Covertly perhaps the ‘folk music’ world has taken out shares in Mothercare but then again, maybe it’s just had a case of the ‘January Blues’ as every self-respecting artist appears to have recently kidnapped lullabies and children’s songs with which to regale their listeners. Megson, Pauline Vallance and now Jackie Oates amongst others have decided that the art of the lullaby to gently coerce the ‘ahh’ factor from its audience is what is required to take our minds off the latest monumental government cock-up. On a selection which (quite rightly in my opinion) settles on lesser known poems etc introduces the seductive string tones of Barney Morse-Brown (cello) and the Reykjavik Sinfonia and Jackie herself on viola and octave fiddle. I was surprised and delighted that she included “Junk” by Paul McCartney (a song I first heard performed by John Denver many years ago) one that, as Oates states fits comfortably within the canon of lullabies. In my dotage I can safely say that the ‘folk’ scene…and those of a discerning nature…are well served here and if you’re looking for a soothing, non offending cosh in these politically correct times you’ve come to the right place.
Nicole Maguire has been determined to sing since childhood, she’s been writing songs since she was 12 and at just 15 was gigging, playing opening slots for anyone who’d let her. In addition to her musical gifts Nicole Maguire has been blessed with dedication and determination. This means she now finds herself, still in her mid 20s, with admirers including Paul Brady, Nanci Griffiths & Damien Dempsey and a self-funded album produced by Mitchell Froom (Crowded House, Pearl Jam, Paul McCartney). The band on the album includes Elvis Costello & the Attractions’ drummer, Pete Thomas; Crosby Stills & Nash’s bass player Bob Glaub and Val McCallum, guitarist for Sheryl Crow and Lucinda Williams.Vonda Shepard, the award-winning singer from Ally McBeal, handled backing vocals, with Grammy award-winning engineer David Boucher assisting Mitchell Froom. Nicole recalls that there was an incredible energy and momentum to the sessions. “We did it all live. We just went in and played it till we loved it and then we stopped. I hoped to create somethingthat in twenty years I could be completely proud of. I think I did that”.
The album is profoundly emotional with a homespun lyricism that recalls Lucinda Williams, Bonnie Raitt’s early 70s recordings and Christine McVie’s poignant songcraft in Fleetwood Mac. Standout cuts include the stunning title track, the ethereal With You, the heartfelt sentimentality of Fall Apart and the guitar led Out Of Our Hands.
Petite and elfin, Maguire grew up in the windswept village of Conna, 20 miles from the coast of Southern Ireland — little grey stone buildings embracing a single road and subjugated under the heavy rolling rain clouds of the Celtic sea. Despite none of her immediate family playing an instrument, Maguire was powerfully drawn to music. She scoured through her family and friends’ record collections listening to everything they’d collected from folk to hard rock but was most captivated by the beguiling romanticism of the California songwriters.
A lively and inquisitive child at school, Maguire entered all the faculty’s music contests and frequently won. “Yes I used to enter competitions in primary school” she recalls. “I played pennywhistle and sang. I won one singing a Mary Black song called “No Frontiers”. Other times I would do reels and jigs. I do have a lot of medals.”
Maguire set out to perform her songs live but as a teenager she wasn’t legally allowed to enter the Guinness-soaked clubs of Dublin and Cork. As her growing stagecraft began to attract attention, Maguire looked for a concert mentor to coach her live performances to an even higher level. She chose none other than Ireland’s preeminent live performer – Damien Dempsey. “I got invited to a Damien Dempsey gig and I went up to him and said I was a songwriter. He must hear that twenty times a week, but he gave me a support slot at his next show. He did such a wonderful thing for me. He gave me the support at his Vicar Street show which is the ultimate concert in Ireland. I got to road test those songs with a full band in front of his intense audience. I think he’s one of the most important Irish songwriters and in a hundred years from now his songs will be in all the Irish folk song books”.
As her touring became more frequent, Maguire realised she needed something to sell on the road to pay for room and board. She decided to cut an EP, but with no label she was forced to make sacrifices having to sell her car to pay for the manufacturing. Soon her frequent performances across Ireland would introduce her to her next champion — Grammy award winning Texan singer Nanci Griffith. “The girl they had lined up to support Nanci on her Irish tour pulled out at the very last minute. Nanci took me under her wing and was so kind. I learned an awful lot from those gigs. It was just me and my guitar and a theatre full of people.”Griffith and her band encouraged Maguire to try out her material Stateside. “Some of Nanci’s band said “have you ever considered going to Nashville to write?So I just saved up some money and got on a plane and went. Every second person you meet in that city is a songwriter. Even the guy driving the bus is playing the passengers his songs! I was paying for it with my hard saved pennies so I chose very carefully who I wanted to work with. It was so productive that I saved more money to go back a second time. After going to school with Paul Brady, I guess this was like going to University for me.”
With a brace of songs that she’d road tested around America and Ireland, Maguire decided it was time to make an album and headed into the recording studio with Mitchell Froom at the helm. The resulting album is now available for your listening pleasure.
TESS was born in 1972. In the following years, there could have not been a better education into music and songcraft! Bowie, The Doors, John Lennon -it all left a caliber of musical structure and melody that strongly imprinted on the mind of a growing child. As each newly released song was lapped up on a Sunday “chart show” afternoon, it taught him how to express what he, a quiet child, found hard to do through words alone, yet more importantly it gave him something to aspire to.
For most of his adult life, he didn’t fully embrace a music career. To him, his songs were more like intimate diary entries, recording the major passages of his life. But songs eventually led to performances; and those gigs led to a chance meeting with a cellist in a café. Through her, TESS was introduced to producer and strings arranger Howard Gott. Howard recognised the strength of the vocals, guitar structure and they began work. Howard bought an air of patience to the recording with his string parts offering sensitivity and texture. The album took well over a year to develop, often with long periods of reflection in between tracks; he was determined to give it “his all”. Every song has to be based on the truth of his life; some of the lyrics so intimate that he still finds it hard to directly address their meaning. The result? “An album that creeps under the skin with each listen” (ACOUSTIC MAGAZINE).
And so we have Magpie, 11 songs of depth and introspection. At times haunting and deeply personal – yet always unmistakable. “Not to be ignored”, say MOJO. Available via the Amazon link below:
Dan has already established a considerable reputation on the UK singer songwriter and folk roots scene. His distinctive approach has won him many fans and led to his supporting Joan Armatrading on a recent European tour, as well as opening for artists such as Mary Gauthier, Badly Drawn Boy, Cara Dillon, Chris Farlowe and Slaid Cleaves at concerts throughout the UK and USA. He also had a song, Every Little Dog endorsed by Neil Young when Shakey chose it for his ‘Living with War’ website.
His live performances are noted for their strong emotional impact and his songs are informed by literary influences such as Ben Okri and also the influence of painters like Marc Chagall. Indeed, Dan’s songs receive colourful treatment on this his first album. From the enigmatic longing of 40 Miles to the vibrant energy of Cool Dark Night and No-One Shed A Tear, the intense originality of his writing is balanced by strong and varied musical texture.
Dan is of mixed Indian and British origin. Many of his songs draw on images from his turbulent childhood and reflect on a search for belonging that remains elusive. There is a wistfulness and yearning at the heart of his writing which reveals itself strongly in songs like Home, Again. The lyrics of this track look back on his journey since moving away from his native Bedfordshire as a teenager and see him trying to make peace with his roots. In a similar vein is Rivertown which follows one man’s restless spirit as he travels through the rubble of the past trying to make sense of where he’s been so he can see where he’s going. The song has an almost supernatural quality and lyrics that fuse otherworldly images with an undertone of loss: ‘help me sweep the ashes from the floor/help me see the way I did before.’ The record concludes with the beautiful closing track, Can’t Go Back, which features the West African Griot musician, Mosi Conde, on kora. Written in Texas while on tour, it was inspired by the themes of displacement he heard in so many country songs while there and the personal experience of leaving behind all he knew, to follow someone, only to see it come apart.
A chance meeting at a gig in South London led Dan to record his debut album with Charlie Hart, who has worked previously with Ronnie Lane, Ian Dury, Eric Clapton and Mose Allison. It features a stellar array of guest appearances from Geraint Watkins (Van Morrison, Paul McCartney), BJ Cole (Dolly Parton, Martin Simpson) Steve Simpson (Eric Bibb, Ronnie Lane), Frank Mead (Albert King, Eric Clapton) and Mosi Conde (Mory Kante, Salif Keita).
Dan Raza has waited a long time to make his first full album after earning plaudits from some of the most notable songwriters on both sides of the Atlantic. There is no doubt he has a lot of promise. This is the first clue to what he might do with it.
“One of the best support acts I’ve seen in two or three years…an artist that makes you take note and listen to the songs.” Slaid Cleaves