PHILLIP HENRY & HANNAH MARTIN – Watershed (Dragonfly Roots DRCD003)

PHILLIP HENRY & HANNAH MARTIN WatershedHaving walked away with the Best Duo gong at the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, there must have been a degree of pressure on Henry and Martin when it came to their third album. Which may or may not have had something to do with them taking a very deliberate departure from Mynd. Where that largely addressed historical figures, here they chose to draw on more personal experience as a means of filtering everyman stories as a sort of modern day folk tale about, as per the title’s implications (on which they sing about which side to go), the decisions made and paths taken that shape different destinies

Recorded over 10 days in Devon’s Blackdown Hills with Matt Downer on double bass and James Taylor providing percussion, it’s a less musically textured affair in the sense that Henry has mostly confined himself to guitar and Dobro rather than draw on his wide-ranging virtuoso talents (though he does still wield the trusty harmonica), with Martin tempering everything with her violin.

I should, at this point, declare that I’m not fully persuaded by her vocals, which, while undeniably clear and fine, I find to be, at times, slightly too considered and measured, in need of a little more warmth, looseness and emotional expression. As such, from a personal perspective, it’s taken a while to get inside the album and find a connection, but that’s in no way to deny the craftsmanship of either the playing or the material.

Following on from the titular opener, guitar and mandolin (courtesy Rex Preston) provide the bedrock for ‘Stones’ (as in let him who is without sin, etc) , a musically undulating song inspired by now ex-UKIP councillor David Silvester, who declared the storms of 2014 were God’s response to same sex marriage. Harmonica opens and buzzes around ‘Tonight’, a musically multi-coloured track that takes on a sort of mix of trip hop beats, folk blues shuffle and dreamy croon, Martin’s delivery having a hint of Middle Eastern sway.

‘Yarrow Mill’ strikes a personal note for Henry, who takes his only lead vocal on a song that , backed by Martin’s pizzicato violin, tenderly recalls his grandparents’ courtship in the cotton mill of the title. Family history is there too on the spooked bluegrass mood of the search for a better life tale of ‘Foundling’, which grows from a spare, Dobro-mottled intro into an earthier affair, its traditional colours splashed with double bass and vibes to conjure a jazz-folk sense redolent of early Pentangle. Gently bathed in understated banjo and Dobro. ‘Conkers’ too has a reflective eye, looking back at childhood innocence from an adult’s perspective.

The year turns with the five minute guitar, violin and vibes instrumental ‘December’, ushering in an a capella Martin for ‘January’, a performance that underscores her vocal prowess and has me reconsidering my opinion. On then to the heavy weight of loss that hangs over the minimally arranged ‘Letter (Unsent), a reverie of strings set against the slow march drum beat taking over from the vocals around the three minute mark.

The album moves to its close with melancholic Celtic-misted Dobro for the Irish instrumental ‘Lament’ providing a bridge to ‘London’, a more musically upbeat, driving and almost rocky eight-minute number that could be seen as a vision of the now grown foundlings from earlier in the album further on their journey in search of one of a million futures, “picking them like flowers, making your way home”, as the number erupts in fiery fiddle. After the storm comes the calm, for ‘Taxis’, a banjo rippling ambivalent celebration of the working musician’s life on the road, one of former travelling and hanging around. But, let us not forget, they set off by stepping out on the stage to perform songs such as these, and sending audiences home with a glow in the soul.

Mike Davies

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‘Stones’ live at Calstock Arts Centre:

Two Simons Singing: The Albion Christmas Band Celebrates 15 Years with 15+ Answers

The Albion Christmas Band

‘Tis the season that The Albion Christmas Band is out making merry music throughout England. This year band mates Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Simon Care and Kellie While are also celebrating 15 years together as a band.

Simon Nicol and Simon Care gamely agreed to answer (or at least consider answering!) 15 questions about the band, the music, and their own holiday traditions. Take a look at the answers and then be sure you have your tickets for an Albion Christmas Band show.

1. What’s your first memory of playing with the Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “First memory is thinking how privileged I was to be sitting next to the legend Simon Nicol.”

2. What’s the best compliment a fan ever gave you as part of Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “Lots of audience members say that the show makes their Christmas and wouldn’t be the same with out it.”

Simon Nicol:  “A lady came up to get a couple of CDs signed once, and she had a couple of teenagers with her as well as her white-haired mother and aunt. She said it was the first and only time the three generations had been out to anything as a group, and that they had just the best time together: that the show had that cross-generational appeal. It made her year to have her family complete in that way.”

3. What is your first ‘Spinal Tap’ moment with The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “The ‘Spinal Tap’ moment has to be doing the Christmas show in May at Folk On the Pier Festival. It was totally surreal, the whole audience got into the Christmas spirit!”

4. How does The Albion Christmas Band differ from some of the other holiday folks groups out there?

Simon Care: “I think it’s different because we don’t concentrate solely on traditional material. We look at all aspects of Christmas and winter customs using traditional and contemporary material.”

Simon Nicol: “By keeping it simple and un-showy. Apart from the odd occasion when Simon Care demonstrates his mastery of the arts of Terpsichore, I think it’s like watching a radio programme.”

5. How does your family celebrate Christmas?

Simon Care: “Usually at home on Christmas day then out with my Morris side on Boxing Day.”

Simon Nicol: “Every Christmas Eve we go to our local theatre’s Pantomime show and boo the villains and cheer the happy couple who overcome all in the name of love. Then it’s all back to the house for beer wine and snacking…”

6. Do you do holiday shopping when you tour (obviously with The Albion Christmas Band)?

Simon Care: “Yes me, Kellie and Ashley usually try to visit one of the big shopping centres during the tour, Bluewater, Trafford Centre or one of those.”

Simon Nicol: “Well, the first thing is to get Kellie something for her birthday, as it falls on the 17th of December, so I probably pick up something for the kids while I’m browsing…It can fill in the odd hour on days when the drives aren’t too huge. Getting parked up near the shops in those weeks is never easy though.”

7. What is your favourite part of touring with The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “Favourite part is spending time with Simon, Kellie and Ashley. Great friends as well as work colleagues.”

Simon Nicol: “Possibly having the day to myself just driving on my own, stopping when and where I want. I love my car and all the rest of the year I’m part of a travelling pack of musos so it’s a complete change of pace.”

8. What’s one thing your fans might not know about The Albion Christmas Band?

Simon Care: “We are the longest surviving Albion line-up in the Albion families 40 year history.”

9. Is there one song you’re especially looking forward to playing this year?

Simon Care: “‘The January Man’ by Dave Goulder, sung beautifully by Kellie.”

Simon Nicol: “‘The Frozen Man’ is back – the James Taylor song. Love it!”

10.What’s your favorite traditional Christmas song (whether the group plays it or not).

Simon Care: “‘On Christmas Night all Christians Sing.'”

Simon Nicol: “‘In The Bleak Midwinter,’ which we do include some years…”

11. If you could have one special musical guest perform with the band, who would it be and why?

Simon Care: “I think it would have to be Richard Thompson, just  because he is such a lovely chap and would be a delight to work with.”

Simon Nicol: “Kellie’s mum, Chris. Because their voices are blend made in heaven. But she’s always out on the road with her own outfit, St Agnes Fountain…”

12. What’s the one thing you always take with you on tour?

Simon Care: “My melodeon, toothbrush and wallet. I can buy anything else.”

Simon Nicol: “My MacBook. And my American Express card! Hang on, that’s two things.”

13. Set the record straight. Is there anything people believe about you or the band that isn’t quite true? Or –– start a rumour!

Simon Care: “I think people think that I have earned lots of money from music and live in a big posh house. Untrue.”

14. Do you have any pre-show rituals?

Simon Care: “We do like to have a nice meal and usually have a few glasses of wine to settle the nerves.”

Simon Nicol: “Taking Mr. Care for a beer or two while Kellie titivates and Ashley counts and sells the merchandise!”

15. Share a funny or heartwarming fan story.

Simon Care: “A few years ago two friends of mine came to see us in Huddersfield with their young grandson (5 years old). They contacted me to tell me that now aged ten I inspired him so much he is playing the melodeon and wants to be a professional Morris dancer.”

— By Nancy Dunham

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Darryl Purpose – Next Time Around

darrylPurposeArtDarryl Purpose is clearly the second coming of James Taylor and Tom Rush.

As someone who cut her musical teeth on those and other masters of American folk, I don’t make such statements lightly.

Take a listen to Purpose’s just-released “Next Time Around” and get ready to be bowled over by the beauty of this music. It’s not just the acoustic melodies that move seamlessly from aching to heartfelt or the nearly gritty vocals that set him apart. Like Taylor and Rush, Purpose writes songs filled with the honest ruminations of a life well examined, looking at the positive slant in times of adversity. The instrumentation he chooses – a fiddle here, a mandolin there, sprinkled over flawlessly played acoustic guitar – are as pure as the poetry of his lyrics.

It’s not an overstatement to note that “Next Time Around,” Purpose’s latest release, will touch the heart of old-school folk lovers that yearn for the format’s once pristine charm.

Listen to the first track — “Dreams of Life” – which has just the right amount of percussion to set off the story of wistful loneliness – and you’ll be transported right back to Boston when Taylor and Rush were just breaking out. Yeah, the sound and vivid lyrical imagery– “sun shining like Cuervo Gold” – is that magnificent.

The throbbing percussions and cymbals on “Race the Wind,” another meditative jewel about absorbing positive spirits to strengthen you own, is the perfect feel good tonic.

A true stand out track, which Americana will clearly want to claim as its own, is “The Ghost of Crazy Horse.” Soaring fiddles, Native American drumbeats, western-styled guitar picking – yeah, this is destined for heavy rotation on plenty of playlists.

“Next Time Around” is the gold standard of modern American folk.

Find out more about Purpose and his music on his official website. Written by: Nancy Dunham

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Colin Bailey reviews THE 1971 PROJECT gig at Riverhouse Barn, Walton-on-Thames 28.9.2012

Fittingly billed by the venue as The American Songbook 1971, this was an evening of new interpretations of songs from four classic singer-songwriter albums produced that year – James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon, Neil Young’s Harvest, Joni Mitchell’s Blue and Carole King’s Tapestry.

A less than cheery introduction informed us that this was the year Charles Manson was sentenced for his part in the Tate-LaBianca murders, and a hundred people died in the Troubles in Northern Ireland. After that, however, the mood lightened as the accomplished five-piece band reminded us of the superlative writing of Laurel Canyon’s famous residents. A year in gestation, the project brilliantly showcased the jazz credentials of the players thanks to the imaginative arrangements of guitarist Chris Winslet (distant cousin of Kate, if you’re wondering).

The opener, a subtle ‘Heart Of Gold’ featuring wooden flute and melodica, was followed by ‘Mud Slide Slim’ with a characteristically delicate vibes solo from percussionist Martin Pyne (Busnoys, HarmonieBand) and the first of a number of blistering sax solos from reeds virtuoso Tony Woods. Vocalist Rebecca Thorn moved to piano to deliver a duly laid back ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’. Her delivery never an imitation, she consistently gave sympathetic and sophisticated performances, worthy of these great songs.

The most striking rendition of the evening was ‘Blue’ with Rebecca’s vocals accompanied only by the double bass of her father Mike Thorn (Just Misbehavin’, David Essex). A creditable enterprise, to be repeated occasionally – catch it when you can. Colin Bailey

Tags: James Taylor, Mud Slide Slim, The Blue Horizon, Neil Young, Harvest, Joni Mitchell, Blue, Carole King, Tapestry, The American Songbook 1971, Chris Winslet, Kate Winslet, Martin Pyne, Tony Woods, Rebecca Thorn, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Blue, Heart Of Gold, Laurel Canyon, the 1971 project, Colin Bailey

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Transatlantic Sessions 4 (Whirlie Records DVD03)

You can tell from the photo on the sleeve of “Transatlantic Sessions 4” that this DVD is going to be something special. It depicts Aly Bain and Jerry Douglas broadly grinning at each other as if they were the cats that had got the cream and who could blame them? In the illustrious company of amongst others; Karan Casey, Rosanne Cash, Phil Cunningham, Julie Fowlis, Donal Lunny, Mike McGoldrick, Donald Shaw, Emily Smith and James Taylor it’s enough to make any real ‘folk’ enthusiast salivate at the very thought of what lies in the little black box. As a musician myself, there’s a feeling of jealousy but then again, who wouldn’t want to be part of such an astonishing gathering. To coin the vernacular, “…they must have been freezing their nuts off!” wouldn’t I suspect be too far from the truth but the musicians collective warmth for each other would be enough to power a small sun. Onto the content itself and really it’s a case of where to begin? The title credits encapsulate everything by bringing a sense of wonder with stunning views of chilly rivers and a beautiful Scottish vista all within 28 seconds (and yes, I did set my stop-watch to time it) utilising Douglas trademark dobro, gently brushed snare drum, Uilleann pipes and fiddle. This in itself is enough to draw the listener/viewer in and get your feet tapping with the expectant thought of what is about to emerge phoenix like (this is the 4th series) from this box of treasures. The glue that holds everything together is of course the chemistry between the musicians and the main protagonists in this respect are fiddler Ali Bain and the astonishing accompaniment from Jerry “We are not worthy” Douglas. The camaraderie of everyone involved is a welcoming sight/sound and the collaborative juices flow without any sense of awkwardness just a mutual respect for each other and the obvious delight of working in such exalted company. The songs and tunes are painstakingly crafted and so too are the contributions of all the technical staff. In particular I’d like to point out the professional integrity of all involved (something you don’t see too often in the ‘folk world’) in providing such a banquet of audio and visual delights directed by Mike Alexander and produced by Douglas Eadie. Particular mention in despatches must go to the splendid eye for photography of Mark Littlewood, Derek Ritchie’s lighting and Allan Young’s superb mastery of capturing the sound so well. I’d also like to extend a round of applause to George Brown for making this four-hour extravaganza available via the Whirlie Records catalogue. If you can’t tell from this short review how blown away I am with this double disc DVD then do yourselves a favour, rifle through your bank account (I know how difficult that is in the present climate) and treat yourself to some tangible ‘magic’.

PETE FYFE

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CAROLE KING & JAMES TAYLOR – Live At The Troubadour (Hear Records 0888072320536)

Please, a round of applause for those wonderful folk at BBC 4 TV for, without their skill in picking up documented gems such as Alison Krauss “Live From The Tracking Room” and this Carole King & James Taylor “Live At The Troubadour” recording we in Britain would be missing some classic musical moments from our Stateside friends. As a result of the screening I immediately went to Play.com (my sales place of choice!) and discovered that not only the CD of this 2007 concert was available but also that the DVD was included as a bonus disk! Having been introduced to Taylor’s music over twenty years ago I will always be grateful that his songs have played such an important part of my ‘folk’ education. The combined talents of this sublime collaboration come vividly to life reproducing ‘hits’ from their 1971 “Tapestry” and “Sweet Baby James” period of song writing and as you’d expect, there isn’t a duff track here. From “Fire And Rain”, “Carolina In My Mind” and King’s “Something In The Way She Moves” and the uncluttered beauty of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” this is a duo that certainly knows how to bring their melodies to life. Both artists obviously had a ball and the gentle banter between them, their band (Danny Kortchmar [guitar], Leland Sklar [Bass] & Russell Kunkel [drums]) and the audience shows just how much they enjoy working together. Of course, it goes without saying that this is a must have CD for any self-respecting ‘folk’ collector and goes straight to the top of the tree.

PETE FYFE

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Artist website: www.jamestaylor.com