Releases > Releases July 2021

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Tam Records TAM002, 15 Tracks, 53 Minutes
A droning hurdy-gurdy weaves its way under the opening track Jenny Nettles from this stylish young singer. We head to the North East of England for Elsie Marley, a fiddle underpinning Anna’s bouncy high-pitched rendition of this traditional song, which soon breaks out into a dance tune with jingly tambourine and plucky banjo from her dad Ray Chilton. Tarry Trousers is served in choppy phrases from a very English echoing fiddle.
Anna’s voice is double tracked on a pure a cappella set of verses of Robert Tanahill’s, The Braes of Balquhidder, the prototype of the Wild Mountain Thyme. The second half of the song has an understated accompaniment before closing on a richly sonorous Viola Da Gamba drone.
Anna turns to the nyckelharpa for the well-known song Fear an Bhata, again her voice ascends above the sympathetic accompanying instrument. She turns to pizzicato playing for her version of I Know My Love, embellishing some of the phrases with extra cascades of notes. The string playing on Let No Man Steal Your Thyme is of another dimension, far more complex, more independent, adding to the musical tension within the song’s warning title. She Moved Through The Fair showcases her unadorned voice, classical in both its timbre and phrasing, characterised by long high notes effortlessly held. Her own composition The Goblet ends the album, joined by fiddler Richard Irwin; for me the piece conjures up life in a 17th century tavern.
The album comes with succinct but fascinating liner notes, a mention of the real Elsie Marley, the background to the writing of Fear an Bhata and the collecting of the Unquiet Grave. And a true bonus, the song words are also included in a very easy to read font. Anna Tam is a find.
Seán Laffey

Anam Communications CADCD007, 12 Tracks, 39 Minutes
Songs make for a lasting bond of kinship, more than that as the jazz analyst Adam Neely has said, music makes you feel feelings but songs make you feel thoughts. Here are songs that have been shared experiences in their own right, songs cherished by both sides of this couple’s families.
Brian has a deep voice, Fionnag’s is much lighter, and she’d be at home singing Appalachian ballads in the high mountain style. She visits that territory on the moonshining song, Copper Kettle, with its glorious harmonies; it’s probably my favourite track on the album, although My Singing Bird comes close. Brian’s father, Aidan, collected the first track Pat Murphy’s Meadow whilst he was resident in Newfoundland and the meadow in question was a vantage point to watch icebergs float south in the spring. Brian’s mother and father, Aidan and Joyce add vocals to the chorus of this song.
Brian takes us back to his family’s Donegal roots with a classic rendition of Nil Sé Ina Lá; a simple drone underplays Brian’s deep voice, as he relates the woes of a late night drinker. Their Gaelic translation An t-Uisge/The Water is turned into a macaronic song; I get a feeling of the Beautiful South in their interpretation of Johnny Flynn’s song.
The couple combine their voices on the Gaelic Ho Ró Gun Togainn air Húgan Fhasthast, Brian taking the verses, with Fionnag joining in on the chorus along with the small pipes of Anna Murray. Fionnag is the lead on An Téid Thu Lesma Mhairi, the bass adding a moving roundness to the sound. As for the soundscape, Innes White their producer has developed one of the most appealing acoustic albums of the year. The final track Soraidh Leis a’ Bhreacain Ur is sung by their 16 year old daughter Orla; she is both confident and clear, another generation carrying the living stream of songs from gathering to gathering, proof if you need it that this is a work of deep cultural importance.
Do visit their website. It’s an exemplar of how to promote and inform listeners, the artwork by Rachael Forbes is stunning. The words of all the songs are presented in an easily read font, with explanations and translations. The care given over this aspect of the album is a model for every artist who has something to say and sing about.
Seán Laffey

Own Label, 9 Tracks, 37 Minutes
Two top class musicians from Clare who should need no introduction, Tara Breen on fiddle and Pádraig Rynne on concertina, here linked with Jim Murray on guitar, Dónal Lunny on bouzouki & bodhrán and on one track Hats Off To Dod / The Chestnut Tree / Byrne’s Mill with Elaine Hogan on Harp.
Pádraig and Tara may be based in Clare, but their musical palettes take in many more colours: including tunes from Asturias, Scotland, and a trip to Donegal for John Dohertys. No matter how far from the home port they ship, there is still a Clare lilt in their playing. Wake Up To Cape Breton is more Miltown than Mabou for instance. That track also showcases Dónal Lunny at his joyous best. Thanks to the attentive production from Pádraig, Dónal’s bouzouki isn’t hidden deep in the mastered sound, on numerous tracks it calls out the rhythm and we can clearly hear how the music is built from the ground up. Then there’s Jim Murray’s guitar, a string contrast to Lunny’s zook, Jim’s work is more emotional, making the most of the bottom end of the instrument, Jim and Pádraig combining magically on the opening salvo in the triptych of St Mat / Ricardo Portela / Pasuscais D’Amieva.
On track after track there is something on this album for every player, whether you prefer lead, harmony or chops, there’s an impressive array of music to devour here; this is base camp and beyond. And beyond it being a thoroughly enjoyable album, it’s a terrific resource, especially if you are considering forming a band or working with a traditional ensemble. The final track is a lesson in itself, opening with the two melody instruments playing note for note on the Coolfin Slide moving into Ocean Walk and ending on a spirited version of The Scartaglen. This quartet gives me the feeling there are dozen of litres of petrol left in the tank; thank goodness I could link it back and loop this CD time after time.
Seán Laffey

Own label MUNA004, 5 Tracks, 21 Minutes
Short and sweet, a collection of well known songs and tunes by this singer and flute player from Kerry: Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh has been a part of the group Danú for many years and has featured in numerous TV programmes including the roving series Port. Her previous solo albums mixed songs in Irish and English, and this selection does likewise: Cad É Sin Don Té Sin, Tá’n Coileach Ag Fógairt An Lae and Do Bhí Bean Uasal in Irish - the last is the same melody as Carrickfergus or The Water is Wide - while The Bay of Biscay is an English seafaring ballad. The final piece Sí Bheag, Sí Mhór is very popular as an air and session tune, and although I knew Carolan wrote words to it, I don’t think I’ve ever heard them before: they are an unexpected treat here.
Two aspects of this recording stand out for me. The first is the huge range of Muireann’s voice, from low and smoky to high and clear like a trumpet: hers is a mature voice, strong and supple, which effortlessly hits the high notes. The second is the purity and tone of the vocals: as well as clear diction and superb intonation, there’s a very satisfying consistency of voice quality across two octaves and more. As an outstanding exponent of flute and whistle, Ms Nic Amhlaoibh puts those elements into the arrangements: she is joined by accomplished accompanists Gerry O’Beirne on guitars and Dónal O’Connor on fiddle and keyboards, weaving a nest around the songs and adding instrumental breaks. Neadú means “nesting” of course, and Muireann has taken advantage of her nesting time to produce a lovely body of work.
Alex Monaghan

The Orcadians of Hudson Bay
RUMSO2CD, 11 Tracks, 43 Minutes
The Orcadians of Hudson Bay is Graham Rorie’s newly composed suite of music, an elegant homage to the people of the Orkney Islands who travelled to Canada in the 18th and 19th centuries, like a lot of immigrants, looking to improve their life prospects, working for the fur trading outfit, Hudson’s Bay Company.
This beautifully crafted, original work is lyrical, innovative and in the pattern of voyages has lovely, complicated twists and turns, melodies that dip and dive, swerve and swell in the hands of Rorie and his orchestra of incredibly talented musicians; James Lindsay bass, Kirstan Harvey fiddle, Párduig Morrison on accordion, Rory Matheson on piano and Signy Jakobsdottir on percussion. No surprise that the show was nominated for ‘Original work of the year’ at the MG Alba Scots trad music award.
The Red River, inspired by an area many of the Orcadians lived is a fabulous tune; a foot stomping, petticoat swirling, dust and hair flying celebratory one, opposite to the sadness and loss heard in the tone of The Last Calling Port, a tribute to the town of Stromness, the last stop for the ships on route from London to Hudson Bay, immense possibility for those boarding, loss for those left behind. The Isobel, named for a ship, is a sweet, plaintive piece, fiddle and piano beautifully arranged.
In the final track Giving Back, Rorie memorialises the ones who left but did not forsake their origins; Magnus Twatt, William Tomison and James Tait, philanthropists who supported education on the Orkneys. This tune illuminates all the possibilities, the very best musical expression of two traditions integrated; the aural Scottish tradition and the classical, with percussion, very nice!
Highly imaginative, stylish in composition, musically, culturally, historically important for all Orcadians and richly deserved of awards for its creator, Graham Rorie.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Under The Same Sky
Invisible Folk Club, 11 Tracks, 46 Minutes
Jon Bickley and the Invisible Folk Club band have made Under the Same Sky, an album of mostly original songs, nature poems set to music, chant and journey songs. Their goods are laid out on the cover with dreamy verse reference to Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress and the composer Bickley in contemplative, writer pose.
The Rain it Raineth every day sets a playful mood, with blues-y violin, a charming song; ‘the sky is crying ‘cos the earth is hurting so bad’, laying the blame with God for sending the flood that is ‘here to stay’. The album is an eclectic mix, unpredictable at times, like the weather but nicely so, the natural world is celebrated, strong earthy rhythms, light and dark, with literary and actual rain references throughout.
It is a joyful and light sound-scape, good musicianship and singing; I Can Hear Voices is a melodic, ethereal woman-chant interspersed with rain sound, a beautifully meditative piece, and effortless harmonies in Beside Me. One of the great oldies Carrickfergus is pared right back with just guitar accompaniment, brilliant playing, Bickley’s interpretation, his timing and cadence, make it a superb rendition. Ghostly ambience and mood in Into the Woods, the woman’s lilting voice sweet, warm and flourishing, violin to the fore as it is in Call The Sun, a fine catchy melody here.
Richard Eyre on slide guitar, Diana Stone on violin, singers Alexandra Reynelds and Annette Burrows, Bob Templeman on guitar, with poet and composer Jon Bickley on guitar and lead vocals, together they form The Invisible Folk Club band.
Appealing to a wide mix of tastes, Under The Same Sky is refreshingly original, good textures and harmonies, good heart and humour, it crosses an array of genres and once live performances begin again, this band should be one to watch out for.
Anne Marie Kennedy

The Fruitful Fells
JDHCD004, 14 Tracks, 62 Minutes
Fruitful Fells is the latest work from Jez Hellard and the Djukella Orchestra; with great sweeping songs, socio-political themes with passionate commentary, really compelling vocals and accompaniments, richly layered, it places them towards the top in the folk music genre.
Hellard and his band mates are also comfortable stretching the boundaries, with a great sea shanty mid-spine; Big Steamers is a rousing ode to the great steam ships, rhyming, tonally perfect, repetitive phrasing, the male a-capella voices are tremendous.
Robbie Burns’ pastoral poem Now Westlin Winds (1786) is beautifully rendered, with Jez’s guitar and Nye Parsons outstanding contribution on double bass throughout, Piotr Jordan’s violin playing is exquisite here. An A list poem, nature’s balm to farmer and rover; ‘…every kind their pleasure find, the savage and the tender.’ It’s the source of the album’s title too.
‘Savage and tender’ could also apply to Foodbanks and Ferraris, by Sally Ironmonger and Brian Carter, a gripping social conscience song and more. The writers see ‘the profits go to the men at the top…the robber barons in their fortified towers’. Man’s inhumanity, inequality, classism, the injustice of privilege, savagely and tenderly sung, and further portrayed in a graphic, sleeve note photo of a broken man, cup in hand, begging. Ewan Bleach on clarinet and Tommie Black-Roff on accordion add rich melancholic textures, Mike West’s harmonies are perfect.
Jez Hellard’s rendition of Ewan MacColl’s The Joy of Living is a standout; vocally, instrumentally, taken in a literary context, making sense of human existence; the old hiker giving the nod to mortality, bidding farewell to the hills, let his ashes be fed to the wind, to immortalise him when he will become ‘part of the curlew’s call’. Hellard is brilliantly celebrating MacColl’s legacy here, and indeed this new work, Fruitful Fells could become a vital trajectory in his own musical legacy.
Anne Marie Kennedy

Red Deer Records, 6 Tracks, 43 Minutes
The man behind the bun behind the bass - Duncan Lyall is normally to the side, or in the shadows, working his magic at the lower end of the mix, down in the dirty groove - but not on Milestone. Here he is front and centre, composer, arranger, performer, producer. Lyall’s synth sounds are the backbone of six sizable pieces, fleshed out by the fabulous talents of his Glasgow buddies: Patsy Reid, Lori Watson, Jarlath Henderson, Angus Lyon and more. From his history with Croft Number Five, Treacherous Orchestra, Kate Rusby and Damien O’Kane and more, you would expect great things - and you wouldn’t be disappointed. Surprised perhaps, but generally in a good way: this album ranges far beyond Scottish or even Northern European folk, although much of it is still distinctly Scottish.
The opening keyboard theme put me in mind of Debussy, and that relaxed but controlled mood persists throughout the track, becoming more Celtic (Sibelius perhaps?) but still staying on the classical side of folk, ELP or Bo Hansson creeping in with the synthesiser lines. Barnacarry Bay continues the mix of ambient sounds and synth, with a clear folk thread from low whistle and fiddle, plus a good helping of the electro-punk mayhem associated with Croft and Treacherous music, and a touch of Knopfler-style guitar to hold it all together. Lori Watson’s suitably gloomy vocals make the Border ballad Twa Corbies stand out, a web of woven samples supporting her grim words. Then the band kicks in - pipes through a glass of darkness (aren’t they always), backing vocals, chorus effects, more keys than you can shake a bunch of keys at - a cheerful madness.
The cover photo reminded me of the unexplained metal obelisk found in Utah in 2020, and there is a lot on Milestone which is unexplained. Much of it seems to have sprung raw from Duncan’s mind, and been shaped by his musician friends: the rabbit-inspired Roli with its relatively unprocessed pipes and fiddles, trance-like loops and synth-sax solos, percussion still pounding at the creative forge, or the even more enigmatic Z, born of frustration and formed into a musical scream of passion, demanding to be heard. There’s a big sound on every track - not all the way through, as gentle keyboard and strings interject, but this is a heavyweight album, there’s so much going on, it’s easy to drown in the detail. Coming up for air, I can surf on the final Titans, an island wave that curls and keeps on curling, funky written all over the board as bass riffs and guitar solos slide across the surface. I’m winging it now, I admit, but the music keeps me afloat until the final break, and then the wave is gone with a gentle farewell kiss. Glorious.
Alex Monaghan