JEFFERSON HAMER – Alameda (own label)

AlamedaYou may know the name from Child Ballads, the album he made with Anais Mitchell back in 2014, while he’s also recorded with the likes of Session Americana, Laura Cortese and Sarah Jarosz, who, along with Hannah Read, provides harmonies. This, though, is the Brooklyn-based songwriter’s solo debut, a collection of ballads built around acoustic and electric guitars, fleshed out with drums, bass woodwind, strings and pump organ, variously written between 2006 and 2017, and graced with a cover photograph of his late grandmother riding a single chairlift in 1954 Wyoming.

Rooted in California, it opens with the title track, initially suggesting a post break-up lament about being rootless since things fell apart (“I haven’t had a place since Alameda moved away/I’ve got nowhere to go/I’ve got nowhere to stay”) but, beyond that, it addresses deeper concerns of unemployment through the failure of the crops, of itinerant workers being moved on by the police and of how “It’s dangerous in the open/It’s hard to trust your friends”.

Lives in transit are also at the heart of 2008-dated ‘Moving Day’, sung in a dusty whine with brushed drums and harmonica driving along a Guthrie-esque number about a family moving home and starting a new life, taking with them only the things that matter (“for a long hot two day drive/With nothing but each other”) to an uncertain future. The core theme continues on the CS&N Laurel Canyon chug of ‘Vagabond’ with its images of migration and displacement, Jarosz and Read on backing and Alec Spiegelman colouring the track with bass clarinet and alto flute.

The lengthiest track at almost six minutes, featuring whistle solo from Tim Britton, ‘Busker’ is a fingerpicked portrait of a handful of street performers and how music joins them together so that “the bright dream does not vanish” before it heads back on the road for ‘Champlain’. Heading out from Vermont in the summer of 2001 to chase the northern sun down highway 59, he’s befriended by a singer from Lake Champlain looking to make her name and, romance blossoming, they head off on tour to California and into Washington to the strains of Stan Rogers before, ten thousand miles later, “late night in the guest house she packed up in a rush” as things come to a personal and professional end.

However, as several songs suggest, it’s taking the chance that matters most, of following a dream wherever and however it may end, a conviction that underpins ‘Vision’ with its puttering drums, electric guitars and echoes of a cross between Lennon and early Neil Young as he sings “Every day has been in preparation/Your lifetime is about to begin” and how, while “No one will keep your candle burning/Brighter than you can”, he and other friends are there to “help you paint your portrait”. At times, it’s almost like a father’s words to a child.

Drawing on traditional folk flavours, etched on electric guitar filigrees, ‘The Man In Love With Everyone’ has a more downbeat tenor, the singer cautioning that the people pleaser the girl he loves is seeing may just flatter to deceive, although there’s also a suggestion of jealous obsession and perhaps even stalker tendencies simmering below the surface.

Featuring a la la la refrain evoking a similar Eastern European traditional folk backdrop as ‘Those Were The Days’ as well as a fairy tale reference to Rapunzel in her tower, it ends with the undulating rhythms and softly sung Youngian tenor resonances of ‘Wolves’, again with a lyric about making choices between those who wish you well and those who will do you wrong and again with a slightly unsettling undercurrent in “I’ve waited weeks now at the bottom of your stairs… unbolt the door/And choose the one you most adore”.

Addressing those in the fringes of society, it’s a darker album than it might initially appear, underling the subtlety and sophistication of his writing and, now that he’s stepped into the spotlight, surely destined to ensure he stays there.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.jeffersonhamer.com

‘Champlain’ – live and solo:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Songs of Separation (Navigator NAVIGATOR094P)

Songs of SeparationAn ambitious project, this is the brainchild of double-bassist Jenny Hill who, in the period running up to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, found herself frequently on the road away from her Scottish home. As such, and being English, she was struck by the different messages being directed at and from the two nations and decided to address the notion of separation through a musical project. Recruiting Eliza Carthy, Hannah James, Hannah Read, Hazel Askew, Jenn Butterworth, Karine Polwart, Kate Young, Mary Macmaster and Rowan Rheingans, a posse of female folkies from both Scotland and England, they holed up on Isle of Eigg last June to write, rehearse and record (in just six days) what would eventually become this album, its theme of separation embracing the personal, political, social and cultural as well as touching on matters of family, gender, communication, supernatural, home, work, identity and the land.

Polwart taking the lead vocal, it opens with a reading of the traditional number, ‘Echo Mocks The Corncrake’, an appropriate choice given that Eigg is one of this migratory bird’s remaining habitats, its distinctive call introducing the track and echoed in the percussive beats, the lyrics about the separation of two lovers serving as a metaphor for the rural depopulation of the Highlands during the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s a robust treatment involving harp, scraping strings bass, double bass and a rousing wordless vocal refrain.

The album continues in traditional mode with Read’s bluegrass-tinged arrangement of Burns’ ‘It Was A’ For Our Rightfu’ King’, a gently yearning melody picked out her acoustic guitar and completed by harp and banjo, followed by the equality and love themed ‘The Poor Man’s Lamentation’ with its urgent rhythm, swirling violins and a capella ending. Further birdsong and the sound of a storm heralds the wholly massed a capella lament ‘Sad The Climbing’ (or, since it’s sung in Gaelic, ‘Trom An Direadh’), recorded live, like the album’s other a capella number, ‘Unst Boat Song’, in Eigg’s acoustically striking Cathedral Cave, itself not far from the site of a 1577 massacre of the MacDonald population by the MacLeods of Harris upon which the lyrics treat.

Driven by choppy percussive arrangement and gathering to a chanted climax, things remain in Scottish Gaelic for the near six-minute ‘Muladach Mi ‘s Mi Air M’aineoil’ (‘Sad Am I And In A Strange Place’), a call-and-response waulking song about a woman and her two daughters being separated from their people and their home.

In contrast to the bulk of the album, ‘Cleaning The Stones’ is an original number (a fish’s love song) penned by Eliza Carthy. Opening with a chamber folk arrangement, it waltzes dreamily on wings of plucked strings and harp arpeggios like something from the music halls. A little more birdsong, and it’s a journey way back in time and to the far reaches of the Shetlands for ‘Unst Boat Song’, a prayer for the safe return of fisherman sung on the original Norn with Polwart taking lead.

Sung by Hazel Askew with the others providing harmonies, the lullabying music hall tune of ‘London Lights’ may be more familiar as ‘Just Before The Battle Mother’, an American Civil War song written by George Root, the lyrics here about the destitution fate of abandoned single mothers. Heading into the final stretch, the harp shimmering ballad ‘Sea King’ is a handclap backed intricate setting by Kate Young of a poem by 19th century Danish poet Adam Oehlenschläger, a variation on the selkie myth about a woman who, years after being transformed into a mermaid, returns to shore, human again, only to find she has now has no home on either land and the sea.

Lady Maisery’s Rowan Rheingans steps up for another original, the strings-swathed ‘Soil And Soul’, a song inspired by both the hills known as The Old Woman of the Moors on the Isle of Lewis and the translation of the Gaelic for Eigg, The Island of the Big Women (a reference to the 7th century female Pict warriors sent to rid the island of Christianity-peddling monks), while the title (and the theme) stems from a book by Scottish environmental campaigner Alastair McIntosh.

Concerned with separation and loss as a result of conflict, personal or otherwise, ‘Over The Border’ weaves together a number of traditional tunes and a collective original, among them ‘The Flowers of Knaresborough Forest’, ‘Blue Bonnets Over the Border’ and pipe lament ‘The Floo’ers of The Forest’, plucked harp and Indian harmonium drone giving way to shared vocals by Polwart and Carthy before the ensemble joins in and violins, guitars and percussion lift the tempo for a rousing dance reel and the optimistic refrain of ‘the gates and the borders will all fade away’.

Finally, Robert Frost’s classic poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ provides the inspiration for’ Rheingans’ ‘Road Less Travelled’, her vocals joined by Polwart and Young (who also lent a lyric hand) on an suitably banjo-dappled accompaniment behind which, recorded in the open air, birds trill and the wind blows as they exhort “lay your cares and troubles down” and “sing your own way home”.

There’s no better way to end this than by quoting Hill’s words in the booklet:

Songs of Separation is an ‘SoS’, reminding us that this connection between people, and between people and place, is the key to overcoming the challenges we face, both in our communities and in this fragile world of which we are temporary custodians.” Come together, right now.

Mike Davies

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Website: http://www.songsofseparation.co.uk/

Cathedral Cove:

Songs Of Separation – single and new album

Songs Of Separation - single, album and tour dates

Songs Of Separation is a highly significant collaborative recording project which reflects, through song, the issue of “separation” in its many forms. Featuring ten of England and Scotland’s most celebrated female contemporary folk artists, together they explore the similarities and differences in our musical, linguistic and cultural heritage. The ten participants are Eliza Carthy, Karine Polwart, Rowan Rheingans, Mary Macmaster, Hannah Read, Kate Young, Jenn Butterworth, Hazel Askew, Hannah James and Jenny Hill (who conceived the project).

Ahead of the release of the Songs Of Separation album and tour, Navigator Records are pleased to announce the release of a double A-side single release from the forthcoming album; ‘Echo Mocks the Corncrake’, featuring. Karine Polwart, and ‘A’ For Our Rightfu’ King’, featuring Hannah Read.

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD
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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.

‘Echo Mocks The Corncrake’ – a sort of video:

The Songs Of Separation ensemble will embark on a short tour early in 2016, culminating at Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow on 24th January. Songs Of Separation aims to capture a sense of our times, exploring topical social and political issues through powerful music.

Artists’ website: www.songsofseparation.co.uk

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