BAND OF BURNS – The Thread (own label)

The ThreadTwo years on from making their debut with the Live from Union Chapel album, the twelve-strong outfit return with their first studio recording, The Thread, again underscoring their mission to interpret the works and philosophies of Robert Burns, the binding thread of the messages that inform them providing its title.

Arranged by the band members, over thirteen tracks, the words are predominantly those of Burns, some set to music for the first time, with one penned by Adam Beattie, two instrumentals from Mikey Kenney and one traditional tune.

They begin with ‘Ca’ The Yowes’, a song often erroneously attributed to Burns but in fact a pastoral poem from Ayshire poet Isabel Pagan, collected by him in 1794 and subsequently revised. Although the booklet credits Burns as editor, the lyrics, about a shepherdess who meets a shepherd lad while herding her ewes are actually Pagan’s original, Armagh’s Rioghnach Connolly on lead vocals, a minimally accompanied opening gradually given a gentle backing by strings and cittern.

As befits its theme of emotional desolation, set to to music by lead vocalist John Langan, the ruminatively strummed ‘To Ruin’ maintains the wistful mood, Dila Vardar providing backing, Fellimi Devlin bodhran and Connolly on flute. The latter returns take lead on her rustic circling guitar arrangement of the nature celebrating ‘Now Westlin Winds’ with its fiddle, viola, violin and Sonny Johns’ brushed snare before handing the vocal reins to Langan and Kenney for one of the two best known numbers, Dominic Hooper’s cello introducing ‘Parcel O’Rogues’, the instrumentation gathering in power as it proceeds, which, like the latter was also featured on the live album.

Hooper, Vardar and Connolly, again on flute, take vocal command of ‘To Daunton Me’, opening largely unaccompanied before adopting a more lustful marching rhythm burnished by Tansay Omar’s cymbal shimmers that captures the female narrator’s defiant declaration never to be seduced by an old man.

The first of the instrumentals and the only traditional number comes with a restrained yet still rousing ‘Highlanders’, Kenney, Lewis Murray and Alastair Caplin leading the fiddle charge with Dave Tunstall on border pipes, Connolly on whistle and Irish flute and Turkish bells courtesy of Vardar.

Things calm down again with ‘Ay Waukin O’, a yearning for an absent lover, written in 1790, with Caplin’s aching violin underscoring the melancholic mood, then it’s on to another familiar song in ‘Charlie is my Darling’. Originally a rousing patriotic celebration of Prince Charles Edward Stewart, the young Chevalier or Young Pretender, who led a rebellion against the English in 1745 before being defeated at Culloden the following year, Burns’ version largely dispenses with any political references and, instead, views him through the eyes of a besotted highland lass. Arranged by Vardar, who sings lead, and Fatih Ebrem it has earthy Middle Eastern colours, flourishing as the pace shifts from its slow intro to the rousing chorus.

Based on ‘The Trappan’d Maiden’, a late 17th century broadside about an English girl sold to Virginia, singing lead, Kenney gives ‘The Slave’s Lament’ a medieval troubadour arrangement with just Adam Beattie’s acoustic guitar, Hooper’s cello and Dave Tunstall on double bass.

With words and music by Beattie, who also sings solo, the sole original song is ‘Stripped To The Bone’, a powerful number about refugees (“Gave all your money to a smuggler. Boat leaves in the night”) and subsequent homelessness (“Going where the begging’s good”) , a tick tocking rhythm embellished by strings, bodhran, mandolin, flute, double bass and Turkish bells, followed by Kenney’s guitar and fiddle Celtic ambience instrumental ‘Red Jura’, he also providing the closing instrumental, the full-blooded ‘Coleman’s Fireproof Depository’ which sees Langan on cajon and the return of border pipes. Should you be curious, the title refers to a historic building in Liverpool, established around 1875 by George Coleman & Sons as a “cart owners and furniture removers” business and now, having survived a fire in the 1981 riots, converted into apartments.

Again sung and arranged by Kenney, sandwiched between these two tracks is the remaining Burns lyric, the jaunty fiddle-driven ‘The Dusty Miller’, the shortest number at just over two minutes (most clock in at over four with five pushing past the five-minute mark) and one that positively makes you want to link arms with someone and dance circles round the room.

Not that Burns is in any danger of slipping from the public consciousness, but between Eddi Reader and this collective, his work is reaching a perhaps wider and younger audience, and the band’s short set of dates, including Celtic Connections, at the tail end of next January will weave the thread even stronger.

Mike Davies

Artists’ website: www.bandofburns.com

‘Now Westlin Winds’ – live:

MIKEY KENNEY – The Reverie Road (Penny Fiddle Records PFR1902CD

The Reverie RoadMikey Kenney is an accomplished fiddler and balladeer with wealth of English and Irish folk song in his repertoire. His most recent release, The Reverie Road, brings these traditions (and a few other influences) together.

Beginning with ‘Bacca Pipes’ (the English variant of Greensleeves), it isn’t long before Kenney turns from interpreter to original composer, firstly with a collection of thematically connected reels; ‘The Devil Goat of Keady/ Mr West’s Fiddle/ The Repair Job’, re-telling the tale of a billy goat that broke the treasured instrument of a fellow musician.

While this story is told without lyrics, ‘The Path I Walk Upon’ is crammed with interesting lyrical imagery, telling of a recurring dream of Kenney’s about a white bear which guides him to the edge of an icebound cliff. These images reoccur throughout the album, particularly in ‘Montagna Di Menta (Calitri)’. In some ways this song feels like the connection for the entire album, however, on other levels, it creates a notable shift from English and Irish folk song, to Italian-inspired work, largely brought about through the tremolo-heavy mandolin style.

A series of jigs, (‘Brigid’s Jigs’) bring back the original flavour, while ‘Napoli’, another one from Kenney’s pen continues to effortlessly blend the mix of influences on this album. This ‘Italian sound’ surfaces once more, before the album bows out, this time on a track called ‘Soggy Desert’, a piece about the bleak beauty of the Lune estuary in Lancaster.

While this album is strong from a traditional music standpoint (at times, in some ways, vaguely reminiscent of a Martin Carthy or Dave Swarbrick recording), it is also worthy of praise for its songwriting. It is not just a fiddle album, it is the broader works of a gifted musician, so if the idea of an album made up exclusively of fiddle tunes isn’t quite your thing, this is still worth tracking down.

Christopher James Sheridan

Artist’s website: http://www.mikeykenney.co.uk/

‘Montangna Di Menta’: