BEN HEMMING – The Devil Beside Me (own label)

The Devil Beside MeReleased in May 2019, Ben Hemming’s third album, The Devil Beside Me is, it’s fair to say, a pitch dark slice of blues. Written from a place of alienation, “…that sense of isolation and detachment is a central theme that runs throughout the record” says Hemming, this is one album that’s unlikely to become a family sing-along favourite on long car journeys.

What it is, though, is a solid and impressive piece of work. Owing easily as much to American nu-metal as to blues or Americana, it brims with moody introspection and quasi-religious/occult imagery. Album producer, Mark Waterman, has previously done the honours for Depeche Mode, and its not hard to detect similar textural layers here.

Hemming’s baritone vocals, moving easily from lush richness to coarse growl, readily call to mind artists like Pearl Jam, Mark Lanegan and especially Crash Test Dummies’ Brad Roberts, with those oddly stylised, exaggeratedly rounded vowel sounds that still seem incomprehensibly popular with a lot of (mostlly male) singers.

Opening track, ‘Dead Man Blues,’ fair scorches with rage and pain. ‘Never Had A Heart’ adds a mournful country steel wail before ‘I Know It To Be True’ rides in on a dirty, fat bass riff. ‘One Eyed King’ is a, buzzsawing song with slight reminders of Rocket From The Crypt’s ‘On A Rope’. ‘The Sea’, a relatively sparse, open track features a simple melody and lyrics as bleak as they come, like “my mother knew, the day she had me, a darker day she would never see” – which just feel like Hemming’s trying a bit too hard and rather straining for effect.

If it’s true to say that the album might have benefitted from a bit more variation in tone, as it all feels rather relentlessly heavy and dark, with little light or shade between the songs, it does have a hypnotic internal consistency.

Teenage me would absolutely have revelled in the utter bleakness of it all and especially those gloriously scuzzy guitars. Grown-up me still got a real buzz from listening, but also wanted to offer him a cup of tea and a chat about if he’s feeling OK.

There is, though, some light at the end of this murky tunnel, “…what might at first seem like quite a dark and soul-searching record, is really about taking a journey that leads to overcoming those demons and becoming a stronger and more developed person because of it”. Well, phew, that’s alright then.

Su O’Brien

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link for the UK Store is: https://folking.com/folking-store/


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link to the US Storehttps://folking.com/folking-us-storefront/


Artist website: www.benhemming.co.uk

‘Inside’ – official video:

GWILYM BOWEN RHYS – Arenig (Erwydd Records ER003)

ArenigArenig is the third solo album from multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Gwilym Bowen Rhys, 2019 Welsh Folk Awards Best Solo Artist winner and BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2019 nominee. From his youthful days in cheeky alt-rock band Y Bandana, via three-part folk harmonies with his sisters in Plu and his grandad’s collection of traditional Welsh music, Rhys has nurtured his own distinctive style.

He’s a very forward-looking traditionalist, drawing on ancient and modern Welsh language sources married with sympathetic, progressive arrangements of his own contemporary music or traditional tunes. It’s a collaborative affair, with the album’s hugely talented musicians developing arrangments in the studio with him. They sizzle right from the start as opener, the saucy, traditional, ’Yr Hosan Las (The Blue Stockings)’ gets a complimentary lively, choppy, even jazz-infused backing. Even the salute to homely little aphorisms, ‘Da Gennyf Air O Ganu (I Enjoy A Little Singing)’ is set off with some nimble, thoroughly modern harp and a driving, percussive chug.

Rhys demonstrates his considerable credentials as a traditional composer, too: his tune ‘Jac Yr Oil’ (a tribute to his great-grandfather) perfectly comfortable beside its more established set mates. A little later, his writhing, insistent ‘Jeri Bach Gogerddan’ celebrates Welsh Romani influences on traditional Welsh music.

Gypsies’ curses may be called to mind by the fairly terrifying incantation towards the end of the bluesy ‘Byta Da Bres (Eat Your Money)’. The fire and passion in Rhys’s delivery of this song require no specific language skills.

Like an Alan Garner novel, natural and elemental forces are personified and influential in the daily lives of men. The seasons lead to the amorous tryst of guitar ballad, ‘Clychau’r Gog (Bluebells)’, while a lunar pull drives the melancholic ‘Lloer Dirion Llw’r Dydd (Gentle Moon, The Colour Of Day)’. Rhys’s gritty voice, easily conveying power or softness is texturised here to create a digeridoo-like resonance.

The gorgeous title track, ‘Arenig’, recited by its author (and Rhys’s great-uncle), poet Euros Bowen, describes the wonder of seeing the Snowdonian mountain suddenly ablaze with colour. From out of a low drone, the twisting fiddle motif is gradually echoed by a clear, bright harp before the compelling vocal begins. No matter the language, its rhythm and poetry transcend mere meaning. English translations are available on Gwilym Bowen Rhys’s website, which is useful – if only to demonstrate how much better the Welsh sounds.

Arenig is an intriguing and highly accomplished album: that rare intuitive meeting of tradition and contemporary that creates something genuinely exciting and original. And how particularly splendid that we can now celebrate and enjoy so much excellent music in the native languages of these small islands.

Su O’Brien

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link for the UK Store is: https://folking.com/folking-store/


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link to the US Storehttps://folking.com/folking-us-storefront/


Artist website: www.gwilymbowenrhys.com

‘Clychau’r Gog’ – live:

AIDAN O’ROURKE & KIT DOWNES – 365 Volume 2 (Reveal Records Reveal018CDX)

365 Volume 2Having been privileged to see Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes performing their 365 Volume 1 in 2018, the release of 365 Volume 2 was extremely high on my “most anticipated” list. And rightly so. This two-disc album presents a further 25 compositions inspired by (and fully the equal of) author James Robertson’s virtuoso short-story collection 365: stories.

The music contains its own energy and works perfectly as a standalone piece but, when combined with reading Robertson’s stories (presented in the CD booklet), a strange sympathetic magic occurs. O’Rourke’s music is, after all, created in response to Robertson’s tales and perhaps this is what creates additional sensory depth when the two art forms coincide: a rich, dense, absorbing world evolves with slow-burning intensity.

As in 365 Volume 1, this is a fairly minimalist piece featuring two highly skilful musicians making graceful, richly textural sound paintings – listen to ‘That Place, Mick Said, Christ What A Hole’ or ‘Off The Motorway And Onto The Short Cut, Over The Hill’, to pick just two. A masterful, controlled tightness of playing exists between Downes on piano or harmonium and O’Rourke’s fiddle, yet the overall feeling is free and loose-limbed.

Naturally, traditional music influences feature large, emphatically Scottish in the bluster of ‘That Braggart Has It Coming To Him’, ‘I Met Him Only Once’ and the rustic ‘On This Day The First Recorded Total Eclipse Of Scotland Took Place’. Almost-cheery jigs are slyly subverted in ‘There’s A Rumour Going Round, We Don’t Know What It Is, But We All Get In Line’ and ‘One Day She Decided To Open Her Own Library’, to create a fidgety tension.

Folky motifs also seem favoured to sketch in elements of the natural and supernatural, as in the darkly atmospheric ‘Now You Know About Clootie Wells, Do You?’, the brightly surreal ‘Douglas And Aileen Stood In Front Of The Blue Plaque’ or ‘They’d Start Their Calling Around Midnight’, this last twining vine-like around a jazzy piano.

Angular atonalities slant by like icy rain in ‘We Drove Down That Road Saddened By My Father’ and ‘Right William, Trolley Duty, Kev Said’. The modernist jagged repetition, (think a less-saccharine Einaudi) in ‘The Film Was Preceded By A Warning’ would make a great setting for contemporary dance.

365 Volume 2 is an intimately-recorded performance with each piece a beautiful, vividly-coloured miniature portrait, a perfectly executed distillation of emotion and style. All life is here: drama, empathy, wit and melancholy. The scale of this ambitious project remains as awe-inspiring as the consistently superlative quality of the results.

Su O’Brien

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link for the UK Store is: https://folking.com/folking-store/


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link to the US Storehttps://folking.com/folking-us-storefront/


Artist website: www.aidanorourke.net

Read about the installation at Edinburgh Book Fair here.

‘There’s A Rumour Going Round, We Don’t Know What It Is, But We All Get In Line’:

THEA GILMORE – Small World Turning (Shameless Records, SHAME19001)

Small World TurningIf you’ve ever wondered what the sound of a Small World Turning is, Thea Gilmore’s first album in two years has the answer. It’s furious, witty and socially astute. It’s maternally fierce, compassionate and tender. It’s a state of the nation address. It’s a call to arms.

A sense of urgency pervades the album, as darkness skulks around the periphery. The premature fade-out of an intimate, bathroom-echoey, a cappella rendition of traditional lullaby, ‘Mockingbird’, opens up an unsettling sensation of loss. Later, the intensely lovely, bittersweet piano ballad ‘Karl’s Lament’ confirms our fears, “somewhere there are crosshairs on a mockingbird”. Listener, there’s trouble at t’mill.

Fortunately, Gilmore’s songwriting is on searing form, tackling cultural commentary with biting precision. Oxford’s notorious ‘Cutteslowe Walls’ provide the perfect allegory for the country’s ever increasing rich/poor divide, ‘where there’s a line at the foodbank, where they’re handing soup to the boys on the floor, where sleeping bags are blocking doorways, you’ll see the shadow of the Cutteslowe walls”.

That song’s brightly toiling percussion, suggestive of the kind of manual labour seen in the area’s once-booming car industry, is typical of the glove-snug fit of the musical arrangements – with a generous roster of artists including Sam Lakeman and Ciaran Algar making significant contributions. This review copy is light on detail, but Seth Lakeman’s distinctive fiddle graces the ominous ‘The Loading Game’ and Cara Dillon’s Irish whistle coolly pierces the warmth of countryish ballad, ‘Don’t Dim Your Light For Anyone’.

Brimming with fury, the fiercely spat out, heavily sardonic ‘Glory’ condemns media manipulation and fake news with its “welcome to brand new history”, much as the skronky angularity of ‘The Revisionist’ takes angry aim at right wing ‘populists’ – whilst also perfectly demonstrating the power of a well-placed Oedipal insult.

Shuffling percussion and chain-gang vocalisations lead the bluesy, pro-migration ‘Shake Off Those Chains’. A mariachi-style trumpet might suggest Mexico, as might the border-crossing closer ‘Dreamers’. This final lullaby appears to bring the album full circle. But its melodic echoes of Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ plus Egan Stonier’s lamenting, Irish-style fiddle make it more uncomfortable than comforting: more Cormac McCarthy than AA Milne.

Even the vibrant ‘The Fuse (Let It All Come Down)’ – perky tv-jingle meets the gleeful sensuality of Kate Bush’s ‘Eat The Music – bristles with uneasy tension. The Kinks-ish ‘Blowback’ swarms with suitably deceptive pubby jollity, as does the “the people’s reactionary”, a public-school educated millionaire faux ‘man of the people’. Insert name here.

‘Grandam Gold’ (a Chaucerian-era phrase for wealth hoarders) is the most obviously “folky” sounding, with Dillon and Gilmore’s harmonies sublimely delicious. But there’s no mistaking the message, “take up your arms and prepare for the fight, accept what is simple or defend what is right’. Pick your side.

This album turns an incisive female gaze on a small world that’s increasingly turning off-kilter. It walloped me right in the maternals and isn’t about to let go. A brilliant, necessary album for our times.

Su O’Brien

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link for the UK Store is: https://folking.com/folking-store/


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link to the US Storehttps://folking.com/folking-us-storefront/


Artist website: www.theagilmore.net

‘The Fuse’ – lyric video:

ELEPHANT SESSIONS – What Makes You (Elephant Sessions)

What Makes YouSince the release of their last album, 2017’s All We Have Is Now, the five young Highlanders who are Elephant Sessions have toured around the world, garnering numerous awards and journalistic plaudits, and even had a pale ale named after them by Belhaven Brewery. So it’s a wonder they’ve managed to find the time to step back into the studios and lay down another fine album, What Makes You.

What Makes You sums up where the band is at, making the music they feel represents them, their experiences and musical interests. It’s such a tight fusion of many different influences including acid jazz, rock, funk and electro beats that it’s pointless trying to unpick it all – and it’s still all layered round that inescapably Scottish traditional heart.

If Euan Smillie’s fiddle and Alasdair Taylor’s mandolin embody tradition on the front line, writhing and tumbling around rhythmic, melodic and tempo variations, Mark Bruce ably throws rock shapes on guitar. Seth Tinsley parries with a full-funk bassline plus electronica, while Greg Barry’s sensitive percussion lends light and shade to the whole sonic picture.

The simple, mantra-like melody of the atmospheric ‘Intro’ segues into ‘What Makes You’ where it gets tossed lightly around in a swirl of variations – and it’s the fluid ease of this, as well as the skilful use of layering, that makes Elephant Sessions work so well.

The mellow chimes of ‘Colours’ slide in softly, before swishy percussion and driving guitar kick in, over which the fiddle soars and winds, counterpointed by an angular mandolin. ‘Search Party’ wakes up rocking, its jagged, flickering guitar giving the impression of sirens and flashing lights, while mandolin and bass riffs suggest a funky distant cousin of Another One Bites The Dust.

‘Loft Crofter’ sets a wriggly fiddle and mandolin over bright, jagged funk and a brittle snap track. Meanwhile, at ‘Tyagarah’ (named after the site of Australian Bluesfest where Elephant Sessions have twice played) there’s a more sinister, dry, insect-like clicking that evolves into a bubbling popcorn beat as the front line once more tangles and slides away.

The bare-arsed funk workout of ‘We Out Here Now’ is an instant party groove, so the quiet start of ‘Riverview Part 1’ comes in like the morning-after, its melancholy fiddle soaring over moody brass. Mirroring the start of the album, this penultimate track launches straight into its upbeat counterpart, ‘Riverview Part 2’, an electro-driven, acid-jazz folk tune with big blasts of brass like a ship leaving harbour.

As a band whose reputation is fast being cemented on their joyous live performances, that live energy was something they wanted to capture on this album. If success could be measured in the momentary surprise at the absence of an outburst of applause after each track, then What Makes You is a runaway success.

Su O’Brien

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link for the UK Store is: https://folking.com/folking-store/


Click banner above to order featured CD/ Vinyl/ Download/ Book/ DVD

Physical link to the US Storehttps://folking.com/folking-us-storefront/


Artist website: www.elephantsessions.com

‘Colours’ – official video:

ANNIE SUMI – In The Unknown (own label)

In The UnknownSometimes the music you didn’t know you needed to hear will find you anyway, as a rare and serendipitous encounter with Canadian singer/songwriter Annie Sumi recently demonstrated. Performing in an overly-warm pub room at a community fundraiser with musical partner, local cellist Jessica Burrows, Sumi quickly captured and entranced the room, drawing on a number of songs from her 2017 album, In The Unknown and her 2015 debut, Reflections.

In The Unknown is a fine place to begin exploring this ethereal-folk artist whose controlled yet fluid finger-picked guitar perfectly complements her warm, intimate vocal style. Up close to the microphone, she draws the listener in with compassionate, human stories wreathed in natural and spiritual metaphors. Her songs are mature and introspective, with something meditative, healing even, about them.

On disc, her live “girl-with-guitar” sound is fleshed out by some sympathetic accompaniments, be it delicate strings or the metallic shimmer of pedal steel, both featuring on opener, ‘Evaporating Life’, a reflection on impermanence.

A jazzy swish of percussion and angular steel guitar reflect the hard surfaces of ‘The City’ which, paired with a matching urban soundscape interlude, sees Sumi in carefree mood. More sombre is the environmental change contemplated by ‘Baby Blue’, melodically informed by the bending notes of whalesong.

A glimmer of hopefulness dusts life’s gloomier corners, whether that’s melodically in the climbing chorus of ‘Eye Of A Rose’ or lyrically, as in the moving, tender meditation of ‘Get By’ on life’s compromises and struggles. Yet sometimes a positive spin is hard to come by, as the mournful, slurring strings of the bleak ‘Helpless Dancer’ attest. It forms a stark contrast with the witty, spirited take on broken hearts of the lovely ‘Nightingale’.

Even to these grumpy old heathen ears, ‘In Everything’ with its chorus of “there’s a little bit of God, In everything” shouts out “hit song”. It’s interesting – if perhaps a bit unfair – to compare live and recorded versions of this song made over two years apart. More poppily uptempo and somewhat dominated by an insistent drumbeat in 2017, its 2019 stripped-back live counterpart elicited an audible emotional response from the audience. No matter how it’s served up, this strong, heartfelt song connects.

If ‘Peter Pan’ is a swooping, swooning flight, ‘Time Is A Dream’ is much more reflective on the role of imagination in Sumi’s creative process, “I am falling in and out of my imagination, In, and Out, I am fading to a dream”. With its muted brass, it’s a song that might slide comfortably into The Unthanks’ repertoire.

A quick mention of a newer song, not on this album but hopefully available in future, ‘Skybound’ swaggers like Short Sharp Shocked-era Michelle Shocked and is well worth checking out online.

Although on a flying visit to the UK this time around, Sumi hopes to return next year (promoters, please take note!) for the release of her much-anticipated next project, Solastalgia. With her infectious warmth and joy, it would be an absolute delight to welcome her to these shores again very soon. Until then, get acquainted with Annie Sumi by setting foot In The Unknown.

Su O’Brien

Artist website: www.anniesumi.com

‘Skybound’ – official video: