Sam Lee THE GARDEN OF ENGLAND (Seeds of Love) Cooking Vinyl
We are not normally big fans of Traditional English Folk Music around these here parts; as normally it has us running for the hills. But; this beautiful single and video from Sam Lee transcends all of our pre-conceptions, and the message it conveys is very important. Released as a) a Pre-Cursor to his album coming out in January 2020 and b) to coincide with the two-week climate actions led by *Extinction Rebellion happening globally and across central London which Lee, a committed conservationist and environmentalist, is playing over a dozen shows as part of the protest. Watch the stunning film and listen intently to Sam’s intelligent words and you too will go weak at the knees.
*While I fundamentally agree with the argument about Climate Change that Extinction Rebellion are protesting about; I personally disagree with the way they are trying to get their message across. Alan.
Vera Van Heeringen Won’t Be Broken Wood & Steel Records
Intimate and Beautifully Constructed Folk Songs For Americana Fans.
Where to start? Shall I tell you how angry this album has made me feel? Well; I’m going to anyway. Vera’s debut album was one of the first reviews I did for Maverick Magazine way back in 2011, and even though she was in a very, very competitive market of female singer-songwriters on the cusp of Folk and Americana it was quite obvious that she was destined to be filling Concert Halls around the world. While her undoubted talents only gets better and better, and her last album Proper Brew is testament to that; Vera still plays in tiny venues to adoring audiences while those contemporaries (no names ED.) have gone on to fame and fortune. Enough already! First of all, what a wonderfully packaged CD this is …… you really are missing out if you just purchase a download…. trust me. There’s a dark intensity to opening song Gods; and this love long is quite stunning when you listen in an empty, and preferably darkened room. Vera’s words actually shimmer as they leave the speakers and gentle mix of instruments behind her smoky voice combine to send a shiver down your back. For such an intimate album; that ‘heady feeling’ will never leave you as Vera embroils you in the tightly wrapped stories like the title track Won’t Be Broken and later Dinah, which is Folk Music Deluxe; especially the opening verse: “Looking back among the trees I see her standing there If only she’d return my gaze My Soul I would bare.” In her Press Release Vera says that ‘this is the album she’s always wanted to make’; and when you hear the divine Running, or perhaps Sleep Song and even more apt, the gentle Folk Rocker Blankets which closes the record; I swear you can feel her ‘smiling’ as she sings her articulate tales. I’ve got a couple of songs swirling around in my head as I try to select a Favourite Song. The Celtic Gather The Words is a worthy contender, as is the dark and brittle Dancing Shoes. Even the instrumental White Tip; which puts Ms Van Heeringen on a whole other plateau when it comes to playing the acoustic guitar was an option at one stage; but I’m going with my heart (and gut) and choosing Man With a Gun. As I’d hoped for it has more twists and turns than a forest road; but you really must stop everything you are doing the first time you play this record…… who knew Vera Van Heeringen actually had the ability to shock with her charming words and tunes? To some degree this is a collaborative effort with trusted regulars Andy Seward and Dave Luke playing superbly alongside a handful of specially selected guests; but this is very much an album that will hopefully give our favourite Dutch singer-songwriter the boost her talent deserves.
The Orphan Brigade feat. John Prine Captain’s Song (Sorley Boy)
In many ways; or at least in my little world The Orphan Brigade are something of a ‘Supergroup’, as they consist of RMHQ Favourites Joshua Britt, Ben Glover, and Neilson Hubbard plus a vast array of friends who regularly appear on these pages. The new album, TO THE EDGE OF THE WORLD comes out on 27th September; and to tease us they’re releasing CAPTAIN’S SONG (Sorley Boy) as a single …… and the world should rejoice; not just because it’s one of the finest songs on a very fine album; but features Living legend John Prine!
“For any history buffs, the song refers to the infamous local chieftain from the 1500s, Sorley Boy MacDonnell, who’s descendants still have strong connections with the Glens of Antrim.” -The Orphan Brigade
Aaaahhhh Helen McCookerybook, possibly or is it probably, the sweetest Punk Rocker that ever lived? This review is far too short to list all of Helen’s accomplishments in the last 40 years (eh? 40 years and her still so young looking?) but if there’s any aspiring young musicians out there; especially of the female variety……. forget Miley Cirus; check Helen’s ‘story’ and back catalogue out if you are looking for inspiration. Enough of looking back; onto today and her latest release GREEN. Opening track Rainbow of the Colour Green is charm personified; with a spiky poetic spine to it and when the harmonies eventually sweep in, you hardly notice them the first time as you will be so engrossed in the song itself. It’s fair to say that Helen has a distinctive singing voice; and it’s absolutely perfect for her joyful songs; even when the subject matter is a tad on the dark side…… Danse Macabre and At The Bathing Pond instantly spring to mind; but I’m still on a learning curve with the album so more songs are yet to unravel. Even at her most serious there’s always a smile in Ms McCookerybook’s voice; which is why I find her albums so charming; but it’s her songwriting that makes her stand above her peers. Without ever patronising us, Helen includes a couple of politically charged songs; So Long Elon is a stunning observation of our planet’s future and Where Is Home treads a similar but more local path; or does it? And, who else could write such articulately clever bittersweet love songs like Change the DJ or 21st Century Blues and still make them so accessible. Two songs in particular stand out like blood red roses in a hedgerow; the quirky and perceptive Saturday Night With the London Set with it’s Jazz-Lite undertones and my Favourite Song here; A Good Life With a Bad Apple which is so complex it will have you leaning in towards the speaker to decipher it; but when you do you will recognise someone from your circle that fits Helen’s moving and colourful description. Is this Folk Music? Of course it is; but it follows more in the tradition of British Legends Jake Thackray and Victoria Wood than it does Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan as Helen’s songs and stories are simply timeless and have a deceptive simplicity will appeal to young children and old fogeys like me as well as all you hipsters with your well manicured beards, tattoos and designer clothing.
A Comprehensive Collection of Sam Baker’s Songs, Played Live With No Safety Net.
I can’t remember exactly when I ‘got into’ Sam Baker. It was a while ago and probably one of his regular shows at the Jumpin’ Hot Club in Newcastle, I don’t think it was via an album. But now, like so many others I’m a bonafide acolyte of several years standing, poring over his every word and note. Mrs. Magpie can’t stand him! Right from the songs on his 2004 debut album Mercy, Sam deliberately sets out to challenge the listener in many ways, not least emotionally, and if you come out the other end unscathed you can count yourself a ‘fan’. While I can’t think of one, I’m still surprised that is Sam Baker’s first ever Live Album; especially as his concerts are invariably memorable in many, many ways; and that is the case with this raw and exciting performance which finds Baker completely alone on stage in Buffalo NY in July 2018 with just his guitar, harmonica and a wood board to click the timings on as his safety net . In fairness Baker could have opened the concert with just about any of songs and it would have been ‘nearly perfect’ so the biting lyrics that make up Boxes fits the bill perfectly. What follows is a comprehensive collection of songs from throughout the songwriter’s relatively short career; and while the studio versions may not fit together quite so appealingly, stripped back to bone and sinew Baker draws you into songs that were written over 10 years apart like Waves and the magnificent Same Kind of Blue sound like he’s somehow plucked them both from the ether earlier in the day and is performing them for the first ever time. In this particular format Sam Baker occasionally sounds like he must have been a Beat Poet in an earlier life, as he makes no attempt to ‘sing’ in the traditional manner; but that just makes Angel Hair and Broken Fingers even more intensely beautiful and articulate than ever. With so many great songs to choose from across his career to fit in I can understand why they’ve had to edit out most of the applause and all of the ‘stories behind the songs’ which is a bit of a loss as they are integral to any Sam Baker show ……. would a Double Album have killed you? Hey ho, that’s only a tiny criticism; as what is here has made choosing virtually impossible as each and every one could and should be my Favourite Track; how can I not choose Mennonite? Come on ……. Odessa? But, it’s a song for our times! Sorry, but I’m going for a song that is an essential inclusion in any Baker gig; Iron from that very first album Mercy and is sadly still as relevent today as it was way back then. I can’t think of a better way to start your own discovery of Sam Baker and his songs than this album; if you come out the other end unscathed you are going to absolutely love his studio albums!
Harry Harris I Feel Drunk All The Time Self-Release
Scottish Americana that Criss-Crosses Indie, Folk-Rock and Classic Folk.
It seems like 100 years ago that I reviewed Harry Harris’ debut album (2010) for a magazine (which shall remain nameless!) and out of nowhere he got in touch a couple of weeks ago asking if I’d give his latest and 3rd release an airing. Well dear reader, a lot has happened to young Harry in the intervening years; he no longer resides in Wales….. now it’s Ye Olde Edinburgh where he sells himself as a singer/songwriter/journalist now; where the latter job includes RMHQ Favourites Nylon, Vice, Mundial and more. While I vaguely remember the first album as being on the cusp of the Folk bracket; now I’ve played I FEEL DRUNK ALL THE TIME quite a few times I’d definitely now describe him as being an all encompassing Singer-Songwriter as the songs here are a lot more rounded and contemporary with a foot in several camps, starting with the powerful Marathon; a deep, dark and brooding tale that uses that ‘sport’ as a metaphor for dear life itself; and it manages to tick a lot of Americana and Post-Indie boxes too. Perhaps the use of a saxophone in the Memphis gives it a hint of Grown-Up Blue Eyed Soul; but don’t think you can really dance to it; as it’s the type of song you will find yourself wallowing in late at night while you try to mend a broken heart with a bottle of wine. Harris’ songwriting is universal, and as this album more or less came about following the death of his best friend at an unfeasibly young age; everyone will find not just solace but a kinship in Bloodletting and the title track itself I FEEL DRUNK ALL THE TIME, and the gently rolling guitar in the latter l take your breath away. For a Welshman; there’s a distinct Scottishness to the whole album; as it sounds like it couldn’t have been written or recorded anywhere else with the starkness of Things John Hated and Free Italian Food managing to take melancholy into a stratosphere originally inhabited by Donovan and Bert Jansch but more latterly Eddi Reader and Kris Drever. When you have such a rich and expressive voice as Harry has, ‘Folk Music’ is always going to be the first thing you think of; the bouncy Deadliest Warrior and All My Worst Ideas (both with a band in tow) criss-cross Indie, Folk-Rock and even the latest wave of Scots-Americana with ease and indeed, rhetoric. To a greater or lesser degree I FEEL DRUNK ALL THE TIME has caught me ‘at the right time’ as my ‘head hasn’t been in the best of places recently’ and one song in particular caught me off guard and has had me going back to it again and again; making the bucolic and brittle Making a Go Of This my Favourite Song here; although the off-kilter subject matter may not appeal to everyone; but the sentiment will keep you coming back peeling away the layers until you crumble like house built on sand too. It may sound odd calling this collection of deeply personal dark and brooding songs a ‘pleasant surprise’; but it has been as Harry Harris is a mighty fine songwriter and singer too; and I’d have been very disappointed if I’d missed this rather beautiful and brittle album.
While not normally a fan of ‘traditional Folk’ music; Scots singer-songwriter Karine Polwart holds a special place in our hearts at RMHQ. So we are delighted to bring you her new video for ‘Chance’ ; the latest track plucked forth from her upcoming album ‘Karine Polwart’s Scottish Songbook’ – a curation of covers spanning 50 years of Scottish pop, from John Martyn to Chvrches & Biffy Clyro. The LP follows her widely-praised live set of the same name at 2018 Edinburgh International Festival, and will be released Aug 2.
This is a sparkling re-imagining of Dunfermline’s Big Country’s classic track, an immortal band for many Scots growing up at the same time as their sweeping, mobilising sound and Stuart Adamson’s especially gritty lyricism – Karine included. “Big Country transformed Thatcherite brutality into melancholic anthems, on guitars that reeked of bagpipes’” says Karine; “Their cinematic narratives nailed the emotional fallout of abandoned shipyards and factories – Big Country documented their own people and place, in the way that folk songs everywhere do.”
