CLAIRE HASTINGS – Those Who Roam (Luckenbooth Records LUCKEN002CD)

Those Who RoamFollowing a somewhat unexpected and adventurous debut album, Claire Hastings became a Top Floor Taiver – still adventurous – and now reappears with her second solo album. Those Who Roam leans more heavily on the tradition which made her reputation as a Young Traditional Musician Of The Year but is by no means a retrograde step. In fact, it’s my second contender for album of the year from the three I’ve heard so far. Claire has slimmed down her band to four players and has engaged go-to producer Inge Thomson who is, no doubt, responsible for the sometimes ethereal feel of the album. Abandoning the ukulele was probably a good move, too.

As you probably guessed, not least from Claire’s sprauncy attire, the theme of the album is travellers; those who journey willingly and those forced to travel; those who journey heroically and those for whom it is just a way of life. The opening track, ‘The Lothian Hairst’, concerns the latter, gangs who worked the harvests in the 19th century, beginning in the Lothians and moving northwards as they followed the ripening grain. Told from the point of view of a female worker it sounds like a great life and benefits from a modern arrangement featuring Jenn Butterworth’s guitar and Tom Gibbs’ piano plus the sound of scythes: another of Thomson’s touches.

‘Jack The Sailor’, a variation on the female midshipman theme, is completely different, racing along on Laura Wilkie’s fiddle and driven by Andrew Waite’s accordion while ‘Seven Gypsies’ and  ‘Sailin’s A Weary Life’, with its doom-laden arrangement,  both concern loss but for very different reasons. Next comes ‘Fair Weather Beggar’, the first of Claire’s own songs, about an Edinburgh busker who doesn’t like the rain, followed by a rather pretty written song from the 18th century. ‘Logie O’ Buchan’ is the age-old story of the lecherous landlord and the poor couple forcibly separated.

Claire’s second original song, ‘Noble Helen Of Cluden’, is based on a possibly true story borrowed by Sir Walter Scott for The Heart Of Midlothian and is a sort of twist on ‘Geordie’. ‘Jamie Raeburn’ is a fairly familiar transportation ballad and in complete contrast it’s followed by Dave Alvin’s ‘King Of California’ which tells another age-old story set this time in gold-rush America. Finally we have ‘Ten Thousand Miles which closes with the same sound that begins ‘The Lothian Hairst’; soft strings that are probably Wilkie’s fiddle treated by Thomson.

Those Who Roam really is an excellent album and, much as I enjoyed Between River And Railway, it’s a big step forward.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.clairehastings.com

‘King Of California’ – live at Costa del Folk:

BELLA HARDY – Hey Sammy (Noe NOE10)

Hey SammyHer ninth solo outing, this is very much Hardy’s ‘pop’ album, a dramatic change in sound an style resulting from a brief relocation to Nashville and a seven-week residency in Kumming in Southwest China (which itself gave rise to Eternal Spring earlier this year, a live collection of song and poetry with Chinese musicians). Recorded with the backing of Iain Thomson on guitars, Tom Gibbs on keys and clarinet, and the rhythm section of James Lindsay and John Blease, with Hardy on fiddle, harmonium and xylophone and Paul Savage in the producer’s chair, it opens with Chinese colours evident on the chiming notes that introduce and underpin the dreamy ‘Redemption’, a folk song about friendship and kindness to others, enrobed in almost show tune clothes.

Driven by a beating tribal drum rhythm, the poppy ‘Learning To Let Go’ details feelings of displacement and search for self as she sings of being a stranger in California looking for “another way of being known another way of being” but that also “I know the who but I still don’t know what I want to be.”

Co-penned with Thomson, ‘Driving Through Harmony’ gets a touch funky in a West Coast style and is followed by the first of two-writes with Nashville’s Peter Groenwald. First up is the mid-tempo ticking rhythm ‘Queen Of Carter’s Bar’, a country-tinted fading relationship number that, a loose rework of ‘Tam Lin’, again concerns identity (“I’m watching you pretend to be the thing you’re aren’t”), followed by the keyboards balled ‘In My Dreams’, which, with added input from Konnad Snyder, is a suitably hushed and atmospheric weave with a percussive ebb and flow.

A particular standout is the self-penned ‘You Don’t Owe The World Pretty’, a punchy jangling feminist pop song about women taking ownership of their bodies and their lives that comes with a surging chorus rush. It’s followed by the two collaborations with Scottish jazz pianist and composer Tom Gibbs, the first being ‘Busy Head’ (tracing the familiar theme of “so desperate to fit in and so in need of staying apart”) that again, especially in its swelling flourishes, has the air of a Broadway showstopper, as indeed does the gathering swell of piano-led ‘Heartbreaker’, a song about “a neon jazz folk love affair” you might imagine Elaine Paige covering.

Next up comes the title track, its jaunty guitar chug and big burst choruses belying the song’s subject matter concerning the rise of racism in Britain, followed, in turn, by ‘South Lake’, a piano-based, clarinet-shaded number inspired by and referencing Nan Hu, meaning South Lake, a stretch of water in Yunnan province, in its contemplation of being and our connection with the world around us.

The lyrics conjure thoughts of Chinese poetry and, indeed, one such provides the source for the closing shimmering six-minute ‘Stars’. It’s a studio rerecording of the number originally featured on Eternal Spring, a two part lyric that combines words adapted from poem 21, written in praise of Yunnan, in the Shijing, a collection of some three hundred ancient poems sometimes translated as The Book of Songs, with Hardy’s own response, both set to her spirits soaring tune.

The press blurb talk of it as a ‘glorious…grown up’ record, I think a magnificent coming of age might be a better term.

Mike Davies

Please support us and order via our UK or US Storefront 


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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.

Artist’s website: www.bellahardy.com

‘Driving Through Harmony’ – official video:

Siobhan Miller – single, album and tour dates

Siobhan Miller

As a taster for the forthcoming album Strata, Siobhan Miller’s lovely, new single ‘One Too Many Mornings’ is released today.

As well as Siobhan’s wonderful vocals, the single features Aaron Jones and Kris Drever (guitar), Tom Gibbs (piano), Euan Burton (bass) and Jack Smedley (viola) This interpretation of Bob Dylan’s classic song also features vocals and drums, from Admiral Fallow frontman Louis Abbott.

A two-time winner of Scots Singer of the Year, Siobhan Miller is widely regarded as one of the foremost vocalists in Scotland. Daughter of folk musician Brian Miller and from a musical household her new album Strata sees her looking back to the songs she grew up around and that influenced her musical life. Refreshing these songs and recording them for the first time, she is joined by some of Scotland’s finest musicians including Kris Drever and Aidan O’Rourke, from Lau, and Phil Cunningham.

In support of the forthcoming album, (Due out in February, 2017) Siobhan will be touring the UK during February and March, preceded by a launch date at Celtic Connections.

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

Listen to the song: