FABRIZIO CAMMARATA – Lights (800A Records)

LightsFabrizio Cammarata released Lights on March 29th. I’d not heard of Cammarata before getting this CD, but I’m glad it came my way. Cammarata is a Sicilian singer-songwriter who, on this album, writes and sings in English. Lights is classed by iTunes as Indie Rock; if it matters, I’d see as on the folk/indie border. And it’s rather enjoyable.

‘Run, Run, Run’ can be heard on the link below and gives you a representative flavour of the album – nicely picked guitar, a band and Cammarata’s vocal range articulating emotion in different tones. The lyrics also tell a story worth listening to – in this case an invocation (inspired I gather by moments of stillness during a busy year of touring) to slow down.

Run, Run, Run/
As if they told you there’s a prize to catch/
But I won’t follow if you Run, Run, Run.

The sense is reminiscent of Thom Gunn’s masterly barbed line that “One is always nearer by not keeping still”.

Among several highlights, my favourite track is ‘Eileen’ a lovely melody, a full band and a song which builds splendidly from a first verse which includes

I guess I didn’t know you
When I was busy being perfect
And you were busy being worried about us

There are so many gaps to fill in that story that the imagination runs riot. The rest of the song builds equally stunning vignette images to the concluding line “I like Eileen the most when she is free”.

‘My Guitar At 4:00 am’ is similarly melodic and with a story told so that you create details from the gaps. “My guitar at 4:00 am just asked for you/ And I didn’t know what to say/ Because you might be coming late” and so on. A gentler, less edgy song than ‘Eileen’ dealing with an equally heart tugging moment – if I describe it as songwriting of a Boo Hewerdine kind, it’s meant as a significant compliment.

Other highlights include the vocal on ‘Blue’. With more limited instrumentation than other tracks, Cammarata’s voice carries the song in a mixture of a more gravelly style than on much of the album but the voice moves to soaring high notes to keep the attention. ‘Cassiopeia’ is slower and more haunting. ‘For My Heartbeats’ is another relationship song, jauntier tune but lines like “I can remember the first time you told me a lie/ On a ride back home from paradise/ I started to feel lonely with you around / Lost somewhere between you and I”. The contrast works rather well.

Cammarata describes the album as overflowing with the will to live. “It is a refutation against selfishness and egotism, and a celebration of the concept of union and togetherness”. It’s never possible to know what is artistic imagination and what is documentary from an artist’s life, but there is sense, both from the songs and the publicist’s information, that this has been an album developed out of tumult. In line with Cammarata’s comment above though, the overall feel of the album is hugely positive. Whatever the struggle, Cammarata has come out the other side and created an album which deserves to gain him a wider audience.

He is on tour in Europe from April 26th.

Mike Wistow

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‘Run, Run, Run’ – official video:

DERVISH – The Great Irish Songbook (Rounder Records)

The Great Irish SongbookDervish release The Great Irish Songbook on April 12th. I don’t really need to say very much more to persuade anyone to give this a listen. But, since that would be a rather short review, I will do.

The Band – Dervish have been playing Irish traditional music for nearly thirty years – in festivals as large as Rock In Rio (to an estimated quarter of a million people) or sessions as small as those in Sligo pubs where they still enjoy playing. They have a line-up which includes some of Ireland’s finest traditional musicians, fronted by one of the country’s best-known singers in Cathy Jordan. They’re renowned for live performances, dazzling sets of tunes and stunning interpretations of traditional songs.

The Music – Where would you start in choosing thirteen songs for an album called The Great Irish Songbook? How about ‘The Rambling Irishman’, ‘There’s Whiskey In The Jar’ and ‘Molly Malone’? These are the first three tracks on the album – all of them, I suspect, not only familiar to fans of Irish music but to anyone who has even a passing interest in listening to any kind music. Nor does the selection go downhill thereafter. Given the nature of this album, it’s probably worth listing the other tracks: ‘The Galway Shawl’, ‘She Moved Through the Fair’, ‘The Rocky Road To Dublin’, ‘Down By The Sally Gardens’, ‘On Raglan Road’, ‘Donal Og’, ‘The Fields Of Athenry’, ‘The May Morning Dew’, ‘The West Coast Of Clare’, finishing with (really, despite the Scottish claims to the song, what else would you chose?) ‘The Parting Glass’.

The Guests – The publicity for the album says “In assembling their line-up of featured guests, Dervish reached out to the many artists with whom they’ve bonded over a shared passion for Irish folk, then called on each musician to select their most cherished song within the genre. Recorded mainly at The Magic Room in Sligo, the finished product finds each collaborator imbuing the album with their own distinct sensibilities while lovingly upholding the time-honored character of the songs.” The guests on this album are a fine set of singers and players in their own right. They include: Steve Earle, Rhiannon Giddens, Vince Gill, Brendan Gleeson, Imelda May, Andrea Corr, Jamey Johnson, Kate Rusby, The Steeldrivers, Abigail Washburn, David Gray. They build on Dervish’s sound and, as Shakespeare might have it, their “friendship makes us fresh”.

I’ve enjoyed listening to this album, initially superficially but then much more closely. Firstly I’ve listened to the musicianship and the fresh approach to songs I’ve known for a while and, secondly, I realised I didn’t really know the history to many of these songs and have spent time researching them with the album playing at the same time. Some are newer than I’d realised, some much older. All give an insight into the history of Ireland, its music and, in some cases, its poetry.

If you’re well versed in the Irish tradition, this is a great album for hearing some different takes on songs – the video link below, for example, takes you to ‘The West Coast Of Clare’ and features David Gray. If you want to introduce yourself or someone else to The Great Irish Songbook, it’s a pretty good starting point.

Mike Wistow

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Artists’ website: https://www.dervish.ie

‘The West Coast Of Clare’:

ELLES BAILEY – Road I Call Home (Outlaw Music OLM19CD01)

Road I Call HomeElles Bailey is a Bristol-based musician with a reputation for pulsating live shows. Her first album, Wildfire, was released in 2017 to great acclaim and Bailey’s reputation, already growing because of her live performances, spread quickly. Her second album, Road I Call Home has just been released and is in its second week in the Official UK Country Music charts. If that doesn’t tell you enough about Bailey’s main genre have a listen to ‘Little Piece Of Heaven’ in the video below – a classic country-style song with a hell of a hook for a chorus, an evocative voice and some rather nice musicianship.

The album was recorded in Nashville with award winning collaborators and also showcases Bailey’s wider talents. As a second track, have a listen to ‘What’s The Matter With You’, a much more bluesy song with Bailey slowly rolling off her tongue the lyrics about a relationship going hard/gone hard, all juxtaposed against some nifty lead guitar which draws out the pain.

The opening track, ‘Hell Or High Water’, is another of my favourites bleeding Bailey’s smoky voice in a slow first half of the track into the up tempo second half before a final verse bringing conviction in the musical return to a slower pace, “Come hell, come high water/You ain’t bringing me down”. I also love the song and the story behind ‘Medicine Man’; on the surface it’s a track about an old American Medicine Man (snake oil salesmen, con artist etc.) – but the song was inspired by a man Bailey met in America who, as she puts it, “Stole my soul , off he ran/I was played for a fool by the medicine man”. And to give a full flavour of the album, it’s worth also highlighting the final track, a soulful song called ‘Light In The Distance’.

Bailey’s voice is distinctive, a result not of smoking 60 a day but of being in hospital and breathing through a tube for seventeen days when she was young. This changed her voice…..and when her parents asked the consultant what could be done, he told them she was fine, but if she grew up wanting to be a singer, she’d be a great blues singer. Road I Call Home, then, is this mix of blues, country and soul.

One final comment, though, is that the publicity talks about Bailey potentially moving into a much bigger time, even The Big Time – and, good as it is, professional as it is, I didn’t get it from this album. The publicity also talks about Bailey’s “natural habitat: live performance” so I looked on YouTube for live stuff. There’s a sassiness in the live performances – they’re more raw than the album but I like them the better for that. Bailey is back on the road from May 10th, details on her website.

Mike Wistow

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

‘Little Piece Of Heaven’:

HOLY MOLY AND THE CRACKERS – Take A Bite (Pink Lane Records)

Take A BiteHoly Moly & The Crackers release Take A Bite on April 5th. Sometimes it brings a smile to your face to see a band grow and develop – for me, this is one of those bands. “All roads lead to the stage. It boils down into one manic, riotous party. That’s where we connect with the audience and with each other and that’s what we’re all about,” says the band’s Conrad Bird. I saw them a couple of times a few years ago playing local halls when a friend put them on as part of Nottinghamshire’s Village Ventures events. In a live performance, Holy Moly don’t half give an exuberant concert.

They are now a six piece band – fiddle, guitar/electric guitar, trumpet, accordion, bass and drums with an energetic sound – “foot-stomping folk pop” is their description. Take A Bite is Holy Moly and the Crackers’ third album and it moves them on from their folk/blues/indie origins to more mainstream music.

There’s a diversity of songs on the album from the massively up tempo ’Sister’ or ‘All I Got Is You’ – which you can hear in the video below – to the slower beauty of ‘I’d Give It All’. Holy Moly and the Crackers began in Newcastle in 2011 as “little more than a laugh” but over the years have kept their energy and become more than a bunch of mates playing together, their playing honed in the old-fashioned way by years of touring and it gives the album much of the dynamism and strength of their live performances.

They describe Take A Bite in words reminiscent of a graduation or the end of an apprenticeship: “We’ve arrived at a place here, with this album, where we can start the journey that we want to be on”. Certainly this album raises the bar. They are on tour from April 4th – 21st, mainly in the North and Scotland, and in places with a great musical history – the Welly, the Musician, the Greystones et al.

It’s a couple of years since I’ve seen the band but if you like the liveliness of ‘All I Got Is You’ you can see there’s more than a fair chance you’ll have a good night if you can get to see them live.

Mike Wistow

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‘All I Got Is You’ – official video:

DAVID GRAY – Gold In A Brass Age (IHT Records)

Gold In A Brass AgeDavid Gray released his new album, Gold In A Brass Age, last week – his first album of new material in four years and his eleventh in a career that has now spanned 25 years. The album is currently number 21 in the Album Chart and a single, ‘The Sapling’, has been released. From the video of the single, below, you can hear that Gray’s voice is as compelling as it was twenty years ago when he part-ruled both album and singles charts. It’s neither urgent, nor whispered nor gravelled but has elements of all these and draws you inexorably into the songs.

Gray describes creating the new album, “I was keen to get away from narrative. Instead of writing melodies, I looked for phrases with a natural cadence, so that the rhythm began with the words. I reimagined where a song might spring from and what form it could take”. As an album, this approach works well, the sophistication of the production blending the songs together, though, it does mean that – apart from the delight of ‘The Sapling’ – the individuality of songs can be lost to the coherence of the album whole.

On her live album Joni Mitchell talks about how early work continues to live on because the performing arts are different from painting (“Nobody ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a Starry Night again, man’ “). In a review of a new album, how far should Gray’s earlier work be mentioned as it stands like a dragon in the gate to anything that follows? Perhaps in relation to his touring? Gold In A Brass Age is supported by a UK and Ireland tour, from March 15th to April 6th, and I can imagine the rich sound of this album working well in these larger venues. I’ve just flicked between the new album and some of Gray’s songs from White Ladder – ‘The Sapling’ in particular stands comparison but other tracks won’t be out of place. Scroll down on Gray’s website and you can find the tour details.

In thinking about the wider arts, it’s worth saying that the album cover is rather striking. Gray sought out a tattoo artist (London Boy) and the gold/black artwork (above) shows an Emperor moth with the London skyline captured in its wingspan. If you look out other tracks from the album on YouTube – ‘A Tight Ship’ or ‘Watching the Waves’, say – you’ll find the artwork has also been turned into elegant videos.

How to sum up? Gold In A Brass Age is a mature album by a notable artist which I’ve enjoyed listening to. It’s rather classy – but that, of course, might just be the point being made by the album’s title.

Mike Wistow

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‘The Sapling’ – official video:

MARTYN JOSEPH – Here Come The Young (Pipe Records PRCD028)

Here Come The YoungMartyn Joseph released Here Come The Young on January 25th. I imagine most people reading Folking.com will know Martyn Joseph, but in case he’s new to you, Joseph is a multi-award winning singer and songwriter. His lyrics spring from an internationalist and humanitarian belief in people and their ability to make the world a better place; his music has that rare ability to draw you in on first hearing – and years later you’re still playing it because you’re not yet sated by the songs; his live performances are compelling.

That’s rather a lot for a new album to live up to – but it does. Here Come The Young was produced by Gerry Diver, who apparently took Joseph outside his comfort zone and the resulting album, while still being very recognisably the same artist, has an even greater energy and depth of sound than previous albums: Martyn Joseph plus, perhaps? Bob Harris has described Here Come The Young as “Strong, powerful and brave, it takes Martyn’s songs to a new, exciting and challenging place”.

The video below is to the title track and would give an excellent introduction both to Joseph the artist and to this particular album. The song, which looks outward onto our world, is a simple statement of challenge and hope that the young who are tired of so much of our unequal socio-enviro-political world “might just save the day”. The powerful graphics on the video enhance the track even further.

By contrast, ‘Oh My Soul’ turns inwards, asking at us to believe in our “heart’s poetry” and has an exhortation in the chorus as part of the quatrain “Oh my soul/Let me get out of your way/Oh my soul/Wake up and seize the day”.

We are a chorus of many” is central to ‘Love’s Majority’, a classic Martyn Joseph song with a quietly expressive vocal and the ability to merge poetry into song in a verse like “We’re not just straining for the echoes/Of all the vision we hold dear/We’re looking for the common threads of love/That bind us truly human here”.

I don’t know if it’s the best song, but among many powerful tracks on the album ‘Driving Her Back To London’ is the one that tears most at my heart (in a good way). It’s a song about inter-generational swapping of tunes on iPhones “She plays Kings Of Leon I play her rolling Stones……I play you Bruce you play me Muse” and builds to a wider reflection of uncritical love – it’s something I’ve done, and this track captures the moment perfectly.

‘Take Back The Sky’ is written in memory of a young Palestinian medic, shot in Gaza; ‘Summer Has A Way of Finding You’ has the simplest arrangement (vocal, piano and cello), a complement to the more up-tempo band sound of ‘Get Back To You’ and the almost bluesy ‘This Glass’ – the latter a song which asks us to take our half-filled glass and fill it up with things of beauty for the human spirit. ‘Nothing Is Lost in Love’ is not only a tribute to the power of love but I’d imagine will become as much of a song for an audience to quietly sing along with several thousand full marquees have done previously with ‘On My Way’.

I’ll finish with ‘Communion’ in the middle of the album, which has the distinctive musical depth I mentioned earlier. I know of no other artist who could both write lines like “When I make the bed, it’s like breaking bread/I stand in our room and I fall in communion with you” and make them sound as pure as poetry when they are sung. Similarly the chorus:

So when we’re all cried out from singing
We’re gonna rise up and sing it again
And when the light goes down we’re gonna stoke the fire
And bring it back to life, bring it back to life again”.

These are images which can be seen as purely descriptive, but which are surely metaphors for hope. And, as ever with Martyn Joseph, these aren’t treatises, these are songs – when you hear them, you want to sing along.

Here Come The Young is a great addition to Joseph’s already impressive series of albums. He is on tour in Germany from February 15th and then in the USA before returning to the UK from mid-May

Mike Wistow

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‘Here Come The Young’ – official video: