Paul Hutchinson – Petrichor
Petrichor – the earthy scent when rain falls on dry soil. Paul Hutchinson is a member of the duo Belshazzar’s Feast, Pagoda Project and more recently, The Maniacs. An experienced accordion and mixed instrument workshop leader, he used 2020’s lockdown to record a self-penned album, inviting similarly impacted musicians from the above groups and beyond, with tracks arranged by Seona Pritchard (violin/viola).
The combination of accordion with classical instruments leads to a unique, refreshing, and as you might expect ‘classical’ approach. Paul also has a keen interest and knowledge of 17th & 18th-century music. This love of fusion music originates from his days in the renowned Celtic jazzers, Hoover the Dog. Aforementioned Pagoda is another chapter in his musical journey, a vehicle for his own compositions with jazz clarinetist, Karen Wimhurst. So this album is, to use one of my favourite words, gorgeous. Here are some other descriptive words: warm, welcoming, calming, soothing, exciting, inspiring, interesting, evocative, reminiscent, ancient & modern. Rock solid (pun intended).
Rachel Baiman – Cycles
Originally from Chicago, Baiman moved to Nashville at eighteen and spent the last decade working as session musician, live side-woman, bandmate and producer. Fiddle music is her passion, and she is known in the bluegrass and old-time world for her work with progressive acoustic duo 10 String Symphony (Christian Sedelmyer). Since 2017, Baiman has toured internationally and released a variety of small-scale projects; 2018 Free Dirt EP ‘Thanksgiving’, a sort of epilogue to ‘Shame’, the 2020 duet project with singer Mike Wheeler, ‘The “Countin on You” Sessions’, a nod to her acoustic roots, and solo single, ‘Wrong Way Round’, which hints at the musical direction of Cycles. Cycles was recorded in Australia with engineer Alex O’Gorman. In addition to Olivia Hally on bass, piano and guitar, and Baiman on guitar, strings and banjo, other musicians include drummer Bree Hartley, guitar players Cy Winstanley and Josh Oliver (Mandolin Orange), and guest vocalists Dan Parsons, Dan Watkins and Maggie Rigby. The album was mixed by GRAMMY winning engineer Shani Gandhi.
An Americana songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Baiman is part of a new generation of political songwriters, a gritty and defiant songwriter. Cycles is about the many ways that we destroy and rebuild as people, as families, and even as a country. It is about the cycle of life, internal mental cycles of ambition and self-doubt, the cycle of progress and regression in political journey, and cycles of growth and reinvention in relationships. At times heartbreaking, at times celebratory, the album is a worldly reflection for someone arguably so young, and an exploration of the immense and unique strength of women in the face of adversity. Bold.
Afton Wolfe – Kings for Sale
Mississippi is the birthplace of at least three American art forms: country music, blues music, and rock and roll they say. So this Mississippian spent his musically formative years in and around New Orleans, where cajun seasonings, jazz, zydeco, creole, and gospel music and his Mississippi roots coalesced with his blues/country/rock influences. Afton’s first band was post-alt pop Red Velvet Couch (1998 to 1999), then the avant-garde Dollar Book Floyd (2001 to 2002). Then came Nashville and rock power trio The Relief Effort (two albums: Don’t Panic (2004) and At Your Mercy (2005). 2008 saw the recording of Petronius’ Last Meal, but alcohol, academia, the quest for a better mix and a perfect album cover, and a move to Washington for a few years kept that on hold until 2020.
So now we have his first full-length solo record. It defies genres. It is consistently personal. It probably is unique to him. It comes with supporting talent: Produced by Oz Fritz (Bill Laswell, Tom Waits, The Ramones, Bob Marley) and musicians including but not limited to Cary Hudson (Blue Mountain, Taylor Street Grocery Band), Daniel Seymour (David Olney, Tommy Womack), Adam “Ditch” Kurtz (Great Peacock, Carrus and Kurtz), Ben Babylon (SpoBro, Sir Please), Laura Rabell, Kristen Englenz, Blaise Hearn, Rebecca Weiner Tompkins. From opener ‘Paper Piano’ and its jazzy and timeless melodies, via ‘Carpenter’ with its avant-garde country grind, through to the Delta Blues swing of ‘Dirty Girl’, the album’s first single, the aural diversity is richly exemplified. Defiant.
Phil Matthews – Ghosts in the Static
A lifetime of music writing and playing in bands before going solo eight years ago, sees this sixth album released to combine a look at the recent world and his childhood (hence album name referencing old black and white telly). His performance is described as a psychedelic troubadour paying folked up Beatles. And I get what they mean, because I immediately heard a bit of Lennon in what I heard. ‘What can I say’ has some nice 12 string supporting an attractive melody, ‘Lone Horseman Came Calling’ goes classic blues riff and ‘The Wizard’ is retro pop that I heard a Banana Splits line in! It’s homemade, it’s rough and ready, and it’s not going to pull up any trees, but it is a pleasant listen for a homespun effort. Homely.
The Fool’s Moon – The Fool’s Moon
Are these chaps really from Lowestoft? Is this really their debut? This is an assured, adept set of nine tracks recorded in warm, deep, clear analogue. You’ll get a bit of Wishbone Ash, Little Feat, Man, Peter Green and even Beefheart. The subtle, experienced and intricate guitar work is never overblown and actually warrants effusive praise. The rhythm section is solid and supportive. The grizzly vocals at times sound like these guys have done the rounds over decades – deceptive but delightful. The songs are very well written, tightly played and yet seductively loose. In fact, the more you listen, the more amazed you’ll be at their quality and ability. Blues with soul and jazz – all roots they have warmly and fully embraced. If you want to go back to the late 60’s West Coast America but with fresh music, listen to these old-before-their-time chaps. Retro.
Sarah-Jane Summers & Juhani Silvola – The Smoky Smirr O Rain
This Scottish/Finnish duo (you can guess which is which) are based in Norway. Ten years of touring followed their initial musical paths – Summers a traditional highland fiddle player with a masters degree in Norwegian folk music, Silvola a guitarist, composer and producer. And for this album he ventures onto piano. That touring generates a mature sound and broad style. Both enjoy improvisational exploration and contemporary music. So this is album is no surprise.
Well, actually it is.
How about a mix of 1960s modal jazz and Ethiopian music in opening ballad in Dan Fhraoich? Or the baroque techno feel of an ancient 5-bar reel (Number 81)? Or the cinematic soundscape of Taivaankannen Halki? Or the evocative and haunting title track? Ancient ballads, jigs and reels, polska, waltz, traditional Finnish tunes. What an amazing source and resource. This is music to experience. It’s music to be absorbed in, and enveloped by mood and emotion. Their interplay is delightful, explorative and improvisational. From tuneful to discordant, from joyful to despairing. Absorbing.