he was step-dancing and I hope I’m not mistaken. Riley Baugus I don’t know but here they are together on Appalachian Roots, Riley on banjo, fiddle and vocals and Ira showing that he also plays a mean fiddle. Ira and Riley explain that this is their first recording and was done live off the floor with any fluffs left in. It was actually recorded in 2002 and, reading between the lines a bit, it seems that it is now being released (or re-released) in the UK to tie in with a short tour by Riley.

If you’re familiar with the music of southern Appalachians you’ll know what to expect but you probably won’t be prepared for the banjo to break off for a flatfooting solo, which is what happens in ‘John Hardy’- not once but twice. Some of the titles will be familiar but the content behind them may not. ‘Man Of Constant Sorrow’, which Riley is adamant was written by Dick Burnette, has points in common with the “traditional” song but with a very different feel. As for ‘Shortenin’ Bread #1’; remember the horribly sanitised version that entered the skiffle repertoire? Forget it. Riley begins with what he calls “preaching”, the roaring tale of a preacher going to a parishioner’s house for some home cooking – Ira taps the percussion accompaniment. In between these is ‘Callahan’s Reel’ featuring the best fiddle sticks playing I’ve ever heard – Ira again.

Other Appalachian classics in this set include ‘Roustabout’, ‘Old Joe Clark’, ‘Cluck Old Hen’ and ‘Wild Bill Jones’ but there really isn’t a dull track and Riley and Ira are scrupulous in noting the sources of their songs and tunes. If you like folk music raw and authentic, you really must listen to Appalachian Roots.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.appalachian-roots.com

‘John Hardy’ live with a guest appearance by Dirk Powell: