Putting The Folk Back Into Country, But With a Razor Sharp Contemporary Edge
It doesn’t seem like 5 minutes since we reviewed Bard Edrington V’s album ESPADIN and here he is again with a new and very different concept alongside fellow singer-songwriter, Boris McCutcheon (and honorary Brother Greg Williams and Hoth Sister Sarah Ferrell) . Sadly; as is the case with many musicians Edrington and McCutcheon occasionally have to take on other work to supplement their income; and in the Winter of 2017 they found themselves pruning fruit tress; and as is their won’t the pair got to talking about music; and the kernel of this album was sown. Both men completed their imminent solo albums and set about recording this in February. Without spoiling it, it took me a couple of plays for the jaunty opening track Trees of Heaven to unravel and reveal a subversive Folk Anthem that sounds powerful in its own rite today; but I guess this sing-along Gospellish tune will take on a life of its own in the ensuing years; as not just America, but the whole damn world goes to Hell in a handcart! While the production here is quite simple; it’s a deliberate ploy allowing these songs to breath and grow the more you listen to them/ While the Hoth Brothers bill themselves as a Folk Act; Whiskey and a Woodstove, Horses Are Made of Wind and Fault Line are 100% Country songs, with spines that combine Bluegrass, Hill Music and even a smidgen of Western Swing in the choruses. Another thing is apparent all the way through the album, is that the Hoth Brothers know how to create a melody; something that is often missing on albums and songs by their contemporaries; with Chili Line and both being remarkable stories; but ones you can also dance too (if you have a good sense of rhythm). While I’d prefer acts like this to be signed to $1 million contracts and selling albums by the cart load; it’s a good thing that isn’t always the case; as self-releasing albums allows Bard and Bruce to write and record songs like Wild Robby, Flint Hills and especially the delightful Bitter Frost without having some guy in a bad suit chomping on a Cuban cigar hanging over their shoulders asking “Where’s the single?” While there’s an obvious ‘old-timey’ feel to most songs here; there’s also a real contemporary ‘edge’ to several sets of lyrics; none more so than January, written in the immediate aftermath of President Trump’s inauguration; and because of the way they treat the subject matter ……. this song is easily the RMHQ Favourite here. Check it out ASAP. To paraphrase what they themselves say “It’s a long ride, 16 songs in all ……. but it really is a journey of truth and wonderment from start to finish.”
There are quite a few ‘instrumental albums’ in my collection; predominantly of the Jazz persuasion, but one or two Delta Blues ones for good measure (one has 17 harmonica tracks on it!) plus a couple of ‘Experimental’ type things from Mahavishnu Orchestra among others; but nothing in the Folk idiom. I say ‘Folk’; but that moniker doesn’t do justice to what Legendary Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn has created here alongside a handful of friends. The quality throughout Bruce Cockburn’s 35th album CROWING IGNITES (and second one of instrumentals!!) is of such a high standard I don’t want to just call them ‘tracks’ …… how about opuses? The first of these ‘opuses’ is Bardo Rush and I was left spellbound the first time I played it; and again tonight Cockburn’s dazzling fretwork is almost peerless in the musical world I inhabit. Okay; this was all recorded in a studio; with plenty of time for Take 2’s; but the playing on each and every track is absolutely flawless and, it has to be said exemplary too. There are flourishes in Easter and The Groan* that will send a shiver down your spine as your lips break into a stupendous grin; such is the way Cockburn delivers a Masterclass in Acoustic Guitar playing. Perhaps what has impressed me most here is that Bruce Cockburn manages to create music that could and should be in very different genres; but somehow manages to make the intriguing Jazz opuses Angels in the Half Light and The Mt. Lefroy Waltz sit comfortably alongside the delightful Ragtime ditty Sweetness & Light; a raw Blues tune like Blind Willie and the transcendental (?) Seven Daggers and make them all sound cohesive. What a rare talent this man really is. Selecting a single Favourite Track (or should that be opus?) is almost futile; but then again two tunes really do manage to stand out here. April in Memphis is quite staggering in its very own rite; with Cockburn playing his guitar in an almost Classical fashion; and then I read that it was written on MLK Day 2019 and is dedicated to Dr. King; my heart skipped a beat. The other is also a tad on the Classical side; but with a dramatic Celtic spine too, which combines to make Pibroch, The Wind In The Valley quite remarkable in many ways; which is why it’s probably taking the accolade. For an album as beautiful as this, there were very few people involved in the making; all of whom; including Iona Cockburn; 7 year old daughter of Bruce who helped supply handclaps on The Groan; deserve a huge round of applause for creating such a magical and majestic body of work; that will certainly stand the test of time.
With a curated festival, which Cambridge now is, the attraction for many punters lies in the choices of the curator – in 2018, Rhiannon Giddens cast a strong Americana (for want of a better word) flavour over Cambridge. This year, Nick Mulvey has asserted a more eclectic world music influence, but there were still nuggets of Americana-ish joy to be had.
Opening Stage 2 on Thursday and Stage 1 later in the festival, Ben Caplan gave us a rowdy, carnie-esque set of tunes that threw up thoughts of a young, fiery Tom Waits. In a conversation with Ben he professed his admiration for TW and it was plain to see – there was more to Ben Caplan than mere homage though and his lively sets covered elements of folk and Gogol Bordello-ish gypsy music. Very entertaining – and he had yellow maracas on stage too…
The Rails also occupied a prime spot on Thursday. The new album “Cancel the Sun” sees them moving into rock star territory and this came over visually and sonically in their set, with a beefed up full band sound (“William Taylor” was quite anthemic in this context) and James Walbourne pulling out his best guitar god poses while spouse Kami Thompson was a great visual and musical foil. Having seen the Rails several times, it was clear that a great deal of preparation had gone into this set and it was rewarded with a rapturous response. Onwards and upwards – good luck to them.
Up against the 50th anniversary of Ralph McTell’s first Cambridge performance was Lucy Grubb in the Den. Her performance grew in confidence as her set progressed – references to Johnny Cash and a Kacey Musgraves cover (which actually paled in comparison with some of her own material) planted her firmly in a country camp. Possessing a melodic and narrative lyrical flare that was present in the tracks from her “Dear Walter” EP and other new songs, she displayed real commercial crossover potential.
Friday started with the Mojo interview in the Club Tent. Colin Irwin led Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico through an account of their musical background and history. Somewhat sparsely attended as the interview subjects hadn’t been announced in the programme, but most who were there were held in rapt attention by the guys’ musical war stories, internationalist world view and all-round niceness. Top blokes.
Kerri Watt was an early afternoon fixture on Stage 1. Visually striking in a vertical two shades of denim outfit (you had to be there) her voice – which was at times reminiscent of….Lulu….added a bit of character to a number of mid-paced songs. The addition of Will Pound on harmonica towards the end of the set added a bit more musical dynamism, but I’d like to hear full(er) band recordings before making a judgement.
Graham Nash was the penultimate act on the main stage on Friday and played a perfectly chosen and paced set. Lots of CSNY (and all their other incarnations) tracks and the hits like “Marrakesh Express” and “Love the One You’re With” were held back, after politically influenced earlier tracks like “Military Madness” and “Immigration Man” which found strong approval with the crowd. Ending on “Teach your Children well”, Nash was the perfect Cambridge “icon” act – and vocally and musically he still has fire in his belly.
Following that were Calexico and Iron & Wine – unusually for the final act at Cambridge, the crowd hung around (as opposed to dashing off for the last bus to the Coldham Common campsite). This was much more of a “proper” collaborative performance as opposed to the first time that they toured together where the set was one third Calexico, on third Iron & Wine and one third collaboration, or thereabouts. Most of the “Years to burn” album was played along with a cover of the Bunnymen’s “Bring on the Dancing Horses”. Musically, the atmospheric soundscapes of the set brought the night to a relaxed end – for those familiar with the material, it was a subtle delight of a performance, but went somewhat against the Cambridge tradition of a night ending rabble-rousing set.
If the previous night ended on a more gentle note, that certainly couldn’t be levelled at Rob Heron and the Teapad Orchestra who – for me – put on one of the top performances of the festival first thing on Saturday on the main stage. While they have new material yet unreleased, they very wisely played a tried and trusted set of numbers like “Beaujolais”, “Life is a drag”, “Cats and Chickens” and High Speed train”. Add to that the band’s dry humour, charisma and enthusiasm and it was a recipe to melt the hearts of the most pure, died in the wool folkie. At the start of their set, the audience were just drifting into the tent. At the end, the place was rammed and they were going mad. Someone put RH & TTO on prime-time TV now and make them famous.
Often good things can be found on the smaller stages and I got a tip-off that The Marriage, playing in the Den, were worth checking out. I knew of Dave Burns through his role in ahab and Orphan Colours, but his duo with Kirsten Adamson (sister of Callum, ex-ahab and daughter of Stuart of Big Country) had criminally bypassed me. Singing songs about getting dumped rarely sounded so good. Dave’s guitar playing, not usually brought to the fore in Orphan Colours was on show here and very impressive it is too. Kirsten’s characterful voice was a real revelation, both as a lead and harmony instrument – shades of Emmylou and Gram and the Civil Wars (if they came from Edinburgh and London) are evoked by the duo. The pair hadn’t played for a year as Kirsten has had a baby, but the number of new songs performed and the stage talk of more to come was very welcome. Definitely the most pleasant surprise of the festival.
Later that same night was the much awaited return of Lucinda Williams to the Cambridge stage that she’d graced six years earlier (there was some trepidation amongst the time served journos in the pit at memories of unpleasantness surrounding that previous show) but fortunately all was well on this occasion. On this tour Lucinda has been playing all of “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” but festival time constraints meant that she mixed highlights of the album into the set, along with other songs like “Something about what happens when we talk” and “West Memphis” as well as covers of “Can’t let go” by Randy Weeks and Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor”. A ten song set and three encores (An a capella “Faith and Grace”/”Get right with God”/”Foolishness”) exorcised fully the demons of her previous visit and brought her several more new fans.
Outside of the more obviously Americana type artists, Gruff Rhys performed a set that was part performance art to the bemusement of the folkier purists. Walking on with a sign that said “Applause” and another which said “Louder” – and then another that said “Prolonged applause” was not unexpected (yet still surprising) from the former Super Furry Animals man. Talisk, the Scottish trio had the final Saturday slot and played with a ferocious energy that scorched those hardy souls still standing from the day’s heat. Concertina player Mohsen Amini has to be seen to be believed in the energy of his performance – the perfect festival rabble-rousing band. Jose Gonzalez has come to wider attention through the use of his cover of the song “Heartbeats” in a TV ad and despite most of the audience seemingly only familiar with that song, he played a gentle set that went down well on a warm afternoon.
2020? Why not…
Courtesy Nick Barber
It should go without saying; but ………. ALL PHOTOS ARE SUBJECT TO COPYRIGHT LAWS. If you want to download/use any of Nick’s photos get in touch and we will organise ‘something’.
I kept picking this album up and putting it down again; not because I didn’t think I’d like it ….. quite the opposite actually; I just needed to be in the right place at the right time, and most importantly the right frame of mind to do it justice, as this type of Blues needs to be cherished, admired and savoured like a fine wine. Even though I’d not heard of Terry Robb before, it comes as no surprise to find this is his 15th album ….. yes ……FIFTEENTH! Right from the first two instrumental tracks here Butch Holler Stomp and Still On 101 Terry Robb shows what not just an accomplished Blues guitarist he is; but with his majestic flourishes quite experimental too without ever deviating from the path carved out by Robert Johnson nearly 100 years ago. Damn right this is The Blues, with a capital T and B. By track #3 How a Free Man Feels, Robb actually sings; and wowza what a voice he has too; clean and crystal clear which is perfect for the way he delivers this age old story. While only ever playing an acoustic or Resonator and occasionally supported by a stand-up bass and drums, Robb can kick up quite a storm with his variant on Country Blues, with the title track Confessin’ My Dues and Keep Your Judgement both being the type of song that will fill the dancefloor at a dive bar or Honky-Tonk; and on Three Times The Blues aficionados of all persuasions will sit open mouthed at his mastery of the wooden instrument. I’ve heard a lot of guitarists ‘like’ Terry Robb, from Stefan Grossman through to Joe Bonamassa but very few times have I been as awestruck as I was the first time I heard Death of Blind Arthur, as Robb flits between the Blues, Jazz and Classical in the blink of an eye. Two entirely different songs tie for the title of RMHQ Favourite track; Heart Made of Steel is an acoustic trio sounding as ‘heavy’ as Cream ever managed with a lorry load of Marshall amps; and the track that precedes it, It Might Get Sweaty sounds like that’s exactly how these three cats felt in the studio at the end of the recording session; and it still leaves plenty of room for expansion when played live! It’s when I discover acts like Terry Robb and records like this I despair when the Awards Season comes along and the ‘experts opinion’ of what constitutes The Blues is 100 miles apart from my own interpretation; but I can’t do any more than advise you to invest your hard earned money in this album to discover what Blues Music can and does sound like in 2019.
Dark, Moody and Eloquent Americana-Folk Crossover.
With so much music available these days for artistes to draw from, it’s no surprise that that the genre lines become ever more blurred. In days of yore, Londoners Alvarez Theory would have been classed as ‘Folk Rock,’ albeit with the emphasis on ‘Folk;’ but with the judicial use of a banjo several songs crossover into what now is deemed ‘Americana’; which is also a lot more ‘hip’ in radio and magazine circles I would guess. There’s an almost Canadian Gothic feel to opening track By The River, as Diana-Maria Diehl summons up her demons to to exorcise a love affair gone wrong; and the rest of the quintet play their respective instruments with quietly restrained anger; and a whole lot of passion too. For a group from London Town, there’s a very North American feel to most of their songs; and when I say ‘North American’ I mean music made in the states either side of the Border that straddles USA and Canada, with the clear, cool and often rawness I associate with that area unfolding like a butterfly from a cocoon on Last of a String of Tempests and Bring Her Back to Life too. The imagery that is evoked on songs like the desolately beautiful House That Stood The Storm and Big City, Empty certainly belay the fact that these songwriters life in London; and not some windswept hilltop cabin in the bleak midwinter. Even though this is quite a simple album, of sorts; there’s a lot going on behind the words that hints at a group of probably classically trained musicians who are now performing music that they love and adore; which brings me to the two songs vying for the accolade of RMHQ Favourite Song; 1949 is one of those songs that sounds so intense you can hear a pin drop 50 yards away; but it still won’t break your concentration and the other, Mary McKinley is certainly a song I’d have presumed was from Canada or perhaps rural Ireland and features some heart-stopping harmonies and steel guitar, that juxtapose a song of majestic proportions; so the title goes to Mary McKinley! It’s never made clear what, exactly an ‘Alvarez Theory’ is; but it’s fair to say that this darkly charismatic album of exquisitely constructed, performed and sung stories is well worth the investment if you have the time to immerse yourself in the Alvarez Theory’s musical world.
Beautifully Articulate Cross-Generational Folk Music.
I don’t know much about Izzy Heltai apart from he comes from Northampton in Massachusetts and has a voice that can best be described as ‘interesting’; but it’s also quite perfect for his spell-binding modern Folk Songs. There are only four songs here; but each one is a perfectly formed parcel of intense loveliness in its very own rite. I regularly say that it’s a case of ‘Right time/right place’ for music to have an effect on you; and as I sit here tired and weary on a sunny Good Friday morning, contemplating life, love and the Universe as it’s my birthday tomorrow; Friday and a one the younger me could never have imagined me reaching Izzy Heltai has been a wonderful companion in the last couple of hours. The first song; and current single Marching Song is a very powerful and deeply personal statement from this young man; whose frazzled voice somehow struggles to soar and hit the high notes….. but manages every time. For a track that has a guitar piano, bass and trumpet (possibly a cornet?) alongside a big voice; there’s lots of space there two for the listener to contemplate on Heltai’s heart rending story of broken love. Then on Stuck in Stone the judicial use of echo gives a sad tale enough pathos to break even the hardest of hearts with consummate ease; and that’s taking nothing away from the singer’s rather muscular love story. I absolutely adore his use of metaphor in the final track Mountain; comparing such a massive land mass to the mistakes he’s made in his relationship; and if you don’t quite get the message…… that cello and trumpet will make you go weak at the knees anyway. Then there’s my Favourite Song by a country mile; Common Sense. To the casual listener a simple Folk Song with a bit of a back story……. but you couldn’t be further from the truth! Listen….. actually listen to Heltai’s compelling words and the way the melody and instruments creatively shadow and shroud his dark story like a velvet cloak. This is the sound of a songwriter ‘finding his true muse’ and the world is a better place for this song being there. In four short songs Izzy Heltai has the capability of crossing the musical generation gap with articulate ease in a way I’ve not heard for many a long year. He very much already has his own distinctive ‘sound’; but one that can and will appeal to fans of acts as diverse as Leonard Cohen, Ed Sheeran, John Prine, Nanci Griffiths and Gretchen Peters too. #Fact.
Ben Bedford The Hermit’s Spyglass Cavalier Recordings
Idiosyncratic Guitar and Folk Songs That Paint Vivid Pictures In Your Head.
It would be all too easy for me to skip past this album as I am being inundated with Review albums from the great and the good in the musical world; as even though he’s a Kerrville New Folk Winner Ben Bedford is highly unlikely to headline Coachella or Glastonbury and is even less likely to win a Grammy; but even on one cursory, background listen you instantly sense you are in the presence of a very special singer-songwriter indeed. With hindsight I think it’s Bedford’s idiosyncratic guitar playing that really caught my attention last week; but then again his cracked and worn voice; from years as a lonely troubadour I’m sure is the type that only a Mother or me could love too. Then of course there are Ben Bedford’s songs; starting with Morning Rise a Folk Song from the Tom Paxton end of the spectrum, and so simple yet prophetic I found myself taking a deep breath so as not to miss a word or note. For one man, a guitar and no fancy post-production wizardry Ben Bedford surely can capture your attention with the beautiful and melancholic vivid vivid pictures he paints in your head with the dark Little Falcon and Coyotes as well as the introspective Morning Conversations too; which is quite some achievement. Back to Bedford’s guitar playing; for someone who isn’t Richard Thompson or indeed Bert Jansch on the beautiful instrumentals Thunderstorm and Quiet on the Green Hill he manages to captivate and intrigue without ever singing a word. I’m trickily undecided regarding my choice of Favourite Song here as I rather like Moon and March End a whole lot, but it is just edged out by Morning Coffee; another very simple idea and concept but one that I, you and everyone around us will associate with; so that’s the one. Is this Americana? I guess so as Ben Bedford is American and these are American stories; albeit with more than a cursory nod in the direction of some of the 1960’s British Folk Singers that were inspired by the likes of Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs and later Guy Clark. Expect to see Ben Bedford in a Coffee House, pub backroom near you or perhaps even a tent at Glastonbury, go check him out if you can…… you won’t be disappointed.
A Glorious Tapestry of Modern Folk Songs with an Occasional Jazzy Tinge.
Patty Griffin is one of those singer-songwriters who can fill auditoriums all across the world and be hailed to the rooftops by the Great and the Good of the industry (inc. Robert Plant, Bob Harris and me) but no one you know has ever heard of her, or her songs. Here we find Ms Griffin embracing her inner-Earth Mother on the cover and to some degree on the songs therein too, as they are more even more personal and intense than on her more recent albums; and without giving anything away too soon…… the world is a much better place because these songs exist. Guitarist to the Stars, David Pulkingham gives opening song Mama’s Worried a sensitive Jazzy feel, as Ms Griffin inhabits a broken hearted Mother who’s husband has disappeared. Try to imagine, if you will Ella Fitzgerald singing a Dolly Parton song in a Chicago nightclub at 3am. But then again; it’s better than that. The mood remains quite melancholic on the emotionally charged River; which follows and was the first song to be released from this record to huge acclaim by fans and critics alike. Take only one casual listen and you know you are in the presence of greatness. I’ll get it out of the way quite early; but friend and fan, the Rock Behemoth Robert Plant makes two appearances here; What Now and Coins; and with hindsight both do have the merest hint of some Led Zeppelin mythological folky intros; but if I’d not read it it was Percy in the background on harmonies I’d not have known it was him; but I might have guessed at Jimmy Page playing the acoustic guitar; but it’s not……it’s mostly Patty Griffin herself. ‘Folk Music’ is a very broad church and means different things to different people; and Patty Griffin embraces many of them across the 13 songs on this album; oddly enough the Celtic themed Boys of Tralee has a very English spine to the way it’s constructed, and I can only imagine you will be able to hear a pin drop when it’s sung live. As happens when a songwriter gets to ‘a certain age’ they find themselves looking back on the life; as the Jazzy vibe returns on Hourglass, a romantic tale of still feeling young and capable of ‘dancing at six o’clock in the morning’; although I think Patty may be looking through rose coloured glasses; but there’s no harm in dreaming, is there? There’s a rather beautiful song here called Where I Come From, which paints a rather sad picture of what has become of this once vibrant town; but still the narrator cleverly tells us that ‘in the September sun, as the light is dying, it’s still most beautiful as the day goes down.’ As you know music effects you in different ways at different times; and the intense darkness surrounding many of the songs on this album have caught me like silky fog this evening and are perfect for the mood I’m in……. there ain’t no laughs here! Had a Good Reason is as stark a tale of a woman walking out on her young family as you will hear in Country Music; just don’t expect Shania or Carrie to ever cover it; they wouldn’t dare…… this is so raw you can smell the tears. What to choose as a Favourite Song this evening? The sad eyed loneliness of What I Remember? It is a great song, and I found myself staring at the speakers as Patty crooned: “Life is a foreign land Impossible to understand Once we had the precious bird in hand And let him slip away.” Or should I choose the clever look at the world we live in, in The Wheel? It certainly has its merits; but no; as regular readers will already know….. I’m a sucker for a love song; no matter how bitter and twisted; which album closer Just The Same most certainly is! All we hear is Ms Griffin and a crystal clear piano pouring her heart out about loving a man who perhaps doesn’t deserve her all encompassing and pure love she has for him. “Nothing could ever make me love you less Though I confess I’ve tried and I’ve wished I could We weren’t the worst and we weren’t the best But just beneath it all Maybe a little good.”
Bloody Hell! Patty Griffin just described my marriage in four exquisite lines! I don’t know if anyone will agree with me; and perhaps this a misty eyed ‘age thing’ on my behalf but this album somehow feels like it bookends everything that has come and gone since Tapestry and Blue. Perhaps I’m being a bit over romantic about a bunch of songs; but I listen to more music than the average bear Boo Boo, and PATTY GRIFFIN by Patty Griffin is a very special record indeed; and will find itself in pride of place in many record collections for years to come.
Even More Well CraftedScrumptious, Thoughtful and Deeply Personal Songs.
When we reviewed Jane Kramer’s last album Carnival Of Hopes we said ” Scrumptious, Thoughtful and Deeply Personal Songs ” and I’m pleased to say not a lot has changed in the interim; apart from Jane seems a lot more comfortable in her deliciously distinctive voice. With my background I tend to fear songs called Hymn; but the first line of this opening track “My hippy Mamma didn’t make me go to church So I found God in the fireflies and digging in the dirt“ soon put me at ease; but then again Chris Rosser’s gentle guitar playing and dreamy harmonies were always meant to do that anyways on this song of a woman finding her inner strength in a cruel world. *Apparently this song was meant as a ‘homework assignment from Mary Gauthier! When I finally got to read the Press Release, I found (as usual) that an awful lot of hard work, involving an awful lot of people helped make these songs all sound incredibly gentle and relaxing; although when you scratch the surface…… darkness often lurks beneath. With Summer on the horizon; Jane Kramer’s delightful songs full of wit and wisdom on a wide ranging collection of subjects with all being smart and very well constructed; but some are actually highly addictive. In the smart Soap Opera, Macon County, Jane takes on the role of the narrator who has to return to her home town; for reasons unknown and the way her relationship with Joseph ‘with the kind eyes’ gently develops until ‘she puts lipstick on/in case I smile’ is rather beautiful in a cracked way; and the chorus “Macon County, I ain’t letting you drown me” will break your heart. It’s a brave man who will compare a songwriter on only her third album as the equal of legends like Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith and the afore mentioned Mary Gauthier; but that is the case here, with songs as complex as Two Broke Kids, Valley of the Bones and especially I’ll See Your Crazy and Raise Mine; which is as good a Country song as Loretta or Reba ever recorded and if Dolly ever hears it, expect her t base a whole album around it!. Then; there is even one song here that will tear your heart apart; it’s unbelievable the sheer anguish and bravery that Kramer fills Child with, yet it still remains completely accessible especially any parent, who when they hear it will find tears running down their cheeks and they won’t know how to stop them; but won’t care. As someone without a musical bone in their body (is the ear a bone? I don’t think so) I love it when songwriters sing about ‘life on the road’…… and in this case Jane Kramer’s Singin’s Enough manages to stay sad enough to engage us; while still romanticising “singing her Folk Songs in a bar while the College Boys shout out for Freebird!” To some greater or lesser degree Jane Kramer takes us on a right royal emotional roller coaster ride here; and while I was tempted to go for the insightful Wedding Vows as my Favourite Track; and it would be well deserved; but then I listened a bit more intently to the jaunty and clever Waffle House Song (the title alone should lull you in….. but that’s a ‘false sent of security…. trust me; this is a powerful song!) then I’ve been drawn back to a song that made me smile as I kept having to take deep breaths the first time I really listened to it. Saint Carrie of the Storms is an astute and sharp-witted tale of sibling rivalry that you don’t understand or appreciate until it’s (almost) too late; which is all part of growing up, isn’t it? Jane Kramer manages to make her personal story feel like it could be about me and my brothers or you and your sister; clever that. Jane Kramer has been singing and songwriting for twenty years now; and that apprenticeship has surely blossomed with the intricately clever and fascinating songs on Valley of the Bones, which transcend the Folk and Country genres and make this a real Singer-Songwriter album.
Music? Doncha just love it? It can make “you laugh, sing, dance and just about any old thing” to paraphrase Rod and the Faces; but someone somewhere hundreds of miles away from you can also have the ability to tap into your rawest emotions and make you realise that you aren’t ‘alone’ after all. Over the last few days I’ve been corresponding with Vicky Martin from the Delta Ladies who was politely asking if we/I would give her band’s latest release a listen, and gave me a bit of background. Nothing odd in that, as we get offered review albums every day … 24/7 yet nothing prepared me for the haunting/passionate/cracked opening track Thieving Boy! Technically and in spirit, it’s Folk Music……. but Folk Music like I’ve never heard before! I’m not doing it any justice if I say it’s two fiddles (one acoustic and one electric) plus a keyboard and Vicky Martin’s warmly mystifying vocals on a song that will eventually unravel in a way I doubt I’d ever expected. This is followed by a 46 second banjo instrumental lament, called Redcar Steel Blues that I wanted to last an hour. Yes, you read that correctly…… BANJO INSTRUMENTAL, but Delta Ladies say more in that short time than feted journalists have managed for years about the death of the steel industry in the North East. This duo? trio? band? ensemble? (and their friends) are so smart and clever they even include two versions of the same song (others tempos are also available), Rock of Ages and although they share the same words are polar opposites! The first version is Gospelish in essence with some staggering violin playing and a harmonica that will set your hair on end; and the second is a ‘Trance’ version which is bizarre to the Max; yet totally captivating; especially when heard on headphones. Even when Delta Ladies go wandering off into Hippyland on Seventh Day Blues they kept my interest such is their mesmeric way with a tune and a random set of acoustic instruments. The nearest to a ‘Commercial’ track here Devil’s Work Today, is a twist on the ‘Crossroads’ theme with some very modern and scary lyrics. The title of RMHQ Favourite Track has been a tussle between the fabulously sloppy Blues Jam Praise The Lord and the 11 minute epic Hear Me Calling which closes the record; and I’m probably plumping for the latter as it meanders and twists and turns like a river, occasionally rolling along but always with a sense of fear and menace in the background. By far and away this album isn’t for everyone (I’m hiding it from Mrs. Magpie, that’s for sure!) but for those of us who adore challenging music that doesn’t follow the straight and narrow path it will never be far away when we need a dose of beautiful misery. Cleverly mixing traditional Folk Music with hints of Rootsy American and snippets of World Music as the whims suit them, this ever expanding trio from the *Norf Landin Delta take us on a tour of the darkest recesses of our broken hearts and tortured souls, but leave us feeling thoroughly cleansed and more peaceful as the last notes fade away.
#This will mean nothing to 99% of you; but the band that instantly sprung to mind when I first played this was String Driven Thing, a Folk Rock band from Glasgow who flirted around the outskirts of Prog in the 1970’s and whom I fell head over heels with; and still adore 40 years later.