VARIOUS ARTISTS – 1989 Newport Folk Festival (Air Cuts AC3CD8060)

NewportHats off to the Air Cuts label for this box-set of the Ben & Jerry’s 1989 Newport Folk Festival – a near 30 year old recording, made to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the original 1959 event. While in many ways, this release harks back to the boxed editions of Newport Folk Festival recordings released on the Vanguard label back in the day, one of the most striking things about this set is the sheer completeness of it.

Indeed, it, quite noticeably, captures the ethos of Newport; fusing the old and new, while showcasing the variety of styles which the ‘folk music’ banner has to offer. Furthermore, while it would have been easy to cherry-pick the event’s best bits for one single record, we instead get three discs, each boasting a generous portion of live sets from the Festival’s contemporary headliners; along with a handful of stand-alone tracks from (then) up and coming talents and folk music royalty.

Disc one begins strongly, with a six track set from John Hiatt, featuring Ry Cooder on ‘Lipstick Sunset’. Very soon, we are given a taste of the vastness of the Newport soundscape; being presented with ragtimey numbers by Leon Redbone, a Russian Gypsy song – sung in Yiddish – by Theodore Bikel and the Cajun-influenced sounds of Buckwheat Zydeco. Interspersed among this, is one of the entire album’s standout tracks; ‘Mill Town’ by Cormack McCarthy, recorded on the Workshop stage for “today’s rising folk singers”. Disc two’s highlights include blazing sets from Laura Nyro and BB King, as well as shorter contributions from the Clancy Brothers and Odetta. The third and final disc employs a similar format and once again, (sizable and enjoyable) sets follow from John Prine and Emmylou Harris, along with a slightly shorter contribution from John Lee Hooker, while Pete Seeger closes both the Festival and the album with ‘Old Time Religion’ and ‘Sailing Up, Sailing Down’.

As a true reflection of Newport, this album is almost as accurate as it gets; something which most live festival-type recordings fail to express, let alone in quite so much depth. It is a really is a great set and whether it provides a re-visit of familiar material in a different setting, or an all-out introduction to completely unheard works, it is a very welcome release, and I hope, it is just one of many such sets to be issued by Air Cuts.

Christopher James Sheridan

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Label website: http://www.odmcy.com/catalog/index.php/catalogue/1-air-cuts

‘Lipstick Sunset’ – John Hiatt with Ry Cooder:

VARIOUS – Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams (Slate Creek SCR0526172)

Gentle GiantsNow 78 and still going strong (his most recent album being in 2014), Don Williams is, both in person and on disc, one of the most laid back country artists you could imagine. Initially finding success as part of 60s folk-pop outfit The Pozo Seco Singers, whose hits included ‘I Can Make It With You’, ‘Hey Look What You’ve Done’ and ‘Excuse Me Dear Martha’, he embarked on a solo career in 1971, going on to score huge success with such song as ‘We Should Be Together’, You’re My Best Friend, ‘Some Broken Hearts Never Mend’ and, only released as an A-side in the UK, ‘I Recall A Gypsy Woman’.

Inducted into the Country Hall of Fame in 2010, he’s now the subject of a tribute album although, strictly speaking, it should The Songs Made Famous By Don Williams, since he’s better known as an interpreter than a writer

While curiously omitting ‘Gypsy Woman’ and ‘Best Friend’, it also doesn’t always go for the obvious crossover numbers, several numbers here likely to be familiar only to dedicated country fans, such as Keb Mo’s recording of US Country number 1 ‘Lord I Hope This Day Is Good’, Lady Antebellum’s string arrangement of Dave Loggins’ ‘We’ve Got A Good Fire Going’ and, a number 11 country hit in 1984, Loggins and Lisa Silver’s wistful story song ‘Maggie’s Dream’, sung here by Trisha Yearwood with Dan Dugmore on steel and electric guitars.

The collection opens with his 11th number 1, 1978’s uptempo ‘Tulsa Time’, given a suitably gutsy, going over by Pistol Annies with Mickey Raphael on wailing harmonica and tasty guitar by Colin Linden. Brandy Clark takes it into ballad territory for one of two numbers co-written by Roger Cook, 1980’s ‘I Believe In You’ waltzing lazily along on Guthrie Trapp’s resonator guitar. Three of his best known recordings come on a roll, kicking off with 1977 number 1 ‘Some Broken Hearts Never Mend’, Jerry Douglas providing dobro to Dierks Betley’s vocals. Only ever released as a B-side, but, for many, one of his signature songs, Bob McDill’s ‘Amanda’ gets a stripped down and throaty dusty blues treatment by Chris Stapleton, wife Morgane on harmonies, recorded live at the Grand Ole Opry in 2013. Arguably the seminal Williams number, and one he actually co-wrote with Wayland Holyfield, Alison Krauss gives ‘Till The Rivers All Run Dry’ a gentle, beautiful, reflective acoustic reading with a lush string arrangement by Kristin Wilkinson.

The second Cook co-write, 1982 number 1 ‘Love Is On A Roll’, is actually performed by himself and his co-writer John Prine, Linden on electric slide, Raphael on harmonica and Cook also providing ukulele and joining Garth Fundis on background vocals.

The most recent Williams hit here comes from 1981 and was actually a duet with Emmylou Harris and, while it’s a bit cheeky to assign a widely covered Townes Van Zandt classic to the songs of Don Williams, the spare version of ‘If I Needed You’ featuring Jason Isbell and wife Amanda Shires more than warrants turning a blind eye.

The album ends with another McDill song, Garth Brooks stepping up to the plate for a faithful rendition of ‘Good Ole Boys Like Me’, a suitably mellow end to an album clearly made with love and affection for the true Texan gentle giant.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.don-williams.com

Don Williams himself – ‘You’re My Best Friend’:

JOHN WORT HANNAM – Brambles And Thorns (Borealis Records BCD219)

Getting all of the “Great Lakes” to scan lyrically must have taken some doing but John Wort Hannam proves up to the challenge and displays this on the bright and breezy opening track. It’s the kind of number you can imagine driving along on cedar strewn tree lined routes throughout Canada where he’s now based having journeyed from Jersey in the Channel Islands. This first track has a kind of John Denver ‘feel’ (to me anyway) where his guitar and vocals lead the way backed by his musicians John Ellis (pedal steel guitar, mandolin, piano, melodica and banjo), Scott Duncan (fiddle), Tyson Maiko (bass) and backing singers Brooke Wylie, Matt Robinson, Jen Lane and Leeroy Stagger. The production (also by Stagger) proves a thing of beauty in a laid-back, ‘country’ style. Hannam has a warm timbre to his voice that is just right on his old time waltz “Ain’t Lonesome Enough” and in fact he proves a fine song-writer in general. Also likened to Gordon Lightfoot, James Keelaghan and John Prine (and I can see why) this is music that isn’t too heavy on the maple syrup but none the less proves a sweet treat for those that enjoy their music with a bit of bite.

PETE FYFE

Artist’s website: www.johnworthannam.com

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Mike Donaghy releases I Wish You Well

Mike Donaghy has been making a name for himself in Ireland and the UK ever since releasing his first EP “January Never Came This Year” back in 2009. The blend of his music and songwriting creates a very unique sound, occasionally being linked to folk, Americana and bluegrass.

Mike grew up listening to the sounds of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, John Prine, The Beatles and Van Morrison. He was fortunate to be part of a musical family, and reside in a home that was never short of instruments; his father working as a TV producer and director, and more importantly, on music shows!

He remembers vividly sitting round the fire joining in and learning songs with such legends as the Clancy Brothers, June Tabor, Ralph McTell, Kieran Goss, Sonny Curtis and long time friends the Sands Family.

Mike left school with a passion for music, a handful of songs and a vision which would send him into the music business. It’s what he wanted to do and he did. ‘His writing has a great sense of place and it paints a very clear picture. His stories are steeped in emotion, honesty and humour’ (Tommy Sands).

His on stage instrumentation stems from his passion for music and his eagerness to learn all types of music. At present, Mike plays guitar, piano, mandolin, lap steel, pedal steel, banjo, ukulele and saxophone. He has been a professional musician for five years and spends most of his spare time writing songs.

Since beginning his musical career he has gained many credits, including a top ten in the folk download chart in New Jersey in 2010 and numerous appearances in the Irish download chart, as well as writing music for film and TV.

In 2011 his song ‘Brighter Days’ was used as a United Nations peace song and from there Mike and the band went on to perform at the World Peace Concert in Dublin during December of that year. Later this year they will play at another World Peace concert to be held in Rome.

2012 will be a busy year for Mike, with an Irish tour in preparation followed by a full European schedule.

Mike currently performs the length and breadth of Ireland, as well as the UK and Europe, primarily with his band ‘Mike Donaghy & Border Crossing’. His debut Album entitled ‘I Wish You Well’ was released in Ireland in September 2011 and created a great buzz amongst radio stations, record and publishing companies. For the first time it is now available outside Ireland and available to order from Amazon link below. Mike is donating his earnings from the album to the Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice.

Musicians:

Mike Donaghy: Vocals/Guitar/Mandolin/Piano/Drums Jody Headley: Backing Vocals Brian McClean: Backing Vocals/WhistlesRichard Hodgen: Drums/Percussion Nick Scott: Bass Guitar/Drums/Percussion Rik Gay: Drums/Percussion Ivan McLernon: Dobro/Pedal Steel.

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