RACHAEL McSHANE & THE CARTOGRAPHERS – When All Is Still (Topic TSCD596)

When All Is StillIt’s been nine years since Rachael McShane realised her solo debut, the time since then keeping her busy as cellist, fiddler, viola player and singer with the now defunct Bellowhead, of which she was a founding member back in 2004, and, more recently, her role in the reworking of Peter Bellamy’s folk opera The Transports.

However, she’s now found a window to record a follow-up, again predominantly a collection of traditional material, working with two fellow North East musicians, guitarist Matthew Ord fron Newcastle bluegrass outfit Assembly Lane and Kathryn Tickell’s melodeonist Julian Sutton. She’s also joined on assorted tracks by former Bellowhead colleagues Paul Sartin on oboe and Andy Mellon, Justin Thurgur and Ed Neuhauser on trumpet, trombone and tuba, respectively. The album’s produced by Ian Stephenson who also handles double bass and piano duties.

With a couple of exceptions, her choice of material leans to lesser known of less commonly performed numbers from the folk canon, case in point being the opener, ‘The Molecatcher’, a waltzing ditty about infidelity as the titular cuckold catches his wife in flagrante although McShane’s sanitised the original lyrics so that now, he catches the lad by his coat (rhyming with sport) rather than his bollocks (rhymed with frolics) who declares the fine of ten pounds works about tuppence a time rather than a grind. Revisionist delicacy notwithstanding, it’s a fine and cheekily sung number, the tune of Sutton’s ‘Simpson Street Waltz’ written in honour of the studio where they recorded.

More usually known as ‘The Outlandish Knight’, a number she often played with Bellowhead, spotlighting melodeon, ‘Lady Isabel’ tells of a serial killer of young maids getting his comeuppance when his intended seventh victim tumbles him into the sea. The ballad exists in a wide variety of versions and lyrics, and, in keeping with the album’s mischievous tone, this retains the final verse where the girl bribes her parrot to keep quiet about where she’s been.

Originating from Huddersfield, the melodeon wheezing ‘Cropper Lads’ has been part of her repertoire for a while, a song celebrating the titular weaving industry craftsmen that makes reference to Great Enoch, a hammer used to smash up the jobs-threatening machinery during the Luddite uprising. It’s set to a new tune by McShane titled ‘Full Belly’, apparently inspired, not by anything weaving or industrial, but from playing an online game called Sushi Cat.

Lads from a different, ahem, field make an appearance in ‘Ploughman Lads’, a rousingly straightforward chorus friendly love song featuring percussion from Martin Douglas, followed, in turn, by the first of the two instrumental sets, McShane’s stately fiddle-led ‘Waltzing At Giggleswick’, written for a charity of which she’s patron and providing a platform for Ode’s guitar work, twinned with Sutton’s melodeon romp ‘The Ginger Cat Monster’.

By far the best-known number is ‘Two Sisters’ (you know, the one where one sister downs the other over a romantic rivalry and the body is found and turned into as self-playing fiddle and reveals her murder), except McShane reveals a cynical streak with a grizzly ending that shows justice a clean pair of heels.

Learned from the Peter Bellamy version, the mid-tempo swayalong ‘Barley and Rye’ is another song about bored wives who get up to mischief in the bedroom because they’re neglected by husbands more concerned with their work, here a farmer and his crops.

Sutton contributes the second of the instrumentals, the finely crafted and shape-shifting ‘Road To Tarset/Lake Of Swans’ both nodding to favourite haunts in Northumberland. On a darker note, this is followed by another staple, a suitably sombre and brooding take on euphemistically-titled incest ballad ‘Sheath & Knife’ which, variously recorded by Ewan MacColl, Eliza Carthy, June Tabor, Maddy Prior and Maggie Boyle, from whom McShane learned the song, tells how the king’s daughter becomes pregnant by her brother and goes with him to the greenwood to give birth where she asks him to put an arrow through her and bury her with their baby.

Lighter notes are struck on another well-known number, ‘Sylvie’ being a version of ‘The Female Highwayman’ or ‘Sovay’. One of the first songs the trio put together, it opens with a plucked viola before the instrumentation swells as the tale unfolds of a woman disguising herself to test her lover’s loyalty and bravery by demanding the ring she gave him. Given that, in the final verse, she declares that had he parted with it she’d have shot him dead, it’s perhaps not a match for the long haul.

Set to a new galumphing, melodeon-driven cider-swigging tune by McShane with brass arrangement by Stephenson, it all ends joyously with ‘Green Broom’, a traditional tale of a broom cutter who, fed up of his son lying in bed to noon, sends him off to the woods to cut a bundle , the lad catching the attention of a fine lady on his way home and ending up marrying her. There seems to be a Norman Tebbit-like moral for our social benefits times in there somewhere.

Fresh, sparkling and lively in its arrangements and performance, it’s an album that should consign phrases like ‘former-Bellowhead’ member to footnotes rather than a delineation.

Mike Davies

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

‘Ploughman Lads’ – official video:

KATE RUSBY – Ghost (Pure PRCD38)

KRGhostAn album by unquestionably my favourite female voice in contemporary folk (it’s those homely, but somehow also sexy Barnsley vowels) and a version of ‘Martin Said’, the song that first introduced me to folk music – Christmas has definitely come early.

Working, as ever, with guitarist husband Damien O’Kane and variously joined by Michael McGoldrick on whistles and flute, double bassist Duncan Lyall, bouzouki player Steven Byrnes, accordionists Nick Cooke and Julian Sutton, electric guitarist Steven Iveson and Rex Preston on mandolin with Union Station’s Ron Block providing banjo, not to mention the occasional string quartet, Rusby’s 12th studio recording is also her first all new material in four years, Unlike Make The Light, however, there’s only three self-penned tracks here, the rest being arrangements of traditional numbers.

