THURSDAY’S BAND – Chittagong Tattoo (CRLP018)

Chittagong TattooI think this is very good. Thursday’s Band released Chittagong Tattoo, their second full album, in November. Sometimes, you go to watch a live band and get the sense, “Ooh, they’ve got something.” I’ve not seen Thursday’s Band play live, but I’d rather like to. Chittagong Tattoo seems ‘to have something’.

There’s no official video, but there’s a couple of tracks from the new album on YouTube: ‘Granny Mean’, a rehearsal video (and more of which later) and ‘Les Cigales d’Avignon’, which I’ve linked to because it captures the band playing live. It seems to have been recorded in a café/pub, on one of those cramped stages (well, space at the end of the room) that you get – and I think it captures the feel the CD gives of a band playing folk music that is a little different, good, interacts well with the audience and, just generally, ‘has got something’.

So why? There’s something at the heart of folk music that: means you feel close to it i.e. you could imagine yourself in that room, on that ‘stage’ even, joining in; has tunes that you can sing along with, maybe even feel you’ve known the music all your life even when the songs are brand new; has lyrics that are a tad more sophisticated than ‘bop-shoo-whoo-wop’ or ‘moon/June; and just generally puts you close to the players – physically they’re not on a distant stage, in skill and equipment they’re better than you but recognisably similar, the stories capture a part of your life or the edges of your thinking. Chittagong Tattoo has most of this and the video of ‘Les Cigales d’Avignon’ suggests the rest is there in live performance.

There are nine songs on the album and the band have written all of them, essentially modern folk music but with additional influences from country, Cajun and a flicker of rock. ‘Granny Mean’ is stunning. It’s quietly finger-picked, violin in the background, a rising chorus, and lyrics which capture the many emotions of someone with dementia. It is told in the first person, capturing both the fog of the mind and the clarity to know what is happening. It works. It shouldn’t but it really does.

The band describe ‘Let The Fire Die Back’ as “a narrative hinted at”. There are only ten lines, five of them are the refrain “She’s not coming home” and the other five are images of aloneness. The song is driven by violin and the interplay between male and female vocal. You pick up the story in the gaps between the images – and you want to join in that refrain.

‘Leavings’ opens the album. It has a ‘joining-in chorus’, lovely interplay between the instruments as they hand the lead briefly from one to the other and a final verse that that brings light to darkness. ‘Difficult Man’ is a delightfully human song about the songwriter’s father, growing up in Cape Town and understanding the influences that, clearly, made him a difficult man.

There’s also a much wider internationalism to this album. ‘In The City’, sung mostly in French, is described as “a Suffolk Cajun song”; ‘Ravensbruck’ is a song about the women in Ravensbruck labour camp. ‘Les Cigales d’Avignon’ captures a trip to France in search of ancestors. The album ends with ‘The Chittagong Tattoo’, a powerful title track, flowing guitar picking which drives a song about the dismantling of large ships in Chittagong. The consequent deaths and injuries are personalised. The title is the name for welding burns that the workers get.

From what I can gather Thursday’s Band are mostly playing in the Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, East Anglia region. Feels like you might want to see if you can get them to your folk club.

Mike Wistow

Artists’ website: https://www.thursdaysband.co.uk

‘Les Cigales d’Avignon’ – live:

THE MILK CARTON KIDS – The Only Ones (MCKR001)

The Only OnesThe Milk Carton Kids released The Only Ones on December 6th. This is the band’s fifth studio album since they first came to prominence in 2011 with Prologue. After the full band sound of their previous album All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do the duo return to the simpler acoustic sound with which they made their name initially. At twenty-six minutes and just seven songs, The Only Ones is somewhere between an EP and a full-length album

‘My Name is Ana’ is probably my favourite track. The details are imprecise – a refugee? A fugitive? An escapee from a violent situation? – but the playing and vocals are the duo at their best and the imprecision adds to the sense of fear:

My name is Ana/You might have read about me
I live in the attic with my family

I leave the lights off/So nobody can see
I sleep with my shoes on, ‘case they come for me…..

I can see the neon lights/And the masked men
And the riot lines/I can read the warning signs

‘I’ll Be Gone’ is also a style that any of their fans will recognise, lead acoustic guitar and a catchy tune on a leaving/freedom song from the first verse, “I ain’t one for leaving/But if you treat me wrong/I’ll be gone/Gone before the sun goes down” to the last, “Death might be waiting/But it better get some wings/I’ll be flying/Riding on the wind”.

The video link below is to the title track, ‘The Only Ones’, the two guitars playing off each other, one strummed, one picked, and the two voices harmonising nicely. After receiving multiple awards in their own right, including a Grammy nomination, they’re probably tired of references to Simon and Garfunkel; if you’ve not heard the band, though, it’s that kind of sound – and as the video shows, their singing and playing are expert.

The Milk Carton Kids are on tour in the UK between January 23rd and 29th, including a visit to Celtic Connections in Glasgow on the 27th.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: http://www.themilkcartonkids.com

‘The Only Ones’ – official video:

ELAINE LENNON – Elaine Lennon (LSR001CD)

Elaine LennonElaine Lennon releases her debut album on January 24th. Unless you knew the background, you wouldn’t know it was a debut album. Findlay Napier has produced it, the songs – almost all written by Lennon – are engaging, and Lennon’s voice is enthralling. The background is that Lennon’s lifelong passion had been music. When the youngest of her two children went to school in 2018, she sat down to work out whether she could be a professional musician. In less than two years, she has been named as “one to watch” by the Nashville Songwriters’ Association International and is about to release the self-titled album, Elaine Lennon.

Lennon’s vocals and piano are at the core of the album, with the band adding a nicely judged depth without being intrusive. My favourite track is ‘Fear (Breakup Song)’ which is delicately played and merges the images of relationship break up into a lyric about fighting and defeating Fear, as affirmative (for the Sci-Fi buffs) as Frank Herbert’s Litany Against Fear. It’s also a great tune, beautifully sung.

The link below is to ‘Trouble’ where you can hear for yourself the interplay between piano and vocal, in this case for a lyric about being in trouble because “love was not in my plan”. Lennon’s website has more detail on the origins of the song. Elsewhere ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ both rises to the glories of love which can “make you fly above the clouds” and also captures the ruefulness of “Only love can softly pull the seams apart/Only love can break your heart”. There’s a tenderness to the vocal which is simply delightful. ‘You and Me’ feels like it’s from the same song-writing seam, this time the unchallenged contentment of being in love.

The only cover on the album is “She’s Got You”, the Hank Cochran masterpiece which was a hit for Patsy Cline in the early 60’s. Lennon’s version is less country, but doesn’t half tug at the heartstrings; it’s a great cover which makes the song sound bang up to date despite its nearly sixty years age.

The album will be launched on January 20th at The Glad Café as part of Celtic Connections. From what I’ve heard on this album and what I’ve flicked through on YouTube of Lennon’s live performances, if you’re up in Glasgow it will be worth your while finding time for this.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: https://www.elainelennon.com

‘Trouble’ – official video:

MATTHEW ROBB – Dead Men Have No Dreams (own label)

Dead Men Have No DreamsIt’s no mean feat to release an album which stays in the mind for both its music and its sense of authenticity. Two years ago, Matthew Robb released Spirit In The Form which did just that. On December 5th he releases Dead Men Have No Dreams and I suspect he’s done it again.

Listen to the title track below. Right from the start you have Robb’s vocal, simultaneously (and paradoxically) stark and rich. It demands your attention, as do the simple acoustic guitar that wouldn’t be out of place in Guthrie or 1963/64 Dylan, the insistent refrain, and a nine verses tale taking you into the depths of:

“…………….……. too terrified to ask
for the bright lights of salvation
on that dark night you will scream
for you know your soul will go to hell
and dead men have no dreams

before pulling you up through images of hope: “trying to find the diamond in your mind”, “love is the only fuel for survival” to the concluding, life-affirming:

in the big black tunnel of time
a light can still be seen
so I’ll carry on through the rain
for dead men have no dreams”.

Robb is also a performer of his own poems and if you get the album, you’ll find the imagery in the accompanying lyric book to be as compelling as the CD.

There are ten great tracks on the album and I only have a limited number of words for a review, so a few other highlights. The opening line of the second track is “In these policy makers heads there must be something definitely lacking”. On the page, that looks like a line from a report. In Robb’s hands it becomes the opening to a couplet “they’ve given the go-ahead to unrestricted hydraulic fracking” for a song, ‘Common Destiny’, which builds through a steady and simple jazzy-blues arrangement to a conclusion five verses later that “you’ll see we share a common destiny”.

‘Begging You Back’ is a love song asking a partner to return; there are few male vocalists who can make a catchy tune and a pleading lyric sound like the song of a strong man. Robb does it on this track. Similarly, ‘Cry Some Tears’ rips your heart out with its simple arrangement and Robb’s vocal asking “come here baby, don’t hold it all inside/where the feelings of yesterday remain”.

Listen to ‘Valley of Stone’ for yourself and decide whether it’s an economic, political and environmental description of life in an old mill town and/or an image of emotions made visible through the valley of stone, its objective correlative. I love ‘Spoils of War’ for the way it hits you from the start, subtle guitar picking, a mesmeric tune and haunting backing arrangement, which builds line on line to the final lyrics “imagination killed by some material disease…..when the dust finally settles, hope someone’s still home”.

‘Red Light Blues’ is, unsurprisingly, blues-based and rich in imagery and references (including the passing use of the phrase “cross town traffic”); ‘Pass The Buck’ is another track with a livelier tempo, perhaps echoing most strongly of talking blues with the band driving the pace.

The album finishes with an eight and a half minute song, ‘When Am I Gonna Wake Up’, that you can listen to, then play from the start and listen to again, then listen more times and unpick the imagery which hops from verse to growing chorus until it reaches a final question:

When am I gonna wake up and start to give
see what I am doing in this life that I live
when am I gonna wake up, be more kind and care
and see I’m not alone in this life that we share”.

Like the rest of the album you wonder whether this is the song of an individual, the song of our society – or both. Beats me. All I can suggest is you give the album a good listen and see how Robb’s images interrelate with your own life.

Finally, then, Dead Men Have No Dreams isn’t poetry, it’s a CD of songs. While the sound on the first album was pretty impressive, the trio on this album of Marcus Rieck (drums), Cecil Drackett (bass) and Tobias Hoffman (electric guitars) have helped Robb to create something which sounds like…well, actually, I don’t have comparisons.

It sounds like Matthew Robb, a lyric-poet uncompromising in the way he covers the emotional and societal concerns of the modern world and makes them into damn good songs.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: https://matthewrobb.com

‘Dead Men Have No Dreams’ – official video:

VETIVER – Up On High (VJCD251P/LC 29868)

Up On HighVetiver is the vehicle for the music of Andy Cabic and the album Up On High was released earlier in November. Up On High is gentle, warm folk/folk-rock.

The album opens with ‘The Living End’, Paul-Simon-picking, a voice that has been likened to Nick Drake and to my ear also has echoes of post-Zombies Colin Blunstone. Hopefully, this gives you a sense of the mellowness of this album. You can hear just how mellow on the second track, ‘To Who Knows Where’, which is linked in the video below.

‘Swaying’ ups the tempo; hints – more than hints – of late 60’s west coast folk-rock are to the fore. ‘All We Could Want’ continues in the same mood. ‘Hold Tight’ continues the mellow theme, but adds a touch of funk to the mix. The second half of the album is opened with the bright sound of ‘Wanted Never Asked’, slows for ‘A Door Shuts Quick’ before bopping a little on ‘Filigree’. The album finishes with the infinite calm of ‘Up On High’ and ‘Lost (In Your Eyes)’.

Somewhere along the way the ambience of Up On High time-travels giving us a modern album with reminiscences of past sounds, from late 60’s west coast to well produced early 70’s folk and then on to early Indie music. It’s consequently no surprise to find that the album was written on acoustic guitar. It captures the warmth and tenderness of playing music with half a dozen friends close by – but (because it’s late) playing it quietly, gently by the tent at a festival or packed together in someone’s front room.

By chance, someone came by as I was playing Up On High, so I asked, “What do you think of this?”. My sense of the album was reaffirmed when I got the thoughtful reply, “I like it. It’s very listenable. I’d like to go to bed listening to this like I used to listen to Whispering Bob Harris when he was on in the early hours of a Sunday morning”. In a nutshell, I thought.

Vetiver are currently on tour in America, then come to the UK (with one date in Holland) from December 4th – 17th, before returning to mainland Europe again in January and February.

Mike Wistow

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Artist’s website: http://www.vetiverse.com

‘To Who Knows Where’ – official video:

SEAMUS EGAN – Early Bright (THL0003)

Early BrightThe Seamus Eagan Project release Early Bright on January 17th. The launch will be at the 2020 Celtic Connections in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in the evening concert (with Breabach). This tells you all you need to know about the regard with which the Seamus Egan Project is held.

Egan is a multi-instrumentalist; on this album he plays banjo, guitar, whistles, mandolin, keyboard and percussion. He was a founder member of Irish-American band Solas, has scored a range of films and inspired a variety of musicians through his skills and inventiveness. For twenty years he helped keep Solas fresh, through various membership changes and in its drawings from Irish music.

Solas have taken a break (of indeterminate length) and The Seamus Egan Project, then, is Egan’s latest incarnation. As you’d expect, the music is based on the sound of Irish tradition. However, this is an album of new music, Egan has written eight of the ten tracks himself.

The album opens with ‘Early Bright’, its delicate piano waking you into the album like the soundtrack a film maker would put to someone waking and stretching to a bright dawn sky. ‘6 Then 5’ segues from this into a delicate banjo (yes, really), the up-beat Irish rhythms pushing the track on. The tune in ‘Welcome to Orwell’ (I have no idea what the title means, though there is a town of that name a few hundred miles from Egan’s birthplace) is driven by Egan’s low whistle and some delicate playing behind them. The album then bounds, fittingly enough, into the dexterity of ‘B Bump Bounce’ which you can see on the video below. ‘Tournesol’ combines the whistle of the former with the energy of the latter.

‘Everything Always Was’ has a more haunting opening before progressing to a guitar led tune you couldn’t help but chill out to. ’52 Hertz’ has a similar feel. ‘Simon Nally Hunt The Buck’ somehow manages to be a lovely Irish tune while bringing in a sense of the mediaeval, dancing along in the middle until a final delicately picked ending. The album closes with ‘Under The Chestnut Tree’, calm and somnolent, a neat bookend to the opening track.

The Seamus Egan Project has a number of renowned musicians playing with Egan: Kyle Sanna (guitar, piano), Owen Marshall (bouzouki, harmonium), Moira Smiley (piano accordion), Joe Phillips (double bass) and additional depth from The Fretless String Quartet. They combine to create a set of finely-crafted tunes on Early Bright.

As well as their appearance at Celtic Connections on January 17, the band will play Glenbuchat Hall, Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, on 18th, Reeth Hall, Reeth, North Yorkshire on the 24th and The Ropewalk, Barton-upon-Humber on the 25th.

Mike Wistow

Artist’s website: https://www.seamuseganproject.com

‘B Bump Bounce’ – live: