FolkWorld #65 03/2018

CD & DVD Reviews

Janet Dowd „Home“
Blue Cow Records, 2017

The album seems appropriately named, as I have found the mix of songs collected here have a very homely feeling. This is further increased by the first two songs going back to my very earliest days of listening to folk music - and I haven’t heard these two songs from other bands since: „All the Fine young men“ taking my memories back to one of Germany’s premier Irish trad bands Shanachie, followed by the Sands Family’s „County Down“.
Most of the songs on this album are written by contemporary songwriters, with four of the songs self-penned. With her gentle singing accompanied in a trad folk line up, this is a warm album by this County Armagh singer.
© Michael Moll

Janet Dowd "Home"
Blue Cow Records, 2017

This is the third album from Janet, inspired as she says, by “songs & stories of home, places to call home, and those longing for home”. Since its release, the album has taken the Number 1 spot in Irish Music Magazine’s Top 10 folk albums.
It is a mix of some reasonably well known songs by heavyweight songwriters like Brendan Graham, Eric Bogle, Dougie MacLean, Tommy Sands and two new names to me, Josh Cunningham and Finbar Magee...along with three very solid songs of her own. She sings them impeccably, in that her diction is magnificent, and her sweet voice is pure and always pitched perfectly. She is accompanied by an impressive list of some of Ireland’s finest: with the North Antrim native, Colin Henry, just mesmerizingly good with his authoritative Dobro playing.
Here’s the thing though: when the word “home” pops up, certain quotes run through my memory. Robert Frost’s “Home is the place where, when you have to go there,. They have to take you in.” Or the line loved by Leon Redbone “Home is where you hang your hat”. Or better still the really profound take on that by Groucho Marx, viz. “Home is where you hang your...head
I would have liked this album to have given me a glimpse of Groucho’s view of home, as a place where one needn’t keep up appearances or fool oneself: i.e. thus providing a tad more light and shade in the album. For it is a little saccharine sweet for my taste. But do not wilfully misunderstand me: Janet does a very decent job. She probably does not add to the originals, but she delivers them faithfully enough.
My two favourite tracks were Brendan Graham’s My Land and the Josh Cunningham Lighthouse. The former, whilst not anywhere near the quality of his lyric You Raise Me Up, still touches the heart, whilst the latter is mighty unusual in that it is a happy uptempo song about a lighthouse..!!
Trust me, that is rare. I should know: I speak as an ex-employee of Trinity House. My role in that organisation? That of a lighthouse keeper. And so, God bless Janet for introducing this song to me.
© Dai Woosnam

Kyle Carey “The art of forgetting”
World music network, 2018

Artist Video

Her third album is for Kyle Carey another real transatlantic showcase. This is proven not least by the impressive line-up of guests joining this young American singer – including John McCusker and Mike McGoldrick from the UK and Rhiannon Giddens from the USA. Her material spans Americana, Appalachian and Gaelic music. Many of her songs are her own compositions, with many of them more on the romantic love song side, with the addition of two Gaelic songs – a lovely “Puirt a Beul” and a Scottish Gaelic version of the American gospel song “Down to the river to pray”. My personal highlight is a lively jazz version of the classic Irish ballad “Siubhail a Ruin” (with the refrain translated into Scottish Gaelic), which shows the innovative side of this singer. For me some of the love songs are perhaps a bit shallow but still pleasant listening.
© Michael Moll

Kyle Carey "The Art Of Forgetting"
Riverboat Records, 2018

The day before this CD arrived in the post, it came my way from another source with a separate request for a review, which I duly honoured.
Now I am not going to cheat here and totally duplicate the review already filed, so I have played the album again and come up with a few additional thoughts. Not that the change my view particularly.
This is the third full length album from Kyle. It was recorded and produced in Louisiana by multi instrumentalist Dirk Powell, and includes such stellar names as John McCusker and Mike McGoldrick as special guests. As a befits an American who lived two years on Skye and studied at the feet of Christine Primrose, it includes two songs in Scottish Gaelic...and a third song with a chorus translated into this same charming language. And although one of the songs is a pure mystery to me, the other song is a translation of the well-known American gospel hymn Down By The River To Pray, a song I know quite well, so I was able to sing the English language original lyric sotto voce – along with Kyle as she sang with her pleasant light soprano – and with the volume on my CD player up high. And at the same time reading the Scots Gaelic lyric from the very well presented liner booklet: incidentally, how nice to see the words so readable (white on a dark green background).
One song from her own pen stands out: Track 6, Sweet Damnation. It is a long time since I heard a more sensual song: one could just imagine it being sung by the sultry Maria Muldaur. Oh and what gorgeous brass accompaniment from Kai Welch on trumpet and Josh Scalf on trombone.
The album seems to be a unique fusion of Gaelic Americana music: a synthesis of the Celtic, Americana and Appalachian traditions. It is not an album I hear every day. Generally I liked it well enough, but was disappointed with her final track, her cover of the achingly sad Nanci Griffith & Rick West song Trouble In The Fields. Oh, don’t get me wrong: I liked the imaginative musical interpretation with its hoedown ending as a remembrance of good times passed, and the male and female harmonic support vocals were good, but Nanci’s voice had dear Kyle’s vocal chords in its total grip, and what we heard vocally was a nuance-for-nuance copy of the original. You are too good for that Kyle. Don’t just be imaginative with the arrangement: put your own stamp on that lyric next time. Otherwise just sing your self-penned songs.
Playing this album a fourth time made me realise the strength of track 7: Tillie Sage had been a slow burn for me. Kyle wrote the song after being inspired by West Virginia poet Louise McNeill’s poem of the same title and the character Miss Havisham, from the novel Great Expectations by Dickens. It was a song that did not grab me from the get-go, but worked a hypnotic spell on me by the fourth listening.
And another of her songs inspired by a previous artistic work – Evelyna, inspired by John Hiatt’s Crossing Muddy Waters – also started to register more strongly with me on a fourth listening. What should I conclude from this? That I play all review albums four times?
Alas no. Time constraints work against such a possibility, but also it is a fact that I have found that “three times” is usually the right amount, in that the reviewer is on an upward learning curve up to, and including, the third playing. And after that, the Law of Diminishing Returns often sets in.
But thankfully, evidently not this time.
© Dai Woosnam

Elly Wininger "Little Red Wagon"
Rabbit Hole Records, 2018

This album is a delight for all you out there who love slide guitar and especially have a penchant for resonator guitars. All your Christmases have come at once with this most distinguished album.
Elly Wininger dedicates this CD to her mother, Dorothy Greenberg. She says in the beautifully legible liner notes “Thanks, mom, for feeding me great music from the start”. To which I should add that we should thank her mammy for giving us Elly: the woman is a class act.
As befits someone who runs all sorts of workshops in guitar playing, vocal coaching, song writing, Elly is too smart an operator to come up with a dud album (her third solo CD in the past 11 years). I listened to this album hard, three times all the way through. It got better each time: always the hallmark of a quality product.
She is accompanied by some quality musicians on this bluesy album of largely self-penned numbers, with the addition of one or two moderately well known songs from the blues canon, and Shade: a most mysterious song that slowly yields up its meaning, written by Woodstock based, Kyle Esposito.
On that last mentioned track, Denis Keldie shone on his Hammond B3, and producer Stephen Miller stood out with his resophonic guitar work. Indeed, Miller’s playing is all over this CD: gee the man has good taste... to burn.
And he reaches the zenith of his performance in his compelling mid song solo on track 5. His guitar work here truly touched my heart. As did the song - For Fred – a beauty from Elly’s pen: the best on the album. It is a song that brings to mind Stephen Sondheim’s magnificent Anyone Can Whistle, and complements it. The track shades it in a photo finish from Elly’s I Say Love, which has real depth masquerading as simplicity: rather like a Kipling poem. Indeed Rudyard is so lodged in her subconscious here that he should have got a co-writer credit. (One thought, though: if you take the lyric too much to heart, it might get you running off with your next door neighbour...!! I jest...well I think I do.)
For Fred made me realise just whose vocals it was that Elly’s reminded me of. None less than those of the late Dory Previn. Praise indeed, even though Dory had no great vocal chops. What Dory had – as does Elly – is the ability to deliver her lyric and get its meaning across, with diction so clear that the inclusion of a lyric sheet (as here) is almost unnecessary.
No, there are no songs quite up to the best of Dory, but hey there is no shame in that. There are enough songs here to make you realise that you are in the presence of a craftswoman. To be hypercritical though: I think they could have been a little stronger melodically.
So to sum up: a very decent album indeed, where a lot of work has gone into it, and clearly Elly and her friends prove that there are truly musicians’ musicians on display here. I note Elly broke her leg midway through making the CD: and this led to her other deadlines going out the window, and more work than originally planned, going into this album. I am not recommending it, but maybe we should all break our leg when we want to concentrate on a task ahead, if this is anything to go by.
© Dai Woosnam

John McCutcheon "ghost light"
Appalseed Productions, 2018

This astonishingly is the 39th CD by this American maestro. And reviewers will descend on it, as they have done his previous ones, hoping to find another song that is an equal of his chef d’oeuvre: Christmas In The Trenches. And every time, they look, and listen, in vain.
But that is no particular criticism of the man, for the Muse who brought that one song to this Wisconsin born troubadour, fails to ever so visit 99% of his peers, so I guess he should be happy with that gem arriving at his pen at all.
Here we have an album which is a mix of the uptempo country rock numbers like the opener, A Perfect Day and Waiting For The Rain; the good old fashioned protest song like The Machine; and reflective sad songs like the powerful Burley Coulter At The Bank on the unfairness of The American Dream in the way that it deserts so many worthy souls.
The most imaginative song is Me And Jesus, where the writer imagines himself as a childhood friend of Jesus, and seeing him around town. It runs out of steam a bit after a promising opening verse or two. The song that will get the most covers will surely be the aforementioned The Machine, a song railing against the vicious, racist idiots who made up the leadership and maybe the bulk of the crowd on the recent Alt Right march through Charlottesville in Virginia. The song is written through the eyes of a World War II veteran watching the chanting louts in horror. He sings this couplet in the chorus "Woody Guthrie had this guitar with the best sign I have seen / 'This machine kills fascists': we must be the machine”.
A very powerful and singable chorus. Just one thing though John: please remember that one person’s fascist, is another person’s patriot. Yes the Right Wing leaders of this march who I saw interviewed on CNN, have no saving graces: but there are fascists of The Left too. I speak as someone who, when young, used to attend Communist Party meetings, and I have met a few such characters down the years.
John is accompanied by some stellar musicians, and has two luminaries on occasional harmony vocals: Katty Mattea and Tim O’Brien. They are there on the best track of the lot: When My Fight For Life Is Over, the final song, a few lines of an unfinished Woody Guthrie poem, extended and turned into an uptempo number by John.
© Dai Woosnam

Alice DiMicele "One With The Tide"
Alice Otter Music, 2018

I so wanted to love this album. Why? Well, because Alice DiMicele (pronounced DeeMissEllie), is clearly a very special person who has such a strong personal commitment to making this world a cleaner and more equitable place, that her work in ecological and social activism causes, has gone hand in hand with her work as a recording artiste. This is her 14th album on her own Alice Otter Music label, and she has always eschewed the Big Dollar from commercial record labels, in order to retain her integrity and her ability to tell it like it is.
Now, having said all that, let us stop a minute. Quite often, artistes deemed “grassroots trailblazers in independent music” are really nothing of the sort. They are basically people who have been shunned by talent spotters for a variety of reasons, not least because of their lack of discernible talent. But emphatically, that is not the case here folks.
Please trust me, she has talent in spades. She has a voice that effortlessly moves between jazz, blues, rock and folk phrasings, and always convinces, from first track to the last. The last track by the way was the best song on the album: John Lennon’s Imagine, which (for all its familiarity) has still got the ability to make one dream of how things could be, if only we were all that much more giving, and that much less selfish. She is accompanied by some very talented musicians, all pulling their weight. I particularly liked the cello of Michal Palzewicz and the Hammond B3 organ of Jenny Conlee-Drizos, particularly effective on the title song.
Some of this CD was recorded by the famous Grammy winning engineer and producer, Dennis Dragon, who recorded her last three albums. Dennis died tragically in September 2017, found with a shotgun wound at his remote Oregon studio: and in terms of quality of recording, this is a testament to his quality, and a tribute to his memory in itself.
So there is so much to applaud here. However, there is a “but” coming, and you can guess what it is. The clue comes in me finding her simple sincere treatment of Imagine as the track that I liked the most.
Which does not mean that her other eight self-penned songs are bad: they aren’t. They are well constructed, have lyrics that make sense, and have their heart in the right place. But they forgo memorability: in large part because melodically they are not distinctive enough. After listening to an album three times all the way through – as I did here – I am usually hoping to hum the chorus of two or three of the new songs. Not here: no chance alas. I found myself humming that old John Lennon warhorse.
© Dai Woosnam

Wyatt Easterling "Divining Rod"
Phoenix Rising Records, 2017

A chappie I had never come across until today. And he is clearly somebody special. And although not in the first flush of youth, he is – judging by the CD cover photo - clearly a handsome dude, and presumably these good looks are what attracted a veritable harem of female vocalists to individually join him to harmonise on different tracks. He has a voice that has something of the late Steve Goodman in the upper register, and James Taylor lower down. And a gift for writing songs which tell a story and tell it in well-crafted rhyme, with a penchant for the occasional internal rhyme to boot.
Turns out this guy had gone to Nashville wanting to be the next Willie/Kris/Waylon/or whoever, and ended up the head of A&R at Atlantic Records...!! And then he became a producer and then founded his own publishing company. Talk about “poacher turned gamekeeper”, eh? He’d doubtless made quite a financial success of things.
And now he is back where he started: wanting to finally make it as a singer songwriter in his own right. And this album will go some way to helping his original dream come true.
These are original songs from his own pen, sad and spiritual in content. There is not a single dud track and thus there is no song along just for the ride: every song pays its rent on the album.
But none more so that the splendid opener Stumbling Towards The Light. It is a song about trying to get our life plans and relationships right. Lisa Brokop and Paul Jefferson harmonize. Chris Rosser on guitar, April Verch on fiddle. As Wyatt says about the song “We all look back on pivotal moments and wonder how life might have turned out differently had we taken a different path”.
Well Wyatt is a guy who really did take the road less travelled by. And the life experience is all there in the songs.
© Dai Woosnam

Brian Flanagan "Where Dreams Are Made"
Stockfisch Records, 2017

Artist Video

Another day, another new name. I went searching for biographical detail, and found this:
“Brian Flanagan is an Irish songwriter, composer, vocalist, musician and poet. He has worked with artists from diverse musical backgrounds such as Michael Flatley, Nadine Coyle, Eric Bibb, Nathan Carter, Finbar Furey, Brian Kennedy and Sharon Shannon.
Brian is renowned for his ability to write to order, emotionally charged pieces that are immediately engaging. He scored a Christmas top 10 for Síle Seoige & Friends in 2014 with 'Maybe This Christmas' and has 4 iTunes no 1 tracks to his name. He is regarded as one of the most talented writers in Ireland which has been verified by those he has worked with.“

Gosh, that is impressive. And having listened to this album three times all the way through, I feel compelled to say “I can understand the growing reputation”.
And let me add another celebrity name in the mix. If ever there was to be a stage musical on the life of Cliff Richard, I have found our young “Cliff”. The resemblance in the voices is quite striking.
I think that is where the similarities end though. Brian writes the better songs, that is for sure. This is largely an album of his self-penned songs, though the song I liked best on the CD was not one of his, but his imaginative delivery of the traditional Lagan Love, accompanying himself on Indian Harmonium, no less. In an album called Where Dreams Are Made, a nightmare could have arisen with that, had it gone wrong, but Brian carried it off with a flourish.
The best of his own songs is his opener in memory of a pub landlord friend, with Jens Kommnick’s Uillean pipes setting the scene quite sublimely.
The album produced by Günter Pauler, features all the usual Stockfisch Records gang of musical heavyweights with Hans-Jorg Maucksch’s fretless & electric bass really registering strongly.
© Dai Woosnam

Boo Hewerdine "Swimming In Mercury"
Reveal Records, 2016

Artist Video

Boo reminds me a lot of Welsh household name singer/songwriter Mal Pope. And both always strike me as though they have been subconsciously drinking deeply at the well of that late luminary of yesteryear, Gerry Rafferty. And for Boo, to be linked with those two quality names (in my mind, at least), can be no bad thing.
It had been 8 years since Boo produced a new album of his songs: no doubt due to him having all his creative fingers fully stuck into a myriad other creative pies. Something of a Renaissance Man is our Boo.
He is joined on this album by Sarah Ozelle on occasional backing vocals, and the more constant presence of Chris Pepper on drums/percussion; Neil McColl on guitar, and Gustaf Ljunggren on everything but the kitchen sink.
One song grated on me a bit: his The Year That I Was Born. This is his song on 1961, where he has gone through the history books and found events that rhymed. Boo can do much better than such a pedestrian effort.
But other than that, this is a very classy album indeed, in which a great deal of work has clearly gone into, and where there are lots of little musical nods and winks in different directions. And it is thus a “must buy” for the dedicated Boo Hewerdine fan. But for the rest of us, who are merely admirers, I would say its chief drawback is its lack of really strong songs: just like the now largely forgotten Andrew Gold albums used to leave me, wanting some meat and not just decorous lettuce.
© Dai Woosnam

Bill Jackson "The Wayside Ballads Vol. 1"
Laughing Outlaw Records, 2015

Bill’s website says the following: “There is no iTunes category for the type of music Bill Jackson creates and performs. It's not just folk, or country, or Americana, or blues, yet it contains elements of all those genres. But you're not likely to hear Bill on mainstream radio anytime soon.”
Well, judging by hearing this album my usual three times all the way through, I have to say that were I to try to pigeonhole him, I could not put it better myself. He truly defies easy categorisation. But he is a serious artiste alright: and if it is true that we won’t hear him on mainstream radio, then that is mainstream radio’s loss.
This is an album largely of songs jointly penned by Bill and his brother Ross. And they bring to life a number of Australian characters whose fame has fallen by the (historical) wayside somewhat: and the purpose of this album is to breathe new life into them.
Gee, I liked the songs well enough, and they told good stories. But I doubt if any of them will have much in the way of legs: I cannot imagine them being sung fifty years from the way that the songs of Woody Guthrie, Brecht & Weill, Rodgers and Hart/Hammerstein and Bob Dylan are today. (Okay, I can see I have set the bar a bit high there: let me breathe those words back in. Let us settle for five years instead of fifty.)
His singing voice is rough and ready: which I guess is what is called for here, in that it adds verisimilitude to an album about some rough and ready characters. The album reaches its artistic high-water mark with the penultimate track, The Last Buccaneer, a song about the notorious William Henry "Bully" Hayes, the roughest character of the lot here. This song sees Jackson’s voice being framed by some sensationally good and thrilling electric guitar from Pete Fidler, whose fingerprints are all over the album. It is a showcase for his musical excellence.
One final point: I mentioned Bill’s voice just a moment ago. And I have a query, and it is this: how come a Melbourne man has no hint of an Aussie accent? The singing voice is much more Bruce Springsteen than the “Bruce” of Monty Python...I wonder why?
© Dai Woosnam

Jay Pinto "Jay Pinto"
Own label, 2017

This guy is based in Washington State and has built a reputation as a performer and producer over a 35 year long career. He is clearly no slouch.
He has come up with a laid back, thoughtful album of nine self penned songs, sung in his Jackson Browne type voice. Seven of the nine are re-workings of previously recorded songs, and two are straight off the Jay Pinto production line.
I had never heard of Jay before this week, and I am glad to make his acquaintance. Very easy on the ear though his album is, I still felt I needed some background info.
And when there is scant background info about, I have for the last decade or so, always relied on ReverbNation, the American online platform for artistes to promote their work. Now, this site is not short of hyperbole: inevitable really, because it is the artistes themselves that often post such comments there. But it is the job of the critic to sift through it, and take some of it not with a pinch, but with a bag of salt...and get at the truth.
So I mused over this entry:
“Fans of Jay's solo work or his material from the Bananafish years will appreciate this intimate glimpse into his world, where universal themes like love, hope, friendship and fulfillment all ring with notes of both melancholy and joy. Deeply honest and vulnerable, this album has an immediacy to it that borders on eavesdropping; listeners will have the sense they have been let in on a secret Jay has chosen to reveal only to them.”
Now gee, I like the “eavesdropping” image, and guess what? It is not remotely inaccurate. Because you really do feel like you are a fly on the wall as Jay delivers his songs from the heart, unaware you are in the room. But here’s the thing: you rather wish he believed more in the quality of the songs, and burst out of his room and performed them before packed stadia.
But one feels he does not really have total confidence in the songs. And I think he is probably wise not to have. Why? Well, I suggest because the vocals may have the DNA of Jackson Browne, but melodically and certainly lyric-wise, Jackson has done a runner, I regret to say. Not one killer line.
But certainly a CD that is a respectable effort, with Change of Heart with its strong chorus the standout track.
© Dai Woosnam

Screaming Orphans "Taproom"
Tir Chonaill Music, 2017

This album introduces me to the Diver family, four sister harmony group from Co Donegal, who deliver an energetic yet sensitive album that shows immense good taste and eclecticism.
This Donegal version of The Roche Sisters (plus one) who were unoriginally formerly called The Diver Sisters, kept my attention through all ten tracks. Most of the songs make us long for Ireland, but we have occasional trips to North America and a signing off in Edinburgh.
The song kicks off with a very impressive rendition of Ireland’s Hour Of Need (Gallant Heroes), where the harmonies are to die for, and that top soprano voice is ...”something else, man!”, as we used to say when we were spaced out, on wacky baccy, back in the day.
Highlights for me were the North American element: their trip down the wide Missouri River (Oh Shenandoah, delivered with great certainty and sincerity) and their version of the Peggy Seeger song The Ballad of Springhill.
They delivered that spellbinding penultimate verse of Peggy’s song like it was newly minted: and they realise the words are so chilling that they can leave it as the end of the song, and - like others before them like Martin Carthy for instance - not bother with Peggy’s original final verse. I mean to say, how is it possible to top this as an ending?
Eight days passed and some were rescued/Leaving the rest to die alone/Through all their lives they dug a grave/Two miles of earth for a marking stone/Two miles of earth for a marking stone.
What an image that is. Like it tells me that you eventually will die in a roof fall or explosion and your body will not be recovered, but it takes 25 years for that to happen, and all the time, as a coal miner, you are digging your grave deeper. Chillingly brilliant. And Screaming Orphans do the song proud.
They do The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), much less proud. It ends the album as its nadir point, alas. Oh sure they sing it with all the energy of the Reid twins...indeed it was phrase for phrase The Proclaimers...even down to a convincing cod Leithian accent...!! But just don’t do it, girls. The world is full of faithful mimics, but far less full of original interpreters.
© Dai Woosnam

Hirundo Maris "The Wind Rose"
Carpe Diem Records, 2017

Artist Video

I was not familiar with this record label, so did what anybody with two brain cells would do: I went hunting for information online. And found this illuminating little summary on the Naxos website:
“Carpe Diem is a record label for Early Music, New Music and Improvised Music - a label for border crossers. Carpe Diem was founded in 2008 by the balance engineers Jonas Niederstadt and Johannes Wallbrecher. Among the artists who recorded with Carpe Diem are renowned stars, including Michel Godard, Hille Perl and William Dongois, and many young talents who are set to become famous. Carpe Diem records in old churches, monasteries and historic concert halls that offer ideal conditions for the instruments played and the sound being recorded.“
Interesting stuff. And now having heard the album all the way through, I would say that this CD and the label it is on, are a perfect match. How come? Well, because these are a “border crossing” ensemble extraordinaire it seems to me. For as they say themselves “it is a musical journey along coasts and oceans, an ode to seafarers and travel-lers from ancient and modern times, to their lives, hopes and dreams. The wind rose points into all cardinal points, encompassing all different cultures and places on earth in its movement. At the same time, it can be a symbol for the inner travels of the human soul, which may aim into all different directions and places throughout life. In this sense, the songs on this album connect inner and outer journeying through music and poetry, just as countries and people are connected through oceans, currents and winds.”
I could not put it better ...not if I lived to be as old as Methuselah.
Singer/composer/musician Arianna Savall and band co-leader, fellow singer/composer/musician Petter Udland Johansen, describe their project as a journey linking the Mediterranean and the North Sea. Hirundo Maris is Latin for "sea swallow" and, like that bird's flight, the quintet - part early music ensemble, part folk group - drifts on musical currents between Norway and Catalonia, adds its own songs, created on the wing, and swoops down to dive beneath the surface of things. Near the centre of the sound are Arianna's sparkling harps and the drones of Johansen's Hardanger fiddle. Both of the leading protagonists have seriously impressive CVs as classically trained artistes: these help give their project the necessary gravitas. The whole CD just oozes pure class. Trust me, there is no element of Pseud’s Corner to it.
As befits such an approach, the liner notes are elegantly written and their production quality is the quintessence of the non-garish: the integrity of the black typeface and white paper never in question. They include translation into full lyrics - with English translation for those in tongues beyond the ken of this monoglot reviewer (!!) - and very usefully, some thoughts on each particular selection.
They both have lovely voices: their harmony on Adio Querida was as close to perfection as you will get this side of Paradise. And despite the fact that she hails from Switzerland, Arianna’s voice most reminded me of Britain’s very own Emma Kirkby. And likewise, forget Petter’s background in Scandinavia: his delicious tenor summoned up in me the memory of the late Kenneth McKellar, the pride of Scotland. And that is praise indeed for both.
From the moment the album opened with the lapping of the tide heralding the arrival of Petter’s setting of the John Masefield poem Sea Fever, I was hooked. Not your normal recital, but a cruise on a mystery ship.
© Dai Woosnam

True North "Open Road, Broken Heart"
Own label, 2017

This is True North's newest album released 2017. The album features eight new originals penned by Kristen Grainger and four songs from Justin Evan Thompson, Brandi Carlile, Fred Eaglesmith, and Eddie Vedder. Guest artists Eric Alterman on cello and Todd Sickafoose on bass add their talents to this collection recorded by Dale Adkins at Big Owl Studios and produced by True North.
It is a folkyish album with more than a touch of bluegrass. And what comes over loud and clear is that one is in the presence of some seriously talented musicians. Some of the sweetest harmonies you’ll find this side of barbershop quartet singing, the album is also notable for the banjo of Dale Adkins, and Dane Wetzel’s mandolin.
Only one song was familiar to me: a Fred Eaglesmith song, Wilder Than Her, a song where the singer says these arresting words to explain the somewhat unusual relationship...
“Because I'm wilder than her; drives her out of her mind/I guess she thought that she was just one of a kind/But she's a summer storm; I'm a hurricane/One just blows through town, one blows the town away/And I'm wilder than her.”
(Don’t you just love that couplet on “the town”!!?)
It is the song I liked the best, as they do a good job on it, and made me momentarily forget Fred’s version. But maybe the most beautiful, in terms of melody and harmonies is Ratio Of Angels To Demons, where the sad, hard reality lyrics are slightly at variance with a deliciously gentle melody. But oh the three-part vocal harmony is to die for.
To sum up then: this is just the album to play on a dreamy summer afternoon.
© Dai Woosnam

Darling West "While I Was Asleep"
Jansen Records, 2018

Artist Video

Darling West are an Oslo-based Norwegian trio consisting of vocalist Mari Sandvær Kreken, and husband Tor Egil Kreken and Kjetil Steensnæs, with all three playing various stringed instruments. This is their third album and they are now building a considerable reputation in their native country, and also making waves in the spiritual home of their music: the United States of America.
They have recently been awarded a Spellemann award (Norwegian equivalent of Grammy), been listed on Norway's biggest radio channels and appeared on the Top 100 Country charts in the US. They have played several of Norway's biggest festivals, SXSW in Texas, Americanafest in Nashville, a tour with Sam Outlaw and a support slot for Lucinda Williams. They have also had more than three million plays on Spotify, appearing in several influential playlists. And they recently played three shows at the prestigious Eurosonic music festival in the Netherlands and paid a visit to Folk Alliance in Kansas City.
Now you cannot sneer at that. It is a CV not to be sniffed at. So I approached this third album of ten, newly self-penned songs, all delivered in their sweet americana/country/folk gentle style, positively expecting to be impressed.
One’s heart dropped somewhat, learning that for this album they had added the drums of Thomas Gallatin to their sound. Too often, drums on such gentle laid-back music, sounds desperately intrusive: like someone is erecting a shed in my back garden. But in fairness, I found the drumming did not drive me up the wall.
But my slight problem with this album was, that what was on offer (although the songs were well-crafted, well-performed, well–recorded, and well-produced) made me wish I could have been driven up the wall...!! For in truth, it made me think back to my youth, listening to Pink Floyd spaced-out in a soporific state, (a condition brought about by a combination of the music and the wacky baccy...!!)
So, how come it had this effect on me?
Well...I think a lot of my problems came from Mari’s sublimely pleasant voice. It sort of lulls one to sleep. One just wishes it was a bit more imperfect.
After all, it is imperfection that attracts. One longs for some rough edges: too much vibrato, the odd slight evidence false pitch. But no such luck. Here she does not put a foot wrong. But alas, it just adds to the soporific quality.
But don’t let my quirky response put you off buying the album. I am sure you, dear reader, do not possess my medical condition of sleep apnoea, and will find that this CD makes you feel wonderfully awake.
And I am sure you will enjoy the two best songs of the album: the first and last, that bookend the eight songs in between. Opener After My Time has the best chorus, and closing number How I Wish has Mari coming over all Alison Krauss-ish (with her husband Tor’s plaintive banjo proving mighty effective), to send us all off - to sleep or otherwise - very happy.
© Dai Woosnam

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