MARY CHAPIN CARPENTER – Sometimes Just The Sky (Lambent Light LLR002)

Sometimes Just The SkyRevisiting is the new Best Of. In recent years, several artists have either gone to their back catalogue and reworked old songs in next contexts or released albums of songs they’d written for others but never recorded themselves. Carpenter takes the former route here with a collection of twelve of her best loved numbers, one from each of her albums (save for the Christmas one), set alongside the all new title track to mark the thirtieth anniversary of her recording career.

Produced by Ethan Johns and recorded entirely live at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios, alongside Johns on a variety of guitars, dulcimer and mandocello, the musicians include Carpenter regular Duke Levine on guitars, bassist Dave Bronze, Stephanie Jean on keys, drummer Jeremy Stacey and Georgina Leach on strings.

‘Heroes and Heroines’ was the closing number on her 1987 debut album, Hometown Girl is here promoted to the opening track, here with the focus on guitar rather than keyboards and the introduction of violin, the vocal delivery, softer, more introspective. Her second album, State of the Heart, yields a more fleshed-out arrangement of ‘This Shirt’, originally backed by just fingerpicked acoustic but this time given strings and a bassier edge to the rhythm.

Arguably her best-known song, the wistful ‘The Moon and St. Christopher’ appeared on 1990’s Shooting Straight In The Dark, back then a piano ballad, but now slow swaying across melancholic acoustic guitars, dulcimer and yearning violin. Rather than, as one might expect, ‘Passionate Kisses’, the choice from Come On Come On sustains the overall melancholic air with ‘Rhythm of the Blues’, twangier guitar the only major shift in sound.

From Stones In The Road, her only Billboard Country No 1, ‘This Is Love’ is trimmed back to just under five and half minutes though taken at a slower, more reflective tempo, sans piano and given a slightly more muscular feel, the vocal more seasoned with experience of the years.

Although there’s nothing from the official release version of Time*Sex*Love*, by way of a treat you do get the love song ‘Superman’. Part of the original 2001 sessions, it only ever appeared on Time Stands Still, an incredibly rare Borders Books exclusive five-track compilation, back then it was a dreamy, strings-swathed five-minute number but now, for those in a position to compare, it runs to six minutes underpinned by a bass drum walking beat throb and circling acoustic guitar pattern, the strings pared back to subtler effect.

Driven by drums, chugging guitar and swirls of fiddle, the rolling mandolin and fiddle country rhythm of ‘Naked To The Eye’ is the choice from A Place In The World and, to these ears at least, a superior reading of the song. Her next album, The Calling, was her first on Zoe after leaving Columbia Nashville, an acclaimed artistic rebirth served here by its Dylanesque swaying title track that retains the chiming guitars and anthemic air. This was followed, three years later, by 2010’s The Age of Miracles, represented by a slower, sparser, mandolin speckled arrangement of ‘I Have A Need For Solitude’ more in keeping with the title.

A spare voice and piano hymnal on Ashes and Roses, ‘Jericho’ gets a new musical wardrobe with guitars and what sounds like harmonium, which, of the reworks, just leaves ‘What Does It Mean To Travel’ from 2016’s The Things That We Are Made Of, its acoustic chug and handclap-like percussive rhythm revised into a more fluid melody line, shedding the backing vocals along the way.

It ends, then, with the title track, a reflective, introspective number as she sings of “losses piled up like wood stacked stories high” and how “used to be that all I needed was what I didn’t possess”, Leach’s violin solo complementing the mood as she comes to the conclusion that “there is comfort in a late night kitchen radio”, wearing her heart on her sleeve like a battle scar in the knowledge that that life may at times be overwhelming, but “sometimes just the sky.” Reach for it.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:


CAMBRIDGE CITY ROOTS FESTIVAL – Various artists and venues, 3-11 February 2017

City Roots Festival
Photographs by Su O’Brien

The 2017 inaugural City Roots Festival is kind of like an expansion pack for the Cambridge Folk Festival: a winter top-up with lots of bonus features. Aiming to expand the relationship between folk/roots music and the city, the Folk Festival organisers lined up a diverse roster of artists over one week at assorted venues across the city.

Home-grown talent Steven James Adams opened the week with his new band The French Drops, providing witty and lively songs with a conscience. Then there was a choice between Mary Chapin Carpenter (with Edale’s finest, Bella Hardy, in support) with her classic country-infused songs or the edgier sounds of Jim Moray.

A day of workshops on working in the music industry, hosted by Anglia Ruskin University’s music department, was considered, by one attendee at least, to have been very useful. The evening could be rounded off in the evening by some folk club sessions in the Cambridge University Union Bar, or at The Transatlantic Sessions, a melting pot of Celtic and Americana sounds. Or, like me, you might choose to take in an entertaining evening in the company of singer-songwriters Amy Wadge and Luke Jackson.

Replicating the Folk Festival’s “up & coming” stage, The Den, at local venue CB2, was a two-night showcase including Janet Devlin, SJ Mortimer, Honey and the Bear, Mortal Tides, Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer, and Kerry Devine.

The riotous Mad Dog McCrea returned as headliners, following their support slot for New Model Army just a few months ago. Noble Jacks, their support act, look like being a band worth watching, too. On a completely different tack, skilful guitar playing with a twist was provided by Paolo Angelli & Derek Gripper.

On the final day, the bitter sleet was braved by a staunch group of great musicians who’d rashly agreed to busk around the city, including five-piece band Morganway, Pat Crilly & Greg Camburn, Ben Smith & Jimmy Brewer (whose delicious harmonies almost made it feel like summertime: almost) and guitarist Matt Hammond. And these were just the ones I managed to see, so my apologies to those I missed out. Luckily, there was a warm welcome from the folk clubs inside the Union Bar, a place to retreat and thaw out red-raw fingers to play some fine indoor sets, too.

Sadly, the headliner for the closing night, Salif Keita cancelled due to illness, but Sona Jobarteh stepped up, with Muntu Valdo in support.

There is no question about the quality and diversity of the artists taking part, and Cambridge has the range of venue sizes to manage internationally renowned stars and breakthrough acts. Just a bit of housekeeping needs attention, if – as the organisers hope – this is to become an annual event. Several gigs had no visible City Roots branding at all, leaving a lack of any feeling of cohesion that an umbrella, multi-venue festival like this really needs. In established Cambridge tradition, laminated posters were cable-tied to railings around town and local press published articles, but details of updates to the schedule were often only sketchily available online, like the re-organisation of some of the final day activities. Attention to small details like these would make big improvements to the overall experience, but there’s no doubt that City Roots will be a welcome addition to the festival calendar.

Su O’Brien

Festival website:

Kate Rusby releases New Album ‘20’ to Mark 20 Years of Music Making


The Barnsley nightingale Kate Rusby has released a new album to celebrate 20 years of making music. Entitled ‘20’ the album features new recordings of Kate’s favourite songs from throughout her illustrious career.

From the trad folk of ‘Jolly Plough Boys’ and ‘Annan Waters’ from her solo debut ‘Hourglass’ (’98) to the seasonal beauty of ‘Home’ from her 2011 Christmas album ‘While Mortals Sleep’ via ‘Unquiet Grave’, ‘Sho Heen’ and ‘Wild Goose’ from her Mercury nominated ’99 album ‘Sleepless’, the title tracks from ‘Underneath The Stars’ (2004) and ‘Awkward Annie’ (2007) and many more, Kate dips into every corner of her catalogue to create a set that is a wonderful introduction for the uninitiated and a fabulous reinterpretation of her ‘greatest hits’ for the committed fan. In addition Kate has written and recorded a beautiful new song for this album called ‘Sun Grazers’, on which she duets with Paul Weller, who has never sounded in finer voice. Other collaborators on the album include folk giants Richard Thompson, Nic Jones, Paul Brady and Dick Gaughan, Radiohead drummer Phil Selway, bluegrass upstarts Chris Thile and Sarah Jarosz, American folk & country singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, Eddi Reader and many more.

‘20’ has been released on the Rusby family’s Pure Records label via Island Records. For this release Island has resurrected the legendary ‘Island Pink’ label on which albums by Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Sandy Denny, and Richard & Linda Thompson were released during the 70s.

‘20’ is available on double CD and digital download from the folking store link below. The full tracklisting is:


1. Awkward Annie (feat. Chris Thile)

2. Unquiet Grave (feat. Aoife O’Donovan)

3. Sun Grazers (feat. Paul Weller)

4. The Lark (feat. Nic Jones)

5. Planets (feat. Sarah Jarosz)

6. Wandering Soul (feat. Eddi Reader & Dick Gaughan)

7. Who Will Sing me Lullabies (feat. Richard Thompson & Philip Selway)

8. Jolly Plough Boys (feat. Dick Gaughan)

9. Sho Heen (feat. Eddi Reader, Phillip Selway & Jerry Douglas)

10.Bitter Boy (feat. Damien O’Kane)



1. I Courted a Sailor (feat. Jim Causley)

2. Mocking Bird (feat. Sara Watkins)

3. The Good Man (feat. Joe Rusby & Jerry Douglas)

4. Annan Waters (feat. Bob Fox)

5. All God’s Angels (feat. Paul Brady)

6. Elfin Knight (feat. Dave Burland)

7. Wild Goose (feat. Stephen Fretwell)

8. Home (feat. Mary Chapin Carpenter)

9. Underneath the Stars (feat. Grimethorpe Colliery Band)

10.Bring me a Boat (feat. Declan O’Rourke)

Words and music on all songs are by Kate Rusby except ‘Jolly Plough Boys’ and ‘Annan Waters’, which are traditional songs arranged by Kate, ‘The Good Man’ whose words are a combination of trad and Kate with the tune written by Kate, and ‘Bring Me A Boat’, which has lyrics by Kate and melody by Phil Cunningham.

Kate Rusby was born into a musical family in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. Her parents had a ceilidh band which Kate and her sister Emma joined at a very early age. Kate’s musical world is still very much a family affair – her parents, along with Emma and her brother Joe manage her, run her label, record her albums and book her tours, while her husband Damien O’Kane co-produces her records and plays guitar in her band. Kate’s first album release was a collaboration with another young singer – ‘Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts’ (’95). She has since released 9 solo albums: ‘Hourglass’ (’98), ‘Sleepless’ (’99), ‘Little Lights’ (2001), ‘Underneath The Stars’ (2004), ‘The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly’ (2005), ‘Awkward Annie’ (2007), ‘Sweet Bells’ (2008), ‘Make The Light’ (2010), and ‘While Mortals Sleep’ (2011). She was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in ’99 and has won Folk singer of the year (2000), Best album (2000), Best song twice (2002 for “Who Will Sing Me Lullabies” and 2006 for “No Names”) and Best Live Act (2006) at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. Proof that the cottage industry approach can pay off in the 21st century, Kate has quietly sold over a million records on the family-run independent label Pure Records and regularly plays sell-out tours around the country.

Beth Nielsen Chapman ‘The Mighty Sky’ A collection of songs about astronomy for children of all ages!

Beth Nielsen Chapman The Mighty SkyWorking with Astronomy enthusiast/songwriter Rocky Alvey and her longtime hit songwriting partner Annie Roboff, Beth Nielsen Chapman releases an adventurous new project; “The Mighty Sky”, a collection of songs about astronomy for children of all ages.

“The Mighty Sky” was featured with live performances at the International Day of Human Space Flight at the United Nations Headquarters in NY on April 12th, 2012. Dignitaries included Dr. Charles Bolden (NASA Administrator), astrophysicist Dr. Mario Livio, and astronomer/author Dr. David Weintraub.

The songs are bursting with fun, life and accurate scientific knowledge. Each in a different genre, every lyric delivers an important astronomical fact. Hands -on lesson plans are outlined on the poster which comes with the CD, and are described in more detail on website. “The Mighty Sky” promises an eye-opening view of our place in the Universe.
The album features cameo spoken word performances by Bob O’Dell, the founding scientists of the Hubble Space Telescope, and Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell, discoverer of pulsars.

Astronomy is borderless. Inherently, it promotes the thought that we are all part of one universe. There are no borders in space. We are all astronauts travelling on the same ship, a fragile sphere, hurtling through the universe together. We all look out the same portal at an infinite view of “The Mighty Sky”.

1. The Mighty Sky 3.55
2. Through Hubble’s Eyes 1.47
3. The Big Bang Boom 3.01
4. The Moon 2.42
5. Little Big Song 3.19
6. Rockin’ Little Neutron Star 2.05
7. Zodiacal Zydeco 3.10
8. Test Retest and Verify 3.01
9. The Way That We Lean 2.08
10. You Can See The Blues 3.3311. There Is No Darkness 3.00

“How inspired, to educate by bringing together the wonder of astronomy and new music by such gifted artists in this cool, innovative way. I loved it!” – Bonnie Raitt

“Beth’s music has always been star-bound… In this collection, she takes listeners of all ages on a journey of the universe and in the process teaches as well as enriches the heart.” – Mary Chapin Carpenter

“A brilliant mix of music, art, science,and fun. I love it.” – Keb Mo
“Here is music to stargaze by, or sunbathe, or gather moonbeams, watch meteor showers, chase eclipses — even dream about the next transit of Venus.”The Mighty Sky” covers all heavenly contingencies.” – Author, Dava Sobel

“Kepler’s music of the spheres approach to astronomy has found a modern parallel in “The Mighty Sky”. It conveys well the wonders and intricacies of the modern universe.” – Founding Project Scientist of the Hubble Space Telescope – Dr. C. R. O’Dell

“The Mighty Sky is a shining example of the ways in which educators want to encourage people of all ages to think about and investigate the world around us in creative ways. By engaging us in the universe musically, Alvey, Chapman, and Roboff have helped us understand some “mighty” physics and astronomy concepts in ways that help us to understand and have fun, at the same time!” – Vicki H. Metzgar, Ed. D., STEM Hub Director, Tennessee

Web link: