ALDEN PATTERSON AND DASHWOOD – By The Night (own label)

By The NightArriving in a hand printed card sleeve, By The Night is the second album from the Norwich-based trio of Christina Alden, Alex Patterson and Noel Dashwood following 2016’s well-received Call Me Home self-funded and recorded at home with Patterson producing. Alden singing lead, there’s no significant deviation from that homespun folksiness that weaves together British and American influences on both traditional numbers and self-penned material, often inspired by books. Cases in point as regards the latter come with opening number ‘The Time Song’, an airy love song built upon a simple pattern of descending guitar and vocal notes inspired by The Time Traveler’s Wife, Patterson’s fiddle adding subtle colour. It’s followed by the second literary inspiration, an intricately picked ‘title track, Dashwood’s dobro bringing pine-scented echoes of American backwoods folk, written after reading Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus while on a trip to India.

Two American traditionals follow, the trio providing new music for the rustic-hued leaving song ‘Bonnie Blue Eyes’ with fiddle to the fore. It ends with a burst of close harmony a capella, an approach they extend to the entirety of ‘Red Rocking Chair’, even though their version was inspired by recordings by fiddlers Bruce Molsky and Brittany Haas.

A couple of numbers further down the line, inspired by a version by bluegrass outfit Crooked Still, ‘Railroad’ is another drawn from the same musical well, dobro evoking the wheels rolling on the tracks while Patterson provides some frisky fiddle.

Back on this side of the ocean, the lively strummed ‘Blow The Wind’ with its percolating fiddle stems from a Tyneside air, albeit with the trio writing new music and second verse, a remodelling they also adopt to good effect on the familiar ‘Ten Thousand Miles’, considerably changing the melody and rearranging the lyrics to make it very much their own.

The three remaining numbers are all self-penned, one of which, ‘The Nerves’, is a coaxingly gentle dobro and fiddle instrumental by Dashwood, apparently written to combat stage nerves and playing a fretless instrument. Based on real events, the sprightly, breezy playing of ‘The Cobbler’s Daughter’ is somewhat at odds with the fact that it’s based on the story of a couple who went missing in the Swiss Alps in 1942 while tending their cattle, their bodies not discovered until 2017 with the melting of the glacier, bringing their daughter’s ceaseless search to an end aged 79.

Finally, there’s ‘Kingfish’, a gently rippling number written after watching a David Attenborough documentary, the lyrics detailing how they swim upstream and circle around in the same spot, the musical arrangement with its guitar and pulsing fiddle mirroring their actions.

Their debut was greeted as a breath of fresh air, and this is another you’ll want to inhale deeply.

Mike Davies

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Artists’ website: www.aldenpattersonanddashwood.com

‘The Time Song’ – live:

LUCY WARD – Pretty Warnings (Betty Beetroot BETTY03)

Pretty WarningsHaving been finally converted to Ward with her last album, I Dreamt I Was A Bird, I was unsure whether that was a one-off or if her follow-up would keep me on the path. Well, feathered friends again in evidence, with the opening, ‘Silver Morning’, Helga Ragnarsdottir on electric piano, a spare sketch of walking in the early dawn that treats a sense of wanderlust, any uncertainties were instantly dispelled.

Stu Hanna co-producing with Stewart MacLachlan, who also, respectively, provide guitars/keys and drums, it’s a mostly mellow and meditative affair, the title succinctly summing up its musical and thematic intent, mixing four traditional numbers bookended with self-penned originals. Breathily sung and etched on a repeated guitar pattern with Claire Bostock on cello, ‘Cold Caller’ moves back a few hours to a moon-lit evening of rain and wind and, bolstered by rumbling waves of drums and gathering psychedelic swirls of electric guitar, a witchily-atmospheric song of love (obsessive and possibly delusional) confessed to the night.

Daylight returns with ‘Sunshine Child’, Anna Esslemont on violin, for another delicate acoustic love in rapture number with lyrics scattering images of butterfly kisses, laughter, a dancing soul and sweet smelling blossoms and she sings “for a lifetime and beyond I’ll be singing our song”, though one suspects the golden haired Samson identified here may be more symbolic than actual.

The four traditional numbers are gathered together, opening with a near seven-minute, initially unaccompanied reading of ‘Bill Norrie’, the tragic tale of a jealous man killing the titular lad he suspects is his wife’s lover only to learn he’s actually her son, Ward Derbyshire-accented vowels subsequently joined by Ragnarsdottir’s suitably sparse and forlorn piano notes.

Sticking with murder ballads, ‘Maria Martin’ is her arrangement of the much-covered ‘Murder In The Red Barn’, Ward inspirationally recasting it as a hypnotically slow lurching blues carried on brushed drums, Sam Pegg’s droningly doomy upright bass and, as the horror is unfolded, cold shivers of keys and violin.

Another cautionary tale follows with the equally familiar ‘Fair & Tender Ladies’, again given a sparse, darkling ambience, dressed in atmospheric nocturnal robes with double tracked vocals, the persistent keyboard drone augmented by meditative acoustic guitar. For the last of the four, ‘Mari Fach’, Ward takes the tune of the lilting Welsh ballad ‘Mari Fach Fy Nghariad’, stripping it back and slowing it down considerably, and adds her own words for the tragic tale of a teenage girl made pregnant by a false lover who gives birth, kills the baby and then is hanged, “all alone”, from a willow tree “down by a Greenwoodsidey-o”.

The album closes with two further Ward originals, the gently waltzing ‘Lazy Day’ restores the sun in distracted, strings-washed thoughts of staying in bed to “dream my days away” rather than getting up and facing a day “bursting with intentions that never find their way.” The final number, backed by harmonium drone and minimal piano notes, has Ward showing her vocal flexibility, delicately swooping and soaring through ‘The Sweetest Flowers’ as she ends on an upbeat lullaby note, dusk drawing in, slumber making eyes heavy, sleep’s reveries and fantasies awaiting, a life “rich with possibility” and a “love that can’t be torn asunder” but “will bloom forever.” Take heed.

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.lucywardsings.com

‘The Trapper And The Furrier’ – live at the Isle Of Wight Festival:

PARKER MILLSAP – Other Arrangements (OkraHoma OKRA004CD)

Other ArrangementsThree albums in, two of which have topped the US Americana charts, the Oklahoma singer-songwriter is expanding his musical horizons and looking to broaden his audience. As such, while there’s still country at the core, his latest outing, Other Arrangements, is a rockier and poppier affair. It’s also his first to use electric instruments.

It kicks off in crunchy form with the steady driving drum beat and snarly guitar riffs and chords of ‘Fine Line’ as he lays out the down and dirty side with “honey I don’t bite, I’m just a little bloodthirsty” before switching style and mood for a mingling of Celtic and Southern soul on ‘Your Water’ with Daniel Foulks on fiddle and then again for the simple acoustic folksy fingerpicking of ‘Singing To Me’, soul hints seeping in on the chorus, Millsap also offering wordless falsetto crooning refrain.

The title track, about realigning a relationship, also nods to Southern R&B influences, the song again rolling on guitar riff rails while driven by a punchy beat and chugging rhythm the gospel shaded poppily rousing ‘Let A Little Light’ In offers a reminder to lighten up once in while (Not every day is a fight to win“). Another number built for big arenas, there another nod to his gospel roots on the ‘Coming On’, especially in the female backing vocals who get their own handclaps backed spotlight as the song builds to its climax,

Things are slower and bluesier on the gutsily growled ‘Tell Me’ as he sings how “I’ve got a scar from bleeding for you”, ‘She’ bringing on a musically lighter shade of blue and a touch of a Randy Newman/Harry Nillson crossover with some playful percussive notes, dreamy melodic refrains and violin and horns.

Underlining the musical variety herein powering along on drums and riffery, ‘Some People’ tickles blues and rock with a power pop swagger reminiscent of early Cheap Trick and, in parts, Tom Petty. That same retro-styled musical exuberance is evident in spades on ‘Gotta Get To You’, a chugging acoustic riff providing the spine around which his raspy vocals and the drums and electric guitars flex their muscles.

The remaining two numbers nod to a more musically reflective and simple mood. The lyrics and rhymes may be a touch doggerel (“We were lying down, our bodies were bound”), but featuring a bridge of quixotic strings, the optimistic, upbeat ‘Good Night’ basks in the blissful afterglow of love while album closer, ‘Come Back When You Can’t Stay’, written by and featuring a duetting Jillette Johnson, is an achingly tender song about love without complications that makes not making a commitment seem unexpectedly romantic.

If you come to this expecting another helping of Red Dirt Americana with songs about religion, preacher and small towns, then you’re in for a bit of a surprise. Hopefully, you’ll find it a decidedly pleasant one.

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.parkermillsap.com

‘Your Water’ – live:

CARDBOARD FOX – Topspin (own label, CARRIVICKSCD09)

TopspinFeaturing the shared lead vocals of sisters Charlotte and Laura Carrivick (who also perform as a duo), with backing provided by Joe Tozer and John Breese, Topspin is the Bath quartet’s third release and second album, a meld of English traditional folk and American bluegrass influences built around the core instrumentation of fiddle, mandolin, guitar and double bass augmented here and there with banjo, lap steel, trumpet and electric guitar.

Charlotte on lead, the opening cut, ‘Empty Skies’, lays out their folk-Americana in fine style, hints of Celtic influences mingling with the Appalachian backwoods while ‘Dynamite’ is a gloriously infectious burst of folk pop with pizzicato fiddle and throbbing double-bass fleshed out by some nimble acoustic fingerwork.

Elsewhere, the self-penned material includes sprightly instrumental showcase ‘Nelly’, the rippling acoustic fretwork of the traditional flavoured ‘Awful As Silence’, sweetly sung by Laura who occasionally reminds me of Jess Morgan, and, another with a traditional bluegrassy mien, ‘Until The Dawn’ with ‘Roll Away’ following a similar path but with more of a hoedown feel.

The album also sees them dipping their toes in different waters too, first, led by Breese’s bass, on ‘Right Swiper’, a playfully jazzy folk account of Tinder dating that includes the line “you’re the Wallace to my Gromit” and then the 20s swing feel of ‘On Your Side’ followed directly by a cover of Owl City’s synth pop ‘Fireflies,’ here arranged for plinking violins and mandolin with Josh Clark on programming.

It’s one of two covers, the other being a simple mandolin, bass and scratchy violin arrangement of Gillian Welch’s dark folk blues ‘Tear My Stillhouse Down’, the album ending with everyone pitching on to write the easy and airy Americana lap steel shaded skippingly rhythmic ‘Ghosts’. Reportedly, their last album saw Bill Oddie shed a tear of joy. This should have him weeping buckets.

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.cardboardfox.co.uk


‘Ghosts’ – official video:

VINNY PECULIAR – Return Of The Native (Shadrack & Duxbury SADCD013)

Return Of The NativeAn album celebrating his return to his roots after years living in Manchester, with its heady dose of nostalgia and memories, borrowing the title from Thomas Hardy (and with a cover that sees him fork in hand to dig up old ground), Bromsgrove-born Alan Wilkes’ thirteenth album (fourteenth if you include his Parlour Flames collaboration with Bonehead) Return Of The Native is a magnificently parochial collection that really does mark him down as Worcestershire’s Ray Davies. It opens in 1974 at the height of glam rock with ‘The Grove & The Ditch’, a riff driven, feedback laced stomp about local teenage gang rivalries that references, among others, T Rex, heavy rock outfit Jameson Raid and their regular Hopwood bikers’ venue haunt, Lickey Hills pub The Forest Inn, Bromsgove café The Strand, Rocky Horror, The Bay City Rollers, Gary Glitter, Donny Osmond and Tony Blackburn’s on-air meltdown over his split with Tessa Wyatt while Bowie is clearly there among the musical influences. Anyone who ever, as he puts it, got “off their tits” on pills in a Wacky Warehouse will resonate with this.

It’s off to another part of the county for the jangling, punningly titled ‘Malvern Winter Gardener’, a song about a faded rock star and the Malvern Winter Gardens, one of the top venues during the 60s, 70s and 80s, Vinny recalling seeing, among others, the likes of Budgie, Sassafras, The Clash and Eddie & The Hot Rods. By way of shift, ‘Blackpole’, another area of Worcester, spins a darkly jocular tale of a battle re-enactor who, following an unfortunate moment of realism, now haunts the re-enactment fields and his former girlfriend who, as it happens, married the undertaker.

Combining the nickname for San Francisco with a Chinese restaurant in Blackpole, ‘Golden City’ touches on depression and moving on, a subject of several of his previous songs and the calm familiar places can bring, then it’s another string of memento memoriae name checks with the album’s jauntily sunny and boisterous title track which, flitting around Bromsgrove and Droitwich starts with Rik Mayall, Chateau Impney and Dudley Zoo and references the likes of Jim Reeves, Sandy Richardson (a character in cheesy ITV soap Crossroads, since you ask), Coronation Street star Doris Speed and 70s Redditch punk outfit The Cravats alongside local colourful characters and shops.

The lovely Lilac Time-like acoustic strum of ‘A Girl From Bromsgrove Town’ provides the true story of an ill-fated schooldays romance, recalling how he turned up at college to surprise her and found her kissing the girl next door, returning thirty years later to where she grew up. Whether he knocks on the door or not, you’ll have to get the disc to find out.

Some may remember the late singer-songwriter Clifford T Ward who had hits with ‘Gaye’ and ‘Scullery’ in the early 70s. Before finding brief musical fame, he was a school teacher in Bromsgrove and, yes, one of his pupils was, briefly, a young Alan Wilkes, the quietly fingerpicked tumbling melody of ‘The Singing Schoolteacher’ being an affectionate memory of how Ward introduced him to the Romantic poets but, more crucially inspired his musical visions and how they bonded over tales of Bronco and Dandelion Records.

The musical tone sharpens a few notches with the inspirationally titled ‘Detroitwich’, which, sporting Pet Shop Boys influences (‘West End Girls’ to be specific) driven by drums and a paranoid guitar riff spins a semi-rapped fantasy about how, having got the wrong plane, Eminem (“the millionaire rapper who sampled Chas n Dave”) winds up in Droitwich (the former home of Rik Mayall, the song reminds) in a Wicker Man scenario and has to be rescued by P Diddy, stopping off for a pint at The Swan on the A38 before escaping to somewhere safer.

‘On Rainbow Hill’, a ward in Worcestershire, provides the setting for a sparsely arranged downbeat guitar and piano waltzer, the fallout from another love that could never be (“I finished with me when I finished with you”), that melancholic mood spilling across into the six-minute guitars and cellos swathed psychedelic drone ambience of ‘David Swan River Man’, a tribute to another local eccentric who feeds and cares for the local swans and ducks.

It ends gloriously with the poignant emotional cadences of ‘Game Over’, a thematic echo of ‘On Rainbow Hill’ about breaking off a relationship and moving away and then being haunted by loneliness and regrets for could have been, the lyrics specifically referencing Ian Curtis and, of course, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.

You might not get most of the album’s references, but you’ll not fail to feel the universality of the emotions.

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.vinnypeculiar.com

‘Malvern Winter Gardener’ – official video:

JENNIFER WARNES – Another Time, Another Place (BMG 538358052)

Another Time Another PlaceI first encountered Warnes back in 1977 with the release of her eponymously titled Arista debut fourth album, prompting me to immediately seek out its 1972 predecessor, Jennifer, (her first two albums remain impossible to find), eventually interviewing her in Birmingham when she toured with Leonard Cohen in 1979. Aside from being his live backing vocalist, she also served as his vocal arranger and sang on several of his albums, the last been 2012’s Old Ideas. It was, of course, her cover of Cohen songs on 1987’s Famous Blue Raincoat that brought her both critical acclaim and her only UK album hit, although the 80s also saw her score two Top 10 singles (and No 1s in America) with ‘Up Where We Belong’ and ‘(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life’, duets with Joe Cocker and Bill Medley from, respectively, the soundtracks of An Officer And A Gentleman and Dirty Dancing. Two further albums followed, 1992’s The Hunter and then, nine years later, The Well.

But then, following the death of her mother 2003, she lost her enthusiasm for singing and, save for guest appearances on the Cohen album and others by John Prine, Chris Hillmann and Jude Johnson, music didn’t figure on her radar. However, in 2015, she reunited with Roscoe Beck who’d produced Raincoat and began to work on new material, only to be hit by a series of devastating losses that saw two of her sisters die within the space of a week, a car accident that took the life of her manager and the deaths of a niece, a former boyfriend, her dog and, of course, Cohen.

Finally, however, her ninth album finally arrives, again, save for one track, a collection of well-judged covers, polished but never without heart and soul, that opens with a number that pays service to that accumulation of loss, a slightly slowed down and spare arrangement of Pearl Jam’s ‘Just Breathe’ featuring French horn, cello and violins that beautifully captures the acknowledgement of mortality but also the value of friendship.

She reaches further back for ‘Tomorrow Night’, a simple drums, organ and upright bass a jazz-blues arrangement (reminiscent of Bonnie Koloc’s work with Brooks Arthur) of a number recorded by Elvis for Sun back in 1962, but dating back to Lonnie Johnson’s original recording in 1948.

Coming up to the present, the achingly bittersweet ‘Once I Was Loved’, a song of years passing, love lost and yearning, is a new, previously unrecorded number by John Legend and Marcus Hummon again featuring Beck on bass along with an arrangement by the Tosca String Quartet. She returns to the Hummon well for another new song, ‘Freedom’, which, with its consciously American anthem-like melody features muted drums, a male vocal echoing the refrain and gospel styled choir.

It has a quality reminiscent of Mickey Newbury’s original version of An American Trilogy and its perhaps no coincidence that there’s an actual Newbury number included, John Ferraro brushing the drums and with Greg Leisz and Dean Parks providing pedal steel and mandolin, respectively, on a gender switched version of ‘So Sad’, a six minute musing on the ephemerality of life mortality from his Long Way Home concept album, recorded just prior to his death, Warnes bringing a soft resignation to the line “I am not in prison I am only doing time”.

It’s surely no coincidence either that, that song have referenced famous Las Vegas hotel casino The Sands that it’s followed by ‘I See Your Face Before Me’, a standard which, while recorded by many, was popularised by the version featured on In The Wee Small Hours, the massively successful 1955 album by Sands regular Frank Sinatra. Warnes’ gorgeous late night reading opens with her singing accompanied solely by Joel Guzman’s accordion before the double bass arrives followed by nylon guitar, piano and a strings, vibes and woodwinds arrangement.

Featuring Sonny Landreth guesting on resonator guitar, my favourite track is her terrific cover of ‘I Am The Big Easy’, Ray Bonneville’s love letter to the resilience of post-Katrina New Orleans, this being followed by the sole self-penned numbers, ‘The Boys And Me’, a lazing ‘going for broke’ serving of Americana coloured by accordion, lap slide, Hammon and strings as she sings “we’re Roman candles.. gonna explode like mighty diamonds across the stars”.

Again featuring resonator guitar, this time from Leisz and Parks, and with a laid back southern blues and soul groove, the song from whence the album title comes is ‘Back Where I Started’, written by Derek Trucks and fellow Allmans member Warren Haynes and featured on the 2009 Derek Trucks Band album Almost Free.

Finally, featuring Weissenborn lap slide and nylon string electric and with Mike Cross on guest vocals, she ends with a lullabyingly lovely Celtic-twilight tinged take on Mark Knopfler’s ‘Why Worry’, a melodically, gently tumbling number that appeared on Dire Straits 1985 release Brothers In Arms, bringing a serene and upbeat closure to and truly outstanding return to making music. Here’s to hoping she doesn’t stay away so long before the next.

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.jenniferwarnes.com

‘Just Breathe’: