Monday, May 29, 2017

New Music 2017 - Part 22 - Offa Rex - The Queen Of Hearts

One of the things about doing this [writing a blog] is that it pretty much forces me to listen, read and then actually think about music. I can't really assimilate so-called background music anymore. If it's there than that is how it is, but I'll be either paying proper attention or simply not consciously noticing it at all. Sub-conscious listening is however very much a real 'thing'. I was doing chores at home this morning whilst I had the latest Spotify 'Discover Weekly' playlist playing from the stereo but until this came on I couldn't, had it been a crime scene, have given you a single useful piece of evidence to show that I had paying any attention to what was going on.
Had my head been inside a scanner that measures synapse connections I suspect that the images would have been quite interesting. It was, as subsequent investigations have shown, a song I have never heard before but the apparent jumble of concepts that my mind spewed out in response, much like the coins from a change machine, was surprisingly accurate.

What triggered all that, and it is also the title of the forthcoming LP, is this song:



Offa Rex is a project that sees UK singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Olivia Chaney transported to the Pacific Northwest to weave tradition from British and Celtic folk into a psych-folk influenced tapestry. The rest of Offa Rex will be familiar to many as the Decemberists. The album was recorded and produced by Tucker Martine at his studio in Portland, OR. The majority of the eleven tracks were arranged by Olivia Chaney


Offa Rex - The Queen of Hearts, (Nonesuch Records, 14 July 2017).

Offa Rex - The Queen of Hearts:
  • The Queen of Hearts
  • Blackleg Miner
  • The Gardener
  • The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
  • Flash Company
  • The Old Churchyard
  • Constant Billy (Oddington) / I'll Go Enlist (Sherborne)
  • Willie o' Winsbury
  • Bonny May
  • Sheepcrook and Black Dog
  • To Make You Stay
To hear this in its entirety is something I am looking forward to very much indeed.  It is another journey in the story of how, for centuries, songs have travelled back and forth across the Atlantic to be reappraised and then returned.
A fine example is Willie o' Winsbury that is from Scottish tradition and probably of late 17th century origin. It is also Child #100 and has been back and forth a few times since. A version also appears on the LP Child Ballads - Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer (2013).

Saturday, May 27, 2017

New Music 2017 - Part 21 - Paradisia - Sound of Freedom

I often go on about how important I believe it is to see support bands at gigs, and at festivals as many as possible of the bands on small stages and in opening slots on larger ones. As the festival season is now tangibly close and the list of new releases grows ever longer, here as an excellent example of how this pans out.

Last August I was at Green Man festival in mid-Wales. The smallest of the dedicated music stages is the 'Rising stage' and it hosts new acts. These are for the most part chosen from the entries in a competition over the previous months, the winner of which gets to open the 'Mountain stage', the main one, on Saturday. Several acts there caught my attention and London-based three-piece Paradisia was one of them. Its core is the trio of Kristy Buglass (vocals, keyboard), Sophie-Rose Harper (vocals) and Anna Pesquidous (harp).


Paradisia, Rising stage, Green Man Festival. 21 August 2016.

This was the very first time that I was even aware that the band existed. First impressions matter and what I remember thinking was just how good their own songs were, even against the fact that they also covered Springsteen's 'Dancing in the Dark', unlikely although that might seem given their palette of instruments, impressively. That inevitably brings us to this; my next thought at the time.
"What would this sound like on record?" Yesterday I got to find out.

Paradisia - Sound of Freedom (self-released, 26 May 2017 LP, CD, digital)

It was clear from listening to the short live set that they had listened to a great deal of 1970's music and been honing the influences appropriate to what they wished to achieve. This album is just wonderful.  If I had to shorten it by one song then the one to go would be 'Dancing In The Dark'. I have listened start-to-finish several times now and current highlights, although I am really rather reluctant to pick any, are 'Warpaint' and 'Silent Lover'. The title of the LP comes from a lyric in the latter song.
I'm as certain as it is possible to be that is an album that I shall be coming back to time and time again and experience suggests that this isn't something that happens all that often.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

New Music 2017 - Part 20 - This Is The Kit - Moonshine Freeze

As much as I love discovering music that is new to me, particularly so live, there is after ten years of festivals the opportunity to see progression. I could cite examples over a longer timescale than this but I am excited about a band that I first saw live playing the Walled Garden stage, at Green Man Festival 2015.  At that point they were touring the LP 'Bashed Out'.  This Is The Kit is appearing at Green Man Festival 2017 and the band will have a new LP from which to perform songs.


This Is The Kit - Moonshine Freeze (Rough Trade Records, 7 July 2017).

Here is This Is The Kit at that Green Man Festival gig back in 2015. The sun came out for the first time that day.

Walled Garden stage, Green Man Festival, 22 August 2015.

To categorise the music of 'This Is The Kit' is almost impossible and I like that: folky, bluesy, roots, and always just inventive, slightly off-kilter and gloriously, but tastefully, unpredictable. You can see why they are back at Green Man; also why Rough Trade and the band have signed some paperwork. It says a great deal about the ethos of all parties concerned.
One of the standout performances of Green Man 2016 was another Rough Trade artist and it wasn't even the first time that I had seen them live either; that was Warpaint.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Another musical journey.

I said that I would do this over the Easter break but I didn't. I'm now thinking that I need at least six weeks between such projects and it's not about finding the music. I love doing that - I wouldn't be writing at all if that were not the case. It's more the richness and variety that is on offer; I could write twice as many posts if I only listened to a quarter of the new (at least to me) music that I do. Posts like this are the ones I like doing the most. They are the most rewarding but they take the longest time to figure out. That's the excuses done.
If it raises awareness and sells a few of the artists' works then that is good enough for me.
Let's go!

The last post of this kind Imaginary Appalachia started in Canada. This one starts in Michigan and I'm not sure that we will get any further south this time, although the music might at times suggest that we have.



Red Tail Ring - Fall Away Blues (CD Baby, 2 September 2016).

This is the most recent release from the Kalamazoo, Michigan based duo that comprises Laurel Primo and Michael Beauchamp. Entirely acoustic, it contrasts new takes on traditional songs and tunes with new ones that tackle themes such as gun crime (something in traditional music that is as old as guns), immigration and environmentalism (both of which are barely less so). It is their fourth album release.

Now this.
It is, as the artist says, "more southern and more country influenced" than her first release 'Sad-eyed Lomesome Lady' and I will return to that in another post. Raised in East Vancouver, BC and now based in Saskatoon, SK (and also in Toronto)  this is all about... quite simply  the things that she wanted to write about and it is not going to get a party started.

Steph Cameron - Daybreak Over Jackson Street (Pheromone Recordings, 21 April 2017).

I only happened across this artist by a rare strike of fortune. Yesterday. It got me thinking and now writing again. It is as sparse and beautiful in its production as it is disenchanted, yet hopeful, in its content. The most important thing is that it is always questioning but never preachy.

This journey is not really about new music. I discovered the next record after it occurred to me that I couldn't recall having heard anything new from Canadian fiddle player and singer-songwriter Kendel Carson in a couple of years.  I found this... and if you like female vocal harmonies and multiple fiddle players this could be just the thing for you too.


Belle Starr - belle starr (Roaring Girl Records, 2 April 2013).

The two other artists are Stephanie Cadman and Miranda Mulholland. The trio had previously released an EP 'The Burning of Atlanta' in April 2012 but that is harder to find. In both cases there are quite a few covers.  I think that, to be found on the above-mentioned LP, the cover of Bruce Springsteen's 'Tougher Than The Rest' is particularly effective.

Not all the content relies on lyric and the fiddle tune 'Charity Kiss' is top-notch. It reminds me just how much I like this sort of music and, therefore, of Orcadian fiddle group Fara.
The penultimate track 'Art O'Leary' is an English translation of an Irish poem, 
Art Ó Laoghaire, set to music.  He fought for the Catholic cause with the Hungarian Hussars, in the army of Maria Theresa in the mid-late 18th century and survived that only to be murdered on his return to his family in Ireland.

This journey will end with a Canadian duo - Kacy & Clayton -  that has covered another poem set to music. This one is often regarded as trad. and anon. but in fact it is nothing of the kind. That song is not, however, on this that is their second LP.


Kacy & Clayton - Strange Country (New West Records, 6 May 2016).

For me the classic cover on this album is their take on 'Over The River Charlie' that is an American song of long standing.  It is not the song I was alluding to above, however.

That is 'The Dalesman's Litany' and it appears on the 2013 album 'The Day Is Past and Gone'. It is in fact a 20th century song in the sense it is now known.
The words, originally a poem in Yorkshire dialect, were written and/or collected by Frederic William Moorman (1872 - 1918), the first Professor of English Language at the University of Leeds (1912 - 1918). The setting of it to a tune, by Dave Keddie of Bradford, Yorkshire, came decades later.
The first commercially released recording of this song that I am aware of is that by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior on their first record as a duo, 'Folk Songs of Old England Volume 1' (1968). On this the lyrics have been "translated" into more prosaic English. The duo later became the core of electric folk band Steeleye Span and the song became a classic of the British folk revival.
The thing about the version by Kacy & Clayton is its beautiful naïvety; i
t is all the better for the fact that a few of the many Yorkshire locations mentioned in it are mispronounced but, like so many before it, the song has crossed the ocean.