MIKE SPONZA – Made In The Sixties (EPOPS Music EPPS 1804)

Made In The SixtiesMike Sponza is a bluesman with a sense of adventure, some impressive collaborators and a great feel for his work. Made in the Sixties was released in the UK on November 23rd and is bold, if not audacious, in what it does.

The album has ten songs, one for each year of the sixties. Given the iconic status the decade has in both our wider cultural life and in the development of sophisticated modern music, this is some challenge. That the album pulls it off is even better. The first track ‘1960 – Made In The Sixties’ opens with drum and brass and the lyric “It was a great time for beginning” and the album closes with ‘1969 Blues For The Sixties’ in the video link below and the ending lyric, “I’m looking at my life/I see the sixties everywhere”. For all ten tracks I’ve been hooked.

Conceptually the album takes us through the decade good and bad “On the one hand the glamour and swing, and on the other, the dark and problematic side” is how Sponza describes his album. He covers the darkness of the Cuban missile crisis on ‘1962 – A Young Londoners Point Of View On Cuban Crisis’ “we didn’t even know in the far off days/Just how close it came to cancel our best decade” and JFK’s death on ‘1963 – Day Of The Assassin’; by contrast, he merges many images of the sexy sixties, most obviously a cartoon of Honey Rider on the CD and the name of Pussy Galore on the title of ‘1964 – Glamour Puss’, someone for whom “all the traffic halts”; the summer of love is treated to a Dana Gillespie vocal on ‘1967 – Good Lovin’’.

Musically the album works by keeping to a consistent style (it could have developed from, say, simple blues in 1960 to sophisticated blues in 1969 in line with the decade’s musical growth) which references the later years of the sixties – that intensely creative period, post-Revolver, Disraeli Gears, Are You Experienced et al when blues drove rock forward and combined with soul, jazz, gospel, Latin influences to move us from the black and white of early rock and roll to a more colourful soundscape as music paralleled the development of visual media.

Lyrically it’s also subtle and equivocal, the sixties are seen as both dark and glamorous. Dylan’s influence is referenced not just for his impact on lyrics but his wider musical development on ‘1965 – Even Dylan Was Turning Electric’. This is another lovely song with Eddi Reader providing vocals on a track that has an arrangement that brings to mind some of Joe Cocker’s best.

Made In The Sixties is an album I’ve really enjoyed listening to. Joe Cass’s production alludes to the style of the sixties and the tracks would grace any soundtrack from the era – just look at the video below: big house, white sports car, mini dress, shades, retro mic, 7” single, alcohol as sophistication – but this is a modern blues-based album with Sponza taking us through the decade in music which is simultaneously refined and just great fun to listen to.

Mike Wistow

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.mikesponza.com

‘1969 – Blues For The Sixties’ – official video:

SIOBHAN MILLER – Mercury (Songprint Recordings SPR002CD)

MercuryTo be brutally honest, if this were Siobhan Miller’s first album and I was listening cold I probably wouldn’t have got past the first three tracks. I loved Strata – it was the perfect blend of new and old, of traditional songs and covers – but Mercury is pop music, well made and sophisticated, true, but pop music nevertheless. All the songs are originals, some written with Euan Burton, Louis Abbott and Kris Drever, performed with a fashionably modern band, embellished with violins and brass.

I’ll temper my criticism a little. The third track, ‘Strandline’ attracted my attention and the fourth, ‘The Western Edge’ is excellent. I hoped, at that point, that Siobhan had turned her back on foolish notions but, sadly, I was disappointed. A major problem is the absence of lyrics: they are not printed on the cover and, although we’re promised them on Siobhan’s website they are nowhere to be found. With everything that is going on around her musically, they are essential. Even the star guests like Eddi Reader and Kris Drever are lost in the wall of sound that Burton, Abbott and Iain Hutchinson generate.

The title track, which opens the album, actually sounds rather interesting on subsequent listenings – I can make out something about picket lines and throwing stones but it’s lost. The second track, ‘Sorrow When The Day Is Done’, is a nicely upbeat song but the combination of Abbott’s drums and John Lowrie’s piano overwhelms it. It’s rather like an episode of Masterchef – I can appreciate the skill and see the ideas going into the dish but there are far too many of them and the finished article is unpalatable.

I am so disappointed with Mercury. Come back to us, Siobhan, please.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.siobhanmiller.com

‘Mercury’ – lyric video:

EDDI READER – Cavalier (Reveal 077CDX)

CavalierForty years into her career, Reader’s 11th solo studio album, Cavalier, continues the recent trend of mixing original and traditional material with, naturally, something from Robert Burns.

Recorded in Glasgow and co-produced with husband John Douglas, and featuring a plethora of musicians, Boo Hewardine, John McCusker, Siobhan Miller, Phil Cunningham and Michael McGoldrick among then, it opens on a traditional note with the gently waltzing Irish tune ‘Maiden’s Lament (An Charraig Donn)’, with whistles, Martin Kershaw’s clarinet and Miller and Annie Grace on backing. The first of the original numbers comes with the poppy Douglas co-penned ‘Wonderful’, a song about learning to let go of trying to control your children’s lives as they transition to adults, the collaboration (along with Simon Dine) also providing the hushed slow waltzer ‘My Favourite Dress’, a nostalgic song reminding how short life is, written for his aunt Mary, in care and suffering from dementia.

It’s Douglas who provides the equally poppy, R&B brass-embellished uptempo title track about sharing the load, his other credits including the slower sway of ‘Fishing’, a number about learning that troubles always pass, even rainy evening, and the following ‘Maid O’The Loch’, a number written as a fundraiser to refurbish the titular boat that takes tourists around Loch Lomond. He also shares a co-write with Phil Cunningham on the gradually swelling ‘A Sailor’s Farewell To The Sea’, the latter putting words to the latter’s Christmassy instrumental and featuring both brass ensemble and accordion.

Hewardine provides two numbers, the first being the 50s-like jazzy shimmering, brushed drums, clarinet and brass-kissed ‘Starlight’ (to which Reader added a final verse), given a Mills Brothers-styled arrangement. The other, ‘Old Song’, takes on a very Scottish waltzing feel courtesy of Alan Kelly’s accordion, a romantic hymn to how music can touch memories and lift hearts.

Turning to Reader’s solo material, coloured by whistles and accordion, ‘There’s A Whole In The Desert Dear Darling’ is a swaylong waltzing lullaby of sorts written in memory of Milou Bedssa, a close friend from her teens who had recently passed away. The other is the album’s penultimate track, the lovely, ukulele-accompanied, percussion rippling ‘Go Wisely’, another song for the kids, both a benediction as they embark on their own lives and a reminder that phone calls don’t cost a lot.

Which just leaves the other traditional numbers. Given a rolling and tumbling Celtic rhythm, ‘Meg O’The Glen’ takes its lyrics from two 18th century poems by Paisley’s Robert Tannahill telling the tale of a lass of low fortune being forced to marry a rich old man she didn’t want, song seguing into an instrumental coda of Jerry Holland’s ‘Brenda Stubbert’s Reel’.

Found among songbooks during a late relative’s house clearance, picked out on the harmonium inherited at the same time, ‘Deirdre’s Farewell To Scotland’ is based on the Celtic myth ‘Deirdra Of The Sorrows’, about a pregnant Irish girl forced to seek sanctuary and the fate of her daughter, the story resonating with the contemporary refugee crisis.

Learned from a version by American jazz singer Kurt Elling, ‘The Loch Tay Boat Song’ is familiar number of love and leaving in the Scottish tradition, here given a laid back late night jazz arrangement for Steve Hamilton’s piano and dedicated to Davy Steele. It’s followed in lively fiddle-laced and wheezing accordion style by ‘Pangur Bán And The Primrose Lass’, a cocktail of an Irish poem about a cat hunting mike (the title translates as White Cat) that rolls into the instrumental interlude, a tune that apparently appeared on an early 70s Steeleye Span album as ‘The Primrose Lassie’, originally collected by Douglas’s great uncle, Irish song archivist Colm Keane. It features Monica Queen on harmonies, prompting thoughts that’s she’s long overdue an album of her own.

And so, Douglas on piano and McCusker on fiddle and whistle, it ends with another nod to her favourite Scottish songwriter, a four verse version of Burns’ classic ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’. She says she chose the album title to reflect how she’s feeling. The thesaurus defines it as offhand, high-handed or careless, but also, as a Caballero or a Quixotic figure. Long may she tilt at windmills.

Mike Davies

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: www.eddireader.co.uk

‘Wonderful’ – official video:

Eddi Reader announces new album

Eddi Reader

Eddi Reader announces her brand new studio album Cavalier released worldwide on September 28 by Reveal Records.

Featuring sixteen songs, including recently performed live favourites ‘Wonderful’, ‘My Favourite Dress’, ‘Starlight’ and ‘Maiden’s Lament’, the new album was recorded and produced in Glasgow, Scotland by Eddi Reader and John Douglas.

Cavalier is a new creative peak in an already prestigious career, just under an hour of new music, incorporating both contemporary and traditional songs.

From the traditional to the contemporary, Eddi brings joyous life to all forms of song. Her taste in co-writers, writers, songs and players is impeccable and anything with her name on it is guaranteed musical treasure. Whilst the perfection of her technique is widely acknowledged, what sets Reader apart is the depth and quality of the emotional performance; her ability not only to move the listener but to connect her experience to that of her audience. Her passion and instinct move people in a way reminiscent of those who have influenced her work. Her rare blend of meltingly true vocals and towering romanticism combine with an astute and pragmatic nature to make her a unique and powerful figure in contemporary British music. She has effortlessly developed into one of popular music’s most thrilling and affecting performers.

Eddi is celebrating her 40th year as a live performer, a career which started in 1978 singing on Scottish country rock tours, then appearing on worldwide festival and concert hall stages with Gang Of Four and Fairground Attraction through the eighties and onto her own successful solo live career, which continues to this day.

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: http://eddireader.co.uk/

‘Wonderful’ – official video:

EDDI READER – The Best Of Eddi Reader (Reveal REVEAL059CDX)

The Best Of Eddi ReaderThe Best Of Eddi Reader is quite a tall order given the span of time and styles it must encompass – from bright late-80s pop through the soulful solo albums and the Robert Burns collection to her role as an elder statesperson of Scottish music who can take any direction that pleases her. Even thirty tracks doesn’t seem enough. The set isn’t organised in a strict chronological order although it does begin with Fairground Attraction’s two hit singles, ‘Find My Love’ and ‘Perfect’, both written by Mark E Nevin. Compiler Tom Rose has put together the album to engender a sense of “I wonder what’s coming next” while maintaining a coherent feel.

Eddi is a song-writer as well as a performer but she is more than adept at selecting songs to sing and collaborating with other writers. The first of her own songs we hear is ‘Whispers’, also from Fairground Attraction, and with the benefit of hindsight it says a lot about her future. ‘Leezie Lindsay’ is a modernish re-interpretation of Burns’ lyric which comes from the same era as the brilliant ‘Muddy Water’ which Eddi wrote with John McCusker and Boo Hewerdine, a name that crops up many times throughout her career. Sadly Hewerdine’s country waltz, ‘Wings On My Heels’, doesn’t count among my favourite tracks and neither does Eddi’s take on Si Khan’s ‘What You Do With What You’ve Got’ – drama is good but it seems overdone to my ear.

The second disc seems to concentrate on less obvious material, opening with Eddi’s fragile reading of Steve Earle’s ‘My Old Friend The Blues’ and a long, dramatic version of Fred Neil’s ‘Dolphins’. In the midst of all this the traditional ‘Willie Stewart’ springs up to get the party going. As a bonus the second set includes a cover of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ and the classic ‘Moon River’.

The Best Of Eddi Reader is an excellent set. If you have one two of her albums it will make you think about the ones you’re missing.

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.

Artist’s website: www.eddireader.com

‘Patience Of Angels’ – live on Later:

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

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: 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: