Market Square Music
Exquisite Inter-crossed Country-Folk From a Northern Industrial Town.
Don’t feel sorry for me but I have very few ‘friends’ in the music industry; not even casual ones; as I’ve made it a policy to keep away from the cliques that dominate the national and local scenes; leaving me free to review albums and gigs without the fear of upsetting someone who thinks I owe them a favour.
But; the musical stars have aligned on this latest release from adopted Geordie and recent resident of Berlin, Gem Andrews, who actually is a friend of mine and the cover artwork (a truly beautiful photo of Gem *plodging in front of St. Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay) by my mate David Wala and the crystal clear production and mixing is by local legend Ross Lewis……so can I be impartial?
The album opens with Letter a brooding love song that encompasses all that is I love about Gem’s music in under three and a half minutes. Just like everything which follows this song comes from a Folk Singer who has immersed herself in Country Music and turned herself into a good old fashioned and timeless Singer-Songwriter.
Sing Your Song follows and I soon found myself slouching in my chair desperately trying not to breathe too loudly in case I missed a word or phrase and would regret it for the rest of my life. It’s that type of breathtaking song.
I particularly like the way the fabled Tim Dalling has arranged Julia Darlings poem Two Lighthouses; keeping a Folk spirit to it that makes people like me fall in love with the words and sentiment, without realising it’s actually a Folk Song.
Hmmmm…..selecting a ‘favourite song’ is never easy; and here it’s nearly impossible with the tigerish Lungs being an early contender but Feather & Skin somehow stands out like poppy in a field of golden wheat. Ross Lewis’s simple production truly displays Gem’s pearlescent voice and the restrained way the musicians (aka The Mush Collective) come together in an almost Classical manner without ever threatening to overshadow the singers hushed tones is genuinely admirable.
One other song deserves a mention if for no other reason than the delightful Come a Long Way which closes the disc features some of the finest ‘cardboard box whacking’ from Dora & Macie Keddie-McLaren that you will ever hear.
When I hear albums like this, and especially songs like Bare which features some spellbinding violin from Bernard Wright and the Countrylicious Medicate I find myself despairing at the British music industry; because if Gem was from the Appalachians or indeed some tiny village in North Ontario the Press and indeed Mr Bob Harris himself would be falling over themselves to tell you about ‘the next big thing;’ but Gem is British and more importantly NORTHERN so has to plough her own furrow at her own expense and depend on sites like this to get her songs out into the wider world.
There’s not a bad song here; with Gem’s voice, writing and it has to be said her guitar playing have matured beyond all expectations…..perhaps marriage suits her.
*plodging = local dialect for paddling in the sea.
PS….The pedal-steel player? ‘The’ Chris Hillman?
Released February 16th 2018
Well Crafted and Quintessential English Pop/Folk Crossover At It’s Finest.
I have to hold my hands up here because Crayon Angels not just appealed to my vanity when they got in touch asking if I would review this, their second EP (saying really nice things about RMHQ) but also resorting to ‘payolla’ by including a cool badge with the CD …..and I do like a badge!
In fairness that only goes so far with me; as my time is far too precious to waste on music I don’t like; so it was a lovely surprise to hear opening track The Last Leaf sounding uncannily like mid-period Beautiful South; with singer Natalia Castiglioni’s warmly absorbing voice winning my heart in an instant on a quirky love song.
As they say themselves this trio from the Essex Hinterlands are very difficult to pin down; as they are undoubtedly a Folk Group at heart but with over-riding Pop sensibilities in the best of British traditions; as the title track proves. Delicious harmonies; a Spectoresque production coupled with intricate instrumentation and a deep and meaningful kitchen sink drama of a song combine to create a track that is quintessential English Pop music at its best.
The EP comes to an all too quick closure with the haunting Colour & Sound; which had me scratching my head until it dawned on me that it reminded me of the long forgotten River City People and Siobhan Maher-Kennedy that I loved to bits twenty odd years ago; a timeless soft-rock sound that certainly wouldn’t sound out of place on the radio.
Then I have to swoop back to track #3 Your Sorry Self for my ‘Favourite Track’ accolade; and one of those songs that stopped me right in my tracks the first time I heard it.
Perhaps it was the mood I was in that day, or it could be the exquisite production but this tale of indiscretion really touched my heart; and really and truly showcases Natalia’s stunning vocals.
It’s discovering gems like The Crayon Angels that makes all the hours I put in on the website worthwhile. Artistes like this trio are the heartbeat of the music industry and deserve a much wider audience than the Folk Clubs of North London and the Essex Borders; but you know that don’t you….because you know a singer or band in your local area that is wasting their time singing to one man and a dog on a Tuesday night; when Ed Sheeran and Coldplay can sell-out football stadiums in 3 seconds flat.
Hey ho; trust me, this EP is a beautiful little thing and needs to be loved and cherished by people who appreciate well crafted and heartfelt music. Buy it ASAP.
Released February 5th 2018
Folk Me Records
The Broken Heart of Northern Folk
When Andy Lee from the Ree-Vahs got in touch to say a new mini-album was in the offing I got quite excited; as I love their previous two albums; and because they come from my home town of Stanley, Co. Durham and sound a bit like me; it’s a pleasure to give whatever help I can……but…..and it’s a very big ‘but’…..when he told me the background to the songs, I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear it at all.
The Ree-Vahs are, or should be brothers Andy and Paul Lee; but Paul sadly took his own life as the band were in the final stages of putting this record together.
So; knowing that, the title track MAN OVERBOARD comes in two versions with the first being an eerily prophetic snippet from a home recording by Paul several years ago in his bedroom and the finale is a full band version recorded after his death.
Mercifully this is followed by a more upbeat and slightly anthemic song Pack Your Bags, featuring some classy fiddle and cello from local lasses Catherine Geldard and Katie Hall. It’s not altogether clear what or whom the singer is moving on from; but the sentiment will touch even the coldest of hearts.
The spirit of Paul Lee flits in and out of several songs; especially so on the biographical Jigsaw and Sing Our Songs in the Dark with it’s sub-calypso beat; and a story about the magical feeling of playing records in your bedroom as a teenager.
Andy even includes a love song to his brother with Under The Wheels; a Northern Soap Opera told through the memories of a brother with depression and weaknesses. This is what Folk Music does best; and this song will reduce grown men and women to tears.
Baring in mind the tone and background to this album, I’m not sure if it’s the right thing to do to choose a ‘favourite song’ but when the songwriting and presentation as as good as this it’s hard not to; so I will make it a tie between the finished article MAN OVERBOARD, which has echoes of Mark Knopfler around the edges and if you were to hear this song by accident it will truly take your breath away.
The other is Stronger Than Me (non-binary) another beautifully bleak tale; and this one is about teenage bullying and the helplessness it forces on all of the adults around the child.
There’s not many laughs here; but what there is is bundle of songs that are written from the heart and destined to tear at your heartstrings.
Don’t let this record drift into obscurity…….try it, buy it…….cherish it.
Released January 19th 2018
A Guitar Masterclass From a Legendary CGP and Friends.
Here’s a thing; several of my friends are huge fans of Tommy Emmanuel and one is an actual friend of his; with Tommy staying at his home when he’s in the Region, but I’ve never heard his work until now.
Shame on me.
For a man with a huge cannon of work already under his belt this is a fascinating project for the Australian who is a Chet Atkins inspired CGP (Certified Guitar Player) as he plays alongside 16 world class singer-songwriters on an eclectic series of songs.
Emmanuel’s trademark picking opens track #1 Deep River Blues and when Jason Isbell’s distinctive voice glides into the mix the world suddenly becomes lovely again. When Tommy also adds his own cracked voice to the song, my mistake at never hearing him before becomes all too evident.
What a great way to start any album; and it’s fair to say……things actually get better and better.
Song and Dance Man with Ricky Skaggs adding mandolin and vocals follows and I was left bewildered as I tried to find the words to describe it……Country? Tick. Folk? Tick. Bluegrass? Tick. A joyful combination on a beautiful tune…..find your own pigeon hole.
There are household names littered throughout this album, with Emmanuel not just sharing the stage with Mark Knopfler on You Don’t Want To Get You One Of Those and Rodney Crowell on Looking Forward To The Past but outshining them too. There are many lesser names too; but ones very familiar to RMHQ readers like Amanda Shires and Suzy Bogguss who both sparkle and shine on their contributions in ways I’ve not heard from either in years.
The real joy though is the series of surprises from artists I’m not aware of, let’s start with some instrumentals C-Jam Blues with JD Simo & Charlie Cushman and Keeping it Reel with Clive Carroll, Purple Haze (yes…that one) with Dobro Maestro Jerry Douglas and the sublime Djangology with Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo; all three showcase world class playing and should be a Masterclass for any aspiring guitar players out there.
But the surprises don’t just stop there; I didn’t think the world needed another version of Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay but the duet with JD Simo breathes fresh life into this beautiful classic and the cutesy opening to Rachel’s Lullaby brought tears to my eyes and Emmanuel’s picking alongside Jake Shimbukuro on Ukulele is almost Classical in essence but very easy on the ear.
But the biggest surprise here is also my ‘favourite track’ and we have to go back to the Rodney Crowell song Looking Forward to The Past; which finds a new spark in Crowell’s voice as Emmanuel and the band evoke memories of the Emmylou’s Hot Band on a firecracker of a song.
There’s not a lot else to say here as there’s not a bad track here with a few being truly amazing and I must now backtrack and delve into Tommy Emmanuel’s immense back catalogue immediately.
Released January 19th 2018
Cambridge City Roots Festival 2018
Feb 22nd- March 6th 2018.
WAHAY! How exciting does this look to start 2018? The World Famous Cambridge Folk Festival now has an exciting little brother of a Festival to whet the musical appetite and it just gets better, more exciting and….dare I say it, more interesting every year.
Just some of what’s in store includes performances from BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris’s ‘Emerging Artist of the Year’ Wildwood Kin, RMHQ ‘Hero’ and BBC Radio 6 stalwart Mr. Tom Robinson and Cambridge Folk Festival summer headliner, Ward Thomas. Some of the UK’s finest folk musicians appear in the form of John McCusker, Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys, and Megson. Elsewhere there will be award-winning comedy from Rich Hall as he performs “Hoedown” – a withering dissection of Trump’s America which finishes as a celebration of Americana with stand-up, improvised ballads, and amazing musicianship (described as “Blissfully funny” by The Guardian) – as well as what promises to be a fascinating live interview, with charismatic Canvey Island rocker Wilko Johnson. Further headliners also include Gambian multi-instrumentalist Sona Jobarteh with Cameroonian blues and jazz artist Muntu Valdo.
RMHQ says “What’s not to like?”
The Wailin’ Jennys
True North Records/Redhouse Records
Simple Folk Music At It’s Most Complex and Most Beautiful.
Where o’ where does the time go? It doesn’t seem five minutes since Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse aka The Wailin’ Jennys were never away from the UK; playing to ever increasing audiences that were awe struck at their combined wonderfulness.
Yet it’s now six years and assorted babies since their last album BRIGHT MORNING STAR….six years!
Even now the trio haven’t really got the time to devote to writing a whole new album so when the opportunity to gather together to record ‘something’ arose they put their heads together and came up with these marvelous nine songs; that they all loved in equal measure.
Perhaps an odd choice to open the record with; their haunting acapella treatment of the Old Churchyard is simply breathtaking; and sets the tone perfectly for what is to follow.
This is followed by a delicious old folk song called Wildflowers which captures the Wailin’ Jennys at their absolute best.
HANG ON A MINUTE!
‘An old Folk Song?’
No actually; it’s a revisiting of the classic Tom Petty song actually, but not that you would know it from this stripped back raw and emotional rendition that finds their voices harmonising and soaring in the most Angelic fashion.
As usual in these circumstances there will be readers who tsk at my ignorance at finding that I’d never heard Hank William’s Weary Blues From Waitin’; but after hearing the Jenny’s almost Spiritual version; I’m not sure I even want to hear the original!
It’s fair to say that Nicky, Ruth and Heather have shown great taste when selecting these songs with Classics like Boulder to Birmingham and Dolly Parton’s Light of a Clear Blue Morning rubbing shoulders with Warren Zevon’s starkly beautiful Keep Me In Your Heart and a personal favourite from Patty Griffin…..Not Alone.
Two songs tie for the accolade of ‘favourite track’ the stunningly beautiful Jane Siberry song The Valley; which sends a shiver down my spine every time I hear it and….. and this is the oddest selection here…..but one that made my jaw drop the first time I heard it.
Simon & Garfunkel* both solo and together have been a bedrock of my musical education since the early 1970’s; so hearing The Wailin’ Jennys deconstruct Paul Simon’s Love Me Like a Rock has genuinely mesmerised me for a whole week now and I’m pretty damn sure it will continue to do so for years to come.
That’s the intrinsic beauty of this album; each disparate song is famous in it’s own rite and in normal settings wouldn’t and shouldn’t fit together, but due to the trio’s very own magical production values and arrangements they become very much Wailin’ Jennys songs; therefore making the album sounds intrinsically perfect from start to finish.
Released USA & Canada October 27th 2017
Released UK January 5th 2018
*Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel was the very first record I ever heard using the stereo format!
A Different Thread
HIGH TIME EP
Quintessential English Folk But With an Appalachian Heartbeat.
Yet again this is a release that has been sitting in the to-do queue for a few weeks and was brought to my attention via the ‘random button’ on my i-phone.
Thankfully that track wasn’t the actual first one on the CD, Banjo Tune because; and not for the first time……I’m currently suffering from ‘Banjo Fatigue’! With Americana music currently ‘on trend’ I receive a few albums that appear to be either Folk or even Rock; with a banjo welded onto the recording to give it ‘authenticity’ which doesn’t do my ears any favours.
While the banjo does feature strongly on the song of the same name; mercifully singer Robert Jackson’s richly distinctive voice carries a rather sweet song along a path normally trodden by one of my heroes Tom Paxton.
Very much on the Appalachian Folk end of the Americana Spectrum A Different Thread deliver a series of lovely and warm songs like Cherry Tree and Long In The Tooth which belies the trio’s distinctly Middle England roots.
With only 5 songs on this EP those previous three are each delightful in their own ways; but the other two songs stand out like poppies in a field of corn.
The first, High Time made me smile as soon as I saw the title because it’s the same as a favourite song in my teens by Detroit proto-punks The MC5; but this song is 359 degrees away from tat madness.
A gorgeously crafted and written song features some darkly melancholic cello by Isaac Collier and intricate guitar playing by Jackson himself while Alicia Best’s subtle fiddle playing will break the hardest of hearts.
Then it behoves me to say that they have kept the best until last; with the bittersweet love song Sweet Elizabeth. Like a fine red wine, it conjures up the heady flavours of Led Zeppelin and even the Allman Brothers (without the electric guitars or drums) as well as the rich aroma of Richard Thomson and my personal favourite Bert Jansch; while very much creating their own distinctive sound.
Whether in a club, pub or even your own home this is the type of music best heard with the lights down low and your hopes set high.
released 15th September 2017.
Blue Rose Code
THE WATER OF LEITH
Winsome Yet Breathtaking Sound of New Scotia.
Where to start? After nearly twenty years, there are some albums I receive where I can actually write an eloquent review the first time I hear them; and others that it takes several plays with no distractions spread over several days so I can savour everything that the music has to offer.
This is one such.
Scottish singer-songwriter Ross Wilson aka Blue Rose Code has been around the scene for a few years now, flitting on and off my radar via various friends who swoon and go weak at the knees at the very mention of his name (and they are real men’s men!), such is the way his music touches people.
It’s easy to hear why that would be the case as the beautiful first song Over The Fields (for John) floats over you like a late Autumnal sunset. Such is the combination of Wilson’s soft voice and words I totally missed the orchestral sweeps that come and go the first three times I listened to the record.
Technically you will probably find this record filed under Folk or Scottish Roots in the shop racks; but songs like Ebb & Flow, Love Is…. and On The Hill Remains a Heart all transcend such myopic depictions.
There is a definite beauty in the way Wilson allows his brogue to come to the fore alongside a young lady singing in her native Celtic tongue on the mildly socio-political Sandaig; and again the mysterious Celtic lady makes an appearance on the haunting Passing Places, which features an amazing slide guitar, violin and cello assemblage.
While never sounding experimental, Wilson throws caution to the wind by adding a Dinner-Jazz atmosphere to the delicate song Child and then adds a Chet Baker type trumpet to Nashville Blue and it all works fantastically well.
Never afraid to be bound by the traditional 3 or 4 minute rule; two songs are allowed to breathe and take on a life of their own, The Water is a heady mix of Jazz trumpet and Classical piano combining to take us into areas I would never have expected to venture on an album that is meant to be ‘Rootsy’.
The cinematic To the Shore immediately follows it and comes in at seven and a half minutes of absolute sensory delight.
I can only describe The Waters Of Leith as an old-fashioned Long Player that must be listened to in one (or two) unencumbered sittings; but I will force myself to pick out a Favourite Track; Bluebell for no other reason than it is a catalyst for everything else that is hear and sort of reminds me of a Traffic in their heyday without sounding anything like them…..if that makes any sense.
Blue Rose Code somehow manage to have ‘easy on the ear’ melodious musical sensibilities with deep and occasionally poetic lyrics that will appeal to a broad section of music lovers, without alienating the Cool Kids who have been with Ross since his earliest days.
Released October 27th 2017
I LOVE YOU TO DEATH
Ireland’s Best Kept Secret, But Not For Much Longer.
Some days keeping the website up to date can be a bit of a chore; then occasionally a bit of sunshine comes into my life, like the charming e-mail Padraig McCauley aka Disconcerting P sent a few weeks ago, asking if I would have a listen to his latest album.
I had a courteous quick listen to the first couple of tracks as I updated the site and replied to a bunch of e-mails; and found myself quickly putting it back to track #1 Woman and a Man as I made a cup of coffee and sat back, listening even more intently.
That first song is absolutely delightful, and ticks every box I have for singer-songwriters; a fairly simple narrative that immediately captures your attention as the harmonies and gently strummed acoustic instruments wash over you.
Next, In The Clouds (With You) is a more complex arrangement, but the haunting and hypnotic song had me close my eyes and drift off into another unworldly place imagining Mrs Magpie and myself walking in the surf holding hands and looking longingly into each others eyes.
Coincidently the next song Your Lungs actually has a chorus ‘Jump Into The Sea’; as well as one of my favourite lines of the year “The heart in my chest/I love you to death/I love you to death/the heart in your chest/love me to death.” Powerful and emotive stuff; and something that touched me deeply.
Perhaps it was the mood I was in that morning; but here I am still playing the record two weeks later and feel the same way about Disconcerting P’s heartfelt and evocatively sad love songs, especially the song of our times This Is Your Life…..are pretty much all outstanding and will tug at your heartstrings, as they did mine.
This Is Love Speaking To You Directly, finds Padraig alone with his acoustic guitar and a broken heart, and it is exactly what you would expect from such a title; but more so.
I’m not really sure where to start picking a ‘favourite song’ as this is very much an Album in the old-fashioned sense; something you put on the stereo as you turn down the lights and just wallow in the beautiful misery that comes from the speakers. Yesterday I was going to choose (We Are) The Dreamers which closes the album and could easily be the theme tune for RMHQ and a song that will make you feel it was written about you too, then this morning I thought it might be the fragile My Heart Bursts which conjures up memories of John Martyn and Tim Buckley; but (and this will change tomorrow) I’m going for Love Is Like a Loaded Pistol, with its Jazz-Lite melody and left of centre; but strangely true sentiments.
If I have one complaint; and it’s a small one……the drums, or electro drum-beats are occasionally pushed too high in the mix distracting from Irish man, McCauley’s softly expressive voice; but in the grand scheme of things that isn’t worth worrying about as, strangely for a singer-songwriter in these corporate and selfish times, and for a man with such a magnificent way with words, McCauley does this for ‘fun’……remember that concept? He writes and records at home then releases his music for FREE on Bandcamp……strange but true; and if there is any justice a Record Label will discover him soon and you will be forced; albeit willingly to part with coins of the realm to buy his works.
Released October 16th 2017
One of my joys these days is the NPR Music Tiny Desk series on the You Tube. I get to discover new artists and occasionally see RMHQ Favourites play in an intimate setting…..then this morning I got an e-mail saying Randy Newman had recorded a session for them…..yes…..THE RANDY NEWMAN!
Here it is…….there’s nothing more I can add.