LUKE DANIELS – Old Friends & Exhausted Enemies (Wren Wren019)

Old Friends & Exhausted EnemiesLet me own up and say I blow somewhat hot and cold regarding Daniels’ music. I wasn’t a fan of Revolve & Rotate, for which he composed new music on a 19th century polyphon, and I found Singing Ways To Be More Junior a bit of a hit and miss affair. However, subtitled Seven Centuries of Poetry from Chaucer to Auden, Old Friends & Exhausted Enemies gets the thumbs up. Not a setting of poems by an anthology of English poets as such, rather he speaks of them as ‘collaborators’, borrowing snippets and lines, or even a single word, here and there to create his own songs, deepening his appreciation of his inspirations along the way.

Working with double bassist Jenny Hill and percussionist Signy Jacobsdottir as his core backing alongside contributions from the likes of Zi Lan Lao on Chinese harp, Rihab Azar on Syrian oud, Swedish cittern player Ale Carr and the Arco String Quartet,his first port of call takes in Thomas Campion, William Barnes, Robert Herrick , James Joyce, John Masefield and Alfred Lord Tennyson for ‘Girl With The Nut-Browne Hair’, a traditional folk styled love song which also evinces the fingerpicking influence of Nic Jones.

The warmly sung reconciliation and parting title track is slightly less wide-ranging in its cherrypicking, taking in Ben Jonson, John Dryden and even Isaac Watts’ hymn ‘Our Help In Ages Past’, followed by the equally measured pacing of ‘Officer Of My Career’ which, coloured by Abel Selacoe’s cello, calls upon John Donne, Robert Bridges, Sir Walter Raleigh, Robert Herrick and the rather more obscure Korby Lenker for a song about seeking direction which, with its line about “door splits and the CDs sold by hand” clearly directs thoughts to the struggles of the itinerant musician.

The waltztime fingerpicked ‘Who’s Going To Stop?’, a call for help and support in troubled times when you feel lost and alone is all his own work, then it’s back to the bards with Sir Walter Scott, Robert Browning, Wordsworth and Marlowe among those lending their words to the strings and piano-accompanied ‘Father’s Cradle Song’, a tender lullaby from a parent to their child as they grow and take their leave, the track transforming into jazzier keyboard shapes.

Another solo flight, ‘I See The Good In You’ has a bluesy ragtime swing (not to mention the line about being a “a grumpy bastard”) before, given a husky vocal reading and an American folk blues feel, ‘The Weed The Wood And The Wagg’ is, with just a couple of minor tweaks, a setting of Sir Walter Raleigh’s poem of encouragement to his son.

An Irish traditional, built around piano and strings with a drone-like vocal delivery, ‘The May Morning Dew’ concerns the passing of time and the memory of those that have gone before, the mood and tempo shifting to more upbeat, notions of mortality also percolating through the even deeper vocals of ‘Where We All Must Go’ with its dark Appalachian gospel resonances, the forlorn cello stains giving way to slightly brighter bluegrass notes. These are picked up and given their head on ‘Jim Beam & Brown Sugar’, another musicians inspired number, that calls to mind Martin Simpson’s work in the genre.

He returns to his literary sources from the last two numbers, first up being the sparse hymnal piano melancholia of ‘Soldiers And Sailors’, a cocktail of Browning, Masefield, Burns and Ciaran Carson that again reflects on changing seasons, unknown futures and the need to have both anchors and the freedom to set sail. Finally, the father of English literature himself, Geoffrey Chaucer provides a fitting sign off with ‘Prologue To The Canterbury Tales’ as, the language slightly tweaked, Daniels sets the entire opening stanza to music, primarily arranged for piano with other instruments feathering the path.

It’s an outstanding collection of work that not only advances Daniels’ growing reputation but which will hopefully send listeners back, like him, to discover the richness of the country’s literary heritage.

Mike Davies

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‘Prologue To The Canterbury Tales’:

Luke Daniels announces new album and single

Luke Daniels

Following on from his critically acclaimed debut album What’s Here What’s Gone in 2014, Revolve & Rotate in 2016 (**** The Guardian) for which he restored and composed new music on a 19th century polyphon machine and Singing Ways To Feel More Junior, 2017 (**** Songlines) which used children’s folk rhymes as inspiration for some very grown up songs about the dangers of global capitalism and artificial intelligence, Luke Daniels has returned with a fourth solo album that promises to be his most interesting to date.

The title of this album refers to the many poets with whom Luke has “collaborated” to produce some of his new songs and his own personal journey from difficult first encounters at school to a much deeper appreciation of their work in later life. Slices of the English poetry from the past seven hundred years appear in these songs as reworked lines, phrases and imagery from Chaucer, Jonson, Burns, Dryden, Browning and Auden to list but a few, all woven into new work which as a result, references some of our most beautiful English verse.

Luke has worked his way through this large anthology to collect and pool anything that sparked his own imagination before allowing it to shape and hone his latest work, in some instances just a single word or as with Geoffrey Chaucer’s Prologue To The Canterbury Tales, setting whole passages to music.

“The project has been a study of my own making and time well spent at an important stage in my development as a songwriter. Amidst such creative company these Old Friends and Exhausted Enemies have made me a very grateful student.”

Luke is a skilled composer and songwriter who comes from a background of folk and traditional music. He has worked for two decades as an instrumental musician on melodeon, piano and guitar, straddling many genres with solo performances at London Jazz Festival, with The London Philharmonic Orchestra and as a member of the Riverdance Band.

A diverse range of musicians feature on his latest record including Zi Lan Lao (Chinese Gu Zheng) Rihab Azar (Syrian Oud) and the South African cellist Abel Selacoe (with whom Luke has been performing as the Kaleidoscope Quartet). Other members of his Glasgow based team include Signy Jacobsdottir from Scottish Ballet on percussion, Jenny Hill on double bass from Songs of Separation, Lyle Watt (Blue Rose Code Band) on guitar and the acclaimed Swedish cittern player Ale Carr. An additional Irish contingent includes fiddler Aidan O’Donnell, The Arco String Quartet from Belfast and The Donegal Abbey Singers. The album was produced by Daniels and Paul Savage (Mogwai, King Creosote and Karine Polwart).

Artist’s website: www.lukedanielsmusic.com

‘Old Friends & Exhausted Enemies’ – promo video:

SINEAG MACINTYRE – Lòn Bàn (Greentrax CDTRAX396)

Lòn BànSineag MacIntyre is from Kilphedar in South Uist; a town steeped in Gaelic singing tradition. With this raw material alone, it is not surprising that she inevitably forged her own musical path. Her career began in 2004 with the album Laithen Sgoile on the Lionacleit School’s in – house label, before going on to establish herself on the Scottish folk scene…and picking up her fair share of musical and academic awards on the way. Lòn Bàn is her most recent offering, and her debut on the illustrious Greentrax label. Even as a ‘layperson’ to the Gaelic tongue, this album feels well curated and thoroughly balanced, in an environment in which unaccompanied traditions intermingle with fully backed, and comparatively contemporary writings.

‘O, Thoir a-nall am Botal’ ; a flute-laden drinking song, composed in the wake of a particularly bleak winter which killed hundreds of cattle, kicks off the album, followed by two love songs; one from a male perspective and one from a women’s vantage point. ‘Laoidh ‘Statue’ Ruaidheabhal’ is a hymn praising the protection which the statue of Our Lady of the Isles (located on Rueval Hill) brings to the South Uist community. At times it is haunting and a bit unsettling, an impact made by the drone of the pipes which carry much of the song.

‘Allt an t-Siucair’ comes from the pen of poet Alexander MacDonald, and in many ways, it is another song of praise, this time, however, one which praises the natural beauty of ‘Sugar Brook’; a small stream which ran between MacDonald’s own home and that of a neighbour. This pretty melody is next followed by ‘Cuireamaid Dandaidh/ Puirt-a-Beul’; an initially unaccompanied piece, described as “a song a mother might sing”, before the bodhran ushers in a set of reels, accompanied by fiddle and guitar.

The latter part of the album again manages to go between the polarities of life, encompassing both beauty and sorrow from one song to the next; ‘’S ann Diluain Ro’ La Fheill Micheil’ for example, is an unaccompanied waulking song, told from the female perspective, in which the protagonist laments the drowning of her husband, father and three brothers. This is followed by ‘Sean’s a’ Bhriogais Leathair’; a comedic song, with an upbeat melody, where our male protagonist recalls the romantic conquests of his youth…all thanks to his (presumably irresistible) leather breeches.

With the bonus string of cameos from the Scottish scene, (including Kathleen MacInnes and Luke Daniels) this well-presented recording must be commended as nothing less than a noteworthy milestone , at an important point of an already impressive career.

Christopher James Sheridan

Label website: https://www.greentrax.com/music/product/sineag-macintyre-lon-ban

Sineag MacIntyre and Kathleen MacInnes:

LUKE DANIELS – Singing Ways To Feel More Junior (Gael Records GAEL017)

Singing WaysSinging Ways To Feel More Junior by Luke Daniels, is a wonderfully eclectic collection of a dozen songs, most of which are Daniels’ originals. It goes in many different directions (occasionally at the same time) and presents shades of folk, funk, blues, jazz and Americana, and while some of the tracks have slightly more edge than others, there is a definite sense of sweetness and brightness contained throughout.

The album opens with ‘Penny In The Slot’; it’s catchy, it’s fun and it bizarrely borrows from the 2003 ‘Fast Food Song’; incorporating the less-than-immortal line “McDonalds, McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut” into its lyric. Just as bizarrely, however, it works. While This Americana vibe is continued into the album’s second track (‘Only Love I’ll Leave To You’), it is the steady, danceable rhythms of ‘The House That Jack Built’ which introduce us to the album’s funkier elements. These grooves are very enjoyable, and are followed up by the beautifully delivered, (if comparatively melancholic) title track.

Following this number we are once again guided down the well-travelled Americana route through the quirkiness of the uplifting mandolin-led ‘Let’s Not Waste Another Day’ and ‘Strange Power’, before we get to the bluesy Presidential piss-take; ‘Elizabeth Trump And Sons’, one of two topically tinged numbers on the disc; with ‘Better The Devil You Know’ featuring on the album’s last quarter. Indeed, even at this late stage, we continue to hear new approaches and new experiments; the eerie but engaging soundbites which introduce ‘What Becomes Of Gilgamesh’ or the closing number, (Stevie Wonder cover) ‘Don’t You Worry About A Thing’, which boasts another tremendous vocal take, and proves the perfect conclusion to an interesting, enjoyable, if at times off the wall journey through this collection of “new songs for grown-ups.”

Christopher James Sheridan

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‘The House That Jack Built’ – official video:

CARA DILLON – Upon A Winter’s Night (Charcoal CHARCCD008)

upon a winter's nightIn the absence this year of a new Kate Rusby festive collection for folk fans to warm their chilly cockles, Cara Dillon, aided and abetted by husband, musical partner and producer Sam Lakeman, steps up to the seasonal plate for her first Christmas offering, Upon A Winter’s Night, an 11-string stockingsworth of traditional nuggets, hymns and originals.

It’s one of the latter, the title track, written by Sam and Noah Lakeman, that kicks things off, a jaunty Nativity scene setter that also features Uilleann pipes, Luke Daniels on accordion and Kathryn Roberts on backing vocals. There’s three other originals, Cara and Sam providing the piano backed ‘Standing By My Christmas Tree’ with its interpolation of ‘Silent Night’ and bells-pealing keyboard notes as well as the simply arranged lullaby closer ‘Mother Mary’, he on acoustic guitar and she joined on vocals in the final refrains by a family affair of Colm, Noah and Elizabeth Lakeman. The third is Sam’s own instrumental contribution, a lively woodland romp with ‘The Huntsman’, again featuring Jarlath Henderson on Uilleann pipes and Daniels on accordion alongside fiddle from Niall Murphy and James Fagan’s bouzouki with Ben Nicholls providing stalwart bass.

The other numbers are the couple’s arrangements of, by and large, very familiar seasonal tunes, first up, introduced by Murphy’s fiddle sounding like a hunting horn, being a traditional folk-sounding reading of ‘The Wexford Carol’ that gathers to fulsome fiddle finale. Rather less known, based on a traditional Polish carol, ‘Infant Holy, Infant Lowly’ is another lowing lullaby and introduces John Smith on guitar. Considerably better known is the evergreen ‘The Holly and the Ivy’, here taken at a swayalong tempo on the back of fiddle, pipes and accordion and featuring guest viocals from both Roberts and Sam’s father, Geoff.

By contrast, while often given a rousing chorus flourish, here ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ is an altogether more contemplative affair etched out by just her voice and Sam’s piano, a fine companion piece to the wholly a capella ‘O Holy Night’, Adolphe Adams’ 19th century setting and translation of a French poem (Midnight Christians) on which she duets with older sister Mary, their version joining a list that includes Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Bing Crosby and, more recently, Ellie Goulding.

This is, in turn, followed by another breath of fresh winter air with ‘Mary Bore A Son To God’, one of the earliest known Irish language carols and sung here in the original Gaelic (‘Rug Muire Mac Do Dhia’),a slightly softer reading than that previously done by Horslips with Henderson’s Wilson taking the fiddle parts.

Finally, once whisperingly recorded by Bono, there’s another traditional Irish carol, ‘The Darkest Midnight’, which taken from the Kilmore Carols collection of South Wexford (albeit a trimmed down version) is again arranged for just her voice and Sam’s acoustic guitar and piano, another lovely grace note to a collection that very much has its mind set on celebrating the real meaning of Christmas. A touch more contemplative than Rusby’s South Yorkshire offerings perhaps, but likely to prove an equally enduring bauble on folk’s festive fir.

Mike Davies

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