Tuesday, March 21, 2017

New Music 2017 - Part 13 - Oka Vanga - Dance Of The Copper Trail

Thanks to many people, not least the band, this is the next in a series of posts about new music that has grabbed my attention for all the right reasons.

Oka Vanga - Dance Of The Copper Trail (Crazy Bird Records, 31 March 2017).

Oka Vanga - Dance of The Copper Trail:
  • The Wicken Tree
  • Capercaille
  • Ashes To The Wind
  • She Moved Through The Fair
  • Don't Let The Clouds Roll In
  • The Devil's Tide
  • Song of the River
  • Rose of the Hill
  • My Sweet Guitar
  • Out Of The Fire
  • This Train
The heart of this duo is husband and wife Angela Mayer and William Cox, the former from South Africa and the latter from London, but what you get here goes far beyond anything that those facts might begin to reveal. This is their second LP, following 'Pilgrim' of 2014 that was instrumental. If songwriting and singing talent was hidden under a bushel then, neither is the case any longer! This album also features Patsy Reid from Scotland on fiddle and also Oliver Copeland on double bass. The variety in the songs is just about perfect.
'The Wicken Tree' is a new revelation of many an old theme; 'She Moved Through The Fair' is a song about as venerable as any that can be reliably traced - the air is likely of mediaeval origin and may have origins in the music of south-eastern Europe. Regarded as of Irish Tradition numerous versions, yet still recognisable as such, are to be found throughout the folk canon of the British Isles and especially so in the Romany communities of Ireland as well as further afield, particularly North America.
The lyric is usually adapted to fit the place and circumstance so it is probably rather recent by comparison. It has been serially adopted by players and singers wherever have found themselves, often far away from their native home, and this elective mutability is another key attribute of folk tradition.
You could 
sing about the hardships of cod fishing on the Newfoundland Banks when stuck in drought-stricken Oklahoma during the years of the dust bowl and depression, if only for the sake of remembrance. Most likely you would still sing but also about things more immediate and pressing.

One of my particular favourites, given just a couple of listens through the whole album so far, is 'The Devil's Tide'.
I'm wondering if this has subconsciously to do with the fact that last week was the fiftieth anniversary of the disaster that was the wreck and foundering of the oil tanker 'Torrey Canyon' off the SW coast of Cornwall on 18 March 1967. The French called the shoreline pollution that the spill caused "la marée noire" - the black tide.  It is in fact about a quite different peril 
on the high seas - piracy -  and in this case a female pirate from Co. Cork, Ireland!

Here is the aforementioned 'She Moved Through The Fair' performed live:



There is also a song about the plight of coal miners 'Rose Of The Hill' and one about railways 'This Train', so that has most of my folk interests covered!
This is the variety you get here and it is well worth your time to explore it. Oka Vanga is well and truly added to my list of acts to see live!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Imaginary Appalachia - a road trip through Americana.

These posts are the hardest kind to write but, perhaps because of that, also some of the most interesting and rewarding to attempt.  I was never one for writing fiction when at school and I doubt that I could do it convincingly now.

We start this trip, the title of which is inspired by the title of his 2015 EP, with Colter Wall, a native of Saskatchewan, Canada. His first LP 'Colter Wall' is coming soon.
Colter Wall - Colter Wall (Young Mary's Records/Thirty Tigers, 12 May 2017).


This is a live version of 'Kate McCannon' from that LP, recorded in 2015. He supports Margo Price on her US  spring tour.


This next artist isn't from Appalachia either and is not so well known in her own right as perhaps the songs and certainly the artists for whom she has written or co-written. This collection is about the place, quintessential rural America, which she remembers as the home of her grandfather in Puxico, Missouri. It is all her own but the supporting musicians and the production (by her husband Mike Wrucke) is absolutely top class.

Natalie Hemby - Puxico (GetWrucke Productions, 13 January 2017).

In this next record we are finally approaching Appalachian territory; Rayna Gellert, a co-founder of Uncle Earl, is a traditional fiddle player with roots deep in mountain and string band territory.

Rayna Gellert - Workin's Too Hard (SoundStory Records, 20 January 2017).

She is also a fine songwriter and this, following 'Old Light: Songs From My Childhood and Other Gone Worlds (2013), is the second release in her pursuit of that space. Her desire in this is that innovation need not be, and indeed should not be, stifled by the desire to preserve tradition. Both outcomes can co-exist to the benefit of all.
Of the seven tracks here five are written or co-written by Rayna Gellert. The other two are interpretations of the traditional songs 'Oh Lovin' Babe' and 'I'm Bound For The Promised Land'.

This next record is a paean to the value of the journey itself rather than the knowledge of its ultimate destination.


Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness (Grapefruit Record Club, 13 January 2017).

If you like finger-picked acoustic guitar and contemplative lyrics, as I do, this might be right up your street. Originally from Buffalo NY she has travelled and lived across much of the continental USA in places as far removed from each other as New Orleans and Seattle. Sometimes she briefly heads to Europe too. If all goes as planned then our paths will cross in August as Julie Byrne plays Green Man Festival 2017.


The journey's end is this album, likely  the best known artist/album of the five as a result of her work with Carolina Chocolate Drops and then her 2015 LP 'Tomorrow Is My Turn', which was all covers and now this that is not.  Whilst the record was quite certainly planned, conceived and recorded before the denouement was known, the title and subject matter could hardly have been more prescient.


Rhiannon Giddens - Freedom Highway (Nonesuch Records, 24 February 2017).


Rhiannon Giddens playing fretless banjo, Stage 1, Cambridge Folk Festival  -  1 August 2015.

Well that's it for this post. Five albums, one soon to be released and four already released in 2017 and we're only just approaching the Ides of March!
There is certainly no shortage or variety of new music that a little exploring can't uncover. The only problem with trips like this is that as soon as one is over the bug bites again. It is time to start planning the next.
The question is should it be Antipodean or Scandinavian?

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

New Music 2017 - Part 12 - Threaded - Of What We Spoke

First off,  this is their début album from 2015, so not 2017. The reason I am including it here is that having managed to avoid discovering it for eighteen months or so and I'm guessing I might not be the only one.
Secondly, I really like it and I feel that it is too good not to share. Suffice to say 'Threaded' is another act on my list of priorities to see play live.


All classically trained at the Birmingham Conservatoire, Threaded comprises:
  • Jamie Rutherford - vocals, guitar
  • Ning-ning Li - violin
  • Rosie Bott - clarinet
Their music is contemporary folk, both tunes and songs, not least for the inclusion of clarinet. As far as I am aware these are all new compositions but if I'm wrong about that please let me know.  This is the track list:
  1. The Living Room
  2. Left Off
  3. Captain Markham
  4. A Secret Charm
  5. Dreamfire
  6. Mr. & Mrs. Jones
  7. Drafted
  8. The Courtyard
  9. Flat 71
  10. Return to Penpole Wood
  11. Crosse/Parrack
  12. You Will Always Be The One
This is a taste of what to expect.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

New Music 2017 - Part 11 - All Our Exes Live In Texas - When We Fall

Sometimes, maybe it is that time of year, I awake to the idea of Spring, albeit as yet unrealised, and some ideas of silliness that befit the March Hare. This is exactly that - the band name is stupendously unhinged - and  it comes from Australia;  Sydney for the most part.
This is just pure delight --- unadulterated and un-adult-rated. Amazon.com reckons that it is rock while Amazon.co.uk reckons it is pop and that only shows that it's not so obvious that it can be pigeonholed. I'll just say that it's a whole lot of fun because it is easy to take music too seriously and there is no real need to do that. The album art effortlessly rolls back four decades and then some, into the bargain.

All Our Exes Live In Texas - When We Fall (self-released/Whirlwind Entertainment LLC, 3 March 2017).

When We Fall - All Our Exes Live In Texas:
  • The Devil's Part
  • I'm Gonna Get My Heart Cut Out
  • Boundary Road
  • When the Sun Comes Up
  • Tell Me
  • Parking Lot
  • Candle
  • Sailboat
  • Oh Lover of Mine
  • Don't Cry
  • Childhood Home
  • Cadillac
Modern folk-harmony anyone. If anything at all it has echoes of The Pipettes (at least to me) and on the other hand it is rather less cynical. Does it really matter when it sounds this good and that Pipettes album is now ten years old? Of course it doesn't!

These acoustic sprites are:


Hannah Crofts  ---  vocals, ukulele
Georgia Mooney  ---  vocals, mandolin
Elana Stone  ---  vocals, accordion
Katie Wighton  ---  vocals, guitar

Just something to make the coming week seem a little better and remind one that there is always so much new music out there waiting to be discovered, enjoyed and championed.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Girls That Own The Blues

This follows on from my previous post about Rebecca Downes. It is easy to underestimate what is going on here and the title of this post is adapted from the title of one of the songs on this next EP
Quite possibly you have seen me reference Joanne Shaw Taylor in the past and both are, coincidentally, from the West Midlands. The thread of live music, including recorded releases thereof, continues here.


Elles Bailey is from Bristol and her second EP, 'The Elberton Sessions', was recorded  live (self-released, 2016).

I very rarely post links like this but listen and then buy it and maybe her previous EP 'Who Am I To Me' (2015) too.  She is right near the top of must-see live artists in 2017.

Note added 7 March 2017:
Elles Bailey's full length is due in June, title t.b.a.

This next artist is one I have seen live several times before and would quite happily see once again. This is her latest LP, and the follow up to 'Dirt On My Tongue' (2013). This picture harks back to the days of that self-released début album, the interest it garnered and the touring that ensued.

Jo Harman, Cheese & Grain, Frome. 27 October 2013.

Jo Harman - People We Become (Total Creative Freedom, 3 February 2017).


She has released a live album too, for live is the theme here, and it was recorded in 2014 for the BBC, no less, and the venue was hardly shabby either.

Jo Harman and Company - Live at The Royal Albert Hall (Total Creative Freedom, 27 October 2014).

New Music 2017 - Part 10 - Rebecca Downes - BeLive

My liking for, and the revival in fortunes of, the live album is something that I have mentioned in the past. Few are more welcome or rewarding than this.

Rebecca Downes - BeLive (Mad Hat Records, 27 January 2017.)

I have seen Rebecca Downes live a few times and she and her band are always top of their game. The studio CDs are good, really good, but live there is just a whole new dimension. For want of a better one that word is tension - you discover that the power she sings with is far away from some studio-created phenomenon.
Rebecca Downes was voted 'Best Emerging Artist' and 'Best Female Vocalist' at the British Blues Awards 2016 and this thirteen-track recording, that includes a few covers as well as many of the band's own songs, is where you get to find out why. Nothing, of course, is a substitute for attending a live gig.


Cheese & Grain, Frome, 8 May 2016.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Festivals - a road trip through music

In the last week or so all three festivals for which I have a ticket have released details of the first tranche of artists that are appearing. Perhaps it is worth mentioning that in all cases these are festivals that I have attended on multiple previous occasions and so I had established trust sufficient to purchase tickets prior to having any associated acts announced.

Not all of this post concerns artists announced as mentioned above but it does go some way towards explaining my method and rationale for discovering music that is new or new to me and why festivals play such an important rôle in that. The road trip analogy is apposite - it is a journey for which there is a defined starting point but neither is there a predictable end point or a route.
In addition there is the BCR analysis of this approach, which is similar to the formula applied to assessing the economic value of public works projects. In this case it stands for Benefit-Cost-Risk (as a calculation), rather than Benefit : Cost ratio!

Festival tickets are good value in comparison with individual concert tickets (assuming one makes good use of what is on offer) and there is far less time and money spent on travel.  One can take risks on seeing artists that are little known because if disappointment strikes, and occasionally it does, there will always be others to see instead.  There will also be completely unexpected delights (one from EOTR 2016 here), however much pre-festival homework one does. Indeed I am coming to the conclusion that it is possible to do too much beforehand and that it stifles instinct.

With that in mind here are a few artists that I have on my radar.

Courtney Marie Andrews - Honest Life (Loose Music, 2017) plays End Of The Road 2017.

This one however is not playing the UK festivals as far as I am currently aware.  If she turns up at a festival I am attending then I'll be watching. This is another great album of careworn alt-country.

Goodluck Man - Carson McHone (Good Horse Record Company, 2015).


In recent years there have been accusations that a number of festivals (and I'm not going to name names before you ask, just figure it out for yourself) book a relatively small proportion of female (or female-fronted) acts, particularly as headline artists.
Just for a moment let us put that aside. Here is something that is almost never mentioned at all.
Gaelynn Lea is one of the most astonishing virtuoso fiddle players of recent years, of both her own and traditional music, but you may possibly never even have heard of her. She is playing End Of The Road 2017 and is on my must-see list.

Here are her interpretations of the traditional Scottish song 'The Parting Glass' although it is now often most associated with emigration from Ireland, and 'Brenda Stubbert's Reel' (and similar spellings) that is an Irish tune that has become particularly associated with Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada. Music travels!  Gaelynn Lea herself is from none of these places; she hails from Duluth, Minnesota.


The Songs We Sing Along The Way EP - Gaelynn Lea (CDBaby, 2016).

Consider it and then read this article and watch the longer live set. You hadn't guessed that had you?


That seems a natural place at which to end this post. I shall return to the road-trip theme soon. There will be some male artists too on the second leg of this haphazard journey.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Festivals - from 2016 into 2017

It's time to start thinking about festivals again except of course for Glastonbury 2017; that sold out months ago and I had no desire to even consider it!
I have tickets for a few, no secrets there, and now that the first artist announcements are revealed it has reminded me that these things have - as well as so many options to see acts that are new, or just new to me - a rather likeable sense of continuity and even community.
This is Green Man 2017, as currently revealed.


Of course I want to see PJ Harvey and Ryan Adams headline. I must say that Future Islands is unknown by comparison in my experience, but the forthcoming album 'The Far Field' is getting great previews and I guess that, at least from their perspective, Green Man would count as exactly that!
Of extreme interest are those a little lower down in this list.

Angel Olsen was astonishing on The Mountain stage at Green Man 2014.

I have never seen Micheal Kiwanuka live, and I very much want to. There are others that I have seen live and that I very much wish to see again. Here is one that for some reason I haven't mentioned before and I can't imagine why. She opened the Tipi stage, the smallest regular one, on the Saturday of End Of The Road 2016. It isn't that I failed to pay attention, because I did.

Julia Jacklin. Tipi stage, End Of The Road Festival, 3 September 2016.

Another fine artist hailing from Australia. In 2014 Green Man served up Courtney Barnett and in 2015 End Of The Road bought us Tame Impala.  Julia Jacklin isn't much like either of them. She is another one-off; Australia has strength in depth.


Julia Jacklin - Don't Let The Kids Win (Transgressive Records, 24 October 2016).

Her début album passed me by at the time of release. That annoys me. Clearly I had lost the plot here because it was released only a few weeks after I saw her play live. There is no excuse for that.

Note added 8 February 2017:
Julia Jacklin is now confirmed to play End Of The Road Festival 2017.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

New Music 2017 - Part 9 - Dryadic - Gongoozling for two

I'm not sure that I'm actually allowed to share this but I'm going to do it anyway. There are at least two burning reasons to do so. The first is that this is a new song from an artist that I have been missing for some time now, albeit in a new outfit and style - as duo Dryadic. Dryads are the wood nymphs of Greek mythology just in case you were wondering.
The other thing is this song involves in its title a very unusual English word seemingly derived from the 18th century dialect of eastern England  - gongoozling. You may think that this is a Trump-era "alternative fact" but I believe with good reason that it is not so!
Gongoozling is, in effect, the canal equivalent of train-spotting and with that comes a whole lot of time when nothing much happens on the waterway.


It is far too good not to share, to be quite honest! And I can't wait to see those spring bluebells.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

New Music 2017 - Part 8 - Ags Connolly - Nothin' Unexpected

The second full-length from West Oxfordshire native and resident Ags Connolly has been a while in the making, quite deliberately so it would seem.
The first was 'How About Now' and  it appeared back in 2014. That was around the time that the blossoming of the indigenous UK Americana scene was starting to be noticed
 as the real change it was, rather than just the preoccupation of die-hard fans and would-be journalists.

Nothin' Unexpected - Ags Connolly (At The Helm Records, 3 February 2017).

The title of this latest is 'Nothin' Unexpected' and might sound almost underwhelming but that is quite deliberate too as the music is no such thing. The point here is that it is not flash or crass in any way at all. It is however very well done indeed - from the ten songs (nine originals and a cover of the Loudon Wainwright III song 'I Suppose'), to the instrumentation that accompanies them and the carefully balanced production values. It ticks boxes.
  • I Hope You’re Unhappy
  • Do You Realise That Now
  • When The Loner Gets Lonely
  • Neon Jail
  • I Suppose
  • Nothin’ Unexpected
  • Haunts Like This
  • Fifteen Years
  • Slow Burner
  • I Should’ve Closed The Book
It is certainly often wistful and resolutely stoical, especially about times spent alone and this applies as much to the honky-tonk influenced numbers as to the others; there's both a time and mood for that.  I happen to be listening sat in front of the fire on a dark and wet winter's evening but it would be just as good heard in the early hours around the dying embers of a summer campfire, with the last few burnt BBQ ribs and a beer to go with it.

One thing even better would be to see him play live, preferably in one of the old small-town bars that are mentioned in a couple of songs. Rather like this...
Ags Connolly, Saloon Bar stage, Truck Festival 2015.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

New Music 2017 - Part 7 - Otis Gibbs - Mount Renraw

Serendipity has played a large rôle in determining that which appears in these pages and so it is with this artist, whom I knew nothing about until I poked my camera lens over the door of the Saloon Bar at Truck Festival 2014. This is that picture. Why wouldn't one want to be party to a gig like this?

Otis Gibbs, Saloon Bar stage, Truck Festival, 18 July 2014.

It was around  a month before the release of his LP 'Souvenirs of a Misspent Youth'. I was smitten - it was exactly the start of my ongoing infatuation with this most unlikely, yet astonishing, of festival stages.  That album, like the others before it is down-to-earth roots songwriting and performance. It is also far more complicated than it might seem on first listen.
This is the follow-up by the native of Indiana and released into a world now full of uncertainty, which is grist to his mill.

'Mount Renraw' - Otis Gibbs (Wanamaker Recording Company, 13 January 2017).

Otis Gibbs - Mount Renraw:
  • Ed's Blues (Survival)
  • Bison
  • Great American Roadside
  • Sputnik Monroe
  • Empire Hole
  • Blues For Diablo
  • 800 Miles
  • Copper Coloured Fools
  • Kathleen
  • Lucy Parsons
  • Wide Awake
If this, from the previous LP, doesn't resonate with you in some way or another then I wonder why I write about stuff at all.


'The Darker Side of Me' (official video).
The railway footage in this is actually entirely shot in the UK. It will, obviously, make putting locations to the lyrics quite impossible!

Friday, January 13, 2017

New Music 2017 - Part 6 - Scott H. Biram - The Bad Testament

Thus far my series of 'New Music 2017' posts has taken a predominantly acoustic path. This is where it takes a turn towards electric squalls...  well almost certainly it does, for this album has not yet been released. It could turn out to be an album of lullabies and  gentle ballads but neither artist nor label history make that seem anything other than extremely improbable!
The title of the LP tends to reinforce that idea too...

'The Bad Testament' - Scott H. Biram (Bloodshot Records, 24 February 2017).

It seems that the often-solo Texas bluesman will be taking us down the rutted dirt roads, rusting rails and haunted backwaters once again. Should you be wondering what I thought about his 2014 LP 'Nothin' But Blood' than that is here and it was my first introduction to the world of his music.

This is the track list:

Scott H. Biram - The Bad Testament
  • Set Me Free
  • Still Around
  • Red Wine
  • TrainWrecker
  • Long Old Time
  • Swift Driftin'
  • Righteous Ways
  • Crippled & Crazy
  • Feel So Wrong
  • True Religion
If you buy CD or d/l versions then you get the three tracks from his 'Lost on the River EP' too. I have a certain feeling that I will head for this option.


Here is a taster from the new record:

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

New Music 2017 - Part 5 - Wildwood Kin - The Author


This is the new release from the trio Wildwood Kin based in the south-west of England.  The music strays far beyond that locale and furthermore 'The Author' is a song more contemplative when compared to 'Warrior Daughter' that was released in 2016.


In addition to the release of this new song, and an album to follow soon, the band has just been announced as the recipient of an award to be presented at the UK Americana Awards 2017  that take place at St. John's, Hackney, London on 2 February.
To put that in proper context, Bob Harris has been around the sun a fair few times and in the top echelons of new and independent music discovery for a very long time too: 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' with Bob presenting ended decades ago (it ran thus from 1971-1978). In that sense he has been there since the start of my music experiences. I still remember seeing bits of that as a child. Since then he has become something of a lodestar for those interested in roots and acoustic music beyond simply UK and Irish folk and through most of those decades it wasn't a part of mainstream musical fashion, to say the least. How times have changed!



The Author (Croft Sessions, in collaboration with Sidmouth Fringe).

It would appear that I didn't mention the release of 'Warrior Daughter' at the time, although I certainly intended to do so, so I shall make amends now.


Here is the video for that song too:

Warrior Daughter (official video).

As soon as learn more about the album I'll be reporting back; don't imagine otherwise.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

New Music 2017 - Part 4 - Emily Mae Winters - Siren Serenade

Looking back on my recent post concerning 'EPs and mini albums of 2016' it has struck me that there are several rather surprising omissions. One of them is the 'Foreign Waters EP' by Emily Mae Winters.


I'm going to get out of this particular problem by subsuming it into the announcement of her début LP 'Siren Serenade'. Produced by Ben Walker, as was the aforementioned EP, but this time also in collaboration with Lauren Deakin-Davis, it will be released in April 2017.

The first track from it, it least as I can find is 'The Star' and a song inspired by John Keats' poem 'Bright Star':


'The Star' (official video)

This is the artwork for the album cover.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

New Music 2017 - Part 3 - Cup O'Joe - Bluebirds

I can't tell you how many bands I have mentioned in recent years that include the participation of siblings but it is considerable. It's a theme of kinds and I see no reason to discontinue it. 
Here is another - three siblings in this case - that were you not to know otherwise might be imagined to hail from the far side of the Atlantic. That isn't the case at all and this is their first EP.

Bluebirds EP - Cup O'Joe (self-released, 2016).

Cup O'Joe is Benjamin (upright bass), Reuben (guitar, mandolin) and Tabitha (banjo, fiddle) Agnew and they actually call Armagh, Northern Ireland's smallest city, home. The EP has six tracks:
  • Bluebirds
  • Pretty Fair Maiden
  • Blackwaterfoot
  • Homesick
  • Tell Me Darling
  • Black Coffee
They play predominantly self-written material that crosses the range from bluegrass and gypsy to old-time, western and jazz and all three contribute vocals. Definitely another band that I want to see live in 2017.
If you have a little while to spare for listening then there is this.


Cup O'Joe, Coastline Bluegrass Festival, Llangollen, North Wales, June 2016.