BILL MADISON – Only A Dream (own label)

Only A DreamThe Florida-based singer-songwriter’s follow-up to last year’s If I Had The Time is, like that, mostly self-penned, three again in collaboration with wife Nancy, and, again, offers a rootsy acoustic collection of folk and blues numbers. That said, as the title suggests, the opening track, ‘Barefootin’ Boogie’, finds him in rock‘n’roll mood, albeit very much in its original blues-influenced style with slide guitar.

Taking the non-originals, ‘Lord Franklin’ is, of course, the much recorded traditional staple, here refreshingly reimagined as a fingerpicked American folk tune, Madison’s voice once more conjuring thoughts of the great Stan Rogers, serving reminder that these songs can take on new life given artists keen to work outside of the familiar boxes. The other, and at nearly six minutes, is ‘Sammy’s Bar’, a cover of an unrequited love song (that ends with the girl dying in a car crash) by the late lamented Hampshire maritime and traditional folkie Cyril Tawney, originally recorded in 1960 under the title ‘The Last Boat’s A Leaving’, the bar in question being a haunt of submariners in Malta. Tawney’s version (and other covers) was in a shanty style, but Madison takes the tempo down for a slower, more melancholic fingerpicked arrangement.

Of the self-penned material, one, ‘Oceans of Love’, is a reflective Spanish guitar instrumental, the others variously a mix of the personal and political. Evoking Pete Seeger in his more solemn moments, ‘Trying To Be A Friend’ treats on isolation and lost love, ‘Friends In Love’ a strummed celebration of finding the right one, the circling pattern title track, co-penned with Scott Roby, reflection on a relationship that’s ended while ‘All She Wanted’ has him explaining to a self-absorbed man exactly why his lover left him.

The political comes with ‘Farm Boy’, an anti-war protest song about how it’s so often the blue collar youth that become a nation’s cannon fodder, the album ending back in midtempo slide blues gospel boogie with the ease on back when this life’s over ‘When I Get There’, Nancy providing the harmonies. There’s no fuss or frills here, just the relaxed come on over and settle down sound of an artist who has no need to prove his craft or musicianship, and whose company it’s a pleasure to share.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Lord Franklin’:

REG MEUROSS – 12 Silk Handkerchiefs (Hatsongs HAT013)

12 Silk HandkerchiefsThis is not your typical Reg Meuross album. Not that it doesn’t have his consummate songwriting with its finely crafted melodies and emotive resonance and not that it isn’t beautifully sung; it’s just that, while he features on backing, Reg only sings two tracks. It is, in fact, a concept album, a song cycle about the Hull triple trawler tragedy when, in 1968, bad weather sank three separate trawlers in less than a month, with only one survivor from the total crew of fifty-nine men.

The album is based on Brian W. Lavery’s book, The Headscarf Revolutionaries, which documents the subsequent campaign of Lillian ‘Big Lil’ Bilocca, one of the trawlermen’s wives and her friends to bring about changes in the fishing industry. As such, it comprises both song and spoken word, the narration delivered by Lavery himself, while Hull folk singers Sam (as in Samantha) Martyn and Mick McGarry provide both vocal and spoken tracks.

There’s six songs, each preceded by Lavery’s scene setting, opening with the waltztime shanty ‘Wash Her Man Away, McGarry on vocals, Meuross providing harmonies and acoustic and Martyn on harmonium, a number rooted in superstitions about bringing back luck, here a meticulously tidy housewife not doing the laundry on the day before her skipper husband sets sail, the lyrics evoking such portents as the men leaving their small change behind.

The intro to ‘I Am A Fish House Woman’ conjures the fellowship of the women in the cold of the fish processing plant, detailing the work, talk of missing ships and introducing Lily, on her last shift for two years. This time, it’s Martyn on vocals, Meuross on strummed dulcimer, for a six minute, chorus-friendly anthem to the women, the conditions they work under (“my mother was a skinner ‘til the freezing took her lung”) in their nine-hour day, slicing the ‘silver darlings’ and how, while the men are away “fighting for their lives, we’re fighting for their rights”.

Sung heartbreakingly in the first person, ‘John Barry Rogers’ recounts the story of the eighteen-year-old deckhand who, when their ship went down in an Atlantic storm, saved the life of first mate Harry Eddom, the sole survivor, getting him onto the raft, before dying of exposure. Backed by harmonium and guitar, McGarry again sings lead on a classic Meuross lyric as the doomed boy talks of his mother and sweetheart, left behind in the siren call of the sea.

As you might guess, one of the two tracks sung by Meuross, ‘The Man The Sea Gave Back’, turns the focus on Eddom, a flavour of early Dylan to its brisk strum with Martyn adding flute, as he sings of Eddom watching the other two survivors eventually fall victim to the cruel sea.

Both the narrative and the lyrics to ‘Sleep You Safely’, sung by Martyn, turn the spotlight back on Bilocca, who was ejected from the campaign group she’d founded after appearing on the Eamonn Andrews show when, asked how the men spent their time on shore, talked of the single ones going to the pub “with their tarts”, a term that had a different meaning back home at Hessle Road to the one the studio audience assumed. The men she’d fought for also turned against her after a ban on fishing in bad weather meant they lost catches to Icelandic trawlers, but counterpointed by a meeting with a young galley boy on her way back from the meeting.

A melancholic, slow paced number, again featuring one of Meuross’s trademark uplifting choruses, it gives way to the lilting title track, the intro noting how, after her husband’s death, Lily moved home to a council house, weighed down by her treatment by the media and the feeling of being abandoned and her fight ignored, falling into ill health and eventually dying of cancer at 59 in 1988.

The title refers to her last request to her daughter to buy the handkerchiefs which, on the day before she died, she handed out to all those who had looked after her. Sung by Meuross with Martyn and McGarry on harmonies, the simply strummed song itself takes a more metaphorical approach, the handkerchiefs also symbolic of, as the chorus notes, the months of the year, “the twelve holy fisherman keeping her loved ones from fear” and “all the company men In their temples of greed she battled and beat in the end And for all the men and boys who are called by the sea…to bring them home safely to thee.”

It ends with ‘Times and Tides’, a reading by McGarry from Lavery’s book that, like the album, is a finely spun tribute testament to the men who risk their lives to harvest the ocean and the women “who never waved…Nor wavered” and the kids waiting for their fathers’ return “Christmas every twenty-one days.” It’s rich in honest emotion, deep humanity, resonant lyrics and infectious melodies. Typical Reg Meuross after all, then.

Mike Davies

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’12 Silk Handkerchiefs’ – live:



UntetheredRobert Fisher, the band’s founder, singer and guiding force, passed away as a result of cancer in February 2017, but not before he’d laid down the tracks that now form this 10th and final album. Dusted down and hewn into shape by long-time viola player David Michael Curry, with contributions from such names as Steve Wynn and Chris Brokaw, Untethered is a terrific last testament, albeit the familiar melancholic and intimate mood given added resonance by Fisher’s death.

It opens, however, in more robust manner with the abrasive and distorted sound of the two-minute ‘Hideous Beast’ more recalling the work of Captain Beefheart. After this, things settle down into the band’s more familiar languid and melancholic style, perfect examples presenting themselves in ‘Do No Harm’, ‘Love You Apart’ and ‘26 Turns’ with its barely there semi-spoken vocals.

There’s four instrumentals, the poignantly titled ‘All We Have Left’, the simple, viola-based ‘Two Step’, the shimmeringly beautiful ‘Margaret On The Porch’ and the album’s pointedly titled six minute closer ‘Trail’s End’ which brings down the curtain in brooding and at times experimental almost improvisational style (much like the earlier ‘Chasing Rabbits’) with guitar distortions, reverb and effects that feels like being in the middle of desert electrical storm.

It is, however, Fisher’s voice, words and delivery that are the band’s legacy, and three numbers in particular stand out, the spare, forlorn viola-coloured ‘Let The Storm Be Your Pilot’ as he sings “your goodness will save us, you are my reason for waking”, the gorgeous warm and achingly intimate Lou Reed-like ‘Saturday With Jane’ and the simply strummed title track, the song he wrote after he was diagnosed, the semi-spoken lines “Take the last train to the station/Keep my eyes open while I can/Hope we get back home by morning/See the sunrise on the desert once again” suffused with the dignity of acceptance in a way that tears you apart.

The album never began as a farewell, but Curry has crafted it into a moving valediction as his late friend and musical partner sings himself away into immortality.

Mike Davies

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CUNNING FOLK – Constant Companion (Dharma)

Constant CompanionUnlike last year’s Ritual Land, Uncommon Ground, the latest from George Nigel Hoyle is predominantly comprised of traditional material from the British repertoire, the constant companions of the title, and, since the accompanying blurb makes no reference, presumably a wholly solo affair with just him and an acoustic guitar.

It opens with ‘Seeds Of Love’, the first to be collected by Cecil Sharp back in 1903, a display song about love lost by being overly picky with lyrics written around 1689 by one Mrs. Fleetwood Habergam. Given a Wizz Jones-like jazzy folk arrangement, ‘Dear Joan’ is a familiar club staple about a young woman getting the best of would-be seducer, with further fingerpicked guitar intricacies to be found on ‘Bruton Town’, Hoyle’s version somewhere between those of Pentangle and Davy Graham.

Unquestionably, the best known of the traditional numbers is ‘Matty Groves’, Hoyle’s favourite track of Fairport’s Liege & Lief, a seminal influence on his folk upbringing. Elsewhere, he runs nimbly across the frets for ‘Dick Turpin’, gets more ruminative on ‘Death & The Lady’ and visits English folklore for, at six minutes, the frankly rather overlong ‘Robin Hood & The Pedlar’. Somewhat shorter, Morris tune ‘Constant Billy’ clocks in at just 49 seconds.

He gets bluesier on ‘The Astrologer’, sometimes known as ‘The Bold Astrologer’, a little recorded number (though Heather and Royston Wood sang it on their 1977 No Relation album) about a fortune teller with an eye for his female clients, although his claim of ‘The Cruel Mother’, an infanticide ballad given a suitably stark reading, being equally rarely played isn’t borne out by there being at least 30 recordings of it since Shirley Collins 1959, most recently by 10,000 Maniacs and Nancy Kerr.

Without turning this into an essay, suffice to say that other traditional choices include ‘Souling Song’, ‘Ratcliffe Highway’, ‘Shepton Beachanmp Wassail’ and ‘Willie O’Winsbury’, first recorded in 1968 by Sweeney’s Men. The remaining three numbers comprise a cover and two originals. The former is Ewan MacColl’s classic ‘Dirty Old Town’, the sparse arrangement and weary, resigned reading here stripped off the romanticism in which it is sometimes enrobed.

The self-penned road song ‘Soft Estate’ mixes strum and fingerpicked circling runs that, talking of buzzards and kestrels flying, was born from a trip through the Twyford Down cutting near Winchester while, of a somewhat different bent, ‘The True Enlightenment’, with another deceptively simple sounding guitar pattern, is about John Dee, an alchemist, astrologer, magician, philosopher and advisor to Queen Elizabeth who’s credited with coining the term The British Empire and claimed to be have had several volumes dictated to him by angels via his self-declared medium accomplice Edward Kelly. Reputed to have been one of the Queen’s spies, Dee also used to sign his name 007!

Hoyle doesn’t have a particularly wide vocal range, so, over the course of nineteen tracks, it can feel a tad samey, but his playing and passion for the music ensure this is well worth your acquaintance.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website:

‘Lancashire, God’s Country’ – official video:

THE WILLOWS – Through The Wild (Elk Elk014)

Through The WildA sort of folk supergroup that sees singer Jade Rhiannon Ward and multi-instrumentalist husband Cliff joined by Ben Savage on Dobro, percussionist Evan Carson from Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys and, new to the line-up, Katriona Gilmore on fiddle and mandolin and double bass player John Parker, this belated follow-up to 2014’s Amidst Fiery Skies finds the Cambridge-based sextet ranging across genres that span English folk, Americana and bluegrass with a sound that, at times conjures an English Clanaad. That is not the case, however, with full-blooded folk rock album opener ‘Coda’, which, like all but one number, is penned by the band. A number that deals with mortality and loss, it’s echoed in the softer, more reflective and melancholic breathily-sung ‘Better Days’ where, mottled by banjo, grief gives way to hope.

The sole non-original comes with an clopping percussion arrangement of the traditional ‘True Lover’s Ferry’, a song of love on London’s waterways learned from the singing of Peter Bellamy. Gilmore and Carson provide the backbone with Ward’s banjo also prominent for ‘Perfect Crime/Ernest Durham’s’, another musically muscular number, which draws on the true story of Percy Cox, a soldier from the Fens in the First World War who, to get a higher age, stole the identity of Ernest Durham, an Australian soldier who lends his name to the second half instrumental.

A song about the healing power of love, the evocative fiddle and banjo coloured ‘Honest Man’ musically heads out to the Appalachians before they turn to Canada for ‘Pearl Hart, Savage taking on electric guitar and Carson laying down the skittering percussive bedrock on a song that recounts the true story of the 19th century Canadian who gave up robbing stagecoaches to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

War rears its head again with ‘Out Of Our Hands’, a rueful acoustic guitar accompanying Ward on a song which, briefly swelling towards the end, was inspired by her reading of A Memory of Solferino, Henry Dunant’s 1862 book about the battle of Solferino in 1859 between Napoleon’s forces and the Austrian army, the suffering of the soldiers and the lack of aid, and which led to the founding of the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions.

The English landscape serves as inspiration for two numbers, the first being ‘False Light’, pizzicato mandolin and fiddle gradually building to a big production number about the lights people imaged they saw over the fenland marshes, luring them to their deaths. It’s followed by ‘Gog Magog’, a jazzy, airy, puttering percussive rhythm number that, inspired by the eponymous chalk hills of Cambridgeshire and the mythical pagan giants (also to be found in the Bible and Cornish legend) who walked them, again treats on loss through conflict.

It ends on a personal note with the spare six-minute traditional flavoured, fiddle-coloured slow waltz ballad ‘Dear Lilly’ being dedicated to Jade’s great aunt, her courtship, marriage, miscarriage and subsequent nursing of her dying husband , going on to live for over a century, a fitting uplifting conclusion to an album that welcomes the band back in magnificent style.

Mike Davies

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‘False Light’ – official video:

TREVOR MOSS & HANNAH LOU – Fair Lady London (Maiden Voyage)

Fair Lady LondonFair Lady London sees a reunion of sorts with Trevor and Hannah-Lou’s former Danny And The Champions Of The World bandmate Danny George Wilson in that they’re now signed to his and Del Day’s label, following the full studio heft of 2015’s Ethan Johns-produced Expatriot, the husband and wife duo have returned to the 4-track cassette recorder of their 2012 debut, recorded in an East Sussex castle.

Working with generally little more than a couple of acoustic guitars, it opens with the sprightly fingerpicked and harmonies of the swapping city for country title track (and some wheezing harmonium) with its echoes of the late 60s folk scene, Hannah then taking lead for the gently rippling seasons changing ‘When Spring Calls’ with its avian imagery.

One of the album’s particular highlights, Hannah-Lou harmonising on the chorus and with the occasional shake of a tambourine, the six-minute ‘We Should’ve Gone Dancing’ deals with reflective regret over moments not taken and words spoken in the heat of a moment, charting the end of a relationship as, having walked out following a fight, the man returns home to find she’s left him.

‘Minds On The Run’, another carpe diem song about missed opportunities on the back of Hannah-Lou’s soaring soprano, ‘Everything You Need’, a bouncy guitar and bass driven love song that co-mingles yearning and lack of self-confidence, and the stay forever young/lost future motorbike death song ‘Johnny The Lightning’ are all taken at a nimble skip, again harking back to those coffee shop harmony folk days of the 60s, but the pacing tends to be mostly melancholic and restrained.

Again coloured by harmonium, the pure-sung ‘All In Good Time’ is a particularly lovely, almost hymnal number with a simple cascading chords structure and optimistic lyric (“Fear will take its leave…shoots will break the earth”), ‘Tie My Ribbons’ introduces harmonica for a dimming of the day slow waltz song of devotion in time of trial and trouble which, with the opening lines, “When you’re down all but out/And heaven’s calling your name/And the baying crowd indifferent turn away/I will listen throughout and come the end of the day/I’ll be there hanging on every word that you say” can’t help but evoke thoughts of ‘You’ve Got A Friend’.

Given an almost music box feel with fingerpicked guitar and one-handed piano trills ‘I Could Break You’ has a dark lyric about control (“I could break you/But I don’t want to/I just need you to know that I could”), the album ending on musical upbeat note with the jaunty ‘The First Or The Last’ bringing back the tambourine for the album’s sole flirtation with politics as, surely a Brexit nod, they sing “It’s time to decide now man who you want to be/Yeah there’s a line drawn in the sand of history”, complete with a delayed ending designed to catch out unwary radio presenters.

In reference to the frequent Simon & Garfunkel comparisons, Hannah-Lou has joked that they might emulate them by making just five albums as a duo. Of course Paul and Art stopped working together because their personal and musical relationship broke down, Trevor and Hannah-Lou’s however, is firing on all cylinders, so I suspect they’ll be going dancing together for a good while yet.

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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‘We Should’ve Gone Dancing’ – official video: