MAZ O’CONNOR – Upon A Stranger Shore – Album review by Pete Fyfe

What a lovely voice! I just knew I was going to enjoy this album from the moment I played the first track “South Australia” which I’m more used to hearing being bellowed at volume eleven by burly shanty ‘men’. Instead, Maz’s controlled and never forced vocals blends so well with her accompanying musicians Matthew Jones (guitar/double bass), Joe O’Connor (melodeon), Nicola Lyons (fiddle), Jim Molyneux (percussion) and Sam Sweeney (cello) that her maturity belies her obvious youth. When you can also roll out that hoary chestnut “Leaving Of Liverpool” without it sounding clichéd then you know you’ve done a good job and in the process seriously impressed your dad. Personally speaking I’m really  pleased that Maz has opened her solo recording career by using a majority of well established traditional songs including “Red Red Rose”, “Constant Lovers” and “Caw The Yowes” because if, for some reason she chooses to rely more heavily on her own (not inconsiderable) song-writing talents (“Rambling Free” and “Songs Of Old” etc) we, the listener can at least be comfortable in the knowledge that we know where her ‘roots’ lay. This recording is a very impressive debut and I look forward to the next one.

PETE FYFE

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Artist’s website: http://www.mazoconnor.com/

Catalog number: Demon Barber Sounds DBS005

Mawkin new album Crow…

This March, BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominees Mawkin will be taking their unique brand of folk tunes and songs on the road for a 12 date national tour.

Following their successful collaboration with devonshire singer Jim Causley, Mawkin have been working on their brand new album ‘Crow’ for the past 18 months and are now looking to perform at arts centres, theatres and folk clubs across the country. Their debut album ‘The Fair Essex’ released in 2007, received wide critical acclaim and was declared ‘Unconditionally Mighty’ in MOJO Magazine.

Their new album is a brave direction for the band with a far more contemporary sound than before. A special concert featuring Eliza Carthy, Jim Causley and support from Hannah James & Sam Sweeney will be held to celebrate their new release on the 21st of April at The Weston Auditorium, Hatfield.

Two years in the making ‘Crow’ is another landmark in the band’s history, ancient instrumental folk tunes from around the globe are dragged delightfully into the modern age. Folk tunes are fused sublimely with jazz, rock and prog with a swagger and conviction that is thrillingly reassuring. New collaborations are offered with the jaw-dropping vocals of Eliza Carthy on the haunting and soulful ‘Bad Girls Lament’, one of England’s finest songwriters Steve Knightley (Show of Hands) delivers a pounding acoustic pop remake of his own ‘Its All Quiet’, the youthful and cheeky vigour of Jim Causley is presented in full show on ‘The Bellringers’ and Mawkin’s own guitarist and singer David Delarre gives a raucous Essex-delta blues cover of The Kinks ‘Harry Rag’. There is a real sense that ‘Crow’ is landmark achievement in the bands history- not just the music but also in the approach to the record. Melodeon player Nick Cookerecently said ‘we really wanted to go away for a while and make a record that we would want to listen to’ the band were also insistent on creating their own cottage industry; Drummer Lee Richardson explains ‘we really wanted to bring together all the know-how the band has built over the years and we have the facility to record and produce it ourselves – so we did exactly that’, together with Nick Cooke (who also works as Mastering Engineer for Extreme Music the Production Music arm of Sony/ATV)) the band could spend much more time developing their sound in the studio than ever before, even the artwork was produced by Becca Eastland – Lee’s partner and professional artist. ‘Crow’ signifies a real organic process that harks back to their critically acclaimed debut ‘The Fair Essex’ and looks set to be just as well received.

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RACHAEL McSHANE – No Man’s Fool (Navigator Records NAVIGATOR27)

Better known as the only female member of Bellowhead the cellist and singer Rachael McShane will certainly turn a few heads with this excellent recording. The jury’s still out if the album is folk/jazz or jazz/folk and if you hear the opening track “Captain Ward” you’ll see what I mean. Lyrically speaking the element of traditional folk music runs like a seam of gold throughout the recording but it has to be said that the emphasis in the arrangements most definitely falls in favour of jazz. For those old enough to remember the band Pyewackett (in their early days) and come to think of it June Tabor this will be familiar territory as the use of chords by piano and keyboards maestro James Peacock provides the ‘mood’ and timbre behind the arrangements. With the excellent Jonathan Proud on electric bass and Adam Sinclair on drums and percussion and additional backing from Julien Batten (piano accordion), Tom Oakes (flute), Sam Sweeney (fiddle), Andrew Bickendike (trumpet) and Jamie Toms & Charlotte Jones on saxophones the lady’s done good. From “The Highway Man Outwitted” where the perpetrator suffers the indignation of having the tables turned on him to the dramatic tale of “Miles Weatherhill” where the music as well as the story turns nasty (think Steeleye’s interpretation of Long Lankin as a reference) half way through the narrative this CD really could cause a few ‘tut-tuts’ from the ‘folk’ mafia but personally speaking I say ‘go for it’…after all you’re only young once!

PETE FYFE

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HANNAH JAMES & SAM SWEENEY – State And Ancientry – ROOTBEAT RECORDS RBRCD13

So much has happened to Hannah and Sam since they released Catches & Glees that I’m almost surprised to find them still working together. Sam has joined Bellowhead and Jon Boden’s Remnant Kings while Hannah has formed Lady Maisery and has joined Hell Said The Duchess with Karen Tweed while continuing to work with The Demon Barbers Roadshow.

Nevertheless, here they are with a new album proving that the experience of the past three years has not been wasted. They have not succumbed to the temptation of adding a guest here and there although there are some new instruments, notably Sam’s Hardanger fiddle. The refinement of their music is immediately apparent in ‘Hole In The Wall’, the splendid 17th century hornpipe that opens the album. They get folkier with the distinctly English style of fiddle playing on ‘Parson Upon Dorothy’ which is paired with ‘Dolly’ with Hannah’s voice slightly down in the mix as though it was treated like another instrument.

Some of the songs are well-known: ‘William Taylor’, and ‘The Farmer’s Cursed Wife’ and ‘The Golden Glove’ for example, but all have a freshness and lightness of touch often with pretty counter-melodies in their arrangements. All in all, a splendid album.

Dai Jeffries

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