AURI – Auri (Nuclear Blast 27361 42120)

AuriI really didn’t know what to expect from this album. I know Troy Donockley, of course – at least his work with everyone from Maddy Prior to The Bad Shepherds and I know he can play like a demon. Tuomas Holopainen, I learn, is the founder of Nightwish and a composer of symphonic metal so were we in for prog uilleann pipes? Vocalist and viola player Johanna Kurkela is a new name to me so what would Auri offer?

I find myself in an odd position. I love the instrumental sound that Auri makes from Tuomas’ huge keyboards to Troy’s delicate whistles and guitar. There isn’t much in the way of metal but guest drummer Frank Van Essen is an important part of the sound. Symphonic describes it well, as would choral with all the multi-tracked vocals, it is a big rich sound.

My odd position? For the most part, this is not an instrumental album and my first port of call for songs would always be the lyrics but I can’t get into these. If I let my mind wander and just listen to the sound Auri make, I’m quite happy. Johanna has a clear voce which is more robust than it first seems and if she were singing in her native Finnish, I wouldn’t be searching for meaning, and would be raving about what a great album this is.

There are some stand-out tracks; ‘Underthing Solstice’ is one such as are the wordless ‘The Name Of The Wind’ and the closing ‘Them Thar Chanterelles’. I rather like ‘Aphrodite Rising’ but I’m not sure what it’s about although I can probably make some guesses. This is why I didn’t get into 70s prog-rock and avoid concept triple-albums wherever possible. I never was an intellectual.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.nuclearblast.com

‘Night 13’ – official vdeo:

ROBERT LANE – Only A Flight Away (own label RGL 03)

Only A Flight AwayFollowing his excellent EP/mini-album, Ends And Starts, Robert Lane has been touring and writing and is back with a full length album with a startling cover design. Made on a crowd-funded shoestring with producer Matthew Pinfield again supporting on drums, bass and piano, Only A Flight Away adds one new name, Lucy Phillips, to the cast and turns the wick up.

Where Ends And Starts was largely acoustic with electric bits, Only A Flight Away is mostly electric. It opens with a bit of prog nostalgia, a short instrumental called ‘The Hundred House’ which gives Robert a chance to show off his electric guitar. At first, you may wonder what you’ve let yourself in for but Robert is a clever and inventive song writer and it always pays to wait and listen.

‘Man Of The Moment’ starts in the same vein. It’s an unveiled attack on a certain US politician but these days you can pick your own target. The clever thing is that, having blasted it’s way through three minutes it suddenly ends in a few bars of a solo acoustic something – probably guitar, but I’m not entirely sure. Having brought things down, Robert switches to the bluesy finger-picked ‘Baby Knows’ and then builds up again through the acoustic opening passage of ‘Right By My Side’ into a rich string-drenched song..

‘Far Too Busy’ has one of the best opening couplets I’ve heard in years. ”She won’t say dirty words, you find they stick in her throat/But she will do dirty things, she never said that she won’t” suggests one kind of song but I think it’s about isolation in the modern world and is probably the best song on the album. The title comes from the penultimate track, ‘Bill Frost’s Flying Machine’, a philosophical song with just a touch of whimsy, and finally we have ‘Who Do You Think You’re Talking For’, a sort of companion piece to Man Of The Moment’. Actually, this could be the best song on the album, too.

It’s a cliché, but Robert and Matthew use the studio like an instrument with multiple overdubs and tracks merging into one another. There are just three musicians here constructing a variety of sounds and styles. I doubt that this album can be reproduced on stage but the songs are strong enough to stand alone with just an acoustic guitar. This is a bloody good record.

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: http://www.robertlanemusic.co.uk/

There’s nothing on-line from Only A Flight Away so here’s an oldie – ‘Break My Heart Blues’ live:

HANNAH SANDERS & BEN SAVAGE – Awake (Sungrazing Records SGR003)

AwakeBefore The Sun, Hannah and Ben’s debut album as a duo, caused a few ripples in folk circles. I predict that Awake will cause a real splash; from its remarkable cover design to the mix of songs it takes everything that its predecessor had and doubles it.

Hannah’s background as an anthropologist gives us the source of some of the songs. The opening ‘Selkie Song’ is their own composition and is, of course, a retelling of ‘The Great Silkie’ with a twist and ‘Reynardine’ reminds us that Hannah recorded ‘The Werewolf’ on her solo album, Charms Against Sorrow. The use of Tarot artwork in the booklet emphasises the mystical elements of the album but in one or two cases I really would prefer the words.

Like its predecessor Awake is very much a transatlantic album, again recorded in Toronto by David Travers-Smith. Although ‘Selkie Song’ might be thought of as a very British song, it is Chris Coole’s banjo that is the key sound. ‘I Met A Man’ is very much Hannah’s song – a pop ballad with acoustic guitar and pedal steel decoration – in which she finds her inner Kate Bush. Then comes a surprise. ‘Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key’ is Billy Bragg’s setting of Woody Guthrie’s words, not a typical Guthrie lyric at that, and Hannah and Ben treat it so delicately even as the accompaniment swells behind them. It’s partnered here by ‘Santa Fe Trail’, that oh-so-evocative depiction of the American west, and Pete Seeger’s lullaby ‘One Grain Of Sand’.

‘7’ utilises the children’s magpie rhyme as its chorus which brings us back to the mystical but it’s preceded by ‘Every Night When The Sun Goes In’, a guitar instrumental of beautiful simplicity and a definite American feel. ‘Reynardine’ rocks as hard it can with acoustic instruments with Hannah taking most of the lead vocal and Ben singing the part of the nocturnal rambler.

Awake is an album that will take a long time to get to the bottom of. You can easily enjoy it but sooner or later you’ll find yourself asking ‘what’s that?’ or ‘why did they do this?’. That’s what is really great about it, apart from ‘Santa Fe Trail’, of course.

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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Artists’ website: www.hannahbenmusic.com

‘Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key’ – official video:

PHIL HARE – A Stranger I Came (March Hare Productions MHPCD002)

A Stranger I CameDon’t ask me how many albums Phil Hare has made but it’s a lot and A Stranger I Came is his latest. It’s simply recorded off the floor with a couple of minimal overdubs of banjo and Dobro and is big on Phil’s fingerpicked guitar. The songs and tunes are mostly Phil’s own plus three covers and some traditional pieces and are largely concerned with the current political and social situation. There isn’t much scope for humour but he does his best and not always in expected places.

The opener is one of the covers, Kevin Buxton’s ‘One Step Away From The Blues’ and rather sets the whole “what a mess we’re in” scene. That’s followed by the traditional ‘Blarney Pilgrim’ paired with ‘Nigel Farage Swimming The Channel’. I had hoped that the latter would be scurrilous and unrepeatable but it is also an instrumental. He let me down, there, but more than redeems himself with ‘Water Wide’, a song with very modern lyrics about refugees and a powerful message styled like a traditional ballad. The aquatic theme continues with the instrumental ‘The Water Is Wide’ paired with a song, ‘Sure As The River Flows’.

‘I’ve Got My Country Back’ says what many people are thinking and saying and injects a note of gallows humour while ‘Can’t Quote Shakespeare’ is out-and-out comedy where I was expecting a comment on our education system. ‘Will You Marry Me?’ is a poignant song about two gays in Dublin who waited twenty years for the change in the law which allowed them to marry. It’s very cleverly constructed so that you’re never totally sure where it’s going until it arrives. ‘Broken Society’ returns to the tough side of life with the tale of a disabled soldier facing benefit cuts.

Four tracks are purely instrumental, including a gorgeous cover of Cindy Lauper’s ‘Time After Time’, and they lighten what could be a rather bleak album given the majority of the subject matter. Even the romantic sounding closer, ‘You Never Really Went’, has an air of melancholy mixed with nostalgia and a measure of optimism. Like much of the record, it’s delicately layered.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.philhare.co.uk

‘The Water Is Wide/Sure As The River Flows’ – live:

NINEBARROW – The Waters & The Wild (own label)

The Waters & The WildIf music be the food of love, then prepare for indigestion … was the title of a 1967 album by a band I’m not prepared to mention here. It’s not quite appropriate in this case for although The Waters & The Wild serves up some rich fare it is very digestible indeed. I think I’ll stop now before I stretch the metaphor with remarks about loosening the top trouser button and sleeping in an armchair with a newspaper over your face. You get the idea.

If you haven’t caught up with them yet, Ninebarrow are Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere. They are from Dorset and Dorset is a part of them and very much a part of this album. The record begins with two very contrasting songs. The first, ‘The Hour Of The Blackbird’, is a pastoral piece heralding the coming of spring and expanding the pagan idea of the winter and summer kings. It’s followed by ‘Halsewell’, the story of Dorset’s worst shipping disaster with dramatic vocals and a suitably thunderous accompaniment.

Jon’s multi-instrumental skills are augmented by James’ reed organ and various basses and drums, notably from Evan Carson, Joe Limburn and producer Mark Tucker with backing vocals from The Teacups. The biggest sound, however, comes from Barney Morse-Brown’s string arrangements recorded by him and Jane Griffiths and when I say big, I mean big.

‘Prickle-Eye Bush’ is a song that has come back into fashion again – or maybe it never went away – and I’m always tempted to skip over it on an album. Ninebarrow try to do something different with it and the hand percussion breathes some life back into it. That’s followed by ‘While Gamekeepers Lie Sleeping’ as borrowed from June Tabor. Neither of these songs are necessarily from Dorset but they could be. Jon and James immediately return home or ‘Hwome’ with that most Dorset of poets, William Barnes, but the song doesn’t overly rely on dialect and the arrangement is really nice, particularly in the outro section.

The title track is definitely an immigrant being derived from W B Yeats’ ‘The Stolen Child’ but the tune of ‘Row On’ was composed by another local, Tim Laycock and ‘Gather It In’ is a catalogue of old harvest customs. The last track is John Kirkpatrick’s ‘Sing A Full Song’, a song with a universal emotional appeal.

The lyrics and background information can be downloaded for free – lucky me, I received a pukka copy with the album; a rare case of a generous press agent. You know who you are. Although the words are not essential to the enjoyment of the album they, and the song notes, help to draw you into Ninebarrow’s musical world which is a very good place to be.

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.ninebarrow.co.uk

‘Prickle-Eye Bush’ – live:

GREG RUSSELL & CIARAN ALGAR – Utopia And Wasteland (Rootbeat RBRCD40)

Utopia And WastelandThe ink is barely dry on Greg and Ciaran’s previous album and they are back with Utopia And Wasteland. The mix is pretty much as before; original songs, judiciously chosen covers and three tune sets. The title isn’t just a randomly chosen three words: it is at the heart of the record and exemplified by Ciaran Algar’s ‘We Are Leaving’. There has always been a political slant to their writing but there is a real feeling of suppressed anger here as well as carefully considered ideas.

The anger only really surfaces on the opening track, Gregg Russell’s ‘Line Two’, a bitter skewering of HS2 and all that goes with it: bent bankers, corrupt politicians and overwhelming greed. Here the album title is represented by the utopia of high-speed luxury travel for the rich and the wasteland for the poor whose homes will be bulldozed to make it possible. Next is the first instrumental set, ‘Warwick Road’ with multitracked fiddle and banjo, to remind us that music should also be entertainment.

The third track is the first cover; Stan Rogers’ ‘Lock Keeper’. I sometimes have trouble with Rogers’ covers, his voice with that hint of a Maritime accent is so distinctive. Greg’s interpretation isn’t as robust as Stan’s. Where the original lock-keeper is defiant, Greg’s is initially more thoughtful and quieter in his responses. The song is really about the pleasures of home in contrast with the adventurous life of the sailor and his tropic maids and Greg muses further on the theme of home in ‘Seven Hills’, a song written abroad but full of thoughts of his home in Sheffield.

‘We Are Leaving’ is about the Grenfell disaster but is really about racist views, a theme Greg turns to in ‘Walter’. Walter Tull was a soldier of afro-Caribbean heritage who was a second lieutenant in the Great War and killed in action. Despite repeated petitioning he was refused a Military Medal and such monuments as he has were mostly erected without official co-operation.

Greg and Ciaran don’t really need much support but producer Mark Tucker adds bass, percussion and backing vocals when required. His contributions are mostly unobtrusive but now and again you notice that a song which started quietly has risen to a mighty roar without drawing attention away from the vocals. That’s clever engineering that adds greatly to a very fine album.

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.russellalgar.co.uk

‘Seven Hills’ – official video: