BEAU – Rattle The Asylum Bars (Cherry Red BEAURTAB1)

Rattle The Asylum BarsReleased almost forty-nine years to the day since his first-ever John Peel recording sessions, approaching 72, his latest release and his tenth studio album, Rattle The Asylum Bars, finds Christopher John Trevor Midgley at his politically sharpest on a collection of thirteen songs that underline why he’s been referred to as England’s answer to Phil Ochs.

Armed with just his trusty 12-string Harmony guitar, the album’s topics range from Prohibition and lottery winners to Charlie Hebdo, opening with ‘Road To Valhalla’, a fierce strummed meditation on the ascent of mankind from its early origins that touches on both the idea of shared community through song and the tendency to shun outsiders for “fear of being displaced.”

With its circling fingerpicked chords and echoes of John Prine, ‘The Rose’ concerns a more specific subject, the death of young student Rachel Whitear in 2000 from a drugs overdose, but here told from the perspective of a medic attending yet another such incident of “the barbed wire wrapped around the rose.” Inspired by hearing the late Ian Paisley holding forth in the Houses of Parliament, not to mention the sanctimoniousness of the likes of Tony Blair and George Bush, ‘Moral Clarity’ sets a driving Bo Diddley riff to a playful but pointed swipe at those so blindly convinced of their own rectitude they refuse to countenance any other views.

Taking the pace down to a fairground folksy waltz, ‘People Like Me’ continues along much the same lines, referencing climate change, freedom of speech and such issues with a refrain about how the ‘right-thinking people’ (and the emphasis is on the political right, I suspect) are those who agree with you. Probably not one for Daily Mail subscribers.

The focus shifts to America for ‘The Angry Preacher’, a fingerpicked song about how the country’s noted philanthropists tend to be admired but rarely loved, based around a funeral and a wake and the cynical suspicion that such charity must hide some inner rot. We remain Stateside, slipping back several decades almost a century for ‘Bugs Moran’, another urgently delivered bluesy melody line and a delivery evocative of Jake Thackray that returns to the time of Prohibition for a narrative about the titular mobster, a rival to Al Capone who, having decided to sleep in (though the song has him watching from a coffee house), escaped being shot in the infamous St Valentine’s Day massacre.

It’s back to politics for the stately circular melody of ‘The Apathy Party’, a title that pretty much makes any comment on its lyrical content redundant, and from here to ‘The Hedgerows of England’, a shanty-like Swiftian commentary on how the unexpected acquisition of wealth via the lottery can shift political allegiance, the song couched in a member of the Establishment offering some advice on “oppressing the masses for profit and sport” to a new Country Member arrivee to the ranks.

One of the longer tracks, ‘The Hawk’ is another waltzer, an allegorical message to impetuous youth to fly responsibly on how not to embark on things you cannot conclude in the tale of a young bird learning to spread its wings, getting into difficulties and reminded that “take-off is optional, and landing is not.”

By way of departure from the other numbers, ‘The Ghost Train’ is a straightforward storysong about an old puppeteer and a bride and the forces of evil being abroad, set on All Hallows Eve. It’s back then to more serious concerns for the fingerpicked near seven-minute ‘The Only Soldier To Turn Up For The War’, a meditation on the possible reasons behind the Islamic radicalisation in prison of a young and troubled teenage Muslim girl, the victim of a dysfunctional family, drugs and abuse, turned into a suicide bomber. A song that seeks for explanations rather than simple condemnations, it’s a powerful, thought-provoking piece of work.

So too, in a different way is ‘Klara’, which, as historians may know, was the name of Adolf Hitler’s mother, the song referring to the premonition she’d had prior to his birth of the horrors he would bring and the claims that shed wanted to terminate the pregnancy. As such, the song extends beyond historical record to address the whole Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate and the division been moral absolutists and polemicists regarding balancing he life of one against the lives of the many.

Inspired by both the tragedy and the heroic defiance of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, it ends with the title track, a rhythmically choppy number set to a tune that echoes Tim Hardin’s ‘Black Sheep Boy’, about the right to freedom of the press to poke fun at sacred cows and how “we cannot in the world exempt Anything from out contempt. To do would betray…this liberty we value most.”

Beau may not have the contemporary cachet of a Billy Bragg or a Frank Turner, but his voice for change and awareness is as strong as any of them.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artist’s website: www.beausrecordings.blogspot.co.uk

Beau doesn’t do anything so conventional as releasing a video to go with his new album but here’s a song you probably won’t have heard – ‘The Peacemaker’:

OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW – Volunteer (Columbia Nashville)

VolunteerFrom the opening notes of their latest album, Volunteer, the first to feature electric guitar in 14 years, you know the Grammy award-winning outfit have a good time in store for you, even if the song lyrics aren’t necessarily always as upbeat as the tunes. That said, the footstomping, handclapping ‘Flicker & Shine’ is a fast and furious anthem to unity as they sing how “All together we fall together we ride together we’re wild together All together we fall together every little light will flicker and shine” the song, almost impossibly getting even faster towards the close.

There’s not much community spirit going down though in ‘A World Away’, its jaunty harmonica chugging melody couching a refugee-tinged lyric about being the perpetual one on the other side of the door trying to get in, be it at the party or the pearly gates.

Taking a bluesier turn and again featuring Ketch Secor’s harmonica chops, the choogling midtempo ‘Child of the Mississippi’ pretty much speaks for itself and its lyric about “a barefoot boy born in Dixieland” growing up on and missing the muddy banks. It’s followed by another celebration of being raised and living and loving in the south, Rockingham County to be precise, twangy guitar and Morgan Jahnig’s upright bass underpinning the honky tonk line-dancing flavoured, whistling along ‘Dixie Avenue’ with its call to “rattle our bones before they lay us to rest.”

Secor’s love of the South is also to the fore on the slower, more meditative ‘Look Away’, echoes of The Band in evidence as he sings how “this is the land where salvation ain’t a dirty word” while fiddle, 12 string guitar and pedal steel colour its sweet and sad lyrics and, yes, the title refrain does evoke Dixie’s unofficial national anthem.

It’s back to a handclapping, foot stomping, holler out hoe down with the fiddle blazing ‘Shout Mountain Music’ as Critter Fuqua takes on lead vocals for its party on call to boogaloo your blues, cut a rug and swing your partners until the sun comes up. It stays in a party mood but shifts towards Western Swing with Kevin Haynes singing lead on his own ‘The Good Stuff’, another number that sums itself up in the title as Cory Youts tinkles the saloon ivories.

There’s only two story songs here, the first up being ‘Old Hickory’, again evoking The Band (notably ‘The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down’) in its tale of Virgil Lee, a flatwoods boy who could play guitar and channel the pain of the blues like an Opry star but “mistook the devil for a dear friend” and “ultimately got too big for (his) britches” and now “nobody remembers his name.”

Written by Secor, ‘Homecoming Party’ is a sort of negative zone ‘Gentle On My Mind’, to which the melody has a presumably intentional resemblance, reversing the sentiments of John Hartford’s lyrics for a song about a travelling musician coming home “weary and wasted”, taking a sleeping pill so he won’t hear the kids calling him and wary of waking the wife (“when our bodies touch I’ll pull away and not disturb her/Even though I long for love so much it hurts”), and hoping that “Maybe we won’t argue in the morning.”

The traditional ‘Elzick’s Farewell’ provides a fiery instrumental featuring fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitjo before things close up on the second narrative, the pedal steel streaked gently rolling along ‘Whirlwind’, Chance McCoy on electric guitar, conjuring the folk-country musical spirit of Steve Goodman and Gordon Lightfoot in a love song about surviving the hardships and celebrating the joys of twirling twister of life (“There were babies died and babies born, flood and drought and world war…and every town another chance To try and build a winning hand, even when the cards were stacked against”) defying the storms to go “racing home down rainy streets.” Enlist now.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artists’ website: www.crowmedicine.com

‘Flicker & Shine’:

FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS – Sole Mates (The Orchard)

Sole MatesFisherman – Sole. See what they did there. After avoiding groan-inducing puns for five albums, I suppose the Cornish collective can be excused for finally indulging, especially given yet another fine and rousing assemblage of sea shanties. Currently an eight-piece line-up, the most recent addition being veritable youngster Toby Lobb, their former sound engineer who joined the vocal ranks in 2015, once again they’ve trawled the shanty songbook to reel in both familiar favourites and less well known numbers.

They kick off with an evergreen in the form of the boozy sexual innuendo swayalong ‘Blow The Man Down’ with new lyrics by Jon Cleave, following swiftly by breaking out the squeezebox for the cautionary tale of deceptive floozies, ‘Oh You New York Girls’. Elsewhere, other well gnawed chestnuts include: a wholly a capella ‘Whip Jamboree’, complete with whoop, though it could well be a hiccup; ‘The Bonny Ship The Diamond’, a whaling song inspired the titular whaling ship which, in 1830, along with sixteen other whaling ships, was caught in the ice of Melville Bay, causing the loss of both the vessels and many lives; and ‘Fire Down Below’. The best-known of course is ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’, a lament popularised by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem and notably covered by The Dubliners and The Pogues. As you’d expect, the classic chorus is no less rousing here but, unlike most versions, taken at a slower tempo, the reading of the verses bring out the poignancy and sadness at the heart of lyrics about the narrator leaving behind the city and woman he loves.

Band members Cleave and Billy Hawkins contribute character sketch ‘Capt. Stormio’, (complete with seagulls) and Cobb provides the lyrics to an arrangement of ‘Strike The Bell’, itself a maritime adaptation of Henry Clay Work’s 1865 song ‘Ring The Bell Watchman’, a celebration of the Union victory in the American Civil War.

Not shanties as such, ‘Being A Pirate’, a playful ditty about losing your body parts, sounding like something from Gilbert and Sullivan, comes from Canadian singer-songwriter Don Freed (originally titled ‘You Can’t Be A Pirate’) and its subsequent rework by Tom Lewis, while, featuring squeezebox, strummed guitar and clicking percussion ‘Jamaica Farewell’ is actually a Caribbean folk song calypso (popularised by Harry Belafonte), here in medley with band member Jason Nicholas’s contribution to the genre, ‘Green Banana Johnny’.

It ends with two shanties proper, ‘The Mermaid’, sometimes known as ‘The Stormy Winds’, or ‘The Waves On The Sea’, a popular number in the American folk tradition, though the lads do sneak in a mention of Port Isaac, their home base, as well as Padstow which, in turn, gets the final honours with the unaccompanied mortality-themed shanty gospel ‘The Padstow Leaving Shanty’. An unpretentious and hugely enjoyable catch.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artists’ website: https://thefishermansfriends.com/

‘The Leaving Of Liverpool’ – live:

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

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artist’s website: www.marychapincarpenter.com

‘Jericho’:

MASON LIVELY – Stronger Ties (own label)

Stronger TiesBorn in smalltown Texas, Lively wrote his first song at fifteen and, co-produced by Lloyd Maines, cut his first EP a year later. Now, four years on, comes his debut album, Stronger Ties, a genre-ranging collection rooted in different shades of Texas country, opening up in the bluesy alt country rock groove of road life-themed ‘Heavy Toll’ with its bass riff anchor and conjuring thoughts of the scuzzier side of Steve Earle. Cody Braun on fiddle, ‘Early Grave’ takes a slightly more bluegrass informed approach to its mid-tempo prowl, though the electric guitar work is straight out of some country bikers’ bar. Braun’s work is in evidence again on the tumbling chords of the alt- Nashville of ‘Right Back To You’, while, in contrast, the drawled ‘Worry About Nothing’ is more in keeping with classic Southern country soul balladry. Ringing the changes again, ‘Hard To Let Go’ is more of an Austin-flavoured chug, Maines on pedal steel, a mood echoed in the circling guitar pattern of ‘Worth The Fall’, one of the album’s stand out numbers.

Harmonica sets the mood for the barroom slow swagger of ‘Roleplay’ and it’s there again on the more mainstream contemporary country girls, trucks, heartbreak and love on the run ‘Lonely Comes Around’, itself set at a similar pace to the preceding chugging Southern fried rhythm of the low slung ‘Ballad Of The Broken Heart’. It ends with Maines’ weeping pedal steel notes for honky tonk slow dance love song waltzer ‘Angel Wings’, underscoring the observation that Lively’s voice and command of a song are far more seasoned than his 20 years might suggest. When those country music awards roll around again, the likes of Urban, Paisley and Foster should be looking over their shoulders.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artist’s website: www.masonlively.com

‘Right Back To You’ – live:

TREMBLING BELLS – Dungeness (Tin Angel)

DungenessDrummer and singer Alex Neilson declared that, for ‘Big Nothing’, the 62-second opening track on Dungeness, the band’s seventh album, he wanted the plangent chords “to sound gigantic and degraded, like a building collapsing in slow motion” as well as capturing the parched, flat end of the earth landscapes of the Kent headland from which it takes its title.

It’s a sonic description that extends to much of what follows, brooding reverb bass, wah wah pedal, drums and keys providing the introduction and bedrock to ‘Knockin’ On The Coffin’ with its dark, mutant cosmic medieval feel and Lavinia Blackwall’s soaring echoing soprano held back in the mix as the song, inspired by Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, explores the twin poles of destruction and desire, sounding as though it’s been disinterred from some 70s psychedelia crypt.

Nodding to Incredible String Band and Bowie influences, as well as Ted Hughes and WB Yeats, ‘My Father Was A Collapsing Star‘ has descending scales and a wonky singalong chorus either side of sonic storm midsection while, Simon Shaw’s bass again laying down the bedrock for the galloping rhythm, ‘Death Knocked At My Door’ offers a disorienting amalgam of folk, samba, freakbeat, glam and pop.

Although the keys and guitars seem to be charting a different course, the melody, fiddle crescendo and Blackwall’s singing in ‘Christ’s Entry Into Govan’ are more in tune with traditional Scottish folk filtered through their early Fairport influences.

‘The Prophet’ is a sparser, doomier affair more akin to stoner metal with its sludgy, lumbering riffs and Blackwall’s howls, giving way to the angular riffs and mantra-like Eastern flavoured feel of the melody and vocals of ‘Devil In Dungeness.’ Following this, Neilson on vocals, the rhythmically fluid ‘This Is How The World Will End’ strikes a distinct contrast, not least with the inclusion of a country rolling bridge spanning the otherwise Scottish folk elements before taking off into the skies for the distortion heavy, anthemic finale.

Blackwall again to the fore, the swayalong ‘I’m Coming’ is the album’s most immediate musically accessible track, although the sexual imagery involving erotic auto-asphyxiation and “the blood rushing on my tongue” that co-mingles with spiritual cues and lyrics about the abuses of power probably won’t find it on mid-morning Radio 2 anytime soon.

It ends in formidable form with the Early Music (the sleeve image is firmly Renaissance) and ISB influences of ‘Rebecca, Dressed As A Waterfall’, Celtic drone, hurdy gurdy, trilling recorder, synthesised birdsong and Blackwell’s high flying folk soprano eventually giving way to a chaotic instrumental swirl with improvised drumming that gradually builds to a climax and gently fades. Folk music for the closing night of the apocalypse.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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.

Artists’ website: www.tremblingbells.wordpress.com

‘Christ’s Entry Into Govan’ – live: