Friday, October 17, 2014

How humans attempt to label and list music (and enjoy arguing about it)...

This became a topic, off-line, yesterday evening.
How are 'folk', 'roots' 'bluegrass' and others actually defined? Indeed are there any clear boundaries at all, when it comes to what may, or may not be included? This is a topic that I just know could run forever.
It came back to mind just now as I am thinking about, and  listening to, the 2014 recorded music I have acquired. Here's a picture of the first tranche (and yes, that is an Island 'pink label' on a 2014 vinyl release)...

It has also made me consider that which I wish to listen to or more problematically regret having missed live, which is a matter of self-questioning.
Above all this, however, it throws up a wider metaphysical question. Why do we tend to favour the process of 'classification' and why is such comfort gained by associating the very diversity (which we also tend to like) of things with a rather small number of 'boxes' in which we aim to 'put' them?
Digital devices are all very good at making and storing lists, assuming we are organised enough to store the stuff on them. Digital devices don't argue about the lists we chose to inflict on them and as an example I can find no reliable report of a digital device that has unilaterally declared that it can't abide U2.
Amazon's algorithm is quite good at suggesting things that I might like but not because it knows me and how I think. It simply knows about other people and what they have purchased or browsed and therefore, indirectly, how they think. 
What digital networks are not yet any good at is what humans are innately good at. That is spotting apparently curious connections or comparisons that are not within any logically associated domain but which very often our fellow humans can relate to. We humans do so endlessly, much to our mutual delight and annoyance.

This is where we get to the arguing part of it. Folk/roots music does not work by rules - it evolves and it does so unpredictably. That is important because if that were not so then it would be a dinosaur. There would be nothing new, original and incisive about it.
When Bob Dylan was pilloried for going electric others such as Fairport Convention took the idea and ran with it. It was ever thus. One other important point is that until quite recently folk/roots music was seen at best to be a minor genre managing decline as best it could.
In a few years, and due to changing technology as much as changing taste, that concept has altered quite remarkably. It is now possible to record and release music without the expenditure, in equipment, facilities or even travel and other sundries such as it recently was. It is true that many fine labels - Topic Records and Fellside Recordings being just two that spring to mind - had continued to release such music and while it is most certainly still not easy to make even a modest living from it, the balance of power has shifted and also in another very important way - the traffic in folk/roots/Americana has also become fully fledged two-way traffic as the often perceived insularity has broken down.

There are some instruments that have evolved to belong, even though until quite recently they did not. Bouzouki is an instrument from Asia Minor. By the early 20th century it had migrated and evolved and was found in music of the Balkans, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. One of the first, and the best known to introduce it to Celtic folk music was Dónal Lunny of Planxty. The band spent time behind the Iron Curtain in the early 1970s and this is reflected in several tracks on the 1974 album 'Cold Blow and The Rainy Night', to which I am listening as I write. Also on the album are several other songs that do not come directly from the UK or Irish folk canon - The Lakes of Pontchartrain and The Green Fields of Canada being two of them.
There are several others that are not native to UK folk but I'd find to argue that they are no longer assimilated, to all intents and purposes.
Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin are at the top of their game, winning best duo at the BBC Folk Awards 2014, and they headline North Dorset Folk Festival this coming Saturday. They extensively play two instruments that do not feature in the traditional folk canon. Hannah, as well as playing awesome fiddle, is a mean banjo player. Quite when it arrived in UK folk I don't know but it is an essential of bluegrass and also Appalachian 'old time' music, especially when played clawhammer (that is with the back of the fingernails rather than traditionally plucked) in the latter case. Phillip is an amazing resonator guitar player and this instrument although probably of Hawaiian origin entered popular music in the early 1920s via Jazz as it was loud enough to compete (unamplified) with the brass section. Often simply known as dobro this is a brand - it is exactly like calling all generic vacuum cleaners hoovers. Any which way the instrument
 quickly became a feature of both blues and bluegrass too, as they spread north up the Mississippi. Another Hawaiian instrument to gain traction, because of its general versatility is the ukulele. In all cases these instruments were readily adopted because they were very usable within the existing structure but also bought with them new possibilities. Not everyone welcomed these developments, that much is certain, but this is what a living tradition needs to do to flourish. The fast changing USA absorbed and developed all these influences, including those that came from Africa, whether via the Carribean, south and central America or simply directly and new dimensions took shape.
Inevitably the result was exported once again. There would have been no British blues, in the mould of Free and early Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, had that not happened. An interesting corollary to this is 'Black Magic Woman' - the Carlos Santana version (1970) is so well known that it is often forgotten that it is a cover of a 1968 Peter Green original (but only a single and then only released in the UK). It appeared on the Santana album 'Abraxas' by which time it had acquired new parts influenced by traditional eastern European Roma music and also Latin american rhythm. Plenty of the eastern European tradition had also made its way west across the Atlantic and that is evident in much bluegrass and Appalachian fiddle music.

So where does this find us? In a whirlpool that none of us had imagined, I rather think!
I shall continue in a new post if only because Blogger tells me that I can't add any more 'labels' to this one!
What is more, come this weekend I will also have a whole lot of live music to write about and, if I have my way, plenty of photos to go with that. I can't wait.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 37 - Nothing Can Bring Back The Time

The best way I can start this is to confess that every EP and album that Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker have released is, at least in my opinion, rather wonderful. 
 The latest release 'Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour' is equally so.

I think that, having listened all the way through a fair few times now, it marks a change of sorts. This is not a shock rather some kind of revelation. The familiar themes and the virtuosity remain intact, indeed enhanced. The music is not quite the same and perhaps the title of the LP is a reflection of that. Some of it sounds older and some of it sounds more modern yet still the resonance of the music is intact, albeit that the influences are wider. Released by independent Folkroom Records, 'Nothing Can Bring Back The Hour' is beyond good.

I haven't mentioned any songs specifically and that is for a good reason - I can't decide on a favourite and there certainly aren't any that I would rule out of consideration. 
It has a far wider range of backing musicians, including Josienne on recorders, saxophone and flute (I have to admit that I previously failed to recognise her instrumental contribution), Ben on most things with strings and on some tracks Jim Moray (piano). Also appearing are Anna Jenkins (violin) and Jo Silverston (viola and 'cello) [both long time members of The Red Clay Halo] amongst many others equally noteworthy. It does not fall into the trap of orchestral folk - the instruments that are deployed at any given time are economical and for a very good reason.
I for one would not wish to predict the future. Their first release that came to my attention was this in 2012:
It is still available on CD. Some examples have the printing in black or in white instead.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Some thoughts - aside from the music.

This has been in my mind for a couple of months now.
I have been more engaged with music than ever before. I have learned some things and to some extent in ways I had never been aware of before. New music, heard simply as a consumer, is not half as interesting as it is when you can get to see at least some parts of the bigger picture. And that picture has certainly changed dramatically over the time that I have been writing.

One of them is that the more you seek then the more you find - that much is rather obvious and was always true.  The other side is that the more you seek the more you become a target; musicians are ever the optimists! A couple of years back somebody asked why I didn't write a daily post about music. My answer was what would, or indeed could, I find to write about?
This change is something that is more recent. I could quite possibly find things worth writing about now. If I were going to do that then time management would become more important and I really should because embrace that because it would not spoil my enjoyment. It is something that I am now much inclined to countenance.

Three or four posts a week remains my current target: That is to include new music, live music, local music (either local artists or any others that play live locally) and as much photography as I can muster within that roster. Add to that anything else, such as festivals, that I decide to travel to.
As always, please tell me what you like (artists or my writing) and especially what you don't. All comments are moderated (so you know I really have read them) and I don't bite!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 36 - Kate In The Kettle - Swimmings Of The Head

One quarter of Carthy Hardy Farrell Young, Scottish fiddle player and singer  Kate Young is the one that I know the least about live, having heard her play just one song! This is her soon-to-be-released album as Kate In The Kettle, about which more to follow very soon.

That is not to say that she doesn't write. She does.

I can tell you that, and not because of this in particular, my end of year lists are going to contain a prodigious amount of modern folk, roots and Americana - from both sides of the Atlantic. You have been warned. The journey is as fascinating as the destination, especially when the latter is still uncertain.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 35 - Rachel Sermanni - Live In Dawson City

Rachel Sermanni is an artist that I first experienced playing live at Deer Shed Festival 2012. Only subsequently, and as a direct result, did I become acquainted with her studio recordings. In a sense that circle is about to be completed for, at least in the UK and Europe, she releases a live album 'Live In Dawson City' on 13 October. 

It is, as were her previous recordings, released by Middle of Nowhere Recordings an independent label based in Ullapool in the north-western Highlands of Scotland. She also comes from the Highlands but Carrbridge, which is further east, south of Inverness.
The next thing to do, of course, is to acquire the recording and that brings me to another point. Is the cheapest legal option the best or that which one might reasonably conclude would give the artist the biggest share of the money that one spends?
I took this release as a test case:
£10.99 (including free Super Saver delivery, so 2 - 3 working days)

Rachel Sermanni website:
£10 + £1 postage and packing. Secure payment via PayPal.
This is not rocket science is it? It is true that I didn't explore every avenue but, that said, I would hold that the second option is likely to benefit the artist (and the independent label) rather more. I went with this choice.
Sooner or later I'll actually get round to the music. The fact of the matter is that I know
 that the music is more than capable of speaking for itself. The venue for the recording is indeed real but also astonishingly remote. Carrbridge has a population of about 750 but is regularly served by both passenger railway and road to major cities within Scotland and beyond. Dawson City, population about 950, is in Yukon, Canada and only about 110 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Its foundation and the Palace Grand Theatre also, although since modernised due to neglect and necessity, date from the Klondike Gold Rush at the very end of the 19th century. The climate, aside from the extremes of light and dark that go with the latitude, is challenging to say the least. The town is built on permafrost but rarely a summer passes when the temperature does not exceed 30ºC!

Monday, October 06, 2014

Thoughts on Music 2014; what it means to me.

This weekend, as the weather finally turned autumnal, my mind strayed to the topic of the music - artists, LPs, gigs, festivals and all - that has made an impression on me in 2014. I know the end of the year, and the inevitable lists that go with it, are both still a long way off. I learned long ago, however, that leaving it all to the last week or two is not the way to do it. I accept that at least some items that make my final lists have not even been released yet - indeed I can think of several contenders that fall into that category. That does not however invalidate starting to consider those that have already been released or indeed that I already have to listen to. It is a sizeable task but a wholly enjoyable one and not least because it requires a degree of comparison with things that I chose in the last couple of years; if only to remind myself why that was and what may have changed since then. I also have the comforting knowledge that nobody can now try to tell me that I should go to Glastonbury 2015.
Yesterday evening, with the rain falling steadily in the darkness outside, I started that quest. I made sure that I was in front of an open fire with home-made pizza, garlic bread and a glass of wine to hand. I do this for my own pleasure, lest you forget, and that is where I have a problem with Glastonbury. It is an institution - and still a wildly popular one as the very recent sales statistics show - but it is not for me. I would implode. Before I even got inside.

I have a pretty good idea of which festivals I shall go to in 2015 and have a ticket for one of them already. I'm planning, as is customary, to go to one that I have never been to before and I know that which I intend it to be. It has been on my list for a couple of years and, thanks to a chance meeting of music and minds at EOTR 2014 it is going to happen.
That said, I have no intention of spending the rest of 2014 merely in contemplation of recorded music, released or forthcoming. Live music matters, whether it is ten minutes walk from home or not.

The next question, and it came quickly, was 'do I listen to the old ones any more?' The answer is, more or less often, yes I do. This is one of the first albums I ever mentioned in 'Thoughts on Music' back in 2006 - and it was Americana albeit that the artist is from Canada...

Honey From The Tombs - Amy Millan (2006). The picture was taken about twenty minutes ago. This album did something that no such other had quite done before. It made sense [to me].

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Carrivick Sisters - Live @ The Lights, Andover

Yesterday evening I thought it might be time to start October as I mean to go on, with live music. I have been intending to see a full set from Bath-based Carrivick Sisters for far too long and The Lights, a small council run arts venue in Andover, is barely an hour down the road. With its adjacent free parking and easy access from home it is less trouble than attending an event in Bath and, even more so, Bristol.
Yesterday the sisters; Charlotte (guitar, banjo and mandolin) and Laura (fiddle, dobro and guitar) were joined by John Breeze on bass.  They started the set without John singing 'You'll Miss Her When You're Gone' a capella.

The balance of their extensive set, which in the absence of a support act was divided in to two parts, featured songs from their most recent LP 'Over The Edge' 2013 with a couple of traditional songs (most LP songs are self-penned) and a couple from 2011 LP 'From The Fields' including sing-a-long encore 'Today Is A Good Day'.
The sisters sing harmony vocals as well as share lead vocal duties.
They finished the set with a tune, 'Pig In The Middle'.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 34 - Awna Teixeira - Wild One

To be quite honest this is a heads-up for March 2015 but after her 2012 début 'Where The Darkness Goes', which I still play often, I couldn't resist giving it a mention right now. The album itself is done and dusted. What she is trying to do now is raise money via Kickstarter to give it the launch and promotion that it deserves. Here are the bare facts: she is aiming to raise 9900 Canadian Dollars (£5500 to all intents and purposes) and in old music industry terms that is small change - the sort that would soon be frittered away on 'expenses' by those that...

Here is ten minutes of music from the album accompanied by stunning video of the wilds of her adopted home of Canada.

You can pledge a minimum of Canadian $1 (£0.56) and every little helps. For CAD 25 (about £14.35) you can have a signed CD and that includes delivery to the UK if that is where, like me, you are located.
She is going to reach the target but it has to happen by 10 October. I want that signed album so I pledged. Needs and wants are quite different things.
She needs this to happen more than any of us want material goods.

There is a theme that the LP both explores and seeks to support the wider understanding of; and that is depression.

Update (8 October 2014, 21:00 UTC+1):
The target was reached with 50 hours still on the clock. If you fancy owning a signed copy of 'Wild One', but haven't done so yet, then you can still pledge until the cut-off time (in about 48 hours).

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Marnhull Acoustic Session - Jinder & Pete Millson

After missing Marnhull Acoustic Sessions on its 31 August return, because I was a End of The Road Festival, I reacquainted myself with it this evening. I have just returned from what proved to be a very worthwhile and enjoyable performance from two acoustic guitarists and songwriters neither of which I was very well aware of before. Both hail from Bridport, which is clearly a veritable treasure trove of musical talent.

It was interesting to contrast their respective approaches to song writing and playing. First to play was Peter Millson with a set that included a number of songs taken from his latest LP 'The Love That Meets Return' (2014).

Indeed here he is playing the title track of that very album.

Following the short break was Jinder who presented songs from his most recent album 'Crumbs of Comfort' (2012) along with some earlier material, relevant cover versions and some choice anecdotes that threw interesting light on the songs themselves and the twists and turns of fâte that connected them. He also played a couple of songs that are to appear on his forthcoming LP that will be released early in 2015. I am sure that he mentioned the title but I didn't take notes and have now forgotten.
I'm not going to write more in detail about the music of either at this juncture. It is getting late and in any case I did something that I very rarely do at such events; I bought both the aforementioned albums on CD and quite likely I will return in due course to reviewing them in more detail.
There is no Marnhull Acoustic Session in October: It is better than that for its place is taken by the 3rd North Dorset Folk Festival on 25 October and that will take place at the same intimate venue (and may possibly be the smallest festival in England). I'm going to write a preview of that very soon but suffice to say it will be a treat and it is only £25 (+booking fee). There are not many tickets to start with and very few remain.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Live and local - Domenic DiCicco 'Seeds of Evergreen' album launch

As summer fades into autumn so the outdoor festivals are replaced with the return of regular indoor music events as the staple of my live-listening timetable. The organisers of Acoustic+, an event that I have often mentioned here, decided to bow out at the start of the summer recess having put on 100 shows.
In its place a new approximately monthly event, The Green Room, has arrived on the scene here in Frome. It is not a carbon copy, nor should it have been. From what I saw yesterday I very much like that which I saw and heard.

The opening act was Simon Allen, unaccompanied other than by his own acoustic guitar.

The main act was the album launch for Domenic DiCicco's latest LP 'Seeds of Evergreen'. He is, although Canadian, well known in Frome where he now resides and in particular as part of Praying For The Rain.
While 'Seeds of Evergreen' is a solo LP that is far from implying that he appeares solo, although on one song that was indeed the case, despite the unexpected absence of Paul Sax on violin due to illness. Indeed there were still eight on stage at times. My initial thoughts on the music is that it is slightly less obviously influenced by world music that that of Praying For The Rain, in generality if not specific songs. It was certainly most enjoyable and I think it would stand up well to repeated listening. Here are a couple of pictures.
Domenic DiCicco (2nd left), with Mal Darwen (bass), Delagh King (vocals) and Richard Kennedy (vocals).

As a harbinger of Green Room events in the future it bodes very well indeed. The next, on 24 October, looks like a real treat. It is headlined by The Black Feathers, whom I mentioned here not so long ago, and also includes Exeter trio Wildwood Kin amongst others including Lauren Castle.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Catherine Maclellan - The Raven's Sun

It is true that I haven't written much in the last week. This is neither a reflection of my attention or inclination towards music. Far from it in fact but possibly changes too. That is all still at the planning stage. Not all plans come to fruition.
One thing for sure is that there is certainly no shortage of new music and another is that I have not written enough about new music from Canada of late. If I am to hear a more poignant album than this in 2014 then the truth is perhaps I would rather not.

It is at times devastating. There is more like this out there.
The issue is finding and then writing about it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 33 - Caitlin Rose - Gemini Moon

I certainly wasn't planning on writing a post this evening. Then again you never know what might happen. Some things, many things indeed, I could happily have just left to my current mañana instinct. This simply isn't one of them. It is exactly what I needed to hear.

If I haven't worked out the lyric before I go to bed then I shall be somewhat disappointed with myself.
This is supposedly just a demo recording. If that is true, or even if not quite so given the premise of the song and the tease that she is, then the third album should be quite something.
It is now revealed that this song was written with Justin Hayward-Young of The Vaccines. On reflection that makes a lot of sense.

Monday, September 15, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 32 - Charlie Rose - Stowaways

I just got to hear this, it is released next week, and I think it to be the kind of music that suits the mellow days of early autumn.

Charlie Rose is something of a musical journeyman but also a recording member of the act Arc Iris, which I have already mentioned several times this year. That is, along with my increasing focus on Americana music in all its forms, how I came to hear of this his début LP.
You can listen to it too, then please consider buying. I will be doing so.

I haven't got to the point of choosing any favourites but the impression I have is that this is something I like as a whole, and that is never a bad start.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

New Music 2014 - Part 31 - Jennifer Crook - Carnforth Station

Two thoughts immediately come to mind as I write this and neither is directly about the LP itself, so here it is. It is released in the UK tomorrow, 15 September 2014.

The first of them is that I'm not especially given to siding with  The Daily Telegraph but in this case I must do so, and wholeheartedly. I too have been bowled over; I have had the album for a couple of months now and it is not going anywhere far away from my playlist. The second is that it is, indeed, probably better suited to the lengthening nights and cooler days of autumn.
She has said that she was unaware of the Noël Coward 'Brief Encounter' connection with Carnforth. To be fair the lyric makes no direct reference to that story whatsoever - it is more about the locomotives and stock stranded adjacent, seemingly in limbo, and the passengers that they might have carried. I'd like to think that this is true - it seems better that way.
Be that as it may it is an astonishing album and, with the time of list-making getting ever closer, I very much doubt that that of the aforementioned newspaper will be the only one on which it appears.