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

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artists’ website: www.thewillowsband.co.uk

‘False Light’ – official video:

Burning Salt’s “love letter” to Holloway Women’s Prison

Burning Salt

Burning Salt – Hannah Hull (vocals, guitar, piano), Bobby Williams (electric guitar) and John Parker (double bass) – base their music on Hannah’s distinctive voice and sometimes painfully direct songs. Among other things, Hannah is resident artist on Islington Museum’s Echoes of Holloway Prison project, focused on oral histories from Holloway Prison, which closed in 2016. She has used some of those transcripts, from ex-prisoners, prison officers and other staff, as inspiration for a number of songs to be released on the EP Dirt, for release on the 7th September 2018.

Hannah says:

“Many of the stories left me in tears. Not just because of the horror contained within them, but also the strength. I wanted to provide a platform for the stories and themes contained within them to be heard, listened to, connected with. These stories complicate the issue of prisons. They demand empathy, and confuse narratives of punishment.”

“I think this was probably the most surprising theme found within the oral history transcripts: love. Love for the prison, love for the prisoners, love despite the prison environment, love despite the incredible scale of pain and loss suffered by the women who end up in prison.”

As you might tell from the above, the six songs on the EP deal with difficult topics: not just suffering and loss, but the cycle of abuse, suicide and self-harm, cleaning up after dirty protests, and closes with an ambivalent “love letter” to the prison – ‘The Worst Place I Was Ever Scared Of’. In combination with Hannah’s unusual low-register vocals, understated yet with an extraordinary underlying intensity, this may not suit those who prefer their listening easy, but an exceptional recording that demands and deserves close attention. It may change the way you think about the prison system: it might even change your life a little. In any case, it’s an important release from a major talent.

Dirt will be publicly available on all major streaming platforms, and for digital download via www.burningsalt.com from 7 September 2018.

Burning Salt will perform the songs at a launch event on 7 September 2018 from 8pm to 10.30pm at the New Unity Chapel, 39A Newington Green, London N16 9PR. The £12 ticket price includes a special edition digital download of the EP and a poetry booklet.

David Harley

Tickets: https://dirtep.eventbrite.co.uk

Artist’s website: www.burningsalt.com

‘The Worst Place I Was Ever Scared Of’ – official video:

JACKIE OATES – The Joy Of Living (ECC Records ECC018)

The Joy Of LivingJackie Oates’ new album, her seventh, is an intensely personal one with songs spanning four generations of her family from her grandfather to her daughter Rosie. The latter can be heard on several tracks notably her “theme tune”, ‘Rosy Apple’. The Joy Of Living reflects on new life and death – Jackie’s father died unexpectedly five days after Rosie was born, and I really can’t imagine the tumult of emotions she must have felt.

So a makeshift studio was set up in her kitchen and producer Simon Richmond would travel to hers and they would get as much work done as possible in the time available – hence young Rosie’s contributions to some of the tracks. The album opens with Hamish Henderson’s ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye’. Jackie’s father fought in the 51st Highland Division, Henderson’s regiment, and she sings the beautiful tune sensitively but without excessive emotion. From there we turn to the new life with ‘Spring Is Coming Soon’, a song that Jackie made up when Rosie was very small and it paves the way for several other children’s songs scattered through the album.

John Lennon’s painful ‘Mother’ comes as something as a shock and I’m still not sure how to interpret it. Is Jackie lifting the lid on something better left concealed? If so she quickly slams it shut again with a reprise of ‘Spring Is Coming Soon’ with its repeated “we’ll be happy very soon”. It’s certainly a stunning performance and one that Jackie is not afraid to tackle on stage. The traditional ‘Virginny’ is a song that Jackie learned from her father and is faithful to his version and now we have encompassed all four generations.

‘The Joy Of Living’ had quite an impact on the young listeners at the launch event but, being an old codger, I can’t help but contrast it with ‘The Manchester Rambler’, written when MacColl was a young man. The love of the mountains is present in two songs written roughly fifty years apart in very different contexts. But I digress. ‘Unicorns’ is another song that Jackie grew up with and I suppose that ‘Catch Me If You Can’, ‘The Bird’ and ‘Sweet Farewell’ fall into that category. The last two songs return to Jackie’s father. ‘The Last Trip Home’ was one of his favourites and ‘Rolling Home’ is actually a fragment of a recording of him in a session – Jackie picks up the song as the clip fades out.

Musically, there is great variety but nothing is overbearing – how many musicians can you actually record in a kitchen at one time? The piano was already there but John Parker had to bring his double bass, Barney Morse Brown his cello and Matt Allwright his pedal steel. Jack Rutter is Jackie’s regular sidesman now, John Spiers dropped in and Megan Henwood was around a lot to provide the backing vocals. The Joy Of Living was recorded over a long period and not necessarily under ideal circumstances but it comes over as fresh and spontaneous and, indeed, a joy to listen to.

Dai Jeffries

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artist’s website: www.jackieoates.co.uk

‘Nay Ivy Nay’ – live:

Jackie Oates: new album

Jackie Oates
Photograph courtesy of The Oxford Times

We are proud to announce the release of the seventh studio album, The Joy Of Living, by Jackie Oates. It’s a record that covers an intensely personal period of her life, in which she celebrated the birth of her daughter Rosie and bid an emotional and loving farewell to her beloved father.

The Joy Of Living features songs made famous by folk greats including Ewan McColl, Lal Waterson and Davey Steele, as well as carefully picked songs from contemporary artists such as John Lennon and Darwin Deez – all interpreted in Jackie’s inimitable style.

Recorded at home in Jackie’s kitchen (with baby Rosie in attendance) she collaborated with fellow Imagined Village alumni and producer Simon Richmond to create this intimate, touching and uplifting collection. The album also features performances by friends from the world of folk including Mike Cosgrave, Barney Morse Brown, John Parker and Jack Rutter.

Born and raised on folk music, Jackie Oates started her career as a finalist in the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards in 2003. Since then she has been nominated for twelve BBC Folk awards; at the 2009 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards she scooped Best Newcomer and Best Traditional Track on the same night.

Jackie will be performing at festivals throughout the summer and is on tour in November 2018 and February 2019.

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

‘The Joy Of Living’ – live:

MEGSON – Good Times Will Come Again (EDJ Records EDJ021)

Good Times Will Come AgainFor the first time in the twelve years they’ve been making music together, Teeside husband and wife duo Stu and Debbie Hanna have, in response to fan demand, recorded an album of all original material, although, as you would imagine, these are, like previous self-penned numbers still influenced by the Tyneside folk tradition and sung in a distinctive regional accent. The songs that make up Good Times Will Come Again are not autobiographical, but rather a collection of observations of the life of your average working man and woman in contemporary Britain. As such, there’s plenty of political input as subjects span the plight of Teeside steelworkers (all the more pertinent in the light of the current Tata situation), refugees and zero-hour contracts.

The album kicks off with ‘Generation Rent’, a lively mandolin-driven number about the property ladder and how, with rising house prices and static wages, the younger generation is finding it increasingly hard to get a foot on the bottom rung, condemned to rent or live with their parents, even when they have families of their own. Yet even here, they find room for wit in the lines ‘on that glorious day my darling daughter comes to say I want to introduce gran to my fella. I say go down and tell her, she’s living in the cellar.’

The musical mood takes a more melancholic tone with ‘A Prayer For Hope’, a simple guitar strummed sketch of those risking their lives to cross oceans in search of a better life, the duo’s harmonies bearing testament to their early choir days. There’s an equally sorrowful air to the traditional colours of ‘The Bonny Lad’, a number inspired by the Northumbrian pipe and fiddle tune of the same name, as a mother lays to rest her son, another victim of ‘the worst of men and all they can destroy.’

Returning to their own backyard, featuring John Parker on double bass, ‘Burn Away’ is the first of two songs addressing the Teeside steel industry, a traditional flavoured, banjo-led snapshot of the daily routine in the steelwork furnaces in which you can almost feel the heat and taste the sweat, the line ‘the day there is no use for steel will be the day the world stops turning’ a prescient rallying cry to save the homegrown industry. Debbie also takes lead on the second of the two, ‘Patterns’, a gentle ballad laced with sorrowful fiddle inspired by last year’s closure of the Redcar steelworks sung in the voice of wife offering her support to a husband struggling to find work after being made redundant, but trying to keep up his family’s spirits by not showing his despair.

Unsurprisingly the effect of unemployment and poor wages on ordinary families plays a prominent part in the songs. Sawing fiddle drives the throbbing ‘Pushing On’, Stu taking lead on a song about families working all hours just to stay afloat and how “life is surely meant for living not just coping day by day”, while ‘Zero’ is a jaunty mandola and fiddle led morris-like counting song romp about being stuck with the uncertainty of a zero hours contract.

It’s not all so downbeat. Despite its mournful tune and the sparse guitar and fiddle accompaniment, ‘Rap’er Te Bank’, the lyrics derived from the industrial dialect of the 19th century Durham pit yards and the title from the cry miners would give for the cage to be sent down the shaft to bring them to the surface, is actually a love story about one of the pit workers and the lass he meets one July day. There’s love too in ‘The Bookkeeper’, a simple acoustic ballad with Patrick Duffin on percussion that tells of a Billingham bookkeeper’s undeclared love for the chief accountant’s clerk and features the uplifting chorus of “you can put a price on gold, on almost anything for I’ve been told, but the love that the true heart holds never can be sold”. Only when he learns she’s leaving does he summon up the courage to tell, her how he feels. Whether she returns his affections is never told, but given the album’s gospel country tinged duetted closing title track, Debbie on accordion, optimism rather than seems to be in the air. Of course, paying off your debts and every man and woman standing as equals may all be pipe dreams, but without hope what would be the point of getting out of bed. Megson know there are dark clouds in the sky, but they still set their alarm clock.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: http://www.megsonmusic.co.uk/

‘Burn Away’ – official video:

JOSIENNE CLARKE AND BEN WALKER – Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour (Folk Room)

ClarkeWalker_HourHailing from Sussex and Evesham respectively, the pair are steeped in the folk traditions of English songwriting with influences drawn from, among others, Sandy Denny, Richard and Linda Thompson, June Tabor, Nick Drake and Bert Jansch. Their joint debut, Seas Are Deep, was a collection of well-known traditional numbers, while the follow up, Fire & Fortune, mixed traditional and self-penned material to sublime effect.

Taking its title from Wordsworth’s Intimations of Mortality, with the sort of pensive and melancholic mood that implies, the same applies here, Clarke writing the words and music and providing recorder, sax and flute with Walker handling the orchestration arrangements and playing guitars, mandolin, banjo and keys, joined by John Parker on double bass, Ruairi Glasheen on percussion and Jim Moray on piano as well as an array of backing musicians on strings and brass.

Of the three traditional numbers, it’s fair to say that the best known will be ‘Let No Man Steal Your Thyme’, Clarke’s fairly familiar forlorn interpretation offset by a bold arrangement that weaves its way from keyboard drone through medieval coloured flute to puttering drum rhythm, Spanish guitar and parping sax. Introduced by willowy recorder and flute, it’s preceded by the courtly textures of ‘The Queen of Hearts’, cello and acoustic guitar crafting a stately pavane setting, while the third offering is a more traditional folk reading of ‘I Wonder What Is Keeping My True Love Tonight’ accompanied simply by fingerpicked guitar.

With its pizzicato violin and lush strings, self-penned, dreamy ballad opener, ‘Silverline’, is an early taster of the new richness and delicacy in Walker’s classical inspired arrangements, a development reinforced by the short, cello and violin accompanied ‘A Simple Refrain’ on which Clarke’s joined on vocals by Sam Brookes for a tender love song swathed in pastoral clouds.

Things heat up a little rhythmically on ‘It Would Not Be A Rose’, strings circling around acoustic guitar and hand percussion as Samantha Whates’ backing vocals blend with Clarke’s pure, leafy tones. ‘The Tangled Tree’ is another number steeped in natural imagery that addresses its theme of caged spirits and the cruel passing of time with a slow sonic gathering built upon ghostly multi-tracked backing vocals, somber piano and backwards guitar.

Things take a diversion for both ‘I Never Learned French’, a reverie of regret in a retro 30s frame, dawn breaking over the Paris skyline to the strains of a muted, melancholic trumpet, and, a personal favourite, ‘Moving Speeches’, a sprightly snare beat and banjo-accompanied skip through American folk backroads, Clarke sometimes sounding spookily like Denny. It comes as something of a shock, then, to slip into ‘Mainland’, a four minute experimental number that opens to the desolate sound of a sparse cello drone, siren call and breaking waves before the arrival of Clarke’s quivering, emotionally numbed vocals against an electronic backdrop as the number gradually swells over scuffed drums and treated guitars in a manner that suggests a darkside version of Clannad.

There’s similar experimentation at work on ‘Earth And Ash And Dust’, ushered in on a pulse of backwards treated guitar giving way to a scattering of sombre Spanish guitar notes as Clarke’s vocals eventually merge with the wordless backing to become the choir of some Renaissance cathedral frozen in time.

Things are more restrained for ‘Now You Know’, a slow, measured ballad with Walker’s simple repeated guitar pattern adorned by sweeping strings and French horn, with the album ending its journey in the early hours at some dimly-lit cellar bar blues club with a sleepy-eyed jazz trio and strings section for ‘Water To Wine’, Clarke evoking vintage Janis Ian with a resigned reflection on a self-denying uncertain future as she resolves to “do something good with my life” but must “accept that whatever I find it won’t be mine.” Whatever the future holds, it will be the more bearable for their music.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.josienneclarke.co.uk

‘Silverline’ – the official video: