BELLA HARDY – Postcards & Pocketbooks (Noe NOE12CD)

Postcards & PocketbooksI still tend to think of Bella Hardy as one of the bright young things of folk music but she has already done more than enough to justify Postcards & Pocketbooks, a double-CD retrospective, all the tracks remastered by Ian Carter. Bella is an old-style fiddle-singer, a 21st century songwriter and just about everything between. She can bring power to traditional songs and weave old themes into new songs and you can never be sure where her muse will lead her next.

The first disc opens with ‘Learning To Let Go’ from her poppy album, Hey Sammy, built on the pounding drums of John Blease. It sounds like the song of someone still seeking a way forward and if it’s autobiographical then that might explain Bella’s frequent changes of approach. That’s followed by the almost traditional ‘Whisky You’re The Devil’ and her award-winning ‘The Herring Girl’. This could be a traditional song or, at least, a traditional story but there is not hiding its provenance. You might expect ‘Sylvie Sovay’ to be traditional but here again Bella just takes the names and the germ of the theme and works them into something very new.

‘Maying Song’ and ‘The Seventh Girl’ are largely old songs and the first half ends with the first of two unreleased tracks, the gorgeously pure ‘Sheep Crook & Black Dog’.

The second disc opens with a new version of ‘Three Black Feathers’, the song that first made her name. Here it’s pared back to a simple guitar accompaniment by Sam Carter and the experience of nine years is obvious in Bella’s voice. Sam is there again on a new version of ‘Time Wanders On’ and the second previously unreleased song, ‘Tequila Moon’. Other standout tracks in the half are ‘True Hearted Girl’ – a robust version of ‘When I Was On Horseback’ – ‘Walk It With You’ with vocals by Kris Drever and the marvellous ‘Jolly Good Luck To The Girl That Loves A Soldier’.

The set ends almost where it began with ‘Redemption’ from Hey Sammy followed by the closing ‘Tequila Moon’ based on a chunky guitar part. I’ve heard most of Bella’s albums but Postcards & Pocketbooks succeeds in giving a different overview of her career – a mix-tape that entertains and makes you think a little more deeply about what you’re hearing.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘The Herring Girl’ – live:

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

Artist’s website:

‘Driving Through Harmony’ – official video:

WHISKEY MOONFACE: New album – One Blinding Dusky Dusk

Whiskey MoonfaceWhiskey Moonface are Ewan Bleach on clarinet, Jim Ydstie on double bass lead by the stunning vocals of accordionist and song-writer Louisa Jones. One Blinding Dusky Dusk is their debut album release. It features guest performances from fiddle player Alistair Caplin from the John Langan band, violinist Mirabelle Gillis, trombone player Sky Murphy, drummer John Blease who has worked with London Symphony Orchestra and Massive Attack, and songwriter and banjo player Sam Bailley.

Stevan Krakovic, short-listed for “Breakthrough Engineer of the Year” in the MPG awards 2011, recorded the album over two days at Shock and Awe Studios. In total twenty-two tracks were recorded, thirteen of which feature on the album. The remaining have been made into the EP The Echo of Me Shoes. The album was launched on 10th May in St Marys Old Church, Stoke Newington in London with a full live band show and support from Cretan Folk musicians, El Khandak and puppetry from Alice Cade. The concert was followed by an Irish session at the Old Auld Shillelagh. Louisa and Ewan were brought together whilst living at The George, a 150 year old Victorian east London pub that by night became a speakeasy central to the emerging folk, jazz and roots music scene of east London.

It was on a trip to Ireland, that Louisa spent some time on Sherkin Island where she stayed with a Celtic musician who inspired her to learn the accordion. Later she spent time in Bhopal in Northern India, learning Dhrupad (northern Indian classical vocal tradition) with the Guducha Brothers. She studied ethnomusicology at SOAS and a diploma in astronomy at UCL. These have had a strong influence on her song writing. She also plays double bass, cornet (sometimes at the same time as accordion!) and clarinet.

Whiskey Moonface also share a love of traditional jazz, influencing their original songs. The bass player Jim Ydstie (from North Dakota) originally came to London on tour with New Orleans clarinettist Dr Michael White. He then moved there to play with the “Pasadena Roof Orchestra”. Ewan and Louisa (playing double bass) all are in the “Dakota Jim Band”, led by Jim (playing accordion), playing songs collected from his life as a carpenter, fisherman and musical travels across the globe.

Ewan, who studied at the Guildhall, also runs the “Cable Street Rag Band” with Louisa playing double bass, Jim playing piano and Magic Mike Henry from the Chris Barber Band (who also features in some of Whiskey Moonface’s gigs). This band play every Thursday at the Jamboree, listed in the Guardians “London’s top five quirky bars” (2012). Ewan & Louisa also play in Man Overboard (with Classical Violinist Thomas Gould) who were the featured band on BBC 3’s In Tune Christmas Special.

Best description of the band is, to quote:

“Born into a puddle of whiskey beneath a stark winter moon and raised by cold winds, schooled in the warming spirits and hungry for more, Whiskey Moonface manage a natural, graceful sound built from many ports. Singer-song writer Louisa Jones and her troupe of musical-journey men straddle times and styles with ease and familiarity to conjure a sound at once arresting and that you can also dance to.”

The album is full of unique and imaginatively quirky songs, songs capturing lowlife bohemia at Cable Street, coupled with crazy dreams, a transcendent spiritualty, and just great storytelling. Theo Bard, folk promoter, has described Louisa’s voice has having “an astonishing purity yet there are a thousand nights of drunken nights and cigarettes soaked into that voice. I find it hard to imagine a sound I would rather listen to”. Ewan plays with the clarinet in weird and wonderful ways. His improvisation and inventiveness knows no bounds. Jim plays with imaginative improvised walking bass lines throughout.
An understated humour runs through many of the songs, for example; the fact that all the secrets of the universe are revealed in ‘Whiskey Spirit’ but we can’t understand them. This humour is present in the lyrics of ‘Dead Dog’ featuring a beautiful Celtic-style solo from Alistair Caplin. The album ends with Sam Bailey’s ‘Octopus’ (based on a true occurrence when a woman asked Sam to put an octopus on his head for her art project)

Artists’ website: