Wednesday, 31 August 2016


CD Review

New Road

One of Cork's best kept secrets must be Cajun/Americana/zydeco band Two Time Polka. Fronted by hometown boy Ray Barron, the collection of musicians is built around Barron, his wife Geraldine, Aaron Dillon and Dave Jones. 

Aaron Dillon, Geraldine Barron and Ray Barron
who make up part of Two Time Polka
This album has become more of a family affair with Leon and Robbie Barron involved and completing the line up is James O'Sullivan.
If you have never encountered the band either on album or live then you are missing a real treat because they do Americana and Cajun as well as anyone and what's more they do it with gusto and an obvious sense of enjoying every note they play.
New Road gets things off to a flying start with Zydeco Two Step with Dillon's familiar, raspy style of singing giving it that swamp party feel. It's all pushed along with the superb accordion playing of G Barron. This is a song which aims to get the foot stomping and fingers snapping.
R Barron is a maestro on the mandolin and Diadem only gives you a hint of what he is capable of producing. The instrumental from Sam Bush is mixed with concertina, electric and acoustic guitars with some really playful nuances throughout that make it a great piece to listen to. This Cat's On A Hot Tin Roof transports you back to the fifties with the early sound of rock 'n' roll created perfectly mixed in with some swing and a sprinkling of doo wop.
Dillon's change of style creates the perfect atmosphere for the song too.
In Going To Hell as well as providing the vocals, Dillon also wrote his version of a traditional folk murder ballad which tells of a marriage going sour.
It has almost a spiritual feel to it with a strong hint of the Delta blues. There are subtle strands from G Barron on accordion, David Murphy on pedal steel and Dillon on the "bone" which add character and texture to the dark tale.
Dillon is centre stage again for Ay Tete Fee with a track which is almost like a signature style for the band, it's Cajun but with TTP's stamp on it. Dillon provides the main holler lyrics while O'Sullivan provides the call, which are pushed along at a foot-stomping pace by some seriously good accordion playing, blues harp and mandolin. It even has the occasional crashing wave thrown in courtesy of Jones' cymbals.
They slow things right down for Como Llora Una Estrelle. The Venezuelan waltz seems almost like a breather between all the foot stomping and the band get the laid back Latin feel just right.
R Barron puts his spin on a song which claims to be one of the most recorded blues songs around. Baby Please Don't Go has been around since the 1930s and over the years has been covered by Them, Muddy Waters (also with the Rolling Stones), Van Morrison, AC/DC and Aerosmith. So Barron had no mean feat to come up with something fresh.
Here Dillon's slightly muted voice keeps the grit of the song which meshes with the almost lazy execution and the accordion featuring heavily, Barron has lightened up the blues a little to great effect.
The Latin dance is back with El Choclo but this time it's the tango and R Barron gets to flex his fingers on his mandolin and give the tune an almost playful feel while you can just see the Argentinian couples whirling around the dance floor.
The band are back doing what they do best for Woman Or A Man as they put a Cajun coat on the Richard Thompson song. O'Sullivan takes on the vocals and whether intentional or not sounds remarkably like Thompson.
The album goes out on a bit of a damp squib with a Lennon & McCartney song, Across The Universe, which they play as an instrumental. Unfortunately it does have the feel of muzak and is a little incongruous. It seems a strange choice to add to the album and certainly to end an album which have so much verve and character but it's a fact of life sooner or later every musician or band will play something from the acclaimed writing duo.
It would have been good for them to go out with a bang. This aside TTP do Cajun/zydeco so well you can pretty much forgive them anything.

New Road is out now through the band's website and you can catch the band live at the
Appalacian & Bluegrass Music Festival, Ulster American Folkpark, Omagh, Co. Tyrone
on Friday September 2. They will be in the main concert hall with the show starting 10.15pm.
Then on Saturday September 3, the band is on the Folkpark Trail where they will do two sets starting at 2.30 and 5.30pm then the next day they again play two sets this time starting at 1.30 and 4.30pm.
On Friday September 9 you can see them at Sandinos Bar, Water Street Derry. The show starts 10pm and admission is free. Tel: 02871 309297
You can find them at Dunfanaghy Jazz & Blues Festival on September 10 and 11 where first they play Ronnies, Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal. Starting 9pm and again admission is free. Tel: 074 9136101.
The second show is at Molly's Bar, Dunfanaghy, Co. Donegal. Starting 2.30pm. Admission is free. Tel: 074 9100050
They are back on home turf on Friday September 23rd when they play Coughlans Live Music Festival, Douglas Street, Cork. The show starts 10pm and again admission is free.  Tel: 021 4961751
Finally on Saturday September 24 they play the Che do Bheatha Festival, The Greyhound Bar, Kilkee, Co. Clare. Show starts 10pm and admission is free. Tel: 065 9056555.

Sunday, 28 August 2016


CD Review


There is something endearingly genuine about Donald MacNeill as he opens up about his life on Colonsay in what is a musical scrapbook and something of a very personal journey. His storytelling style of singing lies somewhere between Dick Gaughan and Leonard Cohen and the clarity of his vocals and strength of his lyrics draws you into the stories from the first syllable.

Roberto Diana and Donald MacNeill
This new album of songs about his life, family, growing up on a Scottish island and wider world views is a collaboration with Sardinian multi-instrumentalist Roberto Diana.
MacNeill and the renowned guitarist Diana met while he was working on another album in Italy and the story goes that a throwaway remark led to this album.
There is something earthy and honest about MacNeill's songs and the perfect example is the wonderfully titled My Mother Rode Her Motorbike. The song tells of life during the war for his parents and the devastating affects the horrors had on his parents. It's really part one of his musical biographies of his mother and father, the second being Man of the Land.
The latter is a subtle, thought provoking and emotional song which couldn't have been easy to write for MacNeill, let alone record it for the rest of the world to hear, but record it he has and you feel both the regret and kindness in his voice.
They sound very simple tunes but besides MacNeill, Diana plays no less than six instruments with further layers added by Jeff Lewis and Mario Careddu.
No Tears, No Chains is a song of migration which never lived up to expectations. The Darochs left Colonsay to make a new life in Canada but found the depression of the 1920s they were leaving behind had arrived in the new land before them. The simple ballad tells the story of their trials and eventual return to make a life back home in Scotland.
The lyrics are stark, honest and accompanied perfectly by straightforward guitar strumming to add to the dour feel of the story.
MacNeill's island home relies a great deal on tourism but here his song, Solitary Traveller, picks out the visitors who skirt around his home turf but never really add anything to the lives or economy of the small community. It is a low key song with Diana's playing adding much more colour and texture to what is essentially MacNeill having a musical gripe.
Julie and Jennifer Nicholson
Brightest Star is a heart-breaking ballad about Jennifer Nicholson who, aged 24, left for work one morning and the last that was heard of her was a text to her mother Julie. She was the victim of the London terror attack on July 7 2005. MacNeill, accompanied on vocals by his daughter Jen, tries in song to find some comprehension or empathy for what Jennifer's mother felt and continue to live with.
On a much lighter note with The Hall In '59 MacNeill gets all nostalgic for the dances which were such a feature of community life on Colonsay. He narrates a story of islanders putting on their glad rags and all meeting for the social highlight of the week as they danced occasionally to live bands but mostly to records.
MacNeill has a wonderful knack of finding inspiration in the most mundane and ordinary of daily life and The Journey is a perfect example. A simple tale of the one of the few times, as a child, he left the island for the mainland which involved a tractor ride to the ferry. MacNeill's lyrics create a vivid picture of the journey and the full travelling sound which belies the simple trip is something Bruce Springsteen would be proud of.
As a child it obviously made a massive impression on MacNeill for him to relate the experience where he keeps the wonderment and excitement adults often lose in the simple things of life. With Lizzie Brown MacNeill taps into the experience we have all had where one single incident or abstract such a sound or smell can recreate a memory to the point where you can relive it in incredible detail. Following on from the previous track, once again MacNeill takes the ordinary and creates a wonderful song.
The Tractor is of course about the machine but it's also about the people who are around it, who have used it, borrowed it, talked about it, cursed it, thanked it and realised just how important it can be. There is a wonderful nostalgic feel to the music on this track which for many will recall a simpler time.
Home is Where The Dog Is is guaranteed to bring a smile to every listeners' face as MacNeill sings about the domestic life he and his family experienced while living in Wick.
The new album Timeline
His wife would go to work every day leaving MacNeill as head cook and bottle washer.
In his own words this time is "remembered by his then teenage children as the 'freezer years' when they would reheat 'brown surprises' on more than one occasion."
In keeping with making the ordinary entertaining there is a bonus or "Ghost Track" which is simply the sound of mandolin and family voices.
MacNeill has a wonderful knack of making the ordinary and mundane immensely interesting through his songs which are given depth and texture by Diana.
This is an honest and earthy album of a musician sharing his experiences and thoughts.
What's remarkable about it is he doesn't try to embellish them, exaggerate them or try to beat you over the head with them. He simply lays it down as this is how I see things, these are some of my experiences and memories and it's that openness which makes this album so endearing.

Timeline is available now from the artist's website by emailing, Birnam CD Online shop,,, iTunes, Amazon MP3, Google Play and Spotify

Wednesday, 24 August 2016


CD Review


To use a well-worn phrase Mark Harrison has come out of left field. After what he calls a lengthy layoff, he started to listen to music again and it seems what he was listening to was some of the greats of the travelling blues players.

Mark Harrison
Harrison, in his own small way, is carrying on the tradition of legends such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell and Sonny Boy Williamson I to name but a few.
Turpentine is the Londoner's fourth album and he has been making quite an impact on the music scene. 
As you can imagine, there is a wonderful retro feel to his style of blues and the only thing which is missing is the scratches and crackles of the early recordings but other than that it's about as authentic a blues sound as you will find.
Black Dog Moan sets out Harrison's stall and straight away you get that feel of the blues from the depression and dust bowl eras. The twanging sound of his national and 12 string guitars adds to the atmosphere of the song and yet he manages to pour in a modern twist on it including a spiritual sounding organ undertone. 
The track which follows, So Many Bad People(Out There), carries on this style and the sound of his slide guitar gives it authenticity, you can almost see him in a sweltering studio, with a mic the size of a small briefcase cutting the disc as he sings for a few dollars. Hell of a Story has a more modern feel to it, a style you would attribute more to someone like the great Eric Bibb. The clipped percussion adds to the thump of the country/blues feel of the song and even brings memories of songs such as Country House by Blur.
You can't help but think of Robert Johnson when you hear the opening bars of Hardware Store. Harrison's guitar picking is just a sheer delight and you can even enjoy the stomp which keeps things moving. 
The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek is an absolutely cracker of a song. Harrison's voice is not the strongest but it works and fits fantastically with the old style blues he is so good at reproducing. What's more he lets his steel guitar off the leash which is just wonderful to listen to. You hear the bent notes, the blues harp and it makes you yearn for scratchy shellac records again.
Robert johnson
This gives way to In The Dark, which has a stronger rhythm than the previous track and is slightly less bluesy in an obvious way, it has more of the showband sound to it.
Dog Rib has a feel of Ry Cooder about it, certainly in the opening bars it also has a slightly Asian feel to the sound of the strings in this instrumental where there are parts which could easily transfer to the sitar. The percussion comes in strongly to push the music along and gives everybody something to stomp to. 
There is a lighter sound to Dirty Business which has a skiffle feel and it's the kind of track, when played live, would have the whole audience jumping along to the strong beat. Somehow it's got the feel of summers, fairground and festivals attached to it. It also brings memories of Lindisfarne.
With Fade Away you get a chance to enjoy Harrison's wider picking skills on the guitar, the blues feel is far more subtle and he makes it a light and laid-back ballad.
Harrison brings the darker, deeper blues sound back with Next of Kin. The classic blues sound, along with his singing, punches out every note and the more you listen to it the harder you find it to keep your feet from stomping out the rhythm.
Josephina Johnson is another one of those songs that should really be listened to on a 1920s valve radio. It does have that feel of the R Johnson's style bringing a rawness and simplicity to the tune.
With a slightly more commercial sound, Mister Trouble still carries that hopping blues sound which Harrison is so good at producing with his strings.
The new album
The final track, Shake The House, is a good travelling song with the drums keeping everything moving along at a good speed and, like the opener, it does carry that spirit of the original travelling bluesmen.
Harrison knows how to open an album but he also knows how to close one with him throwing almost everything into the finale including a little Cajun sounding accompaniment.
The bluesman has a real talent for recreating the sounds which gave rise to so many modern blues players but he has done it in a way which is both traditional and fresh, and manages to incorporate other styles into the music without diluting the mojo in any way. Harrison clearly displays a love and respect for the genre without being bogged down or frozen in awe of those who have inspired him. For anyone who has a soft spot for the blues then this album just has to be part of their collection and perhaps the only way to improve it would be a spot of time travel.

Turpentine is released on August 26 and is available through the artist's website and usual download sites*Version*=1&*entries*=0

You can catch him live at Tree House Bookshop, 4 The Square Kenilworth, UK CV8 1EB on August 26. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £10. Then on Sunday September 4, starting 7pm, he plays the basement bar at Green Note, 106 Parkway London, UK NW1 7AN. Tickets are £7. On Friday September 9 he plays The Doghouse, Kay Brow Yard, Kay Brow Ramsbottom, UK BL0 9AY. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £6. The following night he will be performing at BAAFest, Brownrigg Lodges, Bellingham Hexham,UK NE48 2HR. Show starts 8pm check the festival website for ticket prices. On September 15 he moves on to South Hill Park Arts Centre, Ringmead Bracknell, UK RG12 7PA. Show starts 8pm tickets are £12 or £10 for members and concessions and there is a meal and show package for £27. He follows this on September 17 with a show at Wychwood Folk Club, The Swan, Shipton Rd, Ascott -U-Wychwood, UK OX7 6AY. The show starts 8pm and tickets are £6 in advance or £8 on the night. The the following night, Sep 18, you can see him at Midland Game Fair, Weston Park Shropshire, UK TF11 8LE. Show starts 8pm and see the venue's website for ticket information.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016


CD Review

Leaf an' Thorn

There is something really comforting and uplifting about listening to Barbara Dymock. The Scottish singer has a style which is about at traditional as it could be and at the same time has the lightness to lift the worst of moods.

Barbara Dymock
The beauty of her style and singing is its simplicity at performing what she describes as her "granny's auld sangs (sic)". Listening to her, on this second album, you get the sense that this is how they have been sung either by the hearth of many a cottage or in the company of fellow drinkers for generations.
Dymock, originally from Fife, seems very much of the "if it ain't broken, don't fix it" school of thought and it works very well.  Remarkably she took a 20 year break from the music circuit to have children and pursue a medical career.
Fortunately she came back to the music and this uncomplicated collection of songs belies the 10 musicians who all contribute to the album and yet never get in the way of Dymock's singing.
Opening with hopping tune of The Gauger she does have the feel of Ange Hardy who with many of her songs has that same simple but effective style. The gentle guitar playing works in perfect harmony with Dymock's soft tones for what is a lovely, light and cheerful song.
Auld Man is a much more thoughtful and slower ballad. However, once again you have the subtle combination of vocals and guitar which they use so well.
This is followed by one of Jez Lowe's compositions, The Brockie Lads and Dymock may have tinkered with the gender of the subjects but it's executed pretty much as Lowe himself has done it. Unlike the opening tracks this time Dymock is accompanied by Christopher Marra on harmonies and melodica.
Violet Jacob
The title of the album is taken from The Brig, a poem by Violet Jacob, which is one of two Marra has set to music the first being The Heid Horseman. This time Dymock's gentle tones are softly accompanied by Jenny Hanson on fiddle and there is even the odd hint of dobro from Marra too.
Dymock and Marra worked together on their arrangement of Katy Cruel which has all the feel of a madrigal, the choppy lyrics are given character by the mandolin of Marra with the soft intervention of Rosie Lindsay on recorder.
The Earl of Errol is one of those songs which so traditional it reminds you of so many other songs none of which you can pin down. Dymock's gentle Scottish accent has the perfect light touch for this child ballad which has a jaunty rhythm.
The Brig is the second of the poems adapted for the album and despite it's title it does have light sound. however Dymock's style of singing on this track has the feeling of prayer. Again there is the simple stripped down combination of the vocals and guitar which work so well.
Dymock's singing takes on a much stronger Scottish twang for Tibbie Fowler which is not entirely surprising when you consider, along with Auld Man, is the second of two songs gleaned from Robert Burns.
Following this is a lament in Lord Yester where Dymock takes on the tones reminiscent of Maddy Prior with a clear and emotional singing style which  really brings the subject of the ballad to life.
With a title like Dainty Doonby you have to expect a tune you can stomp your feet too and Dymock doesn't disappoint. What's more just when you thought you were going to get away with a Scottish traditional album that didn't have accordion playing along comes Luke Brady to pep things up.
The New album
The Banks of Inverurie is a luxurious and thoughtful song with Dymock again using the light touch of her voice to tell the tale. The longest track on the album at just over six minutes is the penultimate song, Usher's Well, which has a much more modern interpretation.
It has the feel of a song you would expect to hear on Later With Jools Holland with a laid back but strong percussion strand and performed in what is close to a jazz club style.  The final track is Helen of Kirkconnel and is Dymock a Capella.
If you come from a Celtic background this style of singing will bring all sorts of memories flooding back of aunties or uncles, or grandparents around the fire at family gatherings and everyone listening in silence to the lone voice.
If you are into traditional Scottish music that is mostly un-tampered with then Leaf an' Thorn is the motherload. Dymock has a solid, light and thoroughly genuine style of singing and her way of letting the music and lyrics tell the tales is highly commendable and enjoyable.

Leaf an' Thorn is out now through the singer's website and download sites.

You can see Dymock and Marra live at the Whitby Folk Festival, Yorkshire which runs from August 20 to 26. She will be appearing on four days over the festival so check their website for times and ticket information.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016


CD review


It doesn't matter where you are in the world or where you come from, be warned, if you listen to this album you are at serious risk of being compelled to wear tartan and prefix your surname with Mac. This album is deliberately as Scottish as the foundations of Edinburgh Castle and fresh winds stirring the heather in the highlands.

Ian Smith, Alain Campbell, Andrew Findlater
and Seonaidh MacIntyre who are Trail West
Trail West is Alain Campbell, Andrew Findlater, Ian Smith and Sonaidh MacIntyre who all originate from the Hebrides and it's their roots on the isles of Tiree and South Uist which has inspired their love of ceilidh music.
This is not the album for those who like the sedate lifestyle, this is a collection of mostly blood stirring, toe-tapping, cobweb-blowing music. It's there to make people want to get up and dance right from the title track which opens the album. Smith's skill on the accordion is the lead for Rescattermastered which comes at you like the Flying Scotsman and it's best if you jump on for the musical ride.
Smith really gets a chance to show of his impressive finger skills with a pretty much solo performance, roughly halfway through the track. It's backed up by the strong percussion of Findlater.
MacPherson's Rant is a great traditional tune telling the story of James MacPherson, a feared outlaw who was captured by, of all things, a blanket and is said to have composed the tune the night before he was hanged.
The ballad is pretty upbeat for such a macabre tale of death and the percussion gives it a militaristic feel. This gives way to a much gentler ballad sung in Gaelic, Eilean Uibhist Mo Rúin. Once again the accordion leads the way with the whistle adding a very subtle hint of colour. The band pick the pace up again for Iain Lamont's which is a triplet of tunes  Bernard Smith of Tiree, Chalky Langley of Tiree and Old Toasty.
The last tune was taught to the band by Lamont which is why they named the suite after him. Once again it's dance time with the fast-paced ceilidh tune gathering momentum as it progresses, pushed along by a range of instruments not least of which is the bagpipes. John Henry is a touch of Americana that will be familiar to many people. It been covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, Harry Belafonte, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger. It's a traditional tune and tells the story of man versus machine.
John Henry
Trail West's version puts a Gaelic twang to it and could hold its own against any previous versions. This is followed by a set of four traditional tunes under the banner Sing-A-Long Gàidhlig Waltzes which pulls together a host of musicians and you get the feel of  an impromptu session which was great craic.
Another triplet comes along for On The Tear! with Richard Dwyer's, The Goat Island and The Harsh February. This died-in-the-wool ceilidh with, once again, the accordion taking centre stage drives the tunes over the top of the percussion with such gusto you can almost see the locals flying around the community dance hall.
Another song covered many times, perhaps most emphatically by The Fisherman's Friends. The difference is Trail West's version is as much about the music as the voices. The tune has some real meat as the percussion hammers it along defying you to keep your feet still. As if to give the listener time to get their breath back, Homes of Donegal slows things down as the ballad is a simple song about the people met along life's journey.
The words are set to a very familiar and traditional tune. Once again the listener is given four for the price of one with Highland Schottische (sic). The tunes are once again the staple of dance nights for lovers of the traditional ceilidh they do exactly what they say on the tin with Smith's accordion leading the way.
You can forget any stereotypes of the Scottish being stingy as Trail West generously lavish tune after tune following with another triplet under Here We Go Aflat.
These come at you with the bagpipes marching at the front like they are off to battle. MacIntyre gets his chance to shine and keep everyone on their toes with rapid tune.
The new album
Maraiche Nan Cuantan is another Gaelic song this time from the beautifully soft voice of Kathleen MacInnes. The thoughtful ballad is dedicated to the composer Flora MacPhail who taught three of the band members.
The album ends with what starts as a gentle and upbeat tune, Close To Home where the band are joined by the composer Malcolm Jones. Gradually it builds to the big finale with what else but the bagpipes leading the way, just in case you had forgotten this is an album about Scotland.
Along with bands such as Skerryvore, Trail West are part of a resurgence in traditional Scottish music which seems to reaching further and further with each new album that is released, and is carrying the banner on from groups such as Capercaillie and Runrig.
What's more the "new wave" of musicians who are keeping their roots strongly in the traditional music are doing what many thought was impossible - making bagpipe music cool.
Trail West are without doubt fine ambassadors for traditional Scottish music which comes from the deep roots of their country.

Rescattermastered is out now on Tyree Records.

You can see the band live throughout August at Islay Show Dance: Bowmore Hall, Islay on the eleventh. The music runs from 10pm to 1am, admission is £8 and under-18s must be accompanied by an adult. Proof of age will be required at the door. Then on August 19 McCaig’s Return, Oban followed on 26-27th at Cowal Highland Gathering, Dunoon.

Saturday, 6 August 2016


CD Review

Picking Up The Pieces

Last year The Changing Room released their first full album, Behind The Lace, which was a cracker of a disc, not least because of the distinctive and emotive singing of Sam Kelly and the incredibly moving lyrics of Tanya Brittain whose composition, I'll Give You My Voice, was without doubt one of the highlights of 2015.

Sam Kelly and Tanya Brittain
So they have set themselves a high benchmark for their new album which features, reassuringly, the old team but this time with the help of Belinda O'Hooley and John McCusker. Along with Jamie Francis, Evan Carson, Morrigan Palmer Brown and Boo Hewerdine TCR have come up with another totally enjoyable collection of songs including some sung in their native Cornish.
The songs on the album show a great collection of musicians but what is becoming obvious is the solid talent of Brittain and Kelly as a really impressive songwriting team.
This album carries pretty much the same character as its predecessor where once again the songs drip with local folklore, history and soul. The opener Caradon Hill is about the harsh life faced by miners and their families. Straight away the listener is introduced to the trembling sound of Kelly’s voice with Brittain providing the harmony on the refrains. There is a lovely strand of colour added by McCusker on the whistle. There is a great beat to Zephaniah Job as they change roles with Brittain taking centre stage and Kelly taking the role on harmonies. Carson provides the percussion which drives the song about the character who is a man who can and not always in a legitimate way. McCusker’s fiddle opens the slower track, The Grayhound with Francis laying down gems on the banjo underneath Kelly’s warm tones. 
From left Morrigan Palmer Brown,
Tanya Brittain, Sam Kelly,
Jamie Francis and Evan Carson.
The Changing Room
The song tells the tale of the ship, its crew and their questionable activities. Brittain sings the ballad Bal Maiden’s Waltz which is a lovely, layered song with Kelly providing the harmonies and the distinct picking of the cittern which is all caught up in the flowing strings of both McCusker and McGuire.
This gives way to the haunting sound of Gwrello Glaw (Let It Rain) which is sung beautifully in Cornish by Kelly. The song is given centre stage as the musicians around him willingly take a backseat while providing the tapestry of sound which makes the track so memorable. The band pick up the pace for The Cinder Track which has very much the feel of Americana with Francis’ banjo adding real character.
This is among the best tracks on the album and is likely to get toes tapping along. Koh-I-Noor, written by Hewerdine, is performed by a stripped down version of the band with just Kelly, Brittain and Francis providing the impressive sounds of what is quite a sombre track.
The full line up return for the second of the songs in Cornish. Kelly and Brittain bring the light tune to life with their voices.
The tune is extremely pleasant and made all the more so by the gentle plucking of Palmer Brown as her harp adds flashes of musical interest throughout.
There is a definite mountain sound to Tie ‘Em Up which is a song about being sold out.
There is a harsher Fisherman’s Friend style from Kelly with Francis giving a strong bluegrass-style beat on the banjo.
The new album
Another haunting song comes from Brittain and Kelly who is this time accompanied solely by O’Hooley on the piano where her precise notes add a definite depth of character to the ballad.
The album goes out with a died-in-the-wool folk song, It’s All Downhill From Here. 
Cleverly the tune is new yet sounds incredibly familiar and contains memory shots of so many other traditional songs which you can never quite put your finger on.
It is however, a great song to go out on almost as if the band are putting a rubber stamp on their folk pedigree.
Kelly and Brittain are developing into an incredible songwriting partnership.
They have a way of recreating the world they inhabit and understand through local history and traditions and turning it into fine songs which will be sung and re-sung by generations of folk singers. However, this said a big part of their work is brought to life by the quality of the musicians with which they are surrounded. There is no two ways about it TCR are among the best folk bands around at the moment.

Picking Up The Pieces is released on August 12 on their own label. You can get the album from the band’s website and the usual download sites.

You can catch the band live with the launch of their album on August 12 at Riverside Church, The Quay, West Looe, Cornwall. The show starts 8pm and tickets are £11.49. They will then go on to play at Looe Music Festival, Looe, Cornwall.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016


CD Review

First Impression

You can't say you don't get your money's worth when it comes to musical journeys with Scottish duo Paul Chamberlain and Michael Haywood as their debut album takes in much of Europe and farther afield while showing absolutely no respect for musical boundaries.

Michael Haywood and Paul Chamberlain
Both musicians are award-winners and come from a classical background but to differing degrees, each has turned to the dark side and ventured into the realm of folk and world music.
Chamberlain plays the accordion and Haywood the sax, fiddle, whistle and clarinet and they have set out to explore the ranges of their instruments in a varied pool of cultural music.
The album opens with a traditional Russian tune, Shalakho which is actually a pair of tunes that scream eastern Europe. The lively bounce of Haywood's fiddle and the pumpah pumpah of his colleagues bellows makes this a wonderful first track. Staying over that side of Europe they continue with another pair of tunes Po Vijnë Krushqit/Gankino Horo the first being a modernised version of a traditional Albanian wedding tune followed by an extremely lively Bulgarian folk dance where it keeps the pace going with the accordion to give it the signature sound, while Haywood, using the clarinet, gives the dance that eastern twang. The musical journey lands in South America for Tanti Anni Prima where the duo have adapted the slow and thoughtful tune with Chamberlain replacing the piano part with his accordion.
The pair hop back to Europe for the next track, Traces of Thrace, which comes with a mash up of Greek, Bulgarian and Turkish influences which are all distinguishable within the piece. The tune does have a fractured quality which adds to the overall feel and contributes to the modern overtones on the traditional score.
Unmistakably Hungarian, the next piece from Brahms, Hungarian Dance No2 in Dm, gives Haywood a chance to let his fiddle skills off the leash as well giving the listener a chance to understand just what a talented musician he really is.
Chamberlain takes centre stage for the traditional Serbian tune Zikino Kolo. It's a dance tune with some real pace and will give anyone a run for their money in trying to keep up with the tempo his bellows set.
The portmanteau titled Afropean is a jazz tune which was written by Courtney Pine and the clarinet and accordion make it a fun tune to listen to. The duo bring the listener back to Hungary for probably one of the most famous pieces associated with the country. Monti's Czardas is a typical gypsy-style dance tune which starts off slowly but soon builds up to get the dancing muscle pumping.
Viking chessmen
They build the tension with the fiddle and accordion to where, if you were in a dance hall, your feet would be itching to get going.
Then they bring it down to start the build up all over again, it's a great piece of music wonderfully played with the occasional whiff of jazz thrown in.
They bring it back to Haywood's homeland in Scotland for a triplet of Gentle Giant, Blue Eel Reel - which Hayward composed - and Pressed For Time.
These three traditional tunes begin with some deliciously light and dancing flute music from Haywood with the accents of staccato sounding breaths added by Chamberlain. The playing just gets better and better as Haywood gets a chance to show what a fine flautist he is and you get out of breath just listening to him.
What follows is another triplet inspired by the Lewis Viking Chessmen from the 12th century which were discovered in the Outer Hebrides. The Chessmen Suite consists of Approaching, Camas Uig and Unmasked which is the interlopers arriving in the isles, Camas Uig is the beach where the chessmen were found and the final part is a celebration of the discovery of the pieces. It has a slow, languorous quality as the tune tells the story of how these chess pieces came to be here in the modern world.
The debut album
France is the next port of call with the duo's version of Tango Pour Claude. This piece of jazz indulgence has a definite French accent and wouldn't be out of place as a soundtrack to a Francois Truffaut film. The accordion especially gives you a feel of Mont Martre with everyone laid back and letting the sound wash over them. The duo's final offering comes in four parts, like a musical cocktail three parts Russian and one part Jewish. Troika, Katyusha, Kalinka and Hava Nagila.
This is a set of tunes which defies your feet to keep still, with the exception of Katyusha which tells of a young woman longing for the return of her lover from war, in places it will sound incredibly familiar to many listeners. It's a fitting end to an eclectic collection of world exploring music.
While many of the tracks are died-in-the-wool traditional tunes Haywood and Chamberlain have achieved their goal of giving them a modern feel without taking away the soul and essence of the music. Their skill as musicians is incredible and for that alone the album is worth listening to.

First Impressions is available now from the duo's website and through download at amazon, iTunes, cdbaby

Tuesday, 2 August 2016


CD Review


There is so much good fiddle music out there in the folk universe at the moment with musicians such as Seth Lakeman, Aly Bain, Phil Beer, Blazin Fiddles, Nancy Kerr and Alastair Savage, to name but a few, that listeners are spoiled for choice. So to stir the mix even more come two excellent exponents of the stringed instrument and what's more they come with a twist.

Erik Rydvall and Olav Luksengård Mjelva
Erik Rydvall and Olav Luksengård Mjelva, who is also involved in Sver and The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc, play keyed harp fiddle and hardanger fiddle respectively and, as you can probably guess from their names, they come with a Scandinavian pedigree with Rydvall bringing Swedish traditions to the table and Mjelva Norwegian.
The duo may not be so well known further south but in their own part of the world, and much wider, they are highly respected and award-winning musicians.
Music produced by the two instruments is highly distinctive from the traditional fiddle and are not necessarily natural companions to each other, so it's no mean feat Rydvall and Mjelva have brought them together with such harmony and interesting compositions.
Opening with Akademikpolska which was composed by Eric Sahlström in the 1960s to mark an award given to him by King Gustav VI.
The music has real movement and although it's the polka style, you can almost see the land passing by either through the window of a train or horseback. It's hard not to get caught up in the Four Seasons-style pace of the piece. The two instruments seem to produce music beyond themselves giving a feel of there being more players than the duo.
Storebråten is an elegant piece which lends itself to flowing movements be it on the dance floor or just in interpretation. The way the pair weave the notes in and out of each other's instruments is fascinating to hear.
What follows is Polska efter Dahlfors which opens pizzicato giving the piece a sombre feel before it moves to a lighter cadence that somehow carries a middle eastern flavour in the notes.
Keyed harp fiddle
Langåkern has real antiquity to it with a more much broken sound than the previous offerings almost as if it was improvised by the two players. This is followed by Hjaltaren inspired by the Vikings and is the old Norse word for Shetland. The piece does have a depth of sound and the repeat comes over you like Ravel's Bolero. Even though there are no words, in the true folk tradition, Gro Gudmundsrud carries the story of emigration and the hardship it can bring. You feel the stages expressed in the playing from the lighter opening of the marriage to the darker events in Iowa and the subsequent tragedies. This gives way to Morfars Schottis a personal and light tune written by Rydvall for his grandfather and is one of those tunes onto which you can project your own emotions as the two instruments play out a fairly complex and enjoyable dance.
Nödåret is another tune which represents a folk staple as it tells the tale of a long harsh winter and failed crops, alluding to a year of famine in 1867/8. The sombre tones of the duo create a brooding and ominous atmosphere as the year progresses from deep frosts to blazing summer and eventually the failed harvest. The weather is also at the centre of Vårdroppar and the duo's string play capture perfectly the drama of the sunshine which becomes a storm but then returns to the sun. Rotnheims-Knut is in two parts, fusing the traditional style of the tune with its newer counterpart. The notes are bold and the pace kept strong throughout the two rounds.
What follows is another polksa this time Storpolskan, efter Byss-Calle this has the lightness of touch you would expect from a dance tune and the gentle use of the bow on occasion give it the feel of a hoedown.
The title character at the centre of Sølve Knut was a fishnet maker and fiddle player. The strong notes and complex harmonising of the two instruments give this piece real character perhaps to match that of the subject. Vals etter Tor Grimsgard is a lovely lilting piece that has a real light touch and humour about it and through their string play produces several strands of emotion.
Skinntrøya is a simple tale of men sitting drinking and playing fiddle when a young maiden walks in upon the throng and is immediately taken up for a dance. The tune again has that broken improvised feel about it which is part of the recognised style the duo employ to move the tale along.
The new album
The final track on the album is Våstermarnspolskan and inspired by a great tale in the folk tradition. The story goes that the fiddle player of the tale loved a farm girl but her father rejected him as a suitor not wanting a musician for a son-in-law, however, rather cruelly he was asked to play for his love's wedding and this doleful tune is the one he composed for the couple. It does have a real sorrow to it and the ending just slips gently into melancholy, creating a great end to really class album.
If you are not familiar with the keyed-harp or hardanger fiddles then this is a good album to get into them. The expertise of Rydvall and Mjelva bring out the best of the unusual vocabulary the instruments enjoy. The instruments have a distinct sound that is full of character and which is, of course, brought out by the duo's wonderful mastery of the fiddles.

Vårdroppar is available now through the duo's website.

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