One such opens proceedings in the shape of her take on the familiar Child Ballad, ‘The Outlandish Knight’, the unease in the lyrics about a maiden getting the better of her murderous suitor underscored by guitar drone and haunting diatonic accordion. It’s traditional again for the second track, ‘The Youthful Boy’, another false heart tale as, her lover having gone off to sea, the abandoned woman declares she’ll not mourn his death, Block’s banjo dappling notes around Rusby’s airy tones.

Buoyed up by accordion, the first original is ‘We Will Sing’, a sprightly contribution to the canon of songs celebrating May and spring’s renewal while its two companions are the liltingly lovely, melody cascading ‘After This’ with its affirmation of the healing power of song and the rather darker title track album closer, a somewhat gothic tale of a departed lover’s brief haunting visits (reflected in the booklets artwork) played out with just voice and piano.

It’s a theme mirrored to implied or overt extent in two of the album’s traditional numbers, the gently wistful ‘Night Visit’, set to a tune by Tony Cuffe, where a man braves the ‘roaring tempest’ for a night of passion with his lover, and the suitably subdued air of ‘The Bonnie Bairns’, where a lady encounters two mysterious children who lead her deep into the woods to deliver new of her lover’s fate.

Heartbreak weighs heavy too on ‘I Am Sad’’s acoustic melancholic lament of blighted love, but you’ll be pleased to know that it’s not all doom and gloom, with the remaining traditional contributions including a spiritedly upbeat ‘Three Jolly Fishermen’, the electric guitar (courtesy of Doyle) and accordion refrain friendly swayalong ‘The Magic Penny’ and, with McGoldrick on whistles, ‘Silly Old Man’, another tale of coming good financially as the titular protagonist turns the tables on the thief who tries to rob him. As R. Dean Taylor once said, there’s a Ghost in my house. There really should be one in yours, too.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.katerusby.com

A behind-the-scenes look at Ghost:

KATHRYN TICKELL – Northumbrian Voices (Park Records PRKCD121)

KATHRYN TICKELL Northumbrian VoicesThere can be nobody prouder than a father and raconteur (Mike Tickell) witnessing his daughter entertaining an audience from centre stage and in this case the daughter (Kathryn Tickell) vice-versa. That much is obvious from the camaraderie of everyone involved on this wonderfully crafted 2-disk set from those very fine chaps at Park Records. Now, where do you place a recording that would comfortably settle on either an audio book or music CD shelf? Well, for me it sits alongside my previous recordings of her albums of which I profess to own most of them. Although internationally recognised for her achievements in ‘folk’ music circles as one of its major driving forces when it comes to her native Northumbria this beautiful part of the North-East couldn’t find a better ambassador. After sifting through many old cassettes Kathryn had the unenviable task of selecting certain recordings that represented her friends, family and neighbours. With respect, that part of the process must have been made easy as all involved impart their wit and wisdom with such convivial jocularity that you’ll wish you could have been there in person. For those of us lucky enough to witness the ‘Border Shepherds’ (Willie Taylor, Will Atkinson and Joe Hutton) in the early 80’s have much to be thankful for and it’s a treat to be reminded of their gentle banter and good humour celebrated by Martin Simpson’s song simply titled “Will Atkinson” and sung acapella by the girls. Talking of which…hearty congratulations all round to Tickell’s accompanying musicians; Hannah Rickard (fiddle), Kit Haigh (guitar), Patsy Reid (fiddle), Julian Sutton (melodeon), David McCracken (voice) and Amy Thatcher’s piano accordion. This album was obviously a labour of love and one that will warmly embrace the listener like a freshly stoked fire and if somebody can kindly get my slippers, pipe and bottle of Newcastle Brown I’ll be an even happier man. Finally…anyone who can complement me on my use of polyrhythm guitar (and know what they’re talking about) at Gosport & Fareham Festival is alright in my books!

PETE FYFE

Artist web links: www.kathryntickell.com

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KATE RUSBY – While Mortals Sleep (Pure Records PRCD34)

KATE RUSBY – While Mortals Sleep

Only 292 days to Christmas…

Avoiding the cliché of echoing the ending of each line of “Cranbrook” (“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night”) set to its original melody and pinched by Yorkshire for the setting of “On Ilkley Moor Baht’at” this jaunty start to Kate’s second seasonal offering proves a joyous bundle of fun. Joined by the Brass Quintet Boys ensemble this proves a judicious addition to Rusby’s band featuring Damien O’Kane (guitar), Ed Boyd (bouzouki), Julian Sutton (diatonic accordion) and Kevin McGuire/Duncan Lyall (double bass). To be perfectly honest the collaboration of brass arrangements coupled with a ‘folk music’ background creates such a feel-good factor that I’m surprised Simon Cowell hasn’t cashed in on it. With its mixture of traditional (“Little Town Of Bethlehem”), contemporary (“Kris Kringle”) and Kate’s evocative “Home” there isn’t a duff track here. All right, so everyone by now must know how popular Christmas is for me musically speaking with over 100 albums and counting and so it proves with a majority of not only performers but their audiences as well. Along with my James Taylor ‘At Christmas’ and The Spinners ‘Sing Out, Shout With Joy’ recordings this is by far and above the best representation of any seasonal offering I have the pleasure to own and goes without saying that you should purchase a copy to put yourself in a good mood whatever time of year you play it. A 100% (Christmas) cracker!

PETE FYFE

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http://www.katerusby.com