SINGLES BAR 45- A round-up of recent EPs and singles

Singles Bar 45SARAH YEO is British but she is more deeply steeped in the sounds of America than some Americans. Safe is a five track EP of original songs featuring Sarah Jory on pedal steel and Dobro with drums by Matt Butlin.

The opener, ‘I’m On My Way’, was actually written in San Diego and tells of a yearning for the big country. Next up is ‘War Of Worlds’ is described as the story of a falling out with someone close but if you want to take it as a metaphor for Brexit I certainly won’t stop you. Sarah isn’t taking sides but pleading for a cease-fire. If you’re familiar with the stage of a relationship when you’re not sure if it’s actually over or not then the title track will resonate with you.

‘Roadie 2019’ finds the singer looking for a roadie to help her with a gig in a “nice little bar in a Somerset town” but the story develops into a potential romance as Sarah observes that the hills begin to look more like California. Finally, ‘Lines’ tells of an enduring love although Sarah would seem to be singing from a viewpoint somewhere in the future. Safe is a lovely mix of themes.
www.sarahyeomusic.co.uk

Singles Bar 45A Glasgow-based country singer-songwriter, DAVID LATTO reverts to his solo soubriquet after a couple of outings as the David Latto Band for his new EP, Show Me How To Feel, although, featuring five backing musicians, it’s still very much a band work. It opens with the title track, a mid-tempo number written after a period when he felt out of touch with himself and his music, leading into the acoustic strum of ‘Blood & Whisky’, tracing similar idea of rediscovering yourself, here through reconnecting with childhood friends. Another ballad, but with a more leisurely approach, ‘Better Ways’ again draws on that feeling of running to stand still and needing to find a sense of direction and the right path to take. Stripped down to the basics with a minimal pulsing arrangement featuring John Mather on pedal steel, ‘Haunt Me’ was one of the first things he wrote after the band broke up, an impressionist nostalgic remembrance of past relationships recorded in one take while it ends with the walking beat ‘Losing You’, a song about feeling a relationship slipping away and wondering how to hold on to it before, as it builds to a crescendo, realising maybe letting go is the best thing.

Latto confesses that for a long time he felt he’d lost his creative spirit, listening here it’s clear he’s not only found it again, but it’s come with a full recharge.
http://davidlattomusic.com/

Singles Bar 45No Songs comes on newly-fashionable 7” vinyl and consists of six instrumental tracks – ten tunes in all – recorded in 1967 by MARTIN CARTHY AND DAVE SWARBRICK. Martin plays guitar, of course, and Swarb plays fiddle and mandolin and as Martin says “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. Some of the tunes, ‘The Irish Washerwoman’ and ‘The Ash Plant’ for example, are familiar pieces from the duo’s later repertoire but many are less well-known. The opener, ‘Gillens’ Apples/Snug In The Blanket’, shows off Swarbrick’s finger-breaking mandolin to great effect while ‘Grey Daylight’ is a fiddle tour de force. The recording is very straightforward, as you would expect from the time – no messing about: they let the music speak for itself. A newly re-discovered gem that Martin is selling at gigs.
www.fledglingrecords.co.uk

Dove TalesBased around Scandinavian Stef Rose and Happy Mondays guitarist Johnny Evans alongside Durutti Column drummer Chris Joyce and bassist Victor Freeman, DOVE TALES are a Manchester-based quartet mixing up 60s folk rock jangle, 70s country-soul and Brit rock, stirred together on the Lamplight Sessions EP (Awal), lead track ‘Come Over Here’ taking care of the latter. Of more interest to Folking ears will be the steady slow walking bass strut of ‘Bully’ with its country coloured chorus and the bluegrassy romp of ‘M6’ while Evans sings lead on the West Coast swayalong ‘You And I’ with its instrumental workout bridge.
https://dovetalesband.com/

My Darling ClementineMY DARLING CLEMENTINE, aka Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, release Country Darkness Vol 1, interpretations of Elvis Costello’s country songs. It’s preceded by a single, ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’, and will be followed in due course by volume 2. ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’ isn’t terribly country but the second track, ‘Stranger In The House’, makes up for that. ‘That Day Is Done’, a slow piano-driven number maintains the vibe while heading into blues territory. ‘I Felt The Chill Before The Winter Came’ is more mainstream country but supplies a big finish. Supporting the duo is Attraction/Imposter Steve Nieve linking these new versions back to Costello.
https://mydarlingclementinemusic.co.uk/

OutsideBorn in Shropshire and based in Glasgow, MOLLY LINEN releases her debut Outside EP, (Lost Map). Lead track ‘When They Didn’t Care’ with its layered guitars nodding to psychedelic folkpop while the sparse fingerpicked, echoey whispered vocals of ‘Waited Long and the slow-paced, doomily pastoral ‘Soft As Love’ throw up Nick Drake and Cat Power shadows, although its ‘Outside’ with its double-tracked vocals, muted drum beat and watery guitars that proves the most effective.
https://www.facebook.com/molly.linen/

Picture‘Picture’ is the taster single for the debut album that is due from ELIZABETH & JAMESON early next year. The album is centred around Whitby and the song was inspired by a visit to the Sutcliffe Gallery. The second track, a live recording of ‘To Mend A Broken Heart’, is the first song that Hannah Elizabeth (of Said The Maiden) and Griff Jameson worked on as a duo. Their simple style – guitar, violin and voices – suits the directness of their songwriting.
www.elizabethandjameson.co.uk

Keith JamesThe Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher wrote in 1703 “I knew a very wise man … believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.” If that’s so, the world needs powerful songs as much as ever. The KEITH JAMES song ‘I Can See’, for online release on October 15th 2019, was written “in support of and on behalf of organizations and individuals currently campaigning to bring a wider and urgent awareness of global climate change“, and it certainly hits its target. Keith James clearly sees the danger of living in a post-truth, self-serving society, but he sees hope too, and that’s important.
http://www.keith-james.com/

Unwed FathersOriginally released on his 1984 album Aimless Love, JOHN PRINE revisits his classic ‘Unwed Fathers’ (Thirty Tigers) in the company of Margo Price who joins in on the second verse. The song a condemnation of the way unwed mothers are “kept under cover/like some bad dream” while the fathers “run like water through a mountain stream”, he re-recorded it as part of a fundraising effort for the American Civil Liberties Union in the wake of Alabama’s near-complete ban on abortion, stating “that song has always been about how women are the ones who carry, birth and sometimes are left with taking care of and raising children too. Now they want to take away their right to decide if or when they do that. Women should be the ones to make decisions about what affects their lives in such a big way”.
https://www.johnprine.com/

John MorelandMentioning Prine, JOHN MORELAND supported him on his last UK tour and now releases ‘East October’ as a taster for his upcoming Thirty Tigers album debut, a scuffed drum beat, percussive hiss and piano anchoring an achingly soulful song about trying to make it without a crutch to lean on as he sings “how am I ever gonna get by all by myself?
http://johnmoreland.net/

Alessi's ArkSacred is a lovely soft-rock download-only single by ALESSI’S ARK. Relatively simple keyboards, drums and bass support Alessi Laurent-Marke’s sweet voice with the whole thing topped off with electric guitar and some delicate touches that take time to register.
https://www.facebook.com/Alessisarkmusic/

DisconnectIt’s been four years since the last SMOKE FAIRIES album, but Darkness Brings The Wonders Home is set for release in January, preceded by new single Disconnect’, a welcome reminder of their dark fecund and slightly spooked brand of folk with its jittery, guitar riff mantra and the gathering fuzzed rush as it hits the chorus hook that duly ramps up anticipation.
https://www.musicglue.com/smokefairies

KEITH JAMES – Message From The Gods (Hurdy Gurdy HGA2928)

Message From The GodsThe forthcoming CD from Keith James, Message From The Gods, is released on Monday June 3rd, and it’s a worthy successor to the albums of Keith’s that I’ve previously reviewed on this site. Which is to say that it’s very good indeed. Keith is a fine poet and songwriter in his own right, as well as a highly-rated interpreter of songs by Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen et al. But he has also established an enviable track record in setting the poetry of other writers to music. This album continues to demonstrate his pre-eminence in that particular field, with ten settings of verse by Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda, Frida Kahlo, Kahlil Gibran, Kate Tempest, W H Auden, Federico Garcia Lorca and Leonard Cohen. And here’s the track listing.

  1. ‘Tiresias’ is the first of two settings of verse by Kate Tempest. It’s rather a good example of Keith’s ability to make an effective song out of an irregularly-structured, rhyme-free poem. Some very nice slide guitar by Phillip Henry in this one, too.
  2. ‘You Are The One’ sets a poem by Frida Kahlo, better known as an artist. In fact, this poem to Diego Rivera makes for a very attractive love song.
  3. ‘All My News’ is a setting of a poem from Leonard Cohen’s collection Book Of Longing. The harmonies here and in track two are, appropriately enough, somewhat reminiscent of Cohen’s incorporation of female backing singers on his last tours. Indeed, if he’d set this poem to music, I suspect that his version would not have been unlike Keith’s.
  4. ‘Quartet’ is based on lines from Khalil Gibran’s collection of poetic essays The Prophet. Keith’s setting and arrangement has echoes of Western Asia that seem to recall Gibran’s Lebanese ancestry and awareness of a range of religious cultures.
  5. If the title of ‘Caged Bird’ reminds you of Maya Angelou’s autobiography I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, you’re in the right ball park, though Angelou’s book title was actually taken from Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem Sympathy. Angelou’s poem is clearly influenced by Dunbar’s, but is none the worse for that.
  6. ‘The things I know’ is another setting of a poem by Kate Tempest. The poem reads almost like a string of epigraphs – “Fame is the worst thing that could happen, to your reputation / If some people don’t hate your work, you’re not doing it right” – yet Keith’s reconstruction gives it added lyrical and musical coherence.
  7. ‘If You Forget Me’ is a setting of verse by Pablo Neruda. Was Neruda writing to his wife, his lover, or to Chile while he was in exile? I don’t know, but the song works very, very well.
  8. ‘Alone’ sets another Maya Angelou poem set to a blues-y tune with an adventurous arrangement.
  9. ‘Weeping guitar’ is vintage Keith James, setting a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca. No-one does this kind of setting better than Keith.
  10. H. Auden is probably best known popularly for Funeral Blues (“Stop all the clocks…“) since it was read in Four Weddings And A Funeral, though his technical range was far wider. His poem ‘But I can’t’, in this setting, sounds absolutely made for music.

Once again, Keith’s own musical expertise and sensitive vocals are supported by a fine set of musicians, and particular credit is due to the vocal support of Antonia Salter and the mixing and mastering skills of Branwen Munn. This is class material performed in an exemplary fashion. Highly recommended.

David Harley

Artist’s website: http://www.keith-james.com/

‘All My News’:

The 2019 Folking Awards

Welcome to the 2019 Folking Awards and thank you again to everyone who participated this year. The nominations, were in eight categories, and came from our ever-expanding team of writers and were collated into shape by the Folkmeister and the Editor over a pint or two, which also involved, a few arm-wrestles and a spot of beer-mat aerobics, in a convenient local watering hole.

There were five nominees in each category, all of whom have impressed our writers during 2018.

As we said last year, all are winners in our eyes, as are quite a few who didn’t make the short list. However, it’s not just about what we think, so once more, it was down to you, our ever-growing readership, to make the final call.

We will now compile the results and announce the winners of each category at some point next week.

*The Public Vote for each category closed at 9.00pm on Sunday 31st March (GMT+1).


Soloist Of The Year

Keith James
Reg Meuross
Rachel Newton
John Smith
Andy White


Best Duo

Gilmore & Roberts
Daria Kulesh and Jonny Dyer
Ninebarrow
Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar
Winter Wilson


Best Band

The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Merry Hell
Skipinnish
Trials Of Cato
The Young’Uns


Best Live Act

The Men They Couldn’t Hang
Grace Petrie
The Salts
Martin Stephenson & The Daintees
Andy White


Best Album

A Problem Of Our Kind – Gilmore & Roberts
The Well Worn Path – Seth Lakeman
The Joy Of Living – Jackie Oates
Queer As Folk – Grace Petrie
Hide And Hair – Trials Of Cato


Best Musician

Martin Harley
Aidan O’Rourke
Marina Osman
John Smith
Richard Thompson


Rising Star

Burning Salt
Robert Lane
Kitty MacFarlane
Smith & Brewer
Vision Thing


Best International Artist(s)

3hattrio
Tyler Childers
Mary Gauthier
Kíla
Larkin Poe


Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link for the UK Store is: https://folking.com/folking-store/


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link to the US Storehttps://folking.com/folking-us-storefront/


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. Can’t find what you are looking for? Search Amazon Store below.

KEITH JAMES talks to Folking.com about forty years in music

Keith James
Photograph by Dai Jeffries

This year sees Keith James celebrating his fortieth anniversary as a professional musician. He has followed an unconventional, one might say unique, career path but didn’t always make it easy for himself. Keith took up the guitar at age twelve and formed a school band called The Velvet Haze. “We were The Orange Lantern but had a name change and went for something a bit more racy. It was mostly blues – I was listening to John Mayall, Peter Green; the British blues movement – and just copied it. That didn’t last very long and I was more attracted to the acoustic guitar and started listening to Dylan, Paul Simon – I really liked Paul Simon – and I really liked James Taylor.” The head boy at George Abbot school was John Renbourn and as Keith says “we all learned guitar together”.

“I quickly put a set together on acoustic guitar and I was invited to take over from a couple of chaps who were playing a wine bar in Guildford so I sat in with them and learned the ropes. I got a job playing a couple of nights a week and then was head-hunted to play in another couple of bars. Looking back now, in terms of playing what people wanted in the Home Counties, middle-class Liebfraumilch-drinking crowd – now desperately un-hip and unfashionable – I was really in the right place at the right time but from the music business point of view it couldn’t have been worse.

“I came home from a holiday in the Greek islands having missed the opportunity to go to university because I stayed out there too long. I completely ran out of money and began playing live in Pugh’s wine bar in Guildford as a matter of needing to get through the next week and it just organically grew from that. That was in the mid-seventies and I built up a circuit in a completely parallel universe just prior to punk breaking. The folk scene was quite healthy but I didn’t seem to have anything to do with any of it. I didn’t feel that I fitted with the folk world at all and never have done but I built up a fairly healthy following for the best part of a decade in the wine bar era, which went really well.

“So, from coming back from a Greek island with a guitar and a handful of songs I built up a circuit which also funded the production and release of three or four vinyl albums. I was really bookable and, in fact, I won the Wine Bar Entertainer Of The Year award in 1981. I could have played every night of the month and I was in my own little universe.”

I’d always imagined that playing that scene was a bit soul destroying. Keith disagrees.

Keith James
Keith James on stage in 1982

“I had a brief foray into folk clubs and I gave it a good try but I felt like a real fish out of water. Playing the wine-bar circuit I think that I was probably good enough to keep their attention and people would come along specifically – I had loads of bookings on Mondays and Tuesdays because people would come along and share an orange juice and listen to me but that wasn’t profitable for the proprietor. That ran of steam and I went off to South America.”

Keith visited almost every country in South America, spending most of his time in Brazil and being influenced by the country’s writers and musicians and he seems very at ease with the rhythms that he uses on the Lorca album. “I don’t know why. I like odd rhythms; ‘The Mask’, for example: everything is strange about that. It’s in five time, it’s in a strange guitar tuning, it’s played on a flamenco guitar and it’s in Spanish but I really like it. I find it adventurous and intriguing and really exhilarating. If I’m playing a Leonard Cohen concert, for example, because there is a long-standing Lorca-Cohen connection I’ll put that in and it wakes the audience up.”

His travels have taken him to Spain several times, the first time partly with the aim of meeting Chris Stewart, the author of Driving Over Lemons. “Because we used to play Charterhouse when I was at school I was convinced that somewhere down the line I owed him a kick in the shins but I was also there to do a proper study of Federico Garcia Lorca. There is an area south of the Sierra Nevada where Lorca spent a tremendous amount of time particularly around his book Romancero Gitano. I went to a town called Órgiva and into a pizza bar and the first person to walk in after me was Chris Stewart. He told me a huge amount about Lorca.”

 Had he made it to university Keith would have read for a literature degree and his life has, in some ways, also been one of study.

“I’ve always found, even in music, everything to do with the prose far more important. If you’re learning an instrument, particularly the guitar, you realise that the parameters that you can work with in terms of the accompaniment to a song have limitations, which is why they often sound similar. If you start with C, G, D and F they are going to sound similar. It’s the intent and the lyrics and the poetry behind what you’re doing that’s the most important thing so I’ve always been drawn to a set of words that would really, really make me cry. One of my great loves in life is poetry

“Having said that, I dismiss a tremendous amount of poetry – the world is full of poetry or things that people write that they think are poetry. It all is, I suppose, and I can’t be the judge and if T.S.Eliot is, to me, like bathing in asses’ milk then it may not be to someone else. People may like things that are more domestic: I really struggle with Larkin, for instance, because quite a lot of his poetry is based around domesticity and a really small world, nothing expansive.

“I did a huge study for about a year of Dylan Thomas. I was given a commission by the Arts Council of Wales to set a collection of his poetry to music and his poetry is unbelievably wonderful and he’s not scared of anything at all. He’s not scared if it doesn’t scan right or if nothing makes sense.”

Following his return from South America, Keith’s career took another turn.

“There was a period of about ten to fifteen years when I started a recording studio in Reading where I worked as a sound engineer and record producer. It came out of necessity: I came back with a virus which affected me to such a degree that I couldn’t really sing properly but I really began to enjoy the work. This is before the days of computers and we were recording onto big analogue tape. I built up a clientele and I made an album called Tomorrow Is Longer Than Yesterday which, listening back to now, is quite disturbing. I think I felt so upset about humankind and the way things were that it’s almost an album’s worth of philosophical protest songs.”

That album surfaced at the beginning of the 90s and from it Keith got lots of requests to produce albums from “the folk/singer-songwriter world” and some jazz – “anything that had something organic and real and acoustic about it”. He reckons that he made ninety-nine albums for other people but out of that period grew another love.

“Various people came in to record Nick Drake songs. They would say ‘I’ve got eleven of my own songs and I’m going to do a Nick Drake song as well’. I did what I normally do in a situation like that – I really fell in love with his music – and I did a huge amount of research on him as person. I’ve internalised it and thought ‘where would I be if I were Nick?’.

“More or less at the same time I’d come to the end what I thought I could give to sound engineering. The business was changing dramatically – we were coming to the end of the analogue era – and it was a bit of a dark age for recording studios and for the business. I wanted to do something different so I did a pilot Songs Of Nick Drake concert at Windsor Arts Centre which was full and I sprang into action to do some more.”

Lorca followed The Songs Of Nick Drake. “The original Lorca album is mostly material from The Gypsy Ballads of the mid-20s and that went so well that the Lorca estate were keen to do another one. So I was really keen to do Poet In New York but, believe it or not, they had on the table a project that had been put together by a Spanish composer and Elvis Costello and they were about to do Poet In New York. The Lorca Foundation is run by his niece, Laura, and I think they’d been waiting for the Costello project but it never did surface so I was called in and told ‘let’s do Poet In New York’.

“There was a lot of time spent doing the first Lorca album and touring it twice and then Poet In New York and touring that twice – taking up most of 2007 to 2010 – but it’s proved to be a very worthy thing to do.”

Keith once observed that he doesn’t get to play his own songs very much but that is slowly changing. “Yes. During all this I’ve been writing songs which, for some strange reason, I still feel timid about. I feel safer doing a tour which has a concept, where it can be a bit third person. The projects that I’ve done where I’ve set poetry to music are really enjoyable; it’s almost like working with a team member – a long dead team member – but there is someone else bringing something to the table and it’s extremely inspiring.

Twenty years on from that first pilot concert Keith is still performing Nick’s songs and, with both Federico Garcia Lorca and Leonard Cohen in his repertoire, is playing about a hundred dates each year, split into two tours. They rotate and Keith is currently touring The Songs Of Leonard Cohen again and toying with the idea of a Pablo Naruda project. Captured, a best of collection is out now and it will contain some new original songs – something we don’t hear enough of these days. I’ll leave Keith to sum up where he is now.

“I absolutely love it. I have to say that, particularly with The Songs Of Leonard Cohen tour, I feel completely and utterly blessed. I feel completely honoured to be doing this tour because some of his material is just unimprovable. I live inside a bubble where I get to play all that lovely material in lovely places and all the people who come to my concerts are lovely.”

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://www.keith-james.com/

David Harley’s review of Captured: https://folking.com/keith-james-captured-the-best-of-keith-james-hurdy-gurdy-hga2927/

‘The Mask’ live on the radio:

KEITH JAMES – Captured: The Best Of Keith James (Hurdy Gurdy HGA2927)

CapturedIt’s hard to encapsulate a long, varied and distinguished career in two CDs. After all, Keith James is not only an excellent musician and producer, poet and songwriter in his own right. He also has a remarkable ability to set the verse of other poets – represented here by settings of Lorca, Dylan Thomas, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Neruda and Blake – while his sensitive interpretations of songs by Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen and others attract enthusiastic concert audiences. The 33 songs here include most of the tracks from his recent Tenderness Claws CD and several from the previous album Always. Other tracks make up a good introduction to his earlier CDs, however.

‘White Room’ is a reinterpretation of the Cream song, with Pete Brown’s lyric benefiting from more space and varied pace than the Wheels Of Fire version.

‘Anthem’ is the Leonard Cohen song. While Keith’s voice doesn’t have the gravitas of the growl-y bass-baritone voicings of Cohen’s later performances – in fact, he generally sounds more confident in his higher register – the performance is true to the song.

‘Daydreams For Ginsberg’ is an accomplished setting of Jack Kerouac’s poem.

‘The Unfaithful Wife’ is a setting of Federico Garcia Lorca’s ‘La Casada Infiel’: it’s a great example of Keith’s skill at adapting and setting verse.

‘Semana Santa’ (Holy Week) is one of Keith’s own songs. A lovely combination of lyric and melody.

‘Always’ is a setting of Pablo Neruda’s ‘Siempre’, with Spanish-accented guitar supporting a lyric about love that transcends jealousy.

‘Rich Man, Poor Man’ is another of Keith’s own songs with an arrangement with echoes of Jobim.

‘Decorated Cardboard Human Shapes’ sets one of Keith’s own poems. Driving percussion underline a complex soundscape. Highly though I rate his settings, I’m also impressed at how well his own lyrics stand in the company of those other poets.

The blues-jazzy ‘Scatterland’ and the poppier ‘Brand New Jeans’ are Keith’s own songs, while the flamenco-ish ‘Andalucia’ is based on a poem by Lorca. In ‘Floating Bridges’ Keith weaves another Lorca verse into a setting that makes the poem sound as if it was made to be sung.

‘New Face’, ‘Pantomime Horses’ and ‘The Water And The Rain’ are all songs by Keith, taken from his Always CD, which largely features songs derived from his own poetry. The last track on the first CD, ‘A Few Small Grains’, is another song of Keith’s, one of several songs here from his CD of the same name.

The first track on the second CD, ‘Fruit Tree’, is a song by the (still) much-missed Nick Drake. Keith’s vocals are particularly effective on this track. I really must try to get to one of Keith’s interpretive concerts.

‘The Mask’ and ‘Tyger Tyger’ are both featured on Tenderness Claws. ‘Tyger Tyger’ is an effective and appropriate setting of William Blake’s poem, but ‘The Mask’, based on Lorca’s Danza De La Muerte (Dance of Death), is just stunning.

‘Diamond’ is a setting of Lorca’s El Diamante: like many of the settings here, it comes from Keith’s album with Rick Foot Lorca.

‘Blue Angel’ is an atmospheric setting of a poem by Allen Ginsberg.

‘Glory Box’ is a very different, more straightforward version of the Portishead song, while ‘Take This Waltz’ revisits Leonard Cohen’s take on Lorca’s ‘Little Viennese Waltz’. (One way or another, there’s a lot of Lorca on this album, but there are a lot of people out here who will be more than happy about that.)

‘There Must Be A God’ is another song of Keith’s with a relatively pop-y arrangement. Like Nick Drake’s ‘Three Hours’ (which proves again how effective an interpreter of Nick’s songs Keith is) it was previously released on the Outsides album.

‘A Process In The Weather Of The Heart’ is an effective setting of the Dylan Thomas poem. ‘The Queen And The Soldier’ revisits a story song from Suzanne Vega’s debut album.

Two more of Keith’s songs, the ‘Lizard On The Wall’ and ‘Every Bond’, are followed by a chilling setting of Lorca’s surreal, disturbing ‘Sleepless City’.

Two more of Keith’s songs – ‘Run Before You Walk’ and ‘Only Occasionally’ – and finally back to a Lorca setting for ‘Nocturne’.

If you’re among the ever-growing circle of Keith’s admirers – especially if you’re acquainted with his most recent CDs – you’ll know what to expect: fine musicianship and lyrical intensity, leavened here with the occasionally more mainstream sounds of his earlier songs and versions of classic songs by other writers. If you’re not familiar with his work, this is a first class introduction to it. I look forward to hearing more about his current projects.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.keith-james.com/

‘Anthem’ – official video:

What we’ve said about Keith James:

KEITH JAMES – Always (Hurdy Gurdy Music HG2925)

KEITH JAMES – Tenderness Claws (Hurdy Gurdy HGA2926)

KEITH JAMES – Tenderness Claws (Hurdy Gurdy HGA2926)

Tenderness ClawsOn his web site, Keith James describes his career as esoteric and secretive, but he has actually attracted a good deal of respect for his sensitive interpretations of the songs of Nick Drake, John Martyn and Leonard Cohen, and his musical settings of his own poetry and that of well-loved writers like Lorca and Dylan Thomas. His new CD, Tenderness Claws, is almost entirely focused on settings of poetry: it’s the first time I’ve actually heard his work, but it’s finely crafted and played, exquisitely produced (mostly by Branwen Munn) and engineered, and repays close attention.

There can be a degree of implicit tension between the intentions of the poet and the composer when a poem is set to music. Housman took exception to the omission by Vaughan Williams of two of the verses from Is My Team Ploughing? Vaughan Williams responded that ‘the composer has a perfect right artistically to set any portion of a poem he chooses provided he does not actually alter the sense.’ (And made it clear that there were lines in the missing verses that he felt were best forgotten.)

Phil Ochs, though probably mostly remembered nowadays as a ‘protest’ singer, also composed several excellent settings to poems by Poe, Noyes and others. In his liner notes to I Ain’t Marching Any More he offered – if my memory doesn’t fail me – a sort of apology to John Jerome Rooney for his substantial changes to The Men Behind The Guns. (We’ll never know what Rooney would have thought about it).

Keith James clearly believes it appropriate that what Ochs called ‘the discipline of music’ should sometimes modify and shed a different light on an existing poem as it develops into a song. And the success of the settings here entirely justifies that belief.

Here’s the track-by-track summary:

  1. ‘Tyger Tyger’ is Keith’s setting of William Blake’s poem. This is the oldest poem set here, and the form is unequivocally strophic, by contrast with the freeform nature of the work of the ‘beat’ poets also represented here. However, it could be said that Blake’s writing was often a long way ahead of its time, and the arrangement is unequivocally modern, and in no way clashes with the more recent verse here. I particularly like Sarah Vilensky’s vocal work here.
  2. Although the insert and booklet state ‘All music composed by Keith James’, ‘White Room’ is actually the melody that Jack Bruce put to Pete Brown’s words on Cream’s Wheels Of Fire Though I remember the original with nostalgia, Keith’s is really rather a good version, benefiting from significantly more light and shade. The arrangement accentuates the dislocated tone of the lyric better than the in-yer-face wah-wah of Cream’s version – perhaps we’re just too accustomed now to the sound of frequency filtering to remember its impact in the 1960s – and Keith’s understated vocal compares well to Bruce’s.
  3. ‘Andalucia’ is based on a poem by Federico Garcia Lorca with which I’m not familiar. It combines a rhythmic arrangement that recalls flamenco, though the percussion and some of the changes hint at Latin America. Keith’s vocal delivery, though, is all his own.
  4. ‘A Process In The Weather Of The Heart’ slightly rearranges the poem by Dylan Thomas, but still feels through-composed. I don’t know what Dylan would have thought, but it works for me.
  5. ‘Decorated Cardboard Human Shapes’ sets one of Keith’s own poems, combining a wide range of haunting aural effects with a compulsive percussion track.
  6. ‘Daydreams For Ginsberg’ is set to an abbreviated version of Jack Kerouac’s poem. It works very well.
  7. ‘The Mask’ is based on Lorca’s Danza De La Muerte (Dance of Death). This time the poem, though significantly shortened, is left in Spanish, apart from the couplet that begins and ends this setting. As with ‘Andalucia’, the guitar is steeped in flamenco feel, but Rick Foot’s bowed double bass adds quite a different dimension. Beautiful.
  8. ‘Blue Angel’ sets a poem by Allen Ginsberg to guitar arpeggios that give the setting a slightly folk-y feel.
  9. ‘Lizard On The Wall’ is a guitar-driven setting of Keith’s own slightly surreal words, punctuated by gentle flamenco-tinged clapping. I like it a lot.
  10. ‘A Third Place…’ sets another of Keith’s own poems, hinting at a tragic backstory. In some way I can’t quite define, it makes me think of Brel.

Keith’s voice has a fragility that might not be to everyone’s taste, but is entirely suited to the material here, and I can see (or hear) why it would be suited to the songs of Nick Drake, for instance. But then his settings here of his own poems make for compositions that stand very well on their own, even in the company of the other writers represented here. Highly recommended.

David Harley

Artist’s website: keith-james.com

‘The Mask’ – live on the radio: