LUKA BLOOM – Sometimes I Fly… (MIG MIG 02102 CD)

Sometimes I Fly...This album was recorded by Radio Bremen in 2001. Luka Bloom is big in Germany; he’s big in Ireland naturally but for some unfathomable reason he isn’t really big in the UK. Sometimes I Fly… is his second live album and was probably recorded about the same time as the first, given that they have several songs in common.

Most of the songs come out of Luka’s early days beginning with the anthemic ‘Diamond Mountain’ from the album Turf. Instead of pressing on in the same vein he follows that with the gentle, moody ‘Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself’ and by the time he’s finished ‘Ciara’ he has the audience eating out of his hand. That may have something to do with the guitar break he plays but they even applaud the little sigh he lets out before moving on.

For my money, there are three absolute classic Luka Bloom songs in this set. The first of these is ‘Gone To Pablo’, a seemingly simple song which deceives us into following the narrative we imagine before the twist comes in the reveal. Next is Luka’s greatest hit, ‘You Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time’, a song with a chorus that everyone can sing along with but which hides a world of pain for its two protagonists. Thirdly comes ‘As I Waved Goodbye’ about the Dalai Lama’s exile from Tibet – what a masterpiece.

That’s not to diss any of the other songs: ‘Holy Ground’ and ‘Perfect Groove’ top the list of those I haven’t mentioned yet. Luka has a penchant for performing covers and here we have Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Please Don’t Tell Me How This Story Ends’ which blends well with his more romantic songs. Like all of Luka Bloom’s albums you need to spend time with Sometimes I Fly…– three or four plays should get you in the door.

The sadness is that Luka doesn’t seem to have a distributor handling his records in the UK. You can buy them second-hand or at ridiculous import prices but even when we had record shops it was hard to pick them out of a browser. Someone should do something, he said impotently.

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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Artist’s website: https://www.lukabloom.com/

A later version of ‘As I Waved Goodbye’ – live:

THE SALTS – Brave (Braccan Records BRCD9001)

BraveThe Salts perform shanties but not quite in the way you might expect. They are five seasoned musicians with a remarkable list of credits to their names from Pete Best via Thunderclap Newman to Ben E King. Now based in the leafy suburbs of Surrey and Berkshire, Brave is their second album. All five sing and harmonise naturally but that’s not how they perform – essentially they are an amplified acoustic band with a drummer but there is even more to them.

The first three tracks are arguably Caribbean in origin – the one I hadn’t heard before, ‘Running Down To Cuba’ certainly is – and The Salts give them a tropical feel. They don’t actually play reggae, or even a pastiche of reggae, but they give the songs a real lilt. Purists may not like it but they throw in a middle eight here and there and ‘Cuba’ has a distinctly Latin break as Lee Collinson’s banjo combines with Richard Nash’s percussion for a shanty you can dance to.

‘Drunken Sailor’ is the track I wasn’t looking forward to, it really is so hackneyed. The Salts find the darkness in it beginning with just the drums before Jeremy Hart’s guitar comes in and the instrumental break is as heavy as you could wish. It’s a real crowd-pleaser. They do the same with RL Stevenson’s ‘Fifteen Men’ which is a really nasty lyric detailing a number of gory deaths. Even here they employ a string quartet as they do on the title track, the only original song in the set, written by Jeremy.

They give a nod to the American origins of ‘Johnny Come Down To Hilo’ with the banjo on top and Brian Doran’s mandolin joining it. Of course, you can’t sing it the way it was collected these days and it can be argued that once you take a shanty out of its context it has lost its purpose anyway. The Salts’ approach is a valid as that of the massed choirs who sweeten shanties for mass consumption – actually, more so. Which brings us to the final track. ’10,000 Miles’ is a song of transportation on a “government ship”, with the twist that the man is left behind while his lover is transported – a little bit of hstory. Nowadays it’s the softer, more reflective version that is heard most often but The Salts use its capstan or forebitter rhythm to bring their album to a stomping conclusion.

