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.
Anna Tivel The Question Fluff & Gravy / Proper Records
Razor Sharp and Intimately Epic American Folk Songs.
I had a bucket load of CD’s to write about that are being released for Record Store Day 2019, when I got my dates mixed up and dropped this release from singer-songwriter Anna Tivel from Portland, Oregon into the office CD Player, when halfway through opening track The Question I was stopped in my tracks and had to return to the start. Phew, blimey and even crikey! What a way to start a record of what is primarily pure and simple American Folk Music. While these songs are certainly ‘pure of heart’ they are as far from ‘simple’ as you can get. As there is such a brilliant ‘twist to the tale’ it would be wrong of me to talk to much about this amazing song, less I give the game away. But what I will say is the the character Anna sings about is going through something a close friend and colleague is going through too at this very moment, and both have brought me to tears. What a brilliant way to start any album. Then there is track #2 Fenceline, which I will come back to at the end as this sublime and ever so timely story is by far and away my Favourite Song on an album that will surely turn up in my year end Top 10. Then, there is track #3 the dark and ethereal Shadowland which could well have been written after the songwriter had immersed herself in Leonard Cohen’s Masterworks for a week or more, such is the way her flawless and poetics words join together and float mercilessly from the speakers. Then again, most songs here are in that vein too. I wish I had the time and space to speak longingly about every single song here; but I will leave those surprises for you to discover for yourself. What I will say though is songs like Minneapolis and Velvet Curtain aren’t anywhere near as delicate as Shane Leonard’s production and Brian Joseph’s engineering would have yo believe at first hearing. These songs, and the album as a whole demand your FULL ATTENTION…… as I will be asking questions later. On any other album the song *Anthony would easily be my Favourite Track. A ‘break up song’ par excellence and unlike any other I think I’ve ever heard. I’ll tell you how good it is; if Anthony ever crosses my path I will ‘Biff him on the nose’ for breaking Anna’s brittle little heart. Bastard! As a CODA to that song, there’s the incredible and punchier Worthless which if it’s not about Anthony it’s about someone very similar….. and he too will get a Biff on the nose too! The actual Winner of the RMHQ Favourite Song is Fenceline. Flipping Heck Mother! If ever there was a song that was ‘of its time’ it’s this one; while not exactly a protest song per se; this harrowing and epic tale of a man trying to cross the Mexican/American Border is so well told and created it is surely a song waiting for a film for it to be the soundtrack to. Anna’s story builds and builds alongside the notes her crystal clear voice reach until I found my fists had clenched tight. This is a song that should be on the school curriculum and played every day at morning assembly. Plus, if ever the likes of Joan Baez or Judy Collins were on the look out for a song that captured the current Zeitgeist they need look no further. I love discovering new artistes and music then having the ability to pass it on to you crazy kids…… and albums like THE QUESTION are the lifeblood of RMHQ and are what keep us going. So; instead of squandering your pocket money during Record Store Day or even on chocolate eggs for Easter; save your cash and invest it in THE QUESTION …… you won’t be disappointed.
*Hopefully Anthony is actually a fictitious character that Anna Tivel has made up for this song. I hope so for his sake!
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.
RONNIE LANE JUST FOR A MOMENT (1973-1997) Universal Music
Ronnie Lane, Bass Player for the Small Faces and the Faces – Songwriter behind iconic songs such as Ooh La La, Itchycoo Park, The Poacher, Annie and Debris… In many ways Ronnie Lane remains an enigma in the story of rock ‘n’ roll. An artist who was determined to chart his own destiny and break free from the demands of the music “business”. His sense of disillusion with the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle led him to leave his hugely successful band for a ramshackle country farm (Fishpool) and a life on the road (of sorts…) He assembled a new band – Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance – and would create The Passing Show – a now legendary circus tent tour of the country with assorted clowns, acrobats and comedians… To further his ambition to do as he pleased musically, he built his own recording studio – The Lane Mobile Studio – itself an icon in the history of rock recordings.
Ronnie created a sound that was unique in British music – a style that leaned heavily on an array of influences particularly folk, country music and later r’n’b with welcome contributions from the band of musicians he surrounded himself with. Ronnie was not alone in his rural idyll – many friends would join him in his new artistic endeavours – Gallagher and Lyle, Kevin Westlake, Billy Livesey as well as Ronnie Wood, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton (the latter wrote Wonderful Tonight round the fire at Ronnie’s Fishpool Farm). Eventually the symptoms of MS would surface and in the 80s Ronnie would move to Austin, Texas where he still wrote and performed up until his death in 1997.
Ronnie Lane is one of the finest songwriters the UK has produced. This is the first time that a fully comprehensive look at Ronnie’s post Faces career has been undertaken. Just For A Moment 1973-1997 collates the solo and collaborative work of this prodigious and much missed wordsmith. As Pete Townshend surmises, “Here, in these songs, collected with such love and care, he is found again. Probably at the height of his rebellious and chaotic powers, where music had to be immediate and uplifting, or else heart-breaking – but always real.”
BOX HIGHLIGHTS It includes Ronnie’s 4 solo albums – Anymore For Anymore (+ singles), Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, One For The Road and the cruelly underrated See Me. In addition, it features tracks from Ronnie’s Mahoney’s Last Stand soundtrack album with Ron Wood and Rough Mix with Pete Townshend. The final disc of the set focuses on Ronnie’s time in the US with live highlights and studio tracks never previously released. The set also featured lots of rare and unreleased material – be prepared to hear fantastic cover versions of The Wanderer, Rocket’ 69 and The Joint Is Jumpin’ – as well as unheard Ronnie compositions plus live recordings, tracks for the BBC and highlights from a legendary Rockpalast concert. The set is curated by long time musical associate of Ronnie’s, Slim Chancer musician Charlie Hart. Comprehensive sleeve-notes focus on Ronnie the musician, the songwriter, the collaborator and split the post ’73 period into three distinct parts. Writers are Paolo Hewitt, Kris Needs and Kent Benjamin covering Ronnie’s Austin years, whilst The Who’s Pete Townshend contributes a foreword on his former best friend and collaborator
Packaging – 6 discs housed in a hard-back book with outer slipcase. The package also includesa book of Ronnie’s lyrics and an A2 fold out poster.
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.
I seem to be going through a bit of a ‘Folk thing’ at the moment; and this fantastic song from one of our favourites; Karine Polwart has made my pulse race a little faster. The forerunner to Karine Polwart’s next album SOTTISH SONGBOOK which is due for release in August and is certainly set to wet the appetite. ” Karine – a six-time winner at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, including 2018 Folk Singer of The Year – will launch the album alongside a performance at this year’s Cambridge Folk Festival onAugust 2, 2019, ahead of a UK headline tour including London’s Barbican on November 27, 2019 (on sale March 15).”
Findlay Napier & Megan Henwood The Story Song Scientists Dharma Records
Charming, Fascinating and Intelligent Folk Songs.
Usually when two singer-songwriters get together it’s something of a Vanity Project and ends in a bit of a mess as one or other ultimately tries to ‘take over’; this isn’t a ‘spoiler’ but that’s not the case here; as these two voices sound like they were always destined to sing together! You can tell by the photo on the cover, with the couple wearing white lab coats, that this may be a bit different from the normal Folk Fayre we expect, and apparently the nub of this partnership began three years ago at a ‘songwriting retreat’ (who knew such things existed…….. can I offer my services for a Song Review Retreat?) when Napier casually joked about writing a song about Maths….. and it finally appears here. The EP opens with a crackling radio signal that leads into a harrowing true story of an American DJ, Bob Fass who kept a suicidal listener on the phone one night; until help arrived to save the man. Napier and Henwood capture the intensity of the situation exceptionally well; while giving us a very listenable song at the same time. This is followed by a more traditional song; albeit of the Modern Folk variety with the pair harmonising on Shepherd as if they were long lost siblings, complimenting each other as if it is one voice with a dark and brooding shadow. While I really liked Findlay Napier’s homage to his hometown of Glasgow; there’s a new found warmth to his voice when he takes the lead on the sharply observed piece of Social Commentary North Pond Phantom but it’s when they perform as a ‘couple’ that this EP really sparkles; with the Wild, Wild Country worth the entrance fee alone. Megan; who I’d never heard before has a wonderful voice too and really, really tugs at the old heartstrings on the finale The Last Straw. Then we must slip back to End of The Numbers for the RMHQ Favourite Track. Obviously it’s not an obvious subject for a song of any hue; but End Of Numbers (about mathematician Georg Cantor’s struggle with ‘infinity, maths and God’) is quite wonderful, even if you don’t know the back-story (as I didn’t); but it does remind me of Son #1 who loves Maths and Science but lives at the other end of Europe and we don’t get to see him nearly enough. Funny how a song can do that; isn’t it? Folk Music isn’t ever my first choice of music to listen to; but quite often I can be ushered to something that’s at least ‘interesting’ in concept; and that’s exactly what we have here; and once I’d peeled away my preconceptions I’ve discovered two clever songwriters who write/create intriguing songs that I wouldn’t normally listen too. Oh; they both have wonderful voices too btw.
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.
Serious Sam Barrett Where The White Roses Grow Ya Dig? Records
Americana Influenced Folk Music; Made In Yorkshire.
In theory I’m averse to this type of Traditional English, or in this particular case ‘Yorkshire’ Folk Music. (Did Sam mention he was from Yorkshire? He hardly ever mentions it.) But, Sam has been a regular visitor to the Jumpin’ Hot Club in Newcastle over the years and has somehow won me over to his distinctive and, it’s fair to say, evocative singing style. Sam’s first actual Solo album in three years opens with some sparkling banjo playing on the Americana flavoured title track Where The White Roses Grow, which owes more to the Hills of Kentucky than it does his normal hills and Dales of Yorkshire, which are the setting for many of his songs. Funnily enough that Americana flavour runs through Sam’s tale of the legendary Robin Hood in the Last of The Yorkshire Outlaws, and Sam’s lightning fast guitar picking really comes to the fore on this track too. The man most normally associated with Nottingham, makes another appearance; as does Barrett’s distinctive guitar picking style on the traditional Folk Song, Robin Hood & The 15 Foresters, which is sung with great passion and zeal too. Our Man from Addingham treads the a’cappella tightrope for the first time on record with the rather beautiful Holmfirth Anthem, which he learnt note for note from a Watersons LP many years ago and then closing the record with the plaintiff Darling Where You Are too . He picks up his guitar again for a song I myself learnt at Junior School half a century ago; and apart from a version by local legend George Welch I can’t think of anyone who has made Waters of The Tyne sound so evocative as when Sam Barrett sings in such a mournful manner. I suppose there are surprises around every corner here; especially the Bonaparte’s Love Song and Tennessee Line which both show how gifted Barrett is on a variety of acoustic instruments, and how his many visits to the US of A are now influencing his songwriting. A big part of me wanted to choose that local Folk Song as my favourite here, but in all honesty the powerful story of the Bramhope Tunnel Monument, is not just an absorbing history lesson but the type of crossover Folk song that leaves you quite speechless. Plus, Bramhope is an area I’ve visited many times and vaguely knew of this harrowing tale of how men’s lives where held in such little regard in the middle 19th Century. Possibly because of the Rootsy Americana edge to many of the intrinsically English Folk songs here, Where The White Roses Grow has meant I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this album and now I’m excited about seeing him on his tour to support this special release.