Bold Champions is the second album by Jamie Roberts, Rosie Hood and Matt Quinn and there is an awful lot to like about it.
Firstly, either the song, its title or its story is, in almost every case, familiar. These are songs that have stood the test of time and still come up fresh for this century. Young audiences – young performers, even – may not have had the opportunity to hear Walter Pardon, Harry Brazil or Bob Copper in the flesh but here are their songs nicely polished up. Secondly, The Dovetail Trio understand the importance of live performance and approach the songs with relish and vigour which makes the album fine listening.
The set begins with sex in the shape of ‘The Light Dragoon’, unusual in that the woman is the seducer but, in line with the morality of the times, she is the one in trouble. The song is taken at a sprightly pace boding well for the rest of the album. All the songs are traditional with the exception of ‘Black Eyed Susan’, a poem by John Gay set to a tune by Richard Leveridge in the 18th century. At first you might expect it to be the familiar story of a young lady running away to sea to be with her true love but actually it’s a terribly polite leave-taking. Stately harmonies here contrast with the first track.
‘The Bold Keeper’ is a tale of swashbuckling heroics decorated with a touch of Dave Brubeck and concluding happily. What? ‘Death And The Lady’ is the record’s still point, once again showcasing their harmonies. ‘Bold Champions’, another stirring story, was collected by Alfred Williams, although there are lots of versions all over the country. Williams apparently believed it to be a true story. ‘Flower Of London’ and ‘The Wreck Of The Northfleet’ are both downbeat stories and there is an excellent variant of ‘Two Sisters’ followed by ‘The Old Churchyard’, a hymn from the Ozarks.
As a bonus we get a live performance of the sublimely ridiculous ‘Four & Twenty Fiddlers’, a song I scarcely hoped to hear again. Bold Champions is a record packed with variety and excellent performances.
Well they say Christmas is a special time of year for a Winter Union, when magical things happen, and this year’s Great British Folk Festival is no exception.
There was Darren and I merrily covering this year’s Skegness outing and we happened across Winter Union, a wonderful, hugely talented ‘folk super group’ and all round lovely bunch of chums from the folk scene, who treated us to a fantastic opening afternoon festive set on ‘REDS stage’ yesterday.
Winter Union comprises of Ben Savage, Katriona Gilmore, Jade Rhiannon, Hannah Saunders and Jamie Roberts, who are now in their 4th year as a festive get together.
This was the first date of their 2018 December tour. They played a stunning festive set, mixing traditional Christmas songs with an added blue grass lilt. Darren and I could not let this amazing sleigh ride pass us by without hopping on for an after gig chat in the bar. We also explored Ben Savage’s (or babe as I called him in a text typo) tale of ‘Christmas Ball Balls’.
Gilmore & Roberts are Katriona Gilmore (vocals, fiddle, viola, B3 organ and mandolin) and Jamie Roberts (vocals, guitar, percussion). Their album A Problem Of Our Kind, due for release on 12th October 2018, benefits from additional instrumental support from Fred Claridge (drums and percussion), Matt Downer (double bass), Sarah Smout (cello), Ben Savage (Dobro) and Matt Crum (melodeon). And an excellent album it is, too. Of the ten tracks on the album, five were written by Katriona, four by Jamie, and the final track is a traditional tune arranged and played by Jamie.
Katriona’s ‘Gauntlet’ is a kind of murder ballad (or at least a “did he really do it?” ballad): Katriona’s fiddle adds a slightly old-timey feel, but the story concerns an English court case of 1818 whereby Abraham Thornton was acquitted of a charge of murder when the victim’s brother declined the offer of ‘trial by battle’. A fascinating story, and a very effective arrangement arrangement.
Jamie’s ‘The Philanthropist (Take It From Me)’ is based on the life of entrepreneur/philanthropist Laurie Marsh. It’s an attractive song that displays his vocal and fretting talents.
Katriona’s ‘Things You Left Behind’ has a more personal theme about the loss of a family member. It’s a lovely song with slightly country-ish Dobro and fiddle, and it suits her voice very well.
‘The Smile & The Fury (Jamie Roberts) is based “…on the powerful viral photograph of a young woman calmly smiling in the face of an angry far-right protester…” This is what I’d like to have heard more of in the 70s: rock music giving more than a nod to traditional music and instrumentation but not afraid to use contemporary material to address current issues.
‘Bone Cupboard’ (Katriona Gilmore) is a sinister song accompanied only by the barest minimum of clapping and percussion. That’s OK, I can appreciate sinister.
‘On The Line’ (Jamie Roberts) considers the not-always-sympathetic reaction of the traveller delayed by “a body on the line“. An awkward subject sensitively handled, with an ending that hints at a wider social issue.
In contrast, for me, ‘Average Joe’ (Jamie Roberts) is lyrically a bit too reminiscent of the ‘plastic people/protest’ songs of the 1960s: I guess it’s not that easy to write sympathetically about the plight of the commuting classes and avoid a superior tone. Still, musically it’s an assured performance, very much in the folk-rock vein.
‘All The Way To Rome’ (Katriona Gilmore) is, according to the booklet, inspired by “two characters in the second series of the TV show American Horror Story.” Which means nothing to me, but it’s still an appealing song.
‘Just A Piece Of Wood’ (Katriona Gilmore) is a bit country/pop-ish, with prominent fiddle, as befits the subject – the relationship between a musician and her instrument. Nice.
‘From Night Til Morn’ is a traditional tune, beautifully arranged for guitar by Jamie Roberts. It may seem perverse to say so, given all the fine original material on this album, but this is currently my favourite track.
While there’s a definite tinge of folk-rock to this collection, it certainly doesn’t mean that there’s anything dated about it. By any standards, these are fine contemporary songs, very capably performed and produced. Recommended.
Two years ago, Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage stirred the folk and acoustic world with a stand-out debut album and there’s been little slumbering since. Now they are set to release an arresting second studio album, Awake. The combination of Hannah’s outstandingly pure, clear voice, their perfect fit harmonies and Ben’s exquisite dobro are the rock-solid foundations of this rising duo, first witnessed in the 2016 album, Before The Sun. This quality pairing unarguably has hypnotic effect, painting aural dreamscapes around them in resonant songs that are given room to breathe.
When Hannah’s folk family travels across Europe and sojourn in America ended and she returned to her native East Anglia, a chance meeting at a Cambridge folk club with The Willows band member Ben was the start of something special. Ben went on to produce Hannah’s solo album Charms Against Sorrow before they ventured into duo territory uncorking a beguiling, intricately woven, ethereal sound all their own. Before the Sun saw them named in many Albums of the Year lists including the 2016 fRoots Critics Poll and hinted at a largely untapped song writing talent amongst the expertly executed traditional arrangements and covers. That song writing skill moves more centre stage in Awake – an album that shows them fulfilling all the promise heaped on them.
Once again, they have returned to Toronto, putting Grammy-nominated Canadian producer David Travers-Smith (Madison Violet, The Wailin’ Jennys) at the helm for this album crafted with infinite care. The eleven-track release has six strong originals alongside innovative arrangements of traditional songs and captivating covers from the Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie cannons. The eye-catching album cover by psychedelic artist Alan Forbes depicts the High Priestess and a deer as The Hanged Man from the tarot card deck and tarot icons run through the CD booklet. Says Hannah:
“We used tarot throughout the recording process to help us think and feel more deeply about the music.”
A duo who delve into the mysterious and often like to release music in line with the lunar calendar, their live show sees them huddled around a single microphone, drawing the audience in. And so it is with this magnetic album.
Alongside Hannah’s trademark mountain dulcimer and Ben’s delicious dobro, they both play guitars on the album. Adding their magic are guest musicians from both sides of the Atlantic – from the UK Jon Thorne on double bass, Evan Carson on percussion and Norwich singer songwriter Jess Morgan, Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts on additional vocals and from Canada Chris Coole on banjo, David Travers-Smith on horns and organ, Burke Carroll on pedal steel and on vocals, Vancouver-born American-Canadian alt country singer songwriter Suzanne Ungerleider who performs under the name Oh Susanna.
Entwined in the sturdy roots of English and North American music, Awake stirs with two original Sanders/Savage numbers – the mythical sea woman yearns to return to her spiritual sea home in the banjo-laced ‘Selkie Song’ and there is more heartache in ‘I Met A Man’, a modern retelling of the ancient story of love between a woman and a green man, with Burke Carroll weaving in his wonderful pedal steel.
The original material continues in ‘A Thousand New Moons’ – a luminous, gossamer-spun reflection on endings and beginnings, with Ben on lead vocal. The symbolic number 7 is the title of a song Hannah wrote for those who search for omens in the natural world, prompted by a friend desperate for a life change. The haunting instrumentation adds pedal steel and horns to Hannah and Ben’s guitar duet and the popular ‘One For Sorrow’ magpie nursery rhyme provides the chorus. The beautiful title track was originally written by Ben to tempt a talented friend out of a musical hiatus but has taken on a wider meaning and here it enjoys a lush vocal crescendo with the duo joined by Jess Morgan and Oh Susanna. Reaching is an exquisite, mellow, pin-drop perfect love song written by Hannah which closes the album in this duo’s soft tread style, building to a flourish which unusually features Ben on drums.
Awake is an album that stirs the soul and further endorses the empathetic class act that is Sanders and Savage. Released on May 11 on the Sungrazing Records label it will be distributed by Proper Distribution.
I remember once, in Ireland, hearing that some American tourists’ idea of a fun day out was a taxi ride down the Falls Road. That kind of “thinking” forms the theme of this album, the fourth from Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts.
The opening track, ‘Cecilia’, is a very powerful way to start with double bass from Matt Downer and all manner of additions from producer Mark Tucker, notably the percussive crack presumably imitating gunfire. It’s followed by ‘Jack O Lantern’ which starts out quietly and builds up to a big finish with Phillip Henry on lap steel. It has the Devil ruminating on being tricked not once but twice by the titular Jack. Next come a song from each writer which seem to link: Katriona’s ‘She Doesn’t Like Silence’ and Jamie’s ‘Selfish Man’ and here’s where I need to turn to the lyrics which are available on their duo’s website. Both are about internal conflict: the former is decorated by Phillip Henry’s lap steel and Dobro while the latter once more benefits from mark Tucker’s programming. As a man brought up in Derbyshire I should really like ‘Stumble On The Seam’ more than I do but by now I was beginning to find that the music was overwhelming the songs.
‘Peggy Airey’ is about a 19th century Barnsley character with the narrator regretting his former cruelty to her and ‘Peter Pan’ is dedicated to Jamie’s cousin who died prematurely – another aspect of internal conflict – and the one song in the set that doesn’t try too hard. Katriona and Jamie seem bent on moving towards the mainstream and, while I can’t deny them their ambition, where they’re going may not be where I want to follow.
BBCR2 Folk Award nominees Gilmore & Roberts have unveiled the video to ‘Cecilia’, from their upcoming album, Conflict Tourism.
Conflict Tourism is the fourth album from award-winning duo Gilmore & Roberts. Following a year of touring in mainland Europe, Canada, and their native Britain, Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts noticed a common thread running through their latest crop of original songs. Conflict, whether an internal struggle between positive and negative, or a healthy body and a disease, is an everyday phenomenon captured perfectly by these 11 tracks.
Previously nominated twice at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Gilmore & Roberts cover a broader and more contemporary genre-spectrum than might be expected from a duo wielding guitar, fiddle and mandolin. Produced by Mark Tucker and featuring Matt Downer (Jamie Smith’s Mabon), Phil Henry (Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin) and James ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt), Conflict Tourism packs a considered punch from start to finish. From the industrial weight of ‘Cecilia’ and the insistent energy of ‘Peggy Airey’ to the hauntingly hypnotic ‘Jack O Lantern’, Gilmore & Roberts’ songwriting inflicts multiple earworms after a single listen.