I’m fairly local to The Salts and I’ll see them live soon but they will be performing at the Great British Folk Festival next month and you would be well advised to take a listen. You’ll probably buy this album from them.

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.thesalts.co.uk/

‘Bulgine Run’ – official video:

J.P. HARRIS – Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing (Free Dirt DIRT-CD-0090)

Sometimes Dogs Bark At NothingYou might be wondering if J.P. Harris looks anything like the cover picture. Well, I can’t speak for all the tattoos but, yes, that’s pretty much him! J.P. is from Alabama and his lifestyle follows that of Cisco Houston, travelling for work and describing himself as “a carpenter who writes country songs”. After a four year break, Sometimes Dogs Bark At Nothing is his third album and is produced by Old Crow Medicine Show’s Morgan Jahnig while featuring guitarist and fiddle-player Chance McCoy.

There are many styles of country music and Harris embraces several. The opening track, ‘JP’s Florida Blues #1’, is a tough country blues rocker that forced me to reach for the volume control as I wondered if this was really our thing. Fortunately, it is. The second track, ‘Lady In The Spotlight’, is reminiscent of John Hartford and it’s not until the final song, ‘Jimmy’s Dead And Gone’, taken at express speed does he really rock out again.

The title track is an amusing slice of philosophy beginning with the question “Why does a deer get froze by headlight?” and continues in similar vein leading Harris to conclude that “sometimes dogs bark at nothing”. In and around these songs the titles suggest rough living and hard times: ‘When I Quit Drinking’, ‘Hard Road’, ‘I Only Drink Alone’ and ‘Runaway’ but there’s that typical fatalism that colours so much country music running all the way through them making you think that things aren’t so bad after all.

As I’ve already suggested J.P. has a fine band behind him. McCoy is one three guitarists alongside Leroy Powell, who provides all the pedal steel leads, and Mark Sloan who doubles on keyboards. Kelley Wenrich plays bass and keys and Eric Pollard drums with The Watson Twins on backing vocals. I started with a twinge of doubt in my mind but by halfway through the second play I was convinced.

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: https://www.ilovehonkytonk.com

‘When I Quit Drinking’ – official video:

ETHAN HANNA – Welcome To The Batlands (Tin Man Heart)

Welcome To The BatlandsEthan Hanna is from Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He’s been around for while, paying his dues as a soloist and in bands, but Welcome To The Batlands is his debut solo album. ‘Perfect’, the first single lifted from it and the second track here, is a gem of a song – superficially simple in structure but telling a story with real depth; a story that you’re allowed to piece together  for yourself.

The opening track, ‘Bikes & Cars’ begins with the sound of traffic and takes us back to Ethan’s family – his father used to race motorbikes – and he tells us “I’ve got my father’s music and my mother’s heart” while indulging in so much self-mockery. The first line, “I’ve been singing out of the corner of my mouth for a while now”, is a real zinger. The fact that he cites Darkness At The Edge Of Town as his favourite album tells you some more about where he’s coming from.

Ethan doesn’t sound the way he looks. His voice sounds as though it has been marinated in cigarettes and bad whiskey for a couple of decades although you’d guess from his photograph that he’s around thirty. He carries a Telecaster which he sometimes riffs on but more often plays sparingly, filling in a few notes between vocals. That’s very much the way the album is constructed with just two supporting musicians: Michael Mormecha who plays drums, piano and guitar and joins Sonja Sleator on backing vocals.

Other top tracks include ‘Dream Last Night’ and we are led to presume that it begins at a funeral and feels embedded in the Troubles. ‘Fire’ is a love song with a twist; he’s from the wrong side of the tracks as far as her parents are concerned and you can guess that things won’t turn out too well. I like the sense of confusion that surrounds ‘Shadow City’ and the desperate melancholy of ‘Passenger Seat’ but however you look at it, Welcome To The Batlands is a superb debut album. Even towards the end, ‘Now You’re In New York’ throws up a new surprise. Spend some time with Ethan Hanna’s record and you’ll love 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.

Label website: https://tmhmusic.com/

‘Perfect’:

THE BETTERDAYS – Backlash (NTB Records CD 1004)

BacklashI realise that this isn’t our usual fare but it’s such a gem that we couldn’t resist. The cover shows The Betterdays from Plymouth in their mid-sixties heyday when these tracks were recorded. They released a single in 1965 which failed to chart and disagreed with their record company about what to put out next so nothing else was released. The twenty four tracks that make up Backlash have been remastered by the band’s guitarist/bassist Mike Weston and remastered very well.

The Betterdays played rhythm and blues when rhythm and blues actually meant something and I suppose that this collection is a fair representation of their live repertoire. There are some well-known tracks such ‘Route 66’, ‘Boom Boom’ and ‘High Heel Sneakers’ alongside some real rarities. The band is rock solid and lead vocalist Mike Hayne is so flexible, He can sound like Peter Noone one minute, Captain Beefheart the next and sometimes just down and dirty. There is an air of pastiche about a song like ‘Raining In My Heart’ but most of the time they having a seriously good time.  I particularly like Tampa Red’s ‘Don’t Lie To Me’ which is grounded on the sort of riff that Marc Bolan built his career on – it’s amazing how modern The Betterdays sound even though all the songs are more than fifty years old – and Willie Dixon’s ‘Pretty Thing’.

Other songwriter credits include Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Jimmy Reed and Louisiana Red although you may have to untangle some of them – back in the olden days the credits on a single bore only a passing resemblance to the actually writers. It’s shocking to think that The Betterdays were banned from every Top Rank venue for playing “black” music – mind you, they were banned from a number of their local venues because of the effect their performances caused – and censored in others. John Lee Hooker’s ‘Walking The Boogie’ was one forbidden fruit. Backlash may be a slice of musical history but it’s also great listening.

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.thebetterdays.co.uk

‘Don’t Want That’ – the rare single:

ANTOINE & OWENA – Hands, Hearts & Hangings (own label)

Hands, Hearts & HangingsWe receive a lot of unsolicited albums, often debuts from new artists. Some we may gloss over; others we play more than once. So it is with Hands, Hearts & Hangings, the first album from Wiltshire duo Antoine Architeuthis and Owena Archer. Both are experienced musicians and are beginning to make their mark, having supported Reg Meuross and Eliza and Martin Carthy. You don’t get to do that unless you’re pretty good.

Their repertoire mixes original and traditional material and perversely I prefer the former. Not that there is anything wrong with their traditional songs except that they are terribly well known and tend to be up-tempo crowd pleasers. That said, there are verses in their version of ‘My Son John’ that I haven’t heard before. If they delved into the old texts a little deeper they would have it nailed. But…they write the sort of songs that nobody writes anymore, conjuring up situations and stories the way Bob Pegg and Mandy Morton used to.

Take the first track, ‘The Peddler And The Witch’. We’re immediately in some unspecified past time and witnessing an encounter on the road that moves from commercial to threatening. Then there’s a twist – you might expect that – but there is a second twist to follow that. Brilliant. ‘The Ballad Of John Olden’ is a song of the Luddites but ‘The Palmer’s Kiss’ takes us back to the unspecified past time of that first song. Is it just about sex or is their something mystical involved? As ‘Summer Longing’ began I settled down for a sweet pastoral song but it turns out there is something odd and twisted about it. The final track, ‘Luna’, begins in a similar fashion but by the closing chant it, too, has changed.

Musically, Antoine and Owena don’t over-complicate things. He plays bouzouki and guitar and she plays violin and there is bodhran from Anf Abbott but if you hear them live this is pretty much what you’ll get and that’s good enough for me.

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.antoineandowena.co.uk

‘The Ballad Of John Olden’ – live: