BOO HEWERDINE – Before (Reveal Records REVEAL083CDX)

BeforeBoo Hewerdine never seems to do anything the obvious way and there can hardly be anything less obvious than Before. The basic idea is that the music has been recorded before it has been overthought, hence the title. The packaging is minimalist – an 18th century painting on the outside, plain green on the inside with just enough information to allow you to get started. Boo opens the door a little and lets you peek into the dimly lit space beyond but no more than that.

The fact that the design is minimal doesn’t mean that the music is although, in line with theme, it’s not over-arranged. It began when producer and percussionist Chris Pepper acquired a dulcitone and, from that starting point, the record is almost a guitar-free zone. Boo doesn’t play one at all but there is a pedal steel and a “prepared” guitar played by long-time collaborator Gustaf Ljunggren. It turns out that Gustaf has a sizeable collection of instruments and he plays fourteen of them here, if you count the toy piano.

The album contains ten songs each one separated from the next by an instrumental interlude, some very short, so the record plays like a single composition. Except that Boo breaks his own rule so there isn’t an interlude between ‘Wild Honey’ and ‘Old Song’. The first two songs, ‘Last Rays Of Sun’ and ‘Imaginary Friends’ could be played by a conventional band and sound good, as could ‘Reno’ but ‘Before’, for example, wouldn’t be the same with anything other than the piano and woodwinds that give it a thirties vibe.

One song that you might have heard before is ‘Starlight’, co-written with Eddi Reader. Boo builds it on vibes and glockenspiel – a contrast with Reader’s rich arrangement – and it feels so melancholy. Can I say that I prefer this version? Before is an unconventional album but it hangs together so well. I’d like to think that it will be there come prize-giving time.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://boohewerdine.net/

‘Last Rays Of Sun’:

Boo Hewerdine announces his new album

Boo Hewerdine

Before was recorded in the first weeks of 2019, with supreme Danish multi-instrumentalist Gustaf Ljunggren, Boo’s only collaborator on the set. Whilst this is an album for the times (that echoes the darkness and confusion around us all these days), Before is also a timely reminder of the power of simplicity, Hewerdine’s lyricism set to a subtle backdrop of vintage instrumentation.

Boo says…

“My producer and studio partner Chris Pepper found a Dulcitone last year. A century old keyboard that strikes tuning forks with felt hammers. I fell in love with its delicate sound straight away. We then came by an Indian harmonium, a Vibraphone and several other unusual instruments. My father’s old piano lives in the studio. Using these (and no guitars) I started recording with little intention this would become an album. Since Swimming In Mercury was released in 2017, I have been writing, recording and touring with Eddi Reader, Chris Difford, Kris Drever and Emily Barker among others. I love this! All my significant friendships have come through collaborative creativity. I realised that another friend Gustaf Ljunggren from Copenhagen, also has an amazing collection of strange instruments so I asked him to react to my new recordings and augment them instinctively. He has a unique approach to instrumentation and always offers the song something unexpected (we first worked together on the album Anon back in 2002) I really trust him!

The previous record was the most complex work I had made since The Bible days and I am always drawn to distilling ideas into as minimal a form as possible. I love the painting Cracked Ice by Maruyama Okyo, an incredibly spare work from the 18th century that looks like it could have been created now. It was always in my mind during the writing and so I asked The British Museum and they let me use the artwork on the cover of Before.

This album feels like an opportunity to go back to the source. The way a song might spring into being almost fully formed. Ever since I was a kid there’s been a soundtrack in my head. The song, ‘I Wish Had Wings’ arrived on the way to the studio and I recorded it without any editing or honing. In fact I thought about making the quotation marks a part of the title as I hardly feel I had much consciously to do with its arrival! A song about daft songs popping into my mind. These songs are not as “crafted” as some I have written but I love them for that. This is how I first hear them. These are first drafts. Before”.

Artist’s website: http://boohewerdine.net/

An oldie from The Bible days – ‘Honey Be Good’ – live:

JONES – Carver’s Law (MEME CDMM20)

Carver's LawThe title a reference to a maxim held by the writer Raymond Carver to give everything he had each day trusting that the well would be full again the next, Carver’s Law is Trevor Jones’ fifth solo album, one which features writing collaborations with Boo Hewerdine and David Bridie and musical input from multi-instrumentalist Gustaf Ljunggren and pedal steel maestro BJ Cole alongside long-standing musical partner and co-producer Marcus Cliffe.

As ever, it’s a reflective, meditative affair, the melodies usually anchored by piano, Jones vocals couched in his distinctive dreamily musing delivery, evocative rather than declarative, the album opening with the brief, sparse piano and violin-accompanied ‘Drinking Alone’, one of four Bridie co-writes, pondering whether solitude is better than the dangers fraught in sharing your feelings. The arrangement blossoms on ‘Coleman’s’ (which repeats the image of a rope), steel keening across the lush keyboard framework as, on a lyric exploring forgiveness, he asks “if you lit a candle/Whose name would you mumble?”. Should you be wondering, the title is another Carver reference, inspired by an account by his second wife, fellow writer Tess Gallagher, of an Irish restaurant she wanted to take him too but how he kept being distracted by a Wendy’s or a McDonald’s. They finally got there and the name became a synonym for whether their new poems or stories achieved what they out to do.

‘Have A Sunset On Me’, again complemented by pedal steel with Ljunggren texturing on sax, clarinet and flute, plays a similar thematic note, veined with closure and acceptance of a relationship run its course opening with the line “For want of something better/We went for something worse” and moving to “Seems the dreams that you discover/Were always there to see”.

French for the act of returning, ‘La Rentrée’ moves into waltztime territory on brushed snares for a song about memories, of “the debris of years washed up at my door” and of not being weighed down by the past, but to “try to forget to remember” and to take part in “the dance of the day”.

Featuring Bridie on piano and synth, ‘Gentle Down’ serves as a 56 second lullaby bridge into ‘Morning Pockets’, a song co-written with Hewerdine that has Jones paying tribute to the late British writer and critic AA Gill, acknowledging the influence (“a hounder, a helper, a crutch”) of his mastery of words as he sings “Another man’s pockets is where I belong”.

Indeed, Jones’ love of the poetry of words and their evocative power is manifested in the spoken’ Every Dream A Shadow’ which, contradictory to sentiments elsewhere, values the treasure of memories, of “the faces that have loved you” and of how “what you get is what you give”.

Opening with the sounds of ships’ bells, ‘Blackshore’ continues the thought with a simple fingerpicked number about inspiration, of drawing on experience, of “the beauty of it all” and “the blessings of the ‘in between’” in order to “turn your back to the shore” and move on to uncharted seas and create your own waves.

Another lullaby-flavoured number comes with ‘And The Moon Led Me Home. in which he acknowledges that “You’ve got to be lost to be found”, a reverie of home and hearth that references Rupert Brooke’s 1912 poem, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, in its line about there being honey still for tea.

Opening with clarinet, at just over five minutes ‘What’ll I Do’ is the longest and most musically muscular track, Jones’ dramatic Meatloaf moment, an end of a relationship number that glories in going out in style (“If that was our goodbye then girl/It’s as good a goodbye as can be”) and how we only tend to see things clearly when it’s too late.

Bridie on piano, it’s back to the sounds of water with the words-tumbling ‘Le Mercury’, an observation of two lovers in a moment of emotional crisis (“She is pale, he is tanned/Seems nothing is going as planned”) and the resolution to go with the figurative dance (another recurring image), giving away to another piano-backed spoken number, ‘Dust In My Throat’, that again addresses the theme of memory and the ghosts that he can never let rest in peace, “a box of dead crows he can never release”. Once again, the resolution here delivered in an almost Shakespearean declaration, is to learn from the lessons life teaches and that “Nothing is settled/ If nothing is lost”.

Two short pieces, Cliffe’s piano instrumental ‘Hook and Tumble’ and the closing piano, cello and violin epiphany ‘Woebegone’, which returns to the conclusion of the opening track, sandwich the country-tinged, steel yearning, hymnal waltzing ‘Folderol’, a bittersweet song of “all the hurt that kindness brings”, of lovers grown apart (“I’m for whiskey, you’re for wine”) and of holding on when you should be letting go, not of parting in anger but a goodbye “light as a sparrow”.

Tender, compassionate, sad and veined with hope for better tomorrows, it’s yet another album from an artist who remains frustratingly little known and underappreciated. Here he’s poured out the best of what he has, but we can rest assured that the spring will replenish because, as he says, “I have a song/That will keep singing/Until the darkness has gone”.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.jones16.bandcamp.com/ / www.miraclemile.co.uk/

‘Every Dream A Shadow’ – official video:

SERIOUS CHILD – Empty Nest (TCR Music TCRM75099)

Empty NestThe core of Serious Child – or as the CD sleeve has it, SERIOUS CHiLD – consists of Alan Young on guitar and vocals, Carla March on vocals, and Steve Welch on bass. However, a fine selection of well-performed songs by Alan Young is further lifted on the CD Empty Nest by the support of an impressive number of highly-rated musicians. Among the names you may well recognize are Boo Hewerdine (who produced the album, and indeed persuaded Alan to record it in the first place) and Neill MacColl of The Bible, John McCusker, Gustaf Ljunggren, and three members of The Changing Room. The overall feel of the album is nearer to soft rock than folk, but none the worse for that: this is a quality performance.

  1. ‘Blue Is Only A Colour’ is an affecting ballad, particularly well sung. While Alan Young has a style all of his own, I could almost imagine the Walker Brothers singing this rather well.
  2. ‘Paul The Bag’ is a rock-flavoured and somewhat alarming song about an ageing gangster with something to prove: based on a real-life encounter.
  3. ‘Time Keeps Rolling’ is a reminiscent song about comfort through personal ritual and the passing of time, loosely tied to Paul Robeson’s recording of ‘Ol’ Man River’.
  4. ‘Kind Man’s Bluff’ features The Changing Room’s Tanya Brittain on vocals and accordion, on a moving song about a mother’s feelings as her child leaves home. “But no one dies of heartbreak, so let me help you pack…“. This one could be a keeper.
  5. Most of the way through, ‘I Don’t Remember Venice’ sounds like a pleasant piece of poppy nostalgia but features a sharp twist to the lyric towards the end. Clever.
  6. ‘Cinnabar’ seems to reflect a changed relationship filtered through Alan’s childhood obsession with crimson moths. Interesting.
  7. ‘The Last Chance’ is a little more conventional, but catchy, particularly in the chorus.
  8. While most of the tracks here are not particularly folky, ‘Three Hail Marys’ has an instrumental line-up that would fit in with many an Irish folk group, with prominent whistle, bodhran and banjo, and a lyric that wouldn’t disgrace the Pogues at their best.
  9. I guess we’ve all kept checking our phone for a message that someone somehow hasn’t left. ‘No Missed Calls’ seems to recall that hollow ambivalence, and has a nice guitar-dominated arrangement.
  10. ‘Open Skies’ has a slightly country-rock feel.
  11. ‘Speeding’ for some reason reminds me of John Miles. In a good way.
  12. ‘You Wear The Smile’ is a slow ballad that finishes the album in fine style.

Alan Young has long been known as a talented and versatile vocalist, but it turns out that he’s also rather a good, late-flowering songwriter – apparently he’d never written a song until he was 50. Hopefully, now that he’s discovered this extra string to his bow – um, guitar… – we’ll hear more of his songs in the future. Empty Nest is scheduled for release on the 22nd of June.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.seriouschild.com

‘Time Keeps Rolling’ – live:

Findlay Napier – new album

Findlay Portrait Final_2VIP VERY INTERESTING PERSONS on Cheerygroove Records CHEERY002

There are many who find themselves described as stalwarts, some for the rugged determination to keep slogging away and others because they contribute so much to stay actively involved on a whole range of levels, keeping sharp artistically and selflessly championing others who deserve attention. Findlay Napier is one of the most highly-regarded performers and creative forces on the Scottish music scene – thoroughly active and a truly energised with a heart-warming zing. He made his name touring and recording with multi-award winning traditional Scottish folk band Back of the Moon. In his more recent projects Queen Anne’s Revenge and The Bar Room Mountaineers his song-writing took centre stage and was described by The Sunday Herald as “Genuine songcraft and wit following in the Difford & Tilbrook tradition”. Findlay is also well known for hosting Glasgow’s premier open mic night at Bar Bloc, as the host of Celtic Connections’ Late Night Sessions and for his Hazy Recollections concert series which showcases the very best in new roots music.

This new album contains ten songs about real life characters that have led very interesting lives. The album was co-written and produced by Boo Hewerdine and features performances from Admiral Fallow’s Louis Abbott, Gillian Frame, Roy Dodds, Hamish Napier and incredible Danish multi instrumentalist Gustaf Ljunggren. The VIP project came together when Findlay began Creative Scotland’s Advanced Mentoring project with Boo Hewerdine. The first song they wrote together is the oft covered ‘After the Last Bell Rings’. It quickly became obvious that the pair worked well together and they decided a themed album was the way forward. ‘Heddy Lamaar’, a song about the actress who invented Bluetooth and WiFi, was the second piece that came from the creative pairing – and inspired the tone that would follow to bring VIP about.

Other interesting individuals include Valentina the first woman in space; the master conman who sold the Brooklyn Bridge at least once a week for thirty years; the ghost of a pugilist; the stunt pilot who discovered Angel Falls, and the Japanese soldier who fought the Second World War well into the 1970s.

“Clever lyrical lines, interesting contemporary, semi-acoustic, rocking arrangements… courageous and creatively skilled.” ∗∗∗∗ Scotland on Sunday

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Cathy Jordan – All The Way Home

Musician and vocalist Cathy Jordan, long time member of multi-award winning traditional Irish band Dervish, will launch her debut solo album on 2nd April 2012.  Cathy’s first ever performance as a solo artist took place on Friday 20th January at the Tron Theatre at the Celtic Connections Festival.  The gig featured guest appearances from album contributors including fellow Dervish star Liam Kelly, flute/whistle legend Michael McGoldrick and members of Swedish band Väsen.

The new album, All The Way Home, is the highly anticipated solo showcase of the musical and vocal talents of the Roscommon native. This seminal work, some twenty years in the making, features many of the most notable names in the folk world, both at home in Ireland and abroad.  All The Way Home, which was produced in Sweden by acclaimed producer, multi-instrumentalist and long time collaborator Roger Tallroth, intimately communicates the rich cultural tapestry resulting from Cathy’s unique musical and personal journey from early childhood through her professional success to date.

All The Way Home allows the listener a glimpse into a more personal side of Ms. Jordan’s life. Among the twelve tracks are traditional ballads Cathy would have heard sung in the family home from the earliest age. Performing these songs with family and friends was a fundamental part of family life and became embedded in Cathy’s musical psyche. They are songs that now represent the tradition of her childhood, a tradition that has experienced a renaissance of interest in recent times. For this reason Cathy wanted to reintroduce these songs to a new generation with a vibrant and contemporary energy, whilst retaining some of the traditional methods of how they were intended to be performed. To achieve this Cathy worked with acclaimed musicians such as Roger Tallroth (guitars), Gustaf Ljunggren (lap steel/banjo/piano) and Lars Andreas Haug (tuba) of Sweden, Ireland’s Andy Irvine and the distinctive sounds of singer song-writer Eddi Reader with whom she duets on Eileen McMahon.  Also featured are Michael McGoldrick on uileann pipes, Rick Epping on concertina and harmonica, Seamie O’Dowd on fiddle, Liam Kelly on flute among others

To write a fitting chapter to the story that is All The Way Home Cathy includes four of her own songs, which mirror an early chapter and somewhat of a conclusion to developments in Cathy’s own life.  The first of these The Road I Go, co-written with Brendan Graham, tells the story of the restlessness of youth, of a young person bored with the familiar surroundings and experiences of home and longing to see the world and what it has to offer, yet well prepared by a strong sense of place and family. The final song, and title track to the album, tells the opposite story, a story of a longing to return to the familiarity of home after seeing what the world actually has to offer and finally realizing that ‘home’ is where the heart belongs.

For Cathy there is special place in her heart for this album; “These singing sessions and songs provided the soundtrack to my life for many years.  Every social occasion had a singing session to mark it; births, deaths marriages’, christenings, house Stations, Easter, Christmas; you name it we sang our way through it.”

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Artist Web link: www.cathyjordan.com