WAYWARD JANE – Old Train (own label WJ002)

Old TrainWayward Jane are a quartet from Edinburgh who play old-timey and Americana as though they were born to it. In fact, Michael Starkey has lived and worked in the Appalachians and it is his distinctive banjo style that gives the music a real authenticity. The second lead instrument is Rachel Walker’s fiddle and they are frequently heard playing off against each other. On top we have Sam Gillespie’s flute, whistle and guitar and underneath there is Daniel Abrahams’ double bass or guitar. All four sing and share lead vocals. Old Train is their second album, following their eponymous debut.

The album opens with the traditional ‘Hills Of Mexico’ and you can almost hear the tumbleweed rolling across the desert. Rachel’s fiddle throbs underneath with Michael’s banjo decorating the song until he steps back and lets her take over. It’s so tempting to just put the track on loop. ‘County Farm’ is up next, a long track beginning with a jaunty melody. You wait for a change, then wonder it they can keep it up for eight-and-a-half minutes. At the point when you decide that they will do just that the change comes and they break into a version of Son House’s ‘County Farm Blues’ before returning to the original tune. It’s inspired.

‘Old Train’ is the first of the band’s own compositions and it sounds more Scottish than American, which is a nice change of pace. They don’t really betray their nationality although Rachel’s Scots accent adds a special charm to I Draw Slow’s ‘Carolina’. The other contemporary cover is a languid reading of Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings’ ‘Elvis Presley Blues’. I was expecting ‘Arkansas Traveller’ to be the dance tune but it isn’t and the first instrumental is the band’s own ‘Lyra’s Tune’ which immediately feels familiar.

The final track is another original, ‘Sheep In A Stubble Field’ which might have been composed to give everyone a feature. It begins with wordless vocals – not sure who that is – then Michael’s banjo, another wordless chorus with pizzicato fiddle followed by guitar. At this point, everyone is fed up with waiting around and the band sweeps in with the substantive melody.

Despite the obvious potential of banjo and fiddle for ripping and roaring, Old Train is actually an album to put your feet up to. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.waywardjane.com

‘September’ – live in the studio:

Wayward Jane release their second album

Wayward Jane

Wayward Jane are renowned in Edinburgh and beyond as exponents of a unique, transatlantic interpretation of American folk and Old Time traditions, whose sound is characterised by fun, inventiveness and a warm, intuitive dynamic between the band members.

They are just about to release their second album Old Train launched with a concert at the Argyle Cellar Bar in Edinburgh on the evening of Saturday 14th December.

Old Train was recorded by sound engineer and musician Tim Lane whose Stable Project Studio in the East Lothian countryside has become a popular choice for recording artists from Edinburgh’s alternative folk scene. The band took up residence at the studio for the duration of the process and for the most part recorded live in one room with minimal use of overdubbing. The result is a recording that is true to the spirit of their live shows, displaying their characteristic energy, spontaneity and playfulness. This combines with the clarity and richness that has been achieved in the representation of the individual instruments and voices, with pleasing vintage warmth pervading the whole. Graham Coe of the Jellyman’s Daughter mixed the album; his love and knowledge of the genre made him the perfect choice for the record.

The album showcases the band’s unique sound and blends roots material with fresh arrangements and original compositions. Alongside Old Time and Country Blues music, Old Train features songs by Gillian Welch, I Draw Slow and several compositions by the band themselves.

Some classic string band elements are present in the sound, with great fiddle and clawhammer banjo playing complimented by the drive and warmth of guitar and bass. Yet the music also features wooden flute/whistles, an inventive approach to arrangement and an emphasis on powerful vocals with close harmonies. Old Train ranges in mood and tempo from driving Old Time tunes to tender and passionate songs, with musicality and soulfulness animating the whole record.

The four band members are all active in the Celtic folk music scene of Edinburgh (and in some cases the Jazz scene) and they bring these perspectives to the American roots music that is the inspiration for Wayward Jane. The line-up includes Rachel Walker (fiddle, vocals) and Dan Abrahams (guitar, double bass) of the mighty Edinburgh folk-jazz pioneers Dowally, alongside Sam Gillespie (vocals, guitar, woodwind) of Northumbrian folk troubadours The Brothers Gillespie. Banjo player Michael Starkey has travelled and studied traditional music in the Appalachians, bringing back with him tunes and insights which help shape the sound of the album.

Wayward Jane will be gigging and touring throughout 2020 with upcoming performances including Dundee Folk Club on Sunday 19th January, Glenfarg Folk Club on Monday 27th January and Dunfermline Folk Club on Wednesday 5th February.

Artists’ website: http://waywardjane.com/about/

‘September’ – official video:

DOWALLY – Somewhere (own label, DW002)

SomewhereAre we there yet? Today’s destination is highland hamlet Dowally – or rather, the immensely talented Scottish trio of that name, who decided to call their second album Somewhere. Alongside their first album, Welcome To Scotland, it does suggest the musician’s itinerant life, that standing wave of maps, road signs and satnavs. Somewhere also suits the geographically fluid nature of the band’s music which weaves elements of traditional, jazz, Klezmer and classical into a luscious, glowing soundcloth.

Dowally was invited to record its first album by cellist and creative wizard Graham Coe (The Jellyman’s Daughter, Sam Kelly band). A fairly off-the-cuff affair, it led to a more planned approach for Somewhere, with Dan Abrahams (guitar/double bass) and Rachel Walker (fiddle/whistle) writing most of the material. Phil Alexander (accordion/piano) completes the Dowally triumvirate, and Coe’s cello makes a welcome return appearance on three tracks.

Opening with ‘Sunday Brunch’, as laid-back as its title indicates, the music displays inventive turns of rhythm and fluid changes of pace. As is typical for this album, instruments riff around the melody, dancing away and back again. It’s a playful approach that can only be rendered well by seriously good musicianship.

A surprising cover of Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ is mashed up with fiddle tune ‘The Banshee’. It’s intriguing and striking, especially in the final section where two differently paced vocal lines plus fiddle gather together to a shuddering, implosive halt. Dominic Blaikie’s strong, flexible vocals feature here and on a cover of Lennon/McCartney’s ‘And I Love Her’. This is a most extraordinary, dark rendition, as the vocals dip and soar, almost menacingly, across Alexander’s improvised reel fill and a poignant fiddle.

This album is simply packed with inspired, original moments as the band sweeps the listener along with logical yet unexpected musical progressions. Tunes writhe and twist from one mood to another, musical genres flicker and move on. A slow dance between guitar and accordion gets interrupted by an urgent, insistent fiddle in ‘Veruda’; ‘Be Mine Or One’ courses jazzy peaks and valleys, and the Klezmer of ‘Castellation’ invokes something moodier and darker.

A brusque accordion punctuates fiddle and guitar on ‘St Vincent’s’, developing into a into lush piano, as the whole bends up to its finale. ‘Chris And Emily’s’ loose, bluesy guitar intro to is picked up with superbly curling, intricate banjo, courtesy of Dallahan’s Ciaran Ryan.

Culminating in ‘Port Inn Hornpipe’, a fine display of how this band creates an auditory feast, a jaunty air gets lightly dusted with chilled out jazz until it’s abruptly interrupted by frenetic banjo, dashing piano and accordion. Returning briefly to the central theme, now embellished with bar room piano and vocalising, a last banjo flourish whisks it away for good. Unlikely on the page, perhaps, but fantastically good on the ears.

Produced with a confident, airy lightness that allows each instrument – and the spaces in between – the space to speak clearly and be heard, this album is a true listening pleasure.

So, are we there yet? Yup. Wherever Somewhere is, it’s pretty impressive. Definitely worth sticking around for a while to see where Dowally heads to next.

Su O’Brien

Artists’ website: www.dowally.com

‘Fluorescent Banshee’ – official video:

Scottish trio Dowally announces second album

Dowally

Described as “something very special” “truly great music-making” and “great stuff” by BBC Radio Scotland, Scottish folk trio Dowally release their hotly-anticipated second album, Somewhere on 20 June 2018, followed by a week long tour of major UK cities.

Dowally is the meeting point of three musicians from very different worlds. Rachel Walker plays fiddle in the Scottish folk tradition, Phil Alexander is a performer and scholar of Klezmer music, and Daniel Abrahams guitarist rooted in Edinburgh’s jazz scene.

Somewhere was recorded live at the famous Castlesound Studio in Pencaitland, home to many great Scottish artists over the past 50 years including Karine Polwart, Lau and Blue Nile.

Why Somewhere? It was driving past the signpost to the tiny highland hamlet of Dowally, somewhere on the A9, that inspired their name back in 2015. But on a more profound level, the album’s tracks could be imagined as thrilling folk music from a made-up land, perhaps a lost island somewhere between Orkney and the Baltic coast.

Dowally’s first album was a spontaneous moment in the studio, an invitation from engineer and cellist Graham Coe. The new release is a much more considered project, with finely honed compositions and arrangements which express a unique identity within Scotland’s blossoming folk scene.

Somewhere features eight original compositions, and two choice covers. For any band, arranging a Beatles song is almost a rite of passage, and in Dowally’s hands, ‘And I Love Her’ takes a dark turn, swelling to a powerful ending, with Phil’s accordion improvising a minor reel. ‘Fluorescent Banshee’ blends Arctic Monkeys’ ‘Fluorescent Adolescent’ with the tradition Scottish fiddle tune ‘The Banshee’ – an unexpected and surprisingly joyful take on a modern classic.

The album features a number of exceptional guests. Ciaran Ryan of Dallahan lends his nimble fingers on tenor banjo and fiddle, Graham Coe rejoins the party with his fierce rhythmic cello, and finally the group is joined by Dominic Blaikie, a singer of rare soulfulness.

Dowally are:

Rachel Walker – Fiddle, Low Whistle, Vocals
Daniel Abrahams – Guitar, Double Bass, Vocals
Phil Alexander – Accordion, Piano

Artists’ website: www.dowally.com

‘Sunday Brunch’ – live: