Lowdown Ways is the third studio album from Daddy Long Legs, a animalistic, energetic trio from New York. Comprising Brian Hurd (vocals/ harmonica/guitar), Murat Akturk (slide guitar) and Josh Styles (drums/maraca), the three write their own material drawing on blues and other genres, all wreathed in a scuzzy sonic fuzz so filthy it should probably come with sterilising wipes.
Kicking off with ‘Theme From Daddy Long Legs’, in just under two minutes they summon up ghosts of the The Sex Pistols’ ‘Holiday In The Sun’ boot-stomp intro, the Old Grey Whistle Test theme and an Alan Lomax chain gang field recording. Damn, that’s good!
The meaty ‘Ding Dong Dang’ (and why not?), like lead single ‘Mornin’ Noon And Nite’, sees Hurd growling like an old Delta bluesman through the layers of distortion. There’s a carefully crafted, lovingly lo-fi energy and rawness to the sound production.
‘Pink Lemonade’, borrowing lightly from The Doors’ ‘Hello, I Love You’, also contains something a bit early 1980s electronic in its beats. The thundering drums of ‘Be Gone’ bookend verses that seem to have a casual acquaintance with Mungo Jerry’s ‘In The Summertime’.
‘Glad Rag Ball’ may nod briefly towards the Count Five’s ‘Psychotic Reaction’ but then heads off in an almost glam rock direction. ‘Winners Circle’ also mines that similar glam seam, this time overlaid with the pub rock feel of a 1970s stomper. Beer-sticky carpet, fag-ends and flares seem to hover just at the limits of one’s peripheral vision.
‘Back Door Fool’ is a pretty straightforward country blues, much as ‘Bad Neighborhood’, the longest song on here at just over four minutes, is a foot-to-the-floor grimy Chicago blues. The band thunders along the chugging blues of ‘Snagglepuss’ to the more refined ‘Célaphine’, uptempo rock’n’roll wearing a Cajun overcoat.
Wrapping up the album is the furiously galloping and apocalyptic spaghetti-Western ‘Wrong Side Of The River’ – a gloriously dark romp into the sunset.
Despite the clear influence of the distortion of 1960s garage punk and blues, this band is no mere nostalgia-fest, but a vitally contemporary take on American music traditions. And one that shamelessly hits the gut response with its visceral, low-down and dirty fuzzed-out garagey blues.
If you like your music bluesy, raucous and primal, Daddy Long Legs are the answer. Howling on stage in selected venues in the UK right now.
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For his follow-up to 2014’s debut, I’m Not Here, singer-songwriter Dave Fidler decided on something different. He spent last August conscientiously challenging his creativity by writing a song every day (chronicled on his website: a fascinating read) and eight of those songs are distilled into Songs From Aurora.
As the Aurora of the title is Fidler’s caravan, perhaps it’s natural that there’s a strong feeling of movement across many of the songs. From opening track, ‘On The Line’, whose deceptively gentle acoustic guitar intro ushers in a fraught tale of peril and survival, to the reflective, almost plaintive, ‘Another Word For Home’ encapsulating life on the road, there’s a sense of a constantly shifting horizon.
Whilst the beautiful and quietly uplifting featured single ‘Skylark’ flutters with a tentative optimism, ‘Sum Of Days’ is all restless energy. It contemplates the need to live true to ourselves (though the impeccably placed distant siren in the background helps suggest that freedom might have a cost). By contrast, ‘Will I Ever Learn?’ is that little nagging voice of conscience that might hold us back, or keep us safe. Its deliciously slouchy, porch-and-rocking-chair country-blues nicely counterpoints some tartly self-critical lyrics.
Fidler’s flair for contrasting musical arrangements helps sharpen the impact of his lyrics. The bleakness of ‘Heart Of Stone’ comes soaked in bright, sun-drenched guitar and mellow Hammond organ. The Hammond is used to different effect elsewhere, adding a sleazy undertow to the low-slung blues-rock of ‘The Water’ or blowing in like a rolling stone to the karmic ‘Breeze’.
He also shines a compassionate spotlight on family and friends. There’s a delicately longing song about someone absent, in ‘For You’, whilst ‘Let Her Go’ shows two distinct moods. A light syncopation accompanies some abstract concept of letting a loved one go, before shifting to a full-blown, directly apologetic blues.
Fidler delivers two exquisite and heartfelt songs dedicated to his parents. His respect for his mother’s life as a single parent is the subject of the Dylan-ish ‘Eternal Road’ whereas ‘Home’ confronts the cause: the death of his father. This final track with its spare, serious piano and gospelly backing vocals, is brutal with raw emotion.
Songs From Aurora reinforces Fidler as a fine songwriter making powerful and truthful emotional connections.
A little over a year since their Brother Wind EP made a favourable impact on Folking’s Singles Bar, those talented Gnoss chaps are back to unveil their new album, Drawn From Deep Water. Now a well-established four-piece of Aidan Moodie (guitar/vocal), Graham Rorie (fiddle/mandolin), Connor Sinclair (flutes/whistles) and Craig Baxter (bodhrán/stomp/percussion), their time spent touring and maturing has forged a richly coherent unit.
A good proportion of self-written material appears on the album, showing the lads to be as strong creatively as they are performatively. Moodie’s ‘Three Shores’ opens up proceedings with a light touch, the loping roll of the rhythm lifted by whistle and mandolin, while Sinclair’s ‘The Duchess’ features his deft, curling flute over tautly sparkling mandolin and soft-spoken guitar.
Rorie demonstrates great compositional versatility deeply rooted in traditional music, from the lyrical patterns of ‘An Orkney Christmas’ to the more manic ‘Voodoo’. The latter’s lithe, twisting 3-tune set drops flavours of jazz and blues into the melting pot, the whole held steady by Baxter’s intently quick-fire percussion. ‘The Badger’ begins with a looping spiral of fiddle and flute motifs before an atmospheric guitar bridge leads into the band’s own arrangement of ‘The Banks Of Newfoundland’. James Lindsay (Breabach) lends some ethereally swirling Moog on his piece with Rorie, ‘The Peeriefool’, as well as bass duties across the album.
Moodie’s other track here, ‘Sea Widow’ breathes more intimately. The understated melancholy of the lyric derives from Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown, whose work also makes an appearance in ‘The Five Of Spades’. There’s a rather sweet swinginess to this version of the late Lise Sinclair’s song, from her cycle inspired by Mackay Brown’s novel A Time To Keep, although it feels as if it needed to be edgier, murkier. However, there’s a pleasing fragile brightness to Dave Francey’s ‘The Waking Hour’ and Väsen’s ‘Hasse A’s’ is just a burst of vital energy; its expressively fluttering, slurring fiddle pinned by a vividly pattering percussion.
Ross Ainslie’s airy, rounded production lets the interplay of instruments sing, as in album finale, the swirling ‘Laurel Cottage’ (Sinclair again) with its shifting transitions between foreground and background. Lending a warm, live-like sound, it manages to encapsulate the band’s essential dynamic and energy.
Drawn From Deep Water is a very impressive album, fully delivering on the EP’s promise and still leaving plenty of scope for future development. Don’t be an aGnosstic, give it a listen.
After the sunshine splash of Alessio Bondì’s first album, Sfardo, the title of his second outing, Nivuru (Black), gives a hefty clue that things are about to take a darker turn. Although still singing in his native Sicilian, Bondì’s musical palette has greatly diversifed, taking on influences from travels in Africa and South America.
Right from the opening bars, the difference between albums is obvious, with the lustfully sinuous funk of ‘Ghidara’ (‘Guitar’) giving way to the African rhythms that weave through ‘Dammi Una Vasata’ (‘Kiss Me’).
Slowing things down, ‘Si Fussi Fimmina’ (If I Were A Woman’) has a Mick Hucknall-esque vocal that, just as the extended bending notes start to wear thin, is redeemed by Alessandro Presti’s delightfully smoky trumpet. The languidly heart-broken ‘Café’ with its Spanish-sounding guitar, slurred strings and woodwind flourishes suddenly twists – a kind of jazz voodoo shifts the mood into something altogether more menacing.
Where ‘Savutu’ (‘Jump’) has an 80s funk vibe, ‘Un Favuri’ (‘A Favour’) begins like a sudden, breathless awakening from a nightmare. This slow, introspective song slowly builds up momentum, only to falter into a tentative guitar finale. African percussion beats and a falling woodwind motif begin ‘L’amuri Miu Pi Tia’ (‘My Love For You’) before it surrenders to a full-on brass and handclaps fiesta.
‘Puddicinu A Luna’ (‘Little Chick Under The Full Moon’), with its gently plucked guitar is perhaps most like Bondì’s previous work, but even here he can’t resist adding a waltzing coda that leads straight into final song ‘Nivi Nivura’ (‘Black Snow’). This slinky, slightly Latiny song gains an additional intensity in its second half, largely due to the Oscar-worthy dramatically impassioned vocals.
