BREABACH – Frenzy Of The Meeting (Breabach Records, BRE005CD)

Frenzy Of The MeetingHaving toured the world, won awards and created an immensely successful album, Astar, zinging with creative fusion, what would Breabach do next? Judging by their latest album, Frenzy Of The Meeting, released in late October, the answer seems to be to find a revitalised inspiration in the traditional music of home.

Never a band to stand still, Frenzy Of The Meeting finds Breabach testing new waters once again. As usual, tracks were initially laid down live in the studio in order to capture the band’s essential sound. The band then enhanced these tracks during further studio sessions, in collaboration with producer Eamon Doorley. The final result is still absolutely Breabach, but in a subtly fleshed out way.

Starting with Bonnie Prince Charlie landing on a chilly beach on Eriskay, the low-slung guitar and bass of ‘Princes Strand’ provide solid ground for a rather wistful tune carried by whistles and pipes, as well as forming the link to ‘Knees Up’. This uplifting two-tune set pits ferocious piping against Megan Henderson’s soaring vocals.

Delicate bouzouki wreathes through ‘Winter Winds’, Calum MacCrimmon’s utterly beautiful song comparing the changing weather to the healing nature of time, “give it time and the sky will change”. Sharply switching mood, the stomping opening to ‘Western Isle Dance’ pairs a lively traditional tune with James Lindsay’s more reflective musing on the nature of alternative facts.

Ewan Robertson and Michael Farrell’s thoughtful ‘Birds Of Passage’, inspired by Longfellow’s poem of the same name, contemplates aspects of migration, its upwardly spiralling instrumentation mirroring the lyrics. The ballsy, sinuous ‘Google This’ follows, intriguingly paired with a traditional waulking song which sounds like it shouldn’t work, although – of course – it does.

The title track, ‘Frenzy Of The Meeting’ opening with a deep bowed bass and lithe fiddle bubbling over mouth harp, is a darkly delicious meshing of Henderson’s tune ‘Incahoots’ with the low chant of a traditional Ceòl Mòr. The album wraps up with ‘Oran Bhraigh Rusgaich’ which builds on its core of atmospheric harmonium drone, airy reverb and sparse guitar into a grand climactic finale, leaving just a trace of whistles hanging on the air.

Frenzy Of The Meeting may not have quite the same immediacy as its predecessor, but it has a satisfying deep richness and texture all of its own. It’s a fascinating new development in Breabach’s work, building yet more layers, more experiment and versatility into their sound.

To see this album in live performance, catch Breabach on tour around the UK now and until February 2019.

Su O’Brien

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‘Birds Of Passage’ – official video:

Hamish Napier announces new album, The Railway

Hamish Napier

The Railway is the much-anticipated new album from Scottish musician Hamish Napier. The follow-up to Hamish Napier’s critically-acclaimed debut solo album The River, Hamish’s newest album will be released on Friday 3rd August.

Returning to his hometown of Grantown-on-Spey, Napier’s collection of new compositions and songs were specially commissioned by the new Grantown East: Highland Heritage & Cultural Centre – the formerly derelict Grantown East railway station that is been lovingly restored as a cultural centre and is set to open on 2nd November 2018.

In 2016, the new owners approached Hamish, as one of Scotland’s finest traditional wooden flute players, to capture the sounds, atmosphere and culture surrounding the old Speyside Line.

In the course of his research for the new album, Hamish conducted interviews with railwaymen closely connected with the Great North of Scotland Railway, including Jimmy Gray (93, a driver from Aviemore), Jocky Hay (94, a driver from Inverness) and James Telfer (94, the last signalman at Grantown-on-Spey East Station). Many of the tunes and songs on The Railway have been inspired by the great stories these men have to tell about their working lives.

The album showcases a stellar line-up of Scottish musicians including Ross Ainslie, Patsy Reid, Ewan Robertson, James Lindsay and Fraser Stone. The Railway also features two songs written for the project by Hamish’s brother Findlay Napier, and cameos from the Strathspey Railway’s whistles, wheels and brakes.

A few words from Hamish on his new album:

“When I performed my debut album in Grantown during the summer of 2016, the new owners of the Grantown East: Highland Heritage and Cultural Centre approached me and asked if I would compose a soundtrack for this fantastic new venture – I was so honoured to be asked!

“‘The Old Railway Station’ as I called it when I was wee, was just over the river from my house. It was haunted and as a dare my brothers, pals and I – including Fraser Stone, the drummer on this album – would sometimes sneak into the forbidden derelict buildings. Over two decades later, with the ruin carefully restored as an important local monument and centre, the ghosts of the railway people are given a platform to tell the world their story.

“This album is dedicated to the railwaymen and women who I spoke to during my research – the inspiration for so much of the material on this album has come from them and the stories they shared with me about their working lives.

“I am so honoured and proud to be given the opportunity to help bring new life to the heritage of my local area with this album. I hope that the listener feels that the music, lyrics, titles and tales capture the atmosphere and sounds of the lost railways of the North and the people that were closely connected with them.”

Hamish Napier is originally from Strathspey in the Scottish Highlands. For over a decade he has been an integral part of Glasgow’s vibrant folk music scene, whilst also touring in Europe and North America.

Hamish’s Celtic Connections’ New Voices commission The River received 4 and 5-star reviews in four national publications, and was released as a highly-regarded debut solo album, named ‘Album of the Week’ on four BBC folk radio shows in Scotland, Shetland, Lancashire and Ulster.

Hamish and his band will present a live performance of The Railway as part of Piping Live Festival in Glasgow on August 17th & 18th, they will also do be performing a live set for BBC Radio Scotland’s Travelling Folk special from the Edinburgh Festival on Sunday 5th August before going on to open the new Grantown East: Highland Heritage & Cultural Centre on Friday 2nd November.

Napier is part of the bold traditional duo Nae Plans with fiddler Adam Sutherland and also performs regularly with Duncan Chisholm, The Jarlath Henderson Band and Ross Ainslie.

He has recorded on over forty folk albums to date, recording with leading Scottish musicians such as Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw, Mike Vass and Eddi Reader.

Over the last decade Hamish has been shortlisted for twelve MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards, including Composer of the Year, Album of the Year and Tutor of the Year.

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Artist’s website: www.hamishnapier.com

‘1000 Horsepower’ – may contain language:

Read Dai Jeffries’ review of Hamish’s debut solo album here: https://folking.com/hamish-napier-the-river-strathspey-records-srcd001/

BELLA HARDY – Hey Sammy (Noe NOE10)

Hey SammyHer ninth solo outing, this is very much Hardy’s ‘pop’ album, a dramatic change in sound an style resulting from a brief relocation to Nashville and a seven-week residency in Kumming in Southwest China (which itself gave rise to Eternal Spring earlier this year, a live collection of song and poetry with Chinese musicians). Recorded with the backing of Iain Thomson on guitars, Tom Gibbs on keys and clarinet, and the rhythm section of James Lindsay and John Blease, with Hardy on fiddle, harmonium and xylophone and Paul Savage in the producer’s chair, it opens with Chinese colours evident on the chiming notes that introduce and underpin the dreamy ‘Redemption’, a folk song about friendship and kindness to others, enrobed in almost show tune clothes.

Driven by a beating tribal drum rhythm, the poppy ‘Learning To Let Go’ details feelings of displacement and search for self as she sings of being a stranger in California looking for “another way of being known another way of being” but that also “I know the who but I still don’t know what I want to be.”

Co-penned with Thomson, ‘Driving Through Harmony’ gets a touch funky in a West Coast style and is followed by the first of two-writes with Nashville’s Peter Groenwald. First up is the mid-tempo ticking rhythm ‘Queen Of Carter’s Bar’, a country-tinted fading relationship number that, a loose rework of ‘Tam Lin’, again concerns identity (“I’m watching you pretend to be the thing you’re aren’t”), followed by the keyboards balled ‘In My Dreams’, which, with added input from Konnad Snyder, is a suitably hushed and atmospheric weave with a percussive ebb and flow.

A particular standout is the self-penned ‘You Don’t Owe The World Pretty’, a punchy jangling feminist pop song about women taking ownership of their bodies and their lives that comes with a surging chorus rush. It’s followed by the two collaborations with Scottish jazz pianist and composer Tom Gibbs, the first being ‘Busy Head’ (tracing the familiar theme of “so desperate to fit in and so in need of staying apart”) that again, especially in its swelling flourishes, has the air of a Broadway showstopper, as indeed does the gathering swell of piano-led ‘Heartbreaker’, a song about “a neon jazz folk love affair” you might imagine Elaine Paige covering.

Next up comes the title track, its jaunty guitar chug and big burst choruses belying the song’s subject matter concerning the rise of racism in Britain, followed, in turn, by ‘South Lake’, a piano-based, clarinet-shaded number inspired by and referencing Nan Hu, meaning South Lake, a stretch of water in Yunnan province, in its contemplation of being and our connection with the world around us.

The lyrics conjure thoughts of Chinese poetry and, indeed, one such provides the source for the closing shimmering six-minute ‘Stars’. It’s a studio rerecording of the number originally featured on Eternal Spring, a two part lyric that combines words adapted from poem 21, written in praise of Yunnan, in the Shijing, a collection of some three hundred ancient poems sometimes translated as The Book of Songs, with Hardy’s own response, both set to her spirits soaring tune.

The press blurb talk of it as a ‘glorious…grown up’ record, I think a magnificent coming of age might be a better term.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.bellahardy.com

‘Driving Through Harmony’ – official video:

BLUE ROSE CODE – The Water Of Leith (Navigator NAVIGATOR103)

Water Of LeithBlue Rose Code, aka Ross Wilson, has a deservedly growing reputation, with luminaries as diverse as Edith Bowman, Ewan McGregor and Ian Rankin among his fans. Time Out described the music as “Imagine John Martyn meeting a young Van Morrison and being shipwrecked with bundle of Chet Baker records.” The Water Of Leith, the new album, is released on October 27th.

Sometimes in the clatter and busyness of modern life we miss out on more sophisticated gems which don’t leap out and hit us in the face. I’ve just spent a week in rural France, mostly surrounded by stillness but also with CDs to review. And with time and quietude to really hear, I discovered The Water Of Leith to be one of those sophisticated gems.

Wilson has said, “I’m passionate about that fusion of folk and jazz and where it intersects with songwriting”. He has returned to his roots in Scotland and the album has award winning singers (Julie Fowlis, Kathleen MacInnes) and jazz musicians (Konrad Wisznewski, Seonaid Aitken, John Lowrie, Colin Steele and James Lindsay) creating the sound. The Water Of Leith strolls easily across those borders and intersections, melding Scottish music and jazz as stunningly as Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill have been finding new power and beauty in Irish music by similarly combining different traditions.

The first three tracks are more broadly accessible and likely to get the greater radio play on non-specialist programmes. The remaining nine tracks, though, take you somewhere different, somewhere unique, those borders and intersections between jazz and folk – like that world you capture occasionally in the very early morning where the dawn mixes with the rising mist and you see and hear with a clarity that will be gone in twenty minutes. There are songs where the interplay of vocal and instrument create the mood (‘Passing Places’, ‘Sandaig’) and there are others where the interplay is between instruments (notably the two extended tracks ‘The Water’ and ‘To The Shore’ – the two tracks combining into seventeen minutes of sheer delight if you can find a quiet place to listen).

Blue Rose Code are touring in November to coincide with the release of the new album, dates to be found on their website (see below). In the meantime have a listen, a proper listen, to ‘Scotland Yet’ which was recorded earlier this year in Glasgow – and feel the hairs tingle on your neck.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: https://bluerosecode.com / https://bluerosecode.com/live

‘Scotland Yet’ live:

Blue Rose Code (Ross Wilson) announces new album

Blue Rose Code

Blue Rose Code, aka acclaimed singer-songwriter Ross Wilson, releases The Water Of Leith, his first album for Navigator Records on October 27 on CD, download and album stream.

A nomad both geographically and musically, Ross writes from the heart eschewing any specific genre and the twelve new songs on The Water Of Leith, addressing themes of love, loss, travel, home, accepting the past and embracing the future, are painted with colours of folk, jazz, soul and pop; an eclecticism that has become a hallmark of Blue Rose Code and has seen him compared to John Martyn, Van Morrison and Tom Waits.

Underlining the sense of movement and place in Ross’s work and The Water Of Leith is rooted in his return to his Scottish homeland. There, he reconnected with the stellar musicians who were to become an integral part of the new album’s sound: multi award-winning singer Julie Fowlis, celebrated Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes, BBC Folk Award Winner, Ross Ainslie, 2017’s Scottish Jazz Awards’ instrumentalist of the year Konrad Wiszniewski, leading violinist Seonaid Aitken and three of Scotland’s finest jazz musicians; John Lowrie, Colin Steele and James Lindsay, to name just some of the contributors. Grammy-winning American singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman features on the opening track. Ross co-produced the album with Angus Lyon.

Blue Rose Code will tour extensively around the release of The Water Of Leith, including concerts at Edinburgh Queen’s Hall on November 3, London Bush Hall on November 14, Perth Concert Hall on November 20 and two nights at Harbour Arts in Irvine on November 24 and 25.

In the space of a few short years and the release of well-received albums North Ten, The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, and And Lo The Bird Is On The Wing, Blue Rose Code has built a growing reputation as a powerful writer and performer, gaining extensive radio play and the praise of key broadcasters including Edith Bowman, Mary Ann Kennedy, Bob Harris and also actor Ewan McGregor who made a cameo appearance on And Lo The Bird Is On The Wing after commenting: “My uncle Denis Lawson (star of Local Hero) gave me a copy of The Ballads Of Peckham Rye, it’s beautiful and I can’t stop listening to it.” Author Ian Rankin is also a fan and has written insightful sleeve notes for the new album.  The Water Of Leith marks another step forward for Ross: his first record in recovery following a personal history overcoming alcoholism and addiction.

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

‘Grateful’ – live at RTE:

Paul McKenna Band – new album

Paul McKenna Band

2016 will see The Paul McKenna Band celebrate their 10th anniversary. To celebrate this milestone they are releasing their fourth, highly anticipated, studio album, Paths That Wind, produced by the legendary John McCusker.

The new album features guests in the form of some of Scotland’s greatest musicians – John McCusker, Rod Paterson, Mike Vass and James Lindsay

With a contemporary approach to songs, although not straying too far from their roots, their arrangements are both fresh and innovative. The exciting sound of The Paul McKenna Band is created through outstanding vocals, driving guitar and bouzouki, intense fiddle playing, a warm pairing of flute and whistles and dynamic bodhrán and percussion.

2016 started off with a bang with a three week tour of Australia which included playing in the new year to a crowd of 30,000 at Woodford Folk Festival. The band have a hectic year ahead with tours in America, Canada, Europe and the UK.

Artists’ website: www.paulmckennaband.com

‘Long Days’ – official video: