Gwen Mairi – Mentro
Brought up in Scotland in a Welsh-speaking household, Gwen’s mixed heritage and classical pedal harp training combine to blend the traditional with the contemporary. Joining her are Gwilym Bowen Rhys on guitar, mandolin and fiddle, and Jordan Price Williams on cello. Mentro is the Welsh word for to venture, or to dare. It’s an album of belonging and place, family poetry and familiar locations providing inspiration.
Harpist Mairi has a delicate but sure touch, and is bolstered by subtle supporting players. Whilst rooted in Welsh tradition, this album is as much about fresh new growth as it is about old stock. From the old comes new, and within the new is the DNA of the old. Celtic folk and Welsh tradition take on a classical finesse, demonstrated with exquisite virtuosity, instrumental sensitivity and haunting vocals. Lyrical.
Norman Lamont – (Story of a love in) Ten Objects
This is his sixth album, or eight if you include an instrumental album and compilation too. Americana-folk singer-songwriter, his songs are direct and emotional to “mean something to people who’ve been round the block a bit”. These aren’t a young person’s songs” (Lamont himself). A name still associated with a previous Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer with a touch of Addams Family about him, this namesake deserves to rise to a higher profile.
Cleverly orchestrated songs (pedal steel, or cello, or oboe and cor anglais, piano, harmonica) help give a contemplative, sober depth to the understated, personal songs. Inspired by a book called “The History of the World in 100 Objects”, this is a clever narrative where we find him “walking backwards into tomorrow” tracing life through key points back to an unsure and unsafe present. Time-worn narrative vocals, finger-picking folk, acoustic americana, old blues and life combine into a seasoned, comfortable yet thought-provoking album. Sombre.
West My Friend – In Constellation
West My Friend are 10 year veterans of the Victoria (Canada) music scene and this is their fourth album, In Constellation. Their latest effort continues to refine the art of creating achingly poignant folk music, this time backed by a full symphony orchestra, heavily layered while light at heart. Mingling grassroots guitar, mandolin, accordion, orchestral instruments, and interweaving harmonies the album, produced by Joby Baker, co-produced and arranged by Adrian Dolan, features long-time members Eden Oliver, Alex Rempel and Jeff Poynter.
Over 650 performances and several tours under their collective belt, West My Friend song structures vary and dynamics change from moment to moment, painting powerful lyrical portraits over backgrounds of violins and trumpets that swell, collapse, and tumble between bold harmonies. Musing on anxiety and belonging, the music is intricate yet accessible. Melancholic yet optimistic. With this style of music, they’ve conceived a new box, then thought outside of it! It’s wonderfully layered, deeply symphonic, baroque, and mysterious. Simple is safe, but complex is fiery, intricate, and ultimately more rewarding. They show imagination with a baroque pop quality as much as folk, indeed a real style mélange. Virtuosity.
Tony McLoughlin – True Native
True Native is Irish born singer-songwriter Tony McLoughlin’s seventh studio album, produced by another legend of the Americana and Country music community – fellow Irishman and guitarist, Philip Donnelly. Donnelly’s extensive career includes 70’s touring with Donovan, guitar on Everly Brothers tours , producing and playing on original outlaw artist Lee Clayton’s seminal albums, long-time collaboration with John Prine, Nanci Griffith’s signature guitarist on her major breakthrough albums, working with Townes Van Zandt on Flying Shoes and No Deeper Blue, and performing as a Nashville session guitarist. Tony is no stranger to Nashville himself, with 2006’s Tall Black Horse recorded there and Tony began playing sessions with Philip Donnelly in 2018. Logically, when it came time for him to record again, Philip was eager to produce and play on True Native.
Charismatic live, Tony has shared stages with Steve Earle, Arlo Guthrie, Tony Arata, Tom Paxton, Janis Ian, Kinky Friedman, Dougie McLean, David Olney, Lee Roy Parnell, Irene Kelley and continues to tour Europe and U.S. as band, duo and solo. Assuredly guitar-driven, True Native was recorded in Gaf Studios, Tipperary, Ireland with Philip Donnelly’s ‘Mid Atlantic Rhythm Section’ as house band, featuring Joe Gallagher on bass, Gev Barrett on drums, Philip on slide and electric, and Tony on acoustic and electric. Vocal harmonies were provided by Jean Anne Chapman Tarleton. This is Tom Petty/Springsteen inspired Americana, powerful roots-rock with guts.
Matt Patershuk – If Wishes Were Horses
Canadian Matt Patershuk has a penchant for beautiful, endearing and truthful music on newest album, If Wishes Were Horses on the Black Hen Music label, following 2017’s Same As I Have Ever Been. This is his fourth collaboration with the award winning string player and producer, Steve Dawson. The songs extend the themes of individual integrity, hard work, family and loss that have been explored on all of Matt Patershuk’s recordings.
There’s a flowing, organic sound from beginning to end, across country waltzes to straight up folk and greasy blues. The voice and delivery is intimate and natural, whether raconteur, blues or country-worn. The intersection between lyrics and melody is seamless. With a bluesy take on Jerry Garcia’s ‘Sugaree’ and four instrumental tracks interspersed throughout, all lilting, atmospheric variations on a single melody that act as gorgeous extensions of Matt’s songs.
Benji Kirkpatrick and the Excess – Gold has worn away
Whilst involved in big band folk trailblazers Bellowhead, power folk trio Faustus and the Seth Lakeman band, Benji Kirkpatrick was making plans and writing material for this, his own project, a trio comprising of fellow Bellowhead band mate, Pete Flood on drums and Pete Thomas (Megan Henwood and Jackie Oates) on bass. Benji leads on bouzoukis – electric and acoustic – and guitar the band stoke up rhythms, riffs and uproarious, subtle but memorable melodies; sometimes raucous, sometimes raw, sometimes sensitive, always meaningful.
I am impressed. With vocals that evoke John Young’s personal delivery for me, and a rich and varied style that either respectfully touches folk or uses it as a base to explore more progressive tones, it is a delightful and enlivening record. It’s more than folk. It’s more than roots. It mines a rich, exploratory song-writing vein. It’s clever and with purpose, not clever for clever’s sake. It has a pleasant diversity but creates an entertaining whole. Complete.
Betsy Phillips – Like We’re Talking
Originally from Omaha, Nebraska, Betsy Phillips’ voice is as serene and calming as the flatlands of her native Midwest. The EP features guitarist Anthony da Costa and bassist Ethan Jodziewicz, both of whom compliment Phillips’ voice with careful attention to detail and musicality. There’s a stoic melancholy in that voice, a manifestation of a steadfast and patient mindset. Phillips has honed her craft, with this her first release in over five years, she presents beautifully crafted songs layered with subtle, emotive electric guitar. It’s a prominent voice,understated but expressive, which thankfully describes a beautiful vista of an unrushed world. The result is stunning and serene, with material to touching on personal relationships through to Phillips’ childhood home. Phillips is paving her own artistic path with a steady and deliberate beauty. Aching.
Mishra – Loft Tapes
Anyone thoroughly enjoy the cosmopolitan sound of Afro Celt Sound System, who deliberately challenged the genres and created an invigorating mix of entertaining and exciting music? Well, here’s another genre-busting band, blending folk, indian tabla music and hints of jazz and bluegrass. This Sheffield-based folk collective were formed initially by west country singer and virtuoso banjo player Kate Griffin and multi-instrumentalist Ford Collier, the pair joined by Joss Mann-Hazell on double bass and tabla player John Ball, a musician in residence at Sheffield University, where both Griffin and Collier studied. Other instruments include guitar, bass, Irish whistle, Indian tabla and African calabash.
It’s an innovative adventurous album, recorded onto analogue tape in a recording studio in rural Gloucestershire, each of the eleven tracks set to represent a snapshot of a different time and place, the warmth and ‘live-in-the-room’ feel of the whole album exuding a collaborative and spellbinding whole. Majority self-penned, there is a fascinating fusion of influences, styles, textures and rhythms beginning with an improvisation on a classical Indian Raag Jog and concluding with Morphology, an escalating instrumental combining clawhammer banjo playing with tabla and whistle. A spicy, mystical mix of the flavours and ingredients of four different continents, it produces a sumptuous aural feast. Tasty.