Thursday 24 November 2016


EP Review


Even though this is Bethan Lees' first EP she has been around a little longer than this initial offering suggests. Lees has been on the festival circuit for a couple of years but has decided it's time she moved from backstage to centre stage.

The EP from Bethan Lees
Fortunately she is in the hands of Folkstock Records which once again has been excavating the folk mines and come up with yet another gem to add to its glittering collection.
The four track disc is a taster and if you like folk music this should get your musical taste buds salivating.
First thing you notice as she sings the opener Ships is the depth of character she has in her voice for a 20-year-old.
There are hints of the gorgeously rich tones of Katie Melua mixed with the strength and worldliness of Marina Florance.
However, that is just scratching the surface, Lees carries buckets of emotion in her singing.
With the Latin inspired Water and Wine she has the same sort of gritty, earthy almost wanton sound you hear from Beth Parker of Ma Polaine's Great Decline and the sassiness of Becky Tate from Babajack. The galloping tune she keeps pace with conjures up images of torch singers in smoky clubs, with hips swaying as she walks around the tables making husbands hot under the collar and wives furious.
Lees goes to the other end of the "moral" spectrum for Sleep. There is an innocence and vulnerable quality to her singing on this track. She brings a real girlish and light quality to the last of the tracks, Post Festival Blues.
The song has the sort of playfulness you once associated with Lily Allen and, unfortunately, it's one of those tracks that by the time you have got your fingers clicking and your toes tapping it's over. This of course has its upside as you then have to play it again.
Lees, from Sussex, is a real talent who has the whole package and her ability to write a catchy tune is magical, you can only hope it's not too long before her first full album is down on disc.

Ships is released on the Folkstock label on November 25.


CD Review


If you are going to pair up a couple of Scottish musicians for an album then you could do a lot worse than find two with the combined pedigrees of Ross Ainslie and Ali Hutton. The fact the pair have been involved and played with more bands than a six armed roadie tells you not only are they good but their peers think they are good too.

Ali Hutton and Ross Ainslie
Their combined talents coming together on a single album bodes well for all those into folk music in general and Scottish trad music specifically.
You can't let them take all the credit though, for this fine collection of music they were more than ably abetted by Duncan Lyall, Martin O'Neill and Gus Sicard.
For that little section of blinkered people who may still think Scottish music is all banging drums, flailing kilts and wailing bagpipes, then Symbiosis will gently remove the scales from your eyes.
The album eases you in with Sisters which is a duet of tunes by Hutton with both the artists choosing to play whistles and strings. The opener Aliyah's slides in like a gentle wind with the deep sounding whistles keeping a nice light pace with each other. It slows down for the second part and becomes more languid while keeping that deep resonance of the whistles.
This is followed by the triplet Smiler, which is brought in by Ainslie on the cittern swiftly followed by Hutton on the whistle, the opening section is Fraser and Rachael's Wedding Waltz composed by the whistle blower. This gives way to the Ud the Doudouk which picks up the pace considerably where the pair seem to be almost racing each other to the end.
The final part, again from Hutton, brings in a deeper sound on the whistles but the pace is not lessened and washes the light music over you as you listen.
Never ones to skimp on giving the listeners' their moneys worth, what follows is a run of doublets the first being under the heading Grans and starts with Mrs Jane Kennedy of St Anne's, Methen which is a gentle strings tune from both musicians. It isn't long before Hutton brings in the highland pipes and drums but maintains the subtlety of tune. Bodhran and pipes slide into the second part India with the whistle joining in to push the tune along. Fourth, which is Sam I Am and Fourth-Floor, comes in with a wonderfully dancing whistle tune and bodhran which brings memories of Canned Heat's Going Up The Country.
Canned Heat
This gives way to the much more traditional sounding second part with the whistle doing battle with the bodhran in a wonderfully fast pace dance.Pongu which is Chris Grace's Joy and Mairi's Tune, both from Ainslie this time, goes straight in with the border pipes which, even if you are not an aficionado, is pitched higher than the previous pipes and, while a little more shrill, in the hands the composer they remain fluid and enjoyable. The second part features the strings of Hutton which give it a contemporary feel. The next set of tunes Loch, which are Love at the Loch and Gibbo's Number 1, is the pair stripped down to their base instruments with Hutton on guitar and Ainslie on whistle. Here they show you don't need any embellishments to create a lush and rolling tune which is easy on the ear and almost carries you on a wind of sound.
They pick up the pace with the second part with a toe-tapper that has a jazz tinge to it where the guitar provides not only the strings but the rhythm section too and Ainslie seems to be really enjoying blowing out the tune.
Wan, which comprises The Long Count and Gobbi Wan, opens with a brooding feel but then slides into a much more contemporary, almost electronic sound before the highland pipes come to remind you this is pure Scotland.
The new album
As you listen to the drones you can almost see Hutton's fingers working like fury as the hard strokes of the guitar provide what is close to a drum beat. The penultimate track Ruby, which is Sheila and Rick's Ruby Wedding and Happy Harry, starts with a beautiful throaty and gentle tune on the whistle with highlights added along the way by the cittern strings.
The strings pick up the pace for the second half while the whistles add more of a dancing tempo to the bring it to a close.
The final double tune is Gaelic which is composed of Elizabeth's Trip to Perthshire and Hug Oiridh Hiridh Hairidh.
The thrumming strings bring in the tune almost providing the sound of a cajon, with the gentle whistles taking some of the edge off the hard rhythm it provides.  The pair give a modern coat to the traditional sound which makes up the second part of the tune. The whistles have one final dance together as they skip around the guitar and bodhran.
Ainslie and Hutton have been involved with music since before they were teenagers and they have developed into masters of their art. They are part of a growing group of Scottish performers who are making the once shunned bagpipes cool, while at the same time showing the diversity and subtlety the drones can display when in the hands of experts. More and more the type of music displayed on this album is taking pride of place on the Scottish trad scene and, perhaps more significantly, the wider world of folk which means we could be seeing a real musical symbiosis.

Symbiosis is available now and you can buy the album from or

Monday 14 November 2016


CD Reviews

More Like A River Than A Road/A Perfect Landing

Scottish singer/songwriter Sheila K Cameron's musical talent is full of character, depth and appears to come from a deep understanding of the human condition. However, this said there is so much more to Cameron than can be contained by the label singer/songwriter.

Sheila K Cameron
Her songs are being reissued and when you hear her gentle tones on More Like A River Than A Road and A Perfect Landing you soon realise there is life and experience in every phrase word and syllable.
There is sometimes a weariness in her singing but never boredom, cynicism or negativity.
More Like A River... is a small collection of poems and songs opening with I Waited A Long Time which carries shades of the recently departed legend Leonard Cohen.
Cameron's style does have that laconic, almost world-weary style of letting carefully selected words sort of slip out of her mouth rather than be sung.
None of the tracks are epics, which is quite ironic considering the collection of songs covers several decades, but the opener is merely one and half minutes long. It has a very subtle blues feel underneath and, like so many of Cameron's tracks, they sound more like musings and thinking aloud rather than songs which was intended for others to hear.
This gives way to Let It Come which sounds like Cameron reading out loud a letter she is composing. Every word and note is thoughtfully connected to each other. Author Doris Lessing is clearly a heroine of Cameron's and Last Night I Dreamed About Doris Lessing tells of the singer's aspirations to live up to the ideals of her muse.
Somehow(Everything From My Suitcase Got Scattered On The Road) is atmospheric and somewhat lighter in tone than previous tracks. Cameron's works seem to invite interpretation from the listener and none more so than this track.
The House With The Windows is close to a spoken song with the words never quite rolling over into singing on top of the gentle piano accompaniment. Remembering Mr Toast is a poem given gentle accents of musical notes in the background.
Cameron paints a landscape with her words and it's from this she draws the title of the album. The final track, on what is essentially an extended EP, Where The Last Tide Runs, is once again Cameron bringing her view of nature in the listener's psyche.

A Perfect Landing

This album is the second in a series of reissues of Cameron's work and opens with the title track which is a poem which gradually constructs the scene of the title.
You Are Lovely does have a slight 60s feel to it along the lines of The Seekers' Georgy Girl and whoever the subject is they are clearly held in Cameron's affections.
This gives ways to With You In My Life which is a light track about the security of always having someone there for you. Not the most glamorous of titles You'll Like It At The Waterworks seems almost like a child's rhyme sung at bedtime.
Not showing an affection for urban living seems to be a metaphor in the country style song We Could Live In A Hut. My Love Is Velvet is a gentle love song where Cameron adopts a smokier sound to her prose.
Don't Hold The Hurt To Make It Easy comes across as a song of empathy and looking to pass on her wisdom about being true to yourself. Don't Sigh Even Slightly is another of those simple songs where you seem to catch Cameron thinking out loud.
Deeply cryptic, and even with the strong blues beat,  Rock Me Like A Child has an ethereal feel to it where even in the production Cameron seems to singing from another dimension almost like Aerial in The Tempest.
The Water Is Deep will be familiar to many listeners, often known as Carrickfergus, and is the only track on the album which isn't Cameron's own work but the simplicity with which she performs it gives it a whole new dimension.
Yesterday I Felt Two Inches Tall is a poem about vulnerability and Cameron's incredibly frugal use of words makes it extremely powerful. Another powerful song of longing and loss follows in Tell Me That now.
Corunna Street is a lighter sounding song which again is one her descriptive musings which seems to take a snapshot of life. The penultimate track on this fairly short album, considering it has 15 tracks, is I Am With You and is not quite fully spoken and not quite fully sung but again is a very descriptive offering about deep relationships. The album finishes with I Am Feeling Lost Bring Me Home where the organ accompaniment gives it an almost spiritual feel.
The song bookends a collection of songs which are wonderful in their simplicity, soothing in their gentleness and yet poignant with their accuracy on illuminating the human condition.
Cameron uses words like a miser uses money but what you get are songs and poems which are honed down to the bare bones and have the accuracy and sometimes the cutting edge of a samurai sword wielded in the hands of a true master.
If this reissue is designed to widen the enigmatic Cameron's appeal then there could be a new generation of listeners out there who have a treat in store.

More Like A River Than A Road and A Perfect Landing are available now on the Glalell label online, through Bandcamp and Reverbnation.

Friday 4 November 2016


CD Review

Tall Tales and Rumours

Luke Jackson must have the musical hormones of a teenager, they are rampant, raging and causing him to mature at a phenomenal rate. 

Luke Jackson
At 22 he is on his fourth studio album with twelve original songs that are full of emotion, guts and executed with that distinctive, signature - almost plaintive style of singing - which makes him stand out.
It's that voice which opens the album with an old-time, spiritual style of blues wailing which wouldn't be out of place at a wake, and brings back memories of that great film Oh Brother, where Art Thou?
The Man That Never Was is an incredible opener. Jackson's voice is haunting, brooding and full of mojo. It's the style of track which resembles some of the great tracks from Ry Cooder.
It segues into Treat Me Mean, Keep Me Keen, which still keeps the blues theme but is much faster.
Jackson's voice has these wonderfully eccentric incidentals which crop up every now and again and keeps his vocals just the British side of the usual American accent adopted by so many artists.
There are little gems such as the way he sings "The air round here is just a smoker's cuff, and there's too much substance to your culchaaar." and the way he sings "her eyes began to flatter(flutter)" and the drawn out, higher note of "country song" seem to indicate Jackson was in a relaxed mood when recording and enjoying every word.
This gives way to a really cool ballad, Finding Home, which is reminiscent of Kris Drever's slow, languid style of singing. By now you realise the depth of Jackson's voice and the maturity with which he executes his songs.
The opening guitar chords of Better Man reminds of the the seminal version of Hallelujah from Jeff Buckley.
The gentle strumming slides beneath Jackson's understated singing for what is an incredibly thoughtful and emotion-stirring ballad.
He picks up the pace for Anything But Fate where sections of his singing steps quickly, like someone on hot coals, over the top of the throbbing bass line provided by Andy Sharps.
There are times when the softness of Jackson's voice overwhelms you and Leather and Chrome is one such example. Even though his tones are refined none of the depth or character of his tone is lost and there is a yearning for nostalgia and emotion in his words which have the ability to touch the listener deeply.
Whether by design or accidental, there are elements and musical phrases which explode memory bubbles of the sixties and early seventies where it seems to evoke some distant melodic memory which you can never quite put your finger on. Anything But Fate is one and I Remember is another. It is nothing like The Doors or the Mamas and Papas but somehow it brings them to mind almost like auto suggestion.
Using the guitar, this time as part of the percussion, for Aunt Sally, Jackson gives a throbbing beat to the track. His voice pumps the lyrics as if he is trying to the push the whole song along with just his words.
Kansas is a great track worthy of The Boss himself and shows the versatility of Jackson's vocals. The controlled subtlety in both his singing and guitar playing is exquisite and without saying a word he can fill the entire song with emotion.
The new album
The track which follows, Lucy & Her Camera, is pure Jackson with the words tumbling out and expanding like bubbles to burst just in time for the next phrase to take its place. He moves the style more into the rock camp for what is essentially a boy gets the girl song.
The emotion of Jackson's singing floods out with That's All Folks. It's a deep song about suicide that is made all the more poignant for its simplicity.
Here Jackson proves the point less is more and once again there is no depth or character lost in the fact he is keeping his voice soft and low.
On The Road, the final track, seems to pay homage to the days of doo wop. It has the feel of the last dance of the night and you can almost see the couples in the dimmed light of a hall moving around as though glued at the hips.
Jackson's talent have never wavered and this album has taken him to another level.
The thought, emotion, construction and execution of the songs are incredibly mature.
Jackson is in his early twenties so if you extrapolate twenty years he is either going to be a burned out wreck or they are going to have invent a new scale for him to be registered on, the smart money is on the latter.

Tall Tales and Rumours is out now on First Take Records.

You can catch Luke as the trio touring with the new album at The Madhouse @ The Brewhouse, Burton on Trent on Saturday November 5, show starts 8pm. Tickets are £10 in advance and £12 on the night. Then on November 6 they are at The Convent, Stroud. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £10 plus £1.25 booking fee
The trio move onto the continent on November 11 playing  L’Ist Waar, Oud Herverlee, Belgium. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are 29 euro including a meal or 14 euro for the concert only. 
On November 13 they play Pastorie de Mortel, De Mortel, Netherlands. Show starts 3pm
Then it's back to Belgium on November 15 for a lunchtime college concert at Artevelde Hogeschool, Mariakerke. Concert starts at noon.
The trio stay in Belgium for another gig on Friday November 18 where they play Soul Urban Coffee Bar, Zomergem. Show starts at 7.30pm.
It's back to the Netherlands on November 20 to play Cambrinus, Horst. Show starts at 4pm and tickets are 15 euro.
On November 25 they play Stat 68, Aalter, Belgium. Show starts 7.30pm. Then staying in Belgium on November 26 they play Maison Bleue, Gent. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are 19 euro