DARK GREEN TREE – Secret Lives (Haven Records HAVENCD 017)

Secret LivesDark Green Tree are Jay Brown and Ross Cockburn, although since the album sleeve was printed vocalist Cera Impala has expanded the duo to a trio. However, I’d label this record as a labour of love by producer Boo Hewerdine who also co-wrote five of the songs and released it on his own label.

The band plays Americana and they have been likened to Buffalo Springfield and although Jay does a pretty good impersonation of the young Neil Young on the opening track, ‘Yearn For Love’, that doesn’t make it so. Hewerdine has called in a few favours to secure the likes of Mattie Foulds, John McCusker and Colin MacFarlane as support. In truth, you can’t hear the raw sound of Dark Green Tree at all and Ross seems destined for the Walter Becker role on this evidence.

Two songs are covers. The first is ‘Lay Me Down’ from Irish band The Frames which has a bit of drive about it and the second is Ryan Adams’ ‘When The Stars Go Blue’. The record is pretty and restful but I’m afraid that most of it, with the exception of ‘Sarah’, drifted past me without leaving much of an impression.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Lay Me Down’ – official video:

Bella Hardy Thirty for 30

Bella Hardy Thirty for 30May 24th 2014 is the 73rd birthday of Bob Dylan, and the 195th birthday of Queen Victoria. It’s also acclaimed folk songstress Bella Hardy’s 30th.

To mark the occasion, Bella is taking the party on the road with her band The Midnight Watch, and embarking on an epic adventure to visit thirty of her favourite venues, celebrating her six solo albums to date.

“…unveiled, committed, uncontrived, persuasive, passionate, empowering, and utterly wonderful” Colin Irwin, fRoots

One of the most creative, prolific and original singers in the UK and now winner of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Singer of The Year award, Bella Hardy’s captivating voice inhabits her characters and spins her stories with an equal balance of strength and sensitivity.  With fiddle in hand, she presents folk songs in the best tradition; not as antiquated museum pieces, but as relevant and very human artworks.  Four time nominee at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, and winner of Best Original Song in 2012 for ‘The Herring Girl’, her own songs range in subject matter from fairytales to working class history, via childhood nostalgia, myth, murder and the human condition, touching on both the fantastical, storytelling elements of Kate Bush, and the lovelorn song-writing craft of Carole King.  Her latest album Battleplan (2013) won universal critical acclaim, with The Sunday Times writing

“Stunning… there is an aura of sophistication that will win over listeners who never set foot in a folk club” (Clive Davis).

Battleplan is Bella Hardy’s latest studio album in which she gives new perspectives to some of her favourite traditional songs and has interwoven her own life stories with those of the heroines of folk songs past. Battleplan is Bella’s most musically expansive and lyrically personal album to date; produced by Mattie Foulds and recorded with her touring band The Midnight Watch.

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Artist’s website: www.BellaHardy.com

The Full Folking Low Down on Bella…

It’s been five years since Bella Hardy found herself nominated in the Best Original Song category at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards for ‘Three Black Feathers’ – the first song she ever wrote. In 2012 she won that same award for her powerful and moving account of life as a 19th century Stornoway Herring Girl – taken from her third album, Songs Lost And Stolen which earned rave reviews, including four stars from The Guardian, while The Independent called the entirely self-composed collection: “beautifully crafted and conceived with poetic flair.” In those few short years, Bella has become one of the most creative, prolific and original voices on the flourishing UK folk scene.

Growing up in Edale in the Peak District, with a family who sang in the local choir, book loving Bella was drawn to the tales contained in old ballads. But her path to a career in traditional music began with visits to folk festivals, joining a school ceilidh band, and attending the Folkworks summer school in Durham where, aged 13, she joined the sprawling, teenage ensemble The Pack with whom she performed for 10 years – appearing on the main stages of such institutions as Sidmouth, Warwick and Cambridge festivals. In 2004 she entered the BBC Young Folk Award and reached the finals – for which she taught herself to fiddle-sing.

In 2007 Bella added to her BA in English Literature with a Masters degree in Music from Newcastle University; emerging from her studies with the traditional and original songs that formed her impressive debut album Night Visiting  (including material sourced from Edale’s neighbouring valley Castleton).

Accompanied by former Last Night’s Fun box player Chris Sherburn, Bella trod the folk club and festivals circuit, all the while embarking on projects as diverse as they were daunting in scale and ambition. Be that singing the Scottish ballad ‘Annie Laurie’ on Radio 2’s Titanic: Minute by Minute programme (the song was said to have been heard on the SS Californian as it sailed by the doomed ship) or performing unaccompanied in the centre of a sold-out Royal Albert Hall during The Proms. More recently she co-wrote with former Beautiful South guitarist David Rotheray, for his concept album The Life of Birds, and composed the music for Radio 4’s The People’s Post – a documentary on the history of the Post Office.

Bella’s second album, In The Shadow Of The Mountains saw her writing songs of modern social history (in particular the 2007 foot-and-mouth outbreak that devastated farming communities) and retellings of familiar folk tales in urban domestic settings (the highway-woman ‘Sovay’ became a disconsolate housewife.) English Dance and Song magazine described it as: “lyrical portraiture that brings to mind no less than Lennon and McCartney.”

A period of Prince-like prolificacy followed the release of 2011’s award-winning Songs Lost And Stolen, beginning with an album inspired by and adapted from The Ballads and Songs of Derbyshire, published in 1867. The Dark Peak And The White, produced by Lau’s Kris Drever, confirmed her place as one of modern folk’s finest singers, with MOJO magazine writing “lovingly presented, her singing is glorious”, while The Guardian called her vocal performance on the record “as fine, cool and no-nonsense as ever”.

In that same year Bella recorded and released another album: Bright Morning Star. Intended simply as a souvenir of her seasonal tour, the record – which combined yuletide standards with traditional carols (and even found room for Shakin’ Stevens and a Barenaked Ladies number) – received a four star review from The Times who called the Christmas collection “a quiet, unassuming treasure trove.”

2012 also saw the fruition of a long-held plan to record an album with Brit folk trailblazer Eliza Carthy and friends Lucy Farrell and Kate Young. Initially just an idea in Northumbrian piping pioneer Kathryn Tickell’s head (according to Eliza she’d failed to notice they were all female singers and fiddle players), Carthy, Hardy, Farrell & Young released their debut album Laylam at the start of 2013.

PATSY REID: New album – The Brightest Path

Brightest Path

Label – Classy Trad Records

Release Date – 24th February 2014

 A new album from Patsy Reid is a rare and fine thing.

 

Her first solo recording since 2008, The Brightest Path combines newly unearthed traditional Scottish melodies with soaring self-penned tunes and sublime contemporary songs, displaying the full breadth of Patsy’s talents.

It was recorded in the remote Crear in Argyll (with a view overlooking Jura) with a core band of Ben Nicholls (double bass), Ewan MacPherson (guitars, mandolin and banjo), Signy Jakobsdóttir (percussion), Mhairi Hall (piano) and Mattie Foulds (drums). Playing live in such relaxed and beautiful surroundings gives The Brightest Path an organic and natural sound, despite the virtuosity present throughout its 10 tracks.

The album also features a dreamlike performance from Fraser Fifield – who Patsy describes as “the saxophone version of me”.  For her part Patsy is a one-woman string quartet; playing violin, viola and cello as well as co-producing the record with Mattie.

She also sings: The River Princes by the aforementioned Mr MacPherson, Half Acre by Brooklyn band Hem and Patty Griffin’s gorgeous Kite Song.

“I love singing but I’m not a folk singer,” Patsy explains. “So I took great care to find songs that I felt I had a right to sing.”

Patsy has become one of the most admired and in demand musicians in the UK – performing and recording with Breabach, Kathryn Tickell, Zakir Hussain, Bella Hardy, Tim Edey, Treacherous Orchestra and too many more to mention.

But with The Brightest Path we finally have an album that is the complete and unique sound of Patsy Reid. Treasure it because… who knows when we’ll get another?

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SALT HOUSE: Lay Your Dark Low

Salt HouseLabel:   Make Believe Records

Catalogue number:   MBR5CD

Distribution:   Proper Music Distribution & Highlander Distribution

Release Date: 11th November 2013

“Lay Your Dark Low” heralds the arrival of a major new musical force, from Scotland. Acoustic four-piece SALT HOUSE is the meeting of four distinct musical minds, on the Scottish scene, their highly current sound is earthy & deep-rooted, yet eagerly progressive, built from grassroots folk with contemporary influences.

The album is a collection of songs, drawing on the tradition and collective songwriting talents within the band, interwoven with a formidable instrumental section. Check out the video clip below to get a flavour of the album.

Boasting two previous winners of the BBC Radio 2 “Young Folk Award” and a Scottish Jazz Award, SALT HOUSE are:

Siobhan Miller: Vocals & Harmonium.

Ewan MacPherson: Guitar, Vocals, Banjo & Jews Harp.

Lauren MacColl: Viola & Fiddle

Euan Burton: Double Bass

Produced by Salt House and Mattie Foulds.  Made possible by Creative Scotland.

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THE BURNS UNIT – Side Show (Own Label TBU 001)

Bitter recrimination is the order of the day particularly on the opening track “Since We’ve Fallen Out” on this, The Burns Unit’s (Emma Pollock, Future Pilot A.K.A and MC Soom T [What’s that all about???], Karine Polwart, Kim Edgar, King Creosote, Mattie Foulds and Michael Johnston) debut recording. The lyrics expunge in such a mean and spiteful way so as the listener is left in no doubt that there is no room for reconciliation and definitely no turning back. For those that have experienced this feeling before, the rawness is conveyed by a splendid arrangement full of angst in a gut-wrenching performance clearly stating its case and without doubt a real cry from the heart. The 70’s/80’s subtle techno-rock (as used here) played a lot in my formative music career and on the keyboard generated riff infused “Trouble” I’m pleased to hear it still has a place in this ‘modern’ world of ours. Even isolation has its ‘ups’ when it’s buoyed by a pleasant melody and an upbeat presentation I just wish we’d hear more of it, like this, generated to the mass market and perhaps, just perhaps we might get some sanity back in our impoverished lives? OK, so this might not be quite ‘folk’ as we know it but at least in it’s hippy-ish kind of way it’s an antidote to some of the more earnest straight thinking ‘folk’ arrangements that are seriously in danger of becoming stereotypical and by the sound of them I would imagine The Burns Unit should be a good ‘live’ act.

PETE FYFE

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