HONEY AND THE BEAR – Made In The Aker (own label)

Made In The AkerBased on a ridiculously small sample, I’m beginning to detect a trend for small groups of players making big music overlaid with powerful vocals. If I’m right then Made In The Aker, the debut album by Honey And The Bear, is right on the money. Honey And The Bear are multi-instrumental/vocal/songwriting duo Lucy and Jon Hart. They have waited a while to record this album and their patience shows in the quality of their work.

Lucy and Jon live on the Suffolk coast – aker is Suffolk for turbulent current, if you were wondering – and many of their songs are inspired by their surroundings and local legends. The opener, ‘Dark Heart’, is the story of a girl who cut her heart out in despair for her missing lover and whose ghost is said to haunt Dunwich beach. More prosaically, ‘The Ferry’ is a tribute to the two families who have operated the Southwold to Walberswick ferry for generations. Even when writing in less specific terms they start by drawing on their locality so ‘Sailor’s Daughter’, about breaking free of society’s shackles, starts with an imagined girl, presumably from one of the coastal villages.

It’s back to a local story for ‘Margaret Catchpole’, who was transported to Australia for stealing a horse but ‘Springtime Girl’ was inspired by Lucy’s grandparents, in particular her grandfather who planted his wife’s name in daffodils in their meadow. Other songs were inspired by a Cuban coffee plantation, a tree house and Sir Christopher Cockerell who is rumoured to have tested his hovercraft prototype on Oulton Broad.

Principal among the small group of musicians supporting Lucy and Jon is Toby Shaer, who plays on every track, Evan Carson who provides all the drums and percussion and Graham Coe whose cello underpins eight of the eleven tracks. There are cameos from Archie Churchiill-Moss and Ciaran Algar and, of course, Lucy and Jon play eight instruments. It is their combined vocals, however, that make the album what it is and what it is is a very accomplished debut.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: https://honeyandthebear.co.uk/

‘Dark Heart’ – live:

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:

MIKE TURNBULL – …In So Small A Compass (own label MTM03)

In So Small A CompassMike Turnbull’s debut, Circlet Of Gold, was a delightful vignette that began with the landscape of his native Lake District and told stories from here, there and everywhere. He sang and played every note but it was inevitable that he would stretch his metaphorical wings. …In So Small A Compass is produced by Lukas Drinkwater who also plays bass, guitar, banjo and percussion with Ciaran Algar on fiddle and Ewan Carson on bodhran.

On the first play I just gathered impressions. Mike hasn’t strayed far from the landscape – and seascape, for that matter – and birds feature heavily as a motif. Indeed, the sound of chattering birds leads into the opening ‘Seek Thy Brother’ which takes as its starting point the children’s magpie rhyme and maybe the old adage that if you see a lot of crows together, they’re rooks. Of course, it’s all a metaphor. ‘Boat Thief Song’ seems to stem from a memory of youthful mischief and is decorated by country tinged fiddle from Ciaran. Memories and birds appear again in ‘Heart Shaped Wood’, somewhere Mike probably knows well just like the landscapes he’s walking in ‘Between Breaths’ and ‘Sycamore Gap’, a song about the building of Hadrian’s Wall.

Mike is a fine story-teller, as his debut proved, so ‘Louisa’ isn’t about a lady but the famous overland launch of the Lynmouth lifeboat to Porlock in the teeth of a gale back in 1899. I’ve compared Mike to Seth Lakeman before (although I’m not sure he agrees with me) but this is just the sort of song that Seth would write. Sorry Mike. …In So Small A Compass is rather more poetic than I was expecting so ‘Edge Of The Map’ could be a tale of mediaeval sailors or, more likely, a metaphor for striking out in a new direction. There is nostalgia in ‘Lakeland Heart’ and romance in ‘Seabirds’ Call’ but also a sense of practicality – the couple are on the sea in a small boat travelling “once around the island” so there is no time to be soppy.

This is clearly a big step forward from Circlet Of Gold – much as I liked that record – but what is most impressive is the fact that Mike’s songwriting has maintained its quality. …In So Small A Compass is all meat and no filler.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: https://www.musicglue.com/mike-turnbull

‘Lakeland Heart’:

THE WILLOWS – Through The Wild (Elk Elk014)

Through The WildA sort of folk supergroup that sees singer Jade Rhiannon Ward and multi-instrumentalist husband Cliff joined by Ben Savage on Dobro, percussionist Evan Carson from Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys and, new to the line-up, Katriona Gilmore on fiddle and mandolin and double bass player John Parker, this belated follow-up to 2014’s Amidst Fiery Skies finds the Cambridge-based sextet ranging across genres that span English folk, Americana and bluegrass with a sound that, at times conjures an English Clanaad. That is not the case, however, with full-blooded folk rock album opener ‘Coda’, which, like all but one number, is penned by the band. A number that deals with mortality and loss, it’s echoed in the softer, more reflective and melancholic breathily-sung ‘Better Days’ where, mottled by banjo, grief gives way to hope.

The sole non-original comes with an clopping percussion arrangement of the traditional ‘True Lover’s Ferry’, a song of love on London’s waterways learned from the singing of Peter Bellamy. Gilmore and Carson provide the backbone with Ward’s banjo also prominent for ‘Perfect Crime/Ernest Durham’s’, another musically muscular number, which draws on the true story of Percy Cox, a soldier from the Fens in the First World War who, to get a higher age, stole the identity of Ernest Durham, an Australian soldier who lends his name to the second half instrumental.

A song about the healing power of love, the evocative fiddle and banjo coloured ‘Honest Man’ musically heads out to the Appalachians before they turn to Canada for ‘Pearl Hart, Savage taking on electric guitar and Carson laying down the skittering percussive bedrock on a song that recounts the true story of the 19th century Canadian who gave up robbing stagecoaches to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

War rears its head again with ‘Out Of Our Hands’, a rueful acoustic guitar accompanying Ward on a song which, briefly swelling towards the end, was inspired by her reading of A Memory of Solferino, Henry Dunant’s 1862 book about the battle of Solferino in 1859 between Napoleon’s forces and the Austrian army, the suffering of the soldiers and the lack of aid, and which led to the founding of the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions.

The English landscape serves as inspiration for two numbers, the first being ‘False Light’, pizzicato mandolin and fiddle gradually building to a big production number about the lights people imaged they saw over the fenland marshes, luring them to their deaths. It’s followed by ‘Gog Magog’, a jazzy, airy, puttering percussive rhythm number that, inspired by the eponymous chalk hills of Cambridgeshire and the mythical pagan giants (also to be found in the Bible and Cornish legend) who walked them, again treats on loss through conflict.

It ends on a personal note with the spare six-minute traditional flavoured, fiddle-coloured slow waltz ballad ‘Dear Lilly’ being dedicated to Jade’s great aunt, her courtship, marriage, miscarriage and subsequent nursing of her dying husband , going on to live for over a century, a fitting uplifting conclusion to an album that welcomes the band back in magnificent style.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.thewillowsband.co.uk

‘False Light’ – official video:

Serious Child announce debut album

Serious Child

Empty Nest is the affecting and impressive debut album from Serious Child, a talented trio fronted by singer/songwriter and guitarist Alan Young with Carla March on vocals and Steve Welch on bass. On Empty Nest they are joined by a range of folk and rock musicians, including Boo Hewerdine (the album’s producer) and Bible bandmate Neill MacColl, John McCusker and three members of The Changing Room (Tanya Brittain, Jamie Francis and Evan Carson).

The acclaimed, Ivor Novello Award nominated, English singer-songwriter and producer, Boo Hewerdine played a crucial role in bringing about the creation of Empty Nest. A talented vocalist, Alan Young had never written a song prior to his fiftieth birthday, when his wife bought him a place on a five day workshop in the Scottish Highlands. Following a second workshop, Boo, who recognised his significant skills as a songwriter, persuaded an initially reluctant Alan to record an album that he would produce.

The result is Empty Nest, an album whose theme is formed around a quote from Samuel Beckett’s one act play, Krapp’s Last Tape. The words were printed below a photo of a magnificently craggy Beckett in his 70s, in a shabby office where Alan was a research student. The photo and the quote stayed with him over the years and are to be found in the songs, the album cover and the forthcoming videos.

Most of the songs are stories about transitions between different stages of life and the fire that keeps burning as we move through them. ‘Kind Man’s Bluff’ is about a mother facing up to her child leaving home and ‘Paul The Bag’ is about an ageing gangster who is compelled to prove to strangers that he’s not too old.

Serious Child will be holding a launch event for Empty Nest at Cecil Sharp House in London on Wednesday 20 June. The formal release date for the album will be Friday 22 June. The band will be performing at various festivals over the summer and will be on tour in the autumn in the UK (dates to be announced).

Empty Nest is released by TCR Music, an independent folk label based in Cornwall, which has launched the careers of Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, The Changing Room and Kitty Macfarlane.

Artists’ website: http://seriouschild.com/

‘Time Keeps Rolling’ – live:

SINGLES BAR 29 – a round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 29VIRGINIA KETTLE is one of Merry Hell’s front line as songwriter and singer and formerly a successful soloist around the clubs. This eponymous EP with The Dreamcatchers (who are not named but who look suspiciously familiar) is, we’re told, the precursor to a solo album. Her songs tend to be human stories, often with a twist, some of which scale up for the band but these would not.

‘The Butter Song’, which opens the set, begins with the brilliant lines “Ever considered someone like me to spread the butter on your bread” and is sung over hand percussion. ‘More Than This’ sees The Dreamcatchers joining in, initially gently pastoral then building up and finally slipping away. As I’ve come to expect the songs are clever; sometimes quirky like ‘Little Warm’ or deceptively deep like ‘Freedom (The Sweetest Taste)’. We’re looking forward to the album already.
www.vkandthedreamkeepers.com

A collaboration between Brighton songwriters, Rebecca Brandler and Scott Booth, PAPER HAWK make their debut with The Tide, a four track download EP via local label Folklore Sessions recorded in the living room of their flat. The opening track, ‘Trails’, a number about the death throes of a volatile relationship, is what you’d probably call psych-folk with whispery-sung ethereal, echoey vocals, shimmering keyboard swirls, understated drum beat and skitterings of guitars. It’s a mood sustained with the watery finger picked acoustic guitar work accompanying Booth’s vocals on the breathily-sung and rather positive and idealistic ‘The Fourteenth Floor’, clattering percussion and a thumping drum beat gathering for the instrumental play out.

Underscored by spare bass guitar notes and plucked acoustic guitar, ‘Northern Sky’ is another airy piece from Brandler and, largely down to producer Josh Trinnaman, again builds the soundscape towards the close. That bass drum thump also underpins the final number, ‘Written In The Lines’, an electronic ambience enfolding Booth’s hushed vocals on a song that bookends the EP by both returning to the theme of a relationship past its use by date and with the outro mirroring the opening wordless ululation on ‘Trails’. An impressive debut that leaves you wanting to hear what else they can do.
https://www.facebook.com/paperhawkmusic/

Forget About You is a new EP by FINE LINES, a duo founded by singer-songwriter David Boardman and vocalist Zoe Blyth with a cast of supporting musicians – Mark Radclffe has been known to turn out on drums with them. The lead track and ‘Feet Don’t Touch The Ground’ both come from last year’s album, Hour Of Need while ‘Who Do You Love?’ and ‘Begging You’ are new songs. Their sound is acoustic rock with a slight country edge that sometimes forgets that it is supposed to be acoustic but it’s classy stuff.
www.wearefinelines.com

Book SongsANNE-MARIE SANDERSON is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist – guitar, cello and clarinet are among her accomplishments. Book Songs Volume 1 is her third EP and it will presumably be followed by a second volume in time. The five songs here are all inspired by novels, authors including such literary giants as Ian McEwan and Doris Lessing. As befits such inspirations, the songs are musically and lyrically complex. ‘Haweswater’ covers the same ground as Mike Turnbull’s ‘Drowning Valley’ and is a particularly fine song. ‘Mara’s Song’ is even better and like ‘Poisonwood’ is set in Africa – two very different Africas actually – one in the distant future and the other in the mid twentieth century. Anne-Marie plays every note on this EP and has fine voice with a hint of wildness in it that many critics have worked hard to describe.
https://www.annemariesanderson.com/

ShardsEVAN CARSON is the folk scene’s go-to percussion at the moment but now we learn that he is also a composer of no mean talent. ‘Shards’ is the first part of what is intended to be a musical story of his grandfather, George Ocipinski, who escaped from a labour camp and travelled west to join the French Resistance in time for the Normandy landings.

Lead vocals are by Georgia Lewis and the music is built up by the piano of Gleb Kolyadin, Karl James Pestka’s strings and Toby Shaer’s flutes. The nine-and-a-half minutes composition begins with the sound of the wind underneath glockenspiel or chimes – or possibly both – played by Evan himself. Then it rocks a bit with percussion that, to judge from the later lyrics, might be intended to imitate a train as George makes his escape. ‘Shards’ is a dramatic piece of work and there is an EP in the offing. We can’t wait.
www.evancarsondrums.com