FolkWorld Issue 38 03/2009

FolkWorld CD Reviews

Siri Karlsson "Mellan träden"
Label: Tombola records; cdtr01; 2008
You might expect that Siri Karlsson is a solo artist, but it’s the name of a duo formed by Maria Arnqvist on saxophone and Cecilia Österholm on the nyckelharpa (key fiddle). This combination of instruments is a classical one since the Forsens låt by Anders Rosén and Roland Keijser who combined the violin and saxophone for the first time in Swedish music. This album Mellan träden includes two traditionals and nine original compositions. The duo is backed on two tracks by Tuomo Haapala on acoustic bass and y Eric Malmberg on Hammond organ. Siri Karlsson delivered an absolute top album with well arranged acoustic music with compositions deeply rooted in the old and new Swedish folk music. Österholm shows to be a wonderful Nyckelharpa player with a warm and intense sound. Listen to her own composition called Järsövalsen, perfectly played, straight out of the heart with subtle, but essential backings by Arnqvist on the violin. In Lokomo Arnqvist takes the lead and shows that a tenof saxophone can be as tender as a first kiss. Amazing how this duo changes a short melody into a song by making small changes, something that reminds me of Arbete och fritid who did that masterly on their 1977 album Sen dansar vi ut. Siri Karlsson has made one of the best debut albums of this century with pure, warm and perfectly played acoustic folk music. They show a big talent both as musicians and composers.
Eelco Schilder

Meelika Hainsoo "Aramastuse ja rõõmu laulud"
Label: Own label; 2007
Wirbel "Traditional music from Estonia"
Label: Wirbelmusic; 002; 2005
From Estonia two albums. First singer, fiddle and bowed harp player Meelika Hainsoo. It’s her solo album after recording with the group Vägilased amongst others. On this album thirteen she recorded thirteen traditional songs and tunes. She is backed by musicians on violin, mandolin, concertina and harmonium. Hainsoo has a beautiful, airy, voice. I love her interpretations of the traditional songs on this album. She takes the time, uses sober arrangements and let the music speaks for it self. The album opens with Hing, ärka üles which sounds like the start of a beautiful new day. Her clear singing brings rest and peace and it’s the best way to open a CD. What follows are a few nice ballads like the frivolous Liisbet, mamma armas laps about a young girl that waits in a rose garden for her fiancée, will he come? And the, almost seven minutes long, Üks neitsi körge kalda peal about an impossible love, but at the end they are buried in the same grave so they can be together eternally. Hainsoo sings this song backed with the concertina and for seven minutes I’m glued to the speakers. I don’t understand the lyrics, but in her way of singing and in how the song is arranged the story comes alive anyway. This album is full with this kind of songs but also with a few beautiful instrumental parts like the Ärni valss which Hainsoo got from her grandfather. A wonderful album and again a CD from Estonia wins my heart. Hainsoo is also part of the band Wirbel that released their latest CD with traditional music from Estonia. The same clear vocals, but in a more traditional setting. Wirbel recorded ancient songs next to more recent, but not that known, new songs. They focus on instrumental folk music but the album has a few great songs as well. The combination of only string instruments with a different sound and character gives their music a typical Estonian sound. Two albums that make me very curious to know more about the Estonian culture.,,,
Eelco Schilder

Jonathan Richman "A qué venimos sino a caer?"
Munster records; 2008
Over thirty years of music, former of the punk rock band Modern lovers. He got into a more restful style a long while ago and each of his album is a new journey through his world. Changing from country to roots, rock and doo-wop. Now this album he does it the Latin way. Twelve new compositions sung in French, Italian, Spanish and English with a good, warm Southern feeling but also the typical Richman style. A warm, creative album with the feeling of an alternative summer album.
Eelco Schilder

Warsaw Village Band "Infinity"
Jaro; 4289-2; 2008
After a, at least for me, bit disappointing remix album finally a new studio album by the Warsaw village band. The last few years this band became one of the major acts in worldmusic and a true ambassador for the neo Polish folk. Their modern and unique interpretation of ancient Polish music doesn’t leave the listener unmoved. This is music that people love or hate, there is no alternative for that. I happen to love the sound of the sharp vocals, the hypnotising cello and the beating dulcimer. They finish their music with well chosen samples and incidental and electronic beat. It must have been difficult to record a new CD after the success of Uprooting. The band choose to stay in the same style and again play with passion and emotion. It might not be as surprising as Uprooting and this album is even a bit more modest. But without any doubt the Warsaw village band shows top quality music with good harmony vocals and ditto instrumental works. I don’t think it will disappoint any of their fans.
Eelco Schilder

Gunnel Mauritzson Band "Whatever happens"
Laika records; 3510244.2; 2008
One of the nicest albums of 2003 was Raisu äut by the, for me unknown at that time, Swedish singer Gunnel Mauritzson. Between the last and the new solo album she has recorded two other projects including with the band Om. On Whatever happens Mauritzson works with a totally different band than six years ago. A combination of traditional Swedish instruments such as the nyckelharpa and instruments such as the saxophone, organ, piano and accordion, colour the sound of this album. The thirteen tracks are a combination of traditional pieces and new compositions. Mauritzson choose the jazz-folk approach that I find typically Swedish. She found more rest in her singing and composing, it’s like she found a better balance in composing and performing. Nice is Om dagen vid mit arbete which is such a delicate song, where the band and singer find the perfect symbioses. But also in the more light-footed tracks like Full gas and Brev polska they show to be a real ensemble instead of a singer with band. It’s clear that they made this album together and lift each other to a higher level. It was worth the years of waiting, Mauritzson returns with a strong new album.
Eelco Schilder

Rupert Wates "Dear life"
Bite music; BR12108; 2008
Audey Ratliff "Piece of cake"
Label: Dream walk productions; DWP-821957-1; 2008
Phosphorescent "Jo Willie"
Label: Dead oceans; DOC013; 2009
Chris Stuart & Backcountry "Crooked man"
Label: Backcountry; 842; 2008
Anne Feeney "Dump the bosses off your back"
Label: Own label; 2008
A bunch of, more or less, American folk / country influenced albums in this review, starting with Rupert Wates who was actually born in London, lived in Paris but now lives in the USA. It’s his fourth album with all new songs by Wates himself. Nice arrangements, decent vocals which, although he has a totally different kind of voice, remind me of Richard Thompson a bit, but only in the way he sings, not in the sound of his voice. Wates recorded eleven nice personal songs. Strong tracks are Elegy for the coming man and I dream, a song like Please god is nice but standard, the same for Fifty shots and a few more. A decent album with a few songs in which Wates really shows what he is capable of. Audey Ratliff is a singer and mandolin player who builds his own instruments. (which are for sale on the website). Ratliff sings nice American folk songs, including some traditionals, a Lightfoot track and songs he arranged personally. Ratliff has a beautiful, careful and warm voice. I like his pure approach, more is less! That’s the best way to describe his music. A recommended album with acoustic folk from the US with some great mandolin as well! Phosphorescent is a band who has Matthew Houck as the front men. Together with a few musicians he recorded a kind of tribute to Willie Nelson, although on this album you can also find a Merle Haggard and Hank Cochran song. Houck doesn’t have the vintage voice Nelson has, but nevertheless this is a nice album with some pure Country/blues. Sometimes acoustic, but mostly with a light electric touch. Always a bit introvert and always respectful towards the original composition. A friendly album. Chris Stuart & Backcountry is a nice album by singer and rhythm guitarist Chris Stuart who is backed by the Backcountry quartet including Jeanet Beazely on banjo, Eric Uglum on mandolin and guitar and the two young talents bassist Austin Ward and fiddler Christian Ward. On two songs they invited Roger Gillespie on drums. The original tracks have a nice, calm atmosphere. In a ballad like The streets of Charlottetown or the beautifully, but sad These tears they are at their best. They easily combine folk with bluegrass and contemporary music. Very open minded and accessible music. Anne Feeney is of different calibre. She is shouting her opinion with humour but with a more serious undertone than you might expect when you hear her songs that almost explode of her enthusiasm. Start to Dump the bosses off your back, well, thinking of my wicked boss I can only say HALELUJA! unfortunately my boss used super glue so she might stick a bit longer than I would like her to, but than it gives me something to complain about. Nice is her version of Preacher and the slave one written by Joe Hill. She finds a bit of rest in You will answer and Hillcrest mine although I got the idea that the drummer is a bit in a rush in this song, she just continues singing as if she doesn’t notice. That is exactly what makes her music so nice, she violates about all the rules of composing and making music. Totally out of tune she sings the bosses from our backs and where others would sing her own composition Goonies with a smooth jazz voice, she just screams her way through the song and I love it. This album shows a great artist that does what she likes, the way she likes it and she does it with passion. You will love this or hate it, I kind of like it but don’t tell my conservative friends.,,,,
Eelco Schilder

Čankišou "Lé la"
Indies; MAM425-2; 2008
Čankišou is the result of a Christmas party in 1999 that was organised by a bunch of rock musicians. Now, ten years later, the band toured world wide and is a known for it’s energetic live performances. This Czech band mixes ethnic sounds from all over the world with solid rock music. They put enthusiasm, energy and creativity in their music that is often wild and sometimes a few seconds even a bit sensitive. Many exotic instruments can be recognised, this is Balkan meeting African, Indian, Eastern, European and many other sounds. The band knows what they are doing, this album has a strong sound with a great inner force. Must be one of the highlights on any festival world wide.
Eelco Schilder

Arkul "Il Bastidor"
Snail records; 2008
This Arkul stays a bit of a mystery. The labels webpage is under construction and there isn’t much information to find on the web, I wasn’t able of locating their own webpage (if they have any) and that is a pity because this Il bastidor is a fantastic album, a real beauty. The rich sound of this album is made by only two musicians. Singer Vladimir Mickovic touches me deeply with his sensitive and pure voice. He is backed by multi-instrumentalist Atilla Aksoj who creates the subtle instrumental parts on his guitar, mandolin, bass and percussion. This duo focuses on Sephardic music from Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is the music from a group of Jewish who left Spain during the inquisition and found a new home in Bosnia. The songs, sung in a mixture of languages called Ladino, tell about history, love religion and the travel from Spain to find a new place where they feel safe. Arkul brings this music in an acoustic setting, with so much passion that it hurts sometimes. I love Mickovic melodic vocals, but I’m as much impressed with Aksoj’s instrumental play. Il bastidor is a small jewel but with such a unique colour that it will only be appreciated by those who take the time to study it and find it’s beauty.
Eelco Schilder

Titi Robin "Kali sultana"
Naïve; WN145166; 2008
Titi Robin is probably one of the best known French composer / musician in the crossover world music style. From his first step into the world of music, he has been creating new sounds by mixing old cultures. In 1984 he formed a duo with lute and table, which is the start of a rich career. Since than he has been part of several groups and published many solo albums. Kali sultana is his latest work. A 2 cd set, constructed like a symphony. Robin shows to be a great composer, who is not only capable of bringing different styles together into an intriguing new composition. Here he also shows that without any problems he is capable of composing an almost 90 minutes long music piece without loosing the spirit of the piece. Layer by layer he reveals his music. Sometimes with subtle melodies and occasionally with powerful vocals, percussion and sax. He takes the listener with him on a pleasant journey around several corners of his world. Using gypsy, oriental, French, Arabic, jazz and so many other influences. The world he creates is a friendly one, it's music that many will like. It's clearly not his intention to unease his listeners. Titi Robin wants us to relax and enjoy.
Eelco Schilder

Psarantonis & The Ensemble Xylouris "Mountain rebels"
Raki Records/Network; 495123; 2008
Psarantonis has been the best known musician of Crete for many years now. His raw vocals and hypnotising play on the lyra and mandolin is very recognisable. On this new album he plays with the Xylouris ensemble (Ud, lute, percussion and vocals) and with two guest musicians on cello and lute. The CD contains rearranged traditional pieces and own compositions. The CD starts with a surprisingly light instrumental piece. Followed by the more typical Psarantonis song Ine forés pou me methi, which means as much as ‘each time I was drunk’. Here he shows his impressive voice backed by a violin that gets wilder and wilder. Beautiful are the two songs about Jasmine called Paráta mblió tin xenitiá and Na min afinis giasemi. Which both have a light sad undertone and together they are fifteen of the best minutes on this album. With his wild, rough, uncontrolled but also sensitive and sometimes even peaceful music, he bewitches me again and again.
Eelco Schilder

Los Desterrados "Miradores"
Label: Crusoe records; 002CD; 2008
Almost ten years ago the band Los desterrados was formed in London by guitarist and oud player Daniel Jonas. His goal was (is) to form a band which shows the passionate and exotic sides of the Sephardic music. I think this is an interesting thought, because most groups that play Sephardic music take the more serious songs and somehow bit sad melodies. I have to say that the origin of the music surprised me a lot. I reviewed several Sephardic albums during the past years, finding many fantastic pearls, but the approach Los Desterrados chooses, is new for me. The first time I heard Miradores I didn’t even think of Sephardic music but heard Flamenco, Mediterranean and Balkan styles mixed with latin and even a bit of jazz. But most important is that Miradores does not only show a, to me, unknown side of Sephardic music, it just contains some fantastic songs. I love the opening track Mi suegra, la negra with this great vocals by Hayley Blitz. This Flamenco influenced traditional song is powerful and shows the quality of the whole band. Together they manage to create a great band-sound. What follows is Kokhav tzedek which is a more Gypsy style song, but again played in a professional and passionate way. Interesting is also the Arabic influenced Asi dize la nieatra novia. Amazing that the band plays all these styles without any hesitation, sounding original and never loosing their professional approach. The album ends with two restful songs called Ni pudra yevo ni kolor and Pork e yoras blanka ninya. A beautiful end of a great album that took me by surprise.
Eelco Schilder

Jessica Lombardi "In dote"
Radici music; 122; 2007
Jessica Lombardi might not ring a bell instantly, but when I write that she is one of the Fiamma fumana members, I’m sure many will know what I mean. The Italian Lombardi plays the flute and is one of the very few woman that plays the Piva Emiliana, a regional type of bagpipe. Besides these traditional instruments she does the electronics and percussion. On this solo album she brings her traditional and modern sound together, like she does with Fiamma Fumana. All tracks are traditional and come from the Ethno musical research of Diego Carpitella. He issued three volumes of Folk music of the region Arezzo and that is exactly what Lombardi used as source. It’s fantastic how she mixes old recordings from the sixties with her own music. Subtle electronics and strong play on flute and Piva Emiliana. She does this with great respect to the original music. What I like is that she focuses on the atmosphere, the soul of a song. Although she loves adding electronics, she does it in a supporting way, it never takes over the song (which sometimes happens in Fiamma’s music) Lombardi brought a beautiful tradition back to life. She does this highly professionally and with the right attitude. This is how traditional music will survive in a modern world.
Eelco Schilder

Coriandre "Lo Tornet / Le p’tit vélo"
Label: Own label; 208
Coriandre is a traditional Occitan music group with a long list of activities. Besides publishing CD’s and perform on stage they give courses in traditional music and organise several kind of events. This is their latest double album, one of the CD’s is in the Occitan language and the other in French. Both CD’s have the same songs, only the language is different. This song is made for children and their family, to enjoy together. Coriandre shows to be a band with many possibilities. They sound strong in the traditional songs but also in those where they mix the tradition with jazz, a bit of brass and a bit of rock music. A CD that brings me into a good mood with creative arrangements of, often known, songs. I was surprised to hear that many melodies sound familiar, both from other traditional albums but the song Verdas I know from a Danish children album with a different lyric and slightly different melody. Coriandre sounds great and this album is a one of the most sunny album of the year.
Eelco Schilder

Coriandre "Se lèva lo vent ..."
Label: Own label; cor5430sllv; 2008
Lhi Jarris "Cèrcle Libre"
Label: Ultimo piano records; UPR 0020; 2008
Se leva lo vent, i.e the wind is rising, and it is a fresh wind. French-occitan band Coriandre from Sommieres, a small town near Nantes and Montpellier, is not new, but seemingly rather unknown further afield from the Mediterranean. The quartet that is named after a plant used in the mediterranean cuisine (coriandrum sativum) performs their own topical folk rock songs using hurdy gurdy and Occitan hautboy producing a nice mediaeval touch. The songs are in general rhythmically based on styles such as bourree, ronde, Scottish, mazurka put on a reggae beat or whatever rhythm was handy. "Scottish a Gozar" (i.e. have pleasure) presents the traditional dance form over a Colombian cumbia rhythm. "Si on se Cache" on the other hand is a lovely waltz which is a nice change from the straight-in-your-face message often more spoken than sung. By the way, the CD booklet features the original Occitan lyrics plus French translations.
Lhi Jarris is another Occitan folk rock group, this time from the Italian side of the border, more precisley it is Piedmont near Turin. The band has been founded twelve years ago. Compared to Coriandre, Lhi Jarris' folkrock d'Oc on their third album "Cèrcle Libre" is much more into rock music and traditional roots are harder to uncover. Though some songs are based on rigodon, rondeau and bourree forms, and there are fiddle, accordion and hurdy gurdy. They also have a socio-political message (translations of the Occitan song lyrics are in French and English in the booklet). It must be something about the language and culture or rather the distance from the political centres in both France and Italy. They are proud about their Occitan-Provencal traditions and their native language: it was called a nosto modo or patois, but my people have always spoken this language ("OC", musically based on circle dance). Say it loud, say it proud: we have something to say let's shout it in the square, rather than complain at home alone ("Partiages", i.e. fragmentation, based on a Scottish).,
Walkin' T:-)M

Zenobia "Midnat"
Go folk; 1208; 2008
Trio THG "Tungen ud ad vinduet"
Label: Go folk; 808; 2008
Baltinget "Alive"
Label: Go folk; 1608; 2008
A few releases of one of my favourite labels, the Danish GO label. What is that this label issues all kinds of styles and gives a lot of young, talented musicians the change to show the spirit of the Danish tradition. Let's start with the Zenobia trio. Part of this trio are Mette Kathrine Jensen on the accordion, pianist Charlotte Stojberg and singer Louise Stojberg. They bring known Danish traditional songs and a few original compositions in the same style. I have to say that it reminds me of the parties I visited when I lived in Denmark myself. There is always somebody who starts to sing a song and the rest follows, there is always somebody who starts playing the piano and when you are lucky there might even be an accordion. This album is so unbelievably daily-life-Danish that it makes me long for my next visit. But on the other hand, despite the strong piano and decent accordion, I find this album a bit to standard. I'm sorry, but I'm not a fan of Louise her hard and unsubtle way of singing. I really try to find any form of emotion, but it's like she sings on a fancy fair and wants to reach the people who are on the other side of the field. Besides that the musical arrangements are simple and feel a bit artificial. It feels like the musicians play the compositions taking the technique as the foundation instead of the emotion behind a song or dance. I think this could have been much more. The next one comes from the Trio THG this time not three ladies but three gentleman, no vocals but two violins and a guitar. This trio plays traditional melodies from Denmark and a few from other sources. They play in a light footed way which is easy going and very enjoyable. This album shows a promising band for the future which has the right style, the right sound but they are so eager to play that in some tunes they loose their calmness a bit. With a bit more rest and peace in their mind and hearts, this might become a top Danish band. The last one on the GoDansk label is by Baltinget a band that has been part of the Danish folk scene for many years. I remember that I liked their debut album a lot but that after that debut their music didn’t develop to much, they always stayed a bit in the same vein. The same for this live album. Nice Danish dance music played on a combination of instruments (violin, accordion, guitar, bass , percussion) that is often found since the seventies in Danish folk music. It’s a band that will make any party into an success and still plays at a high level. But even now I find their music not that different than from their first album.,,
Eelco Schilder

Afenginn "Reptilica polaris"
Tutl; SHD87; 2008
Seven years ago the Danish band Afenginn was born and now this quintet has released it’s third album and the most ambitious one yet. With a 12-piece brass band and the Camerata male choir they try to overwhelm their audience. From the first second it’s clear that Afenginn is taking the listener on a journey he won't easily forget. The focus in their music is on Balkan-brass and Klezmer techniques mixed with soundtrack from a dramatic film or a Broadway musical. My god, they go all the way, crossing musical borders like they have never exist. It’s alternative, a bit punky and might even be called a bit avant gardistic at moments. While the CD starts beautifully with the calm Salveamini as soon as the male choir takes over it’s just a sequence of rhytms, melodies and unexpected twists. This album is like a symphony, there is no escape possible, you just have to listen. I completely understand why Afenginn is nominated for the Danish Music award as folk artists of the year. Folk? Not much Danish musical styles on this album tough, but great cross (eastern and Mediterranean) European symphonic-brass kind of music. You have to hear this to believe it.
Eelco Schilder

Hal & Nikolaj "Hal & Nikolaj"
GO' Folk; GO1108; 2008
Basco "The Crow in the Walnut Tree"
Label: GO' Folk; GO0708; 2008
ZAR "Der Brænder en Ild"
Label: Own label; ZAR0308; 2008
Serras "Ø"
Label: GO' Folk; GO 1308; 2009
More new Danish music! A rather small country, but buzzing with great music! Fiddler Hal Parfitt-Murray has been born in Aberdeen, Scotland, but grew up in Australia. In another unexpected move, he chose to live in Denmark in 1996. Nikolaj Busk is the accordion player with Trio Mio (-> FW#38), with whom he won four Danish Music Awards in the last year, including Danish Instrumentalist of the Year. As a duo together they play mostly original compositions (alongside some traditional tunes such as "Jenny Picking Cockles" or "New Rigged Ship"): reels, polska, a waltz. A melancholic Scottish-Nordic mixed bag, a lost love left a trail of tunes. The playing is as beautiful as is the album's packaging. Every tune has its own sonnet written by Anna Friis. Every poem leads into another.
Hal Parfitt-Murray is also a member of the Danish band Basco which just released its debut album "The Crow in the Walnut Tree". Alongside Sigurd Hockings (guitar), Anders Ringgaard (box, trombone) and Andreas Tophøj (fiddle) who met at the Carl Nielsen Academy of Music in Odense, they play original music drawing on Nordic, Celtic and American traditions. One of the few traditionals is the old-timey "Blackberry Blossom". Other tunes are based on a Scottish type, a reel or a menuet. Not only with tune titles such as "Hadrian's Waltz," Basco display some humour. Sometimes as dark and kinky as those Danish movies. After all, a beautifully weird and charming musical mix.
Andreas Tophøj Rasmussen is also the fiddler with the band ZAR. Contrary to the above, their music is as Danish as can be. Singer Sine Lauritsen is singing old Danish folk songs, with a voice that is both tasty and clear. Let me mention the rest of the line-up: Christopher Davis Maack plays another fiddle (also with the group Moving Cloud -> FW#36), Rasmus Zeeberg plays guitar, Steffan S. Sørensen double bass and fiddle. This sounds quite traditional and innocent, if not boring. However, they take the old and ancient Danish ballads that have already changed throughout the centuries to clothe them in garments of the early 21st century. They embrace jazz and pop music, and their third album has been recorded in Nashville, Tennessee. Thanks God the outcome is only a smooth and laid-back sound and no Nash trash. As they say, the ballads and tunes should be regarded as a retelling of the old stories. This is probably necessary to keep them alive. Royal and regal music, but at the same time attracting a younger audience.
Last but not least, Serras is the most ambitious project (of those I'm talking here, but also in general). Featuring fiddler Harald Haugaard (-> FW#36), it indeed is the offspring of his folk rock band DUG. With the DUG's bass player Mads Riishede and drummer Sune Rahbek plus guitar player Sune Hånsbæk and saxophon player Hans Mydtskov they continued on the idea of performing traditional Danish dance music in an ambient and contemporary way. Fiery riffs meeting jazz and rock music. In the beginning they started with 18th century tunes (Rasmus Storm etc.), indeed serras is a crazy dance in 3/4 time signature of this era. Meanwhile they compose almost everything by themselves. Their fourth album "Ø" (i.e. island) has been recorded on the island of Samsø over the past three years. They took their time, and the outcome is quite mature. Yet still, the hell of a party - compared to other artists' visions of traditional Danish music.,,,
Walkin' T:-)M

Lee's Company "White Mansions"
Label: Own label; 2008
Jimmie Lee has been part of the London folk scene of the 1960/70s, a part unknown to most people I guess. Accordingly his musical heroes are Ralph McTell and Ian Campbell, to name but a few. Jimmie's recent venture is called "White Mansions" and is a folk opera and concept album about the American Civil War. The period between late 1860 and early 1867 is told with a series of fine songs written by Paul Kennerly. The CD has been recorded live in concert at the Blue Coconut in West Sussex, England. Besides Jimmie Lee (vocals, guitar, banjo), Lee's Company consists of Jon Wigg (fiddle, mandolin), Clare Juliet (accordion), Steve Ball (guitar) and Warren Ball (bass guitar). The songs embrace both traditional country and folk music as well as country and folk rock, performed in a lively way. Though the story is set in the American South of slavery and bigotry, it is meant to be an anthem of peace. Well, one could have easily expect something else in these times. Maybe it is an advantage that Brits are telling the story. It is no disadvantage at all that this original American subject is treated by foreigners. Anyway, the music is as American as can be.
Walkin' T:-)M

Loreena McKennitt "A Midwinter Night's Dream"
Quinlan Road Ltd.; QRCD112; 2008
Canadian singer and harpist Loreena McKennitt certainly needs no introduction (-> FW#12). She took her folksy, new-agey pop music to audiences worldwide and made it mainstream. Her seasonal album "A Midwinter Night's Dream" (she already contributed to the film soundtrack of The Santa Clause) is her 11th album since 1985, featuring five re-mastered tracks from her 1995 EP "A Winter Garden" plus eight new songs. Traditional songs, some with original music, such as "The Holly & The Ivy", "The Seven Rejoices of Mary" (she uses the tune of "Dives and Lazarus," Child ballad #56), "Coventry Carol", "Seeds of Love" (-> FW#26), "Gloucester Wassail", and the 16th century French "Noel Nouvelet!" and the Latin language "Emmanuel". There is John Mason Neale's "Good King Wenceslas" and Archibald Lampman's "Snow," Gustav Holst's "In the Bleak Midwinter", instrumental tunes such as "Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle," and an untitled Breton carol which has a very nice melody. My personal favourite, which immediately rose to the top of my Xmas song list, is "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", a collaboration with Algerian-born musician Abderrahmane Abdelli. So forget about the kitsch cover with bunny and fawn, "A Midwinter Night's Dream" is a typical Loreena McKennitt album: musical arrangements from the Celtic fringe to the Middle East, relaxing but emotional sounds, plus her enticing soprano. Loreena plays harp, piano and accordion; her guest artists add guitar, oud, violin, cello, percussion, hurdy gurdy, bass, lyra and lute. The sentiment is from mood pieces to joy and ecstasy, both myrrh and Christmas punch.
"A Midwinter Night's Dream" is available in three formats: as a standard CD, a deluxe gift including a DVD documentary shot during her 2007 tour, and for a limited time in a gift-wrapped box set. Additionally, another box set titled "The Journey Begins" is available, including her first major studio recordings "Elemental", "Parallel Dreams" and "The Visit" (1985 to 1991) plus a bonus disc with six additional recordings. Well, that's the spirit of Christmas too ... sometimes ... today ...
Walkin' T:-)M

Little Windows "Snowman’s Waltz"
Label: Primitive Marker Music; 2008
Julee Glaub and Mark Weems are Little Windows (-> FW#31, FW#34), and we are peaking through these small apertures at a traditional Christmas party in Appalachia. Both Julee and Mark are natives of North Carolina; Mark is rooted in the old-time and bluegrass tradition playing guitar, banjo and fiddle; Julee did develop a deep interest in traditional Irish song, collaborating with fiddler Brian Conway (-> FW#37) and guitar player Daithi Sproule (-> FW#36) amongst others, before starting to explore the connections between Irish and Appalachian music. Mark and Julee are a perfect match, when their voices blend it gives me goosebumps in this collection of Christmas songs and hymns from Appalachia, most of them with roots in Britain and Ireland. Allow me a comparison with two songs on harpist and singer Loreena McKennitt's Christmas album (see review above): "In the Bleak Midwinter" is a poem written by Christina Rossetti in 1872, set to music by Gustav Holst and recorded by Moya Brennan and Sarah McLachlan and many others; Julee sings a plain version to simple guitar accompaniment; Loreena plays it as an instrumental tune, slower and giving it the full orchestral treatment. "O Come Emmanuel" has lyrics from the 12th century based on Isaiah 7:14, and music from the 15th century. Here it is an unaccompanied gospel song with beautiful two-part harmonies in the 19th century translation of John Neale; there it is left in its orginal Latin rendered with a classically trained voice. It is the disparate attitude of the high arts and the folk arts that makes all the difference. The "Snowman’s Waltz" is earthy as the country, neither kitsch nor commerce, where you can have peace and tranquility but cannot buy it. Maybe pointing to a time when life was harder but less complicated, when real songs were sung by real people, simple but true. So this should be very enjoyable for both old-time freaks and Christmas junkies.
Walkin' T:-)M

Fil Campbell "Songbirds - The First Ladies of Irish Song"
Label: Glenshee Records; GSR001; 2005
"Songbirds - The First Ladies of Irish Song" [DVD Video]
Label: Glenshee Productions; GPDVD001; 2005
Songbird is a term that was used to describe the female vocalist whose singing is as pleasing as the singing of a bird. The Irish TV mini series "Songbirds - The First Ladies of Irish Songs," presented by contemporary songbird Fil Campbell (-> FW#16, FW#23), has been dedicated to the life and music of five remarkable and influential Irish vocalists. Delia Murphy (1902-1971) was the first Irish singer who recorded in her own accent. Many of her come-all-ye-songs had been learned from tinkers who camped nearby her home during childhood. Margaret Barry (1912-1989) was a street singer, busking all over Ireland and accompanying herself with the 5-string-banjo. In the pre-folk-revival London Irish music scene in the 1950s she teamed up with fiddler Michael Gorman (and later for a short time with Maura O'Malley who is better known from small parts in films like "The Commitments" and "Waking Ned"). Colum Sands has a song about Margaret, "Queen of the Tinkers," and Margaret's trademark piece "Factory Girl" is still sung today (e.g. by Beoga). Bridie Gallagher (*1924), the Girl from Donegal, was the country singers' version of Irish music, and made the connection to the emigrant Irish abroad. When Ruby Murray (1935-1997) was 19 years old she recorded five songs that were in the top ten charts at the same time. The Belfast singer was the female equivalent of a crooner and performed Irish songs such as "Danny Boy" and "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" in the Hollywood style of the day. Mary O'Hara (*1935) was an Irish harpist with a classical soprano. Having an excellent harp technique, she performed Anglo-Irish ballads and Gaelic songs in a rather art-like fashion. Quite different strains of the tradition, different voices and different personalities that formed the backdrop throughout the 1930s to 1960s for many Irish people. These five women challenged male dominance, put female performers to the front, and most of all made Irish songs respectable. Each 25 minute episode includes documentary footage and interviews with the singers' descendants, and artists like country singer Daniel O'Donnell, fiddler John Sheahan, harpist Laoise Kelly, composer Phil Coulter, singers Finbar Furey, Mick Moloney, Tommy Sands and Ron Kavana. The series (and the accompanying CD) includes performances by Fil Campbell of some songs made famous by the ladies in question, featuring guest vocalist Sean Keane, plus back up musicians such as Steve Cooney, James Blennerhassett, Brendan Monaghan and Steve Wickham. That's a lot of name dropping, but I hope it shows the high calibre of "Songbirds".,
Walkin' T:-)M

Giles Lewin "The Armchair Orienteer"
Park Records; RRKCD103; 2008
Colm Mac Con Iomaire "Cúinne an Ghiorria - The Hare's Corner"
Label: Plateau; 16CD; 2008
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh "Imeall"
Label: Own label; MOON1; 2009
Reelan "The Crooked Picture"
Label: Own label; SPCD001; 2008
Tony DeMarco "The Sligo Indians"
Label: Smithsonian Folkways; SFW CD 40545; 2008
The Red Wellies "The Red Wellies"
Label: Own label; 2008
Dominique Dupuis "Bourrasque"
Label: Own label; DDB001; 2008
Fiddlemania once again! Let's start in Europe before crossing the Atlantic! Early in his life, Essex-born Giles Lewin fell in love with Irish traditional music and medieval music. He spent several months in Cairo to study Arabic violin. Back in Europe he co-founded the Carnival Band, best known for backing up veteran English singer Maddy Prior (-> FW#21). In 2004 Giles Lewin became a founder member of Bellowhead (see review above) which he had left meanwhile. Instead he enjoys to stay in his Oxford home and travel and explore the world from his armchair. That's what his solo album "The Armchair Orienteer" is, a mixed bag of music from Dublin to Dubrovnik. The opening track is a set of Playford's English dance tunes. These are the only traditional tunes, followed by a string of originals. Celtic, Balkan, Klezmer, Arabic muisc, you name it you get it. There are jigs and polkas, Viennese cafe music, a hora and two Arabic songs. Quite a lot sounds rather improvised, and the most impressing thing is Giles' versability in quite a lot and quite different styles.
Colm Mac Con Iomaire had been a member of the Irish crossover band Kila (-> FW#34) when the started busking on Dublin's Grafton Street in the 1980s. Later he joined up with Glen Hansard and his rock band The Frames playing keyboards and fiddle (see review in the German FW issue). I'm not too familiar with The Frames' music, but Colm's compositions have the same lonesome and melancholic feel as Hansard's vocal delivery. The playing is subtle and informed. The music has bits of traditional Irish music, Slavic and Arabic, and classical music. I'm constantly reminded to the "Master and Commander" soundtrack, but rather cruising in the Chinese Sea instead of sailing round Cape Horn, and I think it is best seen as kind of a soundtrack. The phrase The Hare's Corner comes from an ancient Irish custom leaving a part of the field uncut at harvest time as a refuge for the hare to escape to. Colm, who is from the Gaeltacht area of Cúileann na Páirce in Blackrock, Co. Dublin, feels that the same is true for the Gaelic speaking areas in Ireland. However, there is no need to hide for Colm. This music should be put out in the open.
You can argue if the solo recording of Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh is best placed within the fiddlers or the singers section. She is known and loved for both with Irish band Altan (-> FW#37), and "Imeall" (i.e. edge, horizon, rim) too has fine selections of both. There are seven Gaelic songs, both plaintive and uptempo, plus another song in English. Mairéad is straying away not too far from Altan grounds. The songs are a bit more into pop, sometimes I'm reminded of fellow-Donegal band Clannad (thanks to the production of Manus Lunny?). There are six instrumental tracks, and this is generally not the Altan powerhouse, but at a much more gentle pace. Living back in her native Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore) in County Donegal in the north west of Ireland, the place must be a big influence on her music. "Imeall" features guest artists such as singer and pianist Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, flutist and piper Michael McGoldrick, guitar player Tim Edey (Session A9), and also a duet with Norwegian Annbjørg Lien (-> FW#37), Mairéad is playing the hardanger fiddle with its sympathetic drone strings! Gorgeous! There will be only 3,000 CDs available, so don't hesitate and get your copy before it's too late!
Sandie Purcell from Kill in Co. Kildare is only in her mid-twenties, and yet did publish a collection of 101 original fiddle tunes in the traditional Irish vein. Taught by luminaries such as Kevin Glackin, she founded an ensemble called after the river and lough Reelan in Co. Donegal to record a selection of tunes, and like the river the reels, jigs, slip jigs and airs on "The Crooked Picture" take you away. Sandie plays fiddle, Sharon O'Leary the concertina, Aoife Mullen additional fiddle, and Andy Meaney the guitar. Sandie also is a poetic warrior and "The Crooked Picture" features three haunting poems of love and honour, sung by her sister Rossagh Purcell. Sandie has written a couple of excellent tunes, and the band's approach is fresh and intoxicating.
Tony DeMarco is an Irish fiddler of Italian stock who fell in love with the fiddle playing of Sligo fiddler Michael Gorman (it was a recording of "Paddy on the Turnpike", Tony's version also kicks off this CD). This can only happen in the melting pot of New York and in a Brooklyn area where Italian and Irish immigrants live side by side. Tony started on the Sligo fiddle style, which is very popular among Irish Americans, but developed it into a style of his own. He played in a band with Dan Milner (-> FW#20), played duets with Brian Conway (-> FW#37; this CD features a new version of the hornpipe "The Poppy Leaf"), and today remains a busy musician and an ultimate session musician. Tony's solo recording debut took 30 years, but it was worth the wait. A champion of variation and ornamentation way beyond the Sligo fiddle style. "The Sligo Indians" is also the name of an original jig. The father of accordionist PJ Hernon once overheard DeMarco playing in Co. Sligo in 1978, then wearing long black hair, and said: there are two American Indians playing Irish music like you never heard before. Guests include fiddler Kevin Burke, uilleann piper Jerry O'sullivan, flutists Seamus Tansey and Peter Horan, guitar player John Doyle, pianist Charlie Lennon, and cellist Nathalie Haas (on a beautiful rendition of "The Sally Gardens"). There is also a song, "The Best Years of My Life," by Celtic rock band The Horslips. It includes the reel "Dowd's #9," named for Sligo fiddler John O'Dowd, and the song is rendered here by his great-nephew Seamie O'Dowd (-> FW#38). In the booklet you can learn much more about Tony's story and the New York Irish music scene.
The Red Wellies from Asheville in North Carolina are a trio consisting of fiddler Claudine Beanie Odell, her nephew and also fiddler Duncan Wickel plus bouzouki player Vincent Fogarty. Irish music driven by twin fiddles in unison and occasionally with harmonic variations and a rocking bouzouki accompaniment; some colours brought in by uillean pipes, flute and concertina. It is essentially European-Irish music, and only at times I'm inclined to hear some old-timey influences. I can only pray that they will play often and way beyond their mountain home after this debut recording. I can think of places where wellies are in great demand ... (-> FW#30)
Dominique Dupuis is a native of Memramcook in South-Eastern New Brunswick, New Acadia. It is called the cradle of Acadia - the Acadians are the descendants of 17th century French colonists who settled in the Canadian Maritime provinces - and most of the people speak the Chiac derivative of the French language. She performed with the group Vishtèn for a short while in 2003, is a member of the group Shaïda, but seems to concentrate on a solo career. Dominique already had two recordings under her belt, "Bourrasque" is her third. She has been referred to by the French press as Acadia’s young ambassador of charm, and she's looking like that. But more, she is capable of fulfilling this promise in her fiddle playing. This engaging young lady plays traditional and original tunes, French-Canadian, Irish, Scottish (e.g. Scott Skinner), the whole spectrum.,,,,
Walkin' T:-)M

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