Luke Tuchscherer PIECES – The Rocking Magpie
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It's Too Late is middle of the road soft rock and doesn't really get going but things change for the better on the slinky and smooth When The Night Comes - this is one of the album's highlights. The theme stays on the slow side for All Went Wrong so get your lighters out for this and sit back for the scorching guitar.
There's some Kansas style swing blues on I Can't Wait Until Tonight and Paul turns in some snappy guitar as he really pings those strings. Ain't Givin' Up is a funky blues, driven by drummer, Steve Holley but the guitar outshines the vocal again.
The album finishes with a radio edit of the earlier Lady Luck. Paul Camilleri certainly has talent as a guitarist and songwriter but it may be some time before his voice grows on you. David Blue Alex Campbell - Been On The Road So Long Castle Widely heralded as one of the most influential and lasting of the folk singers of the European revival, the mighty and irascible Alex Campbell who died in was the quintessential wandering troubadour who earned a reputation as a hard-travelling, hard-drinking, hard-living man, despite which he was unarguably a phenomenal live performer of traditional and contemporary material alike.
It's been said that Alex cut more than a hundred albums during his year singing career, many of which were one-off, one-take affairs recorded live, and often of uncertain and erratic quality. It's widely accepted, though, that the cream of his recorded output, representing his peak as a writer and performer, was the handful of releases he cut for the Transatlantic label in the mids, some of which featured support from the likes of Louis Killen, Martin Carthy and Cliff Aungier.
These albums along with the largely autobiographical EP My Old Gibson Guitar, the title track of which appears here presented sparse, earthy and committed renditions of traditional songs like I'm A Rover, The Overgate, My Singing Bird, Night Visiting Song and The Unquiet Grave one of the picks of this side of Alex's repertoire was Glesga Peggy, which for some inexplicable reason didn't appear on any release at the time.
A good number of these songs were even then folk club standards, and others have since become such, but these passionate, distinctively burring performances have rarely been surpassed, although one or two eg Bruton Town seem decidedly dour. In addition to the traditional songs, Alex was wont to feature a sizeable contingent of original songs, which included evocative personal numbers like Don't You Put Me Down, and touching performances of choice contemporary material like Woody Guthrie's Plane Wreck At Los Gatos.
Denny, appears on the final selection on this anthology, a second version of its title track that's taken from the Alex Campbell And Friends album. This new compilation, which benefits from hindsight-filled notes by David Wells, claims to draw together each and every track that Alex recorded for the label - three LPs' worth - although I'm unable to verify this as I'm ashamed to admit that I never actually owned the original LPs though I'm aware that many LPs gave distinctly short measure in those days.
Whatever, all of the songs already mentioned in this review are included on this handsome single-disc anthology, which stretches to 79 minutes and thus represents a real bargain. And when you've invested in this excellent anthology, you'd do well also to purchase the fine mids two-disc set of recordings taken from the Alex Campbell tribute concert which was masterminded by Allan Taylor still available from Allan on his own T Records label.
What comes across more than anything else is that the project has been a real labour of love for Fil: The series is also strongly unified both in style and format and in terms of design and presentation, and looks and sounds extremely attractive, with archive film extracts and interviews sensibly balanced and integrated. Each programme seems just about the right length, and no individual element outstays its welcome - and yet I also felt I learned a significant amount about the ladies and their personalities from these brief portraits.
The basic biographical information is fleshed out by reminiscences from an array of respected and experienced musicians, writers and broadcasters these including Mick Moloney, Colum and Tommy Sands, Phil Coulter, Reg Hall, Steve Cooney and Ron Kavanaall of whom display an evident warmth, regard and admiration for the ladies and a keen appreciation of their talents and a relevant depth of informed knowledge with often some very interesting stories to tell.
Finally, a number of excerpts from the recording-studio sessions where Fil and a select few master musician friends performed key songs associated with the singers discussed set the actual biographical studies into relief and give them an interpretive context.
The first programme introduces the series' concept and rationale, while presenting a thoughtful overview: Each of the remaining five programmes in turn is then seen to concentrate exclusively on the life and work of one of the "first ladies of Irish song".
Some or most of the five singers may at times have had songs which were common to their individual repertoires, but it's important to note that they performed in often diametrically opposed styles. While noting that all five ladies were in their own way popularisers of Irish song and their semi-traditional way of singing even non-traditional material ensured that this got fed back into the tradition almost by defaultthe series also points up the contrasts between them, from the raw, but completely natural street-singer Maggie to the soaring, classically sweet bel-canto soprano and elegant harpistry of Mary; the wild, unbridled charm of Delia to the lift-the-stage persona and come-all-ye inclusiveness of Bridie and the all-pervading purity of tone and Hollywood-style artistry of Ruby.
Now, one may initially be disappointed that the series and therefore the DVD too contains no complete performances of individual songs, either by the original artists or by Fil herself - although it's perfectly understandable in view of the programmes' remit and the necessary time constraints of the format.
The companion Songbirds CD, being available separately, should thus by rights be the answer to one's prayers, and to a large extent it is. The first thing to note is that it is indeed both entirely complementary to, and a logical development from, the DVD. To be sure, even if you've not viewed the DVD it stands alone as a totally lovely collection of songs, affectionately performed by Fil in her characteristically warm, sensitive yet commanding vocal style someone once dubbed Fil "a third McGarrigle", and not without some justification.
The songs all suit her down to the ground, and she luxuriates mildly in the expression of these old-fashioned sentiments the DVD extracts show just how much she revels in singing them, but you can hear it on the audio tracks too. Fil also benefits enormously from the gently-conceived and ultra-sympathetic musical accompaniment courtesy of a worthy crew that includes her percussionist-husband Tom McFarland, James Blennerhassett bassBrendan Emmett guitars, mandolin, banjoSeamus Brett keyboards and Brendan Monaghan uilleann pipes, whistles.
I might well single out Steve's embellishments for special mention, but truth to tell they're all exemplary in their taste and ambience. Fil can through her own masterful reinterpretations justifiably lay claim to being a contemporary equivalent of the celebrated "first ladies", you might say.
I realise that the CD is over an hour long already, but it's a glorious length and I for one would easily have welcomed extra tracks. More in the way of a missed opportunity though, surely the bonus-material space on the DVD could better have been used for these additional songs instead it presents five audio-only tracks taken from two of Fil's previous studio albums and unrelated to the Songbirds project.
One other, more minor point regarding the CD: But as for the remainder, well without having seen either the TV series or the DVD we're left guessing just a bit tho' you won't necessarily think that matters a lot when several of the songs were common to more than one of the singers.
In any case though, Fil's own lovingly-turned performances are likely to inspire listeners to investigate the original recordings of the "first ladies".
The above reservations notwithstanding, the whole project DVD and CD has proved immensely worthwhile; the discs are great value as they stand, and all credit to Fil and Tom for their initiative and skill in producing what amounts to such an intensely rewarding and treasurable experience: He's never opened for Springsteen but you'll hear Bruce ringing out in there too, most notably on the Nebraska flavoured The Day Your Luck Ran Out where he seems to be going in for a soundalike contest.
Elsewhere his weary waltzing and Texas desert dustiness might find yourself thinking of a Celtic infused Steve Earle or Tom Pacheco but, strangely, also Mark Knopfler. Though his tendency to try and bring a throaty American twang to the double tracked vocals sometimes sounds overdone, it's an impressive first outing that, with such songs as Church House, Restless Blues, Last Standing Renegade and the brushed waltzing Broken Jukebox King marks him as a voice and writer to watch.
Mike Davies Isobel Campbell - Milk White Sheets V2 Following her collaboration with Mark Lanegan, for her new label debut the former Belle and Sebastian cellist has come over all folky, looking to recreate that leafy, cobwebby pastoral sound on a collection of self-penned and traditional numbers.
It's suitably sparse and spectral with arrangements employing percussion, flute and cello, at other times leaving her vocals exposed and naked, but, as is quickly made evident by the opening O Live Is Teasin' and Willows Song previewed on the soundtrack to the Wicker Man remakeher fragile voice isn't necessarily best suited to the pagan darkness of trad English folk.
Take that old standard Reynardine, a song long associated with Sandy Denny, where her fey, wispy reading robs the song of its dark sensuality while Hori Horo cries out for something of less gossamer persuasions. However, that's not to decry the whole album. Imbued with grace, there are some fine moments here. Her self-penned Yearning, with what sounds like a crumhorn in the background, is a lovely medieval courtly dance number, James a frisky instrumental tumble on the acoustic guitar while the title track offers a fine instrumental showcase for her cello playing, complemented by tinkling harp.
Likewise, the original Cachel Wood is a lovely apple orchard scented summery romantic frolic by the waterside, while her whispering a capella Loving Hannah has a rough edged innocence that compensates for the limited vocal colours and is offset by the album's closing brace of tracks, the stormclouded ominous dissonant instrumental Over The Wheat and the Barley and the narcotic haze of Thursday's Child.
It works better as the "hobby album" she's called it rather than an attempt to compete with the current masters of the tradfolk revival, but there's certainly some twisted beauty in its roots. Given the strong Americana flavours of the album, it's not much of a surprise that their mix and match of honey and gravel plays like a latter day answer to Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra.
Well, no problems there then. It's a moody, desert nights on the border album, The False Husband sounding a perfect fit for some David Lynch movie with its snaky melody, breathed vocals and the balance between twangy guitar and light strings that counterpoint each of their verses while a clattering shuffle cover of Hank Williams' Ramblin' Man as she whispers in your ear over his dusty moan is clearly on the lookout for a Tarantino soundtrack.
Standout songs such as Blacksmith's Prayer, The Watchmaker's Rhyme and The Artisan take the form of telling portrayals of local characters, the craftspeople who once populated the region; and Seth's rough-hewn vocal work is both distinctive and charismatic without overdoing the expressive demands of the material.
Echoes of industrial rhythms permeate Hard Road and the chain-gang of Higher Walls, while the lyrics of More Than Money concerning the breakers, who were piece-work granite miners are clearly heavily inspired by the folk standard A Miner's Life Keep your hand upon the hammer, And your eye upon the scale.Larrikin Love - Meet Me By The Getaway Car
Salt In Our Veins is a lusty yet realistic trawlerman's reflection, while in contrast The Sender is one of those tender lovers' ballads that Seth conjures so well, its emotional import kept in check and balance by a sensitive reading. Yes, there have been moments in the past when I've lost a little patience with Seth's delivery, becoming mildly weary of his insistence on loud driving relentlessness, but the abundantly well-considered Tales From The Barrel House redeems everything at a stroke and represents a proud artistic statement that continually satisfies on repeated play.
But there are times when it's a close-run thing, especially in the earlier stages of the record, where the musical gestures can at times seem slightly hollow; here there's also more than a suspicion at times that the lyrics of this new batch of songs are themselves a touch over-simplistic. It could be that Seth's trying too hard to branch out from the sphere of regional some might term it overly parochial folk-legend into a more contemporary arena by tackling the more obviously universal themes as well as ones dealing directly with his own personal development over the past couple of years.
Only two of the disc's twelve songs are cast in the approved Seth Lakeman manner of tales of local west-country characters: Signed And Sealed is the story of a cruel 17th century magistrate who made a pact with the devil, while Preacher's Ghost tells of a Cornish miner who reformed, gave up drink and became a Methodist preacher. These songs are among the disc highlights, and like much of the rest of the new album they benefit from some sensitive signature instrumental work from Benji Kirkpatrick on banjo.
But back to the title-track opener, on which Seth seems deliberately to be "doing a Show Of Hands" in a straight-talking all-out attack on financial mismanagement and politicians etc: On first firing this disc up in the player, you could be forgiven for thinking that little has changed in Seth's particular musical universe, and the many moments of in-yer-face-and-feet thrust certainly point unwaveringly in that direction. The catchy rhythm-dominated The Watchman carries on where Poor Man's Heaven left off, and even the gentler affirmation of Tiny World feels a touch constricted in its busy bustling arrangement; even so, the riff-dominated See Them Dance and Hard Working Man are both irresistible in their own way I guess.
Spinning Days is an unexpectedly moving, quite gently expressed lament for a fallen soldier, and the pulsating repeated patterns of Changes enhance its haunting melody to mesmerising effect. It's a shame, though, that the tenderly optimistic Stepping Over You is spoilt by a formulaic wide-screen big-gesture predictability in its chorus section. Instrumentally, there's no faulting Seth's tight regular band Ben Nicholls, Sean Lakeman and Simon Leawhile I note that Seth's own fiddle playing is embracing a new lyricism alongside the bristle-tearing antics we're used to - always a good move.
Overall, Hearts And Minds shows some positive developments in Seth's art, even if it feels a bit like a transitional stage, and it certainly grows in stature on closer acquaintance notwithstanding its consistent quality of fairly immediate listener appeal.
Interestingly, the disc is also advertised as being available in a special edition which includes bonus tracks and the mythical Live At The Minack DVD - a copy of which, naturally, the record company have as usual neglected to supply us for review when will they learn that we reviewers need to access the full product in order to do our job properly? David Kidman June Seth Lakeman - Poor Man's Heaven Relentless Seth's gained quite a reputation for beating folk audiences into submission in live performance with his mega-upfront delivery, and many folkies have misinterpreted his stance as that of a wannabe-rocker playing to the stadiums.
But at least on record you can listen beyond the visceral immediacy of the stage sound and tap into the subtleties of Seth's music - and there are plenty, believe me. Poor Man's Heaven manages more than Seth's previous CDs to communicate his uncompromising stance, his bold intensity and extreme sense of presence, in addition to those subtleties of expression and demeanour and comparable subtleties of instrumentation.
But, like all the other elements in the sound picture, this particular approach vector makes sense in the context of the tale Seth's about to tell, that of The Hurlers, which he launches or should I say hurls into? And when the frantic rhythmic strum of an acoustic guitar enters the fray, it might almost be a lost Led Zepp track - were it not for the catchy chorus!
This opening salvo is typical of the wide-screen method of Seth Lakeman: Both impression-making and impressive, Seth's music is folk on a grand scale, relentless as the sea itself, with an equivalent sense of danger, romance and elemental moodiness, all qualities reflected in the actual stories too.
Seth's got a real gift for absorbing into his own songwriting the wellspring of folk heritage, either directly or creatively paraphrased where contemporary concerns provide an overlay for age-old legends eg Blood Red Sky, Greed And Gold.
Seth's songs tend generally to be primarily rhythm-driven rather than melody-driven, yet there are melodies in there, and the more lyrical of his creations can be surprisingly gentle in their own way.
Even the heavy-duty pounding riff of Feather In A Storm doesn't quite wreck the levee, but provides a foil to the sturdy imagery. The overall aggression of the Seth Lakeman sound can be deceptive For even when the pace itself slackens, as on Greed And Gold and Solomon Browne which concerns the reporting of the Penlee lifeboat tragedythe tension and passion are still there in abundance. Seth's impassioned, often quite plaintive vocal delivery matches the mighty settings, both in directness and economy, and his instrumental skills can't be faulted for instance, his violin playing isn't all full-on frantic loose-hair tactics, there's plenty of sensitivity in his technique too.
Nor for that matter can those of his band-collaborators: And Seth brings in guest musicians for some inventive incidental cameo touches of instrumentation - Jake Walton's droning hurdy gurdy on Blood Red Sky, for instance - and the bouncy jew's harp on the whaling tale Race To Be King adds excitement to the chase. Also, it's worth noting that although Steve Knightley has co-written three of the disc's standout tracks including the awesome I'll Haunt Youand I do detect a slight Show Of Hands influence especially in elements such as the strong mando-riffing on the latter-mentioned track and Crimson Dawn, absolutely nothing is allowed to detract from the expression of Seth's own unmistakable and unshakeable musical personality.
For this is a mighty album, it makes a mighty impact and I for one don't care whether it frightens some or all of the horses. David Kidman August Seth Lakeman - Freedom Fields I-Scream Seth's second album, Kitty Jay, was nominated for the Mercury Prize, yet at the time of its nomination last summer Seth was already completing work on Freedom Fields, a brand new batch of original songs taking its collective name from a uprising that changed the course of English history, whereat the King's Cavaliers were routed by the Plymouth garrison of Roundheads.
This gives a clue to the tone of the album, which exudes a proud and typically keen sense of both history and folk tradition. Although it's once again inspired by Seth's native West Country, whereas Kitty Jay had primarily explored the area's legends Freedom Fields deals instead with the area's turmoil in conflict of various kinds, principally in the arenas of war and freedom.
Once again, Seth's songs are haunting, memorable and in every way noteworthy; they're invariably characterised by a bright and refreshing mode of delivery - sharply etched, forthright and replete with a youthful energy more than once was I reminded of Show Of Hands in Seth's winning combination of passionate, aware lyrics and accessible musical settings clothed in real instrumental expertise.
The driving contemporary-folk-acoustic idiom is both urgently compelling and commercially valid, and the playing and singing Seth himself on tenor guitar and violin, with brother Sean on guitars, Ben Nicholls on basses and banjo, Cormac Byrne on percussion and Benji Kirkpatrick on bouzouki, with Seth's passionate vocals boosted by - among others - Kathryn Roberts, Steve Knightley, Cara Dillon and John Jones.
Strength of purpose and increasingly confident expression prove hallmarks of this impressive disc, in which Seth proves his skill as a songwriter in skilfully applying the experiences of history to universal truths about the human condition, all conveyed in brilliantly immediate performances of the resulting songs.
David Kidman Seth Lakeman - Kitty Jay I-Scream Seth, one of the three talented Lakeman brothers, was until a key member of young folk supergroup Equation, since when he's been an equally key element among the backing musicians for award-winning singer Cara Dillon. Just a couple of years ago, Seth came into his own with a highly-regarded solo album The Punchbowl, to which Kitty Jay proves an awesome followup. It's a concept album of sorts in that its 11 cuts are all inspired by the legend-filled wilderness of Dartmoor where Seth grew up and to which he's returned to live.
Seven of the tracks are Seth's own compositions, the remainder being his own arrangements of traditional material. Probably the first thing you notice about the album is the recording's strong, direct and likeably upfront sound quality, giving a strikingly immediate sense of open space and scale which in its own way correlates with a similar quality in the landscape in which the tales are set.
These haunting, often mysterious tales are told with an unbridled energy, a stark passion and an extreme clarity of expression, and the impact is exciting indeed. Seth's own singing is complemented on occasions by that of Kathryn Roberts, and instrumentally Seth's superbly forthright and characterful violin and viola work is given further weight by the rich instrumental contributions of brother Sean guitar, mandolin - and he produced the album too, by the way!
The original songs possess a real sense or urgency that mirrors their instrumental treatment. The title track is typical of Seth's approach, in that its dark, brooding tale has more layers than are first apparent.
Ostensibly it recounts the legend of a servant girl who is believed to have got pregnant and hanged herself in a barn; because suicides were never buried in consecrated ground, she was laid to rest at a crossroads near Hounds Tor, where to this day, fresh flowers are mysteriously ever-present on the grave. Various other local legends make for equally vital storytelling in music here, and tellingly depict extremes of emotion and endeavour - from the stirring maritime tales of Henry Clark and The Storm to the deeply felt Farewell My Love a miniature masterpiece, inexplicably omitted from the liner note listings through to Blood And Copper which deals with the experiences of men working in the copper mines - and the album's completed by a wonderfully atmospheric slow air Cape Clear recorded on location in a church.
Interestingly too, the album was recently launched at a gig inside Dartmoor Jail - certainly its music takes no prisoners, for it just can't fail to impress.