Roots in April

Oka Vanga – Oka Vanga

This third album from folk/americana duo includes tracks mixed by LA producer Thomas Johansen and mastered by Grammy award winner Steve Fallone. All but 4 tracks were recorded pre-Covid, and the album was completed by iPhone and 8-track! Contributions from guests Patsy Reid (violin, viola, cello) and John Parker (double bass) supplement the core of South African Angela Meyer and Londoner William Cox.

Eight original and four instrumental songs of excellent variety and diversity. Opener Beneath the Apple Tree is a gently folkish stomp as good as anything in the mainstream that Taylor Swift or whoever might produce.’ Bows of Yew ‘swings nicely, and is when you realise the quality of Angie’s timeless voice. And on it goes: freewheeling ‘Whisky for Sorrow’, hypnotic ‘Seek and Run’, celtic ‘Tenpenny Bit…’, bluegrass ‘Johanna’, evocative ‘Blue Sky in our Veins’, jigging ‘Bluethorn Stick….’, grooving ‘Bluebird’ ending with retro ‘The Cuckoo’. Short and sweet, understated and deep. Satisfying.

Ben de la Cour – Shadowland

Ben de la Cour is a former Kerrville New Folk Winner and regularly tours U.S, Canada, Europe and Australia. Ben de la Cour has lived an eventful life, From successful amateur boxer, playing New York City dives like CBGBs with his brother a decade before he could legally drink, drink-fuelled arrests, homes in tough neighbourhoods, countless false starts, stays in psychiatric hospitals and rehabs, battling mental health and substance abuse issues. But in 2013 he finally found himself in East Nashville and 2020 sees this album.If singer-songwriters are sensitive, polished souls, sharing their soul with the world, troubadours do their best just to stay out of jail.

He’s a troubadour. Terrifying and soothing, a brimful of honesty, craft with soul-baring fearlessness. Gritty electric guitar meets diffident fingerpicking. Vocal raw emotion sings of suspicious characters, lost love, murder, bank robbers, suicide and mental illness against a backdrop of a dark and haunted America. Gut-bucket western, Appalachian gothic, delicate atmospheric and heartbreak, boogie-woogie, meditative waltz. It’s all there. As the man himself says: “You need to make something that interests you. There’s a fine line between artistic expression and pointless self-indulgence, but you also want to have a good time making a record, otherwise what’s the point?You need to make something that interests you. There’s a fine line between artistic expression and pointless self-indulgence, but you also want to have a good time making a record, otherwise what’s the point?” Good on him. Diverse.

Peter James Millson – Selected Works

Through the 90’s Peter James Millson played guitar in a number of bands whilst his photography took him round the world (NME & Guardian). His solo recording career started after moving from London to Dorset in 2008 . So this album is a taster for the songwriter-photographer with two new songs recorded in Winter 2020 “Here” and “In The Real World” which will appear on his next studio album (expected this summer).

Sending some demos to Boo Hewerdine (The Bible) the latter thought the phone demos release ready (such a clever chap Mr Hewerdine, with an ear and eye for production ideas), and out came the album “Mobile”. This is a delightfully simple yet deep album. Hewerdine’s influence is there. Others have referenced Paddy McAloon and Lloyd Cole, and I get that – there’s a subtle sophistication, a lack of bombast allowing focus on the gentle tune, the clean-cut melody, the low-key arrangements and the song – and only the song. So tell me this – what have the likes of Ed Sheeran got that this bloke hasn’t? A media circus, that’s all. This fella has as much talent, if not more, and just needs that lucky break. I like it. Have a listen. Delicate.

Tim Lane – As Sure as the Sun Rises in the East

Norfolk songwriter and musician Tim Lane has a prog alter ego (Stealing the Fire). As well as that musical avenue, he is also leader of up-and-coming folk group The Punch House Band with a recent focus on local history and stories. “I was playing in a “country and Irish” band and then later a southern rock and blues band which I thoroughly enjoyed but I was slowly realising that I was playing and writing music associated with and defined by specific regions. I then asked myself why was I not doing the same thing for my region?” This led to a number of projects but Lane observes “Sadly, just as we were really beginning to take off, the pandemic kicked in putting the whole project on hiatus.”

Inspired  by the landscape, heroes and folk tales of Lane’s home county and surroundings, this lockdown album was composed and recorded in his home studio. Combining a psychedelic indie vibe with melodic folk stylings and songwriter lyrics, this ten song collection celebrates Norfolk and the East of England. “As Sure as the Sun…” Lane sings about Kett’s rebellion, linking it to contemporary local politics. “Rebel Bones”, tells of the first great rescue performed by legendary lifeboatman Henry Blogg. “Pull Boys! Pull!”, retells the story of the Sheringham Mermaid on “Fish Out of Water”, and fondly remembers the old Albion fairs of the seventies and eighties on “Barsham Fayre”. He also name-checks towns and locations saying “If Memphis, Rockaway Beach and County Down can be immortalised in song why not try doing the same thing for Bungay, Holkham Gap and St James’ Hill?” “The Spark That Lights the Fire” is a love song which takes the listener on a lyrical travelogue through the county’s geography. Heavily prog-laden homespun folk. Unique!

M G Bouter – Clifftown

Apprenticeship served in numerous bands in the hotbed of the Southend-on-Sea pub rock scene (rememberDr Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods?), and now a much sought after collaborator in folk and Americana scenes following significant tenures in the Simone Felice Group, The Duke and the King, Emily Portman’s Coracle Band, Blue Rose Code and The Owl Service. The roll call of musicians appearing on Clifftown include Pete Flood and Sam Sweeney (Bellowhead), Lucy Farrell (The Furrow Collective) and Richard Warren (Spiritualized, Mark Lanegan and Dave Gahan). Clifftown was produced and recorded with long-time collaborator Andy Bell.

M G creates vignettes of suburban lives and seaside communities and is a contemporary voice in the long tradition of the singer-songwriter. The essence of Paul Simon, Gordon Lightfoot through to Boo Hewardine are somewhere in the ether. Clifftown uniquely charts the characters, personal histories and stories of growing up in seaside suburbia. Its songs are both observant and affecting; from the neon lights and burnt sugar smells of a Saturday night seafront to the solitary salt marshland. It’s immersive, ordinary lives glimpsed through fairground grease and mindless 9 to 5 jobs. As much social commentary as an honest picture postcard of home, it’s an exquisite and life-affirming exploration of modern suburbia and British seaside. Oh I do like to……….you know the rest. Talented.

Helen Gentile & Lewis Wood – Alors, on Danse

Helen Gentile & Lewis Wood are an exciting duo who perform original and dynamic arrangements of European folk dance tunes on clarinet and violin. Music is in a Balfolk style, some traditional, some original tunes from the likes of Andy Cutting. Balfolk is a European folk dance tradition with easy basic dance patterns for novices while leaving room for improvisation by more experienced dancers. Waltz, polka and even Circassian circle may be familiar to ceilidh dancers, but other dances such as the ‘Hanter Dro’ use tunes that allow this duo to let loose.

The talent of two musicians combine, their loose, ever-evolving arrangements creating space for improvisation, showcasing the interplay between clarinet, violin and dancers. Cleansing to the aural palette, this CD was recorded during a livestream performance in October 2020. The interplay between Lewis’ fiddle and Helen’s clarinet is a toe-tapping joy to listen to. Talking of which, the sound of foot-tapping can be heard, either out of sheer enthusiasm or replicating dancer’s feet! The two instruments weave around, turnabout rhythm or baseline while the other highlights the melody. Helen is part of the band Threepenny Bit and Lewis’ main gig is with BBC Radio 2 Folk Award nominees Granny’s Attic, so a high degree of instrumental dexterity is no surprise. But they still impress. Toe-tapping.

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