DEBORAH ROSE –The Shining Pathway (own label)

The Shining PathwayOriginally from Newport in South Wales but now based in Worcester, the pure-voiced Rose comes impressively endorsed by no less than Mary Gauthier and Judy Collins. Recorded variously in Nashville and Ludlow, The Shining Pathway  is her third album, a collection of songs about love, loss and transformation, much inspired by personal experience, pretty much all of the instrumentation provided by producer Ben Walsh.

It’s loss that underpins the strings-adorned opening track, ‘Wrestling With Angels’, a song about having to let go, apparently inspired by a visit to Crathie Kirk church near Balmoral on the same day the Queen was in attendance, while, in similar vein to Phil Ochs’ ‘There But For Fortune’, the softly sung ‘Grace I Go’, another mentioning angels, is about counting your blessings.

Another location spurred ‘Basket Of Roses’, namely the cave in Crete where Joni Mitchell wrote Blue (she even mentions singing ‘Carey’ while she was there and references the Mermaid Café and Matala Moon), the song, moodily picked out on acoustic guitar, about “the goddess within”, of holding on to grace, dignity and self-respect in matters of the heart.

From Joni, it’s a logical step to Laurel Canyon, the writing location for the rhythmically propulsive ‘Willow Of The Canyon’ while there singing for Marianne Williamson, until recently a Democratic presidential candidate.

From female empowerment to female victimisation, the resonant fingerpicked ‘Bluebeard’ is a dark pastoral folk styled song based on the French folk tale of a nobleman serial wife killer, albeit Rose reworking the narrative to have her protagonist escape (another appearance by ‘metaphorical’ angels) her grisly fate.

Her degree in literature also stands her in good stead for an intimately sung darkling folk setting of A.E. Houseman’s poem ‘The Recruit’ from A Shropshire Lad, set to music to mark the 100th anniversary of WWI and featuring the bells from Ludlow tower.

Moving to songs of love, a softly sung fingerpicked acoustic ballad, ‘Glow Of A Thousand Candles’ is a lovely image about the feeling love can bring while, accompanied by piano and poet Rebecca Weiner Tompkins on violin ‘Butterly’ is another hushedly sung vocally double-tracked cover of a ballad by Canadian songwriter Melodie Mitchell (who contributes piano) about the downside of being in love with a free spirit.

Then, taking wing from lepidoptera to avians, ‘Nigel’, written in collaboration with the late Eva Cassidy’s father at his Maryland home and featuring plucked mandolin, is based on a true story from The Washington Post about a lonely gannet who fell in love with and died next to a concrete decoy. I think you can draw your own allegories.

The album closes with the near six-minute ballad ‘Shallow Waters’, co-written with Christine Nichols (who sings backing vocals and plays piano), an aspiring songwriter she met during a Nashville writing retreat with Gauthier, her voice soaring on a spiritual call for wisdom and truth in a fractured world as she sings “I don’t want to swim in shallow waters…I don’t fear the depths of the sea”. May I suggest you take the plunge and join her.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.deborahrose.co.uk

‘Wrestling With Angels’ – official video:

VARIOUS ARTISTS – Sounds From The Great Garden: A Lismore Gathering (Clincart Music CLINC770190010)

Sounds From The Great GardenA double CD ‘concept’ album, the title refers to the historic description of the Scottish island of Lismore, the music within it, all recorded at Davy Clincart’s studios on the Hebridean isle, conceived to reflect the rich diversity of song, story and music from the community of local artists involved. Sounds From The Great Garden is an ambitious and impressive project, with names ranging from internally acclaimed performers to more parochial contributions, embracing Scottish traditional folk, jazz, choral, contemporary and even narration.

Disc 1 gets the two hour marathon underway with the best known name, Mairi Campbell, a recent inductee into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame, who, playing viola and accompanied by Clincart on bass, mandolin and keys, contributes ‘A Wee Herd Laddie’, a setting of The Herd’s House by Victorian Scottish poet Walter Wingate. Staying on a ruminant theme, bookended and punctuated with synthesised whistle and flute sections, ‘The Hill Gathering’ unfolds as a subsequent ten-minute narrative account of a day gathering in the sheep. Cross also joins forces with Duncan Ferguson on a pipes and squeezebox medley of two traditional tunes, ‘Lochanside’ and ‘Glencoe March’.

Shifting from the Hebrides to Brazil, Sarah Campbell and husband Yorick Paine offer the traditional Maracatu rhythms of ‘Verde Esmerelda’ celebrating the fecundity of the earth. As well as managing a herd of sheep and her textile business, Campbell also runs the island choir, Lismore Voices, which steps up to the plate for a haunting rendition of the traditional ‘The Unst Boat Song’.

From the traditional things shift to contemporary jazzy folk with ‘The Wrong Side Of The Moon’, a song about getting out of bed on the wrong side, by the clearly talented husky-voiced Lismore teenager Shona Wright, who also gets into jazz cellar mood on the Fitzgerald-like sax and piano torch of ‘You’ve Changed’. Then it’s back to spoken word as Jennifer Allan reads her poem ‘Walking To Port Ramsay’, recalling her arrival on the island. On a somewhat more of an Ivor Cutler note, surveillance artist Jeremy Gilchrist also reads the amusing 21-second ‘The Bollard In The Tree’ while ‘Not A Liosach’ is a poem about identity by Pauline Isabel Dowling written to commemorate the ‘homecoming’ event in 2009 when Scots from all over the globe to were invited to return to their homeland.

The project was assembled by Glasgow-born Katy Crossan who takes the spotlight for Silly Wizard’s tongue in cheek satire on church life, ‘The Parish Of Dunkeld’, while Clincart gets his own solo spot with keyboard and strings instrumental ‘Padavine’ off his Esther’s Island album and described as “a romantic memory of a couple in their younger days dancing in a misty cobbled square in an old Eastern European regional town.”

Singing a capella in Gaelic, Mary McDougall provides a particular highlight with ‘An t-Eilean Alainn (The Beautiful Island)’, a song written in 1947 by the late James MacDonald about emigrants from the island and the wish that, when they return, they speak the language of their ancestors. The first half closes with another choral number, this time featuring Campbell and the children of Lismore Primary on the self-explanatory ‘My Island Home’ written by their teacher Laura Cook.

Cook also opens up Disc 2, accompanied on piano as she sings ‘Nam Aonar Le Mo Smuaintean’, a song written by Rev. John Mcleod in memory of Gordon MacPherson and Corporal Frank Spencer who were killed during the Falklands conflict. And, since you can’t really have an album of Scottish traditional folk without ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, she also obliges on that.

Also putting in return appearances Clincart gets into film noir soundtrack territory with ‘Edgy’ and MacDougall offers another a capella Gaelic track, ‘Fagail Liosmor’, a lament about leaving the island. Also unaccompanied, Crossan sings ‘The Highland Clearances’, Andy M. Stewart’s powerful song about the forced diaspora inflicted on Scotland, the song having a companion piece with Dowling’s reading of ‘The Last Clearance Cottage’ about how her neighbour was forced to leave Lismore because her landlords failed to improve her substandard house. There’s also another poem from Allen, ‘Wise Women’.

Meanwhile, Campbell and Paine take another international jaunt, this time to America for the Stanley Brothers’ ‘Little Birdie’, while, a particular joy, she also pairs with Crossan to sing Amy Bowman’s six-minute pastoral folk ‘The Otter And The Kestrel’.

There’s a second showing too for Lismore Voices on the traditional ‘Tibie Paiom’ as well as Cross and Ferguson with another medley, ‘72nd Highlanders’ Farewell To Aberdeen’ and ‘Campbell’s Farewell To Redcastle’, the pair also bringing whistle and accordion to bear on Mairi Campbell’s sprightly tune ‘Jonathan And Dorothy Livingstone’.

The disc also has several first appearances, kicking off with Jennifer Baker with her near 15-minute short story ‘The Storm’, followed by teacher Freda Drysdale with a lively take on the familiar traditional number ‘The Spanish Lady’ and Julia Fayngruen and Erick Tovarsson with the acoustic fingerpicked love song ‘A Nice Thing To Do’.

Sebastian Tombs, who also appears in the first disc, accompanies himself on guitar for the playful ‘Flotsam And Jetsam’, a song about the sea written for his son’s 7th birthday and clearly making an impression as he’s now a marine engineer, everything coming to a close on a final traditional note with the unadorned croaky and cracked tones of Duncan Laggan Livingstone on ‘Nighean Og nan Suilean Ciuin’.

Described as representative of the sort of informal ceilidh you might get caught up in on Lismore, it’s a celebration of the island’s heritage, talent and community which, while it may not attract a mainstream folk audience, is most assuredly a garden worth tending.

Mike Davies

Label website: www.clincartmusic.com

Davy Clincart – ‘Edgy’ – official video:

 

FRUITION – Broken At The Break Of Day (Fruition LCC FLC012)

Broken At The Break Of DayA promising roots-rock five-piece from Portland, Oregon, Broken At The Break Of Day is their second mini-album in three months, a seven-track collection of catchy melodies and hooks that kicks off with the strummed shuffling ‘Dawn’ with its lead vocals traded between guitarists Jay Cobb Anderson and Mimi Naja with pianist Kellen Asebroek on back-ups while drummer Tyler Thompson and bassist Jeff Leonard lay down the rhythm.’Where Can I Turn’ puts the vocal spotlight on Asebroek while Naja swaps to mandolin for a late 70s summery laid back Laurel Canyon groove, shifting to him taking lead for the soulful acoustic balladry of ‘Counting The Days’.

For some reason, Anderson on nasally lead, ‘For You’ reminds me of the late 60s solo Sonny records, even with its cod-Spector feel before, opening with squally feedback, they hit a funky 70s psychedelic pop streak on ‘Do What You Want’ with its treated vocals, choppy percussion and freaky ‘stunt’ guitar.

From here it feels like a natural progression into the Queen meets Sgt Pepper flavours of the fairground swaying ‘Nothing More Than Spinning’, rounding it off with the soft shoe campfire shuffle full band composition ‘At The End Of The Day’ with its three part harmonies and both Leonard and Thompson on brooms.

They released the equally musically eclectic after hours vibe companion seven-track album Wild As The Night last year, of which the mandolin-led ‘Manzanita Moonlight’ is a particular joy, with both released together this month on vinyl. Let them complete you.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.fruitionband.com

‘Dawn’ – official video:

KELLY STEWARD – Tales And Tributes Of The Deserving And Not So (Glass Wing)

Tales And Tributes Of The Deserving And Not SoWhile I don’t find her voice as distinctive as Linda Ronstadt, to whom she’s often likened, the Illinois singer-songwriter’s sound is firmly rooted in the guitar twang Americana of 70s Laurel Canyon. Tales And Tributes Of The Deserving And Not So is her debut album after two EPs, the last back in 2012, co-produced by her guitarist and partner Greg Whitson and variously featuring pedal steel, organ, mandolin, banjo and violin, opening with ‘Golden Sun’, recalling her journey back east from Los Angeles with her young son in tow, heading into the sun and a metaphorical better tomorrow.

Both it and the similarly upbeat tempo ‘Mississippi Risin’’, in which the river serves as an image of a divided America and the hope of it joining back together, are solid enough but it’s not until the snakey blues lope of ‘Outlaw’ that it truly catches fire, the song derived from a story written in her younger years about a honky tonk scuffle that left one dead and one on the run. The momentum’s maintained with the softer, slower ‘Travellin’ Ghosts’ with its ticking guitar line and yearning vocals underscored by pedal steel tears as she sings of having to cast off the shadows of the past and move into the light.

‘Generation’ is another highlight, a mid-tempo country jog that comes from a musician’s heart, drawing on her own struggles with the music industry where the money has taken precedence over the message. From here, the view turns to the emotional landscape of her journey, striking country rock notes with the infectious melody lines and chorus hook of the chugging ‘Heartbreak Heart’ and, opening on slide guitar, the more bluegrassy bounce of ‘Restless Kind’.

It hits the final stretch, slowing it down for the measured tempo of ‘Earthquake’, a vocally soaring tribute to a family member’s sacrifice in helping the victims of the 2010 Haiti earthquake before closing up in punchy blues rocking fashion with ‘No Time For Loving You,’ a riff-driven number about the emotional cost of being a travelling musician, though I suspect it works better in a hot barroom than it does on disc.

At the end of the day, despite some fine songs, it doesn’t quite have the staying power to establish her as a new Americana force, but, nevertheless, it’s still a deserving calling card you’ll want to keep in mind for the future.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.kellysteward.com

‘Mississippi Risin”:

PAULA WOLFE – White Dots (Sinb Records SIB0318CD)

White DotsHer first new album in a decade (Lemon, Staring and Find are being remastered for a 2020 reissue), during which time she built her own studio, completed a PhD in Music Production and Gender and published Women In The Studio: Creativity, Control and Gender In Popular Music Sound Production, White Dots finds the Dublin born multi-hyphenate in excellent form with a cocktail of pop, folksy, jazz and stage musicals. At times vocally echoing Kate Bush, she crafts story-led songs that have seen her likened to Carole King and Nora Jones though I’m more inclined to line her with Ray Davies and Vinny Peculiar in the way she channels observations, both wryly humorous and pointedly serious, into her lyrics to capture a perspective that I’ve previously described as akin to Mike Leigh. Many feel like play scripts in waiting.

Interpolating the refrain from The Hollies’ ‘Jennifer Eccles’, her new collection kicks off with the light, upbeat ‘Cherrington Road’, an early childhood memory of “Sitting on a swing, singing up to the sky”, her mother in the kitchen boiling potatoes, prompting a song (the lyrics more accurately a poem) about how children carry the memories of their parents and that “when it comes to the end all you’ve got is where you came from”, reflecting how there is “No child/when I’m gone to pass on to her own” and with “No child to remember my smell, to retell the tales I had to tell” she turns them into words and a tune “like a prisoner scratching obscenities on a prison wall”. Evocative of perhaps Laurie Lee in its reminiscences of an idyllic childhood, it talks about her and her mother dancing to Engelbert Humperdinck and of her father cycling home from work, asking if they watched Andy Pandy before repeating the lament.

The intro nodding to The Jam’s ‘That’s Entertainment’, second up is ‘Georgia Blue’, a song inspired by a train journey taken to London to interview Florence and the Machine’s Isabella Summers while researching her book. Her return trip was delayed when the driver didn’t turn up, Wolfe transmuting the experience into the story of Joseph, a cross-dressing train driver who, overcome by the mundanity of English greyness, decides instead to dress up the nines and remember “what it’s like to feel beautiful/What it feels like to light up a room, to take some glamour from the gloom”.

‘Follow’ follows, a rumbling rhythm and programming nagging behind the piano and strings on a song about getting away from it all, “pain all packed up in a rucksack… Things I don’t need I leave behind in the van”, walking in the isolation of the mountains and sketching the dynamics of a supportive relationship in the simple lines “I steam ahead, you still lead/I follow …As the days unfold and my story is told, you listen, you lead. I follow”.

Relationships unravelling inform several numbers. Featuring flute, sax and strings, ‘Traces’ begins with “You tell me conspiratorially about your latest affair, with no mention or care for her” and how she’s “the foil to avoid, your just-in-case date” to distract any suspicions on the part of the lover’s partner, ending with “Arrogance sublime,you suggest he’s more my kind”, while on ‘Bonnie’, although she’s “longed a lifetime not to feel I have to leave”, the narrator brings a wilted love affair to a close because “I can’t keep you in my heart when we are apart/no memory of tender love to hold me in the dark”.

In contrast, ‘It Could Be’ offers a vignette of a lonely bachelor looking for love, logging on to a dating site hoping for “a message to lighten the day”, finding none “but he’ll make the best of things anyway”, Wolfe capturing the quintessence of the singleton in a world of others relationships as she sings “He’s so understanding when friends don’t call/he knows it gets harder for them to fit him in when they’ve got kids” and yet remains optimistic (“I’ve got this far and I’ve still got hair”) that maybe love might yet be out here, perhaps meeting another lonely soul “looking for love as you walk down the aisle of the supermarket, Sunday morning shopping for one”. After all, as the semi-spoken ‘Magic’ puts it, after you’ve thrown it all away and realised what loss can bring, “Just when you think that good enough really is good enough, something fresh and new comes”.

Returning to storytelling, ‘Caravan Man’ again transforms real experience, here someone she saw on a French campsite, into a portrait of an outsider “sitting by your caravan all day” watching passing travellers “pegging out their lives in tidy piles”as she wonders who he is and what he’s waiting for.

Likewise, spanning France and Mexico City, featuring piano, simple strummed guitar and warm trumpet, ‘Paris Metro paints a picture of two buskers from South America playing their brass instruments outside the station on a Sunday morning while a world away “the night is lit up by flames of fire blown from the mouth of a boy while his friend tries to clean the taxi driver’s windscreen”, musing, as a musician and performer, on how “there’s not a lot between us”.

Returning to break-ups, the Randy Newmanesque title track brings the album to a close in crushing despair, the white dots the stains of tears dried on her glasses as the woman sits heartbroken in the car park after her unfaithful lover’s lies killed “whatever love lingered still” in a hotel room “Lying to my face about your affair, crying at the thought of my leaving you there in the house meant to be the start of all our dreams”.

But, while the songs speak of sadness and loss, of isolation and loneliness, moments lost or never seized, ultimately White Dots is suffused with elements of hope and affirmation, most firmly embedded in the bossa nova inclined and its declaration of undying love. Like Joseph, Wolfe offers rays of light beyond the darkness, and with her songs, her children, she’s “gonna paint these grey skies red”.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.paulawolfe.co.uk

‘When’ – live:

MISHRA – The Loft Tapes (Hudson MSR004)

The Loft TapesFronted by guitarist Ford Collier and vocalist-banjo player Kate Griffin, winners of the inaugural Christian Raphael prize at last year’s Cambridge Folk Festival, and augmented by jazz-folk double bassist Joss Mann-Hazell, Mishra are a new Sheffield-based ‘global folk collective’, the instrumentation on their debut album, The Loft Tapes,  encompassing clawhammer banjo, African calabash, Irish whistle and bouzouki with John Ball, their mentor at Sheffield university, guesting on tabla.

Each track a single live take recorded on analogue tape, predominantly self-penned, as you might surmise it straddles several musical styles and cultures, opening with a 50 second drone, whistle and banjo intro improvisation on ‘Raag Jog’, a Hindustani classical raga (the trio are named for a Hindu Brahmin surname), before tabla picks up the thread into ‘Road Dust and Honey’ merging eastern and Gaelic flavours and suggesting such influences as Davy Graham and Jack Rose.

Banjo and whistle make the running on ‘Chase The Sparrowhawk’, another instrumental, that sounds traditional but was written by Collier. Indeed, the album has a balance between tunes and songs, the former also encompassing ‘Jog For Joy’, tabla and banjo playing off each other in a hybrid of raga and jig, and the six-minute jam closer ‘Morphology’ that, in addition to banjo, whistle and table, also features Collier reciting in Tabla Bol, the spoken form of tabla drums.

Returning to the songs, among the their own work particularly noteworthy are the plaintively waltzing Appalachian-shaded ‘Beautfully Blind’ which, for some reason, reminds me of ‘Lord of All Hopefulness’, the jazz-inflected, whistle-driven ‘Taru Taru’ (which may or may not have anything to do with race of magic users in Final Fantasy) and, the most folksy of them all, ‘Keep Your Kindness’, the only number on which Collier and Griffin share the vocal parts.

There’s also two non-originals, the first being an arrangement of ‘Angeline The Baker’, a song written by Stephen Foster for the Christy Minstrels in 1850, in which the narrator (male but sung here by Griffin) laments that he should have married the titular Angeline, a slave who has now been sent away by her owner.

The other, and one which further nods to their Americana sensibilities, is a faithful reading of Gillian Welch’s unsettling Southern Gothic number ‘Scarlet Town’ from The Harrow & The Harvest. Together, they make for an impressive and multi-textured debut and it’ll be interesting to see how they expand their global folk fusions in albums to come.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.mishramusic.co.uk

‘Scarlet Town’ – live: