Wednesday, 9 July 2014

FEMMES FATALES OF FOLK

CD Review

Various artists

You have to give it to Folkstock Records it knows how to cram talent onto a disc with this 10 track offering from nine thoroughly impressive female artists.

Kelly Oliver
Because of this you can forgive them the slightly lazy and cliched alliteration of the title because the album is a superb and strong line-up from some of the most enjoyable and captivating female voices on the folk circuit.
Rapidly establishing herself as a really solid and in-demand performer in the folk world, Kelly Oliver sings the first of the tracks with the Witch of Walken, one of two bites of the cherry.
Her confidence and skill with a guitar is evident in this dark tale of persecution and witch hunts.
At the risk of sounding greedy even with the crisp and rich vocals, which on this occasion bring to mind Joni Mitchell, and the precise strumming of her guitar you still wish there was some of her harmonica playing in there just as a treat. You can see Oliver live in Wolverhampton at the Newhampton Arts Centre for the Folk 21 West Midlands Conference on September 20.
Oliver gives way to one of the real quiet gems of folk music. Marina Florance has such a sincere and emotionally honest voice which is perfectly showcased in the country style of the Path He Chose.
Florance sings about the devastation of sending our young men and future fathers to die in wars.
Marina Florance
The message is strong but contrasts with Florance's singing which is gentle, subtle and beautifully harmonic, consequently it's all the more emotive for that.
Following this, and it may just be the style of 45 Fever but Londoner Zoe Wren has a real retro feel to her voice which reminds of Cher's pre-plastic, lycra-hidden days when she sang wonderful songs such as Gypsies Tramps & Thieves, there is also a touch of Buffy Saint Marie in there too.
The gentle strumming of the guitar carries Wren's voice along at just enough pace to give that merest hint of country music without spilling over into the cowboy boot wearing, stetson waving yeehah brigade.
Russian singer/songwriter Daria Kulesh, who has just released her debut album with band Kara and which is an absolutely gorgeous collection, has a voice so clean and precise you could use it to locate items in the dark. Fake Wonderland is a gentle and simple ballad which is made into a thing of beauty by Kulesh's refined tones. (You can see a full review of Waters So Deep on this blog, just follow the link).
Zoe Wren
It's perhaps not the done thing to describe a female folk singer as having a sexy voice, but then part of the culture of folk music is subversion, so it's a plain simple fact Kaity Rae's slightly gritty and smoky tone is just fantastic.
The way she sings It Is would probably have been banned by the BBC 40 odd years ago, which isn't necessarily a band thing.
Watford's Minnie Birch has an intriguingly girlish sound to her singing and with Wise Words there is the occasional Dolly Parton-style tremor to her voice but it is wonderfully light and enjoyable. Her singing is like a vocal version of a sunny day or a gentle zephyr stirring a flower filled field.
Here's Tom With The Weather gives the wonderfully named Roxanne de Bastion, who is originally from Berlin, a chance to show off her sweet and understated tones. Her light and fairly high tones are a nice juxtaposition against the deep and growling notes of the accompanying cello.
Oliver's second outing on the album, but let's face it she's worth a double dose of indulgence at time, is the well-known standard Caledonia. 
She sings it straight and it's as good a version as any there are around and although Oliver does have a pretty distinctive and lovely musical voice, on this occasion she didn't really stamp her mark on it. You are left waiting for her to really let her singing off the leash but it never happens.
Kaity Rae
With the next offering you can't help but think of The Smiths with Helen Chinn's Second Chance which isn't a swipe at Chinn, it's just her singing style has that dour, melancholy sound to it.
What really makes the talented singer/songwriter stand out though is that it doesn't sound like a studio recording. Instead it comes across as good old honest singing and her unbridled vocals sound like she could be busking.
Without a doubt the most original sounding of the collection is the last track, Blue Spiral Screams from Fay Brotherhood. It has that native American feel to it and wouldn't be out of place at the sixties and early seventies festivals such as Woodstock and Isle of White. It does have a hint of Joan Baez about it and her high singing sounds very ethnic. It conjures images of spaced out hippies. But let's face it there are far worse images to conjure up.
FFoF is a great collection of female talent and Folkstock seems to be building a pretty enviable reputation for bringing such strong singing and songwriting to a wider audience.
Each of the women on this album displays their own particular style and there was a temptation to pick out a favourite but there is such a kid-a-sweet-shop variety here to do so would be churlish. Besides you can enjoy doing that for yourselves.

Femmes Fatales of Folk is officially launched by Folkstock Records July 19.


Daria Kulesh
Minnie Birch
Helen Chinn


Roxanne de Bastion
Fay Brotherhood