Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Time for a change.

After weeks of listmania it is time for a change. All the time spent thinking about my own lists and more recently reading those by others and listening to things thereupon that have piqued my curiosity have, when combined with the infinitely grey and gloomy weather of late, persuaded me to look for things away from the mainstream both new and old (sometimes both at the same time).
What transpired has several catalysts, one being my liking for bluegrass and things derived at least in part from it. If it includes some Appalachian old-time fiddle and banjo, or gypsy influences then that is not bad thing either. Neither is a foundation in the UK and Irish folk sound for that matter.

This post is going to mention some things that I have discovered so far during this ongoing quest. Though it has deep roots in my listening it is only really during this year that I have really taken note of how this adsorption (rather than absorption, though it may happen subsequently) of influences takes place. I define the turning point, for the sake of this post, as taking place on the evening of Thursday 30 July at Cambridge Folk Festival when I saw this band live and failed to take a single usable photo of it.
WTF, Richard? The answer is that I was totally distracted.
That band was Dublin four-piece Lynched. They played between Orcadian five-piece Fara and Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker and despite that there was something special and memorable about the set. Some of it came from their most recent recorded offering that contains some traditional, some dance-hall and some new material. Salonika may be familiar to many, not least from the version recorded by The Dubliners.


Lynched - Cold Old Fire (self released, 2015).

This is music for the coming, press-entitled, "Panic Saturday". It will surely rain again and all retail outlets and travel options are to be avoided at any cost - this is a day that is therefore destined to be spent with good, simple food and maybe a pre-season tipple whilst sat in front of the fire in the company of good music. Not a Christmas pop ditty to be heard; that said, possibly an exception might be made for 'Fairytale of New York'.
Other appealing options are available and I suggest this one from No Depression.com

Go on, treat yourself!

Irish music more generally is another thing that has returned to my attention in the second half of this year and here is an act that I haven't seen live yet, but now I really want to. This five-piece is also from Dublin.


I Draw Slow - White Wave Chapel (Pinecastle Records, 2014).

While this is the Dublin band's latest album I highly recommend its predecessor Redhills (2011) too. In both the American bluegrass/country influence is more apparent than it is on the above-mentioned work by Lynched.
This is 'Goldmine' from the LP Redhills.


Crossing the Atlantic I have already commented on my liking for The Newpart, which is the latest album from April Verch. As well as singing and playing fiddle she often provides clog-dancing accompaniment too. This Ottawa valley bluegrass is a distinct and seemingly thriving scene and I want to hear more of it.
Next is the Seattle based duo, Charlie Beck and Charmaine Slaven, that is Squirrel Butter. The latest full length offering is this and it is heading deep into traditional and old-time territory.


Squirrel Butter - Chestnuts (2015, CD Baby).

A suitable place to end this long ramble is in the rolling Piedmont landscape of North Carolina with the music of acoustic string four-piece Mipso and this little gem of an LP.

Old Time Reverie (2015, Robust Records).

All of this post is an antidote to the madness of the Christmas retail experience.

Monday, December 07, 2015

My Music in 2015 - Albums - Part 2

Here we are again, just over a week after my first foray on this subject. The rules are the same as in Part 1. I hope you find something to like or to argue about.
Critical comments are quite as welcome as positive ones just so long they are not offensive or defamatory. A fact is that a credited post always has more gravitas than an anonymous one and that applies even if the content of both were to be exactly the same. 
I reserve the right to publish comments on this post and will credit them accordingly.

Part 1 was equally divided between acts from the UK and from North America and that only occurred to me after I posted it. This selection is much more UK biased, featuring just two acts from North America and an Australian. Specifically this one...
Courtney Barnett, Far Out Stage, Green Man Festival - Sunday evening, 23 August 2015.

Girlpool, Big Top stage, End Of The Road Festival - Saturday 5 September 2015.

Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin, Marnhull Acoustic Sessions - Sunday 23 February 2014.

The Rosellys, Saloon Stage, Truck Festival - Friday 18 July 2015.

Fara, Stage 2, Cambridge Folk Festival - Thursday 30 July 2015.

You may be wondering why I often use links to my earlier comments in these lists; this is because they often contain more back-links to the artist, as well as to other related topics. It saves listing multiple links all over again.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

My Music in 2015 - EPs and mini-albums - Part 1

Not wishing to get into a debate about what is or is not an EP this category is something of a cop-out. That does however leave an open question concerning quite when does a mini-album become a full-blown LP. In so far as is possible I use the distinction that the artist chooses and if that is indiscernible then I make the decision myself.
In the new order this is however one of the most interesting places in which to dwell: just ten years ago who could have foreseen that the then moribund concept of the EP would find a whole new meaning - whether that be digital only, on CD, vinyl or now increasingly so also cassette. The list is, as usual, alphabetical by artist:


It's a mix of things that have grabbed my attention. In this case I have only seen two of these acts live  - the first and the last. This is the first.


Aurora - Walled Garden stage - Green Man Festival -  23 August 2015.
This was long before the John Lewis Christmas advertisement in which Aurora Aksnes' cover of Oasis' 'Half The World Away' happened. That has certainly bought her a great deal of attention. Her own music deserves more than that.

Clara Engel is a Canadian that is criminally ignored by most. That is a great shame and not least for the would-be listeners. Her music maybe somewhat challenging but it repays the effort many times over and, while the above EP is short, there is a sizeable body of work to discover. Do it.

Francis Pugh and The Whiskey Singers I pretty much summed up in my post back in September. This, for the purists, is a true EP. Three tracks - the first and last are their own with a cover of Hank Williams' 'I Saw The Light' sandwiched between them. Another stalwart of the Oxford roots music scene is likely to feature in part 2 of this thread.

Sound Of The Sirens. a duo from Exeter, has had quite some year. Here they are playing The Lights, Andover back in March.

That was before Chris Evans, presenter of the BBC Radio2 Breakfast Show, was revealed as a fan. One thing led to another and ultimately the duo of Abbe Martin and Hannah Woods played live at the relaunch of his classic late 1990's Channel 4 show TFI Friday.

Friday, December 04, 2015

New Music 2016 - Part 3 - Paul McClure - Songs for Anyone

'Songs for Anyone', which will be released on the estimable Clubhouse Records in January, is the second solo LP released by Paul McClure, the self-styled Rutland Troubadour. This is a rather appropriate moniker for, while the UK as a whole is small in comparison to some US states, I'd wager that a large part of the UK population couldn't describe with any certainty where Rutland lies in our little island.


The Clubhouse stable encompasses Americana-related artists from both sides of the ocean and the songs on this album have universal themes rather than specifically American or British ones. It continues the thread from his previous release 'Smiling From The Floor Up' in being for the greater part man-and-song-and-guitar. All songs on this LP are self-written but there are subtle textural changes, including the use of harmonica from time to time and backing vocals from Hannah Elton-Wall (Redlands Palomino Company), lap steel, piano and other instruments, as well as skilfully discrete production duties, all by Joe Bennett (The Dreaming Spires). The track listing is as follows, despite the fact this is a CD:

Side 1:

  1. Gentleman's Agreement
  2. Unremarkable Me
  3. I Could Be A Happy Man
  4. Don't Take Me Under
  5. Everyday Is Mine To Spend
  6. Holding A Ten Ton Load

Side 2:
  1. So Long
  2. My Big Head Hat Of Dreams
  3. Yesterday's Lies
  4. My Little Ray Of Sunshine
  5. A Song For Anyone
  6. Lady Flossington
The best way to enjoy this music is of course live. In my opinion there is no place better to do that than The Saloon stage at Truck Festival. It is as far from the seething masses of some festivals as one could possibly imagine.
Paul McClure, Saloon stage, Truck Festival, 18 July 2015.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Blog Sound of 2016 - long-list

This has been run since 2012 as a companion to the BBC Sound Of 2016. It takes a different perspective on seeking the same sort of information and sentiment. Rather than explain the background to this I shall refer you to enabler-in-chief Robin Seamer of Breaking More Waves.
I have had the pleasure to participate in this poll once again and the long-list of fifteen acts was revealed (in alphabetical order) today. 
I am not allowed to reveal my nominations and I'm not even going to say if any of the three featured in the list. The publisher included a one-sentence resumĂ© of each and so I felt it was incumbent on me to offer a slightly different perspective:

I have attempted to provide links, as diverse a list as suited my inquisitiveness, to the artists. I hope that you will find that useful and I also recommend that you might like to try some of the other blogs that contributed their votes to make this list a reality. There is a complete list of them here.
The Top-5 Blog Sound of 2016 acts will be be published on 5 January 2016.