Karine has a particular affinity towards ‘Chance’, after her experiences working for Scottish Women’s Aid charity supporting victims of domestic abuse. “‘Chance’ is – as I read it – about getting pregnant too young, about domestic abuse and unemployment, which was all around me growing up in the Thatcher era. There’s this undercurrent of despair and violence.”
I don’t know where to start? Kete Bowers’ back-story I presume; as being born on the banks of the River Mersey and leaving home when the last ‘years of austerity’ in the North bit hard; and subsequently marrying and divorcing colour his songwriting like a very fine black permanent marker. Even getting this album recorded was fraught with despair; as a financial backer disappeared without trace days before the original recordings were to start. But being the dogged character he is, Bowers sent out even more e-mails and a Canadian record label picked up the challenge alongside Michael Timmins from Cowboy Junkies agreed to be Producer too. So; hopefully you’re not expecting a happy go-lucky collection of dance tracks after that are you? The stone cold beauty of this collection of songs is the combination of Bowers’ heartfelt and often gut-wrenching songwriting with a distinctively rich voice and Timmins trademark crisp production that forces the listener to listen intently to every damn word and chord progression. Northern Town which starts the album and sets the mono-tone was originally conceived as a commentary about living in and eventually leaving Birkenhead between 1976 and 81; but sadly could have been written any time in the last 5 years as it’s just as pertinent and observational today in 2019. It’s no surprise at all to find each and every song is desperately person in tone, word and deed with each and every one being tragically beautiful too; with A Place By The River and Ghosts visiting themes many others have attempted to capture; but never in such an extraordinary manner as Bowers uses his words and Timmins his magic touch on the emotional dashboard. It’s a long time since I heard anyone use their voice in this deeply sensitive way to convey their feelings from the very pits of their soul, as Kete does on A Fine Day To Leave and later on You Stole My Joy, which uses imagery in a way I would normally associate with film directors Ken Loach and Shane Meadows. As this is only Bowers second ever album, and nine years after the first it’s unlikely you will ever have heard of him before this review; but I will throw a couple of names into the ring as to whom he reminds me of; Canadian Stephen Fearing and legendary English Folk Singer Ralph McTell; a strange combination, I agree …… but listen and tell me I’m wrong. Normally I would avoid a ‘single’ as my Favourite Track; but Winner is such an emotional and heartbreaking narrative; sung with raw passion how could I select anything else? We all know talent isn’t enough on it’s own to become succesful these days; but Kete Bowers just needs a smidgen of good luck and a couple of TV appearances to make this album into some kind of chart hit for this exceptional singer-songwriter.
In a week when I’ve reviewed albums by Bruce Springsteen, Willie Nelson and Chuck Mead, this latest release by English singer-songwriter Paul McClure has possibly excited me more than all of those releases by household names. While I’m truly flattered for my opinion to be considered by those record companies; it’s the likes of Paul that makes this reviewing malarkey worth while. I had to stop doing what I was doing and start the CD again when I first heard the deeply personal and brittle opening song The Morning and My Love, which finds McClure pouring his heart out while he plays a piano in what sounds like an empty room. Just like that first song there’s an intensity and deep felt pain in several other songs here; even though the pace picks up on Sing To The Stars and This Is What They Mean (When They Sing About The Blues) which kick what we normally think of as Folk Music into a ditch, as McClure criss-crosses traditional genres with ease. Unlike Paul McClure on title track Market Town, I couldn’t wait to leave my original Home Town as a young man; moving 10 miles away to a shiny new dormitory town; which I’ve lived in for 40 years so can empathise with his deep held love he has for the Market Town he has never left and will fight to the death anyone who would ever criticise it! There are joys a’plenty in the characters in songs like Sing To The Stars; about an old chap McClure met at a gig and got around to telling the songwriter that his biggest regret had been been working day and night to put food on the table; but it had meant he missed his kids growing up; and McClure manages to get that pathos across in every line and stanza. As a died in the wool ‘romantic’ selecting a Favourite Song was quite easy, with the charming Grandad’s Pants just getting pipped at the post by Daddy Will You Hold My Hand. ‘Swoon’ McClure’s story swept me back to my own days as a young father; but also made my heart swell as I thought of my two sons and their own children as Paul McClure with Ally McErlaine supplying slide-guitar tug and squeeze at the listeners heartstrings like a hand in a velvet glove. While we get excited by the romantic imagery conjured up by our American and Americana friends; Paul has gone back to what he knows best ……. living, loving and working in an English Market Town; and his personal songs will catch the attention of even our friends across both the North Sea and the Atlantic because each and everyone of these tiny stories are actually International and deserve such a widespread audience.
A Charity Album That Goes Way Beyond The Average Call of Duty.
As my Mother used to say, “There’s no such thing as a bad charity.” But, the way the Western World is these days far too many people are depending on Charity and Charities for everything from Cancer Research right through to basic necessities like food. RT Projects is based in the beautiful Durham City and cares for people in the local area who suffer from Anxiety and Depression using ‘Art To Save Lives’ and baring my own history, how could I not agree to listen to this album that is designed to both raise funds and awareness? The artistes involved are all from the North of England and all are associated with our friends and Music Promoters LeftFieldDurham aka Down By The River; with some being more famous than others but who have all donated their songs free of charge, as have the acts performing at the Launch Party in Durham City on June 1st. The first song here, Someday I Won’t Feel So Strange comes from Scott Wainwright’s 2015 album STRANGERS HERE, and features his warmly gruff voice and some really neat slide guitar on a song that builds and builds until it becomes quite Gospellish by the end; and made me realise why he has been causing ripples across the local pond for a few years now. I’ve not heard of Lee Maddison who immediatly follows with his passionate modern Rootsy Song; Crying In The Wind but; alongside quite a few others here, will certainly check him and his band Maddison’s Thread out in the next few weeks. That’s the strength of albums like this for me; sometimes I can put music to names I’ve only heard of; such as George Boomsma and his pleasantly brooding Brother of Mine and local Folkstess Natalie Stern with Queen Bee who certainly lives up to the hyperbole that a friend described her with following a recent gig in Newcastle. Then there are some brand new acts who with only one carefully selected song have managed to not just pique my interest; but in the case of Raghad Haddad and Sam Slatcher’s semi-classical baroque instrumental Under Ancient Skies and later Simon Wood and Tamara Kazziah’s almost choral and hauntingly beautiful lo-fi Gallo Negro…… totally blown me away! Both of these tracks are well worthy of inclusion in some dark and disturbing psychological drama on the TV. On another day The Violent Chimes (whose combined history goes back to my own heady Punk days!) Post-Teenage Fanclub missive Falling Granite would deserve to be my Favourite Song here; as would the fabulous Thomasina by the legendary Martin Stephenson or, of course Lungs by Gem Andrews; of whom my love has been unrequited for far too many years (Mrs. Magpie knows btw.) An awful lot of thought has gone into the selection of each song here; with some being more ‘literal’ than others, with Steve Pledger’s very dark and personal Me and the Silence emanating memories of John Martyn circa Solid Air and just about anything from The Lake Poets! Another is the haunting Swallow Song by Peg Prowler; a Folk Band from the People’s Republic of Teesside who have donated an incredibly clever and thoughtful song, that will played out in total silence whenever played in concert; I’m sure. But, I’m going with two songs by artists I’d not heard of last Saturday but both of whom I intend championing with a loudhailer over the next few weeks. The Kets are the on/off brainchild of Peterlee song-smith Michael Arnell and his/their song Things is the sort of cool, articulate poppy-Indie Folk I’ve spent a fortune on over the years; yet here is a proud purveyor on my very own doorstep. T’other is the lusciously constructed Lilac Time by Anne-Marie Sanderson; a classic Folk song that will stop you dead in your tracks; and deserves a bigger audience than I can supply. Over to you at BBC 6 Music and BBC Newcastle! The title track, written and performed especially for this project by Steve Pledger and artist Beano, will send a shiver down your back as the duo tell of the artist’s own struggle with the darker edges of life; as do many of us ……. sometimes silently. This song and, indeed this whole album is for them.