ALIO DIE & MARTINA GALVAGNI Eleusian Lullaby CD (Projekt)
Three elongated tracks making up a full length album of arty, filmic experimental soundscaping. Delicate and subtle, yet slightly discordant, melodies from archaic stringed instruments interweave with ambient drones, tinkling bells, and wordless vocals with Middle Eastern, medieval and folk touches, as well as sophisticated and evocative neoclassical vocals that are used as more of a focus of the track rather than the other styles that put in briefer appearances. Less song-oriented than many Projekt releases, but its ethereal nature, coupled with the slightly dark take on folk/world/classical music, fits right in with much of the label's other output. Combining elements familiar from the ambient/drone/experimental genre with creative, intellectual ideas of their own, the album is relaxing yet slightly unsettling at times, and goes beyond music and into the realms of aural art. More info at www.projekt.com
VARIOUS The Projekt 2008 Sampler CD (Projekt)
Budget priced sampler of current Projekt artists, featuring the ethereal dreampop of Tearwave and Autumn's Grey Solace; neoclassical music with flute, piano and sophisticated operatic-tinged vocals from Mirabilis; a superb Dead Can Dance inspired piece from Arcana; a track from Lux Interna who make impressive neofolk with some similarities to Backworld; Revue Noir who are perfectly named with their sleazy but sophisticated dark cabaret music; the inimitable tongue-in-cheek folk/mariachi/ska/theatrical music with its sick and twisted lyrics from who else but Voltaire; otherworldly guitar and vocal soundscaping from Alio Die and Martina Galvagni; electronic ambient music from Steve Roach; an innovative mix of dreampop and experimental electronica from Chandeen; an impressive track from All My Faith Lost... which straddles the boundaries between neoclassical, neofolk and dreampop; and Attrition team up with Emilie Autumn for a dramatic and experimental take on the Christian hymn Rock of Ages. A fine compilation that shows dark music encompasses far more than just standard gothic fare and actually manifests itself in many forms. More info at www.projekt.com
ARCANA Raspail CD (Kalinkaland)
Latest album from this well-established Swedish dark medieval/folk band. They are often compared to Dead Can Dance, and not without reason, with their dark take on medieval music, their use of hammered dulcimer and Middle Eastern style drumming, and a similar deep male vocal style, but here their music is at times rather more doom-laden than DCD, for instance the ominous-sounding orchestral parts in Abrakt, Autumnal and Circumspection. They also introduce some neoclassical piano into various tracks, which is quite unlike anything I've ever heard from DCD. Like DCD their tracks interchange between the deep male vocals as mentioned above and female vocals, on this album from two different singers, but both of these have a style very unlike that of Lisa Gerrard. Arcana are rather more overtly gothic than DCD and with less emphasis on medieval and world music, although those influences are certainly still detectable here, especially in Parisal, a very impressive medieval style instrumental sure to delight DCD fans. Lost in Time is a very strong song-oriented track combining the sophisticated vocal style of Peter Bjärgö with impressive medieval instrumental touches.
There are clear differences between Arcana and Dead Can Dance, but also clear similarities, and anyone who misses the work of DCD could do a lot worse than investigate what Arcana have to offer. More info at www.kalinkaland.de
CHANDEEN Teenage Poetry CD (Kalinkaland)
Starting with a dreamlike and slightly unsettling ambient/experimental piece, the following tracks then reveal the main sound of this band which is a kind of sophisticated pop music with nods towards dreampop and electronica. Shoegazerish washes of atmospheric noise form a tapestry of sound with piano, acoustic guitar, drums, electronic effects, speech samples and classy, strong vocals from Julia Beyer. Often bands coming out of the dreampop scene don't really add anything new to the style - their stuff is great for fans of dreampop who miss the original 90s bands, but they're not really adding anything much of their own. However Chandeen retain the atmospheric elements of dreampop whilst adding a strong sense of creativity and a willingness to diversify their sound with influences from outside of the dreampop genre, as variant as dance music and neoclassical. There is a 'secret' hidden track here which is totally unlike the usual throwaway stuff bands hide away as secret tracks, being a very well crafted piano-based song with experimental soundscaping and guest vocals from the very talented singer Anji Bee. More info at www.kalinkaland.de
VARIOUS John Barleycorn Reborn: Dark Britannica double CD (Cold Spring)
Cold Spring, a label more often associated with extreme noise, dark experimental music and so forth, has teamed up with the (sadly now defunct) folk music download website Woven Wheat Whispers to release this fantastic collection of traditional and traditional-inspired folk, as well as some more experimental takes on the genre. The sleeve notes explain that they are using 'dark' to mean hidden and unacknowledged rather than relating to a dark style of music, so if you're expecting a sort of folk/goth crossover, you won't find much of that here (except for a handful of isolated examples).
As a huge fan of modern interpretations of traditional folk, as well as a long-time supporter of underground music, I find it very encouraging that there is so much intriguing and engaging folk music emerging from the underground. At a massive 33 tracks, there are too many songs here to discuss every one in depth, but a few highlights include The Horses of the Gods' percussion-heavy rendition of the old traditional song John Barleycorn; The Owl Service doing a very moving version of the traditional North Country Maid; Damh the Bard's very catchy pagan folk song Spirit of Albion; Mary Jane, a 70s-style electric folk band in the vein of Steeleye Span, Trees, Flibbertigibbet or prime-period Fairport, doing the well-known traditional number Twa Corbies; Andrew King's brooding and mournful version of Dives and Lazarus; Sieben's innovative track Ogham on the Hill, best described as experimental folk; Sharron Kraus' Horn Dance, a superb medieval-inspired number that wouldn't sound out of place on Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band's Hang Up Sorrow & Care album; Charlotte Greig and Johan Ashterton's sparse acoustic rendition of Lay the Bent to the Bonny Broom; Pumajaw's astonishing atmospheric take on The Burning of Auchindoun, that combines spacey indierock with folk; Peter Ulrich (ex-Dead Can Dance) with his brilliant medieval-style track The Scryer and the Shewstone; Alphane Moon's Where the Hazel Grows, which combines sparse acoustic folk with spacey drones.
English Heretic's Hippomania treads the fine line between genius and insanity with a warped mix of folk, noise and stream of consciousness ranting; Tinkerscuss appear here with a beautiful rendition of Lal Waterson's To Make You Stay; The Purple Minds of Lazeron's Dragonfly is a great psych-folk instrumental; Sand Snowman do beautiful psych-folk with vocal harmonies; long running underground psych-folk and folk-pop band The Kitchen Cynics appear here with The Guidman's Ground, from the darker and psychier side of their output; Clive Powell's Reed Sodger is a creative mix of traditional folk and electronic experimentation; Drohne's Nottamun Town combines folk with spacerock/psych instrumentation and deep, dramatic gothic vocals; Stormcrow's Gargoyle is an acoustic track that melodically and lyrically encapsulates the description 'dark folk'; While Angels Watch's Obsidian Blade is more dark than folk, a sort of doom-laden gothic rock with acoustic elements.
An absolutely essential compilation, highly recommended for anyone even remotely curious about the various manifestations of underground folk music. Available from www.coldspring.co.uk
FIT & LIMO Astralis CD (September Gurls)
Well-established German psychedelic folk duo Fit & Limo present 18 tracks, mostly their own compositions, plus a handful of traditional songs and an Alex Campbell cover. Using an extensive array of instruments including mandolin, banjo, sitar, bouzouki, dulcimer, violin, autoharp, harmonium, mellotron, recorder, kazoo, melodica, clarinet, glockenspiel and others, the album incorporates mystical sitar music, strange folky songs in the vein of the Incredible String Band, laid back psychey folky pop, and medieval tinged traditional music. Wind Whispers is an excellent intelligent combination of late 60s folk-pop, bluegrass, spacey sound effects and Middle Eastern style percussion. The Moon Shines Bright, The Snow It Melts The Soonest and Down In Yon Forest are superb renditions of traditional songs, combined with psychedelic instrumentation. Lucky Boat is quirky psych-pop with piano and Jew's harp. Astralis feeds a tinkling music box through an effects machine for maximum psychedelic effect. A truly beautiful and creative album, available from www.septembergurlsrecords.com
THE SMELL OF INCENSE Of Ullages and Dottles CD (September Gurls)
This latest album from Norwegian psych band The Smell of Incense comes packaged within brilliant artwork by Gunhilde Langerud, featuring fox, squirrel and badger druids! Here the band set poems by various poets, mostly from the 19th and early 20th century, to music. Bumbles & Dragons by Cicely Mary Barker is a multifaceted piece, incorporating psych-rock, folk and baroque. William Blake's Laughing Song is set to a mix of laid-back psych-folk, Sgt Pepper-era Beatles borrowings and spacey background burblings. Where Forlorn Sunsets Flare and Fade by William Ernest Henley is interpreted as astonishing psych-folk with Spanish guitar, military drumming, sitar, retro-futuristic synth and woodwind. Song by Richard Watson Dixon is a delicate psych-folk song with hints of 60s soft pop as performed by bands like The Free Design. Gentle countryside sounds of birdsong and babbling brook are combined with flute and light jazzy guitar.
The Golden Knot by George MacDonald features harpsichord, cello, more nods towards Sgt Pepper, meandering psych guitar soloing, a filmic orchestral section, even some surf guitar. The Haunted Chamber by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is presented as classy 60s-ish folk-pop. Well In It is based around a quirky and surreal poem from the 1970s by Lady June, which is set to multifaceted instrumentation that jumps around at all sorts of unexpected tangents. Mervyn Peake's Of Pygmies, Palms & Pirates is where the album's bizarre title comes from. The piece is a creative juxtaposition of folky psychpop and hard-edged spacerock sections, which then diverts into an instrumental piece from the more experimental/ambient side of spacerock. A brilliant album that is eclectic yet cohesive, and full of creative ideas. Available from September Gurls as above.
PHILIP BUTLER Trapped at Sea CD (Sawmill/Steelmill)
I've noticed an interesting development over the last few years, in that a lot of artists and labels formerly associated with indie/noisepop have been moving towards folk music. With some it could just be a case of bandwagon jumping, as it seems like the fashion police no longer think folk is uncool - but in many cases it appears these people have gravitated towards folk completely independently of each other and not because they want to be part of a scene. This phenomenon is particularly interesting for me as my own taste in music started shifting away from indiepop, noisepop and related styles towards folk music a few years ago, so I find it interesting that a lot of others have been heading in a similar direction.
I mention this because Philip Butler is one such artist. Previously involved with noisepop, indierock and post-punk outfits including Toyskin and A Series of Wheels, he has now gone solo (with some guest performances from other artists for backing vocals and additional instrumental overdubs), opting for a more acoustic sound that successfully and seamlessly blends the less noisy side of indie music with influences from traditional British and occasionally American folk.
Painfully Slow combines the more adventurous side of indie music with folk and angular prog touches. To Fly A Plane is mainly old-school indiepop, but the addition of lap steel and some of the guitar style used in this track gives it an American folk touch. Rising River, a song about flooding and its accompanying chaos, is a mandolin and guitar-led piece with a strong influence from British trad folk. It's Been Long Enough is dark, melancholic and slightly off-centre indiepop with some unusual use of mandolin and folky backing vocals.
Trapped at Sea is a traditional song, very impressively performed with mandolin and organ. Save Us deals with the grim reality of coastal erosion, set to a creative musical blend of folk, blues, and something much more off-kilter. Raise a Flag is an inventive mix of angry post-punk, drawn-out spacey guitar effects, Spanish-tinged acoustic guitar, and other pretty much uncategorisable bits; I don't know of anyone else making music quite like this.
Philip Butler hasn't completely left behind his indie roots, so this is not an album for folk purists, but for those who appreciate both forms of music, there is a lot to like here. Philip's own compositions show a great deal of originality, and his superb rendition of the traditional song Trapped at Sea makes me curious as to what a complete album of traditional music from this artist would sound like. More info at www.philipbutler.co.uk
STORMCROW Celtic Twilight CDR (self released)
Stormcrow are a predominantly acoustic pagan folk trio, comprising vocalist and instrumentalist Mark Hadlett, and two singers, Amanda Hadlett and Sarah Jay, one of whom has a softer singing voice while the other's voice is more dramatic, gothic and at times quite harsh and punky. Lyrically, the songs vary from those that are celebratory in tone, exploring Celtic paganism, nature and the changing seasons, whilst others are darker, in a 'gothic novel' sort of way. Then there are those that explore issues such as the watering down of paganism by those who get involved for superficial reasons and court publicity (Media Witch) and the idea of war promising glory but giving the soldier a squalid life in a muddy trench and being forgotten after his death (The Misspelt Memorial). The mood is lightened for the happy-go-lucky song Black Cat and her Witch - anyone with any experience of cats will see why it's the cat that owns the witch and not the other way around! Additional electric guitar is introduced for the forceful folk-rock track Cuckoo in the Nest, while the core trio are joined by a full band on the final track Monks of Satan, which combines 70s-ish folk-tinged rock with supernatural horror lyrics. Raw and unpolished, just as true folk music almost always is, this album is well worth checking out by anyone seeking an often dark folk music with pagan sentiments. Further info at www.stormcrow-online.co.uk
AUTUMN'S GREY SOLACE Ablaze CD (Projekt)
Fifth album from this prolific dreampop duo. In Endlessly, the song itself is the sort of upbeat pop that would sound at home in the repertoire of any 60s or mid 80s janglepop band, but Autumn's Grey Solace add atmospheric shoegazer instrumentation that prevents the track from sounding too sugary. Into the Stream combines laid-back floaty dreampop with jazz. Eternal Light is quite simply majestic - a really beautiful and moving atmospheric pop song. A Rhythm that Writhes is much darker in tone than the rest of the album, introducing heavy rock and gothic elements alongside the band's usual shoegazer sound. Imaginary Grey combines sombre lyrics with a light and playful melody and jangly pop arrangement. Angelspeak is a wonderfully evocative piece with echoey choral-style vocals. A very fine dreampop album, recommended to all who appreciate this genre. More info at www.projekt.com
KATZENJAMMER KABARETT Grand Guignol & Variétés CD (Projekt)
Very far from the ethereal and/or medieval-influenced bands more often associated with Projekt; Katzenjammer Kabarett are purveyors of quirky experimental pop juxtaposing all manner of previously unrelated genres from 80s electropop to sombre neoclassical. Macabre lyrics coexist with an upbeat arrangement bringing together elements of punk, lo-tech keyboards and glockenspiel in 10 Years, whilst Percy Has Returned features sultry crooning over the top of a warped mix of atonal, angular experimentation and janglepop. Sunlight Sanatorium is a dark, weird, theatrical number that flies off at all sorts of strange tangents. Once Eliot Turned Ugly In His Lover's Bed tells a tale both grim and absurd over a backdrop of glitchy homemade techno and ominous keyboard effects. A mass of contradictions, being simultaneously poppy and avant-garde and harking back to the 80s whilst sounding completely new. Info at www.projekt.com
CLEAR BLUE SKY Gateway to the Seventh Dimension CD (Stargaze International)
Lavishly presented album in card gatefold sleeve with thick booklet of lyrics and artwork, out on Stargaze International, an offshoot of Stone Island Records. Clear Blue Sky make 70s-inspired rock with prog, blues, spacerock and psych elements, and mystical lyrics delivered by powerful vocalists Maxine Marten and Kraznet Montpelier. Occasionally the band venture into more freeform territory with spacey ambient pieces. An album refreshingly free from fad and fashion - only clear signs that the band are firmly devoted to, and completely immersed in, their chosen style of music. More info at www.stoneislandrecords.com
THE KITTIWAKES Lofoten Calling CD (Midwich)
A while ago I enthused about Kate Waterfield's astonishing Runa Megin album, a true masterpiece exploring the Nordic runes. Since then, Kate (now known as Kate Denny) has formed The Kittiwakes, whose debut album Lofoten Calling continues to demonstrate Kate's passion for Scandinavian culture. Firmly immersed in the traditional music of Britain and Norway, the material here sounds authentically traditional in terms of the music and lyrics, and the arrangements which are based around instruments such as violin, mandolin and accordion. The music is superbly crafted and easily in the same league as any of the big name folk artists.
Weaver is a reflective, introspective song set in the Viking age, told from the perspective of a weaver of ship sails, holding on to all hope that her beloved will return safely from sea. Hurtigruten is an ode to the Norwegian passenger liner, part sea shanty and part Regency-era country dance. Lofoten Calling is an a cappella piece in which beautiful vocal harmonies are provided by all the band members. The plaintive love song Sailor Song is followed by the carefree tale of legendary shepherd Ole Petter, set to a lively waltz rhythm. Rowan, Birch and Cloudberry is a very fine instrumental that merges a 19th century style country dance tune with touches of baroque and mournful folk. Fisherman is a beautiful ballad that sounds in every way like an authentic traditional piece. The Arethusa is inspired by the ship Kate's grandfather served on during World War II, which was involved in action at the Lofoten Islands. The upbeat waltz rhythm masks bleak lyrical sentiments of icy cold weather conditions and a longing to return home from war.
As I share The Kittiwakes' fascination with old-school folk music and Scandinavian history and folklore, I can really identify with the music here. This is by far the most exciting album I've heard in a while and I will certainly be keeping a look out for any future offerings from this band. More info at www.thekittiwakes.com and www.midwich-cuckoos.co.uk
PETER BJÄRGÖ A Wave of Bitterness CD (Kalinkaland)
Solo album from Peter Bjärgö of Arcana. In some ways this album is a departure from the music I would usually associate with Arcana, focusing on dark, filmic, neoclassical instrumental music and occasional nods towards the ethereal/shoegaze style. The more song-oriented tracks have more in common with Arcana, and Arcana's primary influence Dead Can Dance, with world music style percussion and the deep, dramatic vocals of Peter Bjärgö, whose voice is very reminiscent of that of Brendan Perry. In Useless Retrospective is an atmospheric and quite experimental piece with vocal murmurings; A Choice of Silence is a song-based gothic track; Insomnia is a very beautiful instrumental best described as 'shoegaze-folk'; VI brings together a tribal rhythmic structure and doom laden gothic synth; Imprisonment of Mind is an excellent medieval-tinged track reminiscent of Dead Can Dance. As the above shows, there is quite a lot of variety on this album and a refusal to stick to one formula, but it comes together in a coherent whole, the thread of commonality being the dark atmosphere and fatalistic, pessimistic and melancholic lyrics. More info at www.kalinkaland.de
JO GABRIEL Fools and Orphans CD (Kalinkaland)
I have here the limited edition self released version, but the CD has since been issued on a wider scale by Kalinkaland. Jo Gabriel is often compared with Kate Bush, and not completely without reason as her voice has some similarities, and both artists share the same kind of individualistic spirit. The songs on Fools and Orphans are sophisticated and intelligent, with instruments more often associated with classical music, such as piano, cello, tympani and trumpet, and lyrics that are true works of poetry. The music has an off-kilter quality that may be too challenging for some listeners, but for anyone who appreciates music with a strong sense of intellect and creativity, existing outside the confines of fashion trends, Jo Gabriel is a recommended artist. More info at www.kalinkaland.de and www.jogabriel.com
SAINT JOAN The Wrecker's Lantern CD (Camera Obscura)
Collective of musicians from England, Hungary and France, led by songwriter Ellen Mary McGee. The music is decidedly unfrivolous, drawing lyrical inspiration from assorted highbrow novelists, with violin and piano adding to the sophisticated atmosphere. The press release draws comparison to artists like Nick Cave, the Tindersticks and Tom Waits, but what I'm hearing (particularly on the first part of the album) is more of a blend of British and American folk, 80s jangly indiepop, and a touch of 60s psych-pop. I'm even reminded at times of The Sea Urchins by some of the guitar work on this album. The second part of the album is perhaps more diverse, with less emphasis on folk or straightforward janglepop. Fire At Sea incorporates some rockier musical touches and a rather more dark and brooding atmosphere; Gone is a drawn-out and atmospheric number; Every Street Light is a slice of classy balladry that sounds believably close to being a cover version of some mainstream track from the 60s or 70s; and December intersperses spoken vocals with a soul/pop song that again sounds rather commercial but without being shallow. The final track, Untitled, fits squarely within the country genre. The album is therefore very diverse, but all the songs hold together coherently, avoiding falling into the 'unfocused mishmash' trap. As someone who got seriously involved in music via the old-school indiepop scene and has over the years become more engrossed in folk music, there is a lot for me to like here. Since this album came out, Ellen Mary McGee has gone solo; her album The Crescent Sun will be reviewed here shortly. In the meantime, visit the Camera Obscura site for more info on The Wrecker's Lantern: www.cameraobscura.com.au
ELLEN MARY McGEE The Crescent Sun CD (Midwich)
Solo album from Ellen Mary McGee, formerly of Saint Joan. The music combines sophistication and an off-kilter sensibility, juxtaposing fragile minimal instrumentation with a strong, assertive vocal style. It's essentially folk, in the modern and usually American influenced sense. There are psychedelic undercurrents (A Watch of Nightingales) and excursions into country territory (Upon Death and Dying, Theseus). He Is No Earthly Man is a dark, brooding banjo/violin led piece with shades of Sixteen Horsepower. Teeth of the Hydra is impassioned, melancholic and intelligent, bringing some off-centre synth sounds together with the raw banjo. The Fatal Flower Garden is an update of the traditional Scottish ballad Little Sir Hugh (also known as Hugh of Lincoln) in terms of its subject matter, but as with most of the rest of the album, the music itself draws from more recent American folk. Minimal banjo again forms the backdrop for a grim tale of suicide in The Wintering.
In many ways a raw, dark and unsettling album, but also with a refined, elegant feel and a sense of intellect and education as seen in the often literary-style lyrics and references to Greek mythology. More info from Midwich at www.midwich-cuckoos.co.uk
LISA HAMMER Dakini CD (Projekt)
Solo album from vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Lisa Hammer, also known for her work with Mors Syphilitica and Requiem in White. Inspired by the Tantric concept of the Dakini, it was Lisa's intention for this album to create music for ritual, meditation and sex. The music is a meeting of ancient and modern, with 12th century hymns set to stark ambient soundscaping, and sitar-laden Eastern mystical chants combined with electronic and experimental music. The Valley of Unrest sets Edgar Allen Poe's words to a superb ethereal melody and arrangement with angelic choral backing vocals. Yaksha combines frenetic tribal drumming with that slightly atonal modern classical music and otherworldly wordless vocals. Sometimes with dark, unsettling undercurrents, but always deeply atmospheric and imaginative. Further info at www.projekt.com
SORIAH WITH ASHKELON SAIN Atlan CD (Projekt)
Soriah, aka Enrique Ugalde, is of Mexican descent on his father's side, and is trained in Tuvan throat singing, winning competitions in this vocal style held in Tuva. On this collaboration with Ashkelon Sain of Trance to the Sun, Soriah combines Mexican and Tuvan/Central Asian influences by performing Tuvan style throat singing in the Aztec language Nahuatl. The music itself is a moving, absorbing blend of world music and atmospheric soundscaping, combining a whole host of exotic instruments such as igil, byzaanchy, doshpulur, shruti box and clay flute (all played by Soriah) with Ashkelon Sain's contributions of modern instrumentation such as synth, drums, guitar and sampling. The chanting and drumming have a shamanistic feel, the consciousness-altering quality of the music also being found in the ambient electronic additions.
Anyone already familiar with Tuvan throat singing will recognise the 'overtone' style heard here in Xopancuicatl, Borbak, and briefly in a few other tracks, in which one voice splits into two, with one of the vocal sounds having more in common with a musical instrument such as a flute rather than anything most people would imagine the human voice to be capable of. As well as the Nahuatl lyrics, Soriah also sings two pieces in Tuvan, namely Borbak and the truly excellent Morguul, which whilst having an electronic drone in the background sounds on the whole like authentic world music and includes some effective use of percussion and a bowed stringed instrument.
Impressive stuff - would like to hear more from Soriah. Further info at www.projekt.com
GLORYTELLERS Atone CD (Southern)
Latest project of Geoff Farina, formerly of Karate and The Secret Stars. The Lost Half Mile is brilliant cheery old-school indiepop that reminds me just how much I still have a soft spot for this kind of music. Fours is from the more laid-back, subdued side of old-style indiepop. Concaves is an indiepop-meets-Americana number where the drums clatter along like a train and a bluesy harmonica wails away. Just What I Was Thinking adds some sophisticated, almost jazzy guitar work to the usual upbeat indiepop style. Softly As She Sings has strong blues and country influences but there's no hiding its janglepop heart. Omni Stars is classy pop with an engagingly off-kilter, almost proggy, guitar solo. A superb album that adds a uniquely American twist to the classic mid 80s to early 90s British jangly indiepop sound, and does so in a way that works really well. I will have to keep an eye out for more from this band. More info at www.southern.com
VARIOUS Arctic Paradise 2010 CD and book (FIMIC)
Superbly presented package promoting the full spectrum of contemporary Finnish folk music, comprising a CD and small square hardback book with information on the artists and historical background info on Finnish folk music in general.
Tsuumi Sound System combine a traditional style fiddle/accordion dance tune with jazzy touches. Sväng are a harmonica quartet who have come up with the ingenious idea of playing Finnish/Balkan folk entirely on harmonica. Sanna Kurki-Suonio is best known for her work with Hedningarna, and also her solo album Musta. She has also collaborated with a wide range of other folk artists from across the Nordic countries. Her track here Mun Muistuu Mieleheni is taken from a more recent album, Huria. The song is a beautiful ballad set to kantele and minimal electronic arrangement. Trepaanit are a band with an inventive approach, using such instruments as a newly developed stringed instrument given the name 'vantele', and a two and a half (!) row accordion, along with Tuvan stringed instrument the igil, and the ancient Finnish bowed lyre known as jouhikko. Their track here is an engaging instrumental piece with occasional wordless vocals, the vocal pieces reminding me a little of Georgian choral music (that's Georgian as in the country, not the era).
The book's section on Henriksson-Kleemola-Prauda mentions the surprising parallels between baroque and folk music. Indeed - I too believe that there is actually only a very fine line between Early Music and folk, and baroque is simply an outgrowth of Early Music. Henriksson-Kleemola-Prauda explore these parallels with great success. Their music draws mainly from the work of 19th century fiddler Samuel Rinta-Nikkola, but played on harpsichord, cittern, and baroque violin, along with Finnish bagpipes. The music has a stately, sophisticated sound whilst still being undeniably folk music.
Markku Lepistö and Pekka Lehti are known for their work with Värttinä as well as solo albums. Their collaborative track here is an accordion/double bass instrumental with a sophisticated, jazz-tinged feel. The Vilma Timonen Quartet are essentially a world-fusion band, combining the Finnish kantele with other musical styles from around the globe. This track brings together the electric kantele with African style drumming, Indian-inspired vocals and jazzy double bass, and contains elements of the traditional and the improvisational. Alamaailman Vasarat ('Hammers of the Underworld') play a wild, eccentric mix of rock, klezmer, jazz, ska and more quirky, uncategorisable bits, primarily on brass and woodwind - a band that has to be heard to be believed.
The musical tradition of the Sámi, the indigenous people of the far north of Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia, is represented here by Ulla Pirttijärvi, formerly of Angelit aka Girls of Angeli. The Sámi singing style is known as yoik or joik, from the North Sámi term juoigan. This is a form of improvised singing that has much in common with Arctic Siberian vocal music. Ulla Pirttijärvi combines the yoik with synth-based pop and occasional jazz touches.
Frigg are a Finnish/Norwegian ensemble, fiddle-led but also featuring mandolin, guitar, bass and bagpipes, based around core members from the Järvelä and Larsen families. The Järvelä family contain amongst them a number of important folk fiddlers, other family members being involved in the long running fiddler band JPP. Frigg make impressive uptempo instrumental music which adds touches of American folk (particularly bluegrass) to the overall Nordic sound. I've noticed that some previous reviewers have commented on their 'unfortunate' name, but this opinion just serves to demonstrate how little these reviewers actually know. Although the name sounds rude in English, it's actually the name of a Norse goddess.
Spontaani Vire play predominantly Balkan influenced folk. Jouhiorkesteri are a quartet based on the jouhikko, whose track here is a strongly melodic piece with hypnotic accompaniment. Paratiisin Pojat are a banjo/accordion duo combining Finnish folk with blues and hillbilly music. KTU (pronounced K2) is a highly innovative project led by Kimmo Pohjonen, and also including King Crimson members Trey Gunn and Pat Mastelotto. Here the usually traditional instrument the accordion is presented in an avant garde fashion along with influences from techno and prog rock, and is quite possibly the most inventive accordion music I've ever heard. Senni Eskilinen and Stringpurée Band have an instrumental piece that is like slick, laid-back and slightly jazzy 70s rock, but with the unusual addition of the Finnish stringed instrument the kantele, which provides a sound that is both folky and classical.
An impressive collection that demonstrates how folk music can be modern and innovative without leaving behind its traditional roots. I believe this album is only available for promotional purposes rather than being for sale to the general public, but anyone interested in finding out more about Finnish music can get further information from the Finnish Music Information Centre (FIMIC) website - www.fimic.fi
HENRIKSSON-KLEEMOLA-PRAUDA RindaNickola CD (Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department Recordings)
I was blown away by this band's contribution to the Arctic Paradise 2010 compilation, so was really pleased to get hold of a copy of the album that their track was taken from. Henriksson-Kleemola-Prauda use harpsichord, violin, cittern and Finnish bagpipe to combine folk music and baroque, which are in my view just two sides of the same coin. I have always maintained that Early Music and folk have much in common, and baroque is simply an outgrowth of Early Music. Baroque and its predecessors could be seen as a more 'refined', 'educated' or 'gentrified' adaptation of the folk tradition. This trio comprises Marianna Henriksson (a member of various orchestras and choirs as well as the ensemble Harmonic Whims), Piia Kleemola (a multi-instrumentalist trained in violin and viola and the Finnish folk instruments kantele and jouhikko. As well as being a solo musician, she also performs with Hyperborea, Kyläpellimanit-trio, and Jouko Kyhälä & Saalas), and Petri Prauda (another multi-instrumentalist known for his work with the bands Frigg and Plektronite). This, their debut album, is based largely on the repertoire of early 19th century folk musician Samuel Rinta-Nikkola, the title of the album being a variant spelling of his name.
The harpsichord and baroque violin stylings add a sophisticated touch to pieces that are still recognisably folk, whilst more minimal violin pieces such as F-duuripolska and Björkö-polska show how baroque and folk coexist naturally without the addition of specifically baroque instrumentation. "Mitä Silloin Taita Puuttuu?" is an atmospheric and very modern sounding piece, with hints of modern classical music and jazz. Anyone discouraged by that description due to the atonal and incoherent nature of certain examples of those genres will be pleased to learn that in this case there is absolutely no atonality or incoherence to be heard here at all. A truly superb album, with Hauho-polskan and Kahman Anti being particularly beautiful. Anyone unmoved by this stuff simply can't have a heart.
More info at www.myspace.com/henrikssonkleemolaprauda and www.siba.fi/kansanmusiikki
THE POCKET GODS The Green Man CDR (self released)
This one has been around a while and was sent to me during a time when I was too busy to devote as much attention to the zine as would have been ideal. I'm now starting to catch up with reviews and figured this CD was worth a mention. It has four tracks, but is actually the length of an album, so I'm reviewing it as an album. The title, artwork, and John Barleycorn lyrics quoted on the cover suggest folk, but that would be a very inaccurate conclusion to reach, at least in terms of the music itself. The music is a heavy, doomy brand of psych-rock with touches of post-rock and perhaps even some gothic tendencies. The Green Man is 16 minutes plus of noisy intensity with impassioned vocals, but also with a drawn-out, atmospheric quality and some unusual (for this genre) use of early 80s-ish synth. There's more intense, riotous psych-rock next in the shape of Living on a Leyline, a 17.5 minute track that brings together such traditionally opposing elements as a chiming, almost sitar-like guitar with a punkish snarly vocal and lashings of chaotic guitar noise. Mountains of Madness reveals a very different side to The Pocket Gods, at least to start with - a sombre, introspective number with acoustic guitar and piano, but then the wailing psychedelic guitar comes in so you know it's the same band. On The Trail Of Monsters shows a return to their noisier side and is best described as post-punk meets post-rock, plus a sizeable proportion of wild psychedelia. Despite the band's unorthodox, even subversive musical approach, there is a constant lyrical undercurrent of traditional folkloric, mythological and pagan themes. I don't know what The Pocket Gods are up to these days, whether they've put out anything else since this, or even if they still exist, but this CD is worth a listen if you can still get it. Contact
EDITED TO ADD: I've since heard from the band, who are indeed still in existence and have released various other CDs since this one. More info on them at www.myspace.com/thepocketgods
PHILIP BUTLER & NATASHA TRANTER Stories for Emily CDR (Sawmill/Steelmill)
Hot on the heels of Philip Butler's Trapped at Sea album, reviewed earlier this issue, comes this latest collaboration between Philip Butler and Natasha Tranter (along with a few other guest musicians). I'm reviewing a promotional version with less extravagant packaging, but the actual release available to buy is packaged within a handmade fabric covered book - sounds fantastic! This handmade version is extremely limited, but a download is also available for those that prefer that format.
The music is contemporary acoustic songwriting that introduces a strong influence from traditional folk with its use of accordion and fiddle. Trapped at Sea still showed signs of Philip's background in indie music and post-punk, but that is not the case with Stories for Emily, which shows a more consistent folk emphasis. The songs are presented in a way that is very beautiful and moving. There is a strong sense of romance in some of the lyrics, and you get the feeling that Philip is baring his heart for all to see. There is also a recurring theme of English rural scenery throughout the album, which is conjured up vividly by Philip's lyrics. Another theme frequently explored is that of supernatural horror, which as any folk music aficionado will tell you, is not actually anything new in this genre. Real traditional folk is not just the fa-la-las and hey-nonny-no's of the stereotype; it is often extremely gory in its lyrical content.
Jack the Mommet is an eerie tale in the old supernatural murder ballad tradition, set to suitably otherworldly psych-folk instrumentation. Goodwin Sands tells of an 18th century shipwreck and subsequent haunting, and includes some very authentically traditional-sounding accompaniment. You would never guess this album came from an artist who was perfectly at home making indie-rock and noisepop a few years ago. Philip Butler is shaping up to be a seriously impressive folk artist with music to easily rival that of musicians with a much longer history in the folk scene. With the current popularity of folk music, I would not be surprised if Philip, Natasha and band go on to bigger things. Further info from www.sawmillsteelmill.co.uk and www.philipbutler.co.uk
STONE PREMONITIONS 2010 The Clowning Achievement CDR (Stone Premonitions)
The Stone Premonitions collective have been doing their own thing outside of the mainstream since the early 90s (although the roots of the collective actually go back to 1974), bringing together a diverse collection of music from straightforward pop to far out experimental music, via psych, prog and spacerock. The label is representative of the true underground spirit and exists out of a genuine commitment to music rather than being motivated by short lived media driven fads like so much else that's out there.
As Stone Premonitions enters the second decade of the 2000s, the current members of the collective have released this new album under the band name Stone Premonitions 2010. Tim Jones, Terri-B and Paddi will be familiar names to anyone who's been following Stone Prem since the early days, but their collective now also includes Dave Hendry of prog/spacerock band OHead, who adds a spacey electronic component to Tim, Terri and Paddi's songwriting. Other artists who appear on selected tracks here include Mark Dunn (Body Full of Stars) and Don Campau (a name that will be familiar to anyone who's been following the underground scene for any length of time, due to his own music and his tireless promotion of other DIY artists). A couple of tracks include lyrics by Tony Morland, who provided lyrics for some of the earlier Rabbit's Hat material.
Combining strong, catchy songwriting with the musical adventurousness of styles such as spacerock, prog rock and experimental sound sculpture, Stone Premonitions 2010 are able to mix the accessible with the bizarre with great success. They even incorporate influences from techno/dance music in Give Us Back Our Heaven. Tim Jones, Paddi and Mark Dunn have a long history in music, for instance their involvement in 70s band Neon, and Tim was also a member of one of the lineups of Punishment of Luxury. Many people involved in music for this length of time run out of ideas and/or reinvent themselves as something bland and middle of the road. Not so the Stone Prem collective, who still have the capacity for creating music that is inventive, fresh and unrestricted by genre boundaries.
This album is an ideal place to start for anyone new to Stone Premonitions, and an absolute must for anyone who has enjoyed the works of previous Stone Prem bands such as The Rabbit's Hat, Census of Hallucinations, Body Full of Stars, and Mr Quimby's Beard. Further info from www.aural-innovations.com/stonepremonitions
EDITED TO ADD: Stone Premonitions also produce the Alchemical Radio show, which is now broadcast via Radio Six International ( www.radiosix.com). Full details on the show can be found at www.aural-innovations.com/radio/alchemy.html. Bands interested in being featured on the show are invited to send them their music on vinyl or CD.
STAN Into the Sun CD (Big Bright Beautiful)
Stan's music is primarily soft rock, with gravelly vocals. Some of their songs seem influenced by various mainstream guitar-oriented acts from the 80s; bands that sound like 80s mainstream stuff regularly fail to impress me, but Stan have a talent and catchiness that makes them rise above the norm of this type of music. Their use of the sort of jangly guitar sound more often associated with indiepop also makes them stand out from the crowd, as does their willingness to mix in bits of other genres with the predominant soft rock sound. Turn Out the Light adds a country-ish touch; the latter part of You Don't Even Know has rather a shoegazerish feel; Make You Cry is laid-back rock balladry that harks back more to the early 70s than the 80s. It's In Your Eyes is one of my favourite tracks here - very well crafted upbeat melodic rock, again with 70s-ish hints. Glittering is Gold is rather an innovative track and another of my favourites; alongside its uptempo melodic rock components, it adds guiro, jangling bells and spoken word ranting. If You Really Want To is another upbeat number combining 70s rock with powerpop. In many ways, Stan's style is way outside my usual listening material, but they do their kind of 80s-inspired rock well, and throughout the years I've been aware of them, I have always thought them superior to a lot of other bands of this type. More info from Rob Tickell - email@example.com
ENSEMBLE AL-ASDEKA s/t CD (self released)
Ensemble Al-Asdeka are a world-fusion band from Michigan, inspired primarily by Middle Eastern and North African traditional music. Their founder member, tabla player Kathy Roberts, absorbed the music of North Africa whilst having lived in this location for some years. Flute, violin, guitar and sax appear here alongside sumbati and djembe, adding elements of rock, classical, jazz, and various European folk musics (eg Spanish, Eastern European, British, Greek), to create a truly eclectic, cosmopolitan mix. Very impressive stuff! More info at www.al-asdeka.com and www.www.myspace.com/ensemblealasdeka
VARIOUS The Moon Orion Project CDR (Stone Premonitions)
Compilation released to celebrate 10 years of Stone Premonitions, which features cover versions of, and new material inspired by, the classic Rabbit's Hat tracks The Moon and Orion. Those are amongst my very favourite songs by The Rabbit's Hat, so I was naturally very keen to hear these new interpretations by other artists. Clear Blue Sky contribute two versions of The Moon in a heavy rock style that straddles the boundary between psych and prog. Cousin Silas' Orion's First Moon is spacey, ambient, and at times dark and harsh sound manipulation. Dave Dill provides a psych/folk/rock interpretation of The Moon, which is excellent. I'd not previously heard Dave Dill, but if his own material is anything like this, it sounds like he is an artist worth listening out for. Pandemonium Seesaw's Orion One is heavy spacerock in the tradition of Hawkwind. Lord Litter's version of Orion is quirky DIY psych-pop. Brainstorm provide a version of The Moon that starts off as a floaty, atmospheric instrumental with some effective use of flute. The song then transforms into a kind of psych-tinged, laid-back folk-rock that is excellent and makes me curious to hear more from this band. Rapoon's Moon Orion is ambient soundscaping combining atmospheric drones, spacey sound effects and electronic percussion. Tim Mungenast's version of The Moon is minimal psych featuring just vocals and two guitars. Root Deco's O'Ryan in the Underworld is raw, riotous, bluesy garage rock with wailing harmonica. The covers of Orion and The Moon all add something of the artists' own style, whilst still being very much in the spirit of the originals. A very highly recommended compilation that is a must for Rabbit's Hat fans, as well as anyone curious about what the underground psych/prog/spacerock movement has to offer. More info at www.aural-innovations.com/stonepremonitions
THE OWL SERVICE The Burn Comes Down CD (Rif Mountain)
The Owl Service are one of the current crop of bands inspired by traditional British folk music, and are one of the bands who come the closest to capturing the spirit of the folk revivalist movement of the 70s. Having been very impressed by previous offerings from The Owl Service, I was very excited to learn about their latest project, a series of releases collectively titled The Pattern Under The Plough (named, I would think, after George Ewart Evans' study of folklore and country customs). This 9-track mini-album, The Burn Comes Down, is the first in the series. The songs here are connected by a common theme of winter, beginning with January Snows (fragment), a brief snippet of unaccompanied song from former Mellow Candle vocalist Alison O'Donnell. Unaccompanied singing is a staple of ultra-traditional folk, but in many cases these sort of recordings seem more like something you'd listen to for historical educational purposes rather than entertainment. Here however, Alison's clear, pure voice makes instruments unnecessary, and the song itself stands up perfectly well on its own without musical accompaniment.
Drive the Cold Winter Away is superb 70s-style electric folk which even introduces a touch of sitar. When A Man's In Love features guest vocals and piano from Roshi Nasehi, whose voice is simply beautiful and works perfectly with this moving, melancholic song. This track also features Joolie Wood of Current 93 on strings. Fire & Wine (fragment) features male vocals set to a loud, forceful electric guitar. The Bitter Withy is a song I know from Maddy Prior's album Flesh and Blood. Its lyrics are what you could call 'folk Christianity', and present a most unorthodox image of Jesus as a child who is fallible to say the least and punished accordingly by his mother. The Owl Service's version features a lone male vocal with no musical accompaniment, but again the song is strong enough to stand up on its own. They owe a definite debt to the anonymous author of Betsy Bell and Mary Gray (as performed by Martin Carthy and Maddy Prior) for part of the melody of Cold and Raw. And whilst not being exactly identical, the rest of the tune puts me in mind of The Prodigal's Resolution (from Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band's Hang Up Sorrow and Care). The song is superb 70s style electric folk that ends with some untamed rock guitar soloing.
January Snows is a fuller version of the first track, presented in several parts comprising atmospheric droning and sitar-based psych-folk. Guest vocalist Alison O'Donnell returns for The Snow It Melts The Soonest (fragment), another brief track with minimal one-note drone accompaniment. Winter (A Dirge) is a Robert Burns poem set to a medieval-sounding folk melody. The song is combined with a psych-folk instrumental with sitar, glockenspiel and tinkling bells, that wouldn't sound out of place on those Erewhon/Kissing Spell compilation albums of the 70s folk-rock underground.
A superb collection of songs that harks back to the classic folk revival material of the 70s, whilst also adding bits of other styles like Indian music and experimental sound manipulation to great effect. Truly astonishing stuff. Available from www.rifmountain.com
THE OWL SERVICE The View From A Hill CD (Rif Mountain)
This 15-track album is the second installment in The Owl Service's Pattern Under The Plough series. The booklet features extensive notes on the songs, almost all of which are traditional material from England, Scotland and occasionally Ireland, and many of which I'm familiar with from the work of other folk musicians. Familiar yes, but for me, in the case of traditional folk music, familiarity does not breed contempt. These are songs that are very old and have stood the test of time in a way that most more modern genres do not.
The notes mention which artists The Owl Service have based their versions on, and I was very pleased to see repeated mention of Steeleye Span, Martin Carthy, and Tim Hart & Maddy Prior. I was having an interesting conversation with someone about folk music recently and one of the things that came up was how it's considered fashionable to like, or be influenced by, Fairport Convention, but people tend to sneer at Steeleye Span due to them having had more commercial success. This is purely a snob-factor thing, and I doubt most of the people who scoff at Steeleye have even heard any of their best material. If these people took the time to scratch the surface and look past their most famous song, which is hardly representative of their usual sound anyway, they would find some of the most beautiful and moving examples of folk-rock ever made. Unlike these others we were complaining about, The Owl Service absolutely do not have a superficial approach. They have explored the 70s folk revival, and trad folk in general, in serious depth.
The View From The Hill continues in the vein of previous releases from The Owl Service, being very much in the spirit of the 70s folk revival whilst adding their own influences from elsewhere. Polly on the Shore is a stark cello-based instrumental version of this classic song, with touches of concertina, jingling bells, and scratchy old vinyl sounds. The Banks of the Nile is excellent 70s style electric folk with psych-rock elements. Ladies, Don't Go A-Thieving has an unusual train-like chugalong rhythm. I Was A Young Man easily rivals Martin Carthy's version, but its arrangement is much fuller and sounds pretty much like how Steeleye would sound if they had a flute player. They opt for an unaccompanied version of Sorry the Day I Was Married. In Thorneymoor Woods pt 1 is also unaccompanied, save for the birdsong in the background. Willie O'Winsbury, The Bold Poachers and The Loyal Lover are prime examples of band-based folk, that are easily in the same league as any of the 70s folk greats.
The Lover's Ghost is an eerie ballad sung by Alison O'Donnell and accompanied by a minimal atmospheric drone. The Ladies Go Dancing At Whitsun features brass, woodwind and harpsichord for an effective blend of folk, Renaissance music and psychedelia. Willie O'Winsbury (reprise) reinvents the song as a brass-based funeral march. Within Sound is a very brief excerpt of Gower Wassail, very much influenced by Steeleye Span's version, but with the addition of recorder. Cruel Mother is a gruesome murder ballad, lavishly arranged with woodwind and even a spacey synth, and beginning and ending with sparse ambient drones.
There aren't enough words to express quite how astonishing this album is. The Owl Service are rapidly becoming one of my favourite bands currently in existence, and I eagerly await the release of the subsequent volumes of The Pattern Under The Plough.
JASON STEEL Fire Begot Ash CD (Rif Mountain)
Jason Steel is also of The Owl Service, but his solo music is very different, being much more American influenced. This album takes in elements of ragtime, blues, and the earlier, rawer, less commercialised forms of country music, as well as more recent alt-country. The songs are minimally arranged, with instrumentation varying between acoustic guitar, ukulele and banjo. Some tracks combine American and British folk music in a similar way to Bert Jansch; indeed, Jason's guitar style often resembles that of Bert Jansch, especially in the instrumental tracks. Whilst it's clear what styles have influenced Jason Steel's music, the songwriting itself often transcends genre and does not conform to any stereotypical interpretations of those styles. For example, The False Bride is lyrically a traditional English song, but Jason's arrangement breaks the mould by opting for a sort of Americana meets old-school minimalist indiepop approach, with no melodic similarity to traditional English folk music whatsoever.
The sleeve notes show a similar sense of inventiveness, playing around with strange stream of consciousness statements such as "A librarian stole me a book, and the strings started yielding, so they did". A recurrent theme of Tarot and other divination systems is also in evidence, in the track title Ace of Pentacles, the reference to a seaside fortune telling machine giving surprisingly detailed divination, and the dedication of The False Bride to the Empress from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. The cover, with its fine monochrome pen drawings, is striking. The music is both old-style and innovative, and as much care has been put into the artwork and booklet, making this album a complete package. Available from www.rifmountain.com
KILL IT KID s/t CD (One Little Indian)
Kill It Kid are a young 5-piece with some interesting and unusual ideas. The heavier side of their sound is a particularly riotous form of blues-rock, which adds barn dance fiddle and honkytonk piano, along with male and female vocals from singers whose voices complement each other perfectly as both are husky and somewhat deep. There are also some more laid-back moments introducing elements of intelligent and emotional indie music, folk, soul, torch song, classical and jazz - but even their slower numbers are shot through with an urgency and intensity that characterises their overall sound. A surprisingly advanced sounding debut considering the young age of this band, and they have an effective combination of genres going on, resulting in an unmistakeable style that is miles outside of the bland norm. More info at www.myspace.com/killitkid and www.indian.co.uk
TERRI-B Big Dictionary CDR (Pet Hippy/Stone Premonitions)
A massive 23 tracks of musical diversity, out on the Pet Hippy arm of Stone Prem. Terri-B is a talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, joined here by a whole crowd of guest musicians. Styles range from accessible pop to bizarre experimentalism; stand-out tracks for me include Dolly, an ominous look at the negative health effects of mobile phones, as well as an attack on social conformity, set to inventive and effective bleepy backing music; Golden Wings, a 70s-ish prog rock track; Losing Contact, best described as experimental rock; Big Dictionary, double entendre lyrics set to electronic bleepage; Mooncats, a gory supernatural horror tale with speeded up vocals, heavy rock guitar and experimental sound effects; Astral Dreams and Our Room, swirly, floaty psychedelic songs; and Lucky, laid-back folky psych-rock. There are also tracks here to appeal to those into more straightforward pop, rock and soul, as well as really weird experimental material. More info at www.aural-innovations.com/stonepremonitions
SOMEBODY FAMOUS Somebody Famous on Vinyl/The Ship of Grandad's Day Remastered double CDR (Stone Premonitions)
Somebody Famous was Stone Prem founder Tim Jones' band from the 80s and early 90s, which also included a few other names familiar from various Stone Premonitions projects, eg Martin Holder, Paul Ellis, Mark Dunn, Paddi, and Steve Sekrit, aka Stephen Robson, formerly of Punishment of Luxury and now in Stone Prem band Shay Tal. This double CD compiles all the tracks from their vinyl releases from the late 80s on one CD, and a remastered version of their 1991 CD The Ship of Grandad's Day on the other. Starting with the first CD, Somebody Famous on Vinyl: I Like to Travel is really catchy, quirky rock. Dancing Feet is very much a product of its time, and the dance remix that follows even more so. This is late 80s synth based pop with lyrics about moving to the beat, shaking your body and so on. Both versions are however a little more off-centre than the mainstream equivalents of this sort of music.
The tracks from their self titled LP are a mix of pop and rock with some quintessentially 80s elements like synths and sax. Although it sounds in some ways like the sort of music that was mainstream at the time, the band also take on board forms of rock that are more timeless, as well as some quirkier, undergroundy elements that prevent the music from sounding too dated or too commercial. The last two tracks on this CD, Love Will Stay and New Day Tripper, come from a 7" single and are very fine janglepop that's well worth checking out.
The second CD, The Ship of Grandad's Day, is full of sophisticated, well crafted music that combines guitar-based pop with rock and prog elements. Carousel is an evocative mix of janglepop, atmospheric synth and prog rock. This description may sound strange, but in fact it works fantastically well, and the song is amazingly catchy. There's a Heaven has shades of Tim's subsequent band The Rabbit's Hat, and is one of the tracks that best illustrates bassist Friz' distinctive style, which is far more melodic than that favoured by many other bass players. Black Beauty (On Cowboy Hill) is a punchy and catchy acoustic song, whilst Half Mantra is reminiscent of the proggier/spacier material that was soon to come from The Rabbit's Hat. Greg Orion is a very brief snippet of medieval style chanting (note the pun on 'Gregorian'!), that leads on to Hieronymus, a song that subsequently became one of The Rabbit's Hat's classics and one of my very favourite songs of theirs. Ship (Pilot's Mix) is a remix of the title track, mostly instrumental but with a few snippets of quirky speeded up and slowed down vocals.
The Ship of Grandad's Day has stood the test of time rather more than Somebody Famous' earlier material that was very obviously from the 80s. The album has a much more timeless sound and introduces a lot of talented and original ideas. This really is a superb album, and one well worth investigating by anyone curious about the roots of The Rabbit's Hat. Contact Stone Premonitions as above.
CHEAP WINE Spirits CD (Cheap Wine)
Cheap Wine are an Italian band making melodic rock with blues and country influences. A Pig on a Lead is folk-rock of the American variety, with some effective use of fiddle. Instead of the summery atmosphere this sort of music often has, Cheap Wine opt for something rather more dark, smoky and sleazy. Leave Me A Drain is heavy blues-rock; the riffage here seems familiar and has almost certainly been lifted from some famous rock song from the 70s, but the song has enough vim and vigour that they can get away with a few rather predictable moments. Circus of Fools is a little different from Cheap Wine's usual stuff, more laid-back, the minimal guitar/piano bits even sound kind of like indiepop, although I doubt that was their intention. The song gets a little rockier later and also brings in an instrumental part at the end with clear echoes of circus music. La Buveuse is dark sleazy jazz/blues/rock influenced by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's painting The Absinthe Drinker. The lyrics show a twisted wit: "Buy me a drink if you wanna paint my own private hell/I raise my glass to the good old days when my liver was well". Dried Leaves is another laid-back track, American style folk-rock meets janglepop, that begins with the sound of dried leaves being swept in a percussive fashion. Lay Down is a jangly pop song that sounds just like late 80s/early 90s indiepop, and makes me think perhaps that genre really is an influence on this band after all. The Sea Is Down returns to Cheap Wine's more usual sound of uptempo blues-rock.
Cheap Wine aren't the sort of band who are all about creating their own genre, and anyone looking for avant-garde music would probably do well to look elsewhere. They wear their influences proudly on their sleeves, drawing from familiar styles and advertising their influences further by choosing to perform cover versions (Man in the Long Black Coat by Bob Dylan, and Pancho and Lefty by Townes van Zandt). But the sort of styles Cheap Wine are working with just aren't supposed to be genre-hopping anyway. Blues, for instance, is supposed to sound a certain way. Whilst there is a certain familiarity to Cheap Wine's sound, I'm not left thinking "how dull, I've heard all this before", simply because they have a talent for creating gutsy tunes and thought-provoking lyrics. Contact the band via www.myspace.com/cheapwinenet
TELLING THE BEES Untie the Wind CD (Black Thrustle)
Telling The Bees are a classical-inspired folk band with some very interesting and engaging musical and philosophical ideas. Their lyrics are firmly rooted in such topics as nature, environmental awareness and ecological activism, and British folklore and mythology.
The members of this band come from diverse musical backgrounds. Andy Letcher has been a member of various eco-protest/tribedelic bands, including Space Goats, Jabberwocky and Celtarabia. He is actively involved in the eco-protest movement and campaigned alongside Swampy against the Newbury bypass. He is also the author of a book on the history of magic mushrooms. More recently he appeared as a guest musician with Bellowhead at the 2008 BBC Proms in the Park. Josie Webber has a background in funk-rock and trip-hop. Colin Fletcher started off as an experimental artist with The Sonic Catering Band, and has since collaborated with a wide range of well known folk artists such as Abbie Lathe, Sharron Kraus, Kerr Fagan Harbron and the Tim Van Eyken Band. He and his wife Jane Griffiths, also a member of Telling The Bees and musician with Abbie Lathe and Sharron Kraus, live on a canal boat.
This debut album, and its follow-up An English Arcanum (of which more in a moment) are both packaged within superb intricate pencil artwork by Rima Staines, an artist of extraordinary talent. In an interview with Heathen Harvest, Telling The Bees' Andy Letcher made mention of 'the vexed question of Englishness', asking "Is there a way of celebrating Englishness in a way that is inclusive and relevant to our urban lifestyle, and which cannot be appropriated by the narrow bigotry of the far right?" The answer to this question can be found within the music of Untie the Wind, and the answer is a resounding 'Yes!' The album incorporates elements of traditional English folk music, but in a way that is very much contemporary, and looks to the future just as much as the past. Rock, classical, jazz and modern protest-folk are all combined with the more traditional feeling got from such instruments as mandolin, English border bagpipes, fiddle and concertina.
Fithfath is a sophisticated classical/folk combination with Eastern European tinges. Wood is a wonderfully evocative exploration of the process of a tree being transformed into a mandolin, with very fine mandolin/viola/concertina/double bass instrumentation. Lyra is a spine-tingling mix of bagpipe music and classical string arrangement. The Worship of Trees begins with the sound of birdsong and solemn church bell ringing, giving way to an impressive blend of ecstatic folk fiddling and cinematic orchestration, providing the backdrop to lyrics that deal with the burning need to immerse oneself in primeval, wild nature. Barrow Song is an eerie yet celebratory depiction of death, that belongs to a time that is wholly pre-modern. Beautiful is contemporary folk-rock with a funk-tinged bassline. Frost is a subdued acoustic piece, of great beauty.
A truly superb album - for more information visit www.tellingthebees.co.uk
TELLING THE BEES An English Arcanum CD (Black Thrustle)
This latest album from Telling The Bees is again a very creative interpretation of folk music that is inspired by musical, spiritual and folkloric tradition, whilst being completely relevant for the modern age. The concept of understanding the language of birds is one that crops up in the mythologies of various cultures. Telling The Bees have explored this theme in their song The Language of Birds, a sophisticated, intelligent and artistic mix of traditional and contemporary folk and classical music. Gallina is an instrumental based on bagpipes, guitar, fiddle and viola; it has rather a stately feel, like a 19th century dance tune, and its atmosphere is at once solemn and celebratory. Otmoor Forever tells the story of an anti-enclosure uprising in the 19th century. The jazzy double bass adds a more modern touch to the historical theme and authentically traditional sounding lyrics and melody. Sweet Dream is an engaging instrumental composed of equal parts classical and folk, with a particularly inventive section at the end in which the instruments are played in a creaking/whirring fashion. Pilgrim's Progress is a contemporary folk song of great sophistication and depth. Uncle Tom and Aunt Sally is a traditional influenced folk dance tune based mainly around bagpipes. The melody of Apple is downtempo and sombre, with the seriousness of a 19th century hymn, whilst its words are a lighthearted celebration of a musical character whose songs are vividly depicted as 'pressed cider from the heart'. Right at the end you can hear the contented purring of a cat! Telling The Bees are a highly creative band, inspired by the past but also adding much that is new. Their albums certainly deserve a place in the collections of all who enjoy contemporary folk music.
GOLDOOLINS We B GD's U B U CD (Turly Crio)
Goldoolins are a trio from Israel, the name of the band deriving from the surnames of its members, Tadlik N Doolin, E T Doolin, and O D Goldbart. For those new to Goldoolins, this is an ideal place to start, as the first 13 tracks are compiled from their previous albums Goldoolins, Songs of the Turly Crio, and The World is Somewhere Else. The next 7 tracks date from the time of their second and third albums, but as far as I am aware, have not been released until now.
Broadly speaking, Goldoolins could be described as folk-pop, although their music takes in a wide range of other influences. I Know You're Not Alone brings together gospel, blues and big band jazz. Be My Friend combines folk and early 60s pop music. My Only Home is an utterly lovely song with Medieval/Renaissance and psych-folk tendencies. Waiting for the Rain is an ambitious piece combining the dramatic, sophisticated air of songs from vintage musicals, with 60s sunshine pop whimsy. Tishan Habibi is a traditional Israeli song performed in a way that, bizarrely enough you may think, bridges the chasm between country and music hall. Twilight Queen is a superb, though fairly brief, dual acoustic guitar instrumental combining elements of folk and prog. Country Traveler is a country/blues thing, whilst Sheva Shanim brings together theatre music, sunshine pop, folk, and even a touch of improvisational jazz.
Ah! I See Horizons is folk with psych and prog influences, occasionally eerie and somewhat dissonant, and much darker in tone than the sunny and often whimsical sounds more often favoured by Goldoolins. One Shot is a frenzied combination of prog and glam. The World Is Somewhere Else is a 10 and a half minute epic comprising shades of traditional folk and a psychedelic adventurousness. Hackdasha is an instrumental with elements of bossa nova and early film music. Gargir Avack combines various pop subgenres with eerie psychedelic musical meanderings in a way that is very creative. Musings of a Young Sergeant Major is a brief quirky instrumental. One Day is folky sunshine pop with filmic orchestral arrangement.
The songwriting on offer here shows high levels of talent and sophistication, and is often of a superior quality to that of more well known artists. Highly recommended to all who appreciate folk, psych, prog, film and theatre music, intelligent pop, and other high quality, creative music. More info at www.myspace.com/goldoolinsquotwebgdsubuquot
O D GOLDBART CD album
Solo album from O D Goldbart, that pre-dates his work with Goldoolins. The CD cover is all in Hebrew; as I can't read Hebrew I am unsure at present of the title of the album or the label it's on. I have emailed Goldoolins requesting further info, so should be able to add these details to the review once I've heard back from them. The songs here are an often minimal yet highly sophisticated brand of singer-songwriter music based around voice and piano, sometimes adding guitar and/or bass. The melodies are generally inspired by sunny pop and traditional and modern folk, though O D Goldbart is not averse to experimenting with different genres. A couple of tracks here add a touch of jazz, another is an very effective synthesis of janglepop and prog rock, another is a classical inspired instrumental, another is a folk/sunshine pop mixture with flute and choral vocals. In many ways the album anticipates what was to come later from Goldoolins. Not understanding Hebrew is no barrier to appreciating the music. This album is well worth tracking down if you have enjoyed the music of Goldoolins. (Contact O D Goldbart and Goldoolins as above).
THE BARD OF ELY Welsh Wizard CD (DisAssociation Music and Media Group)
Singer-songwriter Steve Andrews, subsequently dubbed the Bard of Ely by Big Issue Cymru (Ely being the Cardiff council estate he lived on at the time), is a prolific and eclectic artist who should be well known to anyone involved with the 1990s tapes and zines underground. In more recent years he has collaborated with the likes of Phil Moxham (ex-Young Marble Giants) for the Taffia EP on Crai Records, and Crum (ex-synth player for Hawkwind, who has also worked with Matthew Scott, formerly of Jack). Steve has been a compere and performer at the Green Man Festival, and appeared on the Green Man Festival compilation CD on Double Snazzy, once with his song Real Love and Communication, and also reciting the Druid's Prayer with the Archdruid of the Secular Order of Druids. He has a further association with Druidry in that he was appointed Principal Bard of the Travelling Court of Camelot, the musical arm of the Loyal Arthurian Warband, the Druid order led by the often controversial figure known as King Arthur Pendragon, whom you can read more about in his autobiography The Trials of Arthur, co-written by CJ Stone. Steve himself turns up in CJ Stone's other books on hippie counterculture and underground music.
These days Steve has relocated to Tenerife, where he writes for local newspapers and occasionally plays live. This new album of his, Welsh Wizard, is a compilation of songs from throughout his musical career. Many are already known to me from his 1990s underground tape releases, but others I have not heard before. The front cover features amazing artwork by Sioned Williams - a superbly executed cartoon drawing of the Bard sporting a green beard (yes, he really does dye his beard green!), in his Druid robes and wizard hat, strumming a psychedelically painted guitar and surrounded by natural scenery and wildlife. The CD is out on DMMG, run by Alan Craw of Cyrkel Spynn zine, a long time supporter of Steve's music.
Welsh Wizard (Crum's Mix) is one of the tracks that's new to me; an autobiographical, mystical song set to wild psych-rock guitar and bubbling synths. This is an exciting new musical direction for Steve, that totally suits the far-out spiritual subject matter. King Arthur's Coming is a bluesy homage to the aforementioned King Arthur Pendragon, complete with zany kazoo solo. Priest of the Venusians is more vintage Bard, a wild psych-folk-rock track with an ultra-catchy tune, exploring the theme of Venus in both extraterrestrial and erotic terms. Star Woven Not Star Crossed is another Crum remix, a floaty psych-folk number, in which Celtic-style fiddle intertwines with spacey ambient synth. One To Three (Crum's Mix) is a country-ish song featuring fiddle, banjo and wailing harmonica alongside ethereal synth.
Real Love and Communication is mostly reggae-based, with a hint of blues. It is a protest song in which Steve calls out for the violence and other negativity in the world to be replaced with understanding and cooperation. Jungle Love is a collaboration with the band Get Rhythm; a wild garage-rock number with tinges of surf and rock n' roll. This track originally appeared on the compilation Meltdown: the Album in 1989 and was considered one of that album's highlights by Paul Davies of Q magazine. Rubber Ducky is best described as psych-punk, and includes zany humorous lyrics and more of that kazoo. Ten of Cups sets Tarot-themed lyrics to an American style folk melody with hints of Bob Dylan and The Byrds. Land of Our Fathers is a grim tale of environmental destruction with an appropriately scathing guitar sound. Citizen of Earth successfully blends protest-folk with dancey pop music.
Some of the older tracks sound pretty lo-fi, having been rescued from homemade tape recordings made roughly 20 years ago, but if variable sound quality is not an issue for you, there are some gems to be found here. The album is an ideal introduction to the diverse sounds of The Bard of Ely. More info at http://dmmg.webs.com and www.myspace.com/bardofely1
BOGS VISIONARY ORCHESTRA Maladroits Union CD (Modfa)
Bogs Visionary Orchestra make alt-country and quirky DIY pop with psych touches, incorporating instruments such as ukulele, piano, synthesized flute, Jew's harp, fiddle, harmonica and assorted percussion. Dry Bones is a surreal take on country; The Infinite Possibilities is an even more surreal multi-part song taking in elements of country, psych and quirky pop; Regret has hints of 50s rock n' roll and early 60s pop, but is way more off-centre than that description suggests; Doin' My Time and Times Are Hard are undergroundy interpretations of the earlier, less commercial kind of country music; Interlude is an off-kilter instrumental combining country, psych and garage rock; Finding My Way incorporates elements of ragtime and music hall, but presented with the usual BVO quirk factor; Everybody's Broken is a ramshackle, DIY kind of blues with bizarre lyrics; and Baby Goodnight combines instrumental folk-pop with crying baby sounds and atmospheric drones - a very inventive piece.
Bogs Visionary Orchestra also have a more recent CD, Mean Old World. Unfortunately both the original and the replacement copies I was sent got damaged in the post, but if I can get another copy that arrives in one piece, I will have more to report about this band shortly. Meanwhile, visit www.bogsvisionaryorchestra.com for more info.
STONE BREATH The Shepherdess and the Bone-White Bird double CD (Hand/Eye)
This reissue of Stone Breath's previously vinyl-only album The Shepherdess and the Bone-White Bird now comes with a complete bonus album, Virgo, Mater, Domina by The Forest Beggars with Stone Breath. Both albums are coming from a mystical Christian perspective and are dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It is not however necessary to share their religious outlook to enjoy the music on offer. The Song of the Bone-White Bird is a highly moving synthesis of American and British folk, adding banjo and country-ish twanging guitar to a dark, medieval-tinged folk ballad. The Vision of the Face in the Well is psych-folk with some nicely hypnotic repetition going on. In a Breath: One Thousand Years combines meandering psychedelia with mournful gothic dirge. Even the Dead Shall Sing introduces a strongly Middle Eastern influenced sound, a theme that continues in the extended 20+ minute final track The Shepherdess of the Fiery Wheels, which also adds influences from psychedelia and traditional folk. With music as well crafted, creative and engaging as this, it is no surprise that the original vinyl version was voted Vinyl of the Month by Julian Cope at the time of its release.
Moving on to the bonus album by The Forest Beggars - Hymn to the Angelus I is an Edgar Allen Poe poem set to a dirgelike melody and dark atmospheric drone instrumentation. A folkier interpretation of the poem appears later as Hymn to the Angelus II. A Ballad of Trees and the Master sets words by 19th century poet Sydney Lanier to an astounding trad folk meets psych-folk arrangement with banjo and woodwind. The Blessed of the Holy Trees combines a brooding gothic atmosphere with beautiful choral-style backing vocals. Cantus Cordialis brings together a dark medieval-inspired melody with droning and jarring sound experimentation. On the Still Surviving Markes of Our Saviour's Wounds is Eastern-influenced psych-folk.
Anyone who appreciates dark neo-medieval music and/or the more adventurous side of folk music would do well to investigate what Stone Breath have to offer. More info at www.darkhollerarts.com
PRYDWYN (WITH QUICKTHORN) Solitude Owes Me A Smile CD (Hand/Eye)
Prydwyn (of Stone Breath and Green Crown, also backing musician with Tom Rapp) is joined here by the band Quickthorn for this album, which brings together songs from a diverse collection of sources. Traditional folk songs appear side by side with covers of songs by Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, Dr Strangely Strange and others. Ashling is inspired by traditional folk, whilst also being shot through with a slightly eerie quality and a certain psychedelic eccentricity. Shotgun Down the Avalanche (originally by Shawn Colvin) is a very fine melancholic song, presented here with touches of both British and American folk music as well as classical guitar music, and augmented with synthesized strings.
Cornfield (Lal Waterson and Oliver Knight) features some very nice vocal harmonies and woodwind. Grantchester Meadows (Pink Floyd) is presented here as minimally arranged psych-folk with a touch of traditional Greek music. A Leaf Must Fall (The Famous Jug Band) is gentle minimal folk with the unusual addition of harmony whistling, which adds a surreal, otherworldly atmosphere, whilst classical guitar and multiple recorders provide an extra touch of sophistication to the arrangement. Arthur McBride is a traditional song, previously performed by Martin Carthy & Dave Swarbrick under the name Arthur McBride and the Sergeant. The version here is raw, minimal folk, somewhat slower than the Carthy/Swarbrick version, and instead of Prydwyn's usual vocal style, he sings the song in a convincing rustic English accent!
Closing My Eyes (Fleetwood Mac) appears as a melancholic folk song with instrumentation stripped down to an absolute minimum. Curragh of Kildare begins as straightforward enough traditional folk, then reinvents itself as off-kilter psych-folk with meandering flute and slightly discordant backing vocals. The Darkling Maid sets Prydwyn's own words to the traditional Scottish reel An Muileann Dubh (The Black Mill), accompanied by a stark drone and plaintive flute. Bonus track Dixie Peach Promenade - Yin for Yang, uncredited on the sleeve, adds theremin - or maybe heavily processed whistling - and Greek style strummed bouzouki to a lighthearted, somewhat tongue in cheek country song.
The songs here may come from a varied selection of writers and genres, but Prydwyn has the ability to transform the songs into his own style, making this a coherent album, and one that is infinitely more creative than anything to come from your average stereotypical covers band. Once again a highly impressive offering from Hand/Eye - definitely a label to watch out for. Further info at www.darkhollerarts.com
BOGS VISIONARY ORCHESTRA Mean Old World CD (Modfa)
At last, a copy of this got through the postal system unscathed! Here, multi-instrumentalist A. Bogs is joined by 12 additional musicians for another album of DIY, often quirky, pop and alt-country. Can't Stop Wearin' A Gun is a highly eccentric take on country, with plinky-plonky piano and wailing jazz trumpet. Forlorn is laid-back country that adds some psychedelic guitar effects and bluesy harmonica. The song is revisited later on the album as Forlorn II, an uptempo, fiddle-driven number with a touch of jazzy piano and theatrical crying noises. Little Worm is off-centre country accompanied by tinkling toy piano, noisy rock guitar and strange 'wobbly' sound effects. Love Song in A Major combines a 1950s or early 60s-ish pop song with folky fiddle and banjo. Jesus is slow, mournful indiepop with cello. Unemployed is a new version of a song that previously appeared on BVO's other album Maladroits Union; a country/pop mixture with wacky humorous lyrics and effective use of piano and strings. Homeless on the Street is a touching portrayal of homelessness, set to a sophisticated orchestral arrangement. After a two minute interlude of silence, there is an uncredited final track of indiepop melancholia with hushed vocals. More info at www.bogsvisionaryorchestra.com
YORDAN ORCHESTRA Psych Introduxeon: Bringing Ingredients Together CD (Megatier Productions)
Yordan Orchestra are a Dutch band fronted by Jack Aleister, former member of several bands including the Sony/SPV-signed Angina Pectoris. This 6-track mini-album includes songs that incorporate a variety of styles and moods within the same track, making use of horns, cello, vibraphone, flute, clarinet and other out of the ordinary instrumentation. Strong accessible melodies coexist with inventive arrangements, making their sound potentially appealing to fans of indie-rock as well as those into more exploratory underground genres. The subtitle Bringing Ingredients Together is very appropriate for the band's general approach. Käpt'n El HansIG is a highly creative blend of contemporary indie-rock and vintage psychedelia. Faced You In A Neon Light whizzes up punk, jazz and lounge music in a psychedelic blender. RMDK combines indie-rock, folk and classical guitar music. Washington Z (Zodiac Fullhorn Set Monarch) features an impassioned wail of a vocal over an arrangement comprising elements of experimental and neoclassical music. Marjolyne is a very artistic psych track with cello and horns. T-Borne Egg is an experimental soundscape from Jack Aleister solo. Finally there is a secret track; often bands use hidden tracks as a way of including material not in their usual style or in some way 'throwaway', but that is not the case with the song here, which is very much in the spirit of the rest of the album. This final track combines melodic psych-rock with quite an ethereal atmosphere. Full of original ideas, this album is well worth investigating. Further info at www.myspace.com/yordanorchestra
CORNCROW Sweet Nightingale CD (self released)
This 7-track mini-album from folk duo Corncrow (Kim Guy and Steve Hunt) is very nicely presented in a fold-out cardboard wallet, and features some superb interpretations of traditional folk music. Cornish folk song Sweet Nightingale features an added American influence courtesy of banjo from guest musician Jason Steel (of The Owl Service). Their version of the well known traditional supernatural murder ballad Cruel Sister features an almost neoclassical viola arrangement from Jackie Oates, herself a very talented folk artist. Blue-Eyed Stranger is a very lovely instrumental based on guitar and recorder. Spencer the Rover is pleasingly arranged with vocal harmonies, recorder and glockenspiel. Pysk Pi is a superb medieval-style instrumental by Steve Hunt, that sounds authentically traditional. Constant Lovers is a traditional song, though the arrangement sounds pretty much contemporary, like a cross between modern folk and the melancholic side of old-school indiepop. The album ends with an instrumental version of Sweet Nightingale, having quite a Renaissance-influenced feel with its use of dulcimer, recorder and single drum.
This is a truly excellent collection of material that is sure to appeal to fans of any of the big names from the 70s folk revival movement, as well as more recent bands such as The Owl Service. Hopefully there will be much more to follow from this band. More info at www.myspace.com/corncrow
MAGICFOLK s/t CD (self released)
Debut album from Magicfolk, who play a sophisticated blend of folk, rock, psych, intelligent pop, and a touch of world music. Mediterranean paganism is a recurring theme in the lyrics, whilst Green Man looks closer to home for its spiritual inspiration. This latter song is very cleverly written, combining the ancient and sacred with the modern and mundane using a witty collection of puns and metaphors. What's more, it has a strong, catchy tune that stays in the head. Sheba is laid-back rock with a touch of North African style drumming. Persephone is an excellent combination of delicate folk and heavy psych-rock. Little Spirit is an effective synthesis of British, American and Spanish folk musics. Aibo is, as the title suggests, an ode to Sony's robotic dog, set to New Age-tinged folk-pop. Heliopolis is laid-back folk-rock with some effective use of bass clarinet. Furies is an appropriately fierce blend of wild psych-rock and Greek folk music. Egypt is a very moving example of 70s-ish folk-pop, adding bits of Greek style bouzouki and soaring flute. Narcissus is another fine folk-pop piece, this time incorporating jazz and psych-rock influences. Sea Priestess appears influenced by Dion Fortune's novel of the same name, and combines relaxed folk-pop with searing psych-rock guitar.
Whilst there are a couple of moments that aren't completely to my taste (but through no fault of theirs of course!), such as the jazz piano in Diving Bell and the new agey faux-flute synth sound in Aibo, I found the bulk of the album very impressive. The band reminds me a little of The Rabbit's Hat and various other bands from the Stone Premonitions stable, with their mature and sophisticated mixture of pop, rock, prog, psych and folk, and the sense of unorthodox spirituality that pervades the album. Magicfolk have another album out later this year, which I'm interested to hear. In the meantime visit www.magicfolk.co.uk for more info.
PATRICK PORTER A Swan At Smiley's CDR (Asaurus)
Following a couple of albums on Camera Obscura, Patrick Porter returns with this more low-key CDR album comprising 16 tracks of homemade pop with experimental and psychedelic touches. Wait For Another is an upbeat, uplifting pop song; Blues for Annteta is ironically named as it's not in the least bit bluesy but sunny and upbeat pop-psych; Geese is lo-fi and lyrically and musically off-kilter; Not Very Good adds a rockish punch to the usual quirky pop; Ten Million Horses is one of the more experimental tracks, featuring stream of consciousness narration over a lo-fi pop backing; Police is excellent melodic psych-pop; and Mr Sandbags is best described as acoustic dreampop, being minimalistic, melancholic and reflective, but also with a woozy, atmospheric feel about it. There is the occasional somewhat discordant and self-indulgent moment, like Doritos for Breakfast, but on the whole this is a very enjoyable collection of off-centre psych-pop that's highly recommended for fans of this genre.
Unfortunately, since I was sent this, Asaurus Records has ceased to operate, but their website www.asaurus.org
still exists for information purposes. Their releases, including this one, can still be bought from distros such as www.greydayproductions.com
BARRON BRADY England Needs Her Hedgerows CD (self released)
Barron Brady are a duo comprising Simon Barron and Rosalind Brady. They make well crafted, highly impressive folk music with lyrics rooted in the landscape and its associated history and lore. The Buckland Witch is musically uplifting, yet not shying away from the sort of lyrical gruesomeness inherited from the old supernatural murder ballad tradition. Strange Harvest is sombre and deeply moving. Whilst this is in the main a quintessentially English album, Barron Brady show that they can do American style folk music just as well, in the shape of Land Thief, which is very much influenced by the rawer, less commercialised end of country music. Longshanks features some very effective vocal harmonies and a guest appearance from Phil Beer on violin and harmonica. As well as their own compositions, the album features a handful of traditional numbers. Birds in the Spring features dual vocals accompanied only by birdsong. Crabfish is a jolly, somewhat risque song that lightly masks its bawdiness with a nursery-rhyme like simplicity. They also do a fantastic version of the well known traditional song The White Hare, featuring some complex guitar work. The songwriting and musicianship here is of a very high standard, and deserves to be heard by all who appreciate high quality folk music. More info at www.barronbrady.com
BARRON BRADY Jenny's Mermaid CD (self released)
The cover of this latest album from Barron Brady features superb intricate artwork by Simon Barron, which shows he is just as talented a visual artist as he is a musician. This album is more minimalistic than its predecessor, vocals being accompanied only by guitar and whistle, whereas the songs on England... were often fleshed out with additional instruments such as harmonica, harmonium and melodeon. The material here is again a mixture of traditional and new compositions. The title track is a gentle supernatural fantasy tale set to a laid-back melody that combines aspects of old and new. Tom Faggus: Highwayman is a finely crafted and highly detailed example of a storytelling song. The Language of the Soil is another vivid narrative, this time from the perspective of a farmer. Thomas of Teignmouth is an upbeat, lighthearted tale of a cunning-man, accompanied by guitar work comparable to that of Martin Carthy. The traditional songs When I Was Young and Banks of Sweet Primroses are more than ably performed by the duo, as is to be expected. Their own material shows an impressive talent for crafting songs that tell stories with real meaning. This is all the more appreciated in a time when so much popular music is based on inane, simplistic and cliched lyrics that require no talent or intelligence to compose. Folk music fans cannot afford to miss the music of Barron Brady.
VARIOUS The Sound of Leamington Spa vol 5 CD (Firestation/Clarendon/Bilberry)
The Sound of Leamington Spa is a long-running series that trawls through the 80s and early 90s indiepop archives, exposing all sorts of rarities and obscurities to a new audience. Most of the bands featured on the compilations were very underground, being part of the then burgeoning DIY tapes, flexis and self released 7"s scene. Occasionally a more well known (though far from famous!) band will put in an appearance; this volume features Action Painting!, who had a couple of singles out on Sarah and another on Damaged Goods. Extensive liner notes provide biographies and photos of the bands featured on the CD.
Whilst I've lost touch with much of what's going on in the current indiepop scene, having gravitated more towards folk music over the last few years, I still have a soft spot for this genre. It was after all indiepop that first alerted me to the fact that a whole world of music existed beyond the bland mainstream, and for that I will be eternally grateful. Highlights from this album include the ultra-twee, but lots of fun, janglepop of Nine Steps to Ugly; the punchy 80s guitar-pop of A Strange Desire, On The Waterfront, This Poison!, Men of Westenesse, Action Painting!, Black Cillas, The Thieves and Gradapenda Rosindale, and the melancholic yet gutsy indiepop of Almost Charlotte and The Wildhouse.
There are also a handful of tracks that sound more like 80s mainstream music, probably by bands who were looking to get famous at the time. These tracks show sophisticated and talented musicianship, but their jazz and torch song influences place them some way outside of indiepop as it is usually defined. The tracks that are typically indiepop have more oomph than this genre is often credited with and may surprise those who have dismissed indiepop out of hand. There has in fact been two more volumes of The Sound of Leamington Spa out since this one, which I've not yet heard. Further info on the series at www.firestation-records.de
KIM THOMPSETT Songs from the Uglee Meadow CD (Meniscus Hump)
Fantastic collection of folk music from this very talented singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who is joined here by seven other musicians including Philip G Martin of Drohne (more about Drohne in this issue very soon) on hurdy gurdy and bagpipes. Kitty's Angel is a deeply poignant song based on a poem written by Cecil Fuller to mark the grave of his wife. Under the Greenwood Tree sets words by T H White to a traditional style tune and medieval inspired instrumentation. My Love Is A Garden is subdued guitar/flute based folk-pop with psychedelic tendencies. Lords and Ladies is brilliant medieval-flavoured folk. Still is melancholic contemporary songwriting. Danse du Papillon combines medieval and Middle Eastern musical influences, and is, as the title suggests, written in French. Very much recommended to fans of the less rockish side of the 70s folk revival, though I won't compare Kim Thompsett to any specific artists as she is a highly gifted artist in her own right. More info at www.myspace.com/kimthompsett
DROHNE Le Son du Bois CD (Balancing Act)
Latest album from Philip G Martin, who is pictured on the cover in gamekeeper garb, holding his bagpipes as if they were a rifle, and hurdy gurdy as if it were a newly shot pheasant. This image suggests the music is going to be something that is simultaneously old-fashioned and off-centre, and that would be right. Philip and his guest musicians use the aforementioned bagpipes and hurdy gurdy, along with such instruments as cittern, violin, concertina, Cretan lira, Mongolian igil, shawm, crumhorn, and bass clarinet to make an eclectic type of music that draws from, yet goes way beyond, folk and early music.
The 1973 VW Camper Van Crossing the Rhine adds a touch of jazz; Dance Junkies is dark folk with husky, half-sung, half-recited vocals; Parquet Mischief adds a dark atmospheric drone backdrop to a traditional-style dance tune; And Am I Born To Die? is a traditional song with gloomy, foreboding lyrics, eclectically combining European and American folk music with its combination of hurdy gurdy and cittern with wailing blues harmonica.
Droning Down to Rio is early music meets salsa; Coq Au Shed is a zany mixture of French bouree and wacky poetry about outside loos and mooing cows; Let There Be Drones/Speed the Plough is based around a traditional country dance tune, but with the addition of spacey atmospheric backing instrumentation that you'd be forgiven for thinking came from a vintage synth; The Life of a Man converts a traditional English folk song into an inventive combination of blues and Mongolian music; Transformations is dark neofolk based around words by Thomas Hardy; and The Master Musicians is an allegorical piece close to 8 minutes long, using the idea of musicians from different cultures as a metaphor for the cultures themselves. At first they are entirely at odds with each other, then later realise that they had more in common than they originally liked to think. As the sleeve notes state, "When musicians from different cultures meet, they play music together, exchange ideas and generally demonstrate that they are better at world diplomacy than politicians."
Diverse in mood as well as music, with doom laden pieces appearing alongside those with tongue wedged firmly in cheek, this album shows that one can do way more with crumhorns, shawms and hurdy gurdies than just straight early music. More info at www.drohne.co.uk
DROHNE Hurdy-Gurdy Mandrohne CD (Balancing Act)
This predecessor to Le Son du Bois is actually sold out, with copies exchanging hands for outrageous collectors' prices, but Philip has sent me a burnt copy requesting I review it, as he has plans to reissue the album very soon. This album is comprised largely of traditional British and Continental folk and early music, along with a handful of Philip's own compositions in the traditional style, and even a cover of Donovan's Hurdy-Gurdy Man!
Whilst the tunes are traditional, or inspired by tradition, Drohne being Drohne do not perform the music in a way that is only fit for purists. Electric guitar adds a folk-rock feel to some of the material here, whilst other pieces are more psychedelic. Miri It Is is evocative psych-folk with a touch of jazzy vibraphone. Lamento di Tristano is backed by a hypnotic drone. Bodmin Riding is a traditional dance tune performed by a full band, including some unusual use of bass clarinet. In the Dancing Gardens of Babylon is a traditional style tune written by Philip, combined with elements of jazz and atmospheric experimental music. The Gower Wassail adds aspects of jazz, psych and dark ambient droning to this well known folk tune. Hurdy-Gurdy Man is more folky than the original but just as psychedelic.
An absolutely fantastic album; great to hear that it will soon be available again.
DROHNE Radio Noir CD (Balancing Act)
An early Drohne album, from 2001, but still available. The title track is impressive folk-rock. Black Sands is atmospheric psychedelia with a Middle Eastern flavour. Nottamun Town is dark folk with gothic and psychedelic tinges. Sometimes Good Morris Men Don't Always Wear White is medieval music meets ambient droning. Night of the Hanter Dro is atmospheric, medieval-influenced folk-rock, possibly the only example of this style of music to feature hip-hop style scratching. Dark Passage is a sort of prog-folk, combining floaty, dreamlike elements with more overtly experimental touches. Hypnotised is a song that sounds, surprisingly enough, like 1980s indie music, but presented here with an evocative, ethereal arrangement wholly unlike anything else from that genre. A Rove on the Wilde Side is dark, surreal fiction narrated over a woozy, hypnotic backing. This is a highly inventive album that shows that traditional musical forms and archaic instruments can in fact be used to create music that is actually very original.
THE LEGENDARY TEN SECONDS Chasing Chances CDR (Golden Pathway)
THE MORRISONS Psycho Surfin' CDR (Golden Pathway)
PHOENIX Talkin' 'Bout Regeneration CDR
I'm reviewing these three together as they are all bands that include Ian Churchward. The Legendary Ten Seconds' main sound is a kind of punchy retro indiepop, combining influences from the 80s underground and the 60s mainstream. There are additional hints of mod/freakbeat (Out of Luck) and psych-pop (Deja Vu). Sitting In This Trench is jangly indiepop, but with unusual subject matter for this genre as it's from the perspective of a British World War II soldier. Field of Cloth of Gold is rather different from the rest of the album, being a highly effective combination of folk-rock, Renaissance music and psychedelia. The Legendary Ten Seconds have recorded a number of other tracks in this vein; it would be great to hear a complete album of this sort of thing from them. And whilst I don't tend to listen to as much indiepop or 60s pop these days, I found The Legendary Ten Seconds' music in these styles to be very enjoyable. Also listen out for the spoof ads and tongue in cheek announcements that intersperse the songs; some had me laughing out loud.
The Morrisons originally existed during the height of the old-school indiepop scene, in the latter part of the 1980s. They reformed in 2003 following renewed interest in the band after one of their 80s tracks was featured on one of Firestation Records' Sound of Leamington Spa compilations. The surf and psychobilly influences suggested by the title of this album do indeed put in an appearance in the intro and outro tracks, but the rest of the album basically continues from where the band left off in the late 80s. Listening to this collection of upbeat, super-melodic janglepop has reminded me just how much I actually like this genre. Fans of old-school jangly indiepop really cannot miss this album.
Whilst the listener is given clues of Ian Churchward's interest in folk music from certain tracks by The Legendary Ten Seconds, that influence is secondary to the indiepop and 60s pop elements. Phoenix however is an actual folk band, and what's more, they've been doing this sort of music since before its recent fashionable revival came about. Billing themselves as a Barn Dance band, though certainly not one for purists, they play electrified versions of traditional dance tunes like La Mourisque, The Upton upon Severn Stick Dance and The Atholl Highlanders, in which melodeon is combined with electric guitars and drums. Their overall approach is very much reminiscent of assorted Ashley Hutchings projects, in particular Morris On. That said, some of Phoenix's material is a touch heavier; Three Jolly Sheepskins even nods towards punk. Highly recommended for fans of 70s-style folk-rock.
More info at www.freewebs.com/thelegendarytenseconds and www.goldenpathway.co.uk
THE OCTOBER GAME Box of a Billion Lights CD (Carmandie)
This album has been out some time; sadly I was unable to review it at the time of its release as other commitments prevented me from devoting as much time to the zine as would have been ideal. Whilst this is not the latest release from this band, it is still available as a download, and I figured it was still worth writing about as a taster of what the band have to offer. The October Game make an epic, atmospheric variety of indie-rock that incorporates a variety of additional influences, primarily post-rock and both modern and vintage versions of psychedelia, along with occasional hints of electronica, folk and classical, all the elements coming together to create a cohesive whole that is simultaneously melancholic, sophisticated and powerful. An impressive debut that has made me intrigued to hear the more recent material from The October Game. More info at www.myspace.com/theoctobergame
PETER JAMES Footnotes to Fairytales CD (Peter James Music)
Another older album, the review delayed for the same reasons as The October Game CD reviewed above, but still available and still worthy of mention. This is a self-released CD, but very professionally presented, with packaging to rival anything to come from a major label. Peter James is a singer/songwriter originally from the UK and now based in San Francisco, who describes his style as "lush, cinematic folk music". The songs are mature and sophisticated, using a variety of instruments such as harmonium, Chapman Stick, piano, cello and tabla, alongside the main instrument guitar. Overall, the style is basically the serious end of pop music, but adding stylings from folk, prog, Indian music, jazz, torch song and Spanish music, along with an atmospheric, filmic, dreamlike feel. One Word reminds me of Antony and the Johnsons at times, but on the whole it isn't really fair or accurate to compare Peter James to other artists as he has plenty of his own ideas. Whilst
the level of sophistication here may make you think you're listening to something mainstream, the album is in the most part more intelligent and creative than commercial music generally is. Which is, of course, a good thing. More info at www.peterjamesmusic.com
MARRY WATERSON & OLIVER KNIGHT The Days that Shaped Me CD (One Little Indian)
Hugely important contribution to modern folk music from two members of the highly respected Waterson family. Until now, these two offspring of Lal Waterson had not recorded anything together, but after performing together at a show in tribute to their mother, this got their own creativity going, and they started writing songs together until they realised they had enough material for a full album. On this debut album they are joined by a selection of other well respected names from the current folk scene, including James Yorkston, Kathryn Williams, and their own cousin Eliza Carthy.
In common with Lal Waterson, Marry and Oliver's music combines contemporary songwriting with folk motifs, producing an overall result that is highly moving. The lyrics show a strong sense of originality and venture into topics rarely explored in music. Curse the Day is all about PMT, and includes such apt lines as "switch me off, reset the dial/let my mind be mine awhile". The Loosened Arrow combines aspects of folk, jazz and choral music to maximum effect. Sleeping Flame is contemporary folk songwriting accompanied by spiky electric guitar. Rosy is a whimsical tale of its eponymous character, set to an almost baroque string arrangement. Angels Sing is utterly beautiful; its arrangement is fuller and more sumptuous than the sparse nature of much else here, and includes some sophisticated classical touches alongside more contemporary elements. A fantastic album, and hopefully the first of many collaborations between these two highly talented artists.
HAUSCHKA Salon des Amateurs CD (Fatcat)
Hauschka is Volker Bertelmann, Düsseldorf-based pianist and composer. He has an inventive, experimental approach based around 'prepared' piano, which modifies the piano by placing objects ranging from gaffa tape and bottle tops to vibrators across its strings and hammers. The experimentation continues in the music itself, which combines influences from modern classical music, jazz, and dance genres such as house and techno. The influences from these latter electronic genres are subtle and minimal however, and the overall sound is far more music for listening rather than dancing. Members of Múm and Calexico add cello and drums, whilst classical violinist Hilary Hahn appears on one of the tracks. Radar includes brass orchestration, adding a big band jazz feel to the piece. Ping combines classical and jazz elements with a strange percussive sound that I imagine must be a series of ping-pong balls attached to the piano's innards. Subconscious includes a piano riff reminiscent of vintage house music, alongside some subtle background use of accordion. Tanzbein is a hypnotic, repetitive, almost psychedelic piece of modern classical music.
All too often, modern classical and experimental musics are used as an excuse to make discordant noise under the guise of art. Hauschka is not guilty of this at any time. The music is imbued with a strong sense of intelligence and genuine creativity, and is always of a melodic nature. Available at www.fat-cat.co.uk
RIVERTUBES Big Coyote Fuzz Tail, Comet and Exact Change CDs (Zen Ranch)
Some years ago, the Rivertubes put out a CD called Force Field, which was one of my personal favourites at the time. It's great therefore to see that this band is still going strong. I have here three mini-albums by the Rivertubes, starting with the ingeniously packaged Big Coyote Fuzz Tail, in which the CD is mounted on a screen printed wooden square! I always appreciate original touches such as this. Two songs written by the Rivertubes themselves appear alongside covers of tracks by Tullycraft, Boat, and Neutral Milk Hotel, which are performed in the band's own quirky DIY pop style and sound like they could be the Rivertubes' own compositions. Duke, one of the Rivertubes' own pieces, is idiosyncratic homemade folk-pop with zany lyrics about John Wayne's cat! Their other track, Big Coyote Fuzz Tail, is a powerful though brief psych instrumental.
Comet lists five tracks on the cover but there are actually seven. This CD continues to demonstrate the Rivertubes' greatness at their chosen brand of slightly off-centre DIY indiepop. Mariana Trench Wars is an ingenious mix of lo-fi janglepop and something more spacey and experimental. Children's Song (Not Suitable for Children) adds a slightly atonal twist to the music, that complements well the dark humour of the lyrics. The first untitled bonus track is just a brief sound effect piece lasting for five seconds, but the second one is an amusingly silly DIY pop number about bumblebee and tuna sandwiches (!)
The most recent CD here, Exact Change, features eight more tracks of off-kilter DIY pop. Some of their stuff here, eg Texaco, seems a little more subdued, even melancholic, than is the norm for the Rivertubes, but there are still some upbeat numbers here too. King of Cutting Corners introduces hints of psych and powerpop, whilst Throwing Daggers at Crows is DIY noisepop/indiepop with off the wall, dark lyrics, and Mr Pissed Off features violent, chaotic guitar soloing to match the mood of the character in the song.
More info at www.myspace.com/rivertubes
JÓHANN JÓHANNSSON The Miner's Hymns CD (Fat Cat/130701)
Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson's soundtrack to the film The Miner's Hymns by American experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison. The project was initially commissioned for Brass, a festival in Durham celebrating the culture of mining and its associated tradition of brass band music. The soundtrack was recorded at Durham Cathedral, utilising the cathedral's organ along with a 16 piece brass band, percussion and electronics. The music is an intelligent and innovative cross between modern classical, experimental and ambient music, which is evocative and eerie, at times to the point of being disconcerting. The pieces tend to be sparse, sometimes building up to powerful crescendos. Overall, the soundtrack shows how instruments as old fashioned as church organ and brass can be put to an inventive new use. www.fat-cat.co.uk
ROOT DECO Dragon Rings a Bell, We Come In Peace, Rain Steam Speed CDs (self-released)
Three albums from this very impressive retro rock band. Their music is a kind of raw psychedelic roots-rock with an authentically vintage (late 60s/early 70s) feel. As an American band, much of their folk influence comes from American folk music, but they also show a certain amount of inspiration from British folk music, and incorporate touches of this to great effect in songs like Kind of More or Less (on Dragon Rings a Bell), which uses a folky, mandolin-like guitar riff. This album also includes Bluesday, a song that reminds me a little of early Delta, another band that shared with Root Deco a sense of living and breathing vintage rock music rather than playing this style merely to fit into any currently fashionable pigeonhole. Piper is upbeat country-rock, using humour to get across a serious message on environmental destruction. Shallow Man is doom-laden psych-rock. I Don't Want To Go To Heaven is basically country-rock, but with a Celtic twist. Its intro and outro sound like traditional Scottish pipe and drum music, but with the bagpipes replaced by harmonica. Eyes in the Back of My Head has lyrics that seethe with bitter hatred and anger, matched by the searing, crunching guitar noise that accompanies them.
The title track of the next album We Come In Peace sets a medieval folk ballad-like melody to riotous psych-rock instrumentation. Dress For Success is a tongue in cheek ode to power dressing set to fierce heavy rock. Postcard combines rock, pop and jazz and introduces female vocals, courtesy of the producer Heidi Gerber. Stone God is a folk-rock piece lamenting the modern tendency to bury nature underneath faceless concrete buildings. Abduction and Passing Fantasy are angular experimental rock.
Moving on to the next album, Rain Steam Speed, we have here O'Ryan in the Underworld, a crazed mix of garage rock, blues and folk; the Eastern-tinged psych-rock of Rainbow; Find Myself, a more cheery, poppy number than is the norm for this band; the medieval-inspired folk-rock of Alfonso; and the jangly pop meets American-style folk-rock of Big Parade, amongst other tracks. The album ends with the hugely catchy 49, a song that encapsulates the band's enthusiasm for music: "You don't stop playing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop playing". Too right as well!
Very high quality stuff; fans of various subgenres of retro rock really ought to investigate what this band has to offer. More info at www.rootdeco.com
FELL Incoherent Lullabies CD (Camera Obscura)
A very fine dreampop/shoegaze album from the latest project of Josh Wambeke of Phineas Gage. Whilst fitting firmly into the dreampop genre, the album travels beyond the cliches of that style to encompass elements of post-rock, acoustic pop, electronica and more. 1997 combines aspects of folk and psychedelia with a woozy, ethereal dreampop atmosphere. Tilted is melancholic indiepop with spacey background sounds. Beacon is an instrumental piece combining old school janglepop with psychedelic atmospherics. A Million Miniscule Christmas Lights is the album's intense finale, a powerful example of atmospheric noisepop complete with crashing crescendos. Some very lovely sounds on offer here. More info at www.cameraobscura.com.au
BRIAN BOOTHBY WITH CHRIS ELLIS Honour CD (self-released)
This album was recorded to celebrate 20 years of Brian Boothby and Chris Ellis playing together, as well as "to celebrate the world, its mysteries and the human spirit". Brian Boothby makes a mature and sophisticated brand of singer-songwriter music which could be broadly categorised as folk in the modern sense. He also has an interest in traditional folk music as seen in his very enjoyable version of Wild Mountain Thyme. His own material here ranges from the Spanish/Middle Eastern tinged Traveller in Heaven, to the upbeat folk-pop of Act of Love, to Presence, a melancholic piece with some almost psychedelic guitar meanderings, to the moving and spiritual Peace of the Action. Overall this is gentle contemporary folk music for spiritual souls. More info at www.brianboothby.co.uk and www.myspace.com/brianboothby. The album is also available as a download from brianboothby.bandcamp.com/album/honour
RORY CONNOR Falling From Trees CD (Silvertop)
This came to me via Tim Jones of Stone Premonitions, who had worked with Rory's dad in The Rabbit's Hat. Tim said how talented Rory is, and I'm inclined to agree. Rory's music is guitar-based pop with an occasional rockish kick, that is accentuated by Rory's slightly gravelly vocal style. The songs are very mainstream-friendly and thus somewhat outside of my usual listening material, but there is a definite talent at work here - perhaps even more so than with some of the stuff that actually does break through to the mainstream. More uptempo tracks appear alongside soft rock ballads, such as the piano-led Rooftops, in which the delicate instrumentation is offset by Rory's powerful vocals. A folk influence also runs through the album, with the use of instruments such as fiddle, mandola, cittern and accordion, but the music itself can't really be defined as folk per se and is more likely to appeal to fans of serious/intelligent pop music and light rock balladry. Whilst most of the music on offer here seems geared towards a mainstream audience, She Looks Good In Yellow adds surprising hints of post-rock with its spacey ambient drone backing, suggesting Rory Connor and his backing band are well aware of more underground/alternative styles as well. This artist does indeed have serious talent, and I would not be surprised to see him go on to bigger things. More info at www.myspace.com/roryconnormusic
THE GLOBAL BROAD BAND Freedom CD (Stone Premonitions)
6 track mini album comprising material from The Global Broad Band's EP reviewed earlier this issue, plus new tracks, some of which are reworkings of material from other Stone Prem projects. The Stone Premonitions collective always have had a tendency towards sociopolitical commentary, but The Global Broad Band seems to be the most overtly political of the outfits to emerge from the Stone Prem stable. The songs fight hard for freedom, peace and justice, as well as expressing revulsion towards anything banal, superficial or unthinking, often in uncompromising language that will undoubtedly make anyone who believes the world is OK as it is feel incredibly uncomfortable. Musically, The Global Broad Band bring together forceful rock and punk elements with more atmospheric psychedelic touches, and catchy addictive tunes that stay in the head - a very clever way of getting their lyrical message to stick in the listener's mind. More info at www.aural-innovations.com/stonepremonitions
TOO MANY DAVES One Eye CD (self released)
Six-song mini-album from Too Many Daves, the project of multi-instrumentalist Dave Burton. One Eye is an inventive slice of alternative pop, adding atmospheric post-rock and psych touches and unusual sound effects. The track starts to rock out a bit at the end, with the introduction of noisy guitar. Switch Off features a 60s-ish tune set to forceful alt-rock instrumentation. Fishing is characterised by angular prog touches and atmospheric spaceyness. In Back At School, Dave ponders the absurdity and cruelty of school bully behaviour over a psych/prog backdrop that combines both atmospheric and off-the-wall aspects. The floaty and the fierce come together in The Buyer, an ironic critique of selfishness and the confusion of wants with needs. Life in a Jar is an incisive attack on the unquestioning, banal attitudes of those who behave like "robotic soldiers" rather than thinking for themselves, set to choppy rhythmic music. Too Many Daves is a very creative project, bringing different genres together in a distinctive fashion. The overall result sounds very original. I would definitely like to hear more from this artist. More info at www.myspace.com/notenoughdaves
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