SHOW OF HANDS – Battlefield Dance Floor (Proper Records PRPCD156)

Battlefield Dance FloorBattlefield Dance Floor is the 18th studio album from Show Of Hands, a band that is one of the most recognized Folk acts of the 21st Century. So much so I’m writing this review with some trepidation as I only became aware of them when they toured their last album with the wonderful Megan Henwood (who I’d really gone to see!!) in 2016.

With eight new original songs from Steve Knightly, this thirteen track album doesn’t disappoint. Regular Show Of Hands gig goers will be familiar with many of them as they have been ‘road tested’ by the band either at solo gigs or together as band. An example being the Cornish reggae ‘Dreckley’ which Steve performed at Towersey (which has become a bit of an earworm and is now in my head all the time).

As well as Cornish reggae, there are other diverse sounds such as the Eastern feel to ‘Mother Tongue’, a really full sounding track which rolls along at a steady pace and has a haunting feel to it.

This album has a fourth member with Cormac Byrne (who toured with them last autumn) adding percussion to Miranda Sykes double bass, and Phil and Steve’s multi instrument contributions. There are also contributions on keyboards from Matt Clifford.

The album includes the Kirsty Merryn song ‘Forfarshire’ on which Steve sang on her album She And I, this version has Miranda joining Steve on vocals and Gerry Diver, who produced Kirsty’s album, on a collection of instruments from mandolin to percussion. Miranda also takes the lead vocal on ‘Make The Right Noises’.

Leonard Cohen’s ‘First We Take Manhattan’, is given great treatment by the band and although I don’t know the original I suspect this is a much jauntier version. Phil’s vocals come to the fore on Richard Shindell’s ‘Next Best Western’, another song I remember from live shows and Adrian Mannering’s ‘My True Love’.

The album flows well though the title track ‘Battlefield Dance Floor’, despite its clever lyrics with historical references it didn’t pass the car journey test with my better half, but it stays on when I’m in the car alone! So this is a great listen, but to get the full Show Of Hands effect go and see them live as they are consummate storytellers, entertainers and musicians and you’ll have a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Duncan Chappell

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‘Lost’:

ROWAN RHEINGANS – The Lines We Draw Together (Red Dress Records CD01)

The Lines We Draw TogetherThe Lines We Draw Together, from banjoist, fiddle player, singer and innovative songwriter Rowan Rheingans is a bit of a juxtaposition with the music being relaxing and melancholy and some of the subject matter covering challenging topics. Listening to it is like having a gentle comforting hug.

It contains ten original songs from Rowan, which the PR notes describe as “ten brilliantly poetic meditations on history, war, family, birdsong, dance, trauma recovery, sorrow and hope” and there is certainly some wonderful story telling in the songs.

The album certainly pushes the envelope of folk and some of it reminded me of a Peter Gabriel album in terms of the originality and composition, especially the title track ‘Lines’. That said there is still the essence of folk songs and tunes in her writing.

There is some gentle banjo playing on ‘Fire’ and listen out for the percussion on ‘Brave’. ‘Sky’ is a short almost spoken song, with very little musical accompaniment. In contrast ‘Traces’ is nearly nine minutes long, starts with mournful strings goes into a repeated short verse and closes with clarinet.

The combination of clarinet from Jack McNeil (Propellor) and strings on many of the songs intertwine wonderfully. Much of it was recorded live, which can be felt by the listener as the interaction between the musicians is very apparent.

Other musicians involved include Michele Stoddart (The Magic Numbers), percussionist Laurence Hunt (The Wayward Band) and electronic musician Robert Bentall all help enforce the originality of the album and the lack of fear of moving away from her more recognized genre. The producer was Andy Bell who has also worked with Jon Boden and Karine Polwart.

I really enjoyed all the songs and if you’re feeling in a reflective mood stick this album on kick back, relax and enjoy the embrace of that hug.

Duncan Chappell

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Artist’s website: https://www.rowanrheingans.co.uk

The first single, ‘Fire’ – live:

Click here for Rowan’s tour dates.

HAYLEY ROSS – The Weight Of Hope (Barracuda Recordings – CUDA006)

The Weight Of HopeAfter 2 previous EPs, Barracuda EP (2016) and Fierce Love EP (2015), this debut album from Hayley Ross has been four years in the making and has been well worth the wait. Hayley co-produced and co-engineered The Weight Of Hope with Martyn Baker, who also played drums and percussion and it was mixed by John Leckie and mastered at Abbey Road studios.

The thirteen tracks, which include a number from the previous EPs, vary in style from the swish beat of Barracuda to the Phil Spector-ish Wall of Sound ‘Come Back’ to the gentle ‘Tumbledown’, but they all seem to fit which must come down to how carefully she has thought through the running order.

She plays an amazing array of instruments including guitars, bass, harmonium, mandolin, melodica, cigarbox, monotron, stylophone, psaltery, guitarele and harmonica, which is incredible as she is completely self taught.

It’s hard to place this album in the folk spectrum so I’ll just say it has a very original, sophisticated and full sound and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you need a point of reference then there were tracks that reminded me of some of my other favourite independent artists such as Jess Morgan, Charlotte Carpenter and even Gita de Ridder, but as I said earlier the tracks are varied in style.

I hope we don’t have to wait another four years for the next one.

Duncan Chappell

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Artist’s website: https://www.barracudarecordings.co.uk

‘Tumbledown’ – official video:

DAN KORN & JOE SHARP – Polaris (own label – DK002CD)

PolarisDan and Joe have worked together since 2010 on Dan’s first EP Dustbowl, a second EP Into The Warm and debut LP Of The Sea. Polaris is their first release as a duo and is an enjoyable listen with the title track setting the bar for the rest of the album.

The songs were all recorded live at Roedean Moira House Studios in Eastbourne by Frank Schulmeyer. This gives them a wonderfully raw and stripped back sound, noticeably so on the opening track ‘Running From Ghosts’. I especially enjoyed ‘Idaho’ (love the line about “I’ll bring my homemade spelt bread”) and ‘Women in Love’, which are two of the more upbeat songs.

The combination of singer /songwriter Dan with classically trained Joe works well as Dan’s singing and guitar has depth added by Joe’s vocal harmonies and subtle double bass. Joe also shows his songwriting skills with ‘For Love’ and ‘The Promise’, he also plays piano, shruti box, cajon and on the last track, acoustic guitar.

They come across as a softer version of Jacob & Drinkwater and it would be interesting to see them live and see if they have the same entertaining interaction as well as a great musical blend. I hope to check them out when they have their CD launch at The Slaughtered Lamb on 19th July.

Duncan Chappell

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

‘Polaris’ – official video:

EVAN CARSON – Ocipinski (Evan Carson Music – ECMCD001)

OcipinskiOcipinski is percussionist Evan Carson’s first solo album inspired by Jerzy Ocipinski and the Polish Resistance Movements of the Second World War. Why this subject matter you ask? It just so happens that Jerzy Ocipinski was Evan’s grandfather.

The album has taken somewhat longer to complete that originally planned, but as we all know Evan is a busy man recording and/or performing with The Willows, Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys, Carousel and more recently The Tweed Project, to name just a few. It was also recorded in places as far afield as the UK, Russia, Iceland and Australia so it was somewhat logistically challenging.

The music was co-written by Evan and Gleb Kolyadin, who also plays piano on the album masterfully. The lyrics are credited to Evan, Georgia Lewis, Jim Grey and Hannah Sanders who also provide their highly impressive vocal talents along with Evan himself and Ben Savage. Other musicians involved are Karl James Pestka (violin & viola), Graham Coe (cello), Toby Shaer (flutes), Chris Heales (electric guitars and bass), Josh Franklin (bass and synths), Chris Cawood (acoustic guitar and bass) and Archie Churchill Moss (melodian). You are probably already getting the feeling this is something you have to listen to.

The way the album flows is like a prog folk version of Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, albeit shorter and without all the psychedelic imagery. Four of the seven tracks are over six minutes long and all are filled with intricate percussion, piano and vocals. The album is obviously percussion driven and those of you who have seen Evan with any of his bands will know he is not one to stick with a standard drum kit and 4/4 beat.

‘Sky’, the opening track is the shortest on the album and it creeps up on you like an instrumental dawn, it builds gently and then leads into ‘Shards’ (for me the best track on the album) with it’s syncopated drum beat and frenetic piano and wonderful lead vocals from Georgia (someone I must find out more about). This leads into ‘Chrysalis’ with more haunting vocal which has an Eastern feel to it.

‘Otriad’ starts with more great piano from Gleb, features Evan/Jim on lead vocal and has the strings from Karl and flutes from Toby which come to the fore in a middle instrumental section. ‘Bloodlines’ starts slower, but then there is more of that driving percussion with Hannah on lead vocals and Ben’s warming backing vocals. This leads into ‘The Fireflies Of Falaise’ which is mainly instrumental with a multi-vocal chant to take it to the end. The final track ‘Anders Prayer’, has an industrial feel to it with Georgia again on lead vocal and it closes out the album in fine fashion.

This is a truly original piece of work brilliantly produced by Joshua Franklin, which I encourage you to take 43 minutes out of your day to sit down and listen to from start to finish. If you’re at the more open-minded end of the folk world, you will thoroughly enjoy the experience.

Duncan Chappell

Artist’s website: www.evancarsondrums.com

‘Shards’ – in rehearsal:

THE ASKEW SISTERS – Enclosure (Oakmere Music OMCD001)

EnclosureEnclosure is the fourth album from The Askew Sisters, five years since the release of the award winning In the Air Or The Earth.

Both sisters have been busy with other projects in between albums, with Hazel working with Lady Maisery and The Coven. Emily through her solo album Alchemy has been working with early music with the likes of Jamie Roberts, Simon Whittaker and also John Dipper, who recorded and co-produced Enclosure with Emily and Hazel.

The album has a very traditional feel, but somehow feels modern as well. I must confess to being more on the contemporary side of folk, but I really enjoyed the arrangements whether it be fiddle and melodeon with Hazel’s haunting voice on ‘The Wounded Hussar’ or the singing of Hazel with the cello and harmonium on ‘My Father Built Me a Pretty Tower’.

There is a wonderful medley combining waltzes, county dance and a minuet in ‘Zodiac/Joy After Sorrow/Minoway’. ‘London’s Loyalty /Heady Days’ is a second one which came from a 1651 hornpipe and the excitement of creating new music.

I especially enjoyed their take on the tale of Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight with “Castle By The Sea”, having originally heard the story on Kadia’s Outlandish Collection EP.

This album certainly grew on me the more I listened to it and I’m very tempted to make room in the diary to go to the album launch at Cecil Sharp House on 24th April. If I don’t make it I’ll just have to content myself with seeing Hazel with Lady Maisery in Harwell on 10th May.

Duncan Chappell

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‘Goose & Common’ – official video: