Our Man in The Field THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS Rocksnob
Pearlescent Lo-Fi Folk With an Added Americana Spark.
I really wasn’t sure what to make of this remarkable debut album when I first received it a month or so ago. Perhaps I wasn’t really in the mood for Alexander Ellis’ pearlescent lo-fi; although I should have been; because I was in a really flat and dark mood …… but I had my regular ‘go to’ albums for such occasions. But now the ‘black clouds’ have disappeared and I can now recognise the strength and wisdom in these enchanting songs and tales. Sounding battered and bruised, accompanied by his acoustic guitar and Henry Senior Jr’s sublime pedal-steel guitar, on opening song Thin (I Used to Be Bullet Proof) our man somehow manages to see the light at the end of the tunnel; albeit after a long and troubled journey. That song certainly sets the mood for what is to follow; windswept Folk songs that transcend normal boundaries; slipping and sliding between the common or garden English variety, that we associate with John Martyn and Nick Drake (Easy Going Smile and Pockets, spring to mind) via the intensity that some of our RMHQ Favourites Stephen Fearing and Lake Poets have brought us in recent years; It Is What It Is and Don’t Speak are prime examples of the beautiful intensity they can all bring to our world; speaking what we often feel but can’t actually articulate. The ever so simple production and arrangements (it was all recorded ‘as live’ in the studio) masks some amazing lyrics and heartbreaking stories. Several songs actually sent a shiver down my spine when I first played this album; wow …… how deep, yet accessible is Swansong (Don’t Play With Matches)? Listen carefully and somewhere beyond Ellis’s hypnotic voice and you will hear some mighty fine guitar and pedal-steel that will blow your mind (I was listening on headphones yesterday …. WOW!). For a young man, taking his first steps in the wacky world of Rock & Roll Alexander Ellis is a very mature songwriter in not just words, but deeds too; as the finale I Like You So I Will Kill You Last proves. Starting with some extraordinary and ornery harmonica it builds and builds as the guitar, bass and drums arrive as if uninvited guests, before Ellis eventually pours his heart out as if in a confessional. While possibly the cleverest and possibly most interesting song on the album, it’s not even my Favourite Song though; as two others completely took me unawares and even today; to paraphrase Norman Gimbel’s Killing Me Softly With His Song: Ellis feels to me like he’s: “Strumming my pain with his fingers Singing my life with his words.” When he sings the sorrowful and expressive It Is What It Is and more especially, It Was Ever So; which probably wins the accolade as it really, really does sound like he has lived a life of heartbreak and knows the only way out is to put it all in a song. There’s not a lot more I can tell you about Alexander Ellis as he seems to enjoy hiding behind his Our Man in The Field, pseudonym, which is fine …….. because his songs certainly do the talking for him.
There are but a handful of songs that transcend categorisation and can genuinely be deemed Classics. John Prine wrote many great songs in his short time on earth; but the beautiful and powerful Angel From Montgomery is by far; a shining light that will be still be sung in concert Halls and Folk Clubs around the world long after his name is forgotten.
On the night of his passing, earlier this year Wynonna rushed to the studio to record this staggeringly heartfelt version to honour the Great Man; and proves to be the cornerstone for a fresh new EP called Recollections, coming in late October.
“I was sitting in the kitchen when I got the news that John had flown,” Wynonna explains. “I told Cactus I needed to sing ‘Angel From Montgomery’ that night because I needed to honor how much John had meant to me. I learned that song when I was a teenager, and now, forty years later, I’m still singing it, and hopefully passing it on to the next generation who will keep on singing it, too.”
“I’ve learned a lot being at home these last few months,” Wynonna reflects. “When there’s no touring, no concerts, no band, no lights, no action, all that’s left is you and the song. All that’s left is your gift.” It was precisely that freedom that led Wynonna to ‘Recollections’, a project so spontaneous and organic she didn’t even realize she was making it at the time. “This EP was a labor of love without the labor,” she laughs. “As a songwriter, you can get bogged down in your own craft sometimes, but there’s something so liberating about letting go of all that and just inhabiting someone else’s writing.”
“I feel like I’m right back where I started,” she continued. “Like I’m 18 all over again. When I sing these songs, it feels like I’m coming home.” ‘Recollections‘ also features performances of ‘I Hear You Knocking’ by Fats Domino, “King Bee’ by Slim Harpo, ‘Feeling Good’ by Nina Simone ‘Ramble On Rose’ by the Grateful Dead. It will be released digitally and on CD on 30th October.
RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON HARD LUCK STORIES (1972 to 1982) UMC / Universal RELEASED September 11th 2020
An expansive 8 CD set featuring all 6 studio albums remastered from the original tapes, with 31 previously unreleased recordings including outtakes, demos and rarities along with live concerts from 1975 and 1977. This first ever comprehensive career retrospective was personally curated by Richard and Linda and compiled and mastered by Andrew Batt.
Alongside the 3 classic Island Records releases, ‘I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’, ‘Hokey Pokey’ and ‘Pour Down Like Silver’, the box set also includes the long out of print albums, ‘First Light’ and ‘Sunnyvista’ (both new transfers from recently relocated masters) as well as their final LP, ‘Shoot Out The Lights’. Disc one, called ‘Sometimes It Happens’ compiles their formative collaborations as solo performers with The Bunch and Brian Patten and disc five, ‘The Madness of Love’, contains 5 stunning live performances recorded at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in April 1975 and a further 5 songs recorded live at The Theatre Royal, London in May 1977.
This comprehensive box set covers the couple’s entire career and is a must-have for fans of Richard and Linda Thompson as well as a definitive introduction to a body of work which resonates, and is still revered today. The set also contains a 72-page hard cover book featuring brand new essays plus many rare and previously unpublished photographs by some of rocks greatest photographers including Keith Morris, Gered Mankowitz and Pennie Smith, as well as images from Richard and Linda’s own archives. Sleevenotes for the box set are written by Patrick Humphries and Mick Houghton.
During the 10 years they officially performed together, Richard and Linda Thompson created a seminal body of work, ground-breaking in its time and, as this new box set demonstrates, still sounding fresh and relevant today. Their lasting impact on the musical landscape is unparalleled, evidenced by the numerous contemporary artists who cite them as major influences and the enviably high regard in which they continue to be held.
DISC ONE – SOMETIME IT HAPPENS – THE EARLY YEARS
01: Sweet Little Rock and Roller – The Bunch – Alt version ( 3:48 ) Previously Unreleased 02: The Locomotion – The Bunch from Rock On ( 3:02 ) 03: My Girl In The Month of May – The Bunch from Rock On ( 2:13 ) 04: When Will I Be Loved – duet with Sandy Denny ( 3:17 ) 05: Amazon Queen ( 3:58 ) – Previously Unreleased 06: Shaky Nancy from Henry The Human Fly ( 3:28 ) 07: The Angels Took My Racehorse Away from Henry The Human Fly ( 4:02 ) 08: Embroidered Butterflies from Brian Patten’s ‘Vanishing Trick’ ( 3:17 ) 09: After Frost from Brian Patten’s “Vanishing Trick” ( 1:57 ) 10: Sometimes It Happens – Demo – from ‘Dreams Fly Away’ ( 2:06 ) 11: Restless Boy – Demo – from ‘Give Me A Sad Song’ ( 4:17 ) 12: The World Is A Beautiful Place from ‘ Give Me A Sad Song’ ( 3:30 ) 13: Shady Lies – Live at London University College, 25/10/1972 ( 2:23 ) 14: Napoleon’s Dream – Live at London University College, 25/10/1972 (2:02)
DISC TWO – I WANT TO SEE THE BRIGHT LIGHTS TONIGHT – EXPANDED
01: When I Get To The Border ( 3:26 ) 02: The Calvary Cross ( 3:52 ) 03: Withered and Died ( 3:25 ) 04: I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight ( 3:08 ) 05: Down Where The Drunkards Roll ( 4:06 ) 06: We Sing Hallelujah ( 2:51 ) 07: Has He Got A Friend For Me ? ( 3:33 ) 08: The Little Beggar Girl ( 3:25 ) 09: The End Of The Rainbow ( 3:56 ) 10: The Great Valerio ( 5:23 )
BONUS TRACKS 11: Mother and Son ( 2:21 ) – Previously Unreleased 12: Down Where The Drunkards Roll – Take 1 ( 4:04 ) – Previously Unreleased 13: The End Of The Rainbow – Linda Thompson vocal version ( 3:57 ) – Previously Unreleased 14: A Heart Needs A Home – Demo version ( 3:58 ) – Previously Unreleased 15: The Great Valerio from Live at the Rainbow 16/03/1975 ( 5:16 )
DISC THREE – HOKEY POKEY – EXPANDED
01: Hokey Pokey Song (The Ice Cream Song) ( 3:22 ) 02: I’ll Regret It All In The Morning ( 3:36 ) 03: Smiffy’s Glass Eye ( 2:53 ) 04: Egypt Room ( 3:52 ) 05: Never Again ( 3:08 ) 06: Georgie On A Spree ( 3:40 ) 07: Old Man Inside A Young Man ( 4:26 ) 08: The Sun Never Shines On The Poor ( 3:41 ) 09: A Heart Needs A Home ( 3:47 ) 10: Mole In A Hole ( 3:26 )
BONUS TRACKS 11: Hokey Pokey – Live on Marc Time – 1975 ( 3:13 ) – Previously Unreleased 12: A Heart Needs A Home – Alternate 1976 version ( 4:03 )
DISC FOUR – POUR DOWN LIKE SILVER – EXPANDED
01: Streets of Paradise ( 4:17 ) 02: For Shame Of Doing Wrong ( 4:43 ) 03: The Poor Boy Is Taken Away ( 3:34 ) 04: Night Comes In ( 8:11 ) 05: Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair ( 2:49 ) 06: Beat The Retreat ( 5:52 ) 07: Hard Luck Stories ( 3:51 ) 08: Dimming Of The Day / Dargai ( 3:52 )
BONUS TRACKS 09: Wanted Man ( 5:35 ) – Previously Unreleased 10: Last Chance – Previously Unreleased ( 3:42 ) 11: Dimming Of The Day – Demo version ( 3:52 ) – Previously Unreleased 12: Things You Gave Me – Live at Oxford Polytechnic, 27/11/1975 ( 2:35 ) 13: It’ll Be Me – Live at Oxford Polytechnic, 27/11/1975 ( 4:24 ) 14: Calvary Cross – Live at Oxford Polytechnic, 27/11/1975 ( 13:24 )
DISC FIVE – THE MADNESS OF LOVE – LIVE – * Previously Unreleased
01: Dargai – Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall 25/04/1975 ( 3:33 ) * 02: Never Again -Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall 25/04/1975 ( 3:07 ) * 03: Dark End Of The Street – Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall 25/04/1975 remixed ( 4:19 ) * 04: Beat The Retreat – Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall 25/04/1975] remixed( 6:24 ) * 05: The Sun Never Shines On The Poor – Live at Queen Elizabeth Hall 25/04/1975( 3:48 ) * 06: If I Were A Woman and You Were A Man – Theatre Royal, London, 01/05 1977 ( 2:54 ) * 07: The Madness of Love – Live, Theatre Royal, London, 01/05 1977 ( 7:00 ) * 08: Night Comes In (Linda vocal) – Live, Theatre Royal, London, 01/05 1977 ( 12:53 ) * 09: A Bird In Gods Garden – Live, Theatre Royal, London, 01/05 1977 (9:33) * 10: The King of Love – Live, Theatre Royal, London, 01/05 1977 ( 6:55 ) * 11: Layla – Live, Theatre Royal, London, 01/05 1977 ( 8:48 ) *
DISC SIX – FIRST LIGHT – EXPANDED
01: Restless Highway ( 3:58 ) 02: Sweet Surrender ( 4:53 ) 03: Don’t Let A Thief Steal Into Your Heart ( 4:43 ) 04: The Choice Wife ( 2:06 ) 05: Died For Love ( 7:01 ) 06: Strange Affair ( 3:08 ) 07: Layla ( 4:22 ) 08: Pavane ( 5:07 ) 09: House of Cards ( 3:30 ) 10: First Light ( 4:22 )
BONUS TRACKS 11: Strange Affair – Demo version ( 4:09 ) – Previously Unreleased 12: Drunk – Demo version ( 2:14 ) – Previously Unreleased 13: The Dust Of Your Road – Demo version ( 2:33 ) – Previously Unreleased 14: Layla – Demo version ( 4:38 ) – Previously Unreleased 15: Died For Love – Demo version ( 4:47 ) – Previously Unreleased 16: First Light – Demo version ( 4:03 )
DISC SEVEN – SUNNYVISTA – EXPANDED
01: Civilization ( 5:01 ) 02: Borrowed Time ( 5:34 ) 03: Saturday Rolling Around ( 3:24 ) 04: You’re Going To Need Somebody ( 3:47 ) 05: Why Do You Turn Your Back ? ( 5:09 ) 06: Sunnyvista ( 4:24 ) 07: Lonely Hearts ( 5:05 ) 08: Sisters ( 4:47 ) 09: Justice In The Streets ( 4:00 ) 10: Traces Of My Love ( 4:05 )
BONUS TRACKS 11: Georgie On A Spree – 7” single version ( 3:28 ) 12: Lucky In Life – Demo version ( 2:42 ) – Previously Unreleased 13: Speechless Child – Demo version ( 4:17 ) – Previously Unreleased 14: Traces of My Love – Demo version ( 4:13 ) – Previously Unreleased 15: For Shame Of Doing Wrong [Gerry Rafferty version] ( 4:16 ) 16: The Wrong Heartbeat [Gerry Rafferty version] ( 3:09 ) 17: Back Street Slide (Gerry Rafferty session, 1996 remix) ( 4:27 )
DISC EIGHT – SHOOT OUT THE LIGHTS – EXPANDED
01: Don’t Renege On Our Love ( 4:17 ) 02: Walking On A Wire ( 5:26 ) 03: A Man In Need ( 3:34 ) 04: Just The Motion ( 6:17 ) 05: Shoot Out The Lights ( 5:22 ) 06: Back Street Slide ( 4:31 ) 07: Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed ? ( 4:49 ) 08: Wall of Death ( 3:43 )
BONUS TRACKS 09: Living In Luxury – 7” single version ( 2:32 ) 10: The Wrong Heartbeat – Shoot Out The Lights version ( 3:20 ) 11: I’m A Dreamer – Gerry Rafferty session – 1996 remix ( 4:09 ) 12: Walking On A Wire – Gerry Rafferty session – 1996 remix ( 5:12 ) 13: Pavanne – Live, Bloomington, Indiana 29/5/1982 (5:38) – Previously Unreleased 14: High School Confidential – Live, 2nd Story, Bloomington, Indiana 29/5/1982 ( 4:29 ) – Previously Unreleased
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.
Richard Thompson LIVE AT ROCK CITY (Nottingham) 1986 Angel Air
A Genuine Living Legend On the Cusp of Greatness.
In November 1986; the month that this Dbl Live album was recorded Erasure, Duran Duran, Kim Wilde and Swing Out Sister were topping the UK Pop Charts; yet Richard Thompson’s music has aged much better than any of them. It’s not that his music; in particular his songwriting hasn’t evolved in the intervening 34 years; but if he turned up at your local concert hall with the same band of musicians in tow and played this set note for note; you would still be thrilled and satisfied at an evening and money well spent. Arguably recorded at the height of Thompson’s ‘Commercial success’ this album was originally a radio show (Radio 2?) so the production is far clearer than a bootleg or two that I own from the same era; and the intricacy of his sublime and inventive guitar playing shines through every song. Starting with a huge roar that greets Thompson, the first song Man in Need (from Shoot Out The Lights) gets the evening off to a fantastic start; combining as it does, Thompson’s trademarked Folk sensibilities with his Electric guitar ……. showing that Folk Rock really could and still can R.O.C.K! Although promoting the DARING ADVENTURES LP; Thompson also dips daringly into his back catalogue; breathing new life into the likes of Calvary Cross, Two Left Feet and a personal favourite of mine; Tear Stained Letter …… which are still regular parts of his current concerts. As you’d expect from a Richard Thompson concert there are surprises around every corner; and just when you’re not expecting it he drops in the Whitefriar’s Hornpipe/Shreds and Patches medley; featuring the dexterous accordion playing of John Kirkpatrick; and while not my first musical love proves to be a real toe-tapper (which was dangerous as I was driving at the time!) There’s plenty here for part-time fans like me to enjoy; most especially You Don’t Say with Richard and Clive Gregson trading verses and harmonising like Folk’s answer to the Everly Brothers; plus I’d totally forgot that Thompson supplied the theme tune to Life and Loves of a She-Devil; and Christine Collister’s vocals and Thompson’s spooky tune still have the power to put the wind up my metaphorical kilt! It’s a long time since I played the album; but I don’t remember Shoot Out The Lights or Al Bowly’s in Heaven sounding this dark and dangerous, here both sound almost Gothic in tone. For a Favourite Track I’m not sure whether to go for the tried and trusted in Wall of Death (one of my Top 20 songs of all time) or something brand new to me; in this case The Angels Took My Racehorse Away (from 1972’s Henry The Human Fly) which blew me away the first time I heard it last week; but I’m going to compromise with the fabulous Nearly In Love; a song I loved way back when, from the DARING ADVENTURES LP; but not heard again for 35 years or more; because Thompson proves what a skilled craftsman he was with storytelling and song construction; plus his guitar playing throughout shows why so many people rate him as one of the most innovative guitars players of all time. Apart from Richard Thompson’s voice being a tad smoother and more excitable than it is today; these songs and the man himself don’t appear to have aged a single day in the intervening years on this marvelous snapshot in time.
Ian Roland and the Subtown Set DOUBLE RAINBOW Self-Released
Charming and Heavenly Contemporary British Folk.
Cast your mind back 5 years to when RMHQ first started and you just might remember that one of our first reviews was Ian Roland’s HOW THAT DUST JUMPS. I’ve just had another listen and it’s still rather lovely btw.
But, we are ‘all about New Music’ these days and Ian and assorted friends have just recorded an new, bigger sounding and perhaps more ‘mature album’ under the moniker Ian Roland and the Subtown Set (NOT Sect as I first typed!), named after the studio these songs were originally recorded in. Opening song The Valley is rather divine; as Roland uses his velvety smooth voice plus acoustic guitar, violin and cello to great effect on a pining ‘Contemporary Folk Song’ of the finest order. This is followed by Butterfly; and as a man of a ‘certain vintage’ I was swept back to my teenage years in the coalfields of NE England where I would dream of a better life somewhere warmer, sunnier and more colourful; and this song made for a perfect soundtrack. At times here I’ve found it difficult to make my choice of descriptive nouns not sound ‘critical’; but in the best of ways this album is both charming and delightful in equal measures; but never saccharine or twee. Roland actually tackles some dark and challenging subjects in Human Too and In The Darkness; but the melodious constructions and crystal clear production bring the very best out of his words and make them deceptively ‘easy on the ear’. This is most definitely in the Folk spectrum; but not the ‘finger in the ear’ ‘how worthy am I’ sphere; Roland writes of the things around him but adds a lovely commercial edge to his songs; with Colour Me In and the show-stopping title track Double Rainbow being well worthy of daytime radio play; and not just on the Interweb. (Where are the brave DJ’s any more?). There are two songs that you really should take the trouble to hunt out; and because of that they tie for the title RMHQ Favourite Song. Shooting Star is a delightful Love Song, with Roland’s voice soaring to the stratosphere on the chorus and the gentle combination of guitars and cello creating a warm backdrop T’other is Songbirds; a more complex melody plus the surprise addition of Brione Jackson stepping up from creating windswept harmonies to juxtapose Roland’s on a verse or two is an absolute Masterstroke. I’m out of touch with the Folk Scene these days; so don’t know where this ‘band’ will fit in; but if you can put your preconceptions to one side for an hour or two; then this album (and I presume a gig or two) will please everyone who likes a singer-songwriter with a great voice and songs too; then this is for you.
Amazing and Important Songs That Shouldn’t Have To Be Written or Sung in 2020
I first came across Northern Irish Folk Singer and Troubadour Matt McGinn via a mutual friend in the Province who suggested he get in touch with RMHQ around the time he released The End of the Common Man album in 2018. Like the rest of his generation Matt grew up in the uneasy aftermath of The Troubles that blighted this beautiful part of Europe; but hasn’t really wrote about the feelings that time effected him and those around him …… until now. Not long after that album hit the world, he released the single Lessons of War as a taster for the project in connection with Arts Council NI, that has spawned this amazing album. For the project McGinn initially reached out to musicians from all over the world, but especially from areas of war or conflict, asking them to contribute to a song he had written that highlighted the futility of war. This was the stunning title track Lessons of War; which was such a success that it spawned the idea for a full album in a similar vein. Without delving too deeply into the background of each song; let’s just let the music speak for itself. I Read The Writing on The Wall is a universal tale that was probably written about Northern Ireland, but could just as easily be about Syria, Libya or even Brazil too, as the politicians spout rhetoric across the globe while lining their own pockets at the cost of the poorest under their leadership. Even more powerful writing and incredible musicianship combine on the next song I Was There, which takes a Jazz melody and flute to take the listener on an incredible journey that scare the bejasus out of me in 2020. That’s the ‘thing’ here; come on ……. we are nearly a quarter way through the 21st Century and greedy and selfish politicians of all hues and backgrounds are still causing chaos and needless death and starvation in every continent; have we learnt nothing from the past? That’s a rhetorical question; which becomes the dark spine for several songs here; with Child of War, The Hunt and, of course Refugees all perfect for radio; but awaiting a brave producer or presenter to add them to a playlist. In this ‘disposable age’ this is an album that needs to be invested in and listened to in solitude; there certainly ain’t much to add to a Spotty playlist; that’s for sure. Although there is one (deliberately) commercial song; the amazing single Bubblegum which hopefully will bring a few unsuspecting people towards the rest of these very important songs. Matt isn’t the first songwriter to cover these issues in song; I can think of three other albums we’ve reviewed in the last few years; but that doesn’t make Child of War or the delicately beautiful An Shuaimhneas One Day of Peace any less fascinating or important ……. just different words on the same harrowing stories. Bubblegum, as sung by Ciara O’Neill and about a young girls innocent diary pages written at the height of Northern Ireland’s Troubles/Civil War is the most obvious contender to be my Favourite Song; but when I heard the final song When Will We Learn I found myself clenching both my fists and teeth. But the way Matt McGinn gently lets his words and story breathe, make this one of the most important ‘protest songs’ I’ve possibly ever heard from a native of these fair islands and is most certainly a ‘song of our times.’ It’s fair to say that these songs don’t make for Easy Listening; but there should certainly be a place either on your record shelf or mobile phone for these songs that are coated in a ‘terrible beauty’ yet are still accessible to anyone with even a semblance of a conscience.
Ralph McTell Hill of Beans Leola Music/Proper Records
Timeless Yet Contemporary Folk Songs From an Actual Living Legend.
There are very few pieces of music that are instantly recognisable from the first few notes; Ralph McTell’s Streets of London is certainly one such song; and one that has had several incarnations since it first appeared in 1972 and still sounds as fascinating and haunting today as it did way back when. Ralph wouldn’t have been the first nor last songwriter to sit back and let the royalties roll in; but he’s not that type of man ……. no; he’s a true born Folk Singer and has trod the boards very successfully ever since and still has a singular passion that has brought him back to my attention with this his latest release. My first impression when I heard the jaunty opening track Oxbow Lakes, was that McTell has no right to sound so bloody good at his age. Seriously, his distinctive voice doesn’t sound as if it’s aged a day. Coincidentally ‘Oxbow Lakes’ is a metaphor I use myself to describe the path of least resistance; only I can’t do it as eloquently as this chap. What follows actually confused me the first couple of times I played the disc; as there’s a ‘fulsome sound’ throughout; not one that overpowers any of the songs; quite the opposite actually, then I read the back cover and discovered that it’s been produced by Tony Visconti! As I listen again, while I type, I’ve just had a ‘light-bulb moment’! The quirky subject matter and the clever way McTell and Visconti have constructed and delivered these songs; I’m reminded mostly of those post-modern and quintessentially English songwriters Difford and Tillbrook of Squeeze fame! This explains the tightly wrapped; yet still accessible Shed Song and Sometimes I Wish I Could Pray; which in lesser hands than McTell and Visconti’s could easily have been syrupy and cloying; instead they both become minor epics and very, very memorable indeed. If I’m honest I was a bit sceptical at the thought of what a legend like Ralph McTell might find to sing about these days; but ……. and this isn’t a huge stretch of imagination; just like Bruce Springsteen who is only three years younger; Ralph still has a very vivid imagination; which brings us fabulous and (dare I say it?) contemporary songs like Clearwater, Gammel Dansk and the title track itself Hill of Beans; all of which have surprised me beyond belief. In fairness there are only a couple of what I would describe as Traditional Folk Songs here; West 4th Street and Jones is exactly what I expected in advance; but somehow sparkles across every line and stanza. The other in this vein is a Blues tune in the style of someone like Lightnin’ Hopkins; Close Shave; but if it had been recorded 40 years ago would have been as raw as a chilblain; but here it actually had me tapping my toes and quickly singing along with the chorus. I’m shaking my head as I’m about to tell you what my Favourite Song here is; as it’s the type of Folk Song that a ‘hipster’ like me should normally skip over; but Ralph’s story of his Grandfather becoming the driver/engineer on the famed Brighton Belle steam train in the years after WWII and letting his young Grandson ride on the footplate has really touched me …….. but with a wordsmith like Ralph McTell at the helm why am I so surprised? Normally I’m only ‘pleasantly surprised’ by rising talents; but hey …… why can’t a Living Legend like Ralph McTell still have that ability? He certainly still has passion in his heart.
This video series adds to the Rainey Day Fund’s mission to amplify marginalized voices within the roots music community.
HUDSON VALLEY, New York — In partnership with Beehive Productions, the nonprofitRainey Day Fund today launched the Rainey Day Recordings, a series of live videos showcasing artists the Fund believes should be heard. The first installment features Amythyst Kiah, to be followed up in coming months with performances by Natalia Zukerman, Giri & Uma Peters, and others. In the current conversations regarding the rampant gender disparities at play in country music, rarely do other marginalized voices earn even a mention. However, if the system is to be disrupted or dismantled, change must be inter-sectional rather than incremental, including artists of color, artists with disabilities, artists within the LGBTQ+ community, and others who add to the rich fabric of roots music. For, to paraphrase Pete Seeger, we’re stronger when we rise together. That’s where the Rainey Day Fund comes in. Named after Ma Rainey — the queer, Black “Mother of the Blues” — the Rainey Day Fund provides assistance to performers through its two main components: a micro-grant fund and a suite of professional services — each available to minority artists at key moments in their careers. The Rainey Day Fund does not have an open application process. Instead, it relies on a number of advisors in the music industry to recommend artists for consideration. The organization does, however, have an open donation policy. The current goal is to raise $25,000 to finance the yearlong video series and an additional $25,000 for the micro-grant program. If you would like to donate either financial resources or professional services to support a Rainey Day musician, or for more information about the fund, please contact Kelly McCartney, firstname.lastname@example.org The Rainey Day Fund is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit project of TKDubs Productions Ltd. https://www.raineydayfund.org/https://www.beehivepro.com/
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
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