Currently on the English Folk Expo artist scheme, BEN & DOM are an a cappella vocal duo (the former the high notes, the latter the low) from South London, their debut self-released EP Shoulder a collection of self-penned, traditional folk styled songs about male expression, covering themes such as friendship, mental health and male beauty. It starts with ‘Lopsided’ about identity, the confining notion of ‘masculinity’ and feeling like an outsider, proceeding through ‘By Your Side’ with Dom’s choral-like vocals, about support and friendship, the 61-second ‘Atlas’ which draws on the Greek myth to sing about the weight and pressure of societal structures and expectations. The second half leads off with ‘Crow’, hand percussion backdropping the vocals with the bird a metaphor for recurring struggles with mental health, followed by the crooned intro to the medieval folk flavoured ‘A Beautiful Man’ which, the vocals interwoven a la S&G’s ‘Scarborough Fair’, challenges the idea that beauty is rarely considered in relation to maleness, ending with the brief monastic choir-like ‘From One Man To Another’ about male connectivity and care as they sing “I’ll help you find the smoothest stone, you’ll learn to skim it on your own”. An impressive debut, a full album is planned for next year.
Out of Aberdeen came the PADDY BUCHANAN BAND and their debut The Jabberwocky – the only non-traditional song in the set. It opens with the bothy ballad, ‘Monymusk Lads’, full of “goings-on” and Scots dialect and that is followed by, ‘Fordie-O’, a tale of double murder and suicide. The band is heavy of percussion with drums, bodhran and Old Blind Dogs’ Davy Cattanach’s mixed hand percussion while the melody instruments are guitar, banjo, accordion and mandolin. There is a lot going on but the production and mixing are tight leaving the songs as the centre of attention.
Why ‘The Jabberwocky’? The band’s tune manages to make it sound almost like a traditional song which is a remarkable trick. Euan Reid’s accordion provides a chugging accompaniment to ‘Cape Cod Girls’ – just as well it wasn’t intended to be a work shanty. Finally we have a modern and rather short reading of ‘The Bonnie Earl O’ Moray’, a fine song about murder and politics in Scotland in the 16th century. This is an excellent debut and we’re keen to see what Paddy and the gang do next.
The JIGANTICS founder member MARTIN FITZGIBBON has a debut solo album upcoming, from which comes the slow strummed six-minute ‘The Miner, Teacher & Ploughboy’ (self-released). Partly inspired by (but not based on) Somerset-born Harry Patch, the longest surviving veteran of WWI who lived to the age of 111 and whose voice can be heard on the track, it unfolds a narrative about “those boys and men who went to fight that bloody war”, each verse telling of a different character (all connected to Martin), the first, Tommy, a miner from the Forest of Dean who became a tunneller with The Glosters and was killed in Flanders, Annie in verse two is based on letters by his mother, whose first husband was killed in WWII, while the ploughboy is Jack, invalided home to the farm in 1916, his legs crippled at the front.
‘Pass The Day’ is the new single from ROBERT LANE, a bouncy, piano-driven song on which Robert plays every note. It’s ostensibly about letting things happen as they will but it also seems to be about rolling with the blows within a complex relationship. It’s a powerful song and one of Robert’s best.
Playing clawhammer banjo and fiddle, BELLA GAFFNEY joins forces with Sam Kelly, trading verses to duet on the self-released traditional ‘Fair And Tender Ladies’, a breathily sung, slow, Appalachian-flavoured second taster for her forthcoming new solo album.
‘Awe Na Mná’ (Praise The Women) is a new single from CLARE SANDS. It was released for International Women’s Day and is as far from the style you would expect from an Irish fiddler as you could imagine. Of course, Clare is not your average Irish fiddle player and the track has a strong, percussive feel and some clever lyrics.
Also released for International Women’s Day is ‘Wassulu Don’ by OUMOU SANGARÉ as a prequel to her forthcoming album, Timbuktu. Oumou comes from the Wassoulou region of Mali – choose your preferred spelling – and the song is about her people and her pride in them and their achievements. With elements of rock melded with the sound of Mali, this makes a perfect double bill with ‘Awe Na Mná’.
The drummer with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, JIM SCLAVUNOS, releases a lovely slow and suitably world-weary cover of Dylan’s ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ (Lowe Amusements) featuring The National bassist Scott Devendorf and Bad Seeds pianist, Dave Sherman to raise funds for Ellis Park Wildlife Sanctuary, the animal charity run by bandmate Warren Ellis. The recording was inspired on discovering Kathy McCoy, a medical professional and long-time Bad Seeds fan, had a terminal illness, the song chosen for its message of solace and, as it turned out, also a personal resonance having been played at her uncle’s funeral some 20 years earlier. The track is available exclusively from https://jimsclavunos.bandcamp.com from April 8 until May 13 after which time it will be permanently deleted.
‘The Day The Bank Closed Its Doors’ is a threnody for small rural towns everywhere. It comes from a forthcoming album, Tales Of Common Folk, Salt And Sweet Kisses, by Anglo-New Zealander NIGEL PARRY. It has a sixties feel: rich vocals, strong acoustic guitar and whistle for decoration and makes its point without over-dramatisation. We’re looking forward to the album.
Celtic punk folk-rockers, SIR REG, don’t hold back on their new single, ‘Kick Out The Scum’. If you want to know what it’s about try this: “When will people learn and stop voting in the same useless shower of twats year after year?!! Let’s all stand together and do something about it once and for all!”. It’s taken from their upcoming album, The Kings Of Sweet Feck All. Says it all really.
Taken from her upcoming post-divorce album Sing It For A Lifetime, HEIDI TALBOT joins forces with Appalachian fiddle legend Dirk Powell on ‘Empty Promise Land’, a song about the end of a relationship written by him several years ago and here sung as a duet with Mark Knopfler on guitar, signalling a return to the country-flavoured work of her earlier years.
EVA COYLE releases two singles. ‘Mo Chuisle’ and ‘Down To The Shore’. The former title translates as ‘My Pulse’ but it doesn’t sound quite how you might expect. Lots of jangly guitar topped off with the fiddle of Nina Pérez and a nod to Eva’s time living and working in Sweden. Sean O’Dalaigh takes over on fiddle for the latter and throws in a jig just for fun. Two very nice tracks.
PAULINE SCANLON gives a strange, other-worldly feel to her arrangement of the traditional ‘Felton Lonnin’ in a reading that largely follows Ray Fisher’s text while also modernising the song a little more. It is taken from Pauline’s upcoming album, The Unquiet, but sadly, the story of the lost child isn’t resolved in this version. There are others in which the boy is returned home safely, so don’t fret.
Opening with just acoustic guitar and gradually building as the strings join in to raise her heartfelt vocals, the second self-released single from London-born singer-songwriter FISKE’s upcoming album, ‘Unbroken’ was recorded at home during lockdown by herself and producer Tim Bran and is about that moment when you decide a relationship is worth saving, even if it means admitting you’ve been wrong, and taking on whatever life throws at you.
‘Take My Ashes To The River’ is the third and final single taken from Never Slow Down, the forthcoming album by THE PO’ RAMBLIN’ BOYS. The song has all the classic bluegrass elements: fiddle and banjo decorating the story of a union unsanctioned by families, dirt farming, fever and death all set to a jolly tune. It sounds traditional but it’s only about twenty years old.
As a teaser for an EP of the same name, BOO SUTCLIFFE releases ‘You’re The Same As Me’ featuring CLARE HELM. It is a nicely upbeat track – a trend we’re beginning to notice – with some nice brass decoration. Lots of things to like about this track.
Youngest Daughter, the debut album by London quintet, GUISE, is preceded by the single, ‘Don’t Come Back’. It’s an up-tempo song about the complexities of relationships (one in particular) with clever lyrics that require close listening to untangle their meaning.