DAVY GRAHAM – Hat (Bread & Wine BRINECD-4)

HatHat, released in 1969, was Davy Graham’s third album for Decca. The mixture of blues, jazz and mainstream songwriting with a little classical thrown in continues the pattern set by his earlier work but it is a rather slight album. Only three tracks exceed three minutes and one can’t help but think that a modern day producer would have encouraged Davy to expand one or two of the pieces. If that would be a good thing I’ll leave for you to decide but it does sometimes feel as though he’s hurrying to get finished.

He opens with the first “mainstream” song, The Beatles’ ‘Getting Better’, and later we have two Paul Simon songs and one by Bob Dylan. ‘Down Along The Cove’ is stripped of its pedal steel and pared back to its 12-bar roots which is a clever way of approaching it. Second is ‘Lotus Blossom’, a song from 1930s popularised by Jimmy Witherspoon and given a hint of ‘Anji’, and then the first of two Willie Dixon songs, ‘I’m Ready’. Davy is accompanied on this album by Danny Thompson on double-bass and an unnamed percussionist and the arrangements seem to fit with the pace and energy of the performances.

Art Blakey’s ‘Buhaina Chant’ is the first of the jazz compositions played with a north African vibe and it’s followed, somewhat incongruously, by ‘Homeward Bound’. It’s a sentimental song of homesickness in Paul Simon’s hands but Davy races through it – actually it works quite well. The other Simon song is ‘I Am A Rock’. After the traditional ‘Love Is Pleasing’ Davy gives us a hornpipe by Purcell adapted from the harpsichord and after the Dylan song we have ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ and a guitar composition by Stan Watson. And so he moves between styles and times with abandon – I enjoy the album but I wish Davy had stretched out on even one track to show what he could really do.

Dai Jeffries

‘Homeward Bound’:

DAVY GRAHAM – Large As Life And Twice As Natural (Bread And Wine BRINECD-2)

NaturalIf you want to know why Davy Graham was such a unique and influential artist just listen to the first track on Large As Life And Twice As Natural, his third studio album. Actually, listen to the whole record but the first track will tell you all you need to know.

That track is ‘Both Sides Now’, yes, the Joni Mitchell song, although initially you wouldn’t recognise it.  In 1968 it was known from the Judy Collins cover; Joni wouldn’t release it for another year. For Davy it must have seemed like a blank canvas. He begins with a bass drone, then introducing a guitar instrumental with wordless vocals which is reminiscent of ‘She Moves Through The Fair’ or possibly ‘Blackwaterside’. Only after two minutes or so does he burst into a high energy version of the song with his band in full cry.

I should tell you that the “band” consists of four of the go-to sides-men of the time: Danny Thompson, Jon Hiseman, Harold McNair and Dick Heckstall-Smith, all capable of playing anything that was asked of them be it folk, blues, jazz or whatever and, on this record, Graham asks a lot. He follows it up with the traditional ‘Bad Boy Blues’, a musical form that he was irresistibly drawn to. Here you’ll find four blues songs and a couple more that come close but Graham is musically restless so the third track is ‘Tristano’, a solo guitar composition.

There are two of Graham’s famous ragas, both different in character and using his original tunings. The first is the appropriately named ‘Sunshine Raga’, which starts slowly as though coming up with the dawn waking up the bass and drums as it rises while a very western melody emerges. The second, which closes the album, is ‘Blue Raga’ with its beautiful echoey opening phrase and Hiseman’s percussion running alongside the guitar.

As if these delights are not enough, there is the Moroccan-inspired ‘Jenra’ and a solemn version of the traditional ‘Bruton Town’. You come away with the impression that these musicians could do just about anything and you can see why Large As Life And Twice As Natural is held to be one of Graham’s finest works.

Dai Jeffries

You can hear more of Davy Graham at https://www.bbc.co.uk/music/artists/84b35dee-b1d6-4bf6-8748-8bb9918bebaf

and there is a nice feature at http://www.folkblues.co.uk/artistsgraham.html

No film as such but listen to ‘Blue Raga’ anyway:

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IAIN MORRISON – Eas (Peatfire PEATFIRE006)

IAIN MORRISON – EasIain Morrison is a musician, singer and composer from the Isle of Lewis. He is also the son of a distinguished piper but he’s moved some distance from the tradition – but not as far as you might think.

Eas, which means “cascading waterfall”, is Iain’s sixth solo album and each track is based on the classical music of the pipes or piobaireachd. Here my expertise runs out but I do understand that, traditionally, the music consists of a theme and variations. Iain introduces the first track as “Piobaireachd number 47” but the track is actually called ‘Siubhal (47)’, siubhal being one of the formal variations. Any further explanation gets a bit technical.

Piobaireachd is traditionally taught by singing or canntaireached and two tracks, ‘Too Long In This Condition’ and ‘R. Morar’, include Iain’s father both singing and, in the former, explaining the finer points of his teaching. If this sounds terribly heavy, believe me it isn’t. Iain uses his father’s canntaireached as the basis of his own compositions beginning both very simply on piano, stating the theme if you like.

Iain is a songwriter too and was a member of the indie band Crash My Toy Car and all these pieces are songs in English. ‘To The Sea’ and ‘You’re My Letting Go’ are particularly good. Iain is a multi-instrumentalist – everything from bagpipes to banjo – but he does need some help and supporting musicians include Chris Stout and Marc Duff. Iain’s voice is well down in the mix and getting to grips with his lyrics can be difficult but I’m more taken with Eas than I was with its predecessor, To The Horizon, Sir.

Dai Jeffries

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

We’ve not found anything from the new album on video but you might like ‘A Lewis Summer’ with Eddi Reader and Danny Thompson among others:

SEAN TAYLOR – The Only Good Addiction Is Love (Self Released STCD9)

The-Only-Good-Addiction-Is-LoveI’m not, I have to say, a big blues fan. Or at least not in the sense of blues rock with its wailing, eyes-screwed tight guitar solos, the hardcore ‘woke up this morning’ Chicago school or the 70s British movement spearheaded by the likes of Mayall, Trower and Chicken Shack. I am, on the other hand, partial to Knopfleresque rootsy, soulful blues, the sort, indeed, purveyed by Taylor on this, his seventh album. Although, as ‘Bad Light’ shows, he can still turn out a solid, smokily sung, chugging blues boogie groove with the best.

He says that, whereas past albums focused on London and a musician’s life, this time he wanted to take a wider perspective with “more abstract and demanding references” than simply the ups and downs of love and life on the road. As such, the album takes is title track, on which he namechecks Leonard Cohen and echoes Van Morrison, from a quote by Jose ‘Pepe’ Mujica, the former Uruguayan president, who, leading by example, gave 90% of his salary and charity and elected to remain living on his farm rather than in the presidential palace.

He’s a particularly culturally-literate artist and, past albums having referenced Baudelaire’s ‘Fleurs du Mal’ and Malcolm Lowry’s ‘Under the Volcano’, art looms large again here. ‘Rothko’, on which Taylor sounds like a nicotine-stained Knopfler and which is one of two cuts to feature double bass legend Danny Thompson, is a tribute to abstract expressionist Mark Rothko (“Every night beauty takes off her dress, the truth is Rothko red, passion bleeds like death, our hearts are one breath” ), understated acoustic blues with its mournful gypsy violin ‘Les Rouges Et Les Noirs’ was inspired by a painting by Paul Klee, the mid-tempo ‘Desolation Angels’ with its J.J. Cale feel is a homage to Kerouac’s novel of the title (the line “Gimme love that is laced with vodka” surely one of which Jack would have approved) and Spanish guitar instrumental ‘Lorca’ a nod to the poet Federico Garcia Lorca who also gets a namecheck in ‘Tienes Mi Alma En Tus Manos (You Have My Soul In Your Hands)’, Taylor’s sultry blues whisper complemented by cello and laid back organ as the song jams to a choppy percussive finale.

Completing the artistic references, the album closes with a Celtic Americana setting of W.B.Yeats’ poem ‘The White Birds’, the acoustic fingerpicked guitar gradually bolstered by a train time rhythm with pedal steel, trumpet and trombone adding further colours.

It’s not all signposted by poets and painters. Love is the glue binding together three successive mid-album tracks. ‘Flesh & Bird’ is a sensually whispered spare Spanish guitar and piano ballad celebration of passion and sexual intimacy ( “the rush I feel when I’m inside you”), the uplifting Hammond-backed, warm horns embellished ‘We Can Burn’ a gospel-tinted love song with an ozone layer simile (“Is love like a hole in the sky, only see it when you open your eyes”) while ‘MoMa’ (which, the second Thompson contribution, conjures John Martyn with its tapped guitar percussion and Taylor’s slurred whisky burr) charts the come down when “the angel lied” and found herself another man. Love may be the only addiction, but Taylor’s most certainly someone worth getting hooked on.

Mike Davies

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

‘Way Down In The Hole’ featuring Danny Thompson. OK, so it’s written by Tom Waits and it’s not on the album but what’s not to love?

JOHN MARTYN – Remembering John Martyn (Secret SECDDO54)

RememberingJohnMartynIn spite of the title suggesting a tribute by admiring friends, this is a worthy addition to the ever-growing archive releases complementing near two dozen albums solo, with his wife, and famous guests. Usually associated with Island Records, where he was the first white solo artist signed in ’67, he also featured on WEA (for surprisingly his first Top 30 listing), independents for further exploration (even trip-hop textures), and limited editions as one of the first DIYers: Live At Leeds and Philentropy (1983) were sold from his home. With a swathe of BBC releases (several songs were used for their films resulting in a Lifetime Achievement Award), an Island four-CD live/ studio selection in 2008, and even an 18 CD box last year, there are few musical legacies so well served.

Secret Records have added Remembering John Martyn (1948-2009) to their impressive wide catalogue. Two non-chronological CDs from the career-fulcrum Live At Leeds in 1975 to 1993 feature Danny Thompson or full-band alongside Paul Kossoff, Dave Gilmour, Gerry Conway and Phil Collins complementing his raw or plaintive voice, percussive finger-plucking counterpoised by echo drift that transports to a misty isle. Outspoken, uncompromising, unpredictable (mid-career he busked—by choice—in Moscow near Kilmarnock), the troubadour who lived music on a daily basis tells his life across the decades.

Misperceived as Scottish with an accent hard as a Glaswegian rivet, Iain McGeachy was in fact from New Malden, a now rather bleak London suburb split by a fly-over near Hampton Court, just a couple of miles down the road from where Sandy Denny and Mumford were born. After his opera-singer parents split-up he listened to his mother’s Debussy, jazz, and Scottish folk records in Kingston during school holidays from Glasgow, then joined the long line of musicians graduating from art college. Taking up the guitar mid-teens, he was mentored by the protest folk singer Hamish Imlach then influenced by Davey Graham’s east-meets-west style and Clive Palmer of the Incredible String Band who lived nearby in their Scottish retreat (Martyn fondly recalled sharing a shed in Cumbria with Palmer).

Moving south he signed to Island for the mono London Conversations (1967) but soon surprised with the jazz-inflected, Al Stewart-produced The Tumbler (1968), the result of a single afternoon session at 200 quid. By 1970 his acoustic was rigged up to a fuzz-box, phase shifter and echoplex, premiered on Stormbringer! (with The Band’s Levon Helm and Mundi from The Mothers of Invention, written during downtime at Woodstock) and over -produced The Road To Ruin with his then wife Beverley, met when he did a session with the singer. The new sound (“I wanted to imitate Pharoah Sanders’ records”) placed the pioneer in a wider sphere though he retained fondness for traditional folk clubs. A zenith saw 1973’s Solid Air—its title track written for his friend, label-mate and equally haunted Nick Drake who died a year later—recorded with Fairport Convention. In 1999, Q magazine voted it one of the best-ever relaxation (“chill-out”) albums. Martyn’s vocals became an equally distinctive instrument, as electrifying as his wired-up guitar, for folk, blues, jazz, reggae, funk and rock in a unique style.

Hunched as if seeking to defy gravity, the intensity recalls Kevin Coyne, early Medicine Head or even Spacemen Three as well as bluesmen’s tales of woe and fleeting joy. Talk of national treasures, legends and stars is simply lazy misuse of language; reputation and longevity consists of quality writing allied to original delivery, and this one-man band of emotion fits well in that class. His lyrics flow between the sensual and satiric (‘Glorious Fool’ mocked Reagan; ‘John Wayne’ was a dig at an ex-manager) as fluently as from love and joy to pain. An intoxicating transmission of personal demons (drink, drugs, gambling, marital break-up) led to Island blocking Grace And Danger but he won them over because “It’s what I’m about: direct communication of emotion”. Likening his songs to diaries, it was cathartic though whether therapeutic one can only hope.

Disc one kicks off with a jazzy full-band and Gilmour for ‘Big Muff’, ‘Lookin’ On’ (highlighting his vocal range) and ‘Couldn’t Love You More’. An atmospheric ‘Fine Lines’ lilts into a 12-piece band’s ‘Head And Heart’ which would be Cohen if the latter had the range. The classic ‘Johnny Too Bad’ stomps, an echoplex-driven live band version (1986) of the cover he made his own. Soul-drenched ‘The Moment’ is one of two live in his adopted Glasgow, the title-track ‘Bless The Weather’ metaphors hard times reworked with keys in ’93. Live tracks from that decade feature the sole co-write with Pentangle’s Danny Thompson (‘Mad Dog Days’) and the moving ‘Ways To Cry’ during a period revisiting a rich catalogue. What the band format may lose in power compared to the solo trance wig-outs, it adds a varied atmospheric space for vocal and guitar nuance.

Disc two’s dozen are mostly with his brother-like Danny Thompson or as a trio with percussion (and more foot-tap for us) apart from ‘My Baby Girl’, from the Live At Leeds bonus issue featuring Free’s Paul Kossoff, ill-fated to die the next year. A fine cross-section from Kendal’s Brewery Arts Centre via Leeds to Germany: ‘One Day Without You’ and astonishing 18-minute ‘Outside In’ is Martyn at his spaciest, smokiest best. Neat taping spins into Skip James’ ‘I’d Rather Be The Devil’; few could stretch this variant to the Solid Air bonus so hypnotically to eight minutes. Absence of solo work is made up for by this storming threesome. Solid Air is revisited (‘Over The Hill’; the jelly-rolling ‘Easy Blues’) while the closing popular traditionals ‘Spencer The Rover’ and ‘Black Man At Your Shoulder’ are a haunting return to his origins. No ‘May You Never’ or appropriately-titled ‘Glistening Glyndebourne’, but they’re often compiled anyway. With detailed track info and timings, this 135 minute visit to the rare and once-lost of one Beth Orton calls the Guv’nor is a must-have for fans as well as an excellent intro for the curious.

Brian R Banks

Label website: http://www.secretrecordslimited.com

John Martyn with Dave Gilmour – ‘One World’:

FRASER ANDERSON – Little Glass Box (Membran 233896)

FRASER ANDERSON – Little Glass BoxRecorded in the Languedoc region of France and originally released four years ago, this has hitherto largely only been available at Anderson’s live shows; however, the German label has now stepped up to the plate to not only give it wider exposure but also persuade the Edinburgh singer-songwriter to sign his first ever record deal…after some 20 years in the business.

His third release (following the self-released 2003 debut and 2007 follow-up), it showcases his warm, husky voice and retro Celtic soul style, given solid support from musicians that include former Ronnie Scott Quartet trumpeter Dick Pearce, jazz-rock veteran keyboard player Max Middleton and double bass legend Danny Thompson, who chose to include the album’s opening track, ‘Rag & Bones’, which sounds melodically not unlike a slower version of Paul Brady’s ‘Crazy Dreams’, on Connected, an album charting his own lengthy career.

Elsewhere, ‘Never Know’, a fond reverie of his grandfather, and ‘Warhorse’, with its forlorn trumpet, brushed drums, laid back jazzy electric piano and the whispered French tones of Anne Francoise Lacroix, will undoubtedly prompt comparisons to early John Martyn while the shuffling jazzed ‘New York’ and ‘Only A Boy’ recall the dreamier side of Paul Simon.

Although there’s up-tempo jauntiness present in the banjo accompanied title track (another Simon influenced number) and ‘Your Love’, with its bluesy Randy Newmanesque acoustic piano intro giving way to banjo and slide guitar, the album’s dominant musical tone is slow and reflective, underscoring the wistful melancholy that informs lyrics to numbers such as ‘Run These Lines’ with its sad mandola solo fade, the suppressed hurt of ‘Open Sky’ (“I was told once if you can’t say something good, don’t say anything, so I won’t write this song about you”) and ‘Waterfall’ (“all you want to be is on fire, and all you think you’ve gone is wrong”) a number that sees wife Grace joining on harmonies. As well as providing the album artwork and photography, she’s also the subject of its dedication and the song named after her, his voice soaring to a sweet falsetto as he sings with confessional intimacy “you make it all so beautiful, so hold me close…..I would gladly give this all away to stay by you”. A largely unknown secret   for far too long, it’s time to throw open the box and discover the treasure within.

Mike Davies

‘Rag & Bones’: