DAN AMOR – Afonydd A Drysau (Recordiau Cae Gwyn CD 009)

Afonydd A DrysauI am rather fond of Dan Amor’s previous album, Rainhill Trials. It was a little off-the-wall and catchy but didn’t force itself upon you. With Afonydd A Drysau (Rivers And Doors) he’s returned entirely to God’s language for the first time in several years.

I was most unwell when I came to start work on this review but I found that lying in a dark room with Dan’s swirling acoustic rhythms was actually most theraputic. That said, ‘Sara Sahara’ and ‘Penwythnos Heulog’ wouldn’t have allowed me to fall asleep but that wasn’t actually the idea. The short instrumental opener, ‘Chwefror Y Pumed’, begins with what I take to be the sound of agricultural machinery followed by a long slow roll of thunder with Dan’s acoustic guitars sounding like falling rain.

Dan plays everything on the album except for Huw Owen’s drums and bass and  Llŷr Pari who plays bass on one track. There are more snippets of field recordings including bird song and in places Dan sounds rather like The Beatles would have had they only been brought up on Welsh folksong. It’s partly his sweet multi-tracked vocal harmonies and partly his way with a melody that inevitably points in that direction. Sadly, my Welsh is next to non-existent but Dan promises that translations of  the songs will appear on the label’s Bandcamp page. There are not there yet but I did work out that ‘Addo Glaw’ is about rain; that ‘Afon Caseg’ is a valley in Snowdonia and that ‘Weithiau’, the last track, translates as “sometimes”. After that, we’re all alone in the wilderness.

I do find Welsh vocals very attractive, as I do Gaelic, even though I don’t understand the words and I do like Afonydd A Drysau. It’s available to download and stream now with limited edition physical copies on sale next year.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://caegwynrecords.bandcamp.com/artists

‘Penwythnos Heulog’ – official video:

BRIAN McALPINE – Mutual Imagination Society Vol 1 (own label CD001)

Mutual Imagination SocietyWhen did classical and traditional music become so intertwined? I suppose we must go back to the 15th century to find where it started but the definition of classical music didn’t appear until the early 1800s. In England, we can probably pin the blame on Ralph Vaughn Williams for nicking so many good tunes for Hymns Ancient & Modern and then Percy Grainger and George Butterworth. The purpose of this musing is to try to define Brian McAlpine and Mutual Imagination Society Vol 1.

Brian is first and foremost a composer, notably of music for film and television, where the accompaniment to a scene is so important and he’s contributed as arranger, composer and performer to almost seventy albums. He doesn’t borrow tunes but he does employ traditional styles so here you’ll find massed highland pipes alongside horns laid over the foundation of his piano. He doesn’t borrow tunes but ‘November 6th’, for example, sounds as though its origins lie deep in the past ‘Blue Grass’, which follows it, sounds much more contemporary with drones and massed keyboards. I’m just guessing here because Brian is a phenomenal multi-instrumentalist but modestly doesn’t list all his instruments and what I take to be synthesised strings could be the real strings of Jonny Hardie and Alison Smith multi-tracked. ‘Blue Grass’ is a particularly fascinating track because half-way through Brian suddenly switches to banjo overlaid with pipes before eventually returning to the drones.

All the tracks dance around ideas and forms. The eleven minute opener, ‘Suite #1’, is a sort of hors d’oeuvre allowing the listener a taste of what is to come. Brian uses a good deal of piano-accordion but he doesn’t do things in the obvious way. ‘Piobroch #1’ is initially a piano piece and just when you think it won’t happen, here come the pipes but not for long and we’re left with piano and accordion. ‘The Tumbler’, which comes next,opens with bluesy saxophone played Nigel Hitchcock but having established itself it wanders off for a while.

I’m not enough of an expert to say what Brian McAlpine does exactly or how he does it but he does say that each piece was composed to express an emotion and was inspired by the Scottish landscape and that, at least, I can recognise. I also know that it’s a rather wonderful album.

Dai Jeffries


Artist’s website: http://www.brianmcalpine.com/B/home.html

‘Soundtrack To Peace’- official video:

DANKO & BUTTERFIELD – Live At The Golden Bear (Floating World FLOATM6375)

Live At The Golden BearThis is the earliest of three new archive albums featuring Rick Danko. When The Band was in down-time Rick would regularly tour small clubs, sometimes solo, sometimes with friends and in the late 70s, Paul Butterfield was a regular partner. Live At The Golden Bear is one of the first of these collaborations, reckoned to be recorded in November 1978 but so obscure that it isn’t listed on The Band’s website.

The first disc is pretty much pure rock’n’roll and Rick and Paul are clearly having a wonderful time. Early tracks include JJ Cale’s ‘Crazy Mama’, a staple of Danko’s live set; Nick Gravenites’ ‘Born In Chicago’ from Butterfield’s early days and ‘Seaboard Line Boogie’ from Paul Revere & The Raiders – I’m still trying to find the connection to that one. From there we have five Buddy Holly songs and Bob Wills’ ‘Stay All Night’ to end the first disc.

The band includes Marty Grebb, Walt Richmond and Terry Danko and there may be others but they are not listed in the booklet. They are announced from the stage but the crowd noise is too high for clarity and therein lies the major problem. The noise builds and builds and an attempt to introduce some sensitivity in the shape of ‘Unfaithful Servant’ is ruined by an annoyingly loud-voiced woman, presumably standing next to the microphone. She moves or shuts up after a while and Randy Van Warmer’s ‘Just When I Needed You Most’ fares rather better.

I was really looking forward to hearing this album but, sadly, it turns out to be a so-so bootleg and I’m unwilling to recommend it.

Dai Jeffries

Label website: https://floatingworldrecords.co.uk/

‘Crazy Mama’ – live in 1979:

THE OUTSIDE TRACK – Rise Up (Lorimer Records LORRCD07)

Rise UpWhen Rise Up hit my doormat I realised that it was a long time since I’d heard anything from The Outside Track. In fact it has been six years since Flash Company but an international band based in Scotland is always going to be very busy. There has been a line-up change with Norah Rendell and Cillian Ó’Dálaigh leaving the band to be replaced by Teresa Horgan. Technically, it was an all-female line-up that recorded Rise Up but Michael Ferrie, who plays guitar throughout, has now officially joined them.

The album opens with ‘Dark Reels’, a mighty set of tunes opening gently enough with Ailie Robertson’s harp but getting a bit heavier than you might expect. Two of the three are by Robertson and the third is by Lauren MacColl and they make for an excellent starter. Next is ‘Sweet Lover Of Mine’, a variation of ‘Scarborough Fair’ sung by Horgan followed by ‘Road To Rollo Bay’, a set of three tunes from the band’s homelands: Canada, Scotland and Ireland. The first of these was written by Shirley (or Shelly) Campbell from Prince Edward Isle and the others are by Jenna Reid and Neil Vallely.

‘The Banks Of Sweet Dundee’ is an unusual tale of attempted matrimony and successful homicide while ‘The Wife Of Usher’s Well’ presents a slightly unfamiliar take on the story set over a pulsing arrangement. ‘Neillí Pluincéad’ is one of the few titles that seems better in English than Irish and it’s unusual to hear O’Carolan’s words as well as the tune of ‘Eleanor Plunkett’. This is perhaps most haunting track. In contrast to the opener, ‘The Happy Reels’ is a pair of tunes written by Horgan and Mairi Rankin to cheer us up and ‘The Silver Bullet’ is a set of rocking tunes from Cape Breton.

Finally, ‘Lady Diamond’ is a big take on another celebrated murder ballad in all its gory detail and a fitting end to another splendid album from The Outside Track.

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: www.theoutsidetrack.com

‘The Banks Of Sweet Dundee’ – live:

CÚIG – The Theory Of Chaos (Copperplate COPP032)

The Theory Of ChaosIrish traditional music with added chutzpah is probably the best description of Cúig’s second album, The Theory Of Chaos. Actually there are only two  traditional tunes here: ‘Eamon Coyne’s’ and an untitled jig, which sounds like a distant relative of ‘Rocky Road To Dublin’, plus one tune by John McAskill and one by Jarlath Henderson – all done by the end of the second track. The remaining material is written by Cathal Murphy, Eoin Murphy and Rónán Stewart.

The band’s melody instruments are button accordion, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, Uilleann pipes and piano with Ruairi Stewart on guitar and two guest bass guitarists in Ronnie Flynn and Paul McCabe. At the core of each track are the patterns of traditional music but the arrangements by Cúig and the production by Dave Molloy have a great deal to do with the finished sound.  Take ‘Before The Flood’, written by the Murphys: two fine tunes with an accompaniment which switches between pounding drums and the most delicate of light percussion. I have to say that the music doesn’t stay delicate or light for very long and it seems clear that Cúig’s real metier is on the live stage but that’s not to say that The Theory Of Chaos lacks subtlety. Just listen to the opening of Eoin’s ‘Tirolo Nights’ for confirmation of that.

There are three songs here, a first for the band. Two are written by Cathal and Rónán and one by Cathal alone and all three add a contrasting touch of lightness to the intensity of the music without being what you’d call showstoppers, although there’s something about ‘Carry On’ that draws you back to it.

Cúig are a young, exciting band with lots of ideas and considerable musical skill. Who can say where their journey will take them from here?

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: www.cuigmusic.com

‘Patient Zero’ – official video:

MARTIN STEPHENSON & THE DAINTEES – live Under The Bridge, London

Martin Stephenson & The Daintees
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

Martin Stephenson & The Daintees arrived in Chelsea in the middle of a long tour. The reason is, of course, the revamped Gladsome, Humour & Blue, an album I’ve very much enjoyed reacquainting myself with over the last few weeks. The core Daintees are lead guitarist John Steel, Kate Stephenson on drums and bassist Chris Mordey with a brief guest appearance by vocalist Anna Lavigne. The re-recording took a back-to-basics approach and the live band now trimmed away anything that wasn’t strictly necessary. The plan was simple: play the album through, more or less in order, and have some extra fun at the end.

So they started with ‘There Comes A Time’ which, with the audience full of the band’s friends, became something of an anthem – the hook line being irresistibly singable. There was a bit of messing about with a lead and it felt a bit shambolic. Sometimes it seemed that Martin was working on his stand-up routine with improbable stories and iffy jokes but after a while I had him sussed. He may look as though he’s winging the whole show but behind the joking he is razor sharp and the band is tight as a drum.

‘Slaughterman’ was followed by an acoustic solo of ‘The Wait’, less being more. ‘Even The Night’ became another anthem with just Martin’s guitar and John and Kate doing backing vocals. And the audience who took over the chorus and harmonised like professionals. A huge roar greeted ‘Wholly Humble Heart’ with a stunning guitar solo from John and then Martin did something that really impressed me. In the midst of a story about how the Americans pinched everything from us and in particular how Merle Haggard learned Kentucky thumb style from Chas And Dave he demonstrated the proof. First the chunky chords on the middle strings, then a bass lick and finally adding a melody line – plus a ‘brass’ chord hit over the pick-up. I saw it and I still can’t get my head round it.

‘Goodbye John’ saw a guest appearance by John Perry, formerly of The Only Ones. He’s a fine player but looks seriously scary and now we had two lead guitarists on stage, both under tight control – it could have got messy otherwise. ‘Signposts To Heaven’, a track from a new side-project album, Thomasina, co-written with Anna was followed by the country-rock of ‘Running Waters’ and with John Perry firmly ensconced we were treated to ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’, The Only Ones’ biggest hit. ‘The Folk Singer’ wasn’t the Tommy Roe hit, I’m pleased to say, but ‘The Whisky’ is likely to get Martin exiled from the Highlands.

Finally, Martin gave us ‘Rain’, solo-ish and acoustic-ish before the band came back to encore with ‘Boat To Bolivia’ and its infectious blend of Latin and reggae beats. The Daintees’ tour continues well into the new year and I urge you go and hear them. It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard Martin before you’ll still have a great night out.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.daintees.co.uk

‘Rain’ – live from an earlier date on the tour: