Judy Collins SPELLBOUND

Judy Collins
Spellbound
Cleopatra

Every Song Elicits the Word ‘Beautiful.’

I don’t know if I’m correct in saying Judy Collins is having something of a renaissance late in her career; but if it is it’s very welcome here at RMHQ; and as was proved on her recent live album; her stunning voice hasn’t aged a day.
While I’ve always known she was a great interpreter of other songwriter’s songs; I was surprised to find that this is her first ever album of her own songs …. fancy that?
The title track SPELLBOUND comes in at Track #1 and if this beauty doesn’t stop you in your tracks you’re listening to the wrong album. The production is crystal clear and suits Ms Collins like a velvet glove on a song that finds the singer looking back on a love story she was a part of many years ago.
As I’ve continued to play the album every track has elicited the word ‘beautiful’ …. and every song here is exactly that; as Judy more or less looks back on a life well lived.
I think it’s difficult to pigeon-hole this particular album; in some ways it’s the epitome of Americana while we certainly get an array of Folk Songs; as the winsome When I Was a Girl in Colorado and Prairie Dream probably fit under that umbrella better than most; but in 2022 would you say Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell are still thought of as Folk Singers?
Me neither.
Here, Judy’s songs Hell On Wheels, Arizona and the intensely intricate Wild With Mist all transcend such a type-casting; these and others need a whole new genre outside such a simple label.
As regular readers know RMHQ tries its best to promote new singers and bands to the populace; but for many of you out there Judy Collins will be a ‘new name’ too and; especially if you are an aspiring singer-songwriter yourself, I urge you to seek out Grand Canyon and City of Awakening to discover how to take an everyday subject and make it into something staggeringly wonderful.
Before I tell you which is my Favourite Song; I must mention that the only only ‘old song’ here is the re-recorded finale The Blizzard from her 1990 album Fires of Eden and stands shoulder to shoulder with the other dozen songs like an elder sibling, or even matriarch.
I didn’t know the story behind the Thomas Merton song; but Googled him as I played it …. and when you understand that he was a monk/author, philosopher and renowned anti-war activist in the 1950’s and 60’s; the song will take on a whole new resonance with you, as it has me …… which it ties for the accolade Favourite Song with So Alive, which couldn’t be any more different as it’s about falling in love for the first time and actually sparkles as the notes come from your stereo speakers.
I doubt I will be alone in actually ‘discovering’ Judy Collins in the twilight of her glittering career; but while I knew her from her singles in the 1970’s I’ve been lucky enough to have been ‘forced’ to listen to her last four albums for review purposes and it’s been an absolute joy from start to finish.

Released February 25th 2022
http://www.judycollins.com/

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Malcolm Holcombe TRICKS OF THE TRADE

Malcolm Holcombe
Tricks of The Trade
Need To Know Music

Warm, World Weary, Thoughtful and ….. as Dangerously Honest as Ever.

Q) When is a new release, not a new release?
A) If it’s been released before.

But, if; as in this case something was released as a Limited Edition LP; just before the artist took seriously ill, therefore delaying the CD/Downloads coming out; and an unrelated pandemic stopped any promotion and an accompanying tour can take place; would that mean we can count TRICKS OF THE TRADE as a new release?
YES is my answer.
Mercifully Malcolm has come through his operation uncommonly well and I can now breathe a sigh of relief and treat this as ‘just another’ of his releases.
Money Train which opens the album finds our hero in his trademarked ‘piss n vinegar’ angry at the moneymen who rule the world mode; and boy can he write and perform something like this without sounding ‘worthy’ or ‘earnest’ ….. he just ‘speaks for the common man and woman.’
God Bless Him.
I forget how many albums Malcolm Holcombe has previously released; but in recent years he’s had something of an epiphany; writing better than ever; and this album has some belters on it.
Crazy Man Blues and the title track Tricks of the Trade are as good and eminently as ‘listenable’ as anything I’ve heard from the singer in the last 15+ years; and when you finally get to hear Your Kin and Good Intentions you will think you are listening to someone who is evoking the ghost of Townes Van Zandt; and to some great extent he is.
Malcolm has been around long enough not to really need comparisons; but I can’t hear him now without thinking he’s carrying that very torch better and longer than anyone else.
Traditionally a Folk Singer at heart; the arrangements are very sympathetic to Malcolm’s voice of course; but on many songs he transcends Americana and goes seamlessly into Alt. Country with the greatest of ease; especially noticeable on Damn Rainy Day and the magnificent On Tennessee Land; which is the type of song Johnny Cash would have given his eye-teeth for during the American Album series.
The ‘Bonus Track’ here Windows of Amsterdam is one of ‘those songs’ along with Lenora Cynthia that I can only imagine Malcolm Holcombe writing and singing.
For a million reasons this is a very special album indeed; and there are two very special songs here too; and I can’t seperate them so my selection of Favourite Song is a tie between the punchy Higher Ground, which features the joint talents of Mary Gauthier and Jaimee Harris on the exceptional ‘Higher Ground’, bringing home its reckoning on the final chorus:
I got freedom to choose
I got freedom to lose
I got freedom to choose
higher ground.
T’other caught me unawares the first time I played the album; as Misery Loves Company was the perfect soundtrack to how I was feeling that day; but as the days have gone by it’s become a beautiful heartbreaker of a good old fashioned Country drinkin’ song worthy of Hank or more recently Kris Kristofferson …..
I’ve tasted and I’ve wasted
the good life that I had
my poor selfish drinking
made a rich ol man go mad…I passed out and I cried out
my God what have I done
she’s gone… I oughtta be on tv
with a guitar strummin’ smile
cause misery loves company when the neon’s burnin’ bright.
It’s far from a criticism; but the arrangement and backing band; as usual are quite exceptional here and throughout the album too; but I’ve only ever seen Malcolm perform solo; and these songs ain’t gonna sound anything like this when he goes off on one, attacking his acoustic guitar as if it has personally offended him and bringing it on home unlike just about anyone else I can think of these days .
That said; as an album that you will listen to in the comfort of your home …. and you will; the Production team of Brian BrinkerhoffDave Roe and Jared Tyler have managed to make Malcolm’s wheezy growl sound the way the Grand Old Man of Americana should; warm, world weary, thoughtful and above all else ……. dangerously honest.

Released August 20th 2021
https://www.malcolmholcombe.com/

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CD/Download https://malcolmholcombe.bandcamp.com/
https://www.roughtrade.com/us/malcolm-holcombe/tricks-of-the-trade

Paul Cowley LONG TIME COMING

Paul Cowley
Long Time Coming
Self Release

Accessible and Classy Acoustic Blues That Would Impress Alan Lomax.

This album arrived at RMHQ a few months ago and in plenty of time for its June 2021 release; but soon afterwards I had a month long break from reviewing (for health reasons) and then a computer malfunction meant I lost a good few albums; including this.
Thankfully, Paul unlike many of his more illustrious and I’m sure expensive PR’s got in touch again last week ‘nudging me’ about a promised review of his intriguing mix of self-penned and Classic songs..
Well; using my tried and trusted ‘right place/right time’ philosophy Paul’s simple approach to The Blues was just what I needed that weekend.
The title track Long Time Coming opens the disc in a timeless fashion, with Cowley’s gentle strumming accompanying a timeless Country Blues that would have impressed the ghost of Alan Lomax if he’d been wandering around the wine producing villages of France in recent years.
‘Simple’ does a disservice to Paul Cowley as his guitar playing throughout is as intricate as it is memorable; and his songwriting flits between powerful and timeless with ease and grace; then there’s his cracked and tarnished voice; which belies his birthplace in Birmingham, England or his current home in la Belle Francaise; as he sounds and plays like he was born and bred in deepest darkest Mississippi.
Like all music, this album can be played to cover any mood; and this ain’t Springsteen, that’s for sure, but I especially liked hearing his reinvention of Charley Patton’s Screamin’ and Hollerin’ The Blues as well as his own Don’t Need Too Much and especially Lightnin’s Train while I drove around the backroads of County Durham last Sunday; windows down, sun shining and the wind in my hair, and tootling along at 40+ mph.
But there are songs here that need your time and patience too; with Blind Boy Fuller’s Lost Lover Blues and Rainin’ (with it’s rain effect in the mix) taking on a whole sparkling life when listened too quite intensely through headphones.
Selecting a Favourite Song has been more difficult than I first imagined; as Simple Life could easily be a Single; with its nod to the Beautiful South’s Song For Whoever, as he names (and shames!) numerous ex-girlfriends, who coincidentally have names that rhyme with their character flaws. But, Found Out You Lied is one of those songs that just happens to be a Blues tune in this format; but transcends actual genres, as I can easily imagine Folk singers and Country acts recording versions as the years go by.
In the past acts like Paul Cowley mostly depended on the randomness of the Festival Circuit to be ‘discovered’ by fans; but in the 21st Century his music is accessible across all four corners of the globe; and regardless of where you live, if you like classy Roots Music I heartily recommend this gem.

Released June 2021
https://www.paulcowleymusic.com/

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DARRELL SCOTT Jaroso

DARRELL SCOTT
Jaroso
Full Light Records

A Spine Tingling and Intimate Live Retrospective From an Unsung Hero.

If I’m totally honest with myself, then I don’t really like “Live” albums. Always struggled with the majority and have, maybe, a handful that I return to and play again.
Good job then that singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott falls into the chosen few. I’ve been lucky to have seen him live on a couple occasions and know how mesmerising and indeed compelling his shows can be.

This though is slightly different, recorded in South Central Colorado, last September, inside a converted former Catholic church near the border with New Mexico.
The old adobe building rescued and lovingly restored by Scott’s friend Mark Dudrow over the past couple of decades. Incredibly, there was no advanced marketing or advertising, simply “word of mouth”, which meant that only a couple of dozen people turned up to the village of Jaroso from nearby Taos or Santa Fe.

Something else worth noting, the gig was played not just as Unplugged but without the use of a PA System. Best described as back to basics, or even a fly on the wall, old-style approach, using a four-track recorder, one mic on whatever (mostly borrowed) instrument Darrell was playing, one mic on the vocals and a stereo pair for the assembly. Simples.

On the CD, there are 11 live, spine-tingling tracks from the session, seven are Scott originals plus four covers.
Come on in, grab a chair, wherever you may” is how he welcomes the small crowd and leads straight into “There’s a Stone Around My Belly,” a beautiful mid-tempo, typical DS tune, immediately involving the audience getting them to sing-a-long with the repetitive “Hallelujah” chorus.
It all goes eerily quiet for the beguiling, acappello version of “No One Needs Angel” followed by “Life is Cheap” from his 1997 first album Aloha from Nashville, which again has most of the crowd singing with him.

The first of the covers provides a parochial, all join in, to Merles’ “(Have You Ever Been Down To) Colorado” followed by another original, “Fiddler Jones,’ which I first came across on the 2013 album Memories and Moments which Darrell originally recorded with his good friend Tim O’Brien, here though it’s just him with a Banjo for accompaniment, which only seems to emphasise the hook:
And the people all know me wherever I go, There’s Fiddler Jones, there goes Fiddler Jones”.

Hoyt Axton’s cool “Evangelina” has the audience enthralled before Darrell treats them to the spell-binding history of “The Hummingbird,” from his 1999 sophomore album “Family Tree”; a song all about a Gibson Guitar and the misdemeanours of childhood.
The banjo returns for Malcolm Holcombe’s haunting “Who Carried You” followed by the hymn like “On Life’s Other Side;” which has the entire gathering enthusing through the chorus:
On life’s other side we’ll wander and tarry no more,
On life’s other side we’ll carry the weight of this old world no more,
We’ll walk with each other with nothing to hide,
Every path of pure sunlight on life’s other side”.

You can hear the proverbial pin drop throughout Mickey Newbury’s “Saint Cecelia” before the finale again bows to the locals with a rousing rendition of “Colorado” which is originally off my favourite Darrell album, 2010’s “A Crooked Road”.
I can’t help feeling that the Playlist was wholly appropriate, given the venue and it’s history with the enthralled congregation and the protagonist in absolute unison.

But, wait just a minute, there’s an added bonus, in truth it’s less a ‘bonus’ and more like a Lottery winning experience!
Those music loving people from Proper Records have included a 12th. track; another live recording from Darrell’s days as a member of Robert Plants Band of Joy.
Not solo, but aided and abetted by the other members of the band …….. Patti Griffin, Buddy Miller & Mr. Plant himself on a stunning cover of Porter Wagoners 1955 hit “A Satisfied Mind”.
Check out the video on Social Media and witness the curly headed Midlander look across in awe at Darrell Scott’s superb, intense delivery.

In summary, the concept was a simple idea, transformed throughout into a magical, enchanting record of what must have been an awesome, historic event. I started by stating that I generally don’t like “Live Albums”, but; I kid you not; I absolutely love this one.

Jack KiddMessin’ with the Kidd” on lionheartradio.com

Released on 6th. November 2020
https://www.darrellscott.com/

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Chris Riley CESTRIAN

Chris Riley
Cestrian
Nice Mind Records

Sharp and Canny Folk Songs From the Traditional to Contemporary

Like many ‘local singer-songwriters’ around the globe, Chris Riley has to adopt many guises to make a living; and we’ve previously reviewed two of his previous diverse releases; the Irish influenced Folk trio The Dicey Rileys and his Rhythm & Blues combo The False Poets, but here he throws caution to the wind and goes completely solo!
The opening song Syracuse features a deceptively clever acoustic intro which is sure to catch your attention; and Riley’s warm and expressive voice; hewn from the Durham coalfield takes us on a delightful journey to love in a foreign field.
The next track, Pocket Full of Rhymes could have been an alternative album title; as it’s the cornerstone for most every other song here; a gently observational and autobiographical song about the life of a wandering troubadour.
Like all of his peers in the Folk World; be that traditionalists like Ralph McTell and Tom Paxton or romantics such as Jackson Browne or James Taylor; Chris Riley manages to find beauty and interest in many things around us all, the things most of us miss and he manages to make Mad Machine into a brilliant example of a songwriter’s art.
Here Chris explores the dark side of life too on Gaia’s Answer and When The Roses Bloom, with both making me sit quite still and really focus on the lyrics each time I’ve listened.
As a collection of songs created over many years, it’s nice to hear his various influences and styles filter through each and every song, from Traditional Folk (both British AND American) through a bit of Country and coming out with some experimental, nee Prog Folk at the end!
Love songs you ask? Of course – the brittle Autumn Colours will send a shiver down your spine, and When The Roses Bloom too, but don’t expect ‘Moon in June’ imagery.
Then there’s the instrumental Fistful of Quavers nodding to the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns as it does; as well as my wife’s favourite snack at the same time. But; there’s also the creepy and poetic The Dirge; which is almost cinematic in concept and the guitar work tips towards the work of both John Williams and Martin Carthy, if such a thing is possible.
Although both are absolutely lovely; I’m by-passing Kirsten’s Song and the charming Charlotte’s Tune in my quest for a Favourite Song, and debating between two tracks. The first, and this is quite sad for a Reviewer of Universal acclaim like what I is; I’ve been sorely tempted to go for the title track Cestrian; simply because of the title ‘Cestrian’ (i.e a dweller of Chester le Street, which is about 4 miles from where I live and a drinking area which I regularly frequented in my youth); but the bizarre, almost Prog-Folk instrumental actually misses out to Fortune All Around Me; a wonderful song which evoked memories of the teenage me discovering Ralph McTell and Richard Thompson and the dark and evocative delights of British Folk Music which, when done well; is as good as any other style of music in the world; and Chris Riley has written and produced a minor gem with this one.
Chris Riley is probably too old with a day job to boot, to tour the world bringing his songs to adoring audiences of all ages; but thankfully his music will always be available to download and also buy on Compact Disc (for the hipsters out there) and bring joy to you and yours in the comfort of your own homes for years to come.

Released July 3rd 2020
https://www.facebook.com/christopher.riley.165
https://www.nicemindrecords.com/
https://chrisriley1.bandcamp.com/


Pharis and Jason Romero BET ON LOVE

Pharis and Jason Romero
Bet On Love
Lula Records

Quality Canadian Folk Music That Transcends the Generations and Borders.

For some reason the name Jason Romero is familiar to me; but not the more ‘memorable’ Pharis; which is odd as I can’t find either in my extensive music library ……. who knows where or if I’ve come across him before.
Which brings me to the second album of majestic Folk Music from the couple.
Even without reading it; my highly tunes ears would have guessed that the Romero’s come from Canada; the quaintly named Horsefly in British Columbia where they own a bespoke banjo shop.
While this could easily be labelled ‘Americana’ in a record shop; but there is something quintessentially Canadian about the way Pharis sings; I’m no linguist; but Hometown Blues just sounds ‘Canadian’ to me ……. perhaps I should get out more. If you can put my semantics to one side, it’s a gorgeous Folk Song with the couple harmonising like Gram and Emmylou while Pharis takes the lead while Jason does things with his banjo that are still illegal in Alabama!
I’m no fan of the banjo, never have been; and in fact once coined the expression #BanjoFatigue; but when played really well it can be a fabulous instrument; and Jason Romero plays his various instruments better than most I’ve ever, ever heard.
The key to this album is not just Pharis Romero’s endearingly rich vocals; but her sensitive and captivating songwriting too. When I first played the album last week I wasn’t really ‘in the mood’ for Folk Music; but by the time I’d got to track #4 Right In The Garden I was engrossed.
In some ways Pharis reminds me of Joan Baez and Judy Collins, the way she inhabits her stories and occasionally leaves words hanging in the air; especially noticeable on New Day, We All Fall and Kind Girl, which all have a dreamy and timeless feel to them.
Even by Nu-Folk standards, BET ON LOVE is very easy on the ear; although Jason’s banjo and guitar playing can be extremely complex at times, with the instrumental New Caledonia being an album highlight; and his own weathered voice takes us into a whole new hemisphere when he sings lead on Roll On My Friend and the endearing love song World Stops Turning too.
Just when you think you can’t be surprised anymore, Pharis and Jason come at you like an early morning Spring mist when they harmonise on the charming Old Chatelaine.
For a Favourite Song it’s a coin toss between A Bit Old School and the more traditional New Day. Both certainly have their own charm and merits, but when placed side by side show the depth in not just Pharis’s songwriting but the way the couple can comfortably bridge the gap that links their 1960’s New Folk generation with today’s Nu-Folk with ease and grace; so I’m saying it’s a tie.
Don’t get pinned down with any particular thing I’ve said here; Pharis and Jason Romero aren’t particularly Old School or Nu-School, nor deeply rooted Canadian in their musical outlook ……… this is an album for Music Lovers of all persuasions that appreciate quality and class in any and every form.

Released 1st June 2020
http://www.pharisandjason.com/home
Order here http://www.pharisandjason.com/releases/bet-on-love




The Nautical Theme LOWS and HIGHS

The Nautical Theme
LOWS and HIGHS
Self-Release

Luscious Yet Brittle Folk-Americana

It’s spectacularly odd reviewing music at this time. To some degree ‘music’ is a frivolous accompaniment to our long days sitting waiting for the Corona Virus Plague to go away .
But; I also know that Musicians are in desperate need of sales to put food on their tables; so sadly, my reviews perhaps take on a new importance.
No pressure there, then.
Nearly three years ago I said “Duo Rock The Folk Out of Acoustic Music” about the Nautical Theme’s debut album, FLOAT and; not a lot has changed with this, their second album.
The punchy and perceptive Break My Fall, with Matt taking lead vocals and Tesia providing honeyed harmonies is a real attention grabber; and the perfect opener; especially as the mood takes a left turn next with the beautiful, yet melancholy Other Side which follows.
I can’t put my finger on it; but the production here somehow brings out something special and even ageless in these songs. As a ‘man of a certain age’ it’s all too easy to hear comparisons with the Laurel Canyon acts of yore; or more recently the Civil Wars, but it’s never that simple as both Tesia Mallory and Matt Shetler both have very distinctive voices in their own rite; and their richly detailed songs similarly follow a very contemporary path.
The couple neatly take turns as lead vocalist and it would take someone with sharper hearing than I, to say who is the better singer. For me they choose the songs to compliment the individual voice; which is both clever and professional.
As with the previous album, this is American Folk Music that Rocks, ever so slightly.
One More Left and the gentle piano led Not Really sure find Tesia at the front; but what you will remember most is the wonderful way their voices intertwine to create lovely and breathy music.
When Matt takes lead on Other Side and River there’s a definite warmth to the songs; which is partly his rich voice, but that ‘luscious production and mastering’ brings something really special out too.
For a Modern Folk album; which this is, most songs here are actually very commercial and hopefully destined for National Radio; especially Some Things Never Change and the title track LOWS and HIGHS, but I’m going elsewhere for my Favourite Song; Family Lie which sounds just as commercial; but listen closely and you will find a very personal story that far too many of us can connect with.
Tesia Mallory (vocals, keys) and Matt Shetler (vocals, guitar) aka The Nautical Theme have created a very special ‘sound’ that is quite unlike anyone else I can think of; and once this Plague is over and done with, will surely take a massive leap forward in their career.

Released March 20th 2020
https://thenauticaltheme.com/





Hoth Brothers WORKIN’ and DREAMIN’

Hoth Brothers
Workin’ & Dreamin’
Self-Release

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.”

Released September 16th 2019
https://www.hothbrothers.com/workin-and-dreamin
https://www.bardedrington.com/
http://www.borismccutcheon.com/









Bruce Cockburn CROWING IGNITES

Bruce Cockburn
Crowing Ignites
True North Records

A Guitar Masterclass That Defies Description.

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.

Released September 20th 2019
http://brucecockburn.com/

Cambridge Folk Festival 2019

Cambridge Folk Festival
1 – 4 August 2019

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’.

Full Set https://nickbarber.zenfolio.com/f403426412

Ben Caplan – https://photos.app.goo.gl/HUZd3AMFFm2cCfku8
The Rails – https://photos.app.goo.gl/1Cgko9esqAA3MkEe7
Lucy Grubb – https://photos.app.goo.gl/RN9Tb45msad9T8Fw9
Kerri Watt – https://photos.app.goo.gl/vTRM4NdzoySqGzNd7
Graham Nash – https://photos.app.goo.gl/q4gr2rEBRhRDQk1T8
Calexico + Iron & Wine – https://photos.app.goo.gl/JSy9znT8p8KD9Ui68
Rob Heron & the Teapad Orchestra – https://photos.app.goo.gl/1ZjSHsMmGVNpHta19
The Marriage – https://photos.app.goo.gl/EKLhtqPGESXT9tMf9
Lucinda Williams – https://photos.app.goo.gl/Ctu8YkSfgJ6p9EHJ8
Gruff Rhys – https://photos.app.goo.gl/ZtmvmFo7EwzWhuqb7
Talisk – https://photos.app.goo.gl/oerWDsHFpoJtAgpg6
Jose Gonzalez – https://photos.app.goo.gl/LpC9XZNvX4k2sy8M6

Various Festival shots – https://photos.app.goo.gl/xcjbJMyvX7rfaUmz9