Thursday 31 December 2015


CD Review

This, That & The Other

Marina Florance is just one of the coolest women on the folk circuit at the moment. The Londoner hasn't done the conventional route into music, starting quite late in life, but it shows in her unconventional sound. 

Marina Florance
Her style is a cross between Leonard Cohen and Peggy Seeger with a sort of retro 50s feel reminiscent of great singers such as Ketty Lester and Patti Page
Her music crosses boundaries between folk, country, blues and Americana and on occasion has a definite continental feel to it.
Florance has such a distinct sound which has the ability to make you feel nostalgic without even knowing why or what for. Opening with I Told You My Troubles you have the gentleness of her voice which belies the strength of character in the lyrics and rhythm. It almost has the feel of a native American anthem and seems to come with its own history.
What follows is Little Black Cloud which has all the feeling of a torch song and which you can imagine being sung in the back of a candle-lit cavern full of beatniks and the air thick with the smell of Gauloises. 
The Wedding Song again harks back to singers such as the great Patsy Cline and her frock wearing contemporaries. This is a gentle offering and although it has the light feeling of song that wouldn't be out of place in Mary Poppins, Florance has that ability to give it a depth of feeling which puts her on a par with peers such as Kathryn Roberts and Ange Hardy.
The subtle use of strings in her creation A Better Song is so precise, not a single note is wasted. It's a beautiful ballad, the only questionable part is Richard Pierce's call to Florance's response, the addition of which doesn't really add anything to the whole.
Take A Little Time begins as a simple sound which adds layer after layer as the song progresses and has again that built-in retro sound which sounds like something you once heard and reminds you of a better happier time but you don't quite know when. Listening to Florance is like having your own musical time machine, however you can't quite set the dial to pinpoint the exact time. It's a quality she should nurture because it makes her stand out.
She plumbs for the pretty much contemporary country sound with When The Past Came A Callin' and by now you come to realise her talent doesn't just lie in her notable singing and playing, but she is a fine songwriter keeping her lyrics simply but effective.
You feel she has honed every song until there is simple no room for anything superfluous or which adds nothing to the whole. You get an inkling they are musical sculptures where she has chipped away at everything which doesn't sound like the finished song. Carried away is almost the sister song to the previous offering and even has shades of Dolly Parton in it as the mandolin carries her voice along at a canter.
She is at her most Cohenish with Bring Me That Sweet Thing Called Love, you can feel on this track she is really pushing her voice to the limit of its range and she isn't found wanting. It's another perfect example of how economic she is with her music and singing, you just hear that every note played and sung has been handcrafted to fit in its place in the whole. And of course exhibiting the mark of a craftswoman by making it sound so easy.
Florance's new album
Had the doo-wop feel of the A Room Of Your Own not been written by her it could easily feel like it was plucked straight from the 1950s. You can almost see the glitterball highlighting the frocks and Ben Sherman's as couples indulge in the last dance of the night.
I'll Remember You carries an uncanny resemblance to unchained melody and is just as lovely a ballad but with Florance's trademark minimalist style. She has this remarkable way about her which makes you want to hear every word of the verses like being engrossed in the pages of a gripping novel. In this track too, more than any other, her voice seems to exude an incredible vulnerability.
The final track is an instrumental version of track three which is light, cheerful and just lovely to indulge in. 
For all the albums which are due out in 2016 this will be among the first and if all the others match the distinctiveness and enjoyability of Florance's then folk fans are in for a fantastic year of music and song.

This, That & The Other is available to download on January 1 from Folkstock Records with the official album launch on January 16.

Thursday 17 December 2015


CD Review

Open Airs

Right from the first note this album from Kyrre Slind produces such evocative gentle music that it's almost like listening to something spiritual. Initially it would be easy to mistake Slind's playing for the expert fingers of someone such as Martin Simpson, he has that same relaxed but masterful style.

Kyrre Slind
At more than eight minutes Oysterhaven is a serene introduction to the Norwegian's musical diary of his travels through Norway, Ireland and Scotland.
This really is a beautiful guitar piece which shows you just how subtle the instrument can be.
Coming soft on its heels is Remembering, where Slind gives his strings something close the sound of a harp. There is definitely an ethereal quality both about his playing and composing. This is musical massage, it's incredibly therapeutic so much they should even consider selling it in pharmacies as a tension buster.
Gaupskaret has more of a middle eastern/Turkish sound to it with Slind using some very primeval singing to accent what is an incredible composition.
Leksa has the sound of the past in its notes sound like it has arrived from a Europe of medieval times with a sound which Ian Pittaway also expertly reproduces as part of The Night Watch.
Sandra's Melody seems to incorporate the styles Slind has already put on show with a very folky rhythm but still that eastern twang to it and he even throws in what could tribal throat singing. This is followed by Tunnsjo which is onomatopoeic as Slind uses the guitar to recreate and be inspired by nature. You get the feel of the wind creating ripples across a mountain lake; of the warmth of the sun and of the rainstorm. It really is an inspired and clever piece of music making. Braien's Melody brings with it precise picking where every note is released with laser deftness in a gorgeous flow to make a lilting whole.
Another melody, this time Kevin's follows this and again there is that precise picking which, in this case sounds so familiar and yet so new.
The tune changes almost imperceptibly gentle segueing into borders where the strumming becomes more thoughtful and restful, moving in and out like a tide. And like the sea, the tune is slightly unpredictable and changes according to the ebb and flow of the water. Towards the end, the style of play is akin to the sitar giving it the sound of a raga. The final track is in complete contrast.
Under Water does convey a world which is hampered by the viscosity of the medium, the slow pace touches slightly on the melancholy and does have a feel of the middle section of a Pink Floyd piece.
Slind is undoubtedly an expert when it comes to massaging the strings and does have a remarkable ability to spark emotions and create images with his sound.
What you get with this album is not only some unique and inspiring compositions from Slind but his experience of travelling into Ireland and Scotland mapped out for you in his musical notation and, while they were borne personally from his travels, he has left them open enough for the listener to interpret and find their own forms and visions.

Open Airs is available now through Slind's website, Bandcamp, Spotify and iTunes

Friday 11 December 2015


CD Review

The Hebridean Sessions

There are occasions when you could accuse Scottish traditional music and particularly bagpipe music of being too harsh, loud and aesthetically tooth grating but none of that applies to Daimh and their new album.

Celtic super-group Daimh
It would be easy to use an analogy and call this a great single malt of music but that wouldn't do it. Like the majority of the whisky most of us drink, the album is actually one of the finer blends.
Angus MacKenzie, Gabe McVarish, Ross Martin, Murdo Cameron and Ellen MacDonald have put together every shade of Gaelic music including the incredibly subtle, the bordering-on-spiritual and the wonderfully evocative sound of the Hebrides. To add to their achievements they have recently won Scottish Folk Band of the Year at the Scots Trad Music Awards known affectionately as the Trads. The tracks on this album carry the essence of the northern islands of Mull, Skye and South Uist where they were recorded, so both the musicians and listeners would get a deeper understanding of the genetics of Scottish/Gaelic music.
Opening with Locheil's Away this mixture of quickstep and reels has that sharp wail of the drones but MacKenzie's skill takes the slight edge off it showing just how versatile and multi-layered the sound of the pipes can be, especially when married to Martin's guitar and Cameron's mandola. It's a wonderful introduction to anyone who has a prejudice against the pipes. These don't wail they serenade.
This is followed by the beautifully lilting sound of Dhannsamaid Le Ailean where you first get to hear MacDonald's died-in-the-wool folk singing. Along with McDonald's voice there is a very special blend of pipes, whistle, fiddle and mandola which is as carefully crafted together as the whiskies which come from the north.
Ellen MacDonald
McDonald has a depth to her voice which bounces alongside the instruments holding her own against the strong sounds which envelope her.
O Fair A-Nall Am Botal gives McDonald a further chance to show the range of her singing skills. The song starts almost like a Gaelic blues but quickly slips into a minimalist sound as her vocals take centre stage. Her singing has a lightness to it but there is always a tinge of brooding melancholy in her voice.
Instantly recognisable as traditional Gaelic Bog An Lochan wonderfully shows off McVarish's understated fiddle playing. McVarish grew up in California but you would never know it from his playing. Even though his playing is not overpowering he takes pride of place with Cameron keeping an even lower profile on his guitar until they are both upstaged by MacKenzie's drones. With the opening of Pattern Day Jigs it's hard to know where the fiddle begins and the accordion ends, as again Cameron and McVarish race along in perfect sync, this time being hurried along by MacKenzie on the whistle to make a really enjoyable whole which shows the subtlety of their musings. Cuir A Nall gives little away to start with but when the repetitive sound of MacDonald's singing slides in gently you realise the musicians have paved the way for the singing perfectly. By now you realise, as a band, how much they have captured the vast range of sound, emotions and traditions which are as individual as the mountains, valleys and lakes which make up the highlands that have been such an inspiration. MacDonald's voice builds up apace like a steam train snaking through the region until like the mist across the lochs, it suddenly disappears. Gur E Mo Ghille Dubh Dhonn is one of those songs where, unless you know the language expertly, you have no idea what MacDonald is singing about but nevertheless you are glad she is singing it. The album has these wonderfully quirky symbols, rather like emoticons on the web, whereby they tell you not only the content but the amount of particular content too. For instance this one is about drink, a boat, a child and heartbreak.
Harris Dance is a beautifully lilting tune led by MacKenzie on the whistle and highlighted by McVarish on fiddle along with Martin and Cameron before they step back and allow the latter loose with the bellows. On this track, more than any others,  they have the blend of traditional and contemporary about as near to a single malt as you can get. It's the contemporary which kicks off Oran an Tombaca the distinct strumming of the guitar overlaid quite strongly with whistle before MacDonald's voice comes dancing in for the song about tobacco. The beauty of this track is that it's a very simple tune which is executed wonderfully with all of the musical elements weaved into a harmonious strand, much like the tweed or tartan associated with the region and, once it's finished, you can see how the individual strands have combined to make whole.
The new album
With a similar intro to the previous, the final track uses the guitar again to lead the way for the whistle to bring in Dunrobin where McVarish seems to be having some fun on the fiddle before it all comes to an end. Not to be outdone MacKenzie makes his presence felt on the pipes with Martin keeping it all moving along at a brisk pace.
If you thought all Scottish/Gaelic traditional or highland music sounded the same then this album should change your mind. The collection of musicians who have come together to produce this musical menu is impressive and with the tracks being recorded on three different isles the music has captured the individual spirit of Skye, Mull and South Uist. So if you can't get there yourself then this album will allow you to take a musical journey into the far north and the land of breathtaking scenery.

The Hebridean Sessions is available now from Goat Island Music through the band's website.

Monday 30 November 2015


CD Review

Black & Blues

Sunjay, he now prefers just his first name, is an excellent bluesman and for such a young musician he plays his guitar like he had it in the cradle instead of a rattle or cuddly toy.

The album was produced by veteran musician and producer Eddy Morton in his Stourbridge studio and it was recorded in a day.
This could be behind its raw, unpolished feel which gives it an honesty, authenticity and almost an urgency.
Drop Down Mama is one Derby-born Sunjay has been taking around on his tours for some time and now the foot stomper is down on disc it still has the feel of a live performance.
What follows is the depression era blues, Nobody Wants To Know You When You Down & Out where Sunjay shows a side to his playing that is slicker than a latex clad tobogganist who has been covered in grease and sent down an oiled slipway.
He keeps the bluesy sound but gives it the kind of polish you associate with Jake Thackray. If you want to get a feel for his skill with the frets then the next track Duncan & Brady is as good an example as any.
Sunjay has a really smooth style of playing blues. His voice lends itself more to the serpentine sound rather than the dirty or gritty vocals of legends such as Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters or Lightnin' Hopkins. By the time you get to St James Infirmary it's as though each track is trying to outdo the preceding one and in this song his playing seems to take on almost a classical style which reinforces Sunjay's versatility.
With Pallet On The Floor he gets almost playful with the tune. It's far less bluesy than the previous tracks but it's nonetheless enjoyable for that. He comes in with the late night blues with You Don't Learn That In School an irreverent song in which his playing is much better than his cadence on the lyrics. He sounds like he is rushing and almost forcing the lyrics to fit the timing and as such loses a little of its fluidity.
With One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer Sunjay sounds to be holding back a little too much. His guitar playing is as impeccable as ever but his singing should take on a harsher quality, be slightly more aggressive, it misses out for him not letting rip, certainly on the chorus. There is no two ways about it he is a gorgeous guitar player and brings to mind the likes of Ralph McTell who many don't associate with the blues but is an incredible guitarist.
The new album
With the penultimate track, Baby Please Don't Go - made famous by the aforementioned Hopkins, the intro brings such a promise of what is to come and then Sunjay catches you out with his caramel voice which adds a definite sexiness to make this track his own.
It's hard to believe any woman would leave after hearing his version of this. Trouble In Mind is a great way to send the album out.
His gentle, really lazy swinging-in-a-hammock intro is just so cool you could keep beers in it. Sunjay's voice slides over the top of the notes like honey over a spoon.
This album is a testimony to the skill and talent of Sunjay who is without doubt one of the slickest dudes to sit behind a guitar. He sounds cool, plays cool, looks cool so much so you almost expect a little light to come when he opens his guitar case.

Black & Blues is out now available for download and from Sunjay's website.

Sunday 29 November 2015


Coming Your Way


One of the last big events of the folk year is The Great British Folk Festival at Butlin's, Skegness which is now in its fifth year.

Billy Bragg
The festival runs for four days from December 4 to 7 among the headliners this year is Billy Bragg. Also on the bill are Steeleye Span, Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman, Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band, Sharon Shannon & Alan O'Connor, False LightsJacqui McShee's PentangleFotheringayThe Ric Sanders TrioThe Acoustic Strawbs, Tom Robinson, The Unthanks and Blazin' Fiddles.
Also on the bill are Magna Carta, Rackhouse Pilfer, Sam Lee, Demon Barbers, CC Smugglers, Sam Carter, Folklaw, Karac, Moulettes, The Jar Family, Clutching at Straws, Coco and the Butterfields
Merlin's KeepThe Band From County Hell.
Continuing the move to give newer and up and coming bands the spotlight the festival has the Introducing Stage which will feature Strummin' Steve JacksonFitzwallaceSaid The MaidenKings of the South SeasGilded ThievesItchy FingersThe Delta Ladies with Alan Glen, Ellie Dibben, Big Tent, Chris CleverleyPolly and The Billets Doux and Gloucestershire outfit the Black Feathers.
There are deals to suit most individual or group bookings so see their website for details.

Although people are looking to wind down for the festive period there is still a good range of folk music for those who want to venture out into the wintry outdoors and enjoy a warm welcome from your local folk venue.
At the beginning of the month Tuesday December 1 Marry Waterson & David A Jaycock are coming to the Kitchen Garden Cafe in King's Heath, Birmingham as part of The Two Wolves Tour. Doors open at 7.30pm for an 8pm start. Tickets are £10.
Then on Sunday December 20 the Dirty Old Folkers Christmas Extravaganza and Panto is bringing irreverence and pandemonium to the venue. Opening times are as above and tickets are £12.50.

Staying in the Second City the highly entertaining and talented Martyn Joseph is coming to the Hare & Hounds, December 6. Doors open at 7.30pm and tickets £16 plus a £1.60 booking fee.

The Roving Crows
The Red Lion Folk Club, in Shirley, welcomes The Roving Crows on December 2 with support from Miriam Backhouse. Entry costs £11. The following week folk legend Martin Carthy will be performing at the venue on December 9 with support from Alison Eve and tickets are £12. Then to take the folk year out for the club on December 16 The Mad Jocks & Englishmen bring their particular sound to the venue and tickets are £11. On each gig doors open at 7.15 for a 7.45pm start.

A little further north in Wolverhampton The Levellers are coming to the Civic Hall. Tickets are£27.50 = £25.00 plus £2.50 booking fee and doors open 7pm.

Also in Wolves Folk at the NAC presents Kieran Halpin on December 11 at the Newhampton Arts Centre, Whitmore Reans. The show starts at 7.30pm and tickets are £12.50 plus booking fee.

Luna Rossa who are the duo of Anne-Marie Helder and Jonathan Edwards will be bringing their captivating sound to the Robin2 in Bilston on December 13. Tickets are £12 in advance and £14 on the door. There is no time listed for the start of the show.

If you want to enjoy panto in the raw then head off to the Woodman Panto Night on December 11 which will be performed at the Woodman Folk Club in Kingswinford by members of the club and from Bromsgrove Folk Club. Tickets are £7 including a buffet.

If you want to enjoy a fascinating musical history tour then you need to catch the Carniv
Carnival Band
al Band
and enjoy their incredible range of singing and reproduction historic instruments. The band will be performing at the Artrix Arts Centre, Bromsgrove on December 4. The show starts at 8pm and tickets are £18 with £5 concessions. The following day, December 5, you can catch their distinctive act at The Fold, Bransford, nr Worcester. The gig again starts at 8pm and tickets are £10 and £5 concession for under 19s.
The Fold cafe is also offering a special seasonal menu before the concert to get you into the Christmas spirit. Then on December 6 they will perform with the Carnival Choir at Shirley Methodist Church nr Solihull, 257 Stratford Road B90 3AL. The show starts 7pm and tickets are £10 with concessions available and can be obtained from or call 0121 744 3640.

Sticking with the theme of historic music if you want something really different and wonderfully authentic in extremely complementary surroundings then take in Ian Pittaway and Andy Casserley who are the Night Watch on Saturday December 19 at Oak House Museum, Oak Road, West Bromwich, B70 8HJ. The show starts at 7pm,

Over the border in Shropshire Whalebone have a couple of dates which are worth checking out. First on December 4 they bring their Seasons Tour to Wenlock Pottery and then on December 11 you can see them at Bledington Village Hall, Gloucestershire.


Shrewsbury Folk Festival has set a target to smash the £50,000 barrier for its charity partner Hope House after fundraising at this year’s event took a leap raising more than £6,160 at the annual festival.
That's up more than £1,000 on last year.
Over the eight years it has been supporting it has raised more than £43,000 for the hospice.
Festival director Sandra Surtees said:“We are certainly hoping to reach the £50,000 mark next year and celebrate another great year of fundraising for Hope House.”

Sam Sweeney
Congratulations go to Sam Sweeney who has been installed as the inaugural Artistic Director for the National Youth Folk Ensemble. Sweeney, who won BBC Radio 2 Folk Musician of the Year 2015, is passionate about passing on his love of English traditional music to younger players.
As Artistic Director of the NYFE, Sweeney will lead on the artistic vision of the Ensemble, collaborate with a team of professional folk artists, devise content for the residential courses and co-create repertoire with the young musicians.
Sampler Days will take place across England March – June 2016 to recruit the first cohort of young musicians who will join the Ensemble in October 2016. Find out more

Tickets for next year’s Cambridge Folk Festival will go on sale on Tuesday December 1 at 10am. This year, as part of its aim to develop young audiences, festival organisers have introduced reduced ticket prices for 16-17 and 18-21 year olds, and retained the 2015 price for 5-15 year olds.
Phone and online bookings will open at 10am. Counter service from the Cambridge Live Tickets box office will open at midday.
This year festival is selling tickets through a new ticketing system, which they hope will improve your booking experience.
Please be aware you may need to create an account with us before buying tickets.
Go to your account:
If you have any questions please feel free to contact us: 01223 357851.

If you fancy giving a Christmas present with a difference then Merry Hell have released a DVD of their live performance at The Grand, Clitheroe earlier this year. The disc, A Grand Night Out:Merry Hell Live, costs £15 and is available to order from the band's website.

Sunjay's new album
There are new albums from Yorkshire songstress Kate Rusby has released The Frost is All Over and Stourbridge bluesman Sunjay has brought out Black and Blues, also from Marry Waterson who has released Two Wolves. New releases to look forward to next year include The Long Way Home from folk veterans Show of Hands which is due for release on January 15.

Next year Moseley Folk Festival will run from September 2-4.

I would just like to thank every one who has visited Folkall and made all the research, writing and reviewing worthwhile. Because of you the site has gone from strength to strength over the three years it has been running and I hope to keep improving it to make your experience an even better, more informed and entertained one. I hope you have enjoyed my site and will continue to do so in the coming year. I would also like to thank all the bands, musicians and agents who have given me their time and put their faith in my writing. 
I wish every one of you and your loved ones a merry and peaceful Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year, regards Danny.

Friday 27 November 2015


CD Review

Best Day

If you could make a mink coat out of music then this selection from Scottish duo Mairearad Green and Anna Massie would fit the bill.

Anna Massie and Mairearad Green
Green and Massie are like a two woman orchestra and this album gives them more than ample opportunity to show of their impressive multi-instrumental skills.
This is a sumptuous collection of their talents which are both smooth and indulgent wraps, it wraps around you in way that you feel like you are surrounded by something deep and rich. The pair have worked with each other for more than 10 years and that familiarity has given them each a solid understanding of the others musical styles.
The first two tracks are instrumentals starting with The Red Poppy which is a couple of tunes and followed by Jerry & Otis, the first of several trilogies on the album.
The former opens the door to a real breath of mountain air as Green gets the head nodding and the toes tapping with this deliciously lilting tune. The latter allows the duo to switch leads with Massie keeping up the pace and chugging the Celtic tune along with her fiddle while Green provides the engine sound underneath. It moves wonderfully to a gambolling pace with Massie stopping just short of being staccato but the bowing is very precisely clipped.
Green's playing on Musical Flowers has an almost European feel to it where, with a little imagination, you can see perhaps a French courtyard filled with dancers moving in and out in a circle to the waltz timing. This time Massie adds an almost metronomic beat with her guitar but there are little gems she adds with her high register picking where she and Green seem to be playing some kind of private game.
Mairearad Green
What follows is one of the real gems of this album.
She Loves Me (When I try) shows not just what a gorgeous feminine voice Massie has but how wonderfully it blends with Green on harmonies. This is just one of those songs which is therapeutic. Your shoulders slump, you find yourself smiling for no reason and you feel the stress draining from your body and soul as you let the song soak in.
What follows is a trilogy where Green wrote the tune Bottle Island for her uncle, this leads into Elizabeth's Plymsolls from Mike Vass and Best Day of My Life from Aiden O'Rourke.
The sound of her bellows are fused in with Massie's guitar and then with a sprinkling of the gems from the tenor banjo. There was an inevitability of the drones turning up on this album and Green doesn't disappoint, again with another trilogy starting with Captain Campbell of Drum of Voisk, then Peter Bailie and finally Fasgadhdail. Bagpipe music seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance outside of Scotland and this, whether due to her playing or the production, is one of the more subtle offerings where the harsh wailing of the pipes seems to be subdued.
The second of the songs comes next with Always Will and Massie's voice takes on a stronger, slightly more definite tone for this ballad with Green, this time, adding the backing with a gentle squeezing of the bellows which never compete with Massie's smooth singing.
Then it's on to another trilogy, The Botanist which includes The New York Jig, Liam Cairns and A Lovely Bottle of Botanist which not doubt you can figure out is inspired by alcohol.
The set is a lovely, light collection the blending of the guitar, banjo and bellows working perfectly together to produce a traditional sounding tune which definitely feels now. What you get to start with in The Banjo Set is ultra traditional music with The Pretty Girls which gives way to a more contemporary and what seems like a slightly confused sound in Peter&Jaclyn's Wedding. The strumming banjo and the flick-flak sound of Green's bellows paint a picture of community halls where locals have come to shake off their cares and woes for an hour or so and dance the night away.
The new album
Written by Green for a family wedding Julia & Simon's is a very gently almost lazy tune that could speak of the end of the day, when everything is done and you can sit back and relax either with a drink in your hand or just by admiring the vista.
Green's accordion work is almost like breathing at the listener finally relaxes and is accented by Massie's very subtle, almost reluctant guitar playing.
The album goes out with Pipe Reels, the last of the trilogies, and does exactly what it says on the tin. Starting with The Sister's Reel then MacPherson's ending with Mary's Fancy.
Green has a way of taking that hard edge off which is so characteristic of many pipe tunes, perhaps it's to allow a little more room for Massie's strumming to be heard but however it was put together it works and takes out an album which gives you the chance to enjoy two of the most talented Scottish female folk musicians around.

Best Day is available now through the duo's website and digital download sites.

Tuesday 24 November 2015


CD Review

Lost Boys

This is a superb album not just because of Sam Kelly's fantastic voice and ability to fill the songs he sings with life but also it reeks of folk, it drips tradition and is the antithesis of so many albums which are trying to make folk sound more commercial.

Sam Kelly
Kelly's debut album opens with Jolly Waggoners where he shows you all you need is an instrument, a good voice, enthusiasm for what you are singing and you can make a traditional song sound contemporary while still keeping its folk essence.
Banish Misfortune brings in the superb banjo picking of Jamie Francis, who wrote the track and whose style sounds very much like the precision playing of Gerry O'Connor.
Kelly's distinct voice which has that slight warble alongside Francis' picking gives the mountain sound of Six Miners some authenticity with the singer opening it up with a whole new freshness. With it's slightly ominous beat kept under the whirring picks of Francis this is without doubt one of the best tracks on the album. Following on comes the King's Shilling, we get the first pairing of Kelly with Kitty Macfarlane and their arrangement of the gentle traditional ballad. Once more Francis adds a wonderful strand of colour to Kelly's voice and Macfarlane's duet-ting. Kelly also adds in the solid thrumming of guitar strings when he wants to add depth to proceedings.
Kelly pulls the stops out for Little Sadie with a throbbing, stomping mountain cabin style sound. This time Evan Carson, who you will find with another superb band The Willows, is on percussion adding some grit to the track which builds up the whole picture then stops dead for it to restart again.
Kelly is at his best with The Golden Vanity which suits his dancing style of singing perfectly. Along with the skipping picking of Francis you can almost feel the fun they are having with this track coming through the speakers.
Kelly and the band
Almost in complete contrast, the emotion Kelly musters with Eyes of Man is almost on a par with I'll Give You My voice which he sang as part of The Changing Room. Kelly's style of singing adds another dimension to the lyrics and feel of the ballad and is what mesmerised the audience at his X Factor audition, but let's not dwell on that.
Francis comes in almost reverently with the banjo for Spokes, before Kelly's voice and playing comes in over the top to get things moving at a quicker pace.
Kelly's heavy and bluesy version of Wayfaring Stranger shows he has a raucous side to his voice. He gets a better chance to show the range he has with his singing, throughout the whole album, but especially on this track.
He and Macfarlane then go on to do an almost spiritual version of Down By The Salley Gardens. It's a simple fact Kelly has a great voice for ballads, it's strong but somehow manages to keep a lightness and vulnerability to whatever he sings.
The new album
The final track Dullahan goes out full on, almost like Kelly and co are getting rid of any excess energy they didn't spend on the previous tracks. Carson builds the tempo almost challenging the others to follow him. Kelly's singing more than keeps pace right until the sudden cut off at the end.
What has also made this album so enjoyable is the quality of talent Kelly has assembled to build the songs with him which, apart from those already mentioned, are Ciaran Algar, Graham Coe, Lukas Drinkwater and Josh Franklin.
Algar is of course best known as one half of a duo, the other being the equally talented Greg Russell while Drinkwater, who among other things, is working alongside Ange Hardy.
This album is like a break in the clouds where the sun streams through with a stairway of sunlight which makes everyone stop and admire it.

The Lost Boys is out now through Sam Kelly Music and via his website.

Sunday 8 November 2015


CD Review

Areas of High Traffic

Fans of Damien O'Kane must be drooling by now as it's been five years since the talented honorary Yorkshire man produced a solo album. This is a very personal collection from O'Kane and it would seem one where he is trying to give traditional songs, which mean a great deal to him, a modern slant.

Damien O'Kane
Unfortunately, and perhaps a little unfairly - although it's pretty certain the unassuming musician wouldn't see it this way, the majority of people will know him from his on stage support of wife Kate Rusby who unsurprisingly appears on the album.
However, if you have listened to O'Kane playing for his spouse and even more so when she leaves the stage and allows "the boys" to get on with it, you immediately realise how good he is especially when it comes to the much maligned banjo.
But there is much more to the Colraine born artist, he is a fine singer, songwriter, guitarist and music arranger.
His singing style has that distinctive and traditional Gaelic quality, which is slightly nasal and has the drone quality of the uilleann pipes. You hear it in great folk musicians such as Kris Drever and Andy Irvine.
His album AHT draws heavily on his pre-Yorkshire life and while it's in many ways a nostalgic trip, he takes that journey with the eyes and ears of the 21st century rather than trying to recreate some long, distant memory.
The album is a mix of mostly traditional tunes given his own treatment and a couple of new ones which have come from his heart and he sings them in his native accent instead of some faux Americanised nonsense, so he gets big brownie points for that alone. The only real downside with his collection is that the fusing of traditional songs with more pop sounding music doesn't always work.
He eases the listener in with the traditional 'Til Next Market Day. Straight away you get a feel for the smoothness of Kane's voice and he has fused his traditional vocal skill with the modernised tune which should make it more palatable for folk purists. It also gives you a feel for the depth and character of his voice. O'Kane takes more of a risk with a really well-known staple of many folk repertoires, adding an urban and electronic soundtrack to The Blacksmith.
Kate Rusby
It's again O'Kane's voice which carries this song as the modern sound isn't entirely congruous with the lyrics.
Don't Let Me Come Home A Stranger is really where O'Kane gets it right. His voice is mournful with depth and emotion and the music fits the lyrics like a glove. You  get a real feel for how the words come from the soul. The Maid of Seventeen epitomises where the fusion doesn't work. Surprisingly O'Kane seems to be stepping into the stream of "popifying" folk songs. This is either a song which should have bent the lyrics to the mainstream-style music or made the music as traditional as the song but this funk-style beat underneath it doesn't work. If you were to listen to the musical interludes on their own there is nothing which would point you in the direction of them being folk songs.
On The Close of an Irish Day, O'Kane has mostly got that balance between keeping a traditional song about immigration and a more mainstream twist. As in all these songs it's O'Kane's distinctive voice and depth of character in his singing which carries the whole and fortunately the fusion of traditional and mainstream is less grating. O'Kane is very close to the story in the Banks of the Bann and his wife Kate provides the backing vocals. This is another of the tracks which works because the less traditional tune is not so intrusive into his traditional singing style. The musak-style intro of The Goddaughter is irritating. This is, as much of the album is, a personal song from O'Kane as the proud Godfather and thankfully it does break into his impressive banjo playing, however, this time the underlying tune is intrusive and if it wasn't for the fact O'Kane's expert playing rescues it, it would be a really bland offering.
O'Kane's new album
I Am A Youth, because it provides a platform for O'Kane's voice to be prominent, is among the better tracks on the album. The song is one drawn from his own youth and his singing does it justice.
The penultimate track Erin's Lovely Home is among the best on the album where again O'Kane has got that balance right between the modern tune and the traditional lyrics, although Cormac Byrne's percussion does seem to be a little intrusive on this one. In the same vein The Green Fields of America gets the balance more or less right but this is, again more to do with O'Kane's distinctive singing style, it's certainly easier on the ear than some of the tracks on the album.
AHT seems to be an indecisive album. If you are going to fuse mainstream with traditional then you have to work doubly hard so the joins are not visible, unfortunately there are too many tracks where O'Kane doesn't achieve this, which is a shame because he is a much better musician and singer and than this album suggests.

O'Kane's album is released on November 9 and you can see him live with his band at the first Birmingham Tradfest which runs from November 26 to 29.

Wednesday 4 November 2015


Live Review

Robin2, Wolverhampton

When you see Babajack on stage, the way they make music and the energy they put into the performance at the Bilston venue you realise how they became the British Blues Award winners for this year.

Becky Tate
And that is just one of several they have won for their gutsy, bluesy and roots music.
Singer Becky Tate is sexy, sassy and a real live wire with her hips swaying and her wild auburn hair swishing madly about as she plays the cajon.
As if that wasn't enough she has a really cool voice which switches between blues and their version of folk seamlessly.
On stage with drummer Tosh Murase, bass guitarist Adam Bertenshaw and the incredibly blues infused dude himself, Trevor Steger on a Bo Diddley style cigar box guitar and harmonica, they put together a romping stomping show that was full of real mojo.
The only disappointing part of the show was that there were only about 30 people there to enjoy the gig but enjoy it they did.
They opened with a thumping version of The Money's All Gone originally from their Rooster album and is the first track on their new Babajack Live disc, with Murase hammering out the beat before Steger's gobiron came in like a steam train.
This segued into the throb of Coming Home with Tate even sounding a little like Janis Joplin on this one.
Falling Hard, a love song written by Tate came rumbling in after their introduction.
There is no two ways about it their albums make great listening but you really need to see them live because they beef up and improvise on nearly all of their songs, especially Steger who plays the harmonica almost constantly even when Tate is introducing the songs or addressing their fans.
Steger's harmonica and blues guitar are just superb and they cover a wide range of genres throwing in some rock 'n' roll, rockabilly and the odd strand of jazz with tracks such as Falling Hard, Death Letter Blues and Religion.
Bertenshaw, Tate, Murase and Steger
When Tate is on percussion, most noticeably the cajon she is like a woman possessed emulating the writhings and head whipping you see in old footage of so-called voodoo rituals where the participants are being whipped up into a frenzied and trance-like state.
 It all makes for a great spectacle when they are hammering out songs such as Gallows Pole, which is an old English folk song which through a transatlantic journey ended up as a blues riff
Tate really got into her stride with the stomping Hammer & Tongs followed by the faster and funkier Sunday Afternoon with Tate spitting out the lyrics like a machine gun spits bullets. Then they moved to another which features on their live album, Back Door, which came with a deep throbbing bass, hammering drum playing and Steger's slide chords cracking back and forth like a bullwhip.
Some bands were just meant to be seen live and Babajack is one of them, buy their albums of course and get a feel for them at home or in the car but if you want to hear the real grit, guts and downright dirty blues of Babajack you have to see them on stage.