ODETTE MICHELL – The Wildest Rose (Own Label)

The Wildest RoseAs previously mentioned on Folking.com, Odette Michell is following up her well-received debut EP from 2018 (By Way Of Night) with a full-length album called The Wildest Rose. The new CD will be launched at TwickFolk, held in the Cabbage Patch in Twickenham, on April 14th 2019, and is due for release on the 26th April. The launch will feature special guests Richard Lee & Phil Beer which gives you some idea of the regard in which she’s held among her fellow musicians. Talking of which, Odette’s vocals, guitar and bouzouki are more than ably supported here by Phil Beer on fiddle and backing vocals (tracks 1, 3 and 10), Stu Hanna on a variety of instruments (especially violin) and backing vocals on most tracks, and Toby Shaer on fiddle and whistle (tracks 2, 7 and 8).

Here’s the track list.

  1. If the sleeve didn’t tell me that ‘The Wildest Rose’ was written by Odette, I’d have assumed it was a traditional song I hadn’t met before: not only because of the cast of the lyrics – it seems to be a trademark of hers to write lyrics that are strongly influenced by traditional forms – but because of the shape of the very strong melody which has more than a hint of Irish. Some fine fiddling (of course) from Phil Beer here.
  2. ‘The Banks Of Annalee’ is also along traditional lines lyrically but a little more contemporary in presentation, with very striking vocal multi-tracking on the chorus, and nice doubling up between the fiddle and whistle.
  3. ‘Rolling Shores Of England’ is a nostalgic song that benefits from vocal harmony from Phil Beer.
  4. The title of ‘Bless The Ground You Grow On’ kind of speaks for itself. The vocal harmonies (which reminded me a little of Alison Krauss) and mandolin are particularly effective here.
  5. It would be a trifle perverse to make a song featuring the ‘Great Old Northern Line’ sound very traditional, I guess, and in fact this one leans a little (not too much!) towards country, but as ever, it has a very strong chorus that I could well imagine being popular in sessions. Very striking lyrics: it’s a pity there’s no lyric sheet with the CD. I almost catch myself being nostalgic for the 25 years I spent commuting on the Tube.
  6. ‘True Lovers Farewell’ is a very classy minor-key version of a song sometimes known as ‘Fare Thee Well’ or ‘Ten Thousand Miles’ or even ‘The Turtle Dove’ (under which title it was arranged by Vaughan Williams, though this is a very different reading). Beautifully sung with very tasteful guitar harmonies.
  7. ‘I Once Loved A Shepherd’ starts with striking double-tracked whistle before moving into a very accomplished story-song, though the tune is a little reminiscent of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Urge For Going’ in the chorus.
  8. There are many broadside ballads about the Gunpowder Plot, but ‘Light Up London Town’ takes a more contemporary approach, and yes, includes a strong chorus.
  9. ‘Dance Me Through The Night’ is perhaps the most ‘modern’ song here, but still fits very well in delivery and instrumentation with the rest of the CD.
  10. ‘The Eastern Seas’ could easily pass as an Irish air, and a good one at that. A lovely finish to the CD.

All in all, this is a fine collection of excellent melodies, beautifully sung and played, most of which give a nod lyrically and or melodically to UK traditional forms without straying too far into pastiche, and are notable for their irresistible choruses.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.odettemichell.com

‘The Banks Of Annalee’ – live:

Odette Michell announces debut album

Odette Michell
Photograph by David Sell

The Wildest Rose is the enchanting debut album from Hertfordshire based folk singer-songwriter Odette Michell.

The album follows on the heels of Odette’s 2018 debut EP By Way of Night, which itself showcased a bold and emerging talent within the British folk and acoustic music scene. The EP garnered high praise and gained Odette her first national and international radio plays across the early part of 2018.   

 “…’By Way Of Night’ demonstrates a freshness and vitality enduring in English folk … it also presents a talent that English folk should not ignore”  – FolkWords, May 2018

When it came to her first full length studio album, Odette chose wisely by teaming up with acclaimed producer Stu Hanna (also one-half of the award winning folk duo Megson) and soon after released her first single; Bless The Ground You Grow’ – a “taster” for the forthcoming album – and an exciting glimpse of the shape of things to come. The single led to an exclusive premiere on Folk Radio UK and was accompanied by a stunning music video filmed on location at the legendary Chalk Horse in Oxfordshire.

Featuring on the album are exciting musical contributions from Phil Beer (one-half of the multi-award-winning acoustic folk band Show of Hands) who plays fiddle on the hearty opening title track as well as the evocative closing track ‘The Eastern Seas’ – and also lends his trademark vocals in sensitive accompaniment to Odette’s, in the third track ‘The Rolling Shores Of England’.

Fiddle/whistle player and man of the moment Toby Shaer (Cara Dillon, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys) also lends his genius musical wizadry on three of the tracks – the rousing folk fairytale ‘The Banks of Annalee’, the upbeat ‘Light Up London Town’, (a song exploring the political climate behind the famous gunpowder plot of 1605) – and also the hauntingly beautiful ‘I Once Loved A Shepherd’.

Musically, the album covers a varied landscape – it pays homage to the natural landscape that surrounds us and explores our nation’s colourful history; and it visits the idiosyncrasies of human experience whilst veering playfully into the all but lost art of storytelling.

The Wildest Rose is a compelling, highly impressive debut that both soars and soothes, whilst effortlessly breathing fresh new life into the rich acoustic tradition that the songs themselves emerged from.

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

There will be an exclusive Album Launch for The Wildest Rose on Sun 14th April at 7.45pm at Twickfolk at The Cabbage Patch in Twickenham, London. Odette will be joined by special guests Phil Beer and Richard Lee.

‘Bless The Ground You Grow On’ – official video:

MEGSON – con-tra-dic-shun (EDJ edj023)

con-tra-dic-shunThe eighth studio album by Stu and Debbie Hanna again delves into the personal and the political with an even balance of self-penned material and Tyneside traditional lyrics set to new tunes. Taking the latter first, with Debbie on vocals and accordion and Stu providing banjo and mandolin, taken from the 1812 collection Rhymes Of The Northern Bards, the swayalong ‘Voice Of The Nation’ may have been written by an unknown author (it’s credited to JC) in 1810, but its bitter condemnation of Parliamentary wrangling over representation, council disgraces and courts of corruption cannot be help strike a very timely note.

Featuring fiddle and with John Parker on bass, lead again sung by Debbie, collected in Songs & Ballads Of Northern England, the mournfully paced ‘I Drew My Ship Into The Harbour’ is a traditional song on the well-worked theme of absent sailor lovers, the twist here being that he returns home to his true love only for her to take so long getting up to answer the door he gets fed up of waiting and walks off, leaving her full of pain and sorrow.

Lifted from 1882 collection Northumbrian Minstrelsy and with the pair trading lines, ‘The Keach In The Creel’ is a lively bandola romp peppered with northern dialect (a creel being a large basket and, in a fishing context, a keach apparently a Geordie pronunciation of catch) in which the obligatory fair young maid catches the eye of a young lad who follows her home, only to be told her parents keep her safely locked up. However, he enlists his brother to make a long ladder, a cleek (hook) and creel to lower him down the chimney. Hearing a noise, her father walks in only to be admonished for disturbing her prayers. Not convinced, mom goes to have a look, catches her foot in the hook and is hauled up the chimney, the song revealing her husband had cottoned on and is well glad to be rid of her.

‘Toast: Jackey & Jenny’, is in fact two songs in one, a coming together of a traditional drinking song (“I have drunk one and I will drink two”, etc.) with a lyric penned by James Rewcastle, the first secretary of the Newcastle temperance movement, in which the wife sings the praises of being teetotal and that since the old man gave up going on the fiddle they’ve been canty (cheerful) and crouse (lively) and now have food in the house, decent clothes, household good and can even afford to go out to a show. As you’ll have worked out, the track also embodies the contradiction of the album title in the raising of a glass to the perils of alcoholism.

And talking of the title track, that too is a non-original lyric, a bluesy folk strummed mandolin and bass drum driven duet about the divisions caused by stubbornness (with a clear Brexit relevance) written and originally sung by Joe Wilson, a Victorian Newcastle upon Tyne concert hall performer, and published during his lifetime in Songs and Drolleries.

The album opens with the duo’s own ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably’, the title a reference to vintage BBC radio’s children’s programme Listen With Mother, the pair duetting against a simple acoustic guitar and bass arrangement on a whimsical lyric about the never ending tasks that consume our waking hours, leaving us little time to actually have a life.

The most lyrically potent of their own material, ‘The New Girl’, another starkly arranged number, touches on migration and acceptance, drawing on the experiences of those who came to build the new town Teeside during the industrial revolution and the expansion of the railways, and were welcomed into the wider community, birthing a new language and a people. A reminder that we are all “travellers stumbling through a life” and “before the very first new girl there was no-one here at all”, it strikes a resonant chord with today’s migrant and refugee issues, a call for open arms rather than closed fists.

On a lighter note, but still exploring the album’s themes of division and finding agreement, the amusing ‘Two Sides To Every Story’ is essentially their rework of ‘I Remember It Well’, a song from the 1958 musical Gigi in which Maurice Chevalier’s memories of events are distinctly in contrast to the accurate ones of Hermione Gingold, here Debbie setting Stu right about how they met, where they married and honeymooned, and his recollection of being at the birth of their daughter rather than forty miles way!

Just as one would assume the opposing accounts are invented, so too is the equally playful ‘Barrington Social Club’, a fictional account of a clash between the titular Cambridgeshire village club, “a motley collection of warriors strummed and great and small” meeting weekly to learn self-protection, and the local bridge and rotary team who also used the village hall and who bring pressure on the council to shut the club down. As per the lyrics’ David and Goliath allusions, the underdogs emerge triumphant as they enter a competition and, beating their Comberton rivals, use the “championship haul” to buy the hall off the council and now practice every night they can. Whether, having thrown their man down, they are magnanimous in victory to their nemeses the song never says.

It ends in direct thematic opposition to the way it began with ‘A Week Away In The Caravan’, a banjo-coloured music hall-styled slow waltz that, celebrating the joys rather than the drudgery of life, that draws on memories of the first of their regular holidays on wheels (here on a site near Leicester) with both its pleasures and pitfalls (not least dropping the car keys in the porta-loo) and the company of fellow caravanners, albeit with a warning not to get them started on caravan accessories!

The album may well mine themes of division and opposition, but one thing that can been agreed upon is that it’s yet another triumph of the perfect consistency of brilliance Megson always bring to their work.

Mike Davies

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‘con-tra-dic-shun’ – official video:

LUCY WARD – Pretty Warnings (Betty Beetroot BETTY03)

Pretty WarningsHaving been finally converted to Ward with her last album, I Dreamt I Was A Bird, I was unsure whether that was a one-off or if her follow-up would keep me on the path. Well, feathered friends again in evidence, with the opening, ‘Silver Morning’, Helga Ragnarsdottir on electric piano, a spare sketch of walking in the early dawn that treats a sense of wanderlust, any uncertainties were instantly dispelled.

Stu Hanna co-producing with Stewart MacLachlan, who also, respectively, provide guitars/keys and drums, it’s a mostly mellow and meditative affair, the title succinctly summing up its musical and thematic intent, mixing four traditional numbers bookended with self-penned originals. Breathily sung and etched on a repeated guitar pattern with Claire Bostock on cello, ‘Cold Caller’ moves back a few hours to a moon-lit evening of rain and wind and, bolstered by rumbling waves of drums and gathering psychedelic swirls of electric guitar, a witchily-atmospheric song of love (obsessive and possibly delusional) confessed to the night.

Daylight returns with ‘Sunshine Child’, Anna Esslemont on violin, for another delicate acoustic love in rapture number with lyrics scattering images of butterfly kisses, laughter, a dancing soul and sweet smelling blossoms and she sings “for a lifetime and beyond I’ll be singing our song”, though one suspects the golden haired Samson identified here may be more symbolic than actual.

The four traditional numbers are gathered together, opening with a near seven-minute, initially unaccompanied reading of ‘Bill Norrie’, the tragic tale of a jealous man killing the titular lad he suspects is his wife’s lover only to learn he’s actually her son, Ward Derbyshire-accented vowels subsequently joined by Ragnarsdottir’s suitably sparse and forlorn piano notes.

Sticking with murder ballads, ‘Maria Martin’ is her arrangement of the much-covered ‘Murder In The Red Barn’, Ward inspirationally recasting it as a hypnotically slow lurching blues carried on brushed drums, Sam Pegg’s droningly doomy upright bass and, as the horror is unfolded, cold shivers of keys and violin.

Another cautionary tale follows with the equally familiar ‘Fair & Tender Ladies’, again given a sparse, darkling ambience, dressed in atmospheric nocturnal robes with double tracked vocals, the persistent keyboard drone augmented by meditative acoustic guitar. For the last of the four, ‘Mari Fach’, Ward takes the tune of the lilting Welsh ballad ‘Mari Fach Fy Nghariad’, stripping it back and slowing it down considerably, and adds her own words for the tragic tale of a teenage girl made pregnant by a false lover who gives birth, kills the baby and then is hanged, “all alone”, from a willow tree “down by a Greenwoodsidey-o”.

The album closes with two further Ward originals, the gently waltzing ‘Lazy Day’ restores the sun in distracted, strings-washed thoughts of staying in bed to “dream my days away” rather than getting up and facing a day “bursting with intentions that never find their way.” The final number, backed by harmonium drone and minimal piano notes, has Ward showing her vocal flexibility, delicately swooping and soaring through ‘The Sweetest Flowers’ as she ends on an upbeat lullaby note, dusk drawing in, slumber making eyes heavy, sleep’s reveries and fantasies awaiting, a life “rich with possibility” and a “love that can’t be torn asunder” but “will bloom forever.” Take heed.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.lucywardsings.com

‘The Trapper And The Furrier’ – live at the Isle Of Wight Festival:

Lucy Ward announces new album

Lucy Ward

Pretty Warnings is the captivating fourth studio album from Lucy Ward. Rich with tradition and exquisitely penned original songs, this album weaves its way effortlessly through matters of love, darkness, longing and joy. It confirms what we already knew – that Ward’s unique ability to inhabit the very heart of a song is bewitching, beguiling and beautiful.

Ward is a story teller at heart, concerned with expressing truth and the human condition. She can paint a picture with her words and this album is an expressive collection of true stories and evocative imagery.

As well as innovative arrangements of traditional songs such as the ballad ‘Bill Norrie’, Ward has delved into the tradition to come up with beautiful retellings of traditional forms. ‘The Cruel Mother’ is re-spun in her song Mari Fach (meaning Sweet Mari), the true story of a young welsh woman pregnant, unmarried and afraid. The archetypal rover becomes Ward’s yearning ‘Silver Morning’, a taste of her inimitable nu-folk originality. She has also addressed the recurring theme of the night visitor with the insistent ‘Cold Caller’.

Pretty Warnings has a sublime quality; an enchanting warmth that runs through it. It feels as though Ward’s song writing has evolved with a richness born from her experience and time away from the studio; songs like ‘Sunshine Child’ and ‘The Sweetest Flowers’ being prime examples of her exquisite skill in their quiet and involving beauty.

Produced by Stu Hanna & Stephen MacLachlan

Behind the scenes:

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A closer look at the songs

Silver Morning – L. Ward

A plaintive piano opens the album and sets a mood of wistful melancholy. The purity of Ward’s voice portrays the longing of the rover destine always to roam.

The sky turned into a fishermen’s boat/stole the clouds and left me alone’

Cold Caller – L. Ward

A night visitor song, drawing on the drama and changeability of the weather. What starts of as a sweet love song becomes claustrophobic as the darkness creeps in.

Hateful is the sun/her hurtful chiding eyes/she watched me come undone/I wait for the night’

Sunshine Child – L. Ward

A beautiful expression of pure unfettered love. The song conjures up echoes of surrendering to the inevitable lure of unconditional love.

I heard you singing our song/I knew you would come’

Bill Norrie – Trad Arr. Ward

Ward first heard this song supporting Martin Carthy in 2013, and was utterly captivated by this Child Ballad that tells the story of mistaken identity and murder.

He’s run home and home there down into his hall/Tossed Billy’s head to her, crying “Lady catch the ball”’

Maria Martin – Trad Arr. Ward

Found in the Davenport Song Collection ‘Down Yorkshire Lanes’, this brutal true story tells the tale of of William Corder who swung from the gallows for killing Maria Martin, the daughter of a mole catcher. The bluesy treatment of this gruesome tale showcases the power of Ward’s band and the full range of her sultry voice.

I went home to fetch my gun, my pickaxe and my spade’

Fair & Tender Ladies – Trad Arr. Ward

Learned from the raw and passionate singing of Peter Bellamy… The dark, deep richness of ward’s voice coupled with haunting close harmonies provided by Anna Esslemont and Helga Ragnarsdottir give the song a spell binding quality and a sense of captivating other worldliness.

But loves grows colder/As girls they grow older’

Mari Fach – Words L. Ward, Tune Traditional

Mari Fach meaning Sweet Mari in welsh was initially penned for EFDSS & TRAC’s project Beyond The Marches. In this reworking of The Cruel Mother, Ward has used the traditional form to beautiful effect, telling the true story of young Mari with a striking conciseness that cuts through the years, bringing this centuries old tragedy to life. To do justice to Mari and her baby’s sad fate (the time old tale of a young serving girl, pregnant by a lord, afraid, alone and out of options) Ward’s approach is one of sadness, and of challenging the way women are often portrayed in traditional song. The warmth of Sam Pegg’s electric bass provides a beautiful back drop for this plaintive tale.

The babe like a bird all covered in feathers/All alone and aloney-o’

Lazy Day – L. Ward

This song captures the sunny laziness of a slow day, and the joys of living in the moment. A fresh and blissful summer anthem.

Lazy day you always seem to start the same/Bursting with intentions that never find their way’

The Sweetest Flowers – L. Ward

Part lullaby and part love song, less is often more and this beautiful song is perhaps the pinnacle of this mantra, with Ward’s subtle concertina accompaniment and just a few well chosen hints of piano the pure joy of her lyrics shine out. The words feel as though they are an effortless stream of consciousness, charming and loving; they are truly born of Ward’s deepening maturity as a song writer.

It’s a fabric made from you and me/And light cascades from every seam’

Artist’s website: www.lucywardsings.com

MEGSON – Good Times Will Come Again (EDJ Records EDJ021)

Good Times Will Come AgainFor the first time in the twelve years they’ve been making music together, Teeside husband and wife duo Stu and Debbie Hanna have, in response to fan demand, recorded an album of all original material, although, as you would imagine, these are, like previous self-penned numbers still influenced by the Tyneside folk tradition and sung in a distinctive regional accent. The songs that make up Good Times Will Come Again are not autobiographical, but rather a collection of observations of the life of your average working man and woman in contemporary Britain. As such, there’s plenty of political input as subjects span the plight of Teeside steelworkers (all the more pertinent in the light of the current Tata situation), refugees and zero-hour contracts.

The album kicks off with ‘Generation Rent’, a lively mandolin-driven number about the property ladder and how, with rising house prices and static wages, the younger generation is finding it increasingly hard to get a foot on the bottom rung, condemned to rent or live with their parents, even when they have families of their own. Yet even here, they find room for wit in the lines ‘on that glorious day my darling daughter comes to say I want to introduce gran to my fella. I say go down and tell her, she’s living in the cellar.’

The musical mood takes a more melancholic tone with ‘A Prayer For Hope’, a simple guitar strummed sketch of those risking their lives to cross oceans in search of a better life, the duo’s harmonies bearing testament to their early choir days. There’s an equally sorrowful air to the traditional colours of ‘The Bonny Lad’, a number inspired by the Northumbrian pipe and fiddle tune of the same name, as a mother lays to rest her son, another victim of ‘the worst of men and all they can destroy.’

Returning to their own backyard, featuring John Parker on double bass, ‘Burn Away’ is the first of two songs addressing the Teeside steel industry, a traditional flavoured, banjo-led snapshot of the daily routine in the steelwork furnaces in which you can almost feel the heat and taste the sweat, the line ‘the day there is no use for steel will be the day the world stops turning’ a prescient rallying cry to save the homegrown industry. Debbie also takes lead on the second of the two, ‘Patterns’, a gentle ballad laced with sorrowful fiddle inspired by last year’s closure of the Redcar steelworks sung in the voice of wife offering her support to a husband struggling to find work after being made redundant, but trying to keep up his family’s spirits by not showing his despair.

Unsurprisingly the effect of unemployment and poor wages on ordinary families plays a prominent part in the songs. Sawing fiddle drives the throbbing ‘Pushing On’, Stu taking lead on a song about families working all hours just to stay afloat and how “life is surely meant for living not just coping day by day”, while ‘Zero’ is a jaunty mandola and fiddle led morris-like counting song romp about being stuck with the uncertainty of a zero hours contract.

It’s not all so downbeat. Despite its mournful tune and the sparse guitar and fiddle accompaniment, ‘Rap’er Te Bank’, the lyrics derived from the industrial dialect of the 19th century Durham pit yards and the title from the cry miners would give for the cage to be sent down the shaft to bring them to the surface, is actually a love story about one of the pit workers and the lass he meets one July day. There’s love too in ‘The Bookkeeper’, a simple acoustic ballad with Patrick Duffin on percussion that tells of a Billingham bookkeeper’s undeclared love for the chief accountant’s clerk and features the uplifting chorus of “you can put a price on gold, on almost anything for I’ve been told, but the love that the true heart holds never can be sold”. Only when he learns she’s leaving does he summon up the courage to tell, her how he feels. Whether she returns his affections is never told, but given the album’s gospel country tinged duetted closing title track, Debbie on accordion, optimism rather than seems to be in the air. Of course, paying off your debts and every man and woman standing as equals may all be pipe dreams, but without hope what would be the point of getting out of bed. Megson know there are dark clouds in the sky, but they still set their alarm clock.

Mike Davies

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‘Burn Away’ – official video: