ANNE LISTER – Astrolabe (own label)

AstrolabeI’ve known Anne Lister for so long that I can’t remember when and where we first met. There was a certain festival and a certain band….no, that’s another story. Anne is best known for he song ‘Icarus’ but, unlike her tragic hero she has stayed mostly under the radar. Recent years have been spent in the groves of academe gaining a Ph.D from Cardiff University with a thesis on the story of an Arthurian knight that’s far too complicated to go into here. Add to that working on a novel and further developing her story-telling career. Astrolabe is themed around place and time and mixes some vintage songs with new compositions.

The opening title track is something of an overture, definitely a bit radio-friendly, but then the gloves come off. ‘Wolf Moon’ with shruti and chimes explains that there really are no reasons from out there for shit happening and ‘Small Ways To Beat The Devil’ points to the real culprits. Do I need to list the dramatis personae? I don’t think so, although Greta Thunberg has a starring role as the heroine. It’s terrific song.

It’s not all fire and brimstone, though. ‘Vindolanda’ is an historical love song inspired by a small golden ring now in a museum but at the same time Anne contemplates her own wedding ring – her husband Steve designed the album cover and sings backing vocals. And while I’m on the subject Anne has pulled in some friends to support her including her partner in Anonyma, Mary McLaughlin, Mike O’Connor and his musical partner Barbara Griggs, Matt Crum and Steafan Hannigan with Dylan Fowler among the roll-call of engineers.

Next, Anne melds the traditional ’10,000 Miles’ with her own song ‘Heroes’. Sung a cappella it is a perfect mix of place and time steeped in nostalgia; a feeling echoed in ‘Llanwenarth’ with its list of soothing herbs and meadow flowers. ‘Summerlands’ is a surprisingly up-tempo meditation on mortality while ‘Grandmother And The Wolf’ dispenses age-old wisdom – or does it? – and Grandma reappears in ‘Photograph’. I do like the way Anne leads us through the themes of the album and, at this point, without losing the thread she changes the mood with ‘Mametz’, a reference to a major incident of the Battle of the Somme.

Anne’s voice and guitar are kept well to the fore, as they should be, but when power is needed fiddle and accordion are on hand. There is so much to enjoy here and it really is good to have Anne back with her music.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://www.annelister.com/

‘Vindolanda’ – live:

Anne Lister announces her new album

Anne Lister

Twelve songs, which, like the astrolabe of the title track, measure time and space. One song written in 1970, another written in 2019. A ring found at the Roman archaeological site of Vindolanda, a box of memorabilia belonging to a grandmother, a WWI battle, an olive branch for a former lover, the near-death experience of rats, a farewell to a dear friend, and an angel in the form of a starving polar bear. Amongst others.

Musicians and allies involved were Mike O’Connor, Barbara Griggs, Matt Crum, Steafan Hannigan, Mary McLaughlin, Helen Vincent-Tibke, Steve Purbrick, with studio engineers Liv Elliott in Boscastle, Dylan Fowler in Stiwdio Felin Fach, and Anne’s very talented nephew Rhys Fletcher, who mixed four songs and mastered the whole album.

Anne is best known as the writer of ‘Icarus’, performed and recorded by many, including Nic Jones and  Martin Simpson.  Other songs you may have heard include ‘Moth’, ‘The Quiet People’, and ‘Demeter’s Daughter’.

She performs solo, but has worked in a duo with Mary Mc Laughlin (Anonyma) and Steafan Hannigan, and has toured extensively in the UK and the US.

Artist’s website: www.annelister.com

Release date: 28 December 2019.
Available now to pre-order from Anne’s website,
Bandcamp and CDBaby.
anne@annelister.com

Just for old time’s sake – ‘Icarus’:

LORRAINE JORDAN – Send My Soul (Hazelville Music HZ013)

Send My SoulBorn in Wales of Irish parents, a purveyor of Celtic soul, this is her fifth studio outing on which, accompanied by a host of backing musicians on the different tracks, she opens in fine fettle with the anthemic acoustic chug of ‘The Secret To Everything’ before, as the notes have it, ‘Heavenly Voices’ offers an intermingling of both Celtic (fairy rings) and Catholic (angel wings) archetypes, all to the accompaniment of strings, piano and Steafan Hannigan’s low whistle.

Backed by just guitar, piano and strings, again drawing on mysticism, ‘Light Seekers’ raises a musical glass to “dreamers of the night” and “distant healers working through these troubled times” and make you feel like smiling rather than crying. Again featuring Hannigan, this time on duduk, with Jordan on bouzouki and Gill Hunter adding accordion, ‘Desert Sands’ has an Eastern tinge and snake charmer sway to a song that falls firmly into the ‘to see you again’ category.

There’s rather less of a sympatico nature to the relationship on ‘Say It Now’ (“you’re smiling but the smile I see/is not a smile that makes me feel/that you and I have made our peace”), Jordan harmonising with herself and Sean Whelan accompanying on mandolin.

She describes the lovely understated Celtic spiritual title track as “a reflection upon society”, not a particularly upbeat one as she talks of walking lonely streets, her soul lost and how “I can’t tell you when/I stopped listening/I can’t tell you/When I stopped believing”, John Wallace on resonator solo and the backing voices gathering on the chorus as she declares herself “ready to be found”.

That theme of looking to be found, of searching for glimmers of light, of rising above the obstacles of life and love runs throughout the album, finding expression on the likes of the quiveringly sung ‘A Sign’, one of the few tracks to feature drums, ‘You Come To Me’ (which would seem to suggest Armatrading, Baez and Cat Stevens influences),the heady rhythms of ‘Gypsy Soul’ (Jackie Leven traces?) and the organ and piano-backed gospel tints of ‘Love Is All Around Us’.

It ends with, first, the five-minute slow but deliberate paced ‘The Riverside’, a song of those (a lonely, suicidal woman, a soldier seeking meaning to his life, a young girl emigrating to bring blue skies back) who have lost their compass (“someone has moved the northern star..led us too far along the path/left is to find our own way back”) and, finally, the waltzing, far more optimistic shuffle of ‘Minor To Major’ (“it feels like something is waking up in me” as the blues have “called farewell and adieu”.

I want to dance and sing and I want to spread my wings”, she sings at the start of the album. You should join her in the flight and soar.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.lorrainejordan.net

‘The Riverside’: