David Cambridge’s story is a familiar one. He had a serious, responsible job, ran a folk club as a student, played guitar and sang and, having escaped the nine-to-five, he found that music took over. He also builds guitars, by the way, and Songtales is his debut album. Now, you might be lured into thinking that this is a vanity project recorded very basically in his shed but you couldn’t be more wrong.
For one thing, the album was produced by Ben Savage who also plays guitar and David’s guests – used sparingly – are Evan Carson, cellist Anna Scott and Saul Bailey on melodeon with backing vocals from Hannah Sanders and his musical partner, Jenna Walker. The arrangements allow David to perform the songs live on stage with just his guitar although, having heard Songtales, you would miss the delicacy and sometimes ethereal beauty of the accompaniments.
Unless you’re very young you won’t find any real surprises but I’d like to think that you might hear the lovely ‘Too Close To The Wind’ for the first time and be moved to find out more about Stuart Marson. David betrays his affection for Fairport Convention several times also including Huw Williams’ wistful ‘Summer Before The War’ and ‘She Moved Through The Fair’. The opening cut is a stomping take on ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ followed by Mike Waterson’s blues-tinged version of ‘Rocking The Cradle’. He gives us a world-weary reading of ‘Monday Morning’ followed by one song I hadn’t heard before, the euphemistic ‘Little Grey Hawk’- it’s good to know that there is always something new to be discovered.
Affection for Nic Jones is displayed with ‘Isle Of France’ and ‘Billy Don’t You Weep For Me’ – the latter never gets old. I wasn’t actually looking forward to the closing ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ but David’s acoustic guitar arrangement is stunningly good: the lyrics are still off-the-wall but we’ll let them go. This is a very fine album and I got quite nostalgic in places. Songtales may be a debut but it’s built on years of experience and it shows.
Ocipinski 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.
Co-produced by Josienne Clarke’s musical other half, Ben Walker, and Laura Marling knob-twiddler Lauren Deakin-Davies, following on from her Foreign Waters EP (which Walker also produced and which earned her a Folking Awards Rising Star nomination), Siren Serenade is the debut album from Cambridge-based singer-songwriter, poetry enthusiast and sometime theatre critic Emily Mae Winters.
Featuring musical contributions from, among others, Lukas Drinkwater on double bass, Hannah Sanders and Ben Savage as well as both producers, the twelve tracks highlight both her slightly vibrato vocals and the influences in her music, Gillian Welch, Kate Rusby, The Unthanks, Alison Krauss and Sarah Jarosz among them.
There’s a couple of folk chestnuts here, Jenny Lee Ridley’s flute introing a crowd swayalong version of John Connolly’s fisherman’s farewell shanty ‘Fiddler’s Green’ featuring Jack Pout on bodhran, a strummed guitar and fiddle providing the instrumental playout. The second nods to her love of poetry with a haunting drone setting of WB Yeats’ ‘Down By The Salley Gardens’.
The album opens with the ripplingly lovely self-penned reflective ballad ‘Blackberry Lane’ featuring Savage on dobro and nodding to the rootsy Americana in her musical DNA. Maya McCourt who played cello on the EP reprises duties on the gently circling acoustic guitar melody of Anchor, while Winters takes to the piano for ‘As If You Read My Mind’, a soaring vocal pop tinged ballad that, coloured by strings, draws on the classic 60s sound of Carole King but also suggests hints of Joan Baez.
If all these have been relatively sedate, ‘Hook, Line And Sinker’ ups the tempo for, with Savage again on dobro, a catchy slice of strummed rootsy pop, an equally live paced being set on the scurrying Irish-tinted, whistle backed story-song ‘The Ghost Of The Pirate Queen’ showing a more muscular side to her voice.
Mostly though, the mood is quietly bucolic, beautifully rendered on the lullaby-like ‘Miles To Go’ (which, like ‘Anchor’, appeared on the EP) and moody piano and cello ballad ‘The Star’, the former a nod to the poet Robert Frost, the latter to John Keats.
Although her vocals are mesmerising throughout, the remaining two numbers really see them come into the glory. ‘Reprise’, the album closer, is a piano accompanied almost chorale-like stentorian duet with Sanders. And, accompanied only by clicking fingers and hummed vocals, she sings a capella, the title track itself, for me the album stand out, which echoes the Appalachian revivalist feel of ‘Down To The River To Pray’ and ‘Didn’t Leave Nobody But The Baby’ from Oh Brother Where Art Thou. In Greek mythology, sirens lured sailors on to the rocks with their singing; Winters can wreck me any time.
Two years and one EP on from Langa Langa, released through the Norwegian label, the breathy-voiced Norwich-based singer-songwriter returns with Edison Gloriette her fourth and finest album to date, a relaxed and assured collection of eleven unfussily arranged, thematically-linked acoustic tracks that again speak to her English and Americana influences.
As with her debut, it was recorded in Bergen, in a cabin studio with returning producer HP Gunderson (who also contributes guitar, pedal steel and organ) and engineer Daniel Birkeland (also on bass, Hammond and guitar) with Steve Maclachlan adding percussion, Hannah Sanders backing vocals and Noel Dashwood providing dobro on two numbers back in the UK.
Her storytelling is as fine tuned as ever, opening with ‘The Longest Arm’, a beautifully observed, Edward Hopper-inspired vignette about a brief encounter between a man (“skin pulled tight in the wind”) and a waitress in the café of the album title (it’s actually a combination of two cinema names) with its pictures of “dead actors and Italian stars”, a spark passing between them as she “ leans in closer, her hair soft on his face. She wipes his lip clean with a napkin and smells like pancakes.”
Next up comes the Latin-tinged swaying rhythms of the Superman-referencing ‘Don’t Meet Your Heroes’, a cautionary message about not being blinded by appearances and awe in matters of the heart as “sweet ideas stink like Kryptonite that slaps away the hands that made all tomorrow’s plans” and you may well end up spending the night alone “sewing spangles on his clothes” because “suddenly there’s phone boxes everywhere you look.”
Featuring Dashwood, the achingly lovely ‘Still In Fashion’ is a pessimistic song about the inevitably of crushed love (“my hopes go down with the blinds. We know heartbreak is still the fashion. Long may it never show up on time”) while, Morgan on harmonica and Sanders on harmonies, ‘Hymn In The Morning’ conjures similar fears as she sings “will there be no one but me, will there be nobody else?” and, likewise on ‘Tell Me What The Trouble Is’, the protagonist can sense the relationship falling apart “with waning grace” because of a reluctance to talk things out (“there’s quiet in everything you do and you think it’s just a little balling yourself up, but you’re bringing the whole thing down with you. We never used to be silent”).
By contrast, the piano-accompanied ‘Come To The Opera With Me, Loretta’ is about the narrator seeking to persuade Loretta to save her faltering relationship with the volatile Ronnie (“I’ll make you my case for staying together”) and, while introducing the new character of Debbie, is actually Morgan’s reworking of a scene from the Oscar-winning romcom Moonstruck.
Again featuring Sanders and harmonica, the catchy rootsy strummed pop ‘Skate While You’re Skinny’ has the air of early Joni Mitchell in its advice to “always keep your lover in mind”, “stay out of the corner where you don’t belong” and “ if the wind is blowing, put your fists up. Come out when you’re bloody, whether won or lost.”
Featuring soulful dobro, the puttering bluesy ‘Red Rubies’ was apparently inspired by the true story of a bird eating man (the title referring to drops of blood), recast as a metaphor for not crippling another’s spirit (“I would not crush your feathers,. those gentle wings, for to fly”), followed, in turn, by the reflective ‘In Your Life’, sparse guitar accompanying lyrics about not letting the moment to express your feelings pass by and remain a remembered regret.
The slow waltzing ‘A Hundred Years Old’ returns to the relationships theme touched on with Heroes, but on a more positive note about keeping love constant even when your partner finds public expressions of affection awkward (“I’m holding your coats never holding your hand”) as the character sings “oh tangle me up in the mess that you make. I’ve already rolled up my sleeves” and “when you strike up the band with your red jacket on I wait for the beat of the drum.”
Nodding to living there in 2015, the album ends with ‘In Brooklyn’, a shuffling, steel-streaked reminiscence of a time in the character’s life when “so many things we took for granted”, a time “when we didn’t need the F-train or anyone, we’d take our blessings and we decorate up the second floor” before the “tears that were spilled on the Brooklyn Quilt, packing the apartment up into boxes.” Although such lines lead you to presume things were happier then than they are now, the song closes on an warm upbeat note of reverie (“now you can tell it back to me, beginning with Brooklyn, when we were living in Brooklyn”), a poignantly affecting end to a poignantly affecting album.
Hannah Sanders first solo album, Charms Against Sorrow, was produced by Willows guitarist Ben Savage who also played on the record and shared in the arrangements. With Before The Sun their partnership has been formalised but little else has changed except that the duo went to Toronto to record with David Travers-Smith.
To the mix of traditional songs and covers is now added some originals and the first ‘The Fall (Hang)’ opens the set. I’m still puzzling over this track – it could be a reinterpretation of a murder ballad or a macabre accident like Bob Pegg’s ‘The Hanged Man’. I think I lean towards the former. Next is the first traditional song, ‘Come All Ye Fair & Tender Maids’, a mid-Atlantic version finished with a playground round. ‘What’s It Tonight My Love?’, another original, sees Ben take the first lead vocal. Its description of night in the city puts me in mind of ‘Chimes Of Freedom’ even though there is no resemblance between the two songs, other than the feeling that it leaves you with.
Next come three traditional songs. The first is ‘Lady Margaret’, an English song with variants in the United States. ‘Clayton Boone’ is definitely American and gives Ben another lead vocal and the chance to play Dobro. It is, of course, a variant of ‘Gypsy Davy’. Finally in this section we have the haunting ‘Deep Blue Sea’, a version that doesn’t quite match any set of lyrics that I can find. Hannah and Ben’s version is rather more gentle than the standard text and rather lovely.
Hannah and Ben play guitars, dulcimer and autoharp and are joined by Kevin Breit and Katriona Gilmore on melody instruments with Evan Carson and Jon Thorne on percussion and double bass. For the most part they are used sparingly but they do get to have a blow on Richie Stearns’ ‘Ribbons And Bows’. Joining them on vocals are Jim Causley, Robin Gillan and Jade Rhiannon.
The final track is ‘Boots Of Spanish Leather’ sung as a duet as it is written. They slow it down a bit and the singing is sad and wistful where Dylan managed a blend of bitterness and resignation. He knew the back-story, of course, and it all happened fifty years ago but I’d advise anyone tackling the song to read the relevant section of a biography. It’s beautifully performed, as is the whole of the album, but to an old curmudgeon like me it misses something.
Here’s another album that doesn’t sound the way it looks. The sleeve suggests that Mark Gamon should be rasping the blues in a seedy bar in Arizona but he’s not like that at all.
Mark is something of a renaissance man: scriptwriter, songwriter, photographer singer and musician who uses whatever musical style seems appropriate. There’s a nod towards Americana in the opening track, ‘Canada’, and again in ‘Molasses’, an historic look at slavery told by escapees who had to leave one of their number behind. It has the feel of a true story and some of the songs here are certainly true.
‘Annalies’ is Anne Frank but the story is told by Peter van Pels who was arrested with her and died less than year later in Mauthausen concentration camp. The approach Mark has taken to these two songs is a measure of his skill as a songwriter. It’s as though he takes a couple of steps to the side of his subject and writes what he sees from there. ‘Gatton And Buchanan’ takes less unravelling. It’s a song in praise of Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan “the Kings of the Telecaster” – Mark should have a word with Jerry Donahue about that.
Elsewhere the songs are about the little people: ‘Immigrant Heart’ is obvious, ‘I Painted A Ship’ is about a pavement artist in London, ‘Kirsty’s Bench’ is an evocative portrait of Soho Square and ‘Cowrie Beach’ tells of a longing for the sea, specifically around Padstow.
The Thursday Band is big on strings and bass: fiddle, viola, cello and bass with Nick Blishen taking the lead guitar role. The acoustic line-up makes a deep rich sound with several harmony vocalists, notably Lizzie J Taylor, Lucinda Fudge and Hannah Sanders playing an important part.
Deck came my way quite by chance but I’m very glad it did.