DARIA KULESH – Earthly Delights (own label)

Earthly DelightsDaria Kulesh is a very highly-rated performer in the hallowed virtual halls of Folking.com, so I count myself as rather lucky to have got a review copy of her forthcoming CD Earthly Delights, due for release on May 31st 2019. Once again, she is supported by an impressive selection of musicians. As well as many names already familiar from her previous CDs and/or live performances (all reputable musos in their own right, of course), three tracks also feature characteristically fine fiddle from the Phil Beer (tracks 4 and 9) and Tom Kitching (track 1). Most of the production is expertly handled by Jason Emberton, who also contributes much of the accompaniment.

As you’d expect, there are several songs here that derive from Daria’s Russian and Ingush heritage and her knowledge of Slavic folklore, but this time she’s cast her nets a little wider, without compromising her ability to tell a story in song.

Here’s the track listing.

  1. Daria’s lyrics to ‘Golden Apples’, with music by Igor Devlikamov, are based on a Russian folk tale concerning the Firebird, though not the story that forms the basis of Stravinsky’s ballet. An exhilarating start to the album.
  2. ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’ is Richard Farina’s lyric to the tune better known as ‘My Lagan Love’, a glorious melody collected by Herbert Hughes in Donegal in the early 20th A sensitive reading with restrained instrumental and vocal accompaniment, rather than the full-on harmonies of Sandy Denny’s version. Closer, perhaps, to the gentle orchestration of the version recorded by Mimi Farina after Richard’s death, though Daria’s vocals are more animated and accurate in pitch. (I still love Mimi’s version, though.)
  3. ‘Shame Or Glory’ is by Daria, and makes the very valid point that a McGonagall or Florence Foster Jenkins has the same drive to create and succeed that characterize more “successful” creators, and we should respect that. The arrangement has a sort of Kurt Weill/cabaret feel that I find very appealing. I like the interplay between Jonny Dyer’s guitar and Marina Osman’s piano, too.
  4. ‘Earthly Delights’ is another of Daria’s own songs. One of the ‘delights’ of Daria’s songs for me is the way that a line will sometimes spark an unexpected association, like the echo of ‘The Two Magicians’ in ‘The Panther’, from her last CD. In this case, it’s the line “Strange fruit in the garden of earthly delights“. The subject matter is far removed from Meeropol’s protest against lynchings, being more about the message that “If seeking pleasure and following your heart doesn’t hurt, subjugate or break others…then perhaps it’s a natural way to be…?” Yet there’s something very apposite about the last verse here: “Oppressed and oppressor…One person’s wrongs are another one’s rights.” An accomplished performance of a delightful folky tune with stunning fiddle from Phil Beer.
  5. There are many Slavic folk tales about rusalki (water spirits), often translated into literature and music – Dvořák’s opera is a particular favourite of mine. Daria’s ‘Rusalka’, however, is based on a short poem of 1819 by Pushkin, as translated by John Farndon and adapted and shortened by Daria, who has set it to music. Its presentation in this slightly condensed form does it no harm at all.
  6. Daria’s ‘Vasilisa’, previously released as a single, draws its theme from a Russian fairy tale in which the heroine encounters the supernatural Baba Yaga. While the story to some extent resembles the Cinderella story, Vasilisa seems morally more ambiguous. Oddly enough, the modality of the melody makes it a highly suitable companion piece to ‘Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’, though the instrumentation has a decidedly Asian feel.
  7. ‘Morozko’ is another of Daria’s retellings in music of a Russian folk tale, with accompaniment that stresses its Eastern European origins.
  8. ‘Cap And Bells’ is an effective setting by Joseph Sobol of a poem of W.B. Yeats, from Sobol’s theatrical cycle In The Deep Heart’s Core: A Mystic Cabaret, with most of the accompaniment carried by Marina Osman’s piano.
  9. An unexpected inclusion is Percy French’s ‘Pride Of Petravore’. I have to admit that Daria makes the best of its tortuous Irishisms, though.
  10. Daria’s ‘Made Of Light’ is, in more than one sense, a lighter song, almost a ballad, augmented by Jonny Dyer’s expressive trumpet. Lovely.
  11. ‘Greedy King’ sets Daria’s lyric to a tune by the multi-talented Jonny Dyer, and melds a Soviet joke and the story of the Wise Men of Gotham into a telling commentary on the sad state of today’s world (not to mention yesterday’s!). The lyric may sound like a counsel of despair, but musically it offers a suitably upbeat finale.

Where Long Lost Home can be seen as a very personal journey into Daria’s own family history and heritage, Earthly Delights draws on a wider range of source material that still comes over as essentially Daria: some beautiful melodies, fascinating lyrics, all exquisitely sung and adventurously arranged. If you’re not familiar with her work, this is a good place to start.

The CD will be launched at Dunton Folk on 1st June 2019.

David Harley

Artist’s website: www.daria-kulesh.co.uk

‘Golden Apples’ – official video:

ZOE MULFORD – Small Brown Birds (Azalea City ACCD 1701)

Small Brown BirdsOriginally from Philadelphia, singer, songwriter, guitarist and much-praised clawhammer banjo-player Zoe Mulford now lives (sometimes) in Manchester. She is currently on tour with Tom Kitching whose fiddle plays a major role in the sound of this record. Small Brown Birds is Zoe’s fifth album, mostly original songs with two covers.

The opening track, ‘Answer The Knock At The Door’, is deceptively light but hidden within is a rebuke to those governments who turn their backs on refugees. ‘Back Door Key’ paints a picture of domestic contentment concealing a message to a former lover along the lines of “you’re a bastard but I miss you”. Bob Beach’s harmonica emphases the hidden melancholy. The banjo first appears on ‘February Thunder’, a look forward to the expected spring that may be personified in Jenny, a lonely woman who everyone knows but nobody knows. I like the interplay between Ken Pendergast’s bass and Sam McEvoy’s cajon here as the song morphs into the traditional ‘Frosty Morning’..

You really can’t afford to let your attention wander. ‘One Damn Thing’ hints at a series of personal disasters without ever being explicit. The first cover is The Red Clay Ramblers’ fantasy shanty ‘The Queen Of Skye’, which could perhaps use a bit more welly although Tom’s fiddle drives it along nicely enough. That track marks a change of mood. ‘Snow On The Junkyard’ is bleak, ‘Speak True’ regretful and ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ is a meditation on the Charleston church shooting built on Zoe’s piano chords. Joan Baez has recorded it for her new album.

It’s back to the banjo for ‘Blackbird’ which seems to sit well at this point and leads into the traditional sounding instrumental title track featuring fiddle, banjo and Mark Allen’s whistle. ‘Zillionaire’ is a wry but jolly attack on corporate greed and the record comes full circle with the welcoming ‘Won’t You Come On In?’ to put things back in perspective.

I have to confess that Small Brown Birds is my first contact with Zoe Mulford and now, by happy coincidence, I can look forward to hearing her live in a week or so. It could be destiny.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://zoemulford.com/

‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ – live:

Zoe Mulford announces new album

Zoe Mulford

Small Brown Birds is the eagerly awaited new album release from Zoe Mulford, an album that looks for joy in the midst of hard times. The songs touch on wintry themes with compassion, honesty, and sometimes wit, tracing a journey from sadness to hope and from winter to spring. The musical arrangements range from gentle and lush to infectiously danceable.

News just in is that Joan Baez will be covering one of Zoe’s songs, ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’, on her upcoming album and concert tour and spoke about Zoe in an interview with Variety magazine, to quote Joan from the article re the new album “I’ve done something from Antony & The Johnsons, two from Tom Waits – ‘Last Leaf’ and ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ – Josh Ritter, one from an unknown, Zoe Mulford, brilliant. Twelve songs and they’re done.”

The new album showcases Zoe Mulford’s clear voice, sprightly clawhammer banjo, and resonant guitar. An American songwriter now living in the north of England, Zoe charms audiences with story-driven songwriting and an unlabored vocal style sometimes compared to that of Joan Baez. Tracks on the album include her take on the Red Clay Ramblers’ soaring sea shanty, ‘The Queen of Skye’. Zoe’s own ‘February Thunder’ dovetails gracefully with the traditional American tune ‘Frosty Morning’. The banjo also crosses the Atlantic for a solo rendition of Paul McCartney’s acoustic tour de force, ‘Blackbird’ and in the tradition of broadsheet ballads; Zoe pulls stories from current headlines. ‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ tells the story of the 2015 AME church shooting in Charleston and President Obama’s eulogy for those slain.

The heart of the project is a new collaboration with English fiddler and mandolinist Tom Kitching. Tom is a high-energy player in the style of Dave Swarbrick. Folk broadcaster Mike Harding describes him as “one of the best English fiddlers ever, he takes English folk music by the scruff of the neck and sends it off laughing and dancing and having a good time.”

The core band on the album also features English percussionist Sam McEvoy and Philadelphia’s Ken Pendergast on upright bass. Guest musicians include Pat Wictor on harmony vocals, Bob Beach on harmonica, and Michael G. Ronstadt on cello.

Small Brown Birds is Zoe’s fifth release. She draws expertly on the traditional music of both Appalachia and the British Isles and while stealing a few pages from the American Songbook to create music that feels both comfortably lived-in and sparklingly fresh. Zoe has had work published in Sing Out! Magazine and has had songs covered by many other artists, including Rhiannon Giddens (with Gaelwynd) and John Roberts & Tony Barrand.

Artist’s website: www.zoemulford.com

‘The President Sang Amazing Grace’ – live:

PILGRIMS’ WAY – Stand & Deliver (Talking Cat Records TCCD1748)

Stand & DeliverThere has been a change along the Pilgrims’ Way. Lead vocalist Lucy Wright has moved on and in her place has come singer and maestro of reeds and wind, Jude Rees, formerly known as The Littlest Oboe during her time with Isambarde. Jude brings the band’s complement of instruments to fifty. Stand & Deliver is their third album, a themed collection, and before I tell you whence comes the title track you should know that this isn’t the most serious collection of traditional songs you’ll hear this year, despite the number of grisly deaths it includes. The clue is right there on the cover.

Many of the songs will be familiar to most listeners but the liberties that the Pilgrims sometimes take with them are another matter. These are songs of robbers, thieves, highwaymen and other n’ere do wells. The set opens with ‘Caveat For Cutpurses’ which reminds me a little of Strawhead in their youth and sure enough the text is from Ben Johnson’s Bartholemew Fair via the Roxburgh Collection. ‘Ibson, Gibson, Johnson’ is a variant on a familiar song but the outcome is the same so beware of naked women tied to the ground by their hair.

I think I’ve heard ‘Shoot Them All! (Box On Her Head)’ before but I can’t remember where and Jude delivers this tale of a female serial killer with some relish. ‘Cadgwith Anthem’ is sung with appropriate seriousness with gorgeous harmonies and instrumental delicacy. In contrast, I think Jon Loomes or Edwin Beasant plays electric guitar through a fuzz-box on ‘Saucy Bold Robber’. Their version of ‘Robin Hood & The Bishop’ comes from France and differs somewhat from the version recorded by the late Tony Rose in having lines in French and a “derry-derry-down” chorus although the story and main melody are the same.

Tom Kitching takes the lead on ‘Gaol Song’ with strange mechanical sounds imitating the sound of the treadmill and a couple of lines of an old blues and wailing harmonica courtesy of Edwin. ‘Turpin Hero’ is taken at a merry pace and is that a crumhorn? I do believe it is. Edwin is the lead on ‘Adieu, Adieu’ initially over Jon’s piano before the orchestra joins in and their arrangements really do verge on the orchestral.

‘The Elms Of Tyburn’ is the one song on the album that is pared down to the basics – essentially Jon’s acoustic guitar and something drone-like far behind it. Finally, the title track, which was written by Stuart Leslie Goddard (oh, look him up, I’m not doing everything for you) brings the album to a suitably amusing close – was there a doo-wop chorus in the original? However you approach it, this is a brilliant record – great songs, innovative ideas, fine singing and playing and a whole heap of fun.

Dai Jeffries

Artists’ website: www.pilgrims-way.net

ALICE JONES – Poor Strange Girl (Splid SPLIDCD 017)

Poor Strange GirlYou’re probably thinking that you’ve heard of Alice Jones before, and you probably have: The Gina Le Faux Trio, The John Dipper Band and her collaboration with Pete Coe working on the Frank Kidson collection as well as what seems like a dozen other things in her native Yorkshire. Poor Strange Girl, however, is her first solo album.

Alice sings the way she speaks which isn’t always a given even now. Despite that, she casts her musical net wide. The title track, which opens the set, was collected by Cecil Sharp in Kentucky and, even before I read her sleeve notes, I had the feeling that she was referring to herself. Next is ‘Woody Knows Nothing’, adapted from traditional sources by the late Erik Darling and we’re still a few thousand miles from Yorkshire. As well as an interpreter of traditional songs Alice is also a composer and musician, playing keyboards, whistle and tenor guitar so next up is the first set of tunes, both written by her before the first traditional songs collected in England, ‘The Cruel Mother’ and ‘Green Bushes’; the latter from the Kidson collection.

Variety is one of the selling points of the album. There is a set of mazurkas and another of polskas; two fine songs from the Warner collection; a very timely version of ‘Adieu To Old England’ and ‘Long, Long Trail A-Winding’ to finish.

Poor Strange Girl was produced by Jon Loomes and Alice is supported by Tom Kitching on fiddle and Hugh Bradley on double bass but this is definitely her album and very good it is too.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: http://alicejonesmusic.com/

‘Woody Knows Nothing’ live:

Tom Kitching – new album and tour

Interloper – out now

Tom Kitching

Top flight fiddler Tom Kitching, a former BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award finalist, is the man behind one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking roots music releases of 2015, as he presses the reset button on English music.

Previously best known as one half of a duo with singer-songwriter/guitarist Gren Bartley and a member of the brilliant, BBC award-nominated ‘trad with a twist’ band Pilgrims’ Way, Cheshire-born Tom has been described by Living Tradition magazine as “one of the best young fiddlers in Britain”.

In a career spanning nine years and over 1,000 gigs, Kitching has fine-tuned an exuberant, expressive and emotive fiddle style. But now he embarks on a quest to put his finger on the pulse of English music and take the tradition out for a spin into previously unexplored territory.

He brings to Interloper a trio of top young performers from outside the main English music vein to put an alternative, organic stamp on what may be perceived as the English tradition – Norway’s Marit Fält on låtmandola (swedish mandocello), Scotland’s Freya Rae on flute and clarinet and Lancashire’s Jim Molyneux on drums and percussion.

Tom and band will be touring in March and early April with an album launch at St Kentigern’s Irish Centre, Manchester on March 20.

Artist’s website: www.tomkitching.co.uk

Edgy and eclectic this is a fascinating project – the musical stew is tasty and the fiddling a powerful illustration of the English style with an almost medieval earthiness. This CD will no doubt have an impact on English and other musicians” – The Living Tradition Magazine

“ A fast rising name in the fiddle world delivers an exuberant, expressive solo debut – a fine set of jigs, reels and Morris tunes throw welcome new light into an oft neglected corner of music” – Acoustic Magazine

“The interplay of instruments is top notch”FATEA Magazine

The Tom Kitching Band – ‘Cobbler’s Hornpipe’ live: