Thursday 16 June 2016


CD Review

From The Skein

Scot Jenny Sturgeon is as close to an organic folksinger/songwriter as you can get. She absorbs the culture, essence, stories and legends of her native region and manufactures them into inspired songs and tunes which reflect much of the natural world around her.

Jenny Sturgeon with her shruti box
She doesn't have the most powerful of voices but she does have strong character and versatility to her vocals which remind of June Tabor or Fay Hield. Her singing has a solid resonance and a depth which brings the subjects of her songs to life.
The opening track on her debut album creeps up on you like a mist across the heather.
Sturgeon's voice comes like a siren cutting through the background instruments. The bouncing cadence of her lyrics and staccato ending of each verse give the dark tale of Maiden Stone a foreboding and sinister feel.
What follows is The Raven and again Sturgeon keeps that brooding style but you feel a softer edge to her singing on what is very close to a sea shanty. The repetitive nature of the verses almost mirror the movement of waves. Underneath there is the fractured sound of the fiddle and drums which although apparently working separately contribute to the whole to give a feeling of movement.
Running Free is a languorous ballad to begin with but builds up with a strong modern beat.
Nature, like so many of her songs, provides the inspiration for Selkie and opens with a sound similar to the shipping forecast before the fullness of Sturgeon's voice comes through with a retro feel, having the sound of protest songs of old from singers such as Joan Baez.
The track is a complex tapestry with the accompaniment wrapping itself around her lyrics like the water around the selkie of the title, which if you didn't know are mythical creatures which resemble seals in the water but can adopt human form when on dry land. The kind of singing skills which were clearly on display with one of her other musical projects Clype.
Nowhere Else I'd Rather Be also has a retro feel and could easily be part of a soundtrack of a Sixties new wave film. Sturgeon has such a restful voice in this song you can almost feel the landscape as she moves through the verses.
The Cutty Sark
Honest Man is another gentle ballad, lighter than the previous and with Sturgeon's voice skipping the lyrics along. The gentle picking of the guitar add atmospheric highlights to what is almost a calypso beat. Once again Sturgeon shows the character she can create with her singing using her distinct Aberdeenshire accent.
This is followed by the incredibly atmospheric and ethereal song based on the traditional ballad Three Sisters. Sturgeon's adaptation, Culan, is full of Celtic character and the singer provides another brooding sound to her storytelling with the refrains in Gaelic adding to the mystery.
Sturgeon picks up the pace again for Linton which is inspired by Hercules Linton the designer of the Cutty Sark. There are sections of the tune which have shades of the German national anthem which are weaved into the tale of the tea clipper's creation and journeys.
Harbour Masters is a ballad of reclamation coming from Sturgeon's interest in all things natural. Her home overlooks Aberdeen Harbour and although once heavily industrialised she focuses on nature gentle reclaiming what was originally hers.
Her A Capella rendition of Judgement reminds of Tracy Chapman's Behind The Wall. Sturgeon's straightforward political song speaks for itself, the words are powerful and sung with commitment in a way which almost defies anyone to try to put her in a box.
The debut album
The Honours is a wonderful tale of daring-do and Sturgeon keeps it traditional with a slight medieval feel to both the tune and the cadence of her singing.
The final track of the album, Fair Drawin' In, is sung and played in a laid back manner alluding to the days getting shorter from mid-summer to winter.
In creating this album Sturgeon has assembled an impressive cast of musicians and vocalists Rahul K Ravindran, Hannah Crawford and Ana-Maia MacLellan add real colour and atmosphere on several of the tracks.
When you listen to this album you are caught up Sturgeon's enthusiasm, obvious love and respect for flora and fauna so much so, listening to this album is like opening the door for the first time onto a world many of us take for granted and miss, letting the patent beauty around us pass us by in our rush to get somewhere.

From The Skein is out now on Tamarach Records and is available from the artist's website and through the usual downloads.

You can see her live on June 17 at Deeside Inn, Ballater, the following night at Eyemouth Hippodrome. The on June 25 she is at Glenbuchat Hall - ceilidh collective (workshop), followed by June 26 at Portsoy Boat Festival. The it's another festival on July 9 and 10 where she will be at Stonehaven Folk Festival (workshop). On July 22 she plays An Tobar, Mull then on the 23rd Knoydart. Later in the month she spends July 26 and 27 on Isle of May. On July 30th she is at Tullynessle Hall - ceilidh collective (workshop) and to finish the month on July 31 she has a house concert, Aboyne and Deeside Festival.

Friday 10 June 2016


CD EP Reviews

Small Town Talk
This Time Around

Ma Polaine's Great Decline have a very distinctive sound that is for grown ups and often with themes that are not for the faint-hearted, what's more this owes a lot to the incredible voice of lead singer Beth Packer, .

Ma Polaine's inhabit that twilight zone between decadence and respectability but they never let you know in which camp they are going to plant their musical foot, which provides a delicious tease.
The opener on their EP, which is a follow up to their fantastic album Got Me out of Hell, is Japanese Knotweed which is a tale about bizarre neighbours. Right from the off you get the depth of Packer's voice which somehow makes you almost feel guilty for listening to her decadent tones while at the same time she draws you in saying to yourself I have to hear this.
The sinister harmonies are fused with the throbbing beat and Packer's definite tone. She softens her tone for Waiting For The War which, although a lovely ballad, is quite a cynical song in that it appears there is an inevitability of the next conflict arising. The song neither moralises or questions the reasons but appears to lament the fact that sooner or later, someone somewhere will start another war.
Been Loved Too Much is a strange one, it has the feel of a torch song and as usual Packer's emotional vocals are as incisive as ever. The sprawling, almost lazy ballad which has Packer sounding tired and bored with other people's opinions has a soporific quality where she no longer cares, and gives the feeling that she doesn't care if people listen to what she is singing or not. However at the same time, she creates the feeling of a singer in a dark cavern of a night club casting her spell over everyone who hears her.
The last of the four tracks has a lighter feel while keeping the darker subject matter. Harvey is about an attempted bank robbery which ends in tragedy or poetic justice, depending upon your point of view. Packer pulls out her harmonica for this track giving it that bluesy, "dust bowl" feel which suits her style of singing so well.

Small Town Talk is available now through the band's website and download sites and you can catch them promoting the album on tour on June 11 at The Sitting Room, The Blue Boar, Ludlow, Shropshire. Doors open 8pm but no ticket details were available at time of publishing. On June 12 you can see them at The Velvet Violin, The Assembly Rooms, Presteigne. Show starts 7pm and tickets are £12. On June 13 they are at The Old Bookshop, Bristol. Show starts 9pm and entry is free. The show at the The Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham on June 14 has been cancelled. On June 15 they play Mono in Chorlton followed on June 16 at The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle. Show starts 8pm and donations are welcome. It's on to Hot Numbers Coffee in Cambridge on June 17, show starts 7.30pm. This is followed on June 18 by a gig at Green Note, London. Show starts 8.30pm and tickets are £8. It's then off to The Duke of Cumberland, Whistable on June 19 and finishing the month at the Square & Compass, Swanage on June 24.

Kaity Rae seems to  have made a slight musical shift from her debut EP Spark. The talented singer/songwriter seems to gained a stronger grip on the country side of acoustic music while at the same time incorporating a pretty strong commercial sound to her act.

Before I Knew, the opening track and single of her new four song disc keeps the class musicianship the North Londoner displayed in Spark.
It's fair to say her voice has matured somewhat since her debut disc in 2014 and there is an easier style to her singing in what in parts has the feel of a power ballad. It also gives her a chance to show the range her voice carries right from the off.
The disc moves on to This Time Around where Rae shows the gentler side to her singing and has a nice build up with the rapid-fire lyrics. Her breathy delivery gives the song a sensuous quality.
The track that follows is one that could be lifted out of the MTV generation songbook. Back In My Heart is perhaps the most commercially sounding track on the EP which will certainly give her an appeal to audiences which wouldn't necessarily listen to acoustic/Americana. It shows how she has become polished and produced but it lacks some of the rawness of Spark. The final track on the album is the best one, All That I Am, once again shows you how subtle but effective the lower and gentler range of her singing can be. The simple acoustic accompaniment is enough to keep the song moving along without being intrusive. You get a better feel for the not so produced side of her talent which is more honest and carries more emotion because of it.
Rae is a class act, versatile and has a voice many would love to have perhaps in the future she will take her talents in several directions, she has the skills to do it.

This Time Around is available now from the artist's website and through download.

You can catch her live at Rhythms of the World, Club 85, Hitchin on July 9 then on July 11 she plays Blue Monday, The Boogaloo, followed on July 16 at City Showcase, Embankment Market then on July 23 it's back to Rhythms of the World,  Hitchin Town Centre.

Wednesday 1 June 2016


CD Review

Making Mountains (Vol1)

The debut album from Edd Donovan & The Wandering Moles, Something To Take The Edge Off, brought something fresh, innovative and refreshingly different to the table, so for those who enjoyed it their second offering had something to live up to.

Edd Donovan  
Picture copyright Jess Jones
Legend has it second albums are notoriously difficult when it comes to surpassing the original, however EDWM have cracked it.
The album kicks off with Donovan's distinctive and almost lazy style of laid-back singing with Dogs Don't Bite which seems to have two layers there is the classical style accompaniment underneath Donovan's singing which is then moved along quite briskly by what is close to a military type beat. The same type of rhythm almost segues into the following track. Are You Going The Same Way. where there is a retro feel to this song which touches on memories of The Monkees. The native Merseysider, who has made his home in Cheltenham, adds a slightly Spanish feel to the opening of Bowerbird but again keeps that retro feel to this very light ballad which, if you listen carefully, sounds like he has sampled Donovan's Jennifer Juniper. By this track you realise how Donovan manages to put a feelgood factor into his songs which invades your psyche and as you listen you find yourself smiling for no reason and thinking things just might turn out all right.
He brings in the oomph factor for Ballad Of The Dying Day with a much stronger beat and darker lyrics and an edgier style of singing. The lyrics are a little more sinister too with lines such "It's not what you know, it's what you don't."
Towards the middle Donovan bends the tune and almost takes it off kilter so you can never quite get comfortable with the longest song on the album, it's like he is trying to keep you on the edge. There are four distinctive parts to this epic with the final cranking up the retro and giving it a sound that's close to Jim Morrison and The Doors.
In contrast, Who Will Show Us? has the lighter feel of a travelling song and you get to hear the distinctive qualities of Donovan's voice which has that softness which belies his rugged and bearded looks.
He goes down the old time spiritual road for Talking Jesus and add a few crackles and you could be listening to a 20/30s gospel radio show on a massive set with glowing valves. There is such a gentleness to the way Donovan constructs and sings some of his songs you almost feel them wrap around you like a warm blanket.
There is close to a doo-wop feel bringing in Alien Light and Donovan's lyrics are almost released reluctantly one at a time, like a cabaret performer producing bubbles each one floating away to slowly fill the room.
I Am is a really simple but deep ballad, it's almost like a poem with each statement let go like a mantra sent out to give people time to reflect, meditate and digest the profundity of what he is saying. The gentle strumming of the guitar and light ethereal harmonies underneath his singing give this song a pseudo spiritual quality.
His stream of consciousness has everything in there, deep observations and light-hearted similes added to what is a hypnotic tune which you never really want to end.
There is a contradiction in The Day I Lost My Wife, the lyrics are straight out of the country pot but the tune is lighter with a busker quality which is created with the help of the understated use of the accordion.
Donovan's Hedgehog has a beautiful strings section underneath the slightly bizarre lyrics which include "You put a hedgehog in my heart." The ballad produces what seem like unconnected images which is almost challenging the listener to make sense of or put their own spin on it, a sort of DIY interpretation kit.
There is a Ska beat to the cutting lyrics of Pink Belly, a song which highlights the issue of over population. The harsh edge is back in Donovan's voice and as the song progresses it becomes more menacing and the tune gathers pace taking on a more chaotic hue.
The new album
TV Squares, the final track, is another comment on social life. This time Donovan sounds as weary as the channel hopping, social media watching population who are aimlessly looking for something interesting and more stimulating to watch. Anything rather than face or get involved in life for real.
With this album EDWM have lost none of the originality or inventiveness of their first collection and Donovan's gentle way of getting his point across can be as unnerving as it is entertaining and thought provoking.
He has such an easy manner in his singing and songwriting that while it's restful and comfortable to listen to Donovan never let's you quite relax fully, he has a wonderful way of putting a sting in the tale.
The only thing left to say is bring on Vol 2, which if you didn't know is due in 2017.

Making Mountains (Vol 1) is released June 3 on Paper Label Records.

You can see him live on June 4 at the Wychwood Festival, Cheltenham where he will be playing the Hobgoblin Stage and the Wychwood FM Stage see the festival website for ticket information.