GILMORE & ROBERTS – A Problem Of Our Kind (GR! GRR08)

A Problem Of Our KindGilmore & Roberts are Katriona Gilmore (vocals, fiddle, viola, B3 organ and mandolin) and Jamie Roberts (vocals, guitar, percussion). Their album A Problem Of Our Kind, due for release on 12th October 2018, benefits from additional instrumental support from Fred Claridge (drums and percussion), Matt Downer (double bass), Sarah Smout (cello), Ben Savage (Dobro) and Matt Crum (melodeon). And an excellent album it is, too. Of the ten tracks on the album, five were written by Katriona, four by Jamie, and the final track is a traditional tune arranged and played by Jamie.

  1. Katriona’s ‘Gauntlet’ is a kind of murder ballad (or at least a “did he really do it?” ballad): Katriona’s fiddle adds a slightly old-timey feel, but the story concerns an English court case of 1818 whereby Abraham Thornton was acquitted of a charge of murder when the victim’s brother declined the offer of ‘trial by battle’. A fascinating story, and a very effective arrangement arrangement.
  2. Jamie’s ‘The Philanthropist (Take It From Me)’ is based on the life of entrepreneur/philanthropist Laurie Marsh. It’s an attractive song that displays his vocal and fretting talents.
  3. Katriona’s ‘Things You Left Behind’ has a more personal theme about the loss of a family member. It’s a lovely song with slightly country-ish Dobro and fiddle, and it suits her voice very well.
  4. ‘The Smile & The Fury (Jamie Roberts) is based “…on the powerful viral photograph of a young woman calmly smiling in the face of an angry far-right protester…” This is what I’d like to have heard more of in the 70s: rock music giving more than a nod to traditional music and instrumentation but not afraid to use contemporary material to address current issues.
  5. ‘Bone Cupboard’ (Katriona Gilmore) is a sinister song accompanied only by the barest minimum of clapping and percussion. That’s OK, I can appreciate sinister.
  6. ‘On The Line’ (Jamie Roberts) considers the not-always-sympathetic reaction of the traveller delayed by “a body on the line“. An awkward subject sensitively handled, with an ending that hints at a wider social issue.
  7. In contrast, for me, ‘Average Joe’ (Jamie Roberts) is lyrically a bit too reminiscent of the ‘plastic people/protest’ songs of the 1960s: I guess it’s not that easy to write sympathetically about the plight of the commuting classes and avoid a superior tone. Still, musically it’s an assured performance, very much in the folk-rock vein.
  8. ‘All The Way To Rome’ (Katriona Gilmore) is, according to the booklet, inspired by “two characters in the second series of the TV show American Horror Story.” Which means nothing to me, but it’s still an appealing song.
  9. ‘Just A Piece Of Wood’ (Katriona Gilmore) is a bit country/pop-ish, with prominent fiddle, as befits the subject – the relationship between a musician and her instrument. Nice.
  10. ‘From Night Til Morn’ is a traditional tune, beautifully arranged for guitar by Jamie Roberts. It may seem perverse to say so, given all the fine original material on this album, but this is currently my favourite track.

While there’s a definite tinge of folk-rock to this collection, it certainly doesn’t mean that there’s anything dated about it. By any standards, these are fine contemporary songs, very capably performed and produced. Recommended.

David Harley

Artists’ website: www.gilmoreroberts.co.uk/

‘Gauntlet’ – official video:

GREN BARTLEY – Magnificent Creatures (Fellside FECD 2680)

GREN BARTLEY Magnificent CreaturesOriginally from Stratford-upon-Avon and now based in Dudley,  Bartley recorded his third album in Wolverhampton with the increasingly legendary producer Gavin Monaghan, his first to feature his new touring trio of cellist Sarah Smout, Julia Disney on violin and piano and percussionist Leslie Glanville (the former two also providing harmonies), with contributions from Jim Sutton on bass, Matt Marks on accordion and Laura Hares.

Though clearly influenced by Americana folk, there’s more of a Canadian mountains feel to the music in its airy melodies, the fingerpicked ‘Fair Share’ is reminiscent of the young Gordon Lightfoot, although, having said that, on the wide open sky sound of opening number ‘Tall Wooden Walls’ vocally reminds me of John Denver. The latter features some soaring backing vocals from Disney and Snout, but their voices really come into their own on the lovely simple acoustic ‘Angels Fade’ and the closing a capella ‘Silent Hotel’, another open air dusk setting, where the three voices interweave. On the preceding track, ‘This Changes Everything’ (another song featuring lovers lying on the grass and thoughts of what tomorrow brings), they also get to spotlight their dexterity on the strings, violin and cello providing warm accompaniment to Bartley’s simple acoustic guitar.

While the bulk of the album is quiet and reflective, the choppy war-themed ‘Home Soon’ features Monaghan blowing some bluesy mouth harp while two back-to-back cuts also take things up a notch. Opening with an acoustic strum and with lyrics inspired by the shipwrecks off Portland Bill in Devon, ‘Portland’ is a slow builder two-step swayer that climaxes with Bartley singing about swimming with the dead (the magnificent creatures if the album title) before string and guitar take it to muted close. Then comes ‘Nightingale’, the album’s seven minute tour de force with Bartley’s guitar dancing around Glanville’s propulsive drums, as the track sandwiches a traditional folk mid-section with fingerpicked guitar between rock sensibilities and poppy elements strongly redolent of the Thompson Twins’ ‘Hold Me Now’.

Both it and the following track, ‘Of The Girl’, are solid showcases of both Bartley’s musicianship and his arrangement skills, the latter seeing Disney’s wordless vocals circling round his slide guitar and Glanville’s skewed percussion. There’s slidework too on ‘Strange Times’, another bluesier number with lyrics about getting out before you’re broken down that link an old rusty truck sent for scrap with memories of the men who laid down the railway tracks but never got to ride the line. Clearly as gifted a writer as he is a musician, it’s time he was discovered and embraced by a much wider audience.

Mike Davies

‘Tall Wooden Walls’ – official video:

SUNJAY – Sunjay (New Mountain Music)

SunjayBorn in Derby and now living in Stourbridge, Sunjay Brayne has apparently been playing guitar since he was four. Still only 20, this is his second studio album (there’s also a live one) and he’s a regular on the folk and acoustic circuit. Having caught one of his sets, I can testify to his accomplished playing and warm, singing style and can well understand the comparisons to a young Ralph McTell. Indeed, Brayne’s influences are very much rooted in the late 60s and early 70s folk scenes of the UK and America, something evident from the choice of covers that comprise the bulk of his album.

Here you’ll find faithful readings of James Taylor’s ‘Close Your Eyes’, Jim Croce’s uptempo blues swing ‘You Don’t Mess Around With Jim’, a fiddle, cello, banjo and mandolin arrangement ‘Going Down The Road’ by folk cult figure Mary McCaslin and Tom Rush classic ‘No Regrets’ (with some nicely understated fiddle from Katriona Gilmore) as well as the slightly more recent ‘Memphis In The Meantime’ by John Hiatt (though it could do with more grit) and Mark Knopfler’s ‘Sailing To Philadelphia’ with its cello contribution from Sarah Smout. He also offers his own arrangement of traditional blues rag ‘Drop Down Mama’, though, as with the a capella handclap and stomp reading of Buskin and Batteau’s ‘A Folk Singer Earns Every Dime’, his voice and delivery simply lack the experience and depth to give them real conviction.

The two remaining numbers are originals, the album opening with ‘London Road’, a song about homelessness written by producer, manager, label owner and erstwhile Bushbury Mountain Daredevils frontman, Eddy Morton, and featuring Dan Walsh on banjo while ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’ is a wistful self-penned acoustic end of relationship folk blues ballad. Accompanied by Gilmore, it’s a lovely number, beautifully delivered, that makes you wish there were more of his own songs rather than relying on familiar tunes that may earn gig rapport, but which don’t really work in his favour on disc in terms of reaching a wider market. Hopefully, next time round, there’ll be more of his own material and although he could perhaps do with a little more seasoning to his voice to add a little occasional edge, he’s an accomplished player with a relaxed engaging style and I look forward to seeing him develop.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.sunjay.tv

Sunjay sings John Martyn:

Patsy Matheson: Domino Girls

For Little Piece of England 05 colour by Craig Oddy June 08‘Domino Girls’, the new album from Patsy Matheson, is her best and most ambitious work yet.

Featuring contributions from Belinda O’Hooley (O’Hooley & Tidow, Rachel Unthank & the Winterset, Nic Jones trio)  – vocals, piano, accordion, Heidi Tidow (O’Hooley & Tidow) – vocals, Anna Esslemont (Uiscedwr, Bad Anna) – violin, Sarah Smout (Rosie Doonan & the Snapdragons, Michael Chapman) – cello,  and her long time collaborator Jon Short (double bass), with Will Reddy (drums) and Richard Ferdinando (Crosscut Saw) drums,  there are nine brand new compositions as well as ‘Chasing Rainbows’ – a song given to her by acclaimed songwriter Boo Hewerdine.

The songs cover a range of subjects – from affairs of the heart to computer web cam hacking – each sensitively delivered and intricately layered up with signature Matheson vocal harmonies and acoustic guitar.

Artist’s website: facebook