With Nivuru, Bondì’s opted for a much fatter sound, with a more global feel, as if trying to cram in everything he’s assimilated on his travels. His diverse musical influences flicker throughout every song (which are generally longer than before), so that the overall effect becomes rather overwhelming and threatens to swamp the strong Sicilian presence. If Nivuru’s not wholly successful, for this listener at least, it is an intriguing progression and Bondì remains a name to keep an eye on.
There’s a rare opportunity to catch Bondì’s bold Sicilian-based global music live in the UK, at Servant Jazz Quarters in London on 31 March.
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Lines is a trilogy of song cycles inspired by poetry, focusing on three female perspectives across time: Hull fishing worker Lillian Bilocca; World War One poets; and writer Emily Brontë. Lines is available on general release from February 22nd .
After discovering Brian Lavery’s book, The Headscarf Revolutionaries, the actor and writer Maxine Peake created the play The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca as part of Hull’s hugely successful City of Culture events. Bilocca was the woman who changed policy and regulations following the loss of three trawlers in close succession in early 1968. She led women from the Hessle Road area of Hull (where many of the trawlermen came from) in protest against the lack of safety in the trawling industry. The protests led to a meeting with the government in London and then to eighty-eight safety measures being enacted.
The play had an original live score by The Unthanks and this album has five tracks. The music is predominantly written by Adrian McNally. A couple of the songs have lyrics by Peake – but the album also includes Bolling and Fishman’s ‘Lonesome Cowboy’ (which is a surprise until you relate the lyrics to the long journeys of the trawlermen). I didn’t get back to Hull to see the play, but based on this album, I regret it even more than I did at the time – the music is magnificently atmospheric, with rich but hushed tone set by McNally’s piano and supported by equally soft vocal and playing from the rest of the band.
It isn’t possible to understand Hull, particularly West Hull, without understanding its trawling history. Peake’s play with its focus on the events of 1968 has helped unite this fishing tradition into the modern city of culture. To give an idea of the significance of the women’s protests, Brian Lavery quotes one of Bilocca’s colleagues on her return to Hull from London as saying that the women of Hessle Road “did more in six days than Trade Unions and politicians had done in a century”. The definitions of folk music are many and varied but one of them is “the people’s music”. The Unthanks album will help preserve the story of Lillian Bilocca and the Headscarf Revolutionaries. It will also widen the audience that knows the story.
The second part of Lines comprises six songs concerning the Great War and, of course, there is a back story. The songs were originally written for a project marking the beginning of the war and have now been recorded to mark its end. Such projects tend to be collaborative affairs and so the first voice we hear isn’t an Unthank but Sam Lee who sings the first part the long opener ‘Roland And Vera’. Roland was Roland Leighton who was shot and killed two days before Christmas 1915 and Vera was his fiancée Vera Brittain. The song is based on her memoir and there’s lots about her to look up.
‘Everyone Sang’ is the first set of words by a contemporary poet, in this case Siegfried Sassoon with music by Tim Dalling who also sings on this recording. Sassoon was also responsible for the harrowing ‘Suicide In The Trenches’. Adrian McNally takes over as composer from this point beginning with ‘War Film’ by Teresa Hooley, although the poem was probably written in the 1920s. We don’t often think of women as war poets but Jessie Pope, who wrote the final piece ‘Socks’ is one such. Wilfred Owen dedicated Dulce Et Decorum Est to her which shows the regard in which she was held at the time.
The short poem ‘Breakfast’ was written by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, the leading Georgian poet. It’s typical of the way wrote about the minutiae of life and The Unthanks expand it including lines from ‘Hanging On The Old Barbed Wire’ which are perfectly in keeping. The music is, perhaps inevitably, dominated by McNally’s piano with extra strings brought in to bolster Niopha Keegan’s fiddle and Chris Price’s bass and guitar
As the concluding part of The Unthanks’ Lines trilogy, part three is based on the poetic works of Emily Brontë. Commissioned by the Brontë Society to commemorate the bicentenary of Wuthering Heights, this set of scored poems also forms an audio trail around the Haworth Parsonage (until 31 March 2019; free, but equipment booking required).
Unlike the epic adventurousness of some of their more recent work, this album has a direct simplicity, featuring only Rachel and Becky Unthank’s voices accompanied by Adrian McNally’s piano. McNally composed and performed on the parsonage’s 5-octave cabinet piano, which no doubt informed the hypnotic minimalism of the resulting music. Ambient sounds derive from on-site recording sessions, which took place after museum hours.
As we enter ‘The Parsonage’ the crows take raucous flight from the churchyard next door. Opening the door, only footsteps and the chiming and ticking of clocks disturb the stifling stillness. Nature, time, death. A triumvirate of forces scouring across Emily Brontë’s life and work.
Brontë’s nature is not manicured or cultivated, but an untamed, raw beauty. As the little piano riffles of ‘High Waving Heather’ sketch in the endless moor-top breeze (just as likely to be a bitterly whipping wind!), Becky and Rachel sing alternate lines, before they run together in a harmonic stream.
Connecting with nature is therapeutic. ‘Shall Earth No More Inspire Thee’ makes a plaintive and heartfelt cry for its subject to re-embrace nature to gain relief from inner torment. Yet ‘Lines’ conveys the sadness of finding that nature cannot soothe those who do not allow it in.
‘Remembrance’ has been set to an arrangement of a traditional tune, which pairs very well with this heavily Romantic lament. But it’s the deceptively simple and placatory dissembling of ‘She Dried Her Tears And They Did Smile’, set to a slow waltz, that really gets under the skin.
Some of the songs comprise several poems in well-considered conjunctions, such as ‘Deep Deep Down In The Silent Grave’ partnered with the equally solemn ‘Oh Hinder Me By No Delay’. But it’s ‘The Night Is Darkening Around Me’ where the dread and defiance of “I will not, cannot go” is perfectly counterpointed by the tender ‘I’ll Come When Thou Art Saddest’. Bridging back to the first poem via a short poem fragment, ‘I Would Have Touched The Heavenly Key’, this is a delightfully constructed track.
The refrain of crows, clocks and footsteps opening ‘O Evening Why’ suggests this as a logical end to the album, but perhaps it’s just too downbeat, as Becky sings the first poem in a dirgey minor before Rachel joins with the equally tonally bleak ‘It’s Over Now; I’ve Known It All’. Instead, the brighter ‘I’m Happiest When Most Away’ escorts the listener back to the moors and leaves them contemplating the shifting night skies at the top of the world.
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Tŷ Ein Tadau (Our Fathers’ House) is the stunning debut album from Welsh chamber-folk trio Vrï. First off, it’s blindingly obvious how great these guys (Aneirin Jones, Jordan Price Williams, Patrick Rimes) are together. They play off each other wonderfully well, with superb control of dynamics and nuance, excelling in subtle mood shifts, in delicate washes of light and shade. But more layers to this musical millefeuille lie in Vrï’s high-minded intent.
Vrï have attempted a respectful untangling of the complex role of Methodism in Welsh society leading to either the suppression of folk traditions and tunes or of their appropriation into the hymnal (per the tendency of any establishment to absorb perceived threats). Vrï seek to tease out and restore some tunes to their traditional roots, without undermining the importance of “chapel” in Wales’s social history. Reads like a PhD proposal: sounds like a dream.
The album opens with the mournful cello of ‘Dewch I’r Frwydr’ and a melody which glances off Dvořák’s New World Symphony. There’s darkness, too, in the exquisitely sad ‘Tôn Fechan Meifod’, with that same bleak bucolicism as Howard Shore’s Lord Of The Rings post-war “Shire” music.
‘Breow Kernow’ marries ‘Mount Hill’ with a lively Cornish ‘five-step’ whilst the the skipping, slurring jig triple set of ‘Cyw Bach’ melds short, firm bow strokes with big rounded percussion. ‘Taflu Rwdins’ weaves an agile polka into an epic vocalised chorus, in contrast with the clean, sedately classical lines of ‘Crug Y Bar’.
Beth Celyn lends her rich, round and soaring vocals to ‘Cob Malltraeth’ over strings which, starting as a gentle, long-bowed flow, acquire a nagging insistence. The other songs feature the voices of the band members and range from the sean-nós of ‘Aros Mae’r Mynyddau Mawr’ to ‘Ffoles Llantrisant’ presented like a hypnotic round. If ‘Clychau Aberdyfi’ strikes more oddly on the ears, it may not be down to the chiming bell rhythm, but rather to the suddenly harsh-sounding and intrusive English.
Final track, ‘Gŵr a’i Farch’ brings all the band’s elements together, kicking off with an unusual time signature hornpipe, working together folk and classical textures with great power and sensitivity.
So there’s something rather cerebral in their approach, yet their music absolutely glows with energy and life. This album reaches the head, the heart and the feet all at once – just take a listen.
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