Tuesday, December 06, 2016

My Music in 2016 - Albums - Part 1

It is time for the first of several lists of my favourite albums of 2016. As ever releases are alphabetical (articles, whether definite or indefinite, are included in the list entry but ignored for alphabetical purposes) by artist within each list and inclusion in a given list implies no preference over ones in a later list.
Artists that I have seen live tend to feature highly in these lists and it is true that that applies just as much in 2016 as in previous years. In order to try to prevent that bias affecting opinion I have decided that this first list will include only artists and acts that (performing as such) I have not seen live this year or previously. The result of doing that has, as it turns out, transformed into something of a 'wants-list' for 2017 festivals!
Be that as it may, and with no way of knowing how it might pan out, here it is:

Billie Marten - Writing of Blues and Yellows
Case/Lang/Veirs - Case/Lang/Veirs
Dori Freeman - Dori Freeman
The Drive-by Truckers - American Band
Elizabeth Cook - Exodus Of Venus
John Moreland - High On Tulsa Heat
Layla McCalla - A day for the hunter, a day for the prey
The Moon and You - A White Light That Shines
On Dead Waves - On Dead Waves
Red Moon Road - Sorrows & Glories

All but two are acts from North America but this isn't actually an accurate reflection on my listening in 2016, be that live or otherwise. I think that my subsequent lists will make that clear. Indeed if you know me then you will likely have already spotted a few very glaring omissions of North American artists that have released LPs in 2016 from from this list. What is certainly true is that it has focused my attention on artists that I would very much like to see live in 2017.

[This is just the bare outline of this post but having started just earlier and on a whim, I decided I wanted to get something published this evening. More details, links (those other than to my own comments) and so on will follow shortly. If you find some music new to you and that you like then I'm a happy bunny!]

Comments are always welcome.
They are moderated only for reasons of law, order and decency.

Friday, December 02, 2016

My Music in 2016 - Live albums

Ten years ago I mused about the resurgence of the EP and have never regretted that comment. Occasionally I have mentioned the interest that I have in live music recorded. I mentioned that my 2016 End-of-Year list would have a new category and this is it. Just two entries in this, at least for now.  I think it interesting not just for their obvious differences but, at least to me, because both are by artists that I have been following from the very first time that I heard about them. It is particularly appropriate because in both cases my first experience of both was actually seeing them play live!

I first came across Northumbrian band Lanterns On The Lake at End Of The Road Festival 2010 and I have seen them play live several times since.

Lanterns On The Lake - Truck Festival 2011.

The music is often almost subconscious in its beauty - bleak yet optimistic. This collaboration is a perfect match and in order to maintain the tension it had to be recorded live. This was the result.

Lanterns On The Lake with The Royal Northern Sinfonia - Live in Concert (Bella Union, 25 November 2016).

This next is a rather different beast. The Black Feathers is a duo comprising husband and wife Ray Hughes and Sian Chandler. I have written about them a few times before now; this was in anticipation of their début studio album Soaked To The Bone.
This next was, by popular request, recorded live at The Convent, South Woodchester, Gloucestershire earlier this year. 

The Black Feathers - Live at The Convent (Bird In The Hand Records, 2 December 2016).

It comprises eleven songs, most of them are original compositions but there are a few covers too. This isn't one of them nor is it actually featured on Live at The Convent! It is a live version of an original song from Soaked To The Bone.

'Down By The River, Under The Apple Tree session, 2016.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Elyse Weinberg - Greasepaint Smile (and recorded music time-travel)

I am often surprised by the time between recording and release of an officially sanctioned album but this really takes some beating: approximately forty-six years! What happened and what do we get?
The album had been recorded and even the album artwork completed; then the label Tetragrammaton Records went bust with the album still unreleased. With no release - I am unable to find a code allocated to the title - the LP was effectively orphaned and then eventually almost forgotten. Tide and time played a part and so eventually this happened.

Elyse Weinberg - Greasepaint Smile (Numerophon, 18 September 2015, LP, CD & d/l).

Greasepaint Face is now widely available and it should have been her second release for Tetragrammaton. This was the first.

Elyse Weinberg - Elyse  (Tetragrammaton T-117, 1968).

This was released to considerable acclaim but is now more tricky to find although re-released by Orange Twin (LP, CD & d/l) in 2005 but is still almost impossible to find in the UK. An original example of T-117 might be my Christmas present to myself. The equivalent in 2015 was at least as improbable!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Lists of 2016: It is that time again.

This year I have been listening to more new music than ever and the list business will start at Advent. Maybe I should have made a musical calendar? Thinking about it maybe I will.
I could choose a track for each day regardless of the lists of LPs, EPs and such. It would be a way to shine a spotlight on things that I have caught my attention but that otherwise might not have featured at all. If I do it is going to have to be done on the fly as 1 December is close.

That aside things will proceed much as they did in recent years and the rules will be the same. As I did last year the final list may not appear until early January. This not only combats the tendency of forward-creep but it also allows the possibility of including late releases. The cut-off for my consideration will be Friday 2 December. There will also be a new list category this year.

I imagine that you can guess a number of my favourite albums of 2016 and I'm sure some will appear on many other people's lists. I'd like to think that I will also include some surprises that are worthy of the attention of your ears.

Update: 1 December-
The first list will appear tomorrow evening. It will be the new category and also a very brief list but you might find it interesting nevertheless.
I'm still thinking about the song-a-day Advent calendar. It might start with a introductory group of songs at the weekend. I'll just have to see how much time I can devote to it.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 57 - Frida Hyvönen - Kvinnor och barn

I have posted about my forays into listening to music sung in foreign languages a few times in the past. On the other hand I don't think that Swedish (a language that I don't understand a word of) has ever before been one of them.
Frida Hyvönen the artist I was well aware of through her three English language LPs:

In addition to songwriting and singing her principal instrument is piano and this album is no exception. One thing I have discovered is that its title 'Kvinnor och barn' translates as 'Women and children'.

Frida Hyvönen - Kvinnor och barn (4 November 2016).

 The twelve tracks are as follows:
  • Sjön
  • Imponera på mig
  • Balkongmannen
  • Förlotat dig
  • Alla vet att det är vakert i Paris
  • Vänner i vardagen
  • Kommer du?
  • Drömmer om dig
  • Min stad
  • Kvinnor och barn
  • Fredag morgon
  • Amors förkastliga pilar
I have as yet been unable to divine the label by which it is released (on vinyl, CD and d/l) but it is available to stream on Spotify (here in the UK, at least at the time of writing).
Sometimes not understanding the lyrics allows one to appreciate the melody and structure of the music more easily. This was one of those times for me and I very much enjoyed it. It has also reminded me that I really must revisit all the earlier albums. 'Silence Is Wild' tackles some rather unusual subjects in popular music, if I remember correctly.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 56 - Will Varley - Kingsdown Sundown

In some ways 2016 has been a long and tiresome year. Will Varley has put words to it far better than most could ever have hoped to do. His name might not be on the tip of your tongue but that is no matter.
Kingsdown Sundown is dense, dark and yet ultimately hopeful. It was recorded in the basement of a pub in Deal, on the coast of Kent, but written on tour in only the way that an itinerant artist can; raw and not compromised by home comforts.

Kingsdown Sundown - Will Varley (xtramile Recordings, 4 November 2016)

Taken from it, this is 'To Build A Wall'.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 55 - Fara - Cross the Line

I have been waiting for this ever since I saw Fara play Cambridge Folk Festival 2015. One of the first acts that I saw simply blew me away...  and I'd never even heard of Fara before.
That it was a was a wake up call for me is an understatement. I knew that I had been caught blind-side as soon as they started playing Stage 2 on the Thursday evening.
That was then. This is now. A young four-piece from Orkney it comprises Jennifer Austin (piano) with Kristan Harvey, Jeana Leslie and Catriona Price on fiddle.

Cross The Line - Fara (Fara Music, 28 October 2016)

Cross The Line is their first LP and it is a treat for lovers of fiddle music in the tradition of the Northern Isles. The majority of the eleven tracks are tunes. Some are old and some are new, such as the playful 'Cheeky Vimto'. The opening one 'The Dragon' gives early warning of what to expect.
There are five songs with vocals (v) of which 'Games People Play' is the least traditional in both its sound and lyric. 'I've Endured' is a sad song that is sung acapella and in close-harmony. It provides a memorable point on which to end what is a very fine album indeed.
  • The Dragon
  • Three Fishers (v)
  • Whisky You're The Devil (v)
  • Bright Grey
  • Changing Plans
  • My Heart's in the Highlands (v)
  • Cheeky Vimto
  • Games People Play (v)
  • Billy's Short Leg
  • I've Endured (v)
Since I already know that Fara is exceptionally good live, it is high on my list of bands to see again. I suspect larger stages and audiences await in 2017.

This was an impromptu performance in the bar tent.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 54 - Yola Carter - Orphan Country

Another post and another perspective.  This is released next week and the excitement around it is as deserved as it is palpable. What it is not is the sudden appearance of a new artist.  A change of moniker, yes, but still the star that she always was.

Yolanda Quarty as she was then known is a singer and, very importantly, a song writer from just outside of the Bristol metropolitan area of the UK. Far enough outside the city, which is significantly multicultural, to be a real problem. She toured the world as vocalist with Massive Attack, playing to crowds numbered in the tens-of-thousands, but that was no outlet for her song-writing.  She also became the lead vocalist and songwriter of a band called Phantom Limb. Yes they were good, very good indeed.

I first saw Phantom Limb live when they played The Griffin in Frome one Sunday afternoon in August 2008 playing to an audience of tens (just a few tens). I wrote about that here. They recorded two studio albums, Phantom Limb and The Pines (2012) as well as Live in Bristol (2009).

Now Yola Carter is the new best thing. This is her, writing for herself, with a band chosen to make that what she wants it to be. 
My first comment is that it is amazing. It doesn't really matter if you have or have not heard the earlier works but you might well find them interesting. There are some stunning songs on both LPs and the live versions certainly don't disappoint. In fact that is the way to seek them. Yola Carter is therefore very much towards the top of my list of artists to see live in 2017.

Yola Carter - Orphan Offering (Ear Trumpet Records, 1 November 2016).

Yola Carter - Orphan Offering:
  • Home
  • What You Do
  • Orphan Country
  • Heed My Words
  • Dead and Gone
  • Fly Away

Orphan Country, live at The Golden Lion, 244 Gloucester Road, Bishopston, Bristol.
I'm not sure who is playing percussion here but that aside, l - r, this comprises Nuala Honan (guitar), Kit Hawes (guitar), Yola Carter (lead vocals), Beth Porter ('cello) and Aaron Catlow (fiddle).

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 53 - Red Butler - Nothing To Lose

Red Butler is shortly to release its second LP and the follow-up to 2014's 'Freedom Bound'. In that time the Brighton-based four-piece has been garnering fans and acclaim both in the UK and further afield. I first saw the band live here in Frome, as part of the Blues, Rhythm and Roots festival in May 2016. It proved to be my favourite act on the day.

Guitar tomfoolery was adeptly done, but that alone is not enough to really make an impression.

Red Butler still did that however; this band write most of their songs as a co-operative outfit and occasionally also reinterpret a cover in a very interesting way.
It's the real deal, clinched by the distinctive but wholly appropriate vocals of Jane Pearce.

Red Butler, Cheese & Grain, Frome - 8 May 2016.

Most of this set was taken from their début album 'Freedom Bound' (2014) but a few new songs were included too and we were told that they were to be included on their second LP and that this was to be produced by Wayne Proctor, who also happens to be the drummer for King King. These songs sounded very promising indeed. I would travel to see this band live once again - no doubt about that at all. This is an album that I really want to hear. Gone, it seems, are the days when beyond the start of October the only releases were those aimed at the Christmas market. That is something for which we should give thanks and spend some cash.

Red Butler - Nothing To Lose (self released, 11 November 2016).

Saturday, October 15, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 52 - Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker - Overnight

I have seen a great deal of live music in 2016 and this is the latest release from one of the highlights of those endeavours. I know that this duo is a Marmite thing in UK folk circles. I make no apologies. I'm totally on-board here.

Overnight - Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker (Rough Trade Records, 14 October 2016)
  • Nine Times Along
  • Something Familiar
  • Sweet the Sorrow
  • Dawn of the Dark
  • Dark Turn of Mind
  • Weep You No More Sad Fountains
  • The Light of His Lamp
  • Sleep
  • Milk and Honey
  • The Waning Crescent
  • Overnight
  • Light of Day

'Dark Turn of Mind' is a Gillian Welch cover but what you are really hearing here is the pushing of boundaries. Most of these songs are originals. Most of them are tales of loss and regret. Therefore there is a clear bond with traditional folk themes.

This is the Garden Stage, End Of The Road Festival 2016.

Seeing the duo play live is something else. Josienne is quite the compère spinning the miserabilism and self-deprecating threads, between the songs, to the point that it becomes impossible to divine reality from construct. Then there is her voice.

'Something Familiar'

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bob Dylan - A Nobel Laureate

I have to admit that when today dawned I could say that my knowledge of the works and the authors that have been deemed worthy of the Nobel Prize for Literature was very limited indeed. I had no reason to expect that situation to change any time soon.
What I certainly did not expect was to end the day listening to (original) vinyl, that I already own, written by a Nobel Laureate. This was astonishing development in a world seemingly so weighed down with rancour and atrocities of almost every kind imaginable.
It is recognition not only of the lyrics Bob Dylan has actually written, many though they are, but also for all those that he has inspired others to write.

There is nothing more for me to write; I'm going back to listening.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 51 - Bel Blue - Our Places

Not very often does this happen. I'm delighted to share it when it does. This is self-released on Wild Dog Rose and all nine tracks are self-written. It is almost entirely acoustic, a smidgen of electric guitar features on two tracks, but more importantly it is astonishingly whole.
This time last week I'd never even heard about Bel Blue or, if I had, I had forgotten all about it. Hearing three songs from it on Monday evening made me think that the latter scenario is very unlikely indeed.
It was bought to me by the twin powers of local radio and the worldwide access to it via the internet. In this case the distance between Hailsham FM (in Sussex, England) and my location in Frome, Somerset, England is barely 125 miles. The result was I purchased the LP there and then - on that slightly old-fashioned format that is CD. Royal Mail delivered it to my door today.

Here it is:

Bel Blue - Our Places:
  • Longing's Gone
  • Our Places
  • In Its Time
  • Waterfall
  • Wild Dog Rose
  • River of Dreams
  • Somewhere
  • Nant Ddu
  • Along the Way
  • Our Places (live by the River Ely)
  • In Its Time (radio edit)

Bel Blue - In Its Time (radio edit, official video).

It is a début album but I suggest that if I had told you otherwise then you might well have left the fact unquestioned. It is also independently released. I'm not, although a few may think otherwise, out to denigrate major labels. They have made a few steps to attempt to rescue their tattered corporate reputation but thus far only a fraction of what might be required, if that is indeed possible.
That is not what really excites me and makes me want to go to certain festivals. This sort of music is exactly the kind that does.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

I've been quiet for a reason...

I haven't written a post for ten days now, which is not actually particularly unusual. Indeed I am saving some festival commentary for the long evenings of autumn and there is more than one reason for that.
I have been making an inevitably incomplete long-list of the recordings - LPs, EPs and those that fall somewhere in between - that I think might be worthy of  inclusion in my end-of-year consideration. Needless to say there will be some yet to be released (I have a watch list for those too) but nevertheless the list is long. Longer indeed than ever before.
I have previously listened to each item all the way through at least twice after long-listing and before making the decisions and I intend to do the very same once again. With the list likely to reach an estimated 160 items, each with an average length approaching 40 minutes, that is set to be a Sisyphean task, at least in endeavour if not necessarily ultimate futility. One thing is guaranteed: it will, of necessity, be accompanied by really good music.
Some items will be well known to many and more to those that have read these pages. I hope that there will also be some surprises for everyone.

Here is one of the recent additions to the long-list:

Elizabeth Cook - Exodus Of Venus (Agent Love Records, 17 June 2016).
  • Exodus of Venus
  • Dyin'
  • Evacuation
  • Dharma Gate
  • Slow Pain
  • Broke Down in London on the M25
  • Methadone Blues
  • Cutting Diamonds
  • Orange Blossom Trail
  • Tabitha Tuder's Mama
Country, blues, soul, rock.
Please arrange these descriptors as you see fit depending on the song and your reaction at the particular time of listening. Needless to say her band are totally on the ball but not overpowering. The same is true of the production.
It even includes a paean to that English nightmare that is the M25 motorway (freeway is a word that it has rarely, if ever, deserved) 
that orbits London at a distance of approximately 20 miles from the centre!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

New Music 2016 - Part 50 - Billie Marten - Writing of Blues and Yellows

Many have been hailing Billie Marten for some time now and with good reason I might add, based on a few EPs and her live performances. On the other hand I think that this can put unrealistic pressure of expectation for a debut LP on the shoulders of the artist in question. All the indications are that at least in this case it hasn't.
I listened to this start-to-finish three times yesterday evening and, as well as not having tired of it eventually I got tired myself instead and retired to bed. Sometimes I woke up briefly and the songs were still playing in my head. 

Billie Marten - Writing of Blues and Yellows (Victor/RCA, 2016).

What I have concluded is that it is the perfect record to spend an early autumn weekend at home with.
  • La Lune
  • Bird
  • Lionhearted
  • Emily
  • Milk & Honey
  • Green
  • Heavy Weather
  • Unaware
  • Hello Sunshine
  • Live
  • Teeth
  • Untitled
  • It's a Fine Day
It's far from easy to chose any clear favourites, which is a good sign too. The penultimate track, over six minutes long and with it's non-committed moniker, is rather interesting to my mind.