KARINE POLWART – Laws Of Motion (Hudson Records HUD014)

Laws Of MotionKarine Polwart’s latest CD – Laws Of Motion, released on 19th October 2018 – is her seventh release. It is co-produced by Karine with Inge Thomson (who, along with Karine’s brother Steven Polwart, seems to have provided most of the additional instrumentation for the album) and Stuart Hamilton, and it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.

The CD came as a promo copy without a lyric sheet and composer credits, but from the publicity sheet I received I gather that some of the songs were co-written with Lau’s Martin Green, while there’s one I know to be a cover version. I guess the others are Karine’s own. She says “I didn’t set out to write songs on a unified theme – they’ve just landed that way. Perhaps that’s no surprise, given the times we’re in.” And in fact the themes of migration and war seem to predominate here.

  1. ‘Ophelia’ is an atmospheric song with a setting far removed from Hamlet’s Denmark. Australia, I guess, with its references to desert wind and eucalyptus? Perhaps it’s just that other songs here reflect the fear of nuclear apocalypse, but for some reason it suddenly reminded me of Neville Shute’s On The Beach.
  2. ‘Laws of Motion’, co-written with Martin Green, movingly observes the plight of the migrant.
  3. ‘I Burn But I Am Not Consumed’ is an epic mixture of spoken and sung lyric that addresses the 45th President of the US with the voice of “the ancient rock beneath the Isle of Lewis, birthplace of Trump’s mother, Mary Ann Macleod.” My guess is that Mr T. will not appreciate its pitiless analysis and reminder of his immigrant roots, if he ever hears it. But I do, very much.
  4. ‘Suitcase’ further develops the theme of migration, being about the Kindertransport, the rescue initiative that brought so many (mostly Jewish) children to the UK between Kristallnacht and 1940. The shadow of the death camps lies heavy on this intense lyric.
  5. ‘Cornerstone’ instructs us to “Tread lightly as you pass on by, and listen” – and yes, I think you should.
  6. Shinzaburo Matsuo sailed to Scotland after losing his family in Japan’s 1923 earthquake, and tended Isabella Christie’s celebrated Japanese garden until his death in 1937. The story is told in the beautiful ‘Matsuo’s Welcome To Muckhart’.
  7. I’m not sure what story lies behind the landscapes of ‘Young Man On A Mountain’ but it doesn’t seem to matter: the evocative lyric is carried perfectly by the melody and arrangement.
  8. ‘Crow On The Cradle’ will be familiar to old folkies: it’s Sidney Carter’s anti-war song, and well worth revisiting. Especially when it’s as beautifully performed as this, with some twists of melody and lyric that would somehow make it uniquely Karine’s own, even without the startling harmonies of the final bars.
  9. ‘The Robin’ takes a deceptively gentle melodic approach to a thoughtful lyric.
  10. The stunning ‘Cassiopeia’ takes much of its power from the contrast of spoken extracts from the 1979 leaflet Protect And Surviveissued by the Home Office during the Cold War with the fearful, unanswerable questions of a 9-year old“. One reviewer has dismissed the track as “perhaps fighting yesterday’s battles“, but I’m not sure we should be assuming now that “we are going to be survivors” any more than we should have done then. Strangely, the juxtaposition of speech and synth reminded me a little of Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds, but that doesn’t in any way reduce its impact.

Though Karine’s vocals and the instrumental work here are never less than perfect, this isn’t, perhaps, easy listening. Not, at any rate, if you pay attention to the words (as you should), though there are some fine melodies here. But Laws Of Motion is a CD that will repay close attention and repeated plays.

David Harley

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: www.karinepolwart.com/

‘Ophelia’ – official video:

GILMORE & ROBERTS – A Problem Of Our Kind (GR! GRR08)

A Problem Of Our KindGilmore & Roberts are Katriona Gilmore (vocals, fiddle, viola, B3 organ and mandolin) and Jamie Roberts (vocals, guitar, percussion). Their album A Problem Of Our Kind, due for release on 12th October 2018, benefits from additional instrumental support from Fred Claridge (drums and percussion), Matt Downer (double bass), Sarah Smout (cello), Ben Savage (Dobro) and Matt Crum (melodeon). And an excellent album it is, too. Of the ten tracks on the album, five were written by Katriona, four by Jamie, and the final track is a traditional tune arranged and played by Jamie.

  1. Katriona’s ‘Gauntlet’ is a kind of murder ballad (or at least a “did he really do it?” ballad): Katriona’s fiddle adds a slightly old-timey feel, but the story concerns an English court case of 1818 whereby Abraham Thornton was acquitted of a charge of murder when the victim’s brother declined the offer of ‘trial by battle’. A fascinating story, and a very effective arrangement arrangement.
  2. Jamie’s ‘The Philanthropist (Take It From Me)’ is based on the life of entrepreneur/philanthropist Laurie Marsh. It’s an attractive song that displays his vocal and fretting talents.
  3. Katriona’s ‘Things You Left Behind’ has a more personal theme about the loss of a family member. It’s a lovely song with slightly country-ish Dobro and fiddle, and it suits her voice very well.
  4. ‘The Smile & The Fury (Jamie Roberts) is based “…on the powerful viral photograph of a young woman calmly smiling in the face of an angry far-right protester…” This is what I’d like to have heard more of in the 70s: rock music giving more than a nod to traditional music and instrumentation but not afraid to use contemporary material to address current issues.
  5. ‘Bone Cupboard’ (Katriona Gilmore) is a sinister song accompanied only by the barest minimum of clapping and percussion. That’s OK, I can appreciate sinister.
  6. ‘On The Line’ (Jamie Roberts) considers the not-always-sympathetic reaction of the traveller delayed by “a body on the line“. An awkward subject sensitively handled, with an ending that hints at a wider social issue.
  7. In contrast, for me, ‘Average Joe’ (Jamie Roberts) is lyrically a bit too reminiscent of the ‘plastic people/protest’ songs of the 1960s: I guess it’s not that easy to write sympathetically about the plight of the commuting classes and avoid a superior tone. Still, musically it’s an assured performance, very much in the folk-rock vein.
  8. ‘All The Way To Rome’ (Katriona Gilmore) is, according to the booklet, inspired by “two characters in the second series of the TV show American Horror Story.” Which means nothing to me, but it’s still an appealing song.
  9. ‘Just A Piece Of Wood’ (Katriona Gilmore) is a bit country/pop-ish, with prominent fiddle, as befits the subject – the relationship between a musician and her instrument. Nice.
  10. ‘From Night Til Morn’ is a traditional tune, beautifully arranged for guitar by Jamie Roberts. It may seem perverse to say so, given all the fine original material on this album, but this is currently my favourite track.

While there’s a definite tinge of folk-rock to this collection, it certainly doesn’t mean that there’s anything dated about it. By any standards, these are fine contemporary songs, very capably performed and produced. Recommended.

David Harley

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.gilmoreroberts.co.uk/

‘Gauntlet’ – official video:

Burning Salt’s “love letter” to Holloway Women’s Prison

Burning Salt

Burning Salt – Hannah Hull (vocals, guitar, piano), Bobby Williams (electric guitar) and John Parker (double bass) – base their music on Hannah’s distinctive voice and sometimes painfully direct songs. Among other things, Hannah is resident artist on Islington Museum’s Echoes of Holloway Prison project, focused on oral histories from Holloway Prison, which closed in 2016. She has used some of those transcripts, from ex-prisoners, prison officers and other staff, as inspiration for a number of songs to be released on the EP Dirt, for release on the 7th September 2018.

Hannah says:

“Many of the stories left me in tears. Not just because of the horror contained within them, but also the strength. I wanted to provide a platform for the stories and themes contained within them to be heard, listened to, connected with. These stories complicate the issue of prisons. They demand empathy, and confuse narratives of punishment.”

“I think this was probably the most surprising theme found within the oral history transcripts: love. Love for the prison, love for the prisoners, love despite the prison environment, love despite the incredible scale of pain and loss suffered by the women who end up in prison.”

As you might tell from the above, the six songs on the EP deal with difficult topics: not just suffering and loss, but the cycle of abuse, suicide and self-harm, cleaning up after dirty protests, and closes with an ambivalent “love letter” to the prison – ‘The Worst Place I Was Ever Scared Of’. In combination with Hannah’s unusual low-register vocals, understated yet with an extraordinary underlying intensity, this may not suit those who prefer their listening easy, but an exceptional recording that demands and deserves close attention. It may change the way you think about the prison system: it might even change your life a little. In any case, it’s an important release from a major talent.

Dirt will be publicly available on all major streaming platforms, and for digital download via www.burningsalt.com from 7 September 2018.

Burning Salt will perform the songs at a launch event on 7 September 2018 from 8pm to 10.30pm at the New Unity Chapel, 39A Newington Green, London N16 9PR. The £12 ticket price includes a special edition digital download of the EP and a poetry booklet.

David Harley

Tickets: https://dirtep.eventbrite.co.uk

Artist’s website: www.burningsalt.com

‘The Worst Place I Was Ever Scared Of’ – official video:

WILL KEATING – Cornwall My Home (Kernow Ow Thre) (Own Label)

Cornwall My HomeAs it happens, I’d heard quite a lot of Will Keating’s CD Cornwall My Home (Kernow Ow Thre) before a copy came my way, having heard Will on the West Cornwall radio station Coast FM, where Ian Semple has played the seriously catchy title song ‘Cornwall My Home’ several times. All the material here is written by Harry Glasson, apart from a Cornish translation of one of Harry’s songs. Harry Glasson was a popular performer in Cornwall and far beyond for over 30 years, until cancer surgery in 2009 made singing almost impossible. Will describes the album as a celebration of his “friend, and Mentor, and true Cornish Legend, Harry (Safari) Glasson.” Which seems a fair summation.

Will’s very pleasant vocals are augmented here by some notable local names: Anna Dowling (fiddle and nicely understated backing vocals), John Dowling (banjo), Owain Hanford (drums and percussion) and long-time jazzer Claudia Colmer (double bass) among them.

  1. ‘Prelude’ is actually eight seconds of a very small person (Will’s youngest daughter, aged three at the time) singing the last line of ‘Cornwall My Home’. If that sounds too cute for comfort, bear with me: there’s a lot to like about this CD.
  2. ‘Bury Me’ isn’t as sombre as its title suggests, being an expression of the writer’s desire to enjoy interment within sight of the picturesque Cornish landscape. And why not?
  3. I have heard a recording by Harry of ‘Home For Flora’ augmented by a kazoo (I guess) playing the ‘Helston Flora Dance’ as a counterpoint to the chorus. Will’s version doesn’t go that far, and the fiddle, banjo, bass and percussion here are sympathetic to the underlying sadness of the lyric, and then shade into a sprightly version of the ‘Flora Dance’ played by the Helston Town Band. I can’t imagine that anyone who’s ever enjoyed the spectacle on May 8th wouldn’t like to have this recording as a lasting memento.
  4. ‘Kernow Ow Thre’ is a version of ‘Cornwall My Home’ translated into Cornish by Matthi ab Dewi: this is a sparse arrangement with just Will’s vocals (double-tracked in places) and guitar and Claudia Colmer’s double bass. Even so, a notable earworm.
  5. ‘Saint Just Feast’ was recorded live during Will’s Cornish Folk concert at St Senara’s Church in Zennor. (I’d guess that the Zennor church’s connection with the legend of the mermaid of Zennor has a lot to do with the mermaids that adorn the sleeve, the booklet, and the CD itself. Will tells me that they were drawn by Anna Dowling and modelled on his four daughters.) It’s an engaging contemplation on the Cornish traditions of choral singing and parish feasts, though it’s simply and effectively arranged here with just Will’s voice and guitar.
  6. ‘Song For Cornwall’ (sometimes known as ‘Harry’s Song For Cornwall’) picks up the pace and features Matthew Woolley’s chin cello (a violin or viola strung with low-range strings to emulate the range of a “real” cello), Izaak Spencer’s mandolin, and William Barnes on bass, as well as John Dowling’s banjo.
  7. ‘Cornwall My Home’ is probably Harry’s best-known song, not least through the singing of the Oggymen, the Cape Cornwall Singers, Bone Idol and many others. This arrangement includes a wider range of instruments (including Louise Amanda Payne on cello and viola) and the Truro High School for Girls Prep Choir. While the overall effect is more ‘Grandad’ than ‘Another Brick In The Wall Part 2’, it’s absurdly catchy and I even found my cynical old eyes trying (and failing, fortunately) to water a little. And I’m not even Cornish, though I live in the area…
  8. ‘Newlyn’ is a darker song, the only one here in a minor key: fittingly, since it addresses the decline of the Cornish fishing industry with understated effectiveness. As elsewhere, Anna Dowling’s fiddle deserves a mention, as do John Dowling’s banjo and Claudia Colmer’s atmospheric bowed double bass.
  9. ‘Men Of Cornwall’ is another of Harry’s song that is often sung by others: John Dowling’s banjo here gives it a pleasant Americana-ish feel.
  10. ‘South Crofty’ was also recorded at the St Senara’s concert and benefits from Will’s spoken introduction to the story of how it came to be written. The South Crofty tin and copper mine in Pool was closed in 1998, but the song encapsulates Harry’s reaction to the news that it was hoped to reopen it under new management. That hasn’t happened yet (as far as I know), but it’s nice to think that it still might.
  11. ‘Beautiful Islands Of Scilly’ features harmonies from The Oggymen and Rob Norman’s piano and organ. And if that doesn’t get you onto the Scillonian for a trip to St Mary’s, I don’t know what will.
  12. ‘Saint Just Ladies’ is a kind of old-timey Cornish equivalent to ‘California Girls’, with a tune that reminds me slightly of an old ballad about Jesse James. I’m not sure it’s altogether politically correct, but I bet it gets everyone singing along in folk clubs.
  13. ‘Dicky Pips Dunkey’ is a dialect poem performed by Andy Rowe: if you find the various ‘Arkansas Traveller’ vaudeville sketches amusing, or fond memories of Bill Caddick slipping ‘P-tarmigan and Groaty Dick’ onto his Sunny Memories album you’ll like this too. Well, I did, but I have a strange sense of humour and a love for quirky fragments of regional folklore.

I’m sure there’s a ready audience for this well-packaged CD among Cornwall’s many summer visitors, but there’s more to this collection than tourist board fodder. While I don’t quite hear a stunner like Steve Knightley’s ‘Cousin Jack’ or Jim Causley’s setting of ‘My Young Man’s A Cornishman’, these are good, solid songs whose choruses are often heard in various West Country venues, and there’s more than a hint here and there of the magic and mystery that lingers in the Cornish landscape.

So I’m off to see what other songs of Harry Glasson’s I can find on SoundCloud…

David Harley

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.willkeatingcornwall.com/

‘Cornwall My Home’:

MARTIN BARRE – Roads Less Travelled (Garage Records GAR0002)

Roads Less TravelledI don’t think I’ve heard Jethro Tull for decades, but one of the highlights of the band’s music was, for me and many others, Martin Barre’s guitar work, so I jumped at the opportunity to check out his solo album Roads Less Travelled, for release on 31st August 2018. The CD features ten excellent songs plus an instrumental, all composed by Martin. As well as Martin’s guitars, banjo, mandolin and mandola, these tracks also feature regular members of the Martin Barre Band Dan Crisp (lead vocals on most tracks), Alan Thomson (bass/fretless bass) and Darby Todd (drums), augmented by Alex Hart and Becca Langsford (lead and backing vocals), Josiah J (percussion and Hammond organ), Aaron Graham (drums) and Buster Cottam (double bass).

If some of the tracks here make me think of 60s/70s West Coast and/or fusion music, that’s by no means a criticism, and it shouldn’t be taken as implying a dated approach. Partly, I think, it’s because Dan Crisp’s versatile vocals sometimes remind me of specific individuals from that era; partly because of the effective use of harmonizing lead guitars; partly because of the super-accurate way the guitars, bass and organ track each other’s lines.

Here’s the track listing.

  1. ‘Lone Wolf’, with the addition of Martin’s mandolin, mandola and banjo, borders on country-rock. And a splendid example it is. Slightly reminiscent of the Eagles or even Buffalo Springfield.
  2. ‘Out Of Time’ alternates some nifty electric riffing and athletic drumming with some gentler acoustic work.
  3. ‘I’m On My Way’ also benefits from Martin’s mandolin and mandola, as well as some tasty electric guitar.
  4. ‘Roads Less Travelled’ features some very nice lead guitar harmonies, and lots more.
  5. Becca Langsford takes over the vocals on ‘Badcore Blues’, a moody song supported by acoustic guitars, drums and bass guitar. A long way from country blues, but captures some of that desperation despite its sophistication.
  6. The nostalgic ‘Seattle’ balances acoustic and electric guitars with spot-on vocal and instrumental harmonies.
  7. ‘For No Man’ features breath-taking interplay between the guitars, fretless bass and organ over sophisticated changes.
  8. ‘(This Is) My Driving Song’ leans towards riff-driven 70s rock. Works for me…
  9. The jazzy ballad ‘You Are An Angel’ features Alex Hart on vocals, backed by Martin’s acoustic guitars and Buster Cottam’s double bass. Very classy.
  10. ‘Trinity’ is the CD’s only instrumental, with Martin playing all instruments. A tour de force, drawing on a wide range of musical influences.
  11. ‘And The Band Played Only For Me’ features Becca Langsford on lead vocals, ably augmented with Alex Hart’s backing vocals. Somewhere on the borderline between jazz and city blues, with lovely guitar and organ. If ‘Trinity’ is my favourite track, this is my favourite vocal track, though ‘You Are An Angel’ isn’t far behind it.

Excellent songs sympathetically sung, a master of the guitar (and no slouch on several other instruments), accompanied by a set of accomplished musicians and singers, and flawlessly produced: this is an album that’s going to stay on my iPod…

David Harley

Artist’s website: https://martinbarre.com/

The Martin Barre Band at The Citadel, Wigan:

JULIE JULY BAND – Who Knows Where The Time Goes (Aurora Folk Records JJB18CD1)

Who Knows Where The Tme GoesThe Julie July Band has built a substantial reputation on reinterpretations of Sandy Denny’s songs, so it comes as no surprise that the CD Who Knows Where The Time Goes, released on July 27th, is a collection of 11 songs written by Sandy, plus one song of Richard Farina’s that she recorded at least twice. Lead vocals are taken by Julie July: the rest of the band (and very accomplished they are too) being Steve Rezillo – lead guitar and vocals; Nick Smith and Don Mac (a former musical sparring partner of mine and still picking a mean guitar) – acoustic guitars; Blake Probert – bass guitar; Garry Low on drums and percussion, and the late Martin Emeny (drums on two tracks); Georgina Groom – fiddle; Chris Hutchison – piano and Hammond organ.

Even though it’s 40 years since Sandy Denny’s untimely death, there are probably few people reading this review who haven’t been touched by her voice and her music. Certainly I can still remember the first time I heard her on radio in the 60s (and even what she sang: ‘The False Bride’ and Jackson C. Frank’s ‘Milk And Honey’!). While some of the songs here date back to her time with Fairport (and even before), most of them are best known from her solo albums. Here’s the track-by-track listing.

  1. ‘The North Star Grassman And The Ravens’ is the title track from Sandy’s first solo album, from 1971. While Julie captures the spirit of Sandy’s singing particularly well here, the accompaniment here is simpler than either of the Denny recordings I’ve heard, carried by Chris Hutchison’s piano and Georgina Groom’s lyrical fiddle. Will I invite a torrent of hate mail if I say I actually prefer it this way?
  2. ‘Listen Listen’ is more lightly produced and arranged than the version on the 1972 album Sandy, and none the worse for that.
  3. ‘Fotheringay’ is the song about the castle where Mary, Queen of Scots, was imprisoned and finally executed: the song gave its name to Sandy’s short-lived quintet project. (Coincidentally, the band’s concert in Bangor was one of the first music reviews I ever wrote.) This version follows the version on What We Did On Our Holidays fairly closely, and it’s rather nice to hear those guitar harmonies again.
  4. ‘It’ll Take A Long Time’ is also from Sandy: It must have taken a certain amount of courage to compete with the memory of Richard Thompson’s guitar and Sneaky Pete’s pedal steel on the original recording (or, come to that, Donahue and Wilsher on the Royalty recording), but some understated slide and lead work here fill that gap very adequately.
  5. ‘Solo’ is maybe taken just a little faster than the version on Like An Old Fashioned Waltz with some very nice acoustic guitar. And it suits Julie’s voice very well.
  6. Does anyone reading this not know ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’? First heard on record on Fairport’s Unhalfbricking (though an earlier version later appeared on the belatedly released Strawbs album All Our Own Work), the song has been covered by artists as diverse as Judy Collins, Nina Simone, 10,000 Maniacs and Daria Kulesh, and in 2007 the Fairport version was voted “Favourite Folk Track Of All Time” by Radio 2 listeners. Julie’s version has the general feel of the Fairport version, but is by no means a slavish copy, and does the song justice. In particular, the lead guitar is more restrained, in contrast to the youthfully exuberant ubiquity of Richard Thompson’s country licks on the Unhalfbricking version, against which even Sandy sometimes struggles to hold the listener’s attention.
  7. ‘The Lady’ harks back to the Sandy album, with just piano for backing. Lovely.
  8. ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ is the Richard Farina song that put new words to the melody of ‘My Lagan Love’ (which in itself is a new-ish set of words – usually credited to Joseph Campbell – to an older song). It may seem perverse to give so much space to considering the only song on the CD that isn’t Sandy’s, but I’m going to anyway… Mimi Farina recorded this with a complex orchestral arrangement by Peter Schickele that sets off her fragile vocals admirably. Sandy recorded a folk-rock version with Fairport that I can’t quite learn to love, then a very different version on her second solo album with complex multitracking and an extended violin coda by Dave Swarbrick. Sandy’s second version is a tour de force, but for me, Julie’s unaccompanied version on this CD is truer to the song, allowing it to speak for itself. Up to now, Mimi’s version has been my favourite version, but I’m reconsidering. Sometimes all you need is a beautiful song beautifully sung.
  9. The slightly Joni-Mitchell-ish ‘The Pond And The Stream’ appeared on the eponymous Fotheringay Julie’s version follows that version fairly closely, even reproducing the ‘Theme From Mash’-ish intro, but it’s very nicely done.
  10. The mournful ‘Winter Winds’ also blew in on the Fotheringay Again, this version follows Sandy’s fairly closely, but maybe that’s appropriate: the Fotheringay album did mostly avoid the overproduction that sometimes clouded the later albums, at least for me.
  11. ‘Late November’ was recorded for The North Star Grassman And The Ravens and also appeared eventually on the Fotheringay 2. I particularly like the drum work from the late Martin Emeny on this arrangement, contrasting with quieter acoustic passages. Nice electric guitar too.
  12. ‘Full Moon’ was recorded for the Rendezvous sessions, but didn’t appear on that album, and I hadn’t heard it before (surprisingly – it’s a gorgeous song). However, three versions have been released on various posthumous collections. This version features piano and fiddle, and makes for a more than satisfying end to this CD.

Clearly, those lovers of Sandy Denny’s music who go to the Julie July Band’s gigs will be glad of this well-sung, well-recorded reminder of the experience (and while I’m not generally a huge fan of tribute bands, I’ll certainly be going to the band’s Cornish gig next year if I can). Hard-core Sandy’s fans and CD collectors may be harder to convince, but to my ears some of these arrangements are actually more sympathetic to the songs than the 70s recordings. And this selection would work very well as an introduction to Sandy’s own songs for anyone who isn’t familiar with her work.

David Harley 

Artist’s website: http://www.juliejuly.co.uk/index.html

‘The North Star Grassman And The Ravens’: