RACHEL CROFT – Hours Awake (Black Ink BI19001)

Hours AwakeA York-based singer-songwriter and illustrator, influenced by Celtic folk, Croft bookends her debut studio album (she previously released a live covers collection) with its two strongest, but highly contrastive, numbers. It opens with ‘Old Climbing Tree’, a dark and moody Celtic-inspired number, sparse hollow drums, violin and cello backdropping low vocals that seem to arise from cavernous bowers as a refrain which speaks of dreaming about times past is set against lines like “When the morning sun cleanses the dark inside clean/Green glass bottles lie by your cold tired knees”, and of holding on to hopes when the sand castles we build are washed away. Ten tracks later it closes with ‘Can’t Replace Your Perfect’, a laid back, soulful, gospel-tinged strummed number that echoes the former’s hints of a self-destructive personality (“You slip like water through my hands/Cos you don’t want no one to save you”) and calls to mind Gladys Knight’s singing ‘Midnight Train To Georgia’.

In-between, she offers a fairly diverse range of self-penned material, she playing guitar with backing musicians that include Emyln Vaughan on electric guitar, bass and double bass, violinist Emily Lawler, Karl Mullen on keys, Rachel Brown on cello and Neil Scott holding down the drums. ‘Hear Me’ was the first song she wrote back in 2014, a dreamily melodic, airy, gently fingerpicked and softly sung number that again plays on a note of supportiveness, while, a reflection on a relationship that was never meant to be (“This ain’t a love story but it don’t mean that I can’t tell it that way”), the melodically playful ‘In Blue’ conjures thoughts of early Joni Mitchell in both its title and musical form.

Her debut single, featuring co-producer Dan Webster on guitar, ‘Only Dreams’ is another, moody number underpinned by distant cello, rumbling drums and keys, Croft’s pure voice soaring on Judie Tzuke wings, followed, in turn, by ‘Don’t Feel Like Holding On’, a song about the sometimes impermanence and futility of love (with another image of castles in the sand) accompanied by melancholic cello and a muted train-rhythm drum beat.

Past relationships are also at the heart of the disarmingly beautiful fingerpicked chords of ‘Rainier Day’, another reflective number that balances both the determination to hold on (“The darkness hasn’t come to us quite yet”) and the acceptance of what has gone (“I’ve wasted years and years to try to make you proud of me, but I wouldn’t cut my hair for you or change my stupid clothes”), ending with the heart-aching line “I’ll save these tears ‘til I know you’ve gone to stay.”

A cello-backed folksier, soulful ballad with a slow sway rhythm, ‘Change Your Mind’ also treats on loss and being left behind, seeing relationships as being a natural cycle like the turning of the seasons, seeking not to cling on but simply hope things take a different turn.

By contrast to such introspection of the heart, ‘Hot Rain’, the newsiest song on the album, is a simple fingerpicked, ticking drum beat number on a theme of social inequality and labelling (“Welcome to the box that they have categorised you in/Be it who you choose to love or the colour of your skin”) and a reminder that the blame lies with others, not you.

She returns to the passing of time and impermanence for the slow march beat, Celtic-hued ‘Long Were The Hours’ with her descending vocal riffs, the musical mood continues on the sparse, wistful ‘6,000 Miles’, a mournful cello opening a lullaby of longing to “find the right someone to make you feel home” and be one of the couples sitting on benches, Nathan O’Grady providing the harmonies.

Imbued with sensuality, yearning, resignation, hope and a vulnerability that is both beguiling and painful to share, this launches a major new voice and songwriter on the international scene and, while it may take some time to seep into your veins, is assuredly going to prove one of the finest debuts of the year.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.rachelcroftmusic.com

‘Rainier Day’ – live:

DAN WEBSTER – Devil Sky (Paper Plane PPR1801)

Devil SkyDan Webster is a British singer-songwriter who has been described as the fusion of folk and country. On his fourth album, Devil Sky, much of the country influence comes from his band which includes Joshua Burnell, of whom we have spoken before, Emily Lawler on violin and Polly Bolton on mandolin who share much of the musical decoration. Dan doesn’t write country songs but sometimes they just turn out that way.

The opening track, ‘Playing Cards & Late Night Bars’, harks back to a song on his second album, catching up with the protagonists ten years on. After a folky introduction it sounds exactly like the title suggests it should and it’s followed by ‘Home Again’, a melancholy road song with a neat lyrical twist and a big arrangement. ‘Bo’ opens with unaccompanied harmony before kicking off into the first really country-sounding song. It’s actually about Dan’s son, Ben, who sings on the track and I guess that the words have a deep meaning for father and son but for the rest of us it’s a fun song.

Some of Dan’s songs have a point to make and ‘Freedom In Suburbia’ is pre-eminent among them. It might be thought a little heavy-handed but the thing is that the title is a threat rather than a celebration which is clever. There’s a great deal of sadness here: ‘Haul Away’, ‘Mary Anne’ and ‘Sand’ are all pretty miserable, beautifully performed but definitely not cheerful. ‘Joe’ is a modern take on a murder ballad with the whole process from unlawful killing to execution condensed into a week with another twist in the tale.

Dan has assembled a very fine band and his production is excellent. That said, Devil Sky, isn’t an album I’d select for a little light listening.

Dai Jeffries

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

‘Playing Cards & Late Night Bars’:

Dan Webster releases new album this month

Dan Webster

Dan Webster is described as ‘one of the U.K’s best kept musical secrets and one not to miss!’ and an ‘An insightful lyricist with a great voice’ – Acoustic Magazine. According to Americana UK – ‘He is the missing link, the joining point, where folk fuses with country – as good as you’ll hear on any record out of Austin or Nashville – beautiful – he is Anglicana’. Dan is a road seasoned English singer-songwriter, his music is influenced by the sounds and storytelling traditions of American and British Folk music, which he uniquely blends into his own distinct fusion of Folk and Americana.

August 31st will see the release of Dan’s fourth studio album entitled Devil Sky, a beautifully produced ten track album.

The record opens with the Americana infused ‘Playing Cards In Late Night Bars’, a catch up on the individuals in ‘Playing Cards’ from his 2008 Diamond Land. The track kicks off with a punchy folk tune and explodes into full blown foot stomping Americana. The record then moves into the poignant road ballad ‘Home Again’, tastefully produced around Webster’s characteristic vocal. The third track ‘Bo’ wears a big smile and has a fun tongue in cheek feel, but is actually about his son ‘Ben’ and a father and son’s journey through childhood. Track four, ‘Haul Away’ is a poignant look at loss and moving on, referencing the nautical themes in his earlier work. Here, Danni Nicholls joins Dan on vocals. ‘Mary Anne’ follows; a bittersweet song of the road and addiction but tinged with hope. ‘Nothing But Sand’ weaves another fiddle tune through the song, without the listener sometimes realising and reflects that time and memory can’t ever really be run from. ‘Freedom In Suburbia’ looks at the relationship of media and politics through the lens of our current political climate. ‘Nothing At All’ is a direct look at unrequited or unspoken love. ‘Joe’ is a modern twist on the traditional murder ballad. It takes a snapshot of time and looks at how the world doesn’t really change, even when individual events are completely life changing. The record closes with ‘Anyway’ which is simply about time healing.

Dan is a formidable live performer, having played too many shows to count over the years, and has shared the bill with acts such as The Levellers, Seth Lakeman, Glen Tilbrook, Martin Carthy and Midge Ure to name a few. Live, Dan inspires attention; pulling you into his work with finely crafted melodies and lyrics – delivered with a powerful and honest vocal…fantastic solo, or with his band.

As well as a recording artist, Dan is increasingly recognised as a producer working with several rising stars of the roots scene including Joshua Burnell, Fran Wyburn and Rachel Croft.

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

‘Haul Away’ live:

Annie Keating – new download single

Annie Keating

Annie Keating announces release of new digital-only single ‘Trouble’ to coincide with her first UK tour since 2013. Trick Star, Annie’s seventh and most accomplished album to date, was released to wide acclaim in 2016.

Talent spotted by BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris, Annie has recorded two sessions for his prestigious BBC Radio 2 show and has performed at numerous leading international festivals, including Take Root, the Brooklyn Americana Festival, Glasgow Americana Festival, The Brooklyn Indie Music Fest and NXNE.  Her current album, Trick Star received wide acclaim in the UK and beyond. Bob Harris called it, “A wonderful record. Heartfelt and real”, while Folk Radio UK described the album as “disarmingly engaging.” R2 magazine regards Keating as, “a budding Americana Star”, and Acoustic magazine insists that, “Keating will enchant anyone but a deaf shoe-gazer.” Her previous album Make Believing was championed by The Telegraph as a “best country music album” pick of 2015 when they wrote that “Keating is building the reputation her talent deserves.”

Keating has played on the bill with John Hiatt, Bon Iver, Chastity Brown and other greats. This is her third UK tour – trio format this time – accompanied by London own brilliant bassist Scott Warman and Brooklyn’s finest Steve Mayone on guitar and mandolin who regularly tours with the likes of Kate Taylor, Bow Thayer and Kris Delmhorst.

The summer tour includes three shows at this year’s Maverick Festival and double bills with Danni Nicholls, Ags Connolly, Gallery 47, Danielle Cawdell, Porchlight Smoker, Dan Webster and The Boy Who Kicked Pigs.

Artist’s website: http://www.anniekeating.com/

‘Trouble’ – official video:

DAN WEBSTER- The Tin Man (Paper Plane Records PPR1501)

TheTinManDan Webster is a singer/songwriter/guitarist with an eclectic taste in musical styles which he employs with great skill on his third album, The Tin Man.

The record opens with an impassioned ballad, ‘Dancers’. There’s lots going with a foundation of cello, bass and drums supporting Dan’s voice and guitar. It’s a strong voice, nothing fashionably ethereal but he can crack it painfully if he needs to and holler if that’s called for. After one track you’ve got his measure, right? Wrong!

Next up is ‘Elvis’, a sparkling piece of rockabilly with electric guitar by Lloyd Massingham. The sound of it raises a smile and then you pay attention to the lyrics. “Manufactured pop commercial toss, all this stuff I’m asked for” – this is the bitter lament of a real musician in an age of synthetic pap. That should raise a cheer. ‘Number 17’ combines elements of the preceding songs. It’s a nostalgic song of separation with big strings and unexpectedly busy drums by Yom Hardy giving it an odd feeling of urgency. In fact, Hardy’s drums are a big feature of the album.

Then – a traditional song, ‘British Man Of War’. Where did that come from? It’s an interesting choice given that it dates from one of the more shameful episodes in British history, the Opium Wars, a broken token ballad which could be terribly gung-ho except that Dan downplays that aspect of the story and concentrates on the girl waving goodbye to her sailor boy. Dan brings him home with a medley of ‘Spanish Ladies/When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ again downplaying the death and mutilation of sea battles.

The album closes with the tragic ‘Goodbye’ which would be a good finish, if something of a downer, but he grins, picks up his electric and blasts out a chunk of infectious rock’n’roll called ‘Gin’. That’s better. There should be more like Dan Webster around.

Dai Jeffries

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


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A live version of ‘British Man Of War’: