KÍLA – Pota Óir (Kíla Records, KRDVD003)

Pota ÓirKíla, a band with a mutable line-up around the core of the Ó Snodaigh family has been around since the late 80s, with a prodigious output of band and offshoot projects over that time. Last year, the band released a live album, Beo/Alive to include some of their less-performed tracks and Pota Óir (Pot of Gold) is its accompanying DVD. Shot in atmospheric black and white by director Anthony White (a stylist in the mould of the great Anton Corbijn), it intercuts band talking heads with live and backstage footage.

Mercifully, that’s about where any relationship to a bog-standard music DVD ends. A faintly sinister opening section with a droning musical track over choppy edits of band members, like an outtake from a ‘found footage’ horror film, invites the bold viewer in. Kílaland is then gradually revealed as a curious, liminal place of tall tales and shifting perspectives, where even the band’s name is open to conjecture.

Right from the first track, ‘Matatu’, Rónán Ó Snodaigh seizes the eye with his intense physicality, ferociously pacing the stage with his bodhrán. Standing like a flamingo in ‘Pota Óir’ or brooding on his knees in the beautiful ‘Babymouse’ (Dee Armstrong’s stunning melody paired with Colm Ó Snodaigh’s tender lyrics), he’s a truly elemental presence.

There’s no real conscious ‘showmanship’ here, just a breathtaking intensity of performance between musicians working it out in real time. Guest vocalist, Polish singer Kayah, adds a rich throatiness to the intricate ‘Seo Mo Leaba /Am Reel’ as different parts and musical lines cross and intersect in a constant dynamic flowing stream. The band’s influences are prolific: there’s a jazz looseness, there’s funk in the bassline, soul and rap in the vocals, there are world influences from Africa to the Middle East – everything gets caught up in the Kíla tornado.

The film really captures the idea of music being a living entity, from its origins and gestation into a working piece, to feeding off the audience in order to attain spontaneity and transcendence in performance.

‘Raise The Road’, a rare song in English and a guide to growing up, features the line “don’t be afraid, be courageous and shine”. Sung largely a cappella, it’s a goose-bumpy moment but it also seems to sum up the band’s philosophy. There’s a casual bravery in their risk-taking, their willingness for things to be imperfect or under-rehearsed, as long as they create an energy. Kíla, then, is not so much a band, more an unstoppable force, cheerfully straddling chaos in order to craft magic.

Su O’Brien

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Artists’ website: www.kila.ie

‘The Derry Tune’:

VIVE LA ROSE – For She Who Hangs The Moon (Gestation Records, GEST01)

For She Who Hangs The MoonLondon-based Scot David Luximon-Herbert has been making music in various guises over many years, finally emerging as Vive La Rose in 2014 with the EP, Don’t Move, Don’t Speak. For Vive La Rose’s debut album, For She Who Hangs The Moon, he has crafted a lush, piano-driven Americana-washed soundscape about “figuring out your little corner of the world”.

Opening song, ‘Night Terrors’, unpicks the anxieties of the creative process and features one tiny, stomach-dropping moment where the instrumentation cuts out, leaving his whispering husky growl flailing momentarily, like the cartoon character who suddenly realises he’s running on thin air. Generally, though, like all the songs here, there’s a gentle air of reassurance and positivity.

The bright, tinkling ‘Rio Grande’ contemplates the bittersweet conflict of a couple torn between the demands of home and dreams of travel. Looking further outwards, Colin Elliot & The Up North Orchestra’s lyrical strings adorn Kennedy’s famous moon mission speech in ‘Before We Lose The Light’ as it builds in grandiosity over a ‘70s-sounding chorus. Its abrupt conclusion only throws the Spanish-tinged guitar intro of ‘Of A Fire On The Moon’ into full relief, another momentous song whose moody electric guitar climax falls away with the tentatively hopeful lyric, “as long as I can hold here”.

Nicky Francis’s briskly shuffling brush drum introduces ‘Interior Rules’ which seems to be about working out what really matters, whilst ‘Given Time’ features both Mark Neary’s pedal steel and some gorgeously poignant brass from Terry Edwards.

Time looms over ‘The Watchmaker’ (mortality and achievement), “I’m a watchmaker down inside and I need more time” and ‘Schiehallion’ (shifting perspectives) with its immortal line, “I’m swinging from the family tree”. Rod Sparks’ Hammond embellishes both this and ‘Sirocco’, a song with melodic traces of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, before the gently waltzing guitar of ‘My Shadow’ brings the album to a close.

There’s a thoughtfulness in the instrumentation and a gentle optimism that infuses this whole project, which is tenderly dedicated to his wife. Luximon-Herbert’s stated aim was to make the album that he wanted to, despite lacking a big budget. He’s certainly done a fine job of delivering a plush, involved album that radiates compassion and warmth.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artist website: http://vivelarosemusic.co.uk/

‘Schiehallion’ – official video:

KITTY MACFARLANE – Namer Of Clouds (Navigator Records, NAVIGATOR104)

Namer Of CloudsGiven the praise heaped on Kitty Macfarlane’s 2016 EP, Tide & Time, expectations are understandably high for her first full-length album release, Namer Of Clouds.

Macfarlane’s light soprano, paired with an equally light-fingered plucky guitar, nonetheless contains a filament of controlled determination. Softness and steel are never far apart, even in the delightful gentle lullaby of ‘Dawn And Dark’.

Macfarlane’s strong poetic sensibility is evident from the CD booklet: song lyrics rarely read well but here they hold their own, even against Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, ‘Inversnaid’. Her songs often pull focus in a graceful shift from particular to abstract, like ‘Namer Of Clouds’ where Luke Howard’s original cloud identification system forms the starting point for contemplating the human need to name – and thus own – the world. Jacob Stoney’s riffling keyboard and the dense, layered swell of the arrangement underscore the narrative movement.

‘Seventeen’ is a rites of passage song with an underlying chill, much like ‘Frozen Charlotte’, an Appalachian cautionary tale of the perils of not wearing your big coat. Its finale, stripping away the instrumentation, allows an intense intimacy to the vocal, an idea also used effectively in ‘Morgan’s Pantry’, whose softly pounding drum, gull calls and water sounds add atmosphere to Macfarlane’s softly rasping vocal.

‘Sea Silk’ tells of Chiara Vigo, keeper of an almost fairytale tradition of the spinning of brownish clam silk into a golden thread by the womenfolk of Sant’Antioco island, off Sardinia. There’s a real sense of joy and wonder in chronicling this disappearing skill, and a slightly manic glee at accomplishing the feat.

As mentioned before in these pages, there’s a real vogue at present for adding ambient natural recordings and Macfarlane’s no exception, right from opener ‘Starling Song’, loaded with birdsong over a lean, steely slick of guitars and percussion to the closing ‘Inversnaid’ with its celebration of ‘the weeds and the wilderness’.

Studio wizardry is generally skilfully and subtly deployed and arrangements are convincing, although a folk rock re-working of ‘Wrecking Days’ doesn’t feel entirely comfortable. A handful of Lost Boys lend their creative talents, with Graham Coe’s tender cello fleshing out the softly-spoken defiance of ‘Man, Friendship’ and Jamie Francis’s lithe, writhing guitar under the migrationary musings of ‘Glass Eel’.

Macfarlane’s debut certainly doesn’t disappoint: it’s an assured and confident album that delivers all that the EP promised, and more.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

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Artist website: www.kittymacfarlane.com

‘Man, Friendship’ – official video:

 

 

LONGSTAY – Calling Me Home (Goldrush Records, GOLDCD017)

Calling Me HomeCalling Me Home is the debut album from Longstay, a precocious Perth quintet, still with an average age of only 17 – and with four years’ experience already behind them. These super-confident players are firmly rooted in Country and Americana, with more than a hint of the ‘70s thrown in. Yet there’s an unmistakable Scottishness woven through it all, adding a distinct tang to their rocking sound.

From the off, the poppy ‘Mariah’ sets the tone for a slew of songs that show a strong instinct for a killer hook. Band songwriter Callum Campbell shows an easy ear for melody and some mature storytelling in the eight original tracks featured here. Campbell and Malcolm Swan together create an interesting vocal balance with impressive harmonisation, such as on the loping ‘Forever’ with its late-60s organ fills.

Where ‘Too Long’ is a full-on growling rockout (shades of Pearl Jam about the vocal), ‘My Turn’ is a swaggering bar-room strut. ‘Thoughts I Can’t Help’ and ‘Summerton’ are both slow-burners that flesh out as they go. There’s more vulnerability in the gentle keyboard refrain that starts ‘Remember’, a decidedly Scottish lament, brushed across with lap steel and telling a dark tale.

Of the covers, the train-like shuffle of ‘A Ring Of Fire’ (Munro/McElligott, not Carter Cash/Kilgore) features some hot fiddling from Dave Macfarlane. A driving version of John Fogerty’s ‘Lodi’ contains rhythmic hints of ‘Proud Mary’ – not surprising in a band much influenced by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Chris Stapleton’s more recent song, ‘Fire Away’ gets a swaying ‘lighters-aloft’ anthemic treatment which rather suits it.

The album ends with the uptempo, early-90s sounding ‘Leaving’ with its bright brass section that calls to mind bands like The Rembrandts, Deep Blue Something and their ilk. It’s another insanely catchy song rousing to an abrupt finish. You may well find your imagination filling in the ensuing silence with a crowd’s uproarious applause.

Longstay’s brand of Scottish-American contemporary country rock proves to be joyous, infectious and energetic. If this is the standard of where they are at now, let’s hope they will be in for the long stay: we should be in for a treat.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: www.longstayband.com

‘Mariah’ – live:

RICHARD DURRANT – Stringhenge (Own Label, TheBurningDeck003CD)

StringhengeJS Bach’s elaborate baroque isn’t necessarily folk’s obvious partner, but for guitarist Richard Durrant they are simply links in a lengthy musical chain. In his new album, Stringhenge, landscape and music are tightly bound, including in his instruments: a guitar made from 5000-year-old bog oak and a tenor guitar decorated with a silver Uffington Horse.

A Sussex classical guitarist trained at the Royal College of Music, Durrant embraces other styles and traditions joyously, with a playing style that wears its intricate skill with light ease. What’s quickly obvious from Stringhenge is his attention to detail, taking pleasure in tiny adjustments to resonance or plectrum, just as much as key or rhythm.

This is Durrant’s first double album, with the first CD recorded on Shoreham Beach (unless it’s also the name of a super-hip studio?). It largely features JS Bach pieces re-imagined for guitar, and occasional ukulele (he reserves one just for playing Bach). He’s creative with style and mood, adding classical Spanish touches to ‘Anaerobic Prelude’ which perfectly suits Bach’s bubbling, tumbling-over-themselves motifs. ‘Under Downham’ is unabashed English pastorale, and there’s even a harpsichord-like resonance on the strings in ‘The Reefknot Gavotte’. A swingy jazziness pervades ‘The Deep Dark Woods’, with touches of syncopation chopping into the rhythm. However, shorn of its cello mood-swings, the much-loved ‘Prelude In G’ lacks power.

Among the Bach nestle traditional tunes, with the jaunty light baroque frolic of ‘Speed The Plough’ linking them. ‘The Skye Boat Song’ pits two distinct key moods against a bagpipe-drone strum, while ‘Sorton’s Hornpipe’ (aka ‘Jacky Tarr’) slowly builds up the rhythm but remains oddly melancholic. ‘A Brief History Of Wood’, Durrant’s original composition, is strong and punchy, with sliding falls and hard picking.

The studio-recorded CD two is surprisingly different. It’s a funny, strange, slightly hallucinogenic experience, like rediscovering an obscure folk-rock concept album from the late 1960s/early 1970s. ‘Kenneth The Hedge’ has more than a hint of early Pink Floyd about it and ‘Frank Bough’s Allemande’ is amusingly odd. Elgar-derived ‘Edward The Good Angel’ is a slightly sinister 1960s caper movie theme that overindulges on a Greek holiday and passes out while listening to a beautiful blackbird. Bang on trend with the current birdsong vogue, then. Two minutes of joyous skylark song rounds off the disturbing ‘Morris Dreams’, which frequently teeters on parody’s cliff edge. Suddenly, we’re safely harvest home and, like looking back across a landscape, we can contemplate the distance travelled.

Su O’Brien

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Artist website: www.richarddurrant.com

‘My Lady Jane’ – official video:

NORTHERN FLYWAY – Northern Flyway (Hudson Records, HUD013)

Northern FlywayThis eponymous album from Northern Flyway is a beautiful addition to a rapidly growing body of music prominently featuring birdsong. Northern Flyway is Jenny Sturgeon and Inge Thomson’s new audio-visual project, featuring Magnus Robb’s bird recordings. Subtly drawing parallels with human migration and diversity, it’s also an alarm cry of disconnection from our natural world.

The rhythms and patterns of birdsong create audible landscapes of seasonal change, starting with the honking geese of opener, ‘Flyway’, which suggests the drone of an invisible aerial motorway of migration. The dawn chorus’s bubbling crescendo is transformed into a delirious, giddy fairground ride in ‘We Are The Morning’.

‘Rosefinch’ is the first of many songs dedicated to particular species. It’s a warm, bright song, with Jason Singh’s churring beatboxing and an accordion motif to mirror the bird’s phrasing. ‘The Gannets’ is a perfect example of how the album intertwines interview snippets and birdsong, often digitally manipulated to form beats and punctuations. The birds’ eerie, scratchy cry cuts through the airy, chant-like vocal, as a gently curling flute breaks free, soaring over a dully metallic percussion.

‘Lost Lapwing’ with its rather brusque, mantra-like vocal takes the bird’s eye view; the manipulated birdsong at times adding a whale-song-like melancholy before eliding into Robbie Burns’ delicate ‘Sweet Afton’. The richly-layered ‘Curlew’ evokes the bird’s wide-open-skies call (like a bleaker, saltier skylark), and the wisdom attributed to ‘The Owls’ (inaccurately, say some who work with them) is contemplated over a delicious curvy, sinuous beat.

The powerful ‘fragment of the past’ that is ‘The Eagle’ sees mediaeval touches added to Tennyson’s poem fragment. More early music influences, plus Singh’s menacing animalistic beatboxing, feature in closing track, ‘Huginn And Muninn’ (the names of Odin’s ravens), in celebration of the darkly intelligent corvid.

‘No Barriers, No Borders’ makes a pointed comment on migration, its breathy atmosphere faintly calling to mind The Unthanks’ Mount The Air (no bad thing). Sarah Hayes’s lovely, plangent piano lead on this and the rather more autumnal ‘Nomad’.

As a high, shimmering wave of sound moves across ‘Loch Carron Flame’, the listener’s viewpoint plunges from migrating geese down into the flame shell reef of the murky Scottish waters. Videos of the reef are available to watch online: it gives the song’s repeated ‘goodbye’ an added pathos that is almost unbearable.

Northern Flyway portrays the beauty of these birds and their often precarious environments without preachiness. Original and multi-layered, this is an enigmatic, gorgeous piece of work.

Su O’Brien

If you would like to order a copy of an album (CD or Vinyl format), download a copy or just listen to snippets of selected tracks then click below to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website (use the left and right arrows below to scroll along or back to see the full selection).

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

Artists’ website: https://en-gb.facebook.com/northernflyway/

‘Curlews’ – official video: