It’s exceedingly difficult to create a great live album, but with When We Get to Shore, Northwest US songwriter and folk singer Coty Hogue seems to have succeeded at just that. When recording live music, there’s no safety net. There’s no autotune to adjust the singing, or do-overs to cover up mistakes, but Coty Hogue clearly needs none of that. Her live album crackles with electricity and showcases her distinctly beautiful voice. It’s the kind of voice that’s equally at home singing a subtle, acoustic version of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” as it is singing songs from her own pen, or a mournful Appalachian ballad. Few singers today can claim that kind of diversity, but Coty Hogue walks these lines easily.
All these influences come from a life well-lived. Raised in Montana, Coty Hogue grew up with the awe-inspiring wide open skies and rugged mountains of her hometown embedded in her music. She left at a young age to move to Bellingham, WA, a small arts-based city nestled into the waters of the Puget Sound about an hour and a half North of Seattle. She nurtured her songwriting talent there, collaborating with other artists, including fellow songwriter Sarah Fulford (whose song “Jonah” opens the album, and whose songs have featured on all of Coty’s albums). In 2009, Coty moved across the country to Boone, North Carolina to work for a Masters in Appalachian Studies. She studied the old songs and ballads of Southern old-time music, immersing herself in their sparse, haunted landscapes. Returning to Bellingham, where she now lives, Coty’s carved out a space for herself in the national folk scene as a uniquely versatile singer, an artist whose music resonates with knowledge of our past history and hope for a bright future.
When We Get To Shore was recorded live before a joyous audience at Seattle’s renowned Empty Sea Studios. Recording engineer Michael Connolly has perfected the art of live recording, and it really shows on this album. Joined by fellow Bellingham musicians Aaron Guest (vocals/guitar) and Kat Bula (fiddle/vocals), Coty’s sound is rich and warm, but also intimately alone, unbuffered by studio trickery. The songs run the gamut of her influences, from a Fleetwood Mac cover (“Second Hand News”) to beautiful, thoughtful renditions of traditional songs like “Wedding Dress” and “Handsome Molly.” Coty’s songs feature prominently, like the graceful mourning of “Cannot Deliver,” and the bitter taste of “Fire and Ashes.” The album closes with a song from Bill Monroe and a song from Hazel Dickens, cementing Coty’s love for American roots music. Each song is treated with careful reverence, as Coty draws out its inner essence.
Like your draw dropping open when you first saw Mo Farah or Usane Bolt at the Olympics you know you are witnessing something special given the combined talents of Mike McGoldrick, John McCusker & John Doyle taking to the stage and this CD magnificently captures that moment for posterity. Make no mistake, when this personable three-piece start playing they intend to take no
prisoners and in spreading their Celtic passion and passing it amongst their audience like a sprinkling of fairy dust the end result is ‘magic’. Doyle injects a funky, rhythmic style in his guitar playing that would ignite the Olympic cauldron (Danny Boyle missed an opportunity there) whilst the fiddle/flute/pipes interplay from McGoldrick and McCusker assail your audio pleasure with exclamations of disbelief at the mastery of their chosen weapons. Like a shot of adrenaline individually and collectively the trio invigorate the listener with their mixture of traditional and self composed melodies and coupled with John’s assured vocals (joined by guest Heidi Talbot on Nic Jones “Boys Of Bedlam”) the lads combine in a musical camaraderie that just has to be experienced once in your lifetime. With the album coming in at a total of 1 hour 10 minutes I still (selfishly) want more.
Following her own yellow brick road (judging by her choice of footwear) Sharon Shannon has chosen yet another…how shall we say ‘obscure’ bedfellow in utilising the services of the RTE Concert Orchestra. This possibly may not seem so odd if any of you have heard either of the two 1980’s James Last In Ireland recordings or Vladimir Cosma’s “Kidnapped” (my favourite record of all time!) where combining traditional instrumentation such as accordion with the lush sounds of a full orchestra projects the much maligned squeeze box to be the star attraction. Of course, in the hands of one as dextrous as Ms Shannon it goes without saying that she makes the recording come to life with sparkling arrangements wringing every last drop of ‘soul’ from those much used reeds. The passion and enjoyment of performing with such august company i s obvious and whether it’s the effervescent opening track “Top Dog Gaffo” or the sumptuous “April Magnolia” (composed by long time guitarist and collaborator Jim Murray) you cannot help but be impressed by a ‘folk’ musician conquering the ‘classical’ market without the likes of Bryn Terfel or Leslie Garrett to muck everything up. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to listen to Wallace & Gromit at the Proms!
Featuring four world class fiddle players; Charlie McKerron, Gordon Gunn, Adam Sutherland and Kevin Henderson plus, for good measure Marc Clement (guitar), Brian McAlpine (piano and accordion) and percussionist David “Chimp” Robertson there’s no monkey-ing around with Session A9. The first track, McKerron’s “The Surfing Bride” is an attractive set-up with gentle piano introduction followed by solo fiddle before unleashing a glorious orchestra of fiddles washing over the listener like a musical spa before shifting up a gear into the key-alternating “Ruffus And Molly’s Wedding Polka” and the grand finale “One For Oliver”. For a bunch of musicians the other nice thing about the band is that they cover some excellent songs including Jackson Brown’s “These Days” featuring some country styled mandolin licks and the good -time “One For The Road” by the much missed John Martyn. In Clement (well, they can weather it) the group have a gifted lead vocalist and with all the members taking a stab at backing vocals they make an impressive wall of sound. This is the kind of recording where it sounds like all the members are having a blast playing together so be prepared to have your dancing shoes ready for some serious ceilidh swinging with a good time guaranteed . Nice one lads!
The first word that came to me when I listened to this initially was ‘Classy’ .
It is difficult to talk about the exceptional song writing and musicianship on this album without reminding myself this guy is still a teenager, only 18. This young musician has been grafting for a few years already and soaking up influences from masters of the song writing craft, the likes of Steve Knightley, Boo Hewerdine and Martin Simpson , the essences of those are there entwined with his own unique style and voice .
All the songs have a warmth, perceptiveness and empathy running through them, all delivered with this powerful voice . There is a thread of coming of age and rites of passage running through many of the tracks. He shows the ability to pull you into a story a quality key to all good storytelling songwriters, and I found myself eager to hear the songs again and again and shaking my head with wonder. In particular the overwhelmingly poignant ‘ Last Train’ , I would defy even the hardest heart not to be moved by the imagery of the young soldier heading home to deliver a heartbreaking message to a comrades loved one.
Lukes musicianship and guitar playing is astonishingly skilful, intricate and self-assured as with ‘Winning Goal’ which has sparks of the bright bell like style of Martin Simpson.
The album has been deftly and sensitively produced by the giant of British song writing, Martyn Joseph , letting Luke show off his voice and guitar playing without too many extra colours to distract from Lukes raw energy . Only adding touches of backing vocals and lovely double tracking of Lukes vocals, and delicate whispers of a Tenor guitar here and there.
This debut album has well and truly carved a new benchmark for the next generation of Songwriters and will have Luke snapping at the heels of the likes of Ed Sheeran and Frank Turner in no time at all. It is a highly accomplished creation in every way, and showcases this young singer/ songwriters talents magnificently!
Heck after all said ….Just buy it! …Then go see him live on tour in the UK with Martyn Joseph this Autumn.
In 2010 Sam Carter was on the ‘folk’ scene radar with his debut album and a name to watch out for. Since then he’s been a bit quiet only now returning with that second ‘difficult’ album. Starting somewhat bizarrely (to me at least) with the shape-note intro “Antioch” leading into an anthem for our times “Dreams Are Made Of Money” this track certainly has a touch of the Dransfields about it. There’s a cynicism in Carter’s voice that is pitched just right and by the time he gets to the broadside ballad “Jack Hall” he’s pretty much cracked it. Working in conjunction with fiddler Sam Sweeney on this particular track I’d swear Swarbrick & Carthy had a hand in the arrangement. Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say his presentation is lugubrious but the lyrical style of the song “The One” hits just the right chord if you watch a lot of what is currently deemed ‘drama’ on television…buy the CD or watch the video clip below to see what I mean…and the addition of guest musicians Matt Ridley (double bass/bass guitar) and Sam Nadel on drums adds a nice touch of colour to the proceedings. Songs of the fear of old age and poignant tales of broken relationships all play their part in Sam’s musical journey to the psychiatrist’s chair (otherwise known as the ‘folk’ scene) but I feel he’s ultimately achieved a bulls-eye in his ability as a substantial singer-songwriter. Ok, so I’ve used more comparisons than I should have already in this review but if I’m allowed to mention just one more there’s a touch of Pentangle about “No Other Side” and I personally feel there’s nothing wrong in pointing these things out particularly if it’s done with the best of intentions steering the listener to similar conclusions.