Releases > Releases December 2022

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Own Label, 12 Tracks, 47 Minutes
Contemporary folk harpist, singer and composer, BRÍDÍN, has recently released her first album, self-titled BRÍDÍN. As I sat down to listen, the tragedy in Creeslough was still very much to the fore. This collection of music allowed the much-needed journey for my coming through a dark place and arriving in a much happier, hopeful future. It really does resonate hope in this tragic time.
Opening with Hideaway it just seemed so real, that need to ‘slip away’ to a much-needed hideaway. BRÍDÍN’s voice captivates and haunts you. We’ve all seen the Dancing Shadows of the night and although scary at times, the music of this song makes you smile. It kind of brings us out of the shadows. Empty Room creates an echo, just like lives lost. But it’s reassuring, reminding us that we need to be comfortable in our own company.
Murli complements the voice of BRÍDÍN in a most unusual way on Running, immediately followed by Dali’s Dream. As we listen to the wonderfully sexy voice of Stephen Rea reciting The Dawn Chorus we are reminded of the beauty of life. With Waves, Oceans of Stars and Will We Meet Again, the music takes us to a place of remembering those gone.
The beautiful strings, the haunting voice. The words ‘But I loved the time that I spent with you’ will strike so many hearts at this time. Sharon Shannon guests on Season’s Change and then we just melt with the wonderful advice of Granda and Granny as Saoirse rounds off this most beautiful collection of music we are allowed to feel freedom. The music has freed us from grief, loss, reality, and we smile. BRÍDÍN has captured our hearts with the music and song, and it doesn’t disappoint once.
In a time of darkness, BRÍDÍN shines a light, and it works.
Gráinne McCool

Light from the Light That Never Ends
Brambus Records, 14 Tracks, 47 Minutes
County Down singer-songwriter Brendan Monaghan has been performing in Ireland and internationally for many years (sharing the bill with many top international acts) and has also written material for several recording artists. He has released eight albums and his latest recording is an assured collection of mainly self-composed material, which illustrates his wide range of talents, supported by an impressive list of musicians.
Brendan has an extremely pleasant voice which is well-suited to his unique mix of folk, pop and country, but here there is also a strong Celtic influence which often provides Irish artists with an additional artistic seam to explore. This is well-illustrated on the anthemic title track which features the uilleann pipes of Darragh Ó hÉiligh with some tasty accordion from John McCullough.
The album was produced by Dean Stevens who also plays bass, drums and guitar, and the overall instrumentation is very tastefully arranged and performed. There’s great variation in the songs, from the whimsical Will I See You Again featuring nice banjo and fiddle playing, through power ballads like Everything, to up-tempo numbers such as If God Spares Me, Always and Everywhere and I’ll Be Home. Brendan also delivers cover versions of the old Bee Gees favourite Come On Over, and the much-recorded Grace is given a nice reading with some haunting whistle and banjo from Colleen McCleery.
This is a quality album full of unexpected gems; I particularly enjoyed Please Don’t Let It Go, a heartfelt spiritual piece brilliantly delivered with just keyboard and voice. Her Second Floor Flat has an autobiographical ring to it and has some lovely touches of classic pop, with tinges of Elvis Costello and Squeeze in the mix. Brendan Monaghan gets my seal of approval as a gifted songwriter of real substance. Check him out, you won’t be disappointed!
Mark Lysaght

No More the Green Hills
Own Label JBJD002, 11 Tracks, 40 Minutes
Janice is from Glasgow and Jon from Gloucestershire; they met as students on the folk degree course at Newcastle University and they now live in that city. This album was recorded at Watercolour Music in the Scottish Highlands.
This Anglo-Scottish duo are a real treat for lovers of traditional songs; Janice plays mandolin, tenor guitar, harmonium and piano, and Jon excels on bouzouki, acoustic guitar, harmonium and fiddle. In term of repertoire there are bucolic ballads: Up & Awa’ and The Corncrake, maritime songs: Early Early and The Weary Cutters and plaintive lyrics bemoaning modernisation: Four Loom Weaver. New takes too, on old Irish songs: The Greenmore Hare (with a bit of eco-transfer from heather to wheat stubble), As I Roved Out (derived from Andy Irvine’s version) and She Moved Through the Fair (always a classic).
They work in enough creative distance to make the songs their own yet hug them close enough to tradition to retain their essence and familiarity. The duo’s self-accompaniment is lean, allowing their voices to be the main focus of each song. The addition of the double bass providing the wide-open spaces for Dennis Cahill style single notes on the mandolin. Quite magical.
We also get to hear them perform solo. Janice sings in Scots dialect on Up & Away about the excitement of heading off for a spot of dawn trout fishing. Jon solos on As I Roved Out; they sing in sweet honeyed harmony on the opening False True Love and The Black Fox (a Devilish tale of an unsuccessful hunt).
Janice and Jon’s work is a blend of traditional songs sung in a new way with an evident respect for melody and the ancient art of the ballad maker. Five stars for this duo that have made an album destined for repeated listening.
Seán Laffey

The Springbank Voyage
Own Label, 13 Tracks, 51 Minutes
This project was funded by Creative Scotland as part of Scotland’s Year of Stories, 2022. The brainchild of Shetland fiddler guitarist and singer songwriter Barry Nisbet, he has created an evocative sonic documentary combing tunes, songs and storytelling. The voyage drives the album; do sample the music in order, that way this true story makes perfect sense.
Barry is no armchair admiral, he is a qualified skipper; and he runs Sessions and Sail out of Shetland. An experienced deepwater skipper with years sailing in the Pacific, he brings that knowledge and empathy to the story of a 14000-mile voyage from Liverpool to Mexico, in 1908, as the days of commercial tall ships were gently fading away. The reality was far removed from the romance of Montague Dawson’s Thermopylae paintings, voyages were dangerous, and every hazardous trip was an enterprise for profit.
The album comprises original tunes and songs in Scots and Shetland dialect and was recorded at TPot Studios, Perthshire. Tracks feature spoken samples from Shetland storyteller Lawrence Tulloch (1942-2017), Alice Jamieson and Helen Nisbet. Affrug with its Shetland dialect lyrics describes the homesickness felt at sea: “Da brakkin water’s rumblin ‘rong’ Like bass strings o a fiddle draan ”
Iron and Canvas goes back to the construction of the ship in 1894, the swelling chorus proclaiming:
Where steel and iron meet with canvas and rope
And the coal furnace kicks out great clouds of black smoke
Where they work like machines by the banks of the Clyde
And a brand new ship launches on every fourth tide.
On Fly Free, fiddle and the cello conjure the slip away from shore to a world beyond the shallow-seabed breakers. The Capehorn Set combines a slow air and a Shetland Reel. Into The Pacific, is a sombre slow air, the voyage was hard at this juncture, the ship taking a 6-week beating against Westerly winds. The tune marks the passing of Hannah, the female crew member on the 7th of October. This downbeat mood continues on Santa Rosaliá Sunrise, capturing the Springbank’s bittersweet landfall in Mexico.
The story of the Springbank’s voyage circulated in Shetland for four generations. Barry Nisbet has concentrated its narrative and its community ownership into an album where every song and every tune comes alive with melody and meaning.
Seán Laffey

How Did We Get Here?
Own Label, 8 Tracks, 43 Minutes
This Help Musicians UK funded album was recorded at Sheffield’s Yellow Arch Studios. Lizzy Hardingham’s How Did We Get Here? is a compelling piece of work, including observations on pandemic days, “living in the shadow of a time we thought would never come”, in a modern world where so much “we took for granted”.
There are comforting, therapeutic poems, love won and lost, mental health; “here in my hotel room, doing my utmost to cry”, deeply personal, confessional and conversational. As a poet she is an astute observer of human survival, the struggles of creativity and the steadfastness of nature.
I Could Have Loved You is a dramatic piece, great vocal range, with chanter and drone, her voice soaring and swooping, operatic almost. The Piano in the Woods has an “I roved out…” vibe, sweet and mythical, the writer predicting that pilgrims will come “up through the earth, up through the breeze”, to this place where the piano is “encased in the bark, a thousand years old”, strong vocal layering adds to the mystique.
Singing Together is a celebration of chorale singing, exploring performance as a solo singer, “all alone on a stage with something to prove”, compared to “singing together as one, side by side”, because “we are better together”, a beautiful anthem to team work, collaboration, singing. There is stellar instrumentation throughout, guitar particularly and percussion.
Jumping Waves is a standout, the waves as metaphor for life’s upheavals, testing human endurance and resilience. In the face of adversity, like the wave, one can “jump-lift your feet from the ground, you can rest a while ’til maybe a smile can be found”, a young woman’s valid perspective on accepting weakness, physical and psychological, the recurring nature of the ocean, tidal waves representing anxiety, but hope in the end, vitally, “then get up from the floor, ‘cos the tide will go out”.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Clare Sands
Own Label, 12 Tracks, 46 Minutes
With contributions from Steve Cooney, Susan O’Neill, Tommy Sands, Fiachna Ó Braonáin and Manchán Magan, Clare Sands’ self-titled album provides a wide range of sounds from the spoken word to intense percussion and exciting lyrics.
Sixth generation fiddler, bilingual singer & multi-instrumentalist Clare Sands has covered the entirety of the west coast of Ireland with this music over the past two years. For some the pandemic dominated this time, for Sands it was the musical journey. And it has reached its destination in this new album.
This is a collection of music, which represents the power of resilience and togetherness, family and friends and the real need for that human connection. It is all of this that makes this a music of our time: a time of difficulty and yet a time of overcoming. We as a people have overcome the pandemic. We have developed resilience like never before. We have connected in ways never anticipated. And through her music on this album, we get to celebrate all of this. It is in effect, a celebration of triumph over adversity. Typically Irish, and typically of now.
Clare Sands is a collection of 12 tracks. Opening with Chasin the Sun, a coming home feel to it and a very grounded opening to a collection of exuberant music and spoken word. Her lively vocals on Sail On reflect her onset to an embarking on a journey that’s only just beginning. It oozes enthusiasm and determination. It encourages us to literally ‘sail on’.
Sands doesn’t paint a picture perfect of our landscape, instead offering insight into the young women revolutionaries with a delightful spoken piece from Bernadette Devlin McAliskey on Focail Feasa, followed immediately with Awe na Mná.  This is a collection for the here and now. It’s bold, brave and it’s energetic. Sands is not frightened of being true. Here she shines bright in what is fast becoming a brave new world.
Gráinne McCool

From Now On
Own label, ASER0001CD, 11 Tracks, 53 Minutes
This is a very original and international band, with an Irish woman, Stephanie Martin on fiddle, a Canadian, Fiona King on vocals, and four Italians from Tuscany: Lorenzo Del Grande on flute, Luca Mercurio on guitar and bouzouki, Giulio Putti on bodhrán and Massimo Giuntini on uilleann pipes, whistles and bouzouki.
Twenty years of career behind them since the band was formed in 2001 in Siena. After all these years on stage and three previous albums, they continue to enchant their audience with their music, which is Irish not only in name. Originally their name was Will o’ the Wisp, simplified a few years ago by a French journalist into Willos’. They started with a repertoire of traditional Irish and Scottish music, a music popular in many parts of Italy. They soon began to adapt traditional tunes and also to compose songs. After the long period of the pandemic, they returned to the forefront with a new eleven-track album From Now On, which focuses on Irish music.
The album features The Flying Bull, The Maids of Mount Cisco, The Bucks of Oranmore, P. Stands for Paddy. Then Road to Rome, an original song based on the old Traditional ballad Pretty Polly that Woody Guthrie used for his song Pastures of Plenty which can be found on the Solas album Reunion. And on this album they invited Italian piper Martino Vacca, himself a member of the band FullSet. Throughout this excellent album, the members of Willos’ demonstrate their musical talent, which includes their arrangement skills. The dances are sparkling, the sounds sometimes joyful, sometimes more melancholic, even meditative.
Massimo and Martino’s uilleann pipes and Stephanie’s fiddle lead the dance, while Luca’s guitar and Giulio’s bodhrán hammer out the tempo, with Lorenzo’s flute introducing a soothing energy. Not forgetting Fiona’s superb voice on four tracks. A band that has not finished enchanting us.
Philippe Cousin

Live at the Rainbow Theatre 1974
Chrysalis Records CRVX1485, 2 LP Set, 16 Tracks, 72 Minutes
London’s Rainbow Theatre in Seven Sister’s Road, Finsbury Park was one of the premier live music venues during the 1970s and early 80s heydays. Previously the Finsbury Park Astoria, it became a major attraction to music followers and housed artists from The Who to James Brown, The Bothy Band, Horslips and The Chieftains. In November 1974 Steeleye Span played two nights to packed houses, and highlights of these shows are now gathered in Live at the Rainbow Theatre 1974. Steeleye Span were at a pivotal point with their Now We Are Six album produced by Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, and the addition of drummer Nigel Pegrum anchored them firmly in the rock end of Folk Rock musically, while re-written and rearranged traditional folk ballads remained their staple diet.
Here they aired material from Below the Salt, Parcel of Rogues and Now We Are Six and worked in songs from Commoners Crown to great success. One Misty Moisty Morning, The Ups and Downs and Thomas the Rhymer rock along energetically while the vitriolic Cam Ye O’er Frae France is suitably broody. There was plenty of drama with new epic ballads Long Lankin, Demon Lover and Little Sir Hugh that would make Commoners Crown the blood-stained masterpiece it was, and The Wife of Usher’s Well makes its debut and would reappear on All Around My Hat. Maddy Prior, Tim Hart and Bob Johnson’s voices add vocal flair in Gaudete while prime Irish influences resonate from Peter Knight’s fiddle strings on The Masons Apron and Paddy Clancy’s Jig.
There were surprises like Mummers’ Plays and the Vaudevillian You Great Big Beautiful Doll, but the bulk of the material is top drawer British Folk Rock delivered with panache, energy, subtlety and the confidence of a band that knew it was on a creative high.
John O’Regan

Under A Bloodshot Moon
Own Label, 14 Tracks, 49 Minutes
Rusty Shackle is a six-piece folk-rock band from South Wales. They’ve been around since 2010; this is their fifth album to date. The band is Liam Collins (vocals & guitar), Scott McKeon (fiddle, banjo & vocals), Baz Barwick (guitar, tenor guitar), Ryan Williams (bass guitar), George Barrell (drums & percussion) and Alex McConnachie (guitar).
This is big folk rock with an acoustic edge, an album full of anthems and choruses that set Rusty Shackle in the same league as the now defunct Run Rig. No more so than on the drum and banjo driven track Siren, the insistent chorus reminding us: “This is the sound of the siren, this is the sound of the sea, I hear the sound echoing round, the siren is calling me.” Lost in Tokyo ends with a pop style lush chorus after a start on finger picked guitar, the transition mirroring the realisation you are a small speck in a city of millions. There’s a menacing fiddle on The Gallows Song; I can see this being a fan favourite when they play live, the chorus begging the audience to stomp and sing in unison to the phrase “We all show up for the Gallows Song”.
There are passages of Proleter style banjo on Grounded, and a quiet moment three minutes into Blood and Thunder when they sing: “We watch the clouds in the slate-grey sky, the sun is burning through.” That sunshine adds a boost of energy to the closing repeated stream of Born to Blood and Thunder.
The final track Listen Boy is a rambunctious rough around the edges appeal to matey camaraderie. It’s a folksy unplugged departure, an acoustic drinking song, with behind the scenes chatter captured in an off-the-cuff vox-pop moment. The chorus, (Rusty Shackle do choruses well) is “Listen boy drink won’t drown your sorrow, now we are out we’ll hit the town and she’ll come back tomorrow.” This would shift effortlessly to any night in Temple Bar. Big anthems, luxurious choruses, rock sensibility and a good night out, it’s all Under a Bloodshot Moon.
Seán Laffey

Gilded Lilly Records, 11 Tracks, 40 Minutes
This is the second album from York based trio of singers Bella Gaffney (guitar), Holly Brandon (fiddle) and Kate Griffin (clawhammer banjo).
If you like music by bands such as the Whileaways and The Flat Mountain Girls, the Magpies are a shoe-in for your collection. The Magpies’ music is unashamedly Transatlantic with a penchant for the songs and old time music of the Appalachians. Fiddle and clawhammer evoke the sounds of those blue ridges and their choice of songs mirror a love affair that British folk has had with roots Americana for over a century now.
Undertow is a dark contemporary story about drug addiction and the vulnerability of women caught within its spider’s web. The song tells it as it is: “You’re the kind of man that only comes out at night”,  the observation made even more caustic by the simple banjo backing. Things do fill out as the song progresses, its denouement is a declaration of despair; “I can feel the undertow my body is not my own, these bones are not my home…”
The Magpies visit the traditional English song Hares on the Mountain, which was collected by Cecil Sharp; he also searched for songs in Appalachia, the link is therefore less tangential than you might imagine. The Magpies take this slowly in three part harmony with Celtic interludes on the fiddle, a long note held before the interlacing chorus returns. There’s a suspended chord on the second line of the verse which adds a tension to the song, the whole finishing on a musical question-mark.
Now and Then has waves of rolling up-tempo banjo and in-step fiddle with crisp breaks followed by a solo voice, marking the Magpies as creators of sophisticated folk music. The instrumental Colin’s Set reminds me very much of the String Sisters, it’s a showcase for some wonderfully lucid fiddle playing with a change of pace and far more attack as the tune hits its third quarter.
Declan O’Rourke’s Galileo gets the Magpies’ treatment and they close the album with a surprising showstopper: Annie Lennox’s Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This. Check the video for that one on YouTube.
The Children’s Magpie rhyme starts with One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, and these three women bring classy music to tales of joy and sorrow, angst and longing, in an emotionally rich and musically excellent second album.
Seán Laffey

Escape That
Hudson Records, 11 Tracks, 41 Minutes
The cover of Sam Sweeney’s Escape That album shows the fiddler attempting to take off his jumper, a funny picture, but one that hints at the work that has gone into making this landmark album.
Sweeney’s working method has been akin to divesting himself of the warm cover of convention. Instead of learning a new tune or beginning an original composition with a spark of melody, Sweeney has built the tracks here from harmonic ideas. That’s not new, there was a German lad doing it over 200 years ago with his Well-Tempered Klavier, but Sweeney’s ambition is novel when it comes to folk music. Sweeney is no run-of-the-mill fiddler, on track after track that chord first melody last formula pays out dividends. His working method was not to use the fiddle at all for his compositions, working them out first on synths and guitars, finding and refining passages and hooks that would become dance music.
Once he had settled on keepers he translated them to the fiddle, he sums up this as follows: “Escape That is the most ‘me’ music I can imagine making. It ties together my love for traditional dance tunes with my obsession with pop music hooks and textures.” The album features Ben Nicholls (Seth Lakeman, Nadine Shah) on electric and double bass, Jack Rutter on acoustic guitar, Louis Campbell on electric guitars and Dave Mackay (Art Garfunkel, Plini) on keyboards and synthesizers. Sam once again worked with Hudson Records producer Andy Bell (Spell Songs, Bellowhead), and the album was recorded in the hills of South Wales, Stroud and Sheffield.
The opening track Ruby is ushered in with an electric guitar in a resonant sonic space, the fiddle moves in for a few bars, establishing a melodic groove—Sweeney is a veritable hook-master. Pink Steps is a repeated rolling round of mesmerising fiddle over a piano chord sequence. That rolling repetition is key to the dynamic of folk dance, I could see this working effortlessly in a grand circle with hundreds of people orbiting a village square. There are more repetitions of grooves on the title track Escape That with its choppy percussive start point, a motif also applied to Under Gigantic Clouds, where Sweeney’s fiddle take on a Celtic character. There’s more restraint on Feet Together Jump, it takes about 30 seconds for his fiddle to join the party, and building so much anticipation works to the composition’s advantage.
There’s an ambient opening to Yoddin, with sounds from nature before the fiddle takes over, Sam making yet another simple phrase that loops its way through the three minutes of the track. The long intro is also a feature of his final track Don’t Worry /Trains, here there is a distinct change in tempo from the staccato intro to an English sounding fiddle tune.
Sam’s is a novel way of working and from that bold adventure a new set of tunes has emerged. Escape That establishes Sweeney as a lone explorer of the uncharted terra nova of tradition.
Seán Laffey