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:

ANNIE DRESSNER – Broken Into Pieces

Like Kurt Russell in ‘Escape from New York‘, Annie Dressner has legged it as well and made it over here to fair Albion even without the aid of an eye patch! Dressner been busy in Blighty, clocking up airplay on both BBC Radio Two and Six and earning herself festival appearances at Green Man and Cambridge to name just a few. Its no surprise then, that she now has a brand new spanking album, ‘Broken Into Pieces’ in the can and a huge heart and desire to share it with everyone.

Mates abound, with contributions from Polly Palusama and Che Bereford from Capercaille. Dressner’s husband Paul Goodwin also chips in on BV’s along with Dan Wilde and Jade Rhiannon Ward from the Willows. Matthew Caws from Nada Surf is also part of the project together with ‘Broken Into Pieces’ album producer Nigel Stonier (Thea Gilmore, Fairport Convention, Martha Wainwright, Waterboys and Abbie Ozard).

The album looks at the little fragile fragments of everyday life and its relationships. The melodies are folk/pop tinged, complemented by vocals pitched in a tone, slightly higher in a golden, “crisp Manhattan morning air”. It starts with ‘Fades Away’, which gently pulls the listener out of its opening hypnotic circular guitar and soft lullaby chrysalis, into a relationship butterfly of tinkering piano and meandering cello. ‘Don’t Go’, folk-pop-rocks it along with its little cheery whistling intro as it steams off into ‘sticky plaster’ patching up relationship territory, with one foot out the door whilst the head is jerked back around as its being persuaded to stay. ‘Heartbreaker’ has a great swinging pop-country homespun roll to it and looks back to what could have been. ‘This was how it was to be my love when you were my love‘, maybe all those gold flakes in the vodka bankrupted the poor fella!

‘Kentucky’, which you can watch in video below was the first track that jumped out and grabbed me. There is something very fragile about it, you feel like you are holding the heart of it and if you don’t hold on to it carefully enough, you may drop and smash it.

The more and more I listen to ‘Broken Into Pieces’, the more I find something new in it. Its a beautiful thing and its definitely a keeper.

Darren Beech

Artist’s website: http://www.anniedressner.com/

‘Kentucky’ – official video:

The album is available to order/download from the Bandcamp link below. ‘Fades Away’, ‘Kentucky’ and ‘Get Out’ are there to stream as well.

Annie Dressner announces second album

Annie Dressner

Annie Dressner was born and raised in New York City where she cut her teeth on the busy acoustic music scene, appearing regularly at such iconic venues as The Bitter End and Rockwood Music Hall. Since relocating to the UK seven years ago she has received airplay on BBC Radio 2 and BBC 6 Music and has appeared at Green Man and Cambridge Folk Festival.

Her second album, Broken Into Pieces is due for late October release and features eleven all new Dressner originals.

It is produced by Nigel Stonier whose many collaborations include Thea Gilmore, Fairport Convention, Martha Wainwright, The Waterboys and current BBC6 Music breakthrough artist Abbie Ozard.

Contributing musicians include fellow New Yorker Matthew Caws of Nada Surf on electric guitars, alongside UK musicians including Stonier himself, drummer Che Beresford (Capercaille, Black Grape) and Dressner’s husband Paul Goodwin – himself a respected songwriter – on keyboards. Backing vocal duties are handled by singer/songwriters Polly Palusama and Dan Wilde along with Jade Rhiannon Ward of The Willows

Annie’s lyrics throughout are shot through with honesty and a rare candour… they hone in on the everyday minutiae of relationships and life, catching the moments where hearts and worlds turn on their respective axes.

These are set to direct, memorable folk/pop melodies and delivered almost conversationally in Annie’s affecting, clear toned Manhattan alto.

From the stark intimacy of ‘Bruise Beneath My Bones’ to the light East Coast rock of ‘Get Out’ via the almost campfire folk groove of ‘Heartbreaker’, Dressner draws on a wide musical palette. And from the heartbreak of ‘Kentucky’ to the understated euphoria of ‘Morning’ the album runs the full emotional gamut.

Broken Into Pieces is released October 26 and is surely destined to break new ground for Annie Dressner in her new, adopted homeland.

Artist’s website: http://www.anniedressner.com/

‘Kentucky’